@LMR (the ranch blog)
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.
Our future tasting room was lifted 16 inches today without a creak.
The historic Logan/Ives house was lifted today using hydraulic jacks. This amazing feat happened without incident. The house didn't make a sound.
The next step is to lift the house another 32 inches on Monday. When completed, the house will be a full 48 inches (four feet!) off the ground.
We are lifting the house so that we can completely rebuild the foundation while keeping its historic character in tact. On Monday and Tuesday we'll be removing the old foundation and getting ready to pour new footings.
We can already see that the old foundation included some old tree stumps and rock piles. In 1874 you used whatever was at hand.
Can't wait to see what else we find.
We're going to make the new footings using concrete with a high component of fly ash. Fly ash is a fine, glass-like powder recovered from gases created by coal-fired electric power generation, which is usually dumped in landfills. But, fly ash is also an inexpensive replacement for the portland cement used in concrete, while it actually improves strength, segregation, and ease of pumping of the concrete.
So, we're diverting stuff from landfill and making better concrete with what is usually considered "waste."
More about the our overall "green" strategy later, but this is just one example of how doing the "right thing" can make the outcome better - and less expensive.
Pickled beets with eggs still win my heart.
Some of my fondest food memories are enjoying pickled beets with hard-boiled eggs at family picnics and celebrations - especially the 4th of July - back on the farm in western Pennsylvania. My mother and aunts all had their own approach, but I loved them all. Even now, when I am visiting (sadly, usually for a funeral) I gravitate to these traditional, farm-table dishes.
So, when Sheamus and Laddie were recently talking about using some of our smaller eggs from the new hens in Laddie's flock (technically called pullets), they settled on this recipe for the LMR Corral Club shindig. I was thrilled.
And, it turns out that the Pennsylvania tradition (namely, from the Mennonite and Amish) runs deep.
Here is what Sheamus said:
"When I was a teenager, my father gave me a book called: Cooking from Quilt Country. It was a collection of Mennonite and Amish farmhouse recipes that had inspired him and he thought I would enjoy it as well. Inside the book, I found numerous methods of preserving foods, but one stood out form the rest. It was 'Pickled Beets with Eggs.' These were inspired by that recipe."
Pickled Beets with Eggs
3 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek
1/2 teaspoon mace
2 dozen Long Meadow Ranch pullet eggs, cooked medium rare and peeled
2 pounds beets, roasted and peeled. Cut into 1” pieces
Combine first 8 ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and stir with a whisk until salt and sugar have dissolved.
Divide eggs and beets into mason-type jars and cover with pickling liquid.
Let sit for at least two days and a maximum of two weeks.
"A nice way to make a flavorful 'sauce,' is to take the roasting liquids from meat or poultry and swirl them in a pan with a few splashes of vinegar and a knob of butter.
Additionally, you can combine our vinegar with a little sugar or honey and use it to macerate fresh berries or cherries.
For a simple salad dressing, you can combine shallots, black pepper, thyme, salt and garlic together in a bowl for thirty minutes, then strain the vinegar. Combine the flavored vinegar with twice the amount of extra virgin olive oil and a bit of honey in a mason jar. Place a lid on the jar and shake it before use."
Share your own favorite vinegar recipe in the comments section below. Don't be shy.
Adam and Eve, our rare Red Wattle pigs, have gotten professional help with their mating problems. On Sunday, Eve was artificially inseminated by two young women working to help us establish the only viable breeding group west of the Rockies.
Nearly three years ago, Long Meadow Ranch agreed to house a pair of rare heirloom Red Wattle hogs for breeding purposes to help diversify the risk of maintaining the breed.
Red Wattles, an endangered species along with numerous other farm animal breeds, are included in the Slow Food Ark of Taste program that seeks to save our economic, social and cultural heritage. The Ark of Taste mission is to "preserve endangered tastes - and to celebrate them, by introducing them back to the world."
Two piglets, a boar and a gilt, traveled from Missouri (where the few remaining breeding pairs are concentrated) under the care of the breeder as part of a campaign to raise awareness about the need to preserve heritage farm breeds.
Now weighing in at an astonishing 600+ lbs, the former piglets - named Adam and Eve by Laddie - have been housed at LMR in the "Garden of Eden," previously known as the "Pig Palace."
They have been expertly cared for by students from the St. Helena High School FFA program with help from instructors Laura and Randy Mendes.
But, alas, they have not been able to breed, largely because of undiagnosed problems with Adam's back. He even made a trip to UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, but his problems stumped all of the experts.
Enter high school senior and FFA President, Laura White, who took on the Red Wattles as a senior project. She then recruited "Doc" Pam Coy, a St. Helena FFA graduate and second year vet student at UC Davis.
Together they developed a plan to create our own fertility clinic for swine, with the objective of artificially inseminating Eve with semen from Adam.
Sources of semen from other Red Wattle boars simply do not exist (swine semen cannot be frozen and transported because of damage to key proteins in the cell walls of sperm). So, we had no choice but to try to work with Adam.
Over the past few months, Pam and Laura have successfully drawn semen from Adam on multiple occasions followed by examinations of Adam's semen under microscope. They determined that his semen is likely healthy in terms of morphology (shape) and motility (ability to swim forward).
So, the next step was for Laura to keep close watch over Eve so that she and "Doc" Pam could determine the timing of Eve's natural cycles, namely when she is in "heat" and ovulating. All of this effort came to fruition on Saturday and Sunday when they made the first effort to complete the artificial insemination.
Here is Laura's note to her FFA teachers on Saturday afternoon:
"Pam and I met at 12:30 this afternoon to check Eve and breed if she was in heat. Luckily, she was just coming into heat. We put Adam into the aise and collected a small ejaculate.
We then put Eve into the aisle and inseminated her. She was not in standing heat (the ideal breeding time) but we will be breeding again at 12:30 tomorrow. The sperm is viable up to about 24 hours after inseminating, and sows ovulate 3-4 hours after coming into 'standing heat' so between today and tomorrow's inseminations she will have 48 hours of exposure. Hopefully she will ovulate sometime in that window!
And then on Sunday:
"We had an AI party at Long Meadow Ranch today!! We successfully collected Adam and inseminated Eve. I will continue to check heat in the next couple days! She was not completly in 'standing heat' so it wasn't quite the most perfect time! It should still take though!
I will also be checking heat in about 18 days and if she doesn't come into heat... then she should be pregnant! If she is pregnant, her estimated due date is Aug 24th!"
Just another day on the ranch. . .
Our club members celebrated the Spring season on Sunday at the annual LMR Corral Club event with terrific BBQ, music, and sunshine. Members came from across Northern California, but many others travelled distances as far away as Charlotte, North Carolina (for example, "Downtown" Jeffrey Brown, my former partner).
With an unexpected break in the weather, Laddie, Chris, and I enjoyed greeting club members on the "front porch" of the winery.
Sheamus Feeley (the executive chef at our new Farmstead Restaurant) prepared a delicious spread featuring LMR Grass-fed Highland Beef burgers and hot dogs, along with housemade condiments of ketchup, sauerkraut, mayonnaise, and pickled hard boiled eggs with beets (my childhood favorite!).
Guests had the opportunity to spend time with winemaker Ashley Heisey in the winery while others enjoyed playing horse shoes or taking a short "pony ride" with Sara Bertoli out front.
We made several excursions up to the cattle barn in the Swiss Army Pinzgauer to visit the remaining sale animals from Saturday's successful Annual Highland Cattle Sale.
The highlight of the afternoon was the ice cream bar where we featured ice cream made with our own Prato Lungo extra virgin olive oil. The taste and texture are divine and many guests drizzled an additional dollop of olive oil over their ice cream. Olive oil and ice cream? Sounds unusual, I know, but you will never forget the elegant flavors once you have tried it.
Laddie and Mario opened LMR Rutherford Gardens for the day so that club members could shop for fresh produce and beef in addition to the wine and olive oil available at the winery.
Each member received a coupon for a free London Broil. We saw many members headed down the hill to stop in Rutherford to pick up their bounty before heading home.
We were left pleased with having had such a nice turnout and enjoyed renewing our connection with so many of our longstanding club members. I was also very tired from a long day of meeting and greeting. Still, we are already looking forward to next year's event.
We had a hearty group of buyers, potential breeders, and members of the California Highland Cattle Association at the ranch for our Annual Highland Cattle Sale on Saturday.
Despite the rain and chilly winds we had a successful cattle sale which was then followed by a meeting of the California Highland Cattle Association.
The guests were ferried from the parking and trailer staging area along Whitehall Lane to the cattle barn aboard our venerable Swiss Army Pinzgauer. We then gathered in the big barn and made brief trips out into the rain to the pens to view the animals.
