Tag Archives: annie kaffen

The Art of Value-Added Products

For the most part, Get Your Pitchfork On! deals only with “farming” for one’s personal use, not for retail sale and certainly not for wholesale. However, I do discuss the idea of improving your profit margin on farm-based products by processing them into something more preserv-able and elaborate. This is generally known as “value-added.”

Take raspberries. Delicious. A country favorite! But they are extremely delicate and spoil quickly. If you plan to sell raspberries, your choices are:

  • Minimize transportation by selling them at the end of your driveway, or hosting a you-pick field (which brings a raft of other considerations).
  • Package them in those decidedly not-environmentally friendly plastic clamshell boxes.
  • Expect a large rate of damage, which is basically a financial loss (even if you eat the “losses” yourself).

But—if you take those same raspberries and make them into jam, syrup, or any number of other food items, you not only increase the price and eliminate loss by damage, you have something that travels well and has a much longer shelf-life.

Same with something like lavender. As a fresh crop, it’s basically just good-smelling purple flowers on sticks. But take those flowers and weave them into a wreath, or strip the flowers into a potpourri, or twist them into “fairy wands,” and you’ve got yourself a lovely home décor item! Or, get a little more involved and crush them to extract the oil for soap, lotion and other toiletries.

My mom makes beautiful “fairy wands” with her lavender

Splitting firewood is adding value. My friend Jon, who lives in Enterprise, Oregon, saw those $5 piles of firewood that people sell to campers and thought, “I can do better.” So, how did he improve on a great idea? Under the auspices of the Wallowa Mt. Campfire Company, he makes bundles that include matches, newspaper, kindling, and s’mores fixin’s, just for fun!

The most creative value-added item I’ve seen to date was brought to my attention by my friend, Annie, who was traveling through Sisters, Oregon. Her hotel’s grounds featured a small corral of resident llamas. The owners were really smart and, in their gift shop, stocked little stuffed llamas to which they added tags noting which llama it represents and a short description of her. Not only that, they named the llamas after human celebrities. Meet “Tori Amos” …

Brilliant! The hotel owners created a tangible item for a “product” that previously only existed as a memory. Now my friend could take home more than a photograph, and the hotel could keep a little bit more of her money.

You can’t take home a real llama, but you can take home a stuffed one!

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Raspberry Mystery!

In my 43 years, I have lived in a number of different homes—fifteen, in fact. As an adult it’s always been a thrill, that first spring in a new house, because I have no idea what is going to come out of the ground. Especially the two homes I have owned rather than rented. All those plants are mine! Landscape and garden plants are the icing on the new-house cake.

My friend, Annie, and her husband, Aaron, bought a house in February, so for the last two months the treasure trove in their yard has been revealing itself. The catch—neither of them is a gardener, and they don’t know what they’re looking at. What is a plant and what is a weed? They want to learn, though, so one Saturday in April I stopped by.

As Annie pointed out the different corners of the yard, she thrilled and panicked with the growth that had occurred. “The sun came out, and everything grew a foot!” she said.

Annie gives me a tour

A previous owner had transformed what had been a regular American grass lawn into front-and-backyard oases featuring rounded, organically shaped beds lined with paths made of glass bottles that she pounded upside-down into the ground. The aesthetic was clearly one of blending the plantings as much as possible—while there are three boxy raised beds in the front yard, the blueberry bushes, rhubarb, kiwi and raspberries are all intermixed with the rest of the landscape. A spindly, 10-foot-tall fig tree was up against the fence, wedged between a stand of bamboo and a rhododendron.

“The good news is that this is a fig tree,” I said, pointing to it. “The bad news is you will never see a fruit on that thing; it’s way too stressed out.”

I pointed out how relocating some of the pine needles would benefit the acid-loving rhododendrons and blueberries. I suggested she dig out most of the compost that had seasoned in a barrel but save a few shovels full to get the new batch going. I confirmed her suspicion that the kiwi vine was supposed to be following the trellis and not shooting 20 feet into the air.

Errant kiwifruit vine

The main reason Annie wanted my advice was for the raspberries. They had been planted next to the garage, and everything Annie had read about raspberries suggested they needed some kind of support.

When I looked at them, I wasn’t sure what to think. They were certainly berry plants. They even looked like raspberry plants, but the canes were only 6 inches tall. Most had new growth, but because the canes were so short the plants were only a foot high. There were only a few new shoots coming out of the ground.

Raspberries usually grow in a two-year cycle. The canes that grow in Year One do not flower; they should end up 5 to 6 feet tall, or more, leaning over from their weight. Once winter ends, you trim them back to about 3 to 4 feet tall and thin them if necessary. Year Two plants grow from the ground. The new growth on Year One canes ends in berry blossoms, and then berries. Once the berries are picked the canes die out, and you cut them out of there before winter.

Mysterious plant

What I was looking at was, upon close inspection, definitely second-year canes. But they were so short! And then there was the matter of not having any support in place for them.

Investigating someone else’s garden made me feel a little like a forensics specialist. I had to observe the evidence and then consider motives—were these “everbearing” raspberries? Were they some other kind of berry altogether? I voiced my ideas aloud to Annie, my Watson.

After floating a few hypotheses, I presented my final answer: The previous owner trimmed the canes back severely in order to stunt their height, so that she didn’t have to put in supports.

I have never seen anyone do this before; time will tell whether that works or whether they’ll just be stunted plants. I instructed Annie to leave them alone, and look forward to hearing how they behave as summer rolls along. There’s always next year!

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