Friday, August 22, 2014


So last week the large fruit bins began rolling across town and into the vineyards, meaning Harvest Season 2014 has begun.  This means, officially, the lazy lull that is late summer is over, and the busy season is beginning for the wine industry.

We're still in a lull as far as tourist season goes, which is nice after all the busy days of May, June and July. Traditionally, August and February are our slowest months for tourism in this area, which is always nice because we can spend a bit more time visiting with our customers and even heading into the barrel room ourselves to see how the wines already in production are coming along. (The '13 Grenache -- already CRAZY good!) But as harvest rolls along, things will pick up. October will be crazy busy in the tasting room, and so will the holidays.

But for the crew back in the barrel room and out in the vineyards, the next couple of months are when it all happens, and by the time we get busy, they will be mostly done in the vineyard.  There are grapes to be harvested, several times daily pump-overs to do in the holding tanks, and other tasks too numerous to mention. So all the winemaking staff that had been hanging out in the tasting room helping out because they didn't have much work elsewhere seems to have vanished overnight.  We'll probably see them again at the employee Christmas party.

Barrel room goings-on

Harvest begins with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, and then progresses through the other assorted red and white grapes, finishing with Rousanne, which has a reputation for being slow on the vine.  Sometimes it's kept folks out in the vineyards until the holidays, but this year we will probably finish up with our harvest by mid-to-late October.

Yet no post about Harvest would be complete without mentioning how early it's been recently....historically early.  With the earlier springs (and therefore earlier bud breaks on the grape vines) we've been seeing, the season then is shortened on the other end, which means mid-August -- not October -- harvests.  It's something of an alarming trend if you're sensitive to climate-change issues, but of course the wine industry is not alone in experiencing this. You probably have as well, in your own vegetable gardens.

Either way, ready or not, here we go.  Another year, another vintage, and hopefully another great group of wines.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Vegetables, re-animated?

My Monsters?

Well, my cucumbers and squash are basically spent at this point, but taking a tip from our chef at the winery I decided to add some organic fertilizer into my raised beds yesterday, in order to see if I could kick-start my crops back to life for a few more weeks of "re-animation" production. (I watched "Young Frankenstein" on TV last night, and so basically today I feel like Gene Wilder playing scientist to Peter Boyle's monster, which in this case is my cucurbits. They're alive I tell you!  Alive!)

I'm not sure how I feel about this; on the one hand, a vegetable has a natural lifespan wherein it produces abundantly for awhile, then tapers off until there are no more blossoms to be fertilized and plants to be grown.  But if I can, through a natural fertilizer, push a little more fruition out of my plants, then I'm all for it. After all, it's only August and I'm not quite willing to let go of those fresh summer veggies just yet.  

In some ways, this is the hardest time of year -- we're at the clear end of summer, but here in the west the heat will be with us for at least another two months and the leaves won't turn in abundance until early December.  But everything has been moved up here because of our early spring; we will have grape harvest in the vineyards earlier than ever before, and some vines are already turning brown, defying the usual December leaf-change date.

It seems like most of the plants in this region have already given their best, produced their crop, and are now readying themselves to settle down for a nice period of dormancy.  If only we could all do the same.  But as long as we're in a protracted end of summer, at least I want some summer veggies, so I'm hoping Chef's fertilizer tip does the trick and gets my veggies started again.

After all, what's summer without zukes and cukes?

And at this rate, it's looking likely that I may have some tomatoes by Christmastime.

Still extremely green. Hoping for some Christmas red.

Friday, August 15, 2014


My son turned 21 this month, so today we took him out for his first wine-tasting adventure.  

Just a tad overserved by the time all was said and done. Kid's gotta learn to pace himself and not be afraid to use the dump bucket on the bar once he's tasted something.  

I kept trying to tell him he didn't need to drink everything that was put in his glass, but since we had a designated driver that was his own lesson to learn I suppose.

Vegetarian update

So a friend asked me the other day how my commitment to eat less meat has been going.  If you remember, several months ago the price of meat (especially beef) rose dramatically out here, due to the drought, and I decided to put the family on a pretty restrictive non-meat diet, eating more vegetarian and pescatarian foods most nights each week for dinner. 

(And for me, this also translated to eating no meat at other meals as well. I eat almost all my breakfasts and lunches at home, since I work less than five minutes away from my job and can therefore "dine-in" almost all the time.)

The answer to how our new diet is going is this:  It's been a pretty fabulous success.  It's been far easier than I thought, and certainly has lifted a huge weight off the ol' checkbook to not be purchasing meat.  As we all know, grass-fed, local-raised meat can be quite a bit more expensive than what you'd get at the local supermarket, but what you get at the local supermarket is a huge mystery as far as how the animals are treated, what they are fed, and what kind of conditions the meat is processed in. In my opinion, if you can afford to pass on supermarket meat, do so. 

And of course our new diet is certainly rich in eggs, provided by our beautiful hens.  Hard to pass those up, although I do toy sometimes with going completely vegetarian, as I was one for several years.  But in addition to eggs, I'm just not sure I'm ready to give up salmon and other locally-caught seafood.  So we're sticking with this present diet, at least for awhile.

