Monday, December 9, 2013

No more tomatoes


Just when it seemed summer would never end, a surprise floats down from the north to put the farm to a test


 The tomatoes lie in a very large pile in the no-grow zone -- where grayish soil rules supreme -- waiting to dry a little and then go up in smoke, along with lots of other plant carcasses.
Firewood puts on a winter coat of frost, top, while a weed shivers in the
morning chill and a hose sticks out its frozen tongue.
 Out here in Singing Frog Farm land, the freeze so far has had only one casualty: a plastic water spigot. And since it was the same one that broke last year there is no possible way to evade responsibility. Other than that broken spigot, however, the nasty freeze has been survivable: The chicken's water bowl must be unfrozen each morning and we must watch as certain of our plants give up the ghost: Salvias, lantana, basil, cardoon, tomatoes, peppers. The surprise has been the parsley, which so far is surviving. We did see a large, hungry-looking coyote along our front fence line and are hoping he doesn't plan on surviving the winter by feasting on our chickens. For sure we will make that at the very least a quite difficult task for him.
 Some of our more exotic plants have found a home in the greenhouse: giant bird of paradise, passion vine and about 25 VERY hot pepper plants, called scorpions.
 While the weather outside is getting icy, farm activity is heating up as we work on our organic certification for next year and look to add a bit more acreage to our fledgling operation.





Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hold everything ....


Young plants are beginning to outgrow their 2.5" pots
Beauty Kings and Black Cherries wait patiently
Today was going to be the first day of tomato planting at my place, but Mother Nature was in no mood to cooperate. Now it'll probably will be Thursday before the wind dies down enough to make it even feasible to put a tender young tomato plant into the ground. I'm chomping at the bit, too. The plants are getting a bit leggy because while my greenhouse has an automatic exhaust fan that goes on at 80 degrees, it also is covered in shade cloth because too much heat would build up even with the fan when the weather pushes above 80. So it really needs a swamp cooler, which probably will be one of my projects for this coming winter. For now the shade cloth is sufficient with the caveat that the reduced sunlight does cause the young tomatoes to stretch a bit in search of even stronger sunlight. My dilemma will be solved once the plants get into the ground. Not that there won't be new problems to keep me up at night!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What any sustainable farmer loves to see

Ladybugs are everywhere in my artichoke patch. They come out  like white knights every spring to keep the bug populations in check. And they don't need an invitation, either. They're my favorite party crashers, right up there with the praying mantis. They're not omnipotent, that is, they don't get every single bad bug on the farm, but the numbers of good bugs increases yearly and I hope they are bringing a better balance into my farm's ecological equation. In the larger photo we see a very welcome site to any organic gardener: procreation of even more ladybugs!! The newbies will have plenty of work to do: Soon the tomatoes will be in the ground  and the new crop of beautiful beetles can migrate over to them to patrol for white flies and the like. I wish ladybugs were big enough to gobble up the the stink bugs and cucumber beetles that attack my crops, but only the mighty mantis has the size to make a meal of them. Speaking of eating ... it's time for lunch!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Coming soon ....

It was inevitable. Eventually the name Whaley Heirloom Veggies became a little too flawed to keep. The main problem is that it sounds more like a wholesaler than a farm. And pretty soon (well, sometime this year) we will be adding eggs to our offering. Beautiful dark, brown eggs from Black Copper Marans chickens. The problem is, eggs are not vegetables. And chickens, if we butcher any, are not vegetables, either. So a name change was called for. But what to call this shoestring operation? Well, there's this fabulous chorus of tiny frogs on the property that we have totally fallen in love with, so we are going to build a pond to help them better survive. And so, presto chango, Whaley Heirloom Veggies will morph into, ta da,  Singing Frog Farm. We filed the paperwork in Yuba City yesterday and set up ads to run in the Marysville Appeal-Democrat on the next four successive Wednesdays. Now we will have to change the words on the logo, get new checks from the bank and add our little friend into the logo somewhere to complete the process. Wow, a lot of work to do .... guess I better hop to it!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Excuse the interruption

