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Lorraine's Observations

Happy New Year And I Hope You Remembered to Eat Your Cabbage!

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I grew up with my mother’s German tradition of eating pork roast and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day.  My mom always told me you have to eat some sort of cabbage on NY Day to bring good fortune in the coming year.  I never thought much about it, but I did continue that tradition in my own home.  This year is no different, we will enjoy a ham from our friends George and Anne House, and some Eatwell Red Cabbage for our New Year’s gathering.  But today, as I was thinking about what to write for this week’s newsletter I began to wonder where this tradition came from, so I googled it.  

This is what I found on the “German Food Guide”:

Eating Sauerkraut on New Year's Eve is a long-standing tradition in Germany. It is believed that eating Sauerkraut will bring blessings and wealth for the new year. Before the meal, those seated at the table wish each other as much goodness and money as the number of shreds of cabbage in the pot of Sauerkraut.

I also read that the long shreds of cabbage are meant to represent a long life.  And for the pork, well a pig cannot look backwards, only forwards, and therefore only roots forward.  This is meant to represent looking to the future rather than dwelling on the past.  And the pig/pork roast is also a symbol of good luck for the coming year.

As Cameron and I walked around the farm today, for the last time this year, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw this gorgeous purple row of cabbage and look forward to our delicious New Year’s Day meal.  Happy New Year Y’all!

Flea Beetles & Other Pests

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As Cameron and I walk the fields checking out various plants, we are now looking for unwanted, tiny critters.  I am sure many of you have experienced our greens with tiny holes in them.  And checking out a small planting of tomatillos we found lots of little holes and tiny black bugs.  Cameron was explaining what he learned in class about the flea beetle.  They will eat little holes in leaves, but they also can spread viruses.

Nigel was a big believer in letting nature take her course, but I think our balance is off. The problem you create when you use pesticides, even natural ones, is you often kill the beneficial bugs along with the pests.  That makes sense, but what do we do about holes in our arugula and kale?

I have been doing a little bit of reading on our options.  Sticky yellow traps are one possibility. I know Nigel used them in the past.  And even though the yellow will attract the good bugs, we would not be saturating a field killing everything out there.  There is no spraying involved so that is plus. If we did spray we could use a mixture of kaolin clay and water.  This is completely natural and non-toxic. It makes the leaves very unappetizing, so bugs like flea beetles don’t eat them. Their predators would still have them to eat and we wouldn’t be killing those beneficial bugs.  Perhaps this would be a positive way to bring things back into balance.  One more option I would like to research further is the use of natural predators.  We all love ladybugs and when they come in at the right time they do wonders on the aphids. Ladybug larva can eat up to 40 aphids in an hour! There are beneficial nematodes that kill the larvae of cucumber, scarab, Japanese, flea beetles, chafer, thrips, white grub, corn root worm, bilbug, CO potato beetle, black vine weevil, root mealybug. Pretty exciting stuff for a wanna be farm girl. Who would have ever thought?

Spring Cabbage

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So how does your cabbage grow?  In beautiful curving form, of course! I love to watch the evolution of cabbage, it really is an incredible slow motion show.  According to the weather app we should have mild temps for the next two weeks. If that holds, the cabbages will have a chance to develop.  Last year we went from too much rain to too much heat. This year we have had late frost and late rain. The Winter frost exploded many of the cabbages, which is why we didn’t have them in the CSA shares as much as I would have liked.  

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You can see in this photo of a red cabbage how the tightly formed head just bursts open. Very pretty for a photo, but no good for eating! We could use some mild Spring weather for a few weeks. If it gets really hot it stresses the plants. As it is we are pushing it with Spring Cabbage because of the heat. We might get lucky this year, and have cabbages later into the season than we normally expect.

Sun, Rain, Weeds

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The late winter rains has brought an overwhelming amount of weeds.  This makes harvesting slow and tedious.  It is always hard when we face these types of issues, as it is yet another reminder that I can’t just go and ask Nigel.  Fortunately, Cameron is learning a lot at the Farm Academy. I sat in on a good talk at the farming event we went to a few weeks back and heard how another farm close to us is dealing with their weeds.  I am hoping Cameron and I can go visit them in the next week, to learn how to implement some new strategies. These late rains have probably also adversely effected our stone fruit. Too much rain during the blooming stage is definitely not a good thing.  Checking the weather it looks like we might get a bit more this week. I know California always needs more precipitation, but I for one would like to see the end of it. Let it snow in the mountains to build up our stored water for later in the season, but let the sunshine on the farm!

