Better just go lie on the floor and listen to this song.
(I wanna see movies of my dreams. . . )
Better just go lie on the floor and listen to this song.
(I wanna see movies of my dreams. . . )
Gina and I have chosen a name for our dairy goat, honey bee, cut flowers, organic vegetables, soap, cheese, bread, preserves, what-ever-else-we-get-obsessed-with-down-the-line operation. The name is derived from the names of the roads we live on (it’s all on the ranch, but there are a couple of different little dirt roads here). And those names are descriptive of the property itself – ‘henge’ refers to our sacred, ancient oaks, and the ‘hollow’ refers to the deep creek hollow that runs through the property. So the name has a lot of meaning for us. Plus, it’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it!
Every morning I walk in my garden, looking at every plant, checking the moisture of the soil, pulling the odd weed (the rice straw and garden cloth have been fantastic at keeping weeds down – highly recommend!) and just generally basking in the beauty of what soil, compost, seeds, and a few sets of hands can accomplish. It’s so satisfying.
Even better – the garden is jamming! I mean for real. This year I got serious about fertilizer, and started all the plants with compost, lots of chicken manure, and concentrated organic vegetable fertilizer. It has totally paid off, I almost feel like I cheated! The tomatoes are huge, the peppers are better than they’ve ever looked by this time of year, and… well, let me just show you:
The blackberries are flowering, the strawberry patch is full of berries (on the small side, but sweet!), the tomatillos are doubled in size, and the peach and the apple tree both have fruit. I’ve never had such a varied garden before, and I have to say, I feel like I’m sitting on top of a gold mine, looking down and seeing the Mother Lode glinting in the sun! Eureka!
I couldn’t help myself. I went to Peaceful Valley yesterday and bought myself a bag of 1500 ladybugs ($10) instead of getting a bottle of mineral oil ($2?) to make the homemade aphid remedy I posted a couple days ago. A bag of ladybugs is just so much more fun! Everyone sing along!
Funny as it may seem, one of my favorite things about moving back to the country is actually the town. Grass Valley, California, is a Gold Rush town, with just the kind of colorful history you would expect from the wild west. Grass Valley, and Nevada City, our chi-chi neighbor to the north, make up the heart of Nevada County. Local legend has it that the shape of Nevada County, which looks like a Derringer pistol pointing right at the state of Nevada, was no accident: Locals were angry when the newly formed state of Nevada stole the county’s name, so they bought land from neighboring Placer County and the gun shape was created. Another beloved (and this time definitely true) Nevada County tale involves the Great Republic of Rough and Ready and the night they got fired up decided to succeed from the Union (in 1850) over the taxes imposed on their gold claims. They elected a president and had an anthem written, but after about three months they felt guilty about it and rejoined the United States as enthusiastically as they’d left it.
Nowadays, it’s a quirky place where rednecks and hippies, cattle ranchers and pot growers, conservative Christian churches and Yoga communes, skateboarding punk rockers and Future Farmers of America not only coexist, but revel, and even overlap. Where a municipal ordinance was enacted out of necessity that outlaws leaving your car unlocked with the keys inside, because a rash of teenage joyriders overwhelmed the police department one summer (people still do it though). Where Occupy Nevada County continues to stage the politest, most cheerful monthly protest you’ll ever see (as well as fiercely advocating for people facing home foreclosure). Where a mid-week, midday traffic jam in downtown could turn out to be caused by a gang of Burningman types on stilts dancing down Mill Street (that happened last week). Where the cars in the parking lot at the venerable Briar Patch co-op are as likely to have Tea Party bumper stickers as they are to have “No Farms No Food” and “Grow Organic” (actually I’ve seen several cars around here with all three).
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, and I do wish our district could elect a Democratic congressperson someday. But truly, on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t matter that much around here. What we have in common is a lot more important to us than what we don’t. We have the rivers, the mountains, the four distinct seasons. We have the stars in the night sky and the flowers in the meadow, cows in the pasture and berries on the vine. We know how to be generous and kind to one another, despite our differences. And as the late, great Nevada County resident and storyteller Utah Phillips once observed (I really don’t know who said it first, but I heard it first from him): In Nevada County we only lock our doors in the summertime, because otherwise people will come into your house when you’re not around and fill it with zucchini.