I will say that I thought giving up eating my fellow mammals would be more difficult, but especially now that it's summer, there is such a wide variety of other foods available, it's easy -- provided you're just willing to look outside the meat/starch/vegetable triad so many of us grew up with on our dinner plates each night.

And I'd like to think we're living a little lighter on the land by not contributing to the cycle of uisng gallons and gallons of water in order to grow the tons of grain needed to feed the animals we're going to eat.  But I don't live in a glass house on this, and I should be honest here:  my own pets still eat commercial pet food, the chickens get layer feed in addition to kitchen scraps, and we do still drink milk and eat butter, so it's a small victory at best. 

But a small change is still better than none at all, I figure. Small steps.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Have I Mentioned These Blogs?

These are two of my favorite homesteading-type blogs.  The first is the Matron of Husbandry, who has a fantastic farm blog. It is exactly what it appears to be, which is a journal of daily farm life on what appears to be an extremely self-sufficient homestead and working farm. Lots of beautiful pics and great ideas for canning, farming, livestock and planting.

The second is RootSimple.  This is a great blog for urban and suburban homesteaders to enjoy.  These folks live in the heart of Los Angeles and are not afraid to experiment to discover how to live a simpler, more eco-friendly and economical life. They are also extremely honest about the areas where they live a more typical urban existence, and where they've tried things and failed.  But they have far more success than failures, and are just so inventive it's a consistent pleasure to read their posts.

So why am I recommending these blogs to anyone who is reading this post? Because it's very easy to get wrapped around the axle of frustration when we discover a particular farm or homesteading blog is are not what it appears to be, or which deliberately tries to lead us to think they are something they are not.  I know a few years ago one of my favorite blogging families filed a lawsuit to trademark the term "urban homestead" and, honestly, it was incredibly disappointing to find these people were not who I thought they were.  I looked for my inspiration elsewhere and found it, in part on these two other blogs. So it only makes sense to share them with you.

I hope the Hot Flash Homestead never misleads anyone, we are far from completely self-sufficient but just try to do our part wherever we can. I enjoy writing about our efforts and also about the wonderful area we live in, and if it makes just one person put up a clothesline, cook in a solar oven or grow some of their food, I'm happy.

But both these other blogs are also wonderful resources, written with intelligence and wit, and will give you lots of ideas to try.  So read and enjoy!

Life in Middle School, or Life with Hens


So a couple of months ago, when young Cleo and Chloe were put in with golden girls Ellen and Portia, Ellen and Portia bullied the two young hens mercilessly, especially my sweet Chloe.  Not to worry, no blood was drawn, but there was plenty of pecking and chasing that went on, as E & P asserted their dominance over C & C.

The rules were fairly simple:

1. When I approach, you will get out of the way.

2.  Your food is mine.

3.  If I am bored, I will pick on you for entertainment.

If you were bullied in school (like I was in fifth grade) these rules will be very familiar to you. All through my fifth grade school year, I ran home to avoid getting beat up by Peggy Reed and her friends. My lunch was not safe to eat in the cafeteria, and I had to hide in different areas around the playground at recess and lunch.  Luckily, Peggy Reed left at the end of the year and my life went back to normal. But I've never forgotten the experience.

But back here in this henhouse, the bullying of Cleo and Chloe went on until two days ago, when I introduced the newest young hens, Callie and Ginger, to the flock.  Now Cleo and Chloe are suddenly accepted into the clique, and poor Callie and Ginger are getting chased around and generally made miserable by the "older" girls, including the two who were the class outcasts just before this. Chloe-- the former bullying victim -- seems to be especially mean to the new girls. And so the victims have become the predators. Isn't there some general rule of thumb that abused children have a greater-than-normal chance of becoming abusers themselves?  Apparently this this a planet-wide thing here on Earth, crossing many different species?

Human middle school students are generally difficult, and almost always overly concerned with social status and pecking order. Sometimes those awful traits even extend into adulthood. But believe me, these tendencies do not begin or end with young human females.  Hens are even worse. The meanest girls of all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


So with the tomato harvest so late (we now have lots of fruit on the vines, but it's all still very green) I found myself in the unusual situation of sitting around on an August morning with nothing to can.  And then I remembered all my cucumbers.

If my tomatoes have been a disappointment so far, my cucumbers have been the opposite. They have far exceeded every other vegetable harvest this year, including zucchini (and that's saying something).  So now that we've had our fill of tsatsiki and cucumber salads, I decided to use the rest of this harvest for relish.

Why not pickles? I hear you cry.  The answer is simple.  My family is very picky where pickles are concerned. They go in these bursts of pickle-love, where they consume massive amounts of them, and then for a couple of years it seems like the eat none.  So canning pickles becomes an exercise in frustration, as the pickle boom becomes a bust and I'm left with jars and jars of them in the pantry.

But not relish.  After all, relish is a staple in tuna salads, on hot dogs, and in potato salad.  If the family does not always have a yen for relish, I can always use it in my own creations.

And so today was all about relish.

We begin our story with relish mix and a hot canner.

Cukezilla, you are a seedy sort and are not welcome at this party.

Into the bath for everyone!
Some relish and leftover cucumber juice for cocktails or smoothies! (Who am I fooling.  Cocktails for sure.)