Visiting Chileno Valley Ranch

IMG_8023 IMG_8026 IMG_8027 IMG_8028 IMG_8030 IMG_8032 IMG_8034 IMG_8037 IMG_8040 IMG_8041 IMG_8042 IMG_8054As you might well remember, for about five years now we’ve been buying a fourth of a grass fed cow every summer. For many years we bought from Beltane Ranch which is just a few miles away from us. Unfortunately due to new regulations they aren’t able to sell directly to customers anymore, so we’ve switched to buying from Chileno Valley Ranch over in Petaluma. You can read a bit about why we eat grass fed beef from this older post and even more from this older post.

On Sunday they hosted a u-pick day for their apples. Our poor apple trees are in a serious state of decline, so we headed over there to meet the rancher couple and to get some apples. This ranch is deep down Chileno Valley Road, past curving roads, filled with hillsides, ponds and large ranches. It was a beautiful drive. As we approached our destined ranch I was pretty awed by the amazing house you can see from a distance. The house had been in the wife, Sally’s, family since the Civil War! Sally and her husband Mike took ownership of the property in the early ’90’s and set about rehabilitating the house (check out the original structure) and the land.

Everything was gorgeous. We came for the apples, but I left inspired by the gardens. While Scott chatted with Mike about the beef order we recently placed, I talked with Sally about her roses. Strangely enough I didn’t get any pictures of her dozens upon dozens (maybe a hundred +) of roses, but they were unbelievably beautiful. All with bright green leaves and in full flower. My roses at home have been in a sad state ever since their initial spring bloom and I’ve given serious consideration to taking a good majority out. Everything Sally grew was bountiful and lush. As we talked she mentioned how when she cleans out the chicken coop she sprinkles a little of their manure around the roses. She also has sheep and cows that she collects manure from and also has a local dairy deliver manure to her. Ah-ha! Yes, of course. Manure!

As soon as we got home I found my Felco’s and got to work tidying up around the roses and then promptly cleaned out the chicken coop and spread what I scooped all round the roses and watered it in well. Within easy walking distance I can access cow, horse, sheep and chicken manure. I need to collect my wheelbarrow and shovel, head down the street and put these neighboring friendships to work.

If you are local, Chileno Valley Ranch holds these u-pick weekends all the way until October, it’s worth the trip, if you can make it!

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Filed under chickens, Life in Sonoma, what we've learned

Rainy Summer Day

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Strangely enough, amidst the deepest of droughts, it rained this morning. In fact this was the third time precipitation has fallen from the sky this summer, if I’m counting correctly. Of course none of these rains have done much to help the drought nor has it even watered the plants all that well. However, us native Californians will tell you, rain in summer is just weird and miraculous!
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IMG_7937IMG_7934The plants, though they didn’t get a good soaking, very much appreciated the little they did get. They all looked much happier this morning upon my usual morning stroll. One of my favorite areas are these new planting beds we had built on either side of the deck staircase. It’s been a while since I’ve gone to the nursery and picked out all new plants for an all new bed. Fun! Pineapple sage, dahlias, purple fountain grass, mexican feather grass, artimesia, lavender, black and blue salvia and a few others fill the beds.
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In previous summers (2013, 2012, 2011) this bed was overflowing with sunflowers and corn and melons, this year it lays fallow, filled with weeds and dried fava beans. It’s okay… the soil needs to rest, right? Sure.
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IMG_7928Radishes, along with the other seedling I planted last week are sprouting up. Thank you weird, welcome summer rain.

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Filed under state of the garden

State of the Garden

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We seem to have entered into the phase of summer where it’s just plain hot & dry. The tomatoes and peppers aren’t complaining though. The tomatoes are starting to tower over our heads and are sending us inside with handfuls of red jems to enjoy. Remember we added in our drainage pipes a few weeks ago and it seems to be paying off, they are all looking very healthy and happy.
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Those metal containers? Look how happy things are growing in them. That basil, that tiny little store bought basil is almost tree like now. It’s the biggest basil we’ve ever grown. And the cucumbers are thriving too.
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The grapes, our poor little dry farmed grapes (irrigation going in next year, right?) are coming ripe. They are so fun to go visit and pick with the kids.
IMG_7916 IMG_7915I worked on this bed over the weekend. Getting out the pesky dead weeds and amending it with gypsum, which helps break up the clay soil. These zucchini got a late start, but seem to be happy and with a little bit of daily watering and some luck new seedlings will be joining them. Kale, chard, spinach, cilantro, carrots and radishes. I also added in a few biannual flower seeds that I’ll transplant out to the flower garden once they get going. Since I was going to be watering everyday, might as well group all the seedlings together! It feels good to have the time to focus on the garden once more and to feel hopeful about it again.

How are things going in your garden? Are you feeling good about the state of things?