We had a lot of interest this year in the two-year old heifers. In the day's most interesting transaction, two competing buyers decided to flip a coin rather than engage in our proposed auction process!
While this subverted the theoretical opportunity to increase our sales revenue, it did result in the loser of the coin flip picking out another heifer to take home. In the end, we all won.
We held the CHCA meeting at the winery which was preceded by a tasty lunch prepared by Sheamus Feeley (soon to be executive chef at our Farmstead Restaurant). LMR Grass-fed Highland Beef burgers and hot dogs were, of course, featured along with housemade condiments, including ketchup, sauerkraut, mayonnaise, and pickled beets with hard boiled eggs.
Our offer at the conclusion of the sale to provide lunch to anyone who joined CHCA netted eight new members, much to the delight of membership secretary Jerry Giovannoni. We set up another table for the unexpected guests and put a few more burgers on the grill. Of course, there was plenty of wine - especially Ranch House Red.
President Tina Riordan presided and the assembled group made a number of suggestions for future educational programs and, perhaps, a day-long "cattle college" in 2010.
I gave a short report on the activities of the national organization (AHCA) where I serve as a director. Everyone went home energized about the prospects for Highland cattle in California and the renewed agenda of the regional association.
We have already set the date for next year's sale: Saturday, May 1, 2010. Hope to see you here. Bring your trailer.
Yesterday our crew - led by Arturo Barragan-Rojas - was working its way up the driveway to the winery completing the pruning of the Mission trees planted along the roadway and in the small orchard near the parking area.
With this last symbolic step, we have completed pruning the several thousand trees located in nine major orchards across the ranch.
Olive trees produce fruit only on last year's wood. So, keeping an ample supply of new wood is part of the art form in pruning an olive tree. Because new wood grows only where there is sunlight on a branch, our skilled team works to open up a tree to light and air "so that a small bird can fly through."
We are vigilant in keeping each tree to less than 14 feet in height (which is the limit we can safely harvest).
Over the next few days, the prunings will be chipped while the wood is still green and moist. The chips will be used for mulch, cover for paths, or as an additional source of carbon in our composting system. The compost will supply fresh fertilizer for the orchards in the fall.
Our orchards also have a gorgeous cover crop of clovers that is now in full bloom. As legumes, the clovers are fixing nitrogen from the air into the soils. This valuable nitrogen will be made available to the orchards for the coming growing season - a key component of our sustainable farming system.
On sunny spring days the clovers are filled with bees which are pollinating the seed heads which, in turn, will provide seed for next seaon's cover crop. And, at the same time, the bees are gathering buckets of pollen to make a bountiful crop of honey.
We'll harvest the honey at the end of the summer (between the grape and olive harvest), which will then be sold at LMR Rutherford Gardens.
I love watching these interlocking cycles of life at work.
We selected nineteen head to be added to the sale catalog, including twelve yearling heifers, seven 2-year-old heifers, and four yearling bulls. We had already selected two mature bulls for the sale.
So, with a total of twenty-one head on offer, our sale is the largest annual Highland sale in California (maybe the largest West of the Rockies). We're proud to feature our nationally recognized bloodlines.
Todd, Adam Tait (our local lead cowhand), and Art Townsend (who operates our pasture lease) brought all of the cattle into the main corrals where we selected the best of our registered stock for inclusion in the sale.
We also had a chance to look over our current crop of Highland and crossbred steers. Everyone agreed that the cattle have never looked better in terms of body condition and overall health.
We had a heavy load in the "rig", our 28-foot Featherlite trailer, but we made the trip back to the ranch in a little less than six hours. The cattle were happy to see the long grass waiting for them. We'll now spend a few days cleaning the animals' coats, checking tatoos, and confirming DNA samples.
The catalog will be ready for distribution online by Saturday and everything will be ready for our buyers on Saturday morning a week later (the 2nd). The sale will be from 11 AM to 1 PM.
As an extra plus, the California Highland Cattle Association will be holding its Spring meeting following our sale on Saturday afternoon. Members of the association will be helping with the sale and will be available to answer questions from prospective owners and new breeders.
Everyone always seems eager to share their experiences in raising Highlands. In return, we have a nice lunch planned for CHCA members featuring the wines, grass-fed beef, and produce from Long Meadow Ranch.
Successful buyers will be invited to join us for lunch. Hope it is a big group.
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.