August 25, 2005

This is the time of year I mentally call "the summer doldrums".  emoticonIt’s when the heat, the weeds, the bugs and the problems have done their damnedest and I’m not sure I care. The weeks on end of hundred degree temperatures have left their mark. It’s hard to do much work in that kind of heat. When I hear the reports on the radio concerning that laws are needed to make sure farm workers get shade and water, I shake my head. I believe that if 99% of the people tried to do this kind of labor in the summer sun for an hour, they’d collapse and swear off fruit and vegetables forever. I know that I can’t really do it, and I do it a lot more than most people. Did that just make sense? If not, blame it on the summer doldrums too.

So, mostly the plants are ok. The bush beans have taken a big hit from spider mites, but then again, who wants to pick beans in the aforementioned weather? Many of the late-planted items are doing well. There suddenly are gourds hanging on the trellis, watermelons and melon-melons (that’s code for any melon not a watermelon), pumpkins, and tremendous flowers. Eggplants are everywhere and they are very tasty. Finally we have tomatoes to eat. And the tomato plants are all trying to flop over, making more work! I keep thinking that nothing stinks quite like tomato plant…. Squash is extra everywhere and is also good. Almonds are curing here and there. Today the almond processor down the road finally started up their machinery, and now we’ll hear the whistles and squeaks for weeks to come. I think the harvest may be less good this year, just a hunch. The changes of season are already visible, it is darker earlier and lighter later in the morning. It won’t be long until fall officially arrives and afterward, the long march through winter.

In other news, our solar installation project has begun and before the year is over they should be installed. We are researching what to do for a greenhouse, and also hope to have a beehive ready within a month. The greenhouse will be a gigantic project, since I hope to build-it-once-build-it-right. The problem lies in that the amount of options are huge, and the amount of my knowledge on the subject is not-huge. We have much more research to do before we settle on a design or kit that fits our budget…more on this subject will doubtless follow.

Lastly, we have had another loss. Our best hunter, Darkness, has not come home for a week and a half now. That means he has likely passed on to the Big Catnip Plant in the Sky. We miss him, he probably was attacked by something bigger and hungrier than himself. But he had a good, happy life doing all the things he loved. Also, our old cat Socks has slowed down dramatically in recent weeks. He also may not be long for this world. We’ll see… would be shocking to be down to four cats. Not that low numbers ever last long!

August 14, 2005


This stupid computer ate my post, so here goes AGAIN. emoticon


 Yesterday’s Farmer’s Market continued to grace us with strong flower sales. Even the eggplants sold well, yay! We met again with our bee mentor, and soon will get together to work on hives. We discussed a honey-for-extraction trade-off, since the machines to take the honey out of the combs are more pricey than having a few hives justifies. We received a beekeeper’s supply catalog in the mail. Beekeeping seems to be a lot like computers–wierd names and arcane objects, and conversations the uninitiated don’t understand. Hopefully it all becomes clear when you have the bees in front of you!

I write this post from our brand-new iMac G5 with 21 inch monitor, wireless keyboard and wireless optical mouse. It was dumb luck–a limited number of these were for sale at the UCD Bookstore for $600 under value, and with a free iPod to boot. We planned to get a new computer to replace the ailing old one after our loan went through, so the timing was a little early but still serendipitious in general. The machine we were going to buy was less nice and would have cost $200 more–go figure.

In non-farm news, this has been some great "look at the stars" conditions lately! We had a chance to view the southern sky last weekend. There’s a lot going in between Saggitarius and Scorpio, nebulas and globular clusters and open clusters oh my. And we saw Neptune–tiny and so very blue. It’s amazing, Neptune was at its closest approach to earth for the year. A thousand thousand earths could fit inside, yet it is a steady blue dot that requires some kind of optical device to even see it. Space is really, really big. We only have yet to see Uranus and Pluto for the planets of our solar system, maybe by the end of the month we can spot the former one in the telescope.

The following is a nugget from work (my day job, that is), and I’m not making any of this up. As some of you know, I work for the state veterinary diagnostic lab system. One of the things done there is to find out why animals die, sort of a "CSI Miami" for cows and sheep, if you will. We had an adult Holstein dairy cow, that had died suddenly. As the pathologist sliced away, I overheard him talking about the fluid and infection he was seeing in the pericardium (sac surrounding the heart), and that he hadn’t seen the wire yet. The "wire" part caught my attention so I began listening closely. I learned that in the digestive tract of the cow, there is a section that lies only an inch or so from the heart, and that it is possible for the cow to ingest wires (the metal kind), and for the wire to then penetrate the tissue in this exact spot, gradually wiggling its way toward the heart of the unfortunate cow, which will then drop dead. But it got better. I then heard them talking about "looking for the magnet". Magnets? My supervisor must have seen the look of incredulity on my face. She proceeded to tell me that it is common practice to bolus (shove down throat) a cow with a magnet about the size of an egg. The magnet goes to the rumen (first of cow’s four stomachs) and stays there, entrapping stray bits of metal that the cow eats, which keeps said metal put and prevents wandering metal from damaging the cow. Apparently wire, automotive batteries, scrap metal, anything that could be bound up into a bale of hay accidentally, can and will be consumed by the cow’s vacuum-like style of eating. Sure enough, moments later a magnet with junk attached was produced for me to look at. Sometimes truth is strange……this illustrates one reason why I really like my job. It pays poorly, but I get a free education in animal medicine from some of the finest minds in the field. Since I want mammalian farm animals some day, this is pretty invaluable to me!


