Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

The time between Thanksgiving and now has passed in a flash. 19.23" of rain have fallen to date with more expected for Christmas day (Update 12.26: Christmas day total=1.24"->20.47" ytd). We've been working hard on our woods, thinning ladder fuels and recovering firewood for next year. We're enjoying the bounty of onions, potatoes, carrots, plum jelly, frozen peaches and peppers, and canned tomato, tomatillo, and pear sauces that remain from the summer. Persimmons and pomegranates have for the most part come and gone, which brings us to olives.

We harvested our first crop of Manzanillo olives off our young trees this year. At this point, they are cured and stored in brine. The final result is 10 half gallons, not to mention the ones that were eaten or given to neighbors along the way. They are nutty, oily and delicious in ways only a fresh olive can be. We plan to propagate cuttings from the trees this winter to establish a proper grove.

Merry Christmas to all! ...P.S. Check out this image from Oct. 2009.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Seasons of Trades

Our final harvests of row crops happened this week, namely the end of the peppers. We traded 10# of Apple sweet peppers with Marissa of Casalegno Family Farm for a 20# box of real apples of assorted varieties. Our Chile de Arbol (Mexico) and Sha Ema (Bhutan) hot peppers will go to Rolando and Jennifer of Uncle Ro's Take & Bake Pizzas as a trade for a 50# bag of Giusto's Organic "00" Unbleached Pizza Flour. 27# of Jalapenos (Mexico) went to Leon at Everett Family Farm for his CSA in a trade for a case of hachiya persimmons, as well as winter squash and sugar pumpkins. While we were at it, a dozen duck eggs went to Farmer Kiki for two 4oz heart-shaped pieces of her delicious farmyard goat cheese.

With our annuals out, the last of our bell bean and oat cover crop went in. It went in just in time too, because as I was out making swaps on Friday morning, the skies opened up. We've had 2.87" of rain since, bringing our yearly total to 6.93" according to the Vantage Pro2, and the rain continues to fall. The hardest rainfall on Saturday night (a rain rate of 6.62"/hr) was accompanied by thunder, lightning and small pockets of hail. Needless to say, our cover crop seeds should be well on their way to being imbibed by the time the sun comes out next. We are also very lucky to have a neighbor so dedicated to native plants that he had 10 extra gallons of hand-picked California Brome grass seed on hand to trade for bell beans and used T-tape for his planter boxes. We will sow the grass seed on our avocado slope in the areas in which the tar plants currently dominate.

In anticipation of Thanksgiving, we made our first pumpkin pie yesterday morning and have a pair of Tofurkys on hand for the big day. We give thanks for the many successes we had this season and for our wonderful community of friends.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A quick update...

Daniel was elected President of the Friend's of the UCSC Farm and Garden Board of Directors this evening. He is very honored and excited by this opportunity and looks forward to working closely with CASFS staff to move the program forward. Thank you to everyone who attended the Annual Meeting, and for those who missed it, our monthly Board meeting falls on the first Monday of each month at the Gatehouse. Daniel continues to be grateful on a daily basis for the skills he learned going through the Apprenticeship, and continues to blog on a semi-weekly basis at He is also grateful for his beautiful family, fresh peppers, sunsets, and the 3.91" of rain that have fallen so far this year.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fall on the Farm

The blur that was this summer is rapidly receding into life's rearview mirror. Last week, we pulled out the last of our tomatoes, using the final harvest to make a final round of pizza sauce for Estelle's third birthday party. The first shots above are of the fabled Morelle de Balbis (Litchi Tomato), which was still blooming and cranking out strawberry-sweet fruits as it met the steel cutworm of winter. Images that follow include this year's abundant olive crop, heirloom pink popcorn, Doyenné Du Comice pears, and a pomegranate still ripening in anticipation of the Thanksgiving feast. I also noticed today that the leaves on our fuyu persimmons just started their turn to orange.

Following the first two storms of the year (2.82" of rain collectively), our cover crop is germinating everywhere besides our upper garden, where we still need to rip out and process a couple hundred pounds of peppers. We slice, blanch and freeze them for use until summer returns. Last year's grape cuttings put on tremendous growth this year and have yet to show signs of slowing down. The Lavandula x intermedia 'Provence' cuttings that we planted are also filling out nicely and pushing blossoms.

On the animal front, our koi produced quite a few progeny this year. Estelle had us move them to a second pond system, dedicated solely to "baby fish." At night, it comes alive with the sounds of the tree frogs, and soon the adorable coast range newts will arrive to lay their eggs as well. The ducks, cats and dog all seem happy that the heat has transitioned into fresh shoots and wet smells.