 

Connecting Travel, Friends, and Food

It’s the last night of my trip.  I just said the last of my goodbyes and am now alone in my hotel in Zurich. A big part of the fun with a trip like this, comes with the months of planning and anticipation. It is always a bit unbelievable when you get to the other side and you are facing your last day of vacation.  

I have eaten so much more than I should have, but loved each and every bite! Ellie, Nigel’s daughter, and I had 3 weeks together, a truly wonderful way for a “Wicked Step-Mom” and Step-Daughter to spend time together. I got to visit people who lived with me 17 years ago, and meet their families. We shared bits of their lives, laughed and played with their kids.  We spent hours visiting and reaffirming that miles and years apart matter not, the bond that was created all those years ago is still there. Some connections run deep, and usually opening your home to strangers is a pretty good way to create lasting relationships.  One of our highlights was going to see Kathrin’s play, and even though it was in French and I couldn’t understand it, it was great! About 9 years ago Kathrin stayed with some of our CSA members, Bob and Pat, when she wanted to attend an acting school in SF. The connections ripple out, like a stone thrown into a lake. The last week and a half we spent with Emily, our former CSA manager, and her husband and daughter. 

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One of the greatest joys for me was watching Evie, their 7 year old speak Italian and interact in Italian seamlessly. She wooed everyone everywhere we went.  Fearless in her embrace of the culture and life in Italy, Evie was an inspiration. We visited an organic winery near Verona, saw how Parmigiano Reggiano is made, learned all about Balsamic Vinegar and visited a Swiss Chocolate Factory. I was thrown from a horse, but then we had one of the most delicious lunches afterwards, so nothing else mattered. We oooed and ahhhhed over majestic mountains, beautiful lakes, and landscapes. As much as I love to travel, I know in my heart that we Californians live in one of the most beautiful areas in the world, and we also eat some of the best food. We are pretty lucky living here.  

I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to travel this way, but I must admit it comes with a heavy portion of sorrow. This trip was only possible because my life is no longer tethered to doctor appointments and hospital stays. But everywhere I went, I took Nigel with me, proudly sharing stories about our farm and our CSA. People here are so fascinated by American farms, and it is easy to relate to people who are passionate artisans. There is always so much joy around food. To travel as I have, and to have a home like mine to go back to, knowing that the work I do matters, those are tremendous blessings.  Thank you all for playing your part.

 

Aphids and Ladybugs

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It is the time of year you start looking for the ladybugs.  Looking at the fava plants we can see the aphids have arrived, now we need a good health colony of ladybugs to keep the aphids under control.  The weather the last couple of months has been so up and down, I have no idea what will happen.  Last year, even with all the rain, I saw a good amount of ladybugs fairly early. Out in the fields this year, I haven’t seen any yet. Nigel felt that if you start spraying (even the organically approved products) you run the risk of eliminating the good bugs along with the bad ones. He chose to rely on the natural predators, in this case ladybugs, hoping we could achieve a natural balance on the farm.  That doesn’t always work, so it is a gamble. But in a world where we are daily throwing off ecosystems, perhaps the risk is worth it. In the meantime, the rows of favas and peas are looking quite nice. Now that everything has been well watered by Mother Nature, we can add in warm sunshine and get a crop soon.

Finding My Voice

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And yes, the van is stuck in the mud.  This has happened twice in the last 2 months.  The first time Cameron got my car stuck on his way out to deal with the wild dogs, and the second was yesterday when Maysam and I were going out to deal with the Nest that had blown over in the storm.  Both times I expressed my concern, saying it probably wasn’t a good idea, both times I was told it would be fine.  Both times I was right.  Believe me, this is not about me being right, because ultimately I was wrong.  I was seriously wrong for not being comfortable with telling someone “no, I know better”.  When you take on a life running a business you have to learn to be strong and understand when you need to be firm, and when you say no, you mean no.  How is anyone else going to understand that if I don’t?  Hopefully, the lesson has been learned, and even though vehicles got stuck in the mud, I no longer will be. 

Little Lettuces

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Seems strange to me that these sweet little lettuces grow so well during these past couple of weeks of cold nights and days, but they have.  And they keep giving all winter long.  Often the guys cut the center out, rather than taking the entire plant, and new beauties grow back.

Winter Crops

This time of year, it amazes me that Jose and the guys can get as much beautiful produced out of the fields every week as they do.  We are in a bit of in an in between time, many of the crops we were harvesting over the past few months are looking tired, and old.  Many are in full bloom or about to.  In this picture you can clearly see how many of the greens are moving on to their next phase in life, which if we let them, would be reproduction.  Lots of beautiful yellow flowers popping out of beds of greens we have been enjoying. The blossoms are really quite tasty but obviously we can’t fill a box with pretty yellow flowers.  And of course this is all just another example of the seasonality of a farm like ours.  It is also the reason we plant the same crop over a period of several weeks.  Farming is a lot easier if you are just growing a few things to harvest all at once, but we have boxes to fill 51 weeks out of the year, and that takes a lot of planning.

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A Different Way Of Looking at the Farm

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When Nigel and I would walk the farm, we saw everything from very different perspectives. He saw crops and yields, I saw dishes and dinner. I was reminded of this as I was walking back to the house and passed a field of leeks and fennel.  My first reaction was Oh, I love roasting fennel and leeks together, yum! I am sure Nigel’s would have been, looks like we are getting to the end with these crops. Fennel is beginning to bloom, leeks are looking a little weak. I wonder if I will ever become a farmer first, cook/lover of food second? I doubt it.

Missed The Photo OP

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The poplars are still leafless, so you can see many nests.  As we walked to the end of the farm, I looked up and spotted a giant owl sitting just below one of the nests.  Sadly I didn’t have my camera open and in my hand.  Before I got it all together I watched that majestic bird fly away.  What a wing span! I really can’t get over how many birds we have living with us here at Eatwell.  I was never a fan of our winged friends (that dates back to early childhood trauma), but my love is quickly growing.  The owls and hawks are great because they help us reduce the rodent population.  With the amount of ground squirrels we have, we can use all the help we can get.

Our First Headstart Order 2018

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The first major project Cameron worked on when he came back to the farm last summer was our seed/Headstart orders.  I can’t tell you what an enormous project this was, there were so many layers and pieces to consider, it made me feel like my head would explode.  Nigel had most of this information in his head, and over the past few years, with all the cancer treatment, he hadn’t kept logs.  

We now have a giant spread sheet that tells us what seeds, which variety, how many, from whom, days to germination, when the seeds arrive here or go to Headstart, which weeks do we expect those starts and when does that crop go into your CSA box.  It is crazy, but with that information Cameron and I sat down in early December and got our seed/Headstart orders put together for all of 2018!  POs were created for the entire year, and last Thursday, the first one arrived.  I think we both felt a good amount of satisfaction.  Wonder how I will feel when I see the bill :)

Help! What Do I Do With….

One of the biggest issues that faces those of you who are smart enough to get your veg straight from a farm CSA, is “what do I do with these things I have never had before???” It is one of the biggest reasons people are afraid to join a CSA. Funny how we are programmed, isn’t it? To be afraid of vegetables. In any case, we have help for you, and I know many of you aren’t even aware of it.  On the website you will find information about how to store each item in your share, and what you should eat first, and what is ok to hold and store. To make finding that information easy, we include a link in the weekly “Don’t Forget To Pickup Your Box” email.  The website also has loads of recipes. The Eatwell’ers Slack group is another great resource. I find when I ask for help on Slack, I almost always get an answer within a couple of hours. This week was a great example! I asked for a recipe using Bok Choy that was different from the typical stir fry and boom! One of our members posted the perfect recipe for this week’s share. I have included it in the recipes. Big Thank You to Celeste who shared it.

Dogs In Our Hood

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We have had an ongoing problem with dogs. For several months now they have been chasing, attacking and killing our chickens. A couple of weeks ago, I found a few of our geese up in the pond, plus one dead out on our road. Now the dogs are going after the geese. We don’t have many neighbors, but Cameron took off driving around looking for houses in the direction the dogs run off toward. He found a property with the dogs we have seen. No one was home so he left a note. We got in touch with animal control and they came out and spoke with the owners, who had no idea their pack of dogs was roaming, pillaging and plundering. They promised to lock them up and get rid of a couple. 

It is an old lady whose grandkids gave her the dogs to protect her. I don’t think they are doing a very good job if they are at our place. For the next week, all was quiet on the farm. Then the guys told us half of our geese are gone! Chased off that night by dogs. More dead geese, as well as a duck. Another call into animal control. They have recently trapped a few dogs, and believe there is also a pack of wild dogs in the area. 

What do we do? No one wants to kill dogs, I certainly have never wanted to kill a dog. But interestingly enough, I feel adamant about protecting our animals, and our crew. As the dogs get more comfortable on our land they are making their way closer to the house end of the farm. They are also more comfortable getting closer to the crew, our drivers are here at 4 am, and the dogs have definitely made their presence known.  

Our rifle has been pulled out of it’s hiding spot, dusted off, ammo purchased, along with a giant high powered flashlight.  We now have a flare gun, and a trap. Animal control told us that shooting near the dogs a few times should be enough to scare them off.  Hopefully it will. The problem right now is the farm is very muddy, the guys use the tractor for harvesting and my car gets stuck in the mud. We need a 4WD. 

Writing all of this, I realize I am sounding more and more like a true country girl. Be clear, it is not our intention to kill the dogs, just to scare them off.  That being said, I can honestly say, this City Girl has gotten to a place in life where going out and shooting at dogs is a real thing.  How the heck did I get here?

Lorraine’s Soapbox

I have shared with you all, many times, that I started working in the Natural Foods industry when I was in my 20s. For much of my adult life I have listened to the “real world” tell us we were a bunch of crazy, tree hugging hippies. Acidophilus, fresh yogurt, organic produce?  Sure, why not, they won’t hurt you, but you are just wasting your money. 

Now everyone is talking about our microbiome, and just how important all those bacteria really are. I remember when we were selling Yukon Gold Potatoes, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar, and the average supermarket shopper had no idea what any of those things were. Can you imagine stores NOT carrying these items now?

Antibiotics and growth hormones in livestock feed, over use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, fungicides, all of these necessary additions to our lives have proven to cause countless problems.  Many people believe the massive dead zone in the Gulf is due to chemicals that enter via the Mississippi. We are now facing the horrifying fact that mutating bacteria will out run antibiotics, and we will not have anything to beat them down. Maybe we, tree hugging, granola eaters weren’t so crazy after all.

Do I have a bit of anger about all of this, yes I do.  So when I read articles like the one in last week’s California AgAlert “Rice Growers May Soon Get New Tools to Control Weeds” I just want to bang my head against the wall.  According to the article, in California, there are 26 pesticide resistant weeds listed on WeedScience.org.  The promise of GMO’s and their companion products, clearly are failing.

We grow a lot of rice in California.  It is a tough crop to keep weed free.  There is no rotation, seldom a break from year after year of growing. According to Kassim Al-Khatib, UC Davis professor of Plant Sciences, who is quoted in the article, “If you cut the use rate, more weeds will survive, and they will develop a resistant population.  A general recommendation is to use the maximum rate and mix products.”  The solution is simple, more chemicals, and more cocktails.

“Application of herbicide for management of weedy rice.”   Source: LSUAgCenter.com, Weed Science

“Application of herbicide for management of weedy rice.” Source: LSUAgCenter.com, Weed Science

How does this make any sense? Applying increased amounts of chemicals to fields of rice, that are eventually flooded, seems kind of crazy to me.  I ask myself, why?  Why do we do these things?  The answer is always the same- money.  People have been convinced that food should be cheap, but is it really?  At what point do we look at what we are doing to the land, and to our waterways, not to mention the health of our animals, and ourselves.  Humans have been cultivating rice for possibly 13,500 years! Isn’t there another solution to the weed problem?

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