August 07. 2005

Yesterday’s Farmer’s Market accomplished a lot! We sold out of our flowers in 90 minutes. In some ways I am a lousy farmer. An elderly gentleman in a wheelchair wanted some flowers for his wife’s birthday. He told me “Three things happened on this day. My wife was born, some good friends of ours were married, and they dropped the atomic bomb.” I gave him for two dollars a bouquet that, according to my stated prices, was about $6. I tend to be generous to the detriment of the daily earnings. In some ways, I just feel silly charging the money. I planted my zinnias at a cost of nothing whatsoever. The seeds were saved from last year, all I did was sprinkle them on the ground and start watering. Some slight weeding and fussing later, I have a patch of incredibly showy flowers. I know that florists charge a lot more, but it feels nicer to see people go away with a big smile, thinking they’ve really had a nice deal. This is something I really like about the Woodland Farmer’s Market. Folks are friendly and like to converse, and it has an atmophere of community and mutual support rather than the coldness of commerce. Besides, word of mouth means a lot, and those same people may come back over and over as a result of generosity. Next week I will be sure to cut more flowers, since they seemed quite popular all of a sudden.
The market was more worthwhile because we met a local beekeeper, who very nicely agreed to help us get started in apiary. Hopefully we will meet with her soon, and can get some hives going before autumn begins. Also there were UC Master Gardeners present at the market, and they imparted the wisdom that we are overwatering our tomatoes. I am not watering differently than in ther years, but given the poor showing thus far, I’ll try their advice.
Also the week before I attended a very scaled-down egg sorting class given by local agricultural officials. I learned more about candling, and was able to ask a lot of questions about grading and packaging for the public. Mostly I sell to private parties, but it was informative and good information to know.

August 04, 2005

The last post sat around for more than a week while I didn’t get back to it, so all that’s left is to add the update. Having investigated and bidded our way through most of the last calendar week, we seem to be in good shape concerning most of our improvement projects. That is, as long as our loan/refinancing is funded (at the end of the day, the bank still owns everything, right down to the thorns on the boysenberries). 

We are adding in a greenhouse, and placing the tractor on hold. Sort of. Basically, we were given a quote for a trade-in on our tractor that was funny eccept it wasn’t funny. That is to say, waaayyyy too low. We will sell our tractor privately after all the rest of the matters are moving along. For anyone interested, that’s a Kubota B2150, with front loader, automatic transmission, and under 600 engine hours. The tractor has been well-maintained, and has spent most of its years housed in a shed. Includes operator’s manual and complete specifications manual, $12,500 or other similar, reasonable offer. Tell all your friends, or better yet, call us and buy it!

I am most enamored of the solar system. This is a very interesting process and we learned a lot about "how it all works". Basically, one aims for a system that produces between 50% and 75% of electrical needs. This, in turn, places power consumption into the Tier 1 billing level of PG& E, which is where the really low payments are. The system doesn’t power the house per se, but rather feeds electricity into the grid continually. When use exceeds production, the meter runs forward. WHen production exceeds use….you get the idea. Solar users switch to a whole new billing format, an annual one. PG&E estimates what your annual power needs will be, and you pay that amount divided by 12, monthly, and hope at the end of the year that the numbers weren’t too far off. We are looking at installing a 24 panel system, which would be physically located to the east of our turkey pens. We are going to work with BP solar (sort of funny buying solar panels from an oil company, but they are the best deal in town), who designs, builds, tests and installs the system, in addition to dealing with all paperwork and permits and (most importantly) PG&E. I would have thought that people would try to buy a system that met 100% of their power needs, but that’s not how it works. There would be no rebates associated with installation if that were the case, and the rebates are HUGE. As is the tax credit, as is the amount the installation increases property values. Interestingly, the system adds about 98% of its cost in value to the property the moment the switch is flipped on. It seems like a very positive thing all around and we are very excited to be able to get this ball rolling.

It is still in the 100’s, temperature-wise. I am very tired of the heat. This weekend is Farmer’s Market, ugh. I think we’d better get that market umbrella working so we don’t fry in the heat. We mostly have flowers to sell. All the zinnias and dahlias are blooming, and boy do they look pretty. The zinnias are such easy, showy flowers to grow, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t plant them.