Great news! I opened up the hive today to see how the bees are filling out the second hive body and it was positively packed with bees and brood. I didn’t see the queen, but I only pulled a few frames. I did see eggs though, so she’s in there somewhere. I also saw a drone, which is good because that means the bees are still finding flowers out there, otherwise they’d kick him out because the workers won’t tolerate drones in the hive after the honeyflow is over (they eat too much). Weird lookin fella! Gigantic eyes and big fat body. Not my type, I guess. Anyway, I am really pleased because they have almost totally built out the last frame with comb, which means I can stop feeding syrup in a week or so. After I do another mite check, assuming we’re looking good as far as mites go, I can put the honey super on just in time for the blackberry bloom. Blackberry honey in August!
It really seems like the coffeeberry bloom and a few other natives around here are perfectly filling the gap between the spring bonanza honeyflow and the blackberry bloom, which makes me very happy. I was warned about the honey starve at the very beginning of summer here in Nevada County. Because our climate is very dry in the summertime, we have a real dearth of flowers after the spring rains stop and the ground dries up. Then the hardier blackberries kick in later in the summer. I’ve never paid this much attention to the different blooms – I’ve enjoyed them as something pretty to look at, just not as bee food! – so it might be that this is just a good year as far as the timing goes. But I’ll gladly take it. I’m so excited to try honey made right here at the ranch!
Without anyone noticing, the Empire took over this region of space known as the Kale System, and it’s now swarming with Stormtroopers. Or aphids. Whatever you want to call them. Tons and tons of faceless little white robots marching to and fro with no particular purpose except total universe domination.
Assume the scrappy little rebellion known as ‘me’ is short on resources at the moment and cannot buy organic non-toxic insecticide or, preferably, a bag of live ladybugs to help restore freedom to the galaxy. She must rely on the good blaster at her side. (Filled with 1/3 white vinegar, 2/3 water.)
But no! The deflector shield was up! Our weapons were no match for this fully operational battle station.
And so the rebellion was forced to retreat to a distant moon, from which she would launch a desperate attack. Plans were obtained that may be our only hope of defeating the Empire, once and for all.
To make garlic oil spray, mince or finely chop three to four cloves of garlic, and add them to two teaspoons of mineral oil. Let this mixture sit for 24 hours. Strain out the garlic pieces, and add the remaining liquid to one pint of water. Add one teaspoon of liquid dish soap. This mixture can be stored and diluted as needed. When you need to spray, use two tablespoons of the mixture added to one pint of water in a spray bottle.
To use your garlic oil spray, first test by spraying an inconspicuous part of the plant to see if your mixture harms it at all. If there are no signs of yellowing or other leaf damage after a day or two, it is safe to use. If there is leaf damage, dilute the mixture with more water and try the test again. Once you have determined that it won’t harm your plant, spray the entire plant, paying special attention to the undersides of leaves.
What will come of the rebellion? Will she be able to defeat the evil Empire, or will she be crushed, in one swift stroke? STAY TUNED!
Don’t get me wrong. I really like these little goats. Love them? Maybe. I might even love them. But that doesn’t mean I will happily feed them alfalfa (at $20 a bale these days) morning and night while they turn their tiny noses up at the poison oak that they were specifically hired to eat. It’s their JOB. These two boys anyway, were brought to our lovely home, given a luxurious barn, spacious accommodations of the highest quality, and all we asked in exchange was that they eat poison oak. Their alternative fates could have been much worse. An 8 year old 4-H er, dragging them around to goat shows? Someone with a taste for milk-fed kid goat? Who knows? The options for male dairy goats are few. But we took them in, with one simple request: Please eat our poison oak. We know they CAN. We know other goats consider it a delicacy in fact. But no. They refuse. Hay hay hay. All they want is hay.
