July 27, 2006

This has been quite a week. The berry harvest unceremoniously ended itself in a big hurry, which meant that instead of the 70 baskets for sale available at the 7/18 Farmer’s Market, we had only 24 for sale on 7/22. But with the heat, that’s how it goes.

After Saturday’s market we dropped off a second dozen berry baskets to Tuco’s Wine Market and Cafe in Davis, and Ken was able to meet the delightful proprietor of this amazing eatery. Ken returned to the car and mentioned that there was an interest in heirloom tomatoes….I couldn’t help but note the 30 pounds of said tomatoes in the back of the car….so we dropped off some of those. Tuesday evening all of us involved in Nevermore Farm returned to Tuco’s to dine. I can’t begin to explain what a gourmet experience we’ve discovered there. Thanks to my parents, I’ve been privileged to eat at some very sophisticated establishments, and have grown to enjoy and appreciate a wide range of fine foods. But Tuco’s commands a special niche, the like of which I’ve never experienced. Each offering is small, unique, and exquisite in flavor. I believe I’m sampling the freshest and finest food ingredients rendered into simple, yet elegant, combinations that are a culinary equivalent of handcrafted fine art. All I know is, when someone can get beets and parmesan cheese together on a plate and make me wish I had 16 helpings more of it, I’m on to something. I won’t even get into the tenderloin of bison or the chocolate cream puffs, let it suffice to say "I will cherish the memories". But the best part of all, for me, was looking at the menu and seeing that our farm was listed, with thanks, along with the other local farms that supply produce to Tuco’s. We’re so small, and so new…..acknowledgement like that makes struggling against the heat, the fire ants, and all the other less-than-fun elements of being a grower all worthwhile.

The "Farmer’s Market Garden" actually at our farm is at about 40% production right now. Okra, sunflowers, armenian cucumbers, & all summer squash are harvestable. The sunflowers are particularly magnificent. Between the garden itself, Drew’s insistence on actual use of fertilizer, and the seeds from Pioneer Hi-Bred, they are like nothing I’ve ever had. I cut a bouquet for myself at work. The flowers are 8′ across, on 2 foot stems. And that’s just one kind. There are white ones, deep maroon red ones, red and yellow ones….and there are a lot of them. What I’m cutting now are just the first 160′ that I planted; there are a few successive sowings lurking in the background. The French cantaloupes, Charentais and Noir des Carmes, are the size of softballs and growing away. I don’t even like cantaloupe, but I’m pretty excited to see what these are like. They are described in the catalogs as intense in sweetness and aroma, and are both supposed to be highly sought after in European markets. We’ll see….those catalog descriptions can get carried away. Still, if they are ever going to be good, it’s going to be in that garden. The Jenny Lind honeydew melons also look good, and the Armenian Tigger melons, largely grown for fragrance, perk along.

The French climbing beans should be yielding in less than 2 weeks, and there are already gourds and loofahs all over the trellis. About 320′ of zinnias are coming soon, and most of the dahlias are already blooming and being sold at the market. As much as I like heirloom produce, nothing takes the place of seeing 7 full buckets of flowers ready to go to the market, all perfect in shape and color. I know I don’t charge enough, but flowers just make people happy. I know it’s supposed to be about the money, but sometimes seeing people walk away smiling with a big bunch of flowers in their bag has its own worth. Well, it is widely known that my business skills need managing….

The tomato/eggplant/pepper garden at Drew’s is at about 75% production. A few tomatoes still are hanging back. We pick something like 50 pounds a day and can’t remotely keep up. They’re all really, really tasty. Our quart pulp baskets arrived from the farm supply place, so now we can package the smaller tomatoes into dry quart containers–this will make sales a lot easier. The beefsteak slicing varieties are looking great, particularly the Cherokee Purple which has thus far lived up to its flavor reputation. The eggplants and peppers are slow but harvestable; a few more weeks and there will be many more of them.

The birds have had a tough week in the heat. Luciano, one of our Leghorn roosters, passed on. He was older, but I’m sure the weather didn’t help. He was a good bird, and at least he enjoyed some years of life with grass and sunshine. We continue to have intermittent problems from the foxes; the overall toll on our second hatching of turkeys was significant.

So all in all, productivity and profits are up, sleep and cool weather are down, and our busy busy lives go on….

July 12, 2006

The Farmer’s Market is a fickle and unpredictable entity. At the last writing, sales for our first Tuesday market attendance were a dismal less-than-forty-dollars. Quite possibly our worst sales day ever! Last night we attended our second Tuesday market, and decided to only sell blackberries on account of logistical constraints. We set a record for sales, coming very close to two hundred dollars! We went to the market with between 60 and 70 baskets of berries, and sold about 2/3 of that. Some baskets we traded for other goods at the market, and the surplus has been brought to my regular workplace today for discount sale.

Recent events have also settled the "Is Hired Labor Worth It?" issue. There is just about no way I would be able to harvest and sort the 50-60 pounds of berries that were picked on Friday. Hired labor did all the picking and half the sorting, and even then, I was still working until 10:30 Monday night to have all the cartons and boxes ready to go to the market. The laborers are fast and efficient, and do the job 85% as well as I would do it myself. From that standpoint, they are actually better, because when time and your aching back are an issue, there is such a thing as doing too good of a job. I fuss too much over the baskets, and past a certain point it isn’t worth it. I’m slower, too!! So we’ve learned a valuable lesson– it is cost effective and time effective to hire help.

And, a recent miscommunication has settled my decision to have Drew teach me "Farm Laborer Spanish." One of the gentlemen was at my house Friday morning, asking me (I thought) if I had seen the troublesome fox running around. I had not, and I answered "no". Well, what I had actually been asked was whether I wanted the berries picked! Ooops, that wasn’t good. The mistake was fixed before the end of the day, but that was almost really not good. It has occurred to me for some time that my years of learning German, Greek, Latin, Armenian, smatterings of Romance languages, and bits of Chinese are not doing me a lot of good when it comes to communicating with the aforementioned hired labor. It is a fact of life here that if you are going to work with laborers, you’d better learn the lingo. And I say "lingo" because this isn’t the Spanish taught in school. The words are different, everything is a sort of slang. But if it gets the job done, that’s fine with me.

Speaking of the fox, new pups have been sighted in the neighborhood. I am feeling rather glum about the animals, which someone is going to end up sending to the Great Beyond. The adult fox was barking the night before for some time….awful sound. I wish they would move somewhere else.

July 5, 2006

It must be summer, I can’t remember what I did 2 days ago. We are in full "Farmer’s Market Mode" now, having attended the first Tuesday evening market (for us) last night. It was disappointing sales-wise; the holiday caused a poor turnout. Our farming partner Drew went to the market for the first time to pinch-hit for Ken, who had some knee surgery Monday. Ken is fine and so is his knee, but lifting crates and trailer hitches is out for a few market days. It’s too bad so few people bought produce, because we have some spectacular items coming into season. One particularly appealing specimen was the 1.75 pound orange tomato of uncertain origin, although other growers have deemed it to be of the "Pincushion" variety. The tomatoes are really, really good, and the plants are loaded with unripe fruit. We have been eating delicious cucumber, tomato and basil salads with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for days…..tasty.

The main garden at our farm is just beginning its production with (of course) the squash. Long, 80 foot rows of…..squash. They are all ready to unleash their….squashes….on us. Needless to say in exactly 2 weeks I will be terribly sorry I planted all those. We have no problems out there except for a gopher destroying a few beans, but I’m pretty sure said gopher was the plump specimen belly up in my living room a few days ago. Those cats earn their Friskies! If I didn’t write about it before, we suffered some poultry losses from a fox family. The current status of that is "two down one to go" thanks to an unnamed gentleman who knows his rifle. There have been no sightings in two days of the remaining adult.

Right now Drew is installing the irrigation system for the new orchard, the old orchard, and a few things in between. As of now, a rainbird type sprinkler has been watering our little orchard for weeks on end, moving around and around every day. It will be wonderful to stop using the pump and the well water as soon as the other system is ready. The pump uses a lot of electricity. Which reminds me, we received our first PG&E bill since the installation of the solar system. The bill reflected 19 billable days in this cycle. The bill was……..just over $22. I could get used to this.

Mopsy the peahen was sitting on her eggs, which we knew were likely infertile on account of her having no boyfriend. But what we didn’t know was that some chickens slipped a few eggs into her collection, and one day we found four little yellow heads peeking out of her brown feathers. So now the pea is raising chickens. We won’t tell her if you won’t.

Otherwise, it’s been hot, it’s hard to keep everything watered, weeds are gaining ground, the berries are ripe and tasty, the plums are struggling against the wild birds, the ants are eating the figs (the counterattack is in the works), the house is unspeakably dirty, and the evenings are lovely with lots of fresh squeezed orange juice, berries, and ice cream. Sounds like a farm.