Eggplants have finally ripened, they’re very tasty. We are about to have our first rossa bianca, a beautiful italian eggplant that is white with pink stripes. It’s really too pretty to eat but we’re going to anyway.  Also the Fay Elberta peaches are good (but last year was better!). I finally got a HUGE brown turkey fig, which tasted wonderful. Beans and peppers trickle in at a pathetic rate, and the tomatoes grow robustly but set little fruit. All sorts of people tell me how successful their tomatoes have been this year so far. All I can do is frown and think about that greenhouse…….

The trio of Narragansett turkeys continues to grow and do well, and we really enjoy the antics of littlest Narragansett, trying to be like bigger Narragansetts. Adorable little bird! The Royal Palms have all been released from their brooders with their pathetic mothers. One hen has taken over caring for all the poults, and the other two are off living the single life. It is amazing how neurotic the Royal Palms are, and how calm the Narragansetts seem by contrast. All turkeys are not created equal.

One last bit of sad news. Galahad died this last weekend. He was brought to work. He had cardiac and intestinal hemorrhages, and the doctor doesn’t know why. A few tests are still out, but it’s looking like we may have no explaination as to why we lost our beautiful peacock.

July 27, 2005

I haven’t written in awhile! But excuses abound. The 10th through 17th were spent improving the Neilsen ratings for Star Trek: TNG reruns on Spike TV. In other words, I had the cold from hell and was down and very out for an entire week. The "optimal sick" is when a person ails too much to be at work, but not enough that reading, writing, crafts and light housekeeping are still reachable goals. Unfortunately, this was "abysmal sick", oh well.

In other news, time has been spent researching beekeeping, as we progress to making a decision about when to start our first hive. Hours of internet reading have brought me up to having "the general idea". Next we meet with a local novice beekeeper to ask some more questions. I have found what I believe to be the best deal for a starter kit, and more reading has led to finding information for making certain tools and supplies at home. So, we’ll see where this ends up.

We have been playing catch-up outside. In addition to being sick, the weather has been at, near, or above 100 degrees F for days on end. It has been difficult to get work done outside; the heat restricts activity to the half hour before sunset and twilight. Watering takes priority, followed by harvesting and weeding. Our kitchen floor is heavily encroached upon by 5 gallon buckets of potatoes. All the potatoes are dug up and it seems to me we did well. To tell the truth I haven’t gotten round to eating one just baked to see how they taste, but they look good. Squashes are coming along, and some of the vines have grown alarmingly when I wasn’t paying attention. Beans and okra are beginning to bear. Peppers are flowering, while peaches, plums and nectarines make a modest but steady parade across the kitchen counter. The Swiss chard have grown admirably, with their colorful spines of pink, red, yellow and white against the green leaves. So far we have kept up with eating the food, but I think we are on the verge of being overwhelmed.

In turkey-land, we are done with chicks for the year. We had the disappointing result of only ONE chick hatching out of our second dozen eggs. The heat wave likely didn’t help one bit and may have caused some of the chicks to die in the eggs. But mostly, I think any embryos died at an early stage, as many of the eggs showed minimal development. If we are lucky, our three surviving poults will turn out to be boys and girls. If not, next year I’m going to avoid this fun and order live chicks. We have already observed that the Narragansetts are calmer and a good deal smarter than the Royal Palms. I can see why they are well thought of by breeders.

Lastly, we are exploring the idea of farm or equity loans for improvments on the property, thanks to the exponential increase in values that northern California in general and Arbuckle in particular has experienced. After a few years of wrangling with the landscape, some things become apparent. Two upgrades that we feel are fairly important are a more powerful tractor, and an investment in a solar energy system. It seems pretty clear that any national energy source which relies on petroleum fuel will only increase in years to come. An alternative energy source, although imperfect, frees a property to a certain extent from reliance on traditional energy supplies. And regarding the tractor, we know that we are killing the poor thing. Our little Kubota, however well made, lacks the horsepower for many of the chores needing to be done. We are in the process of gaining estimates on the value of our existing tractor, and also pricing out the various options for a larger machine. We prefer to purchase another Kubota, which has got to be the Volvo of tractors.

Investigating the twists and turns of agricultural economics is providing quite an education. Farm loans are many and varied. Loans exist for property purchase, new farmers, young farmers, part-time farmers, disadvantaged farmers, operation expenses, disaster expenses, equipment expenses, structural expenses. They are provided by government and farm organizations. Interest rates vary all over the map, from variable to fixed, loan amounts vary from whatever to 300K minimums. Some loans are to be had quickly, while others guarantee endless miles of red tape and forms. Some loans are specifically geared to help the "little guy" while others clearly are meant only for Big Ag Business. Either way, it’s best to make sure the homework is done, since in any venture there are ups and downs.