It’s hard because the only advice we’ve gotten is to feed them a lot less hay, and they’ll get so hungry they’ll start eating other things. Well, we’ve been doing that, but it hasn’t worked, and they seem STARVING everytime we feed them. They aren’t actually starving. They’re very healthy, but they are growing babies after all. It seems rather harsh to restrict their food to the point where they’re panicking about it. Am I being too soft?
Paul came up with a great idea. Put a bunch of PO leaves in with the hay in the feeder. They’ve got to eat some of it that way, especially the with the way they wolf down their food. And then that way they’ll get a taste for it, and then they’ll start eating it in their pen, and then we can start putting them in the portable pen and…and…
Sigh. Ok blogosphere, I need your help. How do I get my goats to start browsing and stop relying exclusively on hay? I’m getting desperate here!
One of my first projects after returning to the ranch was teaching myself how to bake bread. Not just easy bread like the Irish Brown Bread from a few posts ago, but real European style bread, made with levain (a wild yeast and bacteria starter made by cultivating airborne organisms in flour and warm water). I didn’t exactly do it all on my own, I had the help of an incredible book by Chad Robertson, who started the wonderful bakery in my old San Francisco neighborhood, Tartine. From time to time, certain longings for city life are rekindled in me, and they are more often than not triggered by memories of walking Lola to Dolores Park early in the morning, and stopping by Tartine for coffee and croissants on the way. Sigh.
Anyway, I found breadmaking extremely intimidating. I’m an excellent cook but real baking is a hybrid of science and alchemy and doesn’t allow you the barometer of tasting your creation in process. It was kind of awful at first to think about putting so many hours into something and having no idea if it was going to be edible until the very end.
For that reason, though, it turned out to be a very good meditation for me as I came down from the frenetic pace of my former life. Baking requires patience, the ability to nurture, force and gentleness in the hands, method, and a little bit of faith. My first loaves were too chewy and didn’t have enough spring, but they bore qualities of real bread that inspired me to soldier on.
It got better and better, and I was eventually able to share it with others proudly. I started adding things like kalamata olives and rosemary and lemon zest or sundried tomatoes and big chunks of garlic. I started salivating for that first slice, fresh out of the oven, crusty and light and smelling like heaven.
And then, as things will do, breadmaking was put aside for goat shed building and law practice building, for learning about bees and how to make cheese and so forth and so on. The starter I grew from air and water and flour finally succumbed to neglect. Bread started to come from the store again instead of the oven. It happens. I never said I was perfect.
But this morning as I breakfasted on long-awaited California avocado and (store bought) French bread, I decided that it’s time to bring breadmaking back! Sure the 500 degree oven won’t feel too super on 100 degree days, but a garden tomato on a slice of homemade sourdough will be totally,
Well I’ll be damned. Do you know what a coffeeberry bush is? Scientific name Frangula californica. I only learned the name of this scrubby native bush a year or so ago, and when I did it was sort of a “huh, coffeeberry bush, is it? Well anyway back to what I was saying…” In other words, it was a just a big shrug. A shrub shrug, if you will.
It’s all over the place at the ranch, sort of gangly and sad, with silvery (aka olive drab) leaves and it makes these berries that look like coffeeberries (hence the name) that also have always looked to me like poster children for “don’t eat that strange berry unless you like having your stomach pumped.”
Well, yesterday around the same time I was discovering the baby grapes on the garden fence, I was also hearing this heavy droning buzz in the background. I figured it was my bees, natch, but I was looking all over the place for the flowers covered in bees. Bright, colorful flowers. I saw none on the roses. None on the peonies. A few in the clover. But my ears were telling me they were coming from the scrub brush on the other side of the fence, outside the garden. Sure enough, I found them, hundreds and hundreds of honeybees all over the teeny tiny green practically invisible completely underwhelming flowers on the coffeeberry bush!
Me: Coffeeberry bush has flowers?! No way!
Me to myself: Doy, Sara, if it has berries it has flowers. Gaw.
So, listen, Frangula Californica, I’m, like, SO sorry for thinking you were just an ugly snaggletooth outside my garden fence. And thanks for feeding my bees right during the dry spell between spring and the blackberry bloom. I will totally not try to cut you down like I did a couple years ago (wince).