Last but not least, we made the trek down to Natural Bridges last weekend to welcome the Monarch butterflies back to Santa Cruz. Their numbers typically peak in December, but there were already quite a few fluttering about. Hopefully their numbers will parallel this year's steelhead numbers in the San Lorenzo.

Monday, September 20, 2010


It was an incredible summer on the farm. Our Tiburon poblano peppers are sized up and surprisingly spicy this year. We sold the first two batches last week and will have more in the weeks to come, along with our Gypsy Bells. The weather remains warm, but the Amaryllis bulbs are all in full bloom, a clear sign that Fall is on its way. Our Lavendula x intermedia "Provence" cuttings from last year are now cranking out flowers. They will go into production next year.

On the home-front, we're squirreling away potatoes, onions, sun dried tomatoes, and cases of plum jelly, pear slices and sauce, tomatillo salsa, and a boatload of tomato sauce. The kittens continue to grow both physically and mentally. They are much more comfortable exploring the property without their mother, and they all seem quite adept at hunting mice, rats and quail. Last week we turned on the timer for the duck's nightlight again to raise the number of hours of light they receive in a day back to 14. Their egg production definitely seems to be benefiting from this change. Our Crimson Sweet watermelons and Cranberry beans are cranking as well.

Most importantly however, Nancy and I are very pleased to announce the birth of our son, Sebastian Alexander. He entered this world at 19.5" & 6 pounds even on 09.18.2010 at 9:26 PM PST. For those of you following your calendars, yes, he was 3 1/2 weeks early, but both mom and baby are healthy and happy, and Estelle is a proud big sister.
Many blessings to All!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Heirlooms & Cats

Our heirloom tomatoes are absolutely cranking this year! Nancy saved all of the seeds from last year and did a fantastic day of meticulously labeling and propagating them. These are some of the big hitters in order of appearance: Paul Robeson, Brandywine (Sudduth's Strain), Japanese Black Trifele, German Pink, Dr. Wyche's Yellow, Gold Medal, and Chocolate Stripes. We split the Gold Medal pictured here for dinner tonight with salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It was a meal unto itself. (Use the bottom right button to take the slideshow fullscreen).

The flashbulb on the camera fascinated the kittens, so I got some shots of them while I was documenting tomatoes. Again in order of appearance, Opal (our mommy cat), Casper, Chloe, Luna, and Luna with Bailey the Bunny. We've bunny-sat Bailey for the past month. I was a bit hesitant going into it, but Bailey is a joy to be around. He spends his days on our lawn, gratefully munching on our sunflower and rose clippings, and returns to his small hutch at night. Recently, we quadrupled the size of his daytime run, much to his delight. He does laps about once an hour, and then lies down winded for 15-20 minutes. The kittens are likewise enthralled with Bailey, and he with them.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Summer Continues

We've had a beautiful summer so far. It's hard to believe how fast it has gone. We are sold out of potatoes at this point, except for what we will store for our personal use over the winter. We have sold our "Candy" onions to the HGP for the past two weeks. We grew Walla Walla and Red Torpedoes for our personal use from seeds we saved last year, from onions we grew the year before. Tomatoes and tomatillos are just starting to come on, as are our early jalapeños. We harvested our peaches a couple of weeks ago. Those that weren't eaten fresh, we halved, pitted and froze. I like to use them in my smoothies for breakfast. Our Santa Rosa plums will be ready this week. Estelle ate a few before bed tonight to try them out. Needless to say a pajama change was in order. She is also enjoying her Black Manuka table grapes for the second year in a row.

We already made and stored a couple of gallons of pear butter from the Yellow Bartlett at the top of our citrus slope. We also dehydrated two rounds of pear slices in our greenhouse. It maintains a perfect 140 degrees with the doors and windows closed. The kittens are now out, running free during the day, but we still bring them in at night. Yesterday, they came in absolutely covered in hedge parsley burrs, and each required quite a bit of lap time to clean.

We love our new pizza/bread oven. It is amazingly efficient. Nancy's Mommies' Group came over this week for a pizza party this Thursday, and today we had a wonderful collection of friends over for a cooking extravaganza... roasted garlic, flat bread, pizzas, potatoes with onions, and sourdough loaves all came out of the same firing. Ingredients included: two different batches of homemade cheese from Farmer Kiki's goats, caramelized onions, tomatoes, pears, roasted garlic, Jose's ridiculously hot manzano peppers and Jasmine's pear sorbet for dessert. We're really getting the hang of how to moderate the oven's temperature so that cheese melts before crust is blackened. And it still had enough heat tonight, hours after the flames died down, to cook Estelle a tiny pizza before bed.

Truly the best thing about this summer however is the steady stream of family and friends that have passed through and stayed with us. You know who you are, and it has made our summer special.

