All is the season that we prepare for all year long. It all comes down to harvest, and just like all farming, you never know how it’s going to turn out until the end. Everything that is done all year on the farm leads up to this, and as with most things, good preparation is key.
Late summer is a time of colder nights, shorter days, and intense midday heat. Hot days cause the outer husks of the hazelnut to swell and cold nights cause contraction. The days at the end of summer eventually cause the nuts to drop – slowly at first and then in showers, especially in the wind. The leaves also begin to change color and fall slightly later than the nuts.
We watch and listen as the nuts begin to fall. The sign that we need to get the equipment ready for harvest. The anticipation is nerve-racking. All the belts, bearings and sprockets are checked, cleaned, and replaced as necessary.
We start with hundreds of empty totes, ready to be filled with the nuts of this year’s harvest. The tractors and equipment are filled with fuel in preparation for our busiest time of the year.
Two days before harvest begins we go around the entire periphery of the orchard and hand rake the “headers”. This makes the row ends tidy so that the harvester is more efficient in these difficult spots. Harvest has officially begun. The first step is navigating a “sweeper” along each row of the orchard. This piece of equipment scoots under the trees and “windrows” the nuts and debris into the center of each row into a line. Next, a tractor pulls the harvester right down the middle of each windrow and vacuums up the nuts onto a belt where a series of air chambers blows away the debris such as leaves, sticks and rocks and the nuts fall into the empty tote, which is being towed behind the harvester on a small trailer.
Each tote, 4 feet square, can hold approximately 1,200 pounds of nuts. The tote hauler uses another tractor equipped with forks to lift each full tote off the harvester and runs them to the pickup area. Totes are then loaded onto a truck to be sent to a receiving station where they will be washed and dried.
We’ve never had a harvest that was the same as the year before, variables such as wind, temperatures and rain all create different situations that we must react to. There are long nights and early mornings working with the weather to ensure the best possible harvest. Is it hard work? Absolutely! Are there days that we question why we do it? Who doesn’t?! But, we wouldn’t change it for anything. Working with our multi-generational farm is something that only a few people experience and producing a product that feeds people is something that we take very seriously.