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Filed under state of the garden

Putting up Plums

Ripe Santa Rosa Plums

Ripe Santa Rosa Plums

Just picked plums

Scoring Plums

Plums

Food Mill Plums
The Santa Rosa plums came ripe within the last two weeks. Looking into my canning notes, we hadn’t yet preserved anything this growing season(!), but the plums changed all that. We sat down the other Sunday to do our first batch of jam. I picked with gusto, I carried them into the house with gusto but as soon as I sat down to put the task to hand, all the wind was knocked out of my sails. Our plums are delicious but they are hidden behind a very bitter skin. I started peeling with a knife, but the knife was dull (a solveable problem, I know). Then I tried scoring the bottom, like tomatoes, and dunking them into hot water to let the skins separate from the meat of the fruit. It looked like it would work, but it didn’t. In fact it totally backfired. Not only did the skins not fully loosen, but by placing the bitter skinned plums in the boiling water, the bitterness soaked right through the fruit, making the whole batch bitter. Argh! Scott sharpened the knives and we sat down and hand peeled…for hours!

Then inspiration hit and for our second batch, we picked them, let them sit on the counter a few days to truly ripen and sent them through the food mill. Problem solved! Not only that, but after the fruit passes through the food mill, it’s smooth and thick enough that it only took a minute or two on the stove to let the sugar dissolve and then into trays to become handmade fruit roll ups. Hardly any hot cooking involved! Food mill, where have you been all of my life?

First entry into the 2014 Canning Log: 6-half pints of plum jam & 4 sheets of fruit rolls ups.

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Filed under fruit trees, preserving

Cucumber Abundance

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Apparently the cucumbers are more than happy in their new bed. We’ve been getting inundated with them for the past week or so and luckily I don’t think it’s going to stop anytime soon. It feels good to get a good, abundant harvest again. So many other priorities rudely interfered with our usual spring garden routines this year that we’ve been feeling weak in the whole growing department. But look, we have cucumbers. It’s a start.

We planted about five or six different kinds. I’d carefully explain which each variety is, but those tags are buried deep beneath those tangled vines. That will have to wait for another time. Needless to say, they are all good and I’m so enjoying eating them. And infusing them into gin for martinis. There’s that too.

We’ve been thinking about doing a big fall garden this year. Last year I read You Can Farm by Joel Salatin. It was a motivating, inspiring, quick reading book. But one thing is said is that if you want to be a farmer, you have to tell your kids that time consuming extracurricular activities are out, especially baseball. Now that I lived through two boys on two different Little League teams during one spring season, I can see what he meant. If you want to focus on building your land up as a profitable, you can’t waste those hours doing things that aren’t building up the farm. However, we are not intending to be farmers, but a family who lives in the country with a big garden. I want my kids to be able to play sports if they are driven to do so. But man, that did put a giant big kink in our spring garden habits, as I’ve mentioned before. Well that and deck building and business trip taking (to Norway none the less!). Luckily we live where we do and we can grow a lush garden in fall too. And so, this weekend after a hectic spring and a free, though busy summer, we’ve allotted to getting the beds ready. Wish us luck!

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Filed under just picked

Milking Sheep

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A few weeks back my sheep tending neighbor and I were letting our children play around her farm. We started talking about the merits of raising goats versus sheep. Now that the wee one is getting older, the thought of adding in some animals to our property is seeming more possible. Still a far off hope, but still much more do-able, at least in my mind. Sensing my interest, Cindy asked if maybe I wouldn’t want to share in her East Friesian sheep-keeping by learning how to milk them. Sign us up!, I said and a few mornings later my middle son and I were riding our bikes down the street to learn how to milk sheep.

An enjoyable hour later, we rode back down the street with a gallon of sheep’s milk and a bit of chevre culture and rennant. Fresh sheep milk, if you are as curious as I was, tastes quite similar to cows milk. We all enjoyed the taste. It quickly however, thanks to this recipe, became fresh chévre. Delicious! What an incredible experience, and hopefully not our last.

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Filed under in the kitchen

How the Summer of Freedom is Going

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This summer, so far, has been one of my favorites. This is one of the first summers in years when either I haven’t been pregnant or having to run continuously after very small children. The wee one, at 3 and a half, is old enough to join her big brothers through their activities, which leaves us all a little bit more room for freedom. Sometime in mid-June we discovered a mother quail sitting on her clutch of eggs between the lavender row. One early morning my oldest son saw two quail parents walk through our front yard with a trail of teeny tiny babies. As soon as they got dressed, the kids went to check on the nest and indeed they had hatched!
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Art and drawing have been constants. Our two tables look like this nearly constantly. At Amy Karol’s suggestion, I bought this fantastic art book to help give them direction when they need it. Which hasn’t been too often, they are usually quite self motivated when it comes to drawing, however it’s a handy book to keep in my back pocket for when they are ‘so bored!’.
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Flower arranging, soccer card organization, and drawing fishing lures have been favorite activities.
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The other month, Sunset magazine, came out with an issue containing their 25 best recipes of all time and I’m on a quest to try all of them. This Dutch Baby was, easy, and a big hit with the kids.
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It’s no surprise that since the quail nest finding, searching out other bird nests has become near obsession. Taking pictures of them has become a ‘big thing’, along with many calls from me to ‘not get too close!’ and ‘don’t touch anything near the nest!’.

Though keeping all three kids at home is far from peaceful (they’ve also been perfecting the art & craft of bickering), the absence of having to drive them all over town and pack them lunches has calmed all of us down considerably. Close friends have commented to me on their visits that I look more relaxed and even my most high spirited son seems calmer than they’ve ever seen him. Keep it coming Summer of Freedom, keep it coming.

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Filed under Life in Sonoma