Monday, October 28, 2013

Brain sabbatical

The first rainstorