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!