Thursday, July 21, 2011

Watermelon Elementary: Harvest Part 2

After over a month of 16+ hour days for all those involved in watermelon harvest, we have finally slowed down! If you haven’t read Watermelon Elementary: Harvest Part 1, start there.

This year was particularly special in that we had our very own road signs! Of course, if you live in a small town you know that it doesn’t take much to get noticed!

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We don’t mind doing things small town though…

signcheck in

And parking in a pasture is an experience for all!


Now to the rest of the harvest….

After the watermelons are loaded onto the buses, they drive back to the barn. They park just outside of the barn and wait to be backed up to the line.

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watermelons 11 0705 (15)Here in the foreground you see a full bus waiting to be unloaded. In the background a blue and yellow bus is in the barn being unloaded. On the right another bus is being backed in to be unloaded as well. Two buses park on either side of the belt that carries the melons into the barn.

Marvin, “Mi’tah Margin” to Blair who loves him dearly, is the crew leader’s son, and he backs the buses into the barn.

One bus is usually unloaded at a time. The watermelons are placed on a belt that takes them to through some scrubbers and onto a larger belt. After unloading one bus, the guys jump over to the other and go again.

watermelons 11 0705 (53)Unloading onto the belt on the right. The belt is lined with PVC pipe, and the watermelons are traveling in a row.

watermelons 11 0705 (54)The guys unload as the bus on the right is pulled off to be replaced by a full bus. Can you imagine doing this all day? I’m beat after five minutes!

watermelons 11 0705 (55)watermelons 11 0705 (56)watermelons 11 0705 (57)watermelons 11 0705 (75)watermelons 11 0705 (76)Still working, and a new bus is waiting on the right!

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As Blair says: “See the watermelons coming out!” Below they pass over the scrubbers and onto the wide belt that takes them to the boxes. The belt has padding on this side so that the watermelons aren’t bruised. Yes, watermelons bruise.

watermelons 11 0705 (70)watermelons 11 0705 (74)The boss, Alberto watches as the watermelons pass by.

After the melons pass the scrubbers, one or two people grade them for quality. They look at them and slap them to make sure they feel right. They almost have a vibration to them when you slap them. Marvin says no “squishy” melons – he says bad melons feel “squishy.” We all know that a watermelon is not at all squishy, but the flat sound of it does sort of give a squishy illusion I guess!

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Alberto’s brother grading/slapping.

watermelons 11 0705 (121)watermelons 11 0705 (135)Alberto’s son Marvin – the grader/slapper/bus backer upper.

Marvin’s fingers get cracked from slapping, so he wraps them in stickers. (And they always take time out to give Blair a Blair-sized watermelon.)

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Next, a sticker is placed on each melon. This lady has been working with us since I can remember. She is the sweetest thing. Her husband and son also work with us. They love Blair!

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As the watermelons travel down the belt, they are plucked off by size by the box packers. The large watermelons are taken first, then the medium, and finally the small and extra small.

watermelons 11 071211 (62)The belt and boxes during a break. The boxes at the bottom are for large melons. The ones at the top are for small.

watermelons 11 0705 (66)watermelons 11 0705 (36)watermelons 11 0705 (37)watermelons 11 0705 (44)Waiting on the right size!

watermelons 11 0705 (32)watermelons 11 0705 (33)watermelons 11 071211 (68)I can pack a car with the best of ‘em, but I’m not so good at this!

All the while, boxes and tops are being put together to replenish those that are used and taken to the truck or to storage.

watermelons 11 0705 (29)Putting together boxes.

watermelons 11 071211 (40)Stacked high!

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watermelons 11 0705 (112)I had the best time talking to this sweet woman from the Dominican Republic. She’s a nurse! She doesn’t speak English though, so she hasn’t gotten her license here. She made tops every day all day.

Watermelons are sold by the number of melons that fit in the box. We do have some different size boxes that hold other quantities, but the most common basic sizes are boxes of 35 large, 45 medium, or 60 small watermelons. We’ve had a few 80 count extra small watermelons as well.

watermelons 11 0705 (109)This box holds 36 large watermelons.

watermelons 11 0705 (110)And this one holds 45 medium.

watermelons 11 0705 (128)And they make great play pens. Or chicken brooders.

After the box is loaded a top is put on, and a fork lift driver picks up the box and takes it to the floor to make a stack of three boxes. We ran five fork lifts for most of this season.

watermelons 11 0705 (16)Boxes are stacked and stored according to their contents. Here there is a stack of 60 count, 45 count, and 36 count.

watermelons 11 0705 (21)A stack of 45s ready to ride!

Once three boxes are stacked, they are either stored in the barn until they can be loaded onto a semi or they are loaded directly on a truck.

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And off they go to wait on their driver!

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Early on in the season, we had a full barn and very few loads being shipped.

fullFull barn. There is a whole other section on the right that is not shown.

With tears in my eyes, I prayed and prayed that God would provide a better year this year than last. And He did. The barn emptied as we shipped one load after another. As a wife, it’s so hard to see the stress of farming on my husband. He loves farming dearly, but the stress is beyond anything I can imagine. I’m so thankful for God’s blessings this year. I don’t know what Brad would do if he had to stop farming like so many others.

watermelons 11 071211 (69)The barn – nearly empty.

We have four docks that have trailers backed up to them without trucks attached. We use these for storage of boxes, stickers, tops, etc.

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We have four docks from which we can load semis.

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watermelons 11 071211 (41)Headed up north – we ship most of our melons to the New England states.

I have more pictures to share, but I’ll save them for another post. I hope you enjoyed your watermelon shed tour! Check out Watermelon Elementary for other posts about watermelon farming!


jmluckie said...

Great job Ash.

Candi James said...

This is just amazing to me! Very interesting! First of all....I never thought of a bus being turned into a semi (so to speak):-)
I never dreamed farming this favorite fruit was so much work! I love me a sweet watermelon and every time I eat one from now on I will think of your Watermelon Elementary!!! Ashley you are a good wife to Brad.....I can only imagine how hard it is to be a farmer and you have made me so much more aware of their daily chores and worries. And of course Blair!!! You mentioned so many that love can you not!
Please give Brad a thank you from me, a true watermelon lover! God Bless All of YOU!