Lady bugs and praying mantises are now available at Whiting Nursery. We think that is "really cool."
One of the biggest challenges early in the growing season is the damage that sucking insects, primarily aphids, can cause to tender new growth. For the past twenty years we have been creating habitat and fostering large populations of lady bugs to help maintain our vineyards' health.
Lady bugs, praying mantises, leafy winged scavengers, and other "beneficial insects" are a key component of our organic farming systems at Long Meadow Ranch. Mantises, in particular, are aggressive hunters and will eat a wide range of garden insects including aphids, mosquitoes, caterpillars, beetles, flies, grasshoppers, crickets, leaf hoppers, moths and many others.
Now home gardeners can get a head start by purchasing some of these beneficial insects for release in their home garden. Of course, there is no substitute for creating the right long-term habitat for the insects (otherwise they'll either just fly away or won't properly reproduce), but that is a longer story than a blog posting.
Whiting Nursery, a core element of our farm-to-table offering at Long Meadow Ranch & Farmstead in St. Helena, is now a wonderful resource for the home organic gardner and small scale grower. All of the new vegetable starter plants are organically raised, a wide array of organic fertilizers is in stock, Kevin Twohey is a rich source of horticultural knowledge, and, of course, we now have beneficial bugs. You can even buy organic chicken feed, too.
Our "big" idea is really starting to take shape. Explore, see, learn, eat, enjoy, and take-it-home. These "full cycle" experiences are all part of what we hope to provide to our community and to visitors at Long Meadow Ranch Winery & Farmstead.
We harvested 10 tons of our own potatoes this week.
The potatoes were grown on our "dairy" property in Tomales, California, known as Tomales Farm & Dairy (about 35 miles from LMR on the California coast). Can you imagine burgers and fries from the same farm? We are producing beef and potatoes from the same ground. True terroir.
One of my favorite memories from 1992 is vice presidential candidate Senator Dan Quayle telling a sixth grader that the proper spelling of potato had an "e" on the end (i.e., "potatoe"). How embarrassing! The spelling of this wonderfully nutritious tuber may have
determined the outcome of a presidential election. Seventeen years later potatoes are helping provide an authentic foundation for our farm-to-table food proposition.
As you may recall, we own a 500-acre former dairy farm in Tomales, California, where we raise grass for our grass-finished Shorthorn beef cattle. Tomales was renowned about 120 years ago for its production of potatoes (properly spelled with an "e", if plural). The intensive potato farming contributed to significant erosion of the area's extraordinary topsoils and the industry went into sharp decline. But, a few locations still have the historically ideal conditions - including our property.
This week we harvested almost 10 tons of potatoes from about two acres that we carved out of our lush pasture lands. We collaborated with a local "share cropper" farmer and together we established a new organic field of potatoes. We split the crop in return for his labor and expertise So, we now have 5 tons of fabulous potatoes ready to be served at our new Farmstead Restaurant.
We harvested two varieties: Russets and German Butterballs. The Russets will make amazing french fries ("pommes frites") and the Butterballs will be terrific as a side dish either boiled, baked, or sauteed. Chef Sheamus Feeley is already exploring how we will present these extraordinary home-grown potatoes at the Farmstead Restaurant. For sure we will pair our fries and beef produced from the same ground. Where else can you have this experience?
Posted by Ted Hall
Today is the day to celebrate the root of it all: Mom.
Anybody who has been on a tour of the ranch has heard me start the narrative with: "My mother was an organic gardening pioneer in the 1940s."
Today I am back in Pennsylvania spending the day with the source, my mother. Although our small family farm is long gone (we left in 1961), Mom is still going strong (at least in terms of her ability to tell me what to do).
Today we reminisced about her early start with gardening. Her father and mother (my grandparents) operated a small grocery store in Beaver. It was a neighborhood store with a confectionary and sandwich shop. Mom isn't sure about its proper name because everyone called it "the little store." But, we think it was officially known as DeHass Grocery.
The family provided fresh produce for the store from its own gardens just a few blocks away. As children, my mother and her two brothers and sister worked in that garden. There was always a compost pile and my grandfather mixed a variety of potions, including soapy water and tobacco juice, for pest control.
Sadly, my grandfather lost the store to bankruptcy in 1936 when he could no longer pay his own bills after providing credit to so many of his customers. But, the traditions and skills of growing for the market were already in place.
When my mother and father were married, they soon acquired a small rural property and, as they say, the rest is history. The bible, according to Mom, was "Five Acres and Independence," a book first published in 1935 which became popular with young couples following World War II. One of my most prized possessions is my mother and father's copy of the book, which Mom presented to me a few years ago.
Mom reminded me this afternoon that I turned the compost pile for the first time when I was five years old.
Thank you, Mom.
Courtney Delello held an audience at rapt attention today for her lecture, Starting Your Spring Garden, which is part of our ongoing Sustainable Student Series.
The seminar attracted more than 40 students, a number of whom were participants in previous sessions in the series. We are blessed to have a teacher as talented as Courtney as our farm production manager. She is a former a faculty member in the Agriculture/Natural Sciences Department at Santa Rosa Junior College where she continues to teach in the evening program. Not surprisingly, Courtney's lectures are well-prepared and delivered with enthusiasm and commitment.
Courtney shared many tips on how and when to plant. While many were anxious and ready to plant tomatoes in anticipation of the wonderful bounty of the summer, Courtney cautioned that we can still expect frost until about May 7th here in the Napa Valley. As a result, we will not offer tomato plants for sale until our grand opening for the season on Saturday, May 2. We did have many different plants on offer, including strawberries, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, and parsley. Many students and visitors were seen carting plants away for the backyard.
We also offered our full marketplace array of olive oil, grass-fed beef, eggs, and fresh organic produce. We even had some of our "secret" olive oil cake to accompany a cup of coffee for the early arrivals.
The eggs continue to be a big draw. Laddie's flocks are really starting to roll with the warmer days (and nights). And, with the introduction of many new hens, we have more "workers." We have even more on the way as Laddie nurtured a batch of new chicks in the brooder through cold nights during February and March.
At the moment we have three different sizes of eggs with Jumbos from the mature girls and "Pullet" eggs from the youngsters bracketing our Regular eggs in size.
As the ground warms and the risk of frost subsides, we'll soon have much of the garden planted. At the moment the green house is bursting with new starts. But, we have already started putting plants in the ground. While Courtney was busy giving her lecture, just a few feet away Marilu Martinez was busy putting broccoli in the ground on a beautiful day.