Abundance and gratitude...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sartaj's Second Birthday

Today was Sartaj's second birthday. He has switched from his large breed puppy food to adult food over the last couple of weeks. He continues to make amazing progress in his ability to intuit and anticipate what is expected of him in novel situations. He is also somewhat refining his target acquisition skills, much to the relief of the bikers and joggers that pass by the farm on a regular basis. We are grateful daily for his companionship.

Summer is flying by, and our plants are thriving. Estelle's sunflowers now tower over her. Over the last few weeks, we've sold potatoes to the Homeless Garden Project and also to Casalegno Family Farm for their CSA's. Red Pontiac and Purple Viking are pictured above. We harvest Austrian Crescent fingerlings tomorrow. Also pictured above, our Cranberry beans tower above their 7' tall cages...Lychee tomatoes, Cisneros tomatillos, Gypsy Bell peppers, Candy onions, Yellow Bartlet pears, and Wonderful pomegranates are all sizing up nicely.

And last, but far from least, our firewood is split and stacked not only for next winter but also for the brick pizza/bread oven we just built. The second coat of stucco just went on it tonight. (Yes, flashlights were involved). There's a bit more tile work and grouting to be completed behind it over the weekend, and then the color coat of stucco goes on Monday. A week from then, we can begin a series of escalating firings to cure its mortar, and then it's no-holds-barred until we all wind up on diets. Estelle is already anticipating holding a "dog party" for Sartaj with all of her friends. She says she will cook him "a vanilla cake with twenty eggs." We'll see...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Solar Farming

We were just featured on Residential Solar 101. There are some nice shots of the farm towards the end.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Three Little Kittens...

[Click Images To Enlarge]
From L:R-> Casper (named in honor of his late Uncle Jasper), Chloe & Luna. Casper is male, the others are female. They are still nursing, although they're spending more time independent of Opal. We're trying to handle them on a regular basis to domesticate them. They're still unsure what to make of that...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Summer Approacheth...

Much has happened since our last update. The cover crop on the avocado slope finally got its summer haircut this week, and the entire citrus slope was remulched today as my birthday present to myself. We have completed our spring plantings of both annuals and perennials at this point. Estelle's flowers are enjoying their home in her new plot, and our peppers are taking nicely to our new beds as well. Onions, tomatoes and potatoes are all sizing up. (The prickly tomato pictured above is the fabled Litchi). All of the table grapes we propagated from cuttings this winter had great root balls on them by the time they went in the ground. Our landscape is fully in bloom right now before the the crush of the summer heat overwhelms its efforts.

Although Sartaj has shed his winter coat, he actively seeks the shade throughout the day and gophers by night. Our ducks turned 1 a few weeks ago. They laid 878 eggs in their first year of life, and we commend them for their efforts! Finally, in an extremely bizarre turn of life's wheel, our cat Jasper was taken out by a predator earlier this week. Then his sister Opal gave birth to three kittens three days later. She had a rough time of it, getting skunked in the process. We now have her and the wee ones safely indoors however and will post photos in our next update.
Happy harvesting!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spring Planting Update

We continue to have a wet spring over here, but it has been punctuated by nice long dry spells, allowing us to get a significant portion of our planting done. We only have a few beds of peppers left to transplant. We have already planted out 28 varieties of tomatoes, 4 varieties of potatoes, 2 varieties of tomatillos, 3 varieties of onions and 2 of 4 varieties of peppers. We've also put in 110 new trees so far this spring and have 5 more to go, along with our new grapevines. The updated version of our site plan now includes these new plantings. A great thanks to Aaron Dillon at Four Winds Growers and Larry and Shelly at Brokaw Nursery for working with us to make it all happen. One other great development this spring is that we have an apprentice, Katie, who is a neighbor's granddaughter and has lived overseas in agrarian communities most of her life due to her mother's ongoing Peace Corps deployments. In addition to learning about irrigation systems and gopher trapping, she has been weeding and mulching up a storm as I mow and weed-whack, and the place looks terrific because of it. In other news, I have a sculpture in the upcoming Sculpture Is 2010 show at Sierra Azul Nursery, which commences on May 31. And last, but far from least, our second child is due October 12!

Monday, April 12, 2010

April Showers...