There have been a lot of things to post, but somehow updating to the latest version of Mountain Lion, the Apple operating system, has made it more of a challenge, and frankly, I've got enough challenges on hand getting ready for a new planting without having to sit down and stare at a computer screen for untold hours. In fact, that's it: It's always an open-ended proposition when you sit down to figure out something new on a computer, and some level of frustration is a guarantee. Hell, you're already frustrated because you can't do what you used to do by just typing it in and then hitting a button.  All because you bought a new photo program, in this case an Apple app called "Aperture" so you could help a friend figure out how to do some special effect and then, after you pay good money for the program, you find it won't work unless you have a newer operating system on the computer. In fact the newest iteration is required. So you spend hours downloading the new system via your feeble 3G connection (that's life in the country) and then discover you can't post to your blog anymore because  it always come up "error" when you push the button. And to top it off, the friend hasn't taken up your offer to help with the special effects. Needless to say, situations like this are good for my land because it sends me directly outside, pulling weeds, tilling soil, thinning beets .... anything but staring at a computer screen. So if this post is up, that means I am making progress and I will try a more meaningful post tomorrow, with a picture, maybe? Cross your fingers!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

World's hottest pepper, anyone?

The Trinidad Scorpion, Butch T Strain, has the worlds highest Scoville rating.


For those who like hot peppers, the Trinidad Scorpion, Butch T Strain, is the Mt. Everest. It knocked off the Ghost Pepper a couple years back as the worlds hottest. The seeds aren't cheap but I sprang for 20 of them this winter and now they are in the process of germinating. Cross your fingers, pepper lovers! Here's what one Website (www.scovillescaleforpeppers.com) had to say about them:

Trinidad Scorpion Butch T


In June 2011, the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T Pepper beat out its competition from India and Southern England as the hottest pepper in the World. It was made official in the Guinness Book of World Records, measuring a whopping 1,463,700 SHU (SHU = scoville heat units). SHU measure the amount of Capsaicin present in a food. For the purposes of comparison, a typical Habenero pepper has a rating of 100,000-350,000 SHU and a Jalapeno pepper is rated at 3,500-8,000. That makes the Butch T a very HOT pepper!
Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to eat any of these or even throw them in a pot-roast! We will see how many germinate, then try to harvest a few in early fall. The Butch T will be one of many varieties of peppers we'll grow this year. On the sweeter side will be the Aji Dulce de Panama, a great one for making sofrito. And of course there will be some bells, pepperoncinis and quite a few others.  It could be a hot summer!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Making the most of a dry winter

Exotic pepper seeds soaking in tea before being transferred to germination trays.
You probably have been hearing a lot of farmer doom and gloom over cutbacks in water allotments and such, particularly down the valley a bit where the Sierra runoff could basically fit in a thimble and the giant agricorps continually turn a lustful eye northward in hopes of securing some of our precious Northern California water. But we need it here to keep salmon runs growing and the Delta Smelt from extinction. Even north of Sacramento, where water is fairly plentiful, farmers have worries in times like this. For one thing, some hay farmers drop seed aerially on their fields and wait for a spring rain to get it growing. No rain, no hay. And farmers on wells, like me, worry about tapping too heavily into the aquifers. But it's not all bad. For instance, in many winters most ground would be unworkable right now because it would be to darn saturated to get equipment onto it. And continued dry weather could lead to early plantings. Don't get your hopes up if it's early heirloom tomatoes you're talking about. Those plants have a mind of their own.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mystery of the full moon

The full moon rises into the Central Valley sky Monday at sunset.
I just couldn't help sharing this moonrise. Funny, though, if you were actually here looking at it last night, you would have seen all the detail on the face of the moon. But when the camera takes its picture, the detail disappears. In a way it makes it a little more dramatic. This photo does bring up the question: Why is it that the night of the full moon is the only moonrise that occurs at sunset? Tonight, for intance, the moon will rise about an hour after sunset, and on Wednesday a couple hours. So what's going on here? Well, this is a farm blog, so guess I better squeeze in that we got a succession of beets planted yesterday: Bulls Blood, Golden and Chioggia.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Scuzza me, can you see, it's from old Napoli

