When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Strawberry Wine
Thursday, December 22, 2016
For Bayer Young Farmer Sustainability Award Winner, Tyler Wegmeyer, the last few months of 2016 have been anything but boring. From a feature on ESPN, to a hot and early pumpkin harvest, this time of year created both challenges and excitement for the Virginia farmer and his family. He was able to take some time to chat with me before the end of the year, so I wanted to share our conversation with you all.
So, you made a corn maze themed around your local NFL quarterback. How did that go?
It was the day before training camp opened for the Washington Redskins, and my family and I were enjoying a nice evening at a minor league baseball game in our hometown. There was a break in the action, so I decided to announce our corn maze design for the first time on Facebook. Right after I hit "publish" I saw in amazement the positive response. I knew it was going to be big. The next morning an ESPN reporter called and did an interview for print and soon our corn field was on ESPN.
What was it like having ESPN pick it up?
It was pretty cool to have my 10 year old come find me on the farm to tell me we were on SportsCenter! In the days after we did dozens of interviews and saw our corn field on TV a lot. I was just hoping the hype would have a lasting effect until we opened the farm up in September. It did.
Did the news help bring visitors to the farm?
Besides losing a couple of Saturdays in October because of rain, we had a lot of visitors to the farm to enjoy family time and learn a little about agriculture and where their food comes from. Every weekend we had great enthusiasm from fans visiting the farm and hoping for a Redskins win. Of course our attendance was down during game time, but they were eager to participate in the maze and other activities either before or after.
Fall is the time for your pumpkin harvest. Did you face any challenges?
The pumpkin crop turned out good, but we did have our challenges during our wholesale harvest this year. Because some of our buyers want pumpkins on September 1, we have to start our harvest in late August. It was very hot this year! We were harvesting in 95 degree heat and as a result we had some early quality issue and had to repack approximately 500 bins of pumpkins. That's equivalent to about 10 loaded semis or 18,000 pumpkins.
What made this year’s pumpkin season different?
For the first time this year we harvested pumpkins off of a triticale cover crop that was planted last fall. We usually plant wheat in the fall as a cover and then no-till our pumpkins into that after it's killed in May. This year we had triticale and were pleased with the height it got and the biomass it produced. For our pumpkins, we want them laying on a nice straw bed to keep clean and the triticale did the trick.
In the end, when the dust settled...or when it got cooler...the quality of the harvest was good and yields were about average. A lot more labor went into this year's harvest. In total we shipped out about 50 semis of pumpkins for our wholesale markets.
Strawberry planting season also started recently. What was that like this year?
At about the same time we started pumpkin harvest we planted our strawberry crop. And yes, it was 95 degrees in the strawberry field as well! As a result of the heat, we had to set up overhead irrigation to reduce the heat in the field so the small plug plants could survive. This was in addition to constantly running our drip irrigation underneath the plastic non-stop for about two weeks. We had some initial loss but were able to get good plant set for the most part. The real impact will be seen come harvest time next spring.
Besides the heat, did you face any other challenges while planting?
Because the deer wanted to add strawberries to their menu, this fall proved to be the most challenging. Even though all our fields have fences surrounding the field, we've had several that are determined to get in and eat. Very frustrating!
Earlier this year, to start our strawberry season, we had 27 straight days of rain and as a result we had to harvest a lot of fruit before we could open our u-pick fields to our customers. So from that, came our new and exciting strawberry wine adventure. We partnered up with a local winery to turn these berries into wine. We put them in cold storage for the summer and just got them out and are in the process of making and bottling the wine to have ready for the first of the year.
We are still deciding on a name for the label. Tweet at us @WegmeyerFarms with your ideas!
To learn more about Tyler Wegmeyer and Wegmeyer Farms check out “Three Questions with an Award-Winning Farmer” or watch the video below.