Without fully retracting the "Spring Has Arrived" declaration of my previous post, I will say that the inclement weather made its case over the past couple of weeks. We tacked another 5" on the rain gauge, giving us a 45.5" season total to date. While the clouds have slowed things down a bit in the greenhouse, the on/off rain has given many perennials and our cover crop a nice boost. The roses are gargantuan right now, and are beginning to flower, as evidenced above by Gold Medal, Angel Face, and Distant Drums. Our kiwis are all leafing out, and the wisteria is in full bloom. Unfortunately, the rain has given the weeds quite a push too, and the broom is in full bloom already as well. There's lots more to pull and mow if we're going to avoid a big seed drop this year. We did take advantage of the longer stretches of sunny days to incorporate some of our cover crop, and even planted out Red Pontiac potatoes in a bed dug previously, where the cover crop had already broken down. Rainy day activities have included making posts for a new grape trellis, making more tomato cages, and expanding the number of nest boxes for our ducks. Hopefully the weather will stay calm, and we can get back out there for the rest of this week. It does look like we're in for quite a squall next Monday-Tuesday however. The North Pole appears decidedly unconvinced of global warming this Spring. Lastly, I trekked up to Grass Valley to help christen the new "Dinner Bell Farm" recently and made them an apropos gift. I also stopped at Shooting Star CSA on the way back down. It is ridiculously gorgeous. Congratulations again Matt and Lily, and North Bay folks, please do sign up for their CSA.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring Has Arrived!

The weather has been simply magnificent here for the past couple of weeks, and it appears the trend will continue. We've got Sugar Magnolia's blossoms bloomin', and the scent is divine. Our land is covered with California poppies (Eschscholzia californica). Our Grevillea "Red Hooks" are in bloom, and I've been watching the buds form on the wisteria in olfactory anticipation. I forget the name of the fuzzy plant in the next slide. My brother and I planted it a while ago because we admired its fuzziness, and it continues to grow fuzzier and larger. Baby lizards and skinks are out in force, sunning themselves on our walls and patios, and the frogs have been raising a ruckus in our ponds at night. Just took some shots in the greenhouse this morning: peppers, onions, tomatoes, tomatillos are all growing nicely. Inside, our seed potatoes from Ronniger's have sprouted. We're growing Austrian Crescent (fingerlings), Purple Viking, Bintje, and Red Pontiac this year. Also, there's exciting news on the sculpture front, but it's still a bit under wraps. The applications for Sierra Azul Nursery's "Sculpture Is" 2010 are due this week. Hopefully, the new piece will be accepted.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Spring is Coming...

...although El Nino isn't done with us yet. We continue to be pounded by rain 2-3x/week and have passed 40" on the season. The happiest about that are the ducks, who greatly appreciate all the worms that come to the surface to escape the waterlogged soil. Our little flock of five unceremoniously passed the 500 egg mark a few days ago. More often than not, we find 5 eggs a day in the nest they've made and maintain.

Despite the rain, we have had some beautiful days and dormant buds are waking up. Our plums are in full bloom, while our persimmons have yet to break from dormancy. The grape cuttings that we took are waking at the same time as the parent plants. Our cover crop is now huge, as is the kale in the winter garden (pictured here with a rogue leek). We're still swimming in Meyer Lemons, yet the trees are getting ready to push new flowers. Tomato, pepper and onion starts are coming up in the greenhouse, although I've yet to photograph them.

Our Lauder's Walking Stick is covered with fuzzy yellow catkins, and the true smell of spring, the Narcissus, is in bloom everywhere. The final photo above is a protective grate I made for the kitchen window at the Homeless Garden Project after they were robbed for the umpteenth time on Christmas day.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Winter Update

It continues to be a busy winter in these hills. The opening shot above is of the full moon on New Year's Eve. Our cover crop is growing nicely, and our citrus is fertilized and re-mulched. The avocados are next on the list. (Update 01.30.09- Avos are done!) We have finished with winter pruning of pomegranates, grapes, kiwis, roses, pone and stone fruits. The cuttings from our Black Manuka table grapes are potted up and should take. We've had some ripping burn piles so far, and there are still a few to go. The shaded fuel break we put in last fall has attracted birds of all stripes this winter, as well as the many hawks who prey on them. We've begun planting out the baby lavender; there's more of that to go as well. Today was actually the first sunny day in a couple of weeks now that El Nino is active. Over a foot of rain has fallen this January, and that has freed up time to build some gates and fences to keep the quackers off the patio and a new greenhouse, which will play a role both in the propagation of starts and in sun-drying tomatoes, peppers and the like each fall. We continue to get duck eggs every morning, although there have only been 4 every day this week. I'm not sure what's up with that, other than the Buff has been awfully broody lately. For a while, she was holding her egg and making secret nests under various Toyon bushes. All of our perennial landscaping has appreciated the recent wetness and is rewarding us with its splendor. We already have all of our seeds for next season, and our seed potatoes are set to ship mid-March. We're also gearing up to place a big order for more citrus and avocados from Four Winds Growers. It was fun to see some old faces at the CASFS Mixer at Eco Farm, and much gratitude to all who came to the workshop at Roses of Yesterday and Today.
Thank you all for keeping in touch...stay warm and dry, and many blessings in 2010!