Please join me in welcoming to this world a tiny, fragile little shoot, left, holding the promise of producing a bumper crop of San Marzano tomatoes. It's not only the first San Marzano to sprout, but the first tomato to sprout in our greenhouse this spring. The San Marzano, you should know, is not an heirloom without a great story: For decades, it was the paste tomato of preference in America. Americans loved this Italian import almost as much as a good Gaetano Donizetti opera. Ah, but then Benito Mussolini cozzied up to Hitler and in 1934 the United States Congress slapped prohibitive duties on imported Italian canned tomatoes and such. Here the story takes a real Central Valley twist: A woman and her husband were partners in a wholesale grocery business in Brooklyn. The wife worked as a purchasing agent and, in that capacity, made many trips to Italy. In fact, she knew a man, Florindo Del Gaizo, whose family grew the San Marzano in the Naples area and also owned canning facilities. Together, these two hatched a scheme to skirt the heavy import duties by growing the San Marzano in America. But where? Well, to make a long story short, they set up shop in the now bankrupt city of Stockton. Her name was Tillie Lewis and for decades, Tillie Lewis Foods thrived in Stockton, along with the FloTil Cannery and the San Marzano tomato. She was a great patron of the arts in the Delta area and if she were still around, I doubt that poor Stockton would be in the sad state it now finds itself in. And many thanks to Amy Goldman, Tillie's cousin, for recounting this story in the introduction to her worthy book on heirloom tomatoes: "The Heirloom Tomato, From Garden to Table."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Survival of the fittest

Imperial Star volunteer artichokes, above, and the greenhouse, top.
A friend of mine working in the artichoke patch here Monday came across a dead artichoke flower while we were cleaning up the field and, unlike the hundred or so other dead flowers we cleaned up that morning, this one had found just the perfect mixture of moisture, sun and warmth to send its seeds into germination. At first it seemed like a curiosity but then it dawned on me that gophers had sentenced a good 15 of my artichoke plants to death last year and these young sprouts could could become their replacement. So there they are at left, or at least four of them, stretching up to the sun on a heat mat in my greenhouse. Altogether, we potted up about 25 of them, four of which have already given up the ghost. We can keep track of this little experiment and maybe next year we'll throw all the dead artichoke flowers into a pile and see if they will do it again. And if it works, it could put a hopeful spin on that dark old Rolling Stones country-western song, "Dead Flowers."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Farm to Fork: A mind moving mantra

Apple blossoms and artichokes this morning on the farm.
"Farm to Fork" rolls off tongues these days like the rain off the back off the Mallards swimming across the way out here. Like the holy man humming "OHMMMMM" for hours at a time, "Farm to Fork"  presents us with a tidy concept which in and of itself offers a peak into why Karl Jung hypothesized the collective unconscious. Hop on the internet and you will find "farmtofork.com" or "farmtoforkevents.com" or countless others. The term stretches from San Francisco to New York. The curiosity is -- and the link to Jung's collective unconscious -- that it is a national concept whose very premise is to move away from nationally distributed food to local, sustainable, organic food from local small farms. While this would seem to be Sacramento's calling, the entire country is drawing off this idea that is mysteriously boiling up in our collective unconscious, all at the same time with no discernible national organization to support it. It's like a protest against our food system as it is. So don't be just a casual observer, it is way more than just another marketing campaign. Think about it. Repeat it over and over again. Think about what it means: Less fuel being used to transport farm goods, thereby helping to clean up our air. More people employed per acre harvested, lowering unemployment. Better shepherding of our land, leaving our offspring in better shape once we have strutted and fretted off the stage. Fresher, tastier and more diverse food. Preservation of precious open-pollinated and heirloom varieties and species, which are owned by the public instead of giant corporations hellbent on taking over the plant and animal kingdoms with corporate-owned patents.  How many packages have you seen from giant corporations that have what looks like a small farm on it? What great marketing, to be able to produce and package their gene-spliced, chemically-saturated, screw the flavor mass-produced products and put a picture of a small farmer on their package. I think they should be forced to put tears on his or her cheeks. I know it makes me cry to think about it.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Scrambled, not stirred

