First Friday of the month at 5p.m.
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Denesse and I are headed to a 35th annual EcoFarm Conference at Pacific Grove’s Asilomar this week. Many organic farmers were first awakened to complex life underfoot at that venue some twenty years ago when pioneering soil microbial ecologists Elaine Ingham and Vicki Bess made rousing presentations. However, as each strove to develop commercial, practical methods for characterizing the diversity and health of vast, largely invisible, living communities in farmers’ soils, animosity ensued. Bess, while admitting fewer than 5% of soil-dwelling species could be grown on artificial media, argued that a handful she cultured in petri dishes were indicative of the many. Ingham insisted on direct microscopic observation, even though she could not distinguish one bacterial species from another and fungi’s value could only be inferred from hyphal width. [Read more…]
Willey family just returned from our annual pilgrimage to Yosemite’s water temple, where the big rumpus is over two blokes’ midwinter free-climbing of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall, never before scaled by mere hands and feet. Dry and warm weather favors this youthful pair’s attempt to conquer “the world’s most arduous free-climb”. It favors no one else. I sadly characterize our Yosemite watershed’s snow cover as little more than a dusting after we encountered just six inches of the white stuff at an elevation where six feet is not uncommon for early January. Spring melt from what’s up there now, halfway through this rainy season, will not fill many reservoirs. Retired UCSB anthropologist Brian Fagan’s Before California cites evidence that one extended drought cycle threatened food supplies and the social stability of California’s long-established native communities around 1000 A.D. [Read more…]
Potato harvest will begin in earnest this week. We’re finally tearing out last summer’s peppers and eggplant, making way for spring seedings. Our warm autumn lead to early and complete harvests of Mei Qing and Fennel planned for winter boxes. It’s fun to see what local growers have to share. This week we’re featuring items from young David Obermiller’s four-acre Fresno garden. – denesse
I was humbled when Australian farmer and International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) president Andre Leu drove here recently from San Francisco to record a “Down on the Farm” radio show before winging it back Down Under. Leu seemed as genuinely pleased to be touring our 75-acre Madera farm as he’d been to address World Soil Day celebrants at United Nations’ New York headquarters several days before. He farms a half-dozen exotic Asian fruits, only two of which I had ever heard, in Queensland, Australia’s tropical north. It was hard to imagine Andre, whose orchard is commonly drenched by 200 inches of annual rain, having any insight into a drought stricken operation. As we surveyed our yet unharvested winter potato crop, I explained how recent warm falls boost yields but increase dreaded late blight disease, apparent in several patches across the field. He recommended a practice I’d heard of but thought odd. [Read more…]
Though not for lack of trying, Steve Pavich and I failed to land an audience with plant intelligence “guru” Stephano Mancuso in Tuscany last month. As Pavich’s sidekick, I’d less than enthusiastically agreed to visit a weird Tuscan vineyard whose Sangiovese grapes are serenaded 24/7 by strains of Mozart, Hayden and Vivaldi over loudspeakers. Eccentric winemaker Carlo Cignozzi has carried on like this for over a decade, aiming to enhance vineyard health and his vintage’s quality. Nearby University of Florence’s Professor Mancuso’s data indicates ￼￼plant intelligence. [Read more…]
For several weeks Canada geese have been flying over the farm on their way to southern climes. The sound of this annual migration beckons me from the office and reminds me of the pleasure of living on the Pacific flyway. I will hang my thistle feeders at the house this weekend to lure the California finches within sight of our kitchen windows. These glimpses of nature fill me with wonder and hope. The geese call out to one another, hence the nickname “Canadian Honkers”. I wonder about these aerial communications; are they gossiping about the tidiness of farms over which they pass or might they be words of encouragement for the flight leader? The sound is both exciting and forlorn, reminiscent of homecomings associated with these winter holidays. The Satsumas harken us to reread Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. I hope there’s a memory or two for you in this week’s box. – denesse
I don’t like to quibble with the Good Book. Though Matthew 5:45 alleges “He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike”, that was not the case last week. Without regard to which Californians might be of higher virtue, Fresno-Madera’s half-inch storm total was exceeded in Los Angeles by four times and by ninefold in San Francisco! Yosemite National Park’s Superintendent Don Neubacher extolled the restoration of roaring flows over long-silent Yosemite Falls. Even in generous precipitation years, the watershed feeding that cascade, commencing at 7,000 feet, should be a frozen wonderland by December, releasing little more than a midday trickle. [Read more…]
Last Week’s storm brought some much needed snow to the highest elevations, and with this warmer weather a bit of valley fog. I always praise the wretched summer heat and soul sapping winter fog; “without them there would be 3 1/2 million people living here and the place would be ruined!” It looks like we will have some hand-dug Yukon Gold potatoes for the extra-value holiday box next week. The crop is “made”, but we need to wait for the field to dry out and the skins “to set” before harvesting in earnest. – denesse
“DeCesari Olive Oil Syndicate” is harvesting the neighborhood’s trees this day after Thanksgiving to press our coming year’s domestic supply. Four men scramble up and down ladders, stripping every black, oil-engorged fruit in hopes we can meet the 350 lb. minimum that Mill Valley’s Frantoio requires to press a separate lot. Last year, these same trees yielded over 900 lbs. Olive shares an “alternate bearing” habit with a number of other fruits and nuts. Voluminous crops demand extra energy and nutrients that otherwise would be appropriated to form a following year’s fruit buds. [Read more…]
Invest in quality stocks. Do not discard your washed leek tops, parsley stems, kale stalks or cabbage trimmings, save them with carrot peels (NOT carrot tops) and coarse stems from turnips or beets. Refrigerate in a microperf bag until the weekend. Place your collection in a stockpot, add enough cold water to cover and any herbs that strike your fancy, bring to a boil, reduce heat until the water just barely quivers. Simmer for at least an hour and up to 6. Strain, and refrigerate or freeze for use in making sauces, soups and stews, or cooking rice. Your meat trimmings or bones can be simmered along with the veggies, but I try to always have vegetable stock handy when preparing recipes for my vegetarian guests. – denesse