Whew! For the last couple of weeks life on the farm has revolved around getting a greenhouse built and finishing a chicken coop (not pictured). Now the two are done and we are breathing a collective sigh of relief. Having a greenhouse makes it easier to start young plants and guess what? Now is the time! This particular greenhouse is a little more than eight feet wide and about 22 feet long, enough to do most of our starts, possibly more. It's got thermostatically controlled circulation fan, exhaust fan and air intake. When the weather warms up, it will wear a coat of shade cloth. It probably will require a swamp cooler to be effective for starting fall plants this August ... we'll see about that when the time comes. Now the job is to seal up all the dozens of tiny air vents around the polycarbonate sheets and get some spring veggies in the hopper. Oh yeh, and the chicken coop? It's going to house a group of about 30 Marans hens, a rare French breed that lays the darkest brown eggs of any chicken on Planet Earth. And don't tell anyone, because what you are about to read is a closely guarded secret of MI-5, the famed British intelligence agency, but this is the breed that produces the favored egg of secret agent number 007, i.e., James Bond! Shhhhhh!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Even farmers need a little R&R

Geese rise to the sun, top.
Skis sink into virgin snow. above.



The geese were thick across the street, spending the night and most of the day in one of the rice fields. They jabber all night long and you can hear them clearly if you open a door. Sometimes it's even annoying! But when I stopped at the gate, dug out my camera and walked across the street to grab a photo of this amazing assemblage it seemed to interrupt their conversation and the next thing some of them were swirling into the sky. It happens that I was at the gate to head up to the Sierra for a little X-C skiing in Hope Valley, Alpine County. Anyone who enjoys this sport should make this stop and right now there is a very thick blanket of virgin snow accessible up there. If you've never tried it, head up there now, corner of Highways 88 & 89, known as Pickett's Junction. Call ahead to find out conditions. Joyce is the sole operator at 530-721-2015.



Saturday, January 12, 2013

Coyote spotting on a frosty morn


Lucy, Goldie and Crooked Tail
Sioux-z let the chickens out early today, barely after sunrise, then came back in to work on some laundry. Looking out the window while folding washcloths, she saw a coyote trotting west in our neighbor's backyard, then all of a sudden it stood still. She called and I came over. It took awhile to spot the wily coyote, who was still motionless. We watched for what seemed like two minutes and the next thing we see is the coyote's hunting partner, further away along a fence line. Eventually the one closest to our chickens headed out toward the other and the immediate crisis was over. Of course, we're wondering how many times that pair of coyotes has passed by without us noticing them. Seems chickens have something in common us: We both live in an uncertain world.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Getting to know you ...

Dew hangs from the front gate. Across the road is an organic rice field.

We've all heard about the Lundberg's. You know, the organic rice-growing family up the valley a bit in Butte County. And who hasn't heard of the Capay Valley, that hotbed of organic growing on the far west side of Yolo? But how many Sacramentans know about the vast organic rice fields of Pleasant Grove? In fact, how many Sacramentans even know where Pleasant Grove is? Yet it is far closer to Sacramento than either the Lundberg Farms or the Capay Valley. It seems the very existence of the area is something of a mystery to most capital residents, even though the city skyline can be seen from some of those organic rice fields. So, do you give up? Pleasant Grove straddles southern Placer and Sutter counties, north of Natomas and Elverta, west of Roseville and Lincoln, south of East Nicolaus and east of the Sacramento River. It's only restaurant, the Pleasant Grove General Store, sits at the corner of Howsley and Pleasant Grove roads. Nothing fancy, but friendly and filling for a fair price. And usually full of farmers.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Once upon a time in 2013

Smoke rises from the Roseville cogeneration plant.


Making a farm work can only be described as a labor of love. Or a walk on the wild side. Probably a little bit of both. The land offers many opportunities to apply ingenuity and, in my case last year, plenty of situations in which to learn from failure.
I suppose a cold day in January is an appropriate time to be asking a few questions: What is there to be gleaned from last year's efforts? Will we become officially "organic" this year? Will our crop plan finally be closely followed? Will the greenhouse be rebuilt in time? January may be a month for ordering seed and plotting the spring, but on this farm it is also a month of soul searching and dreaming. So here's to a great year for all and now, please excuse me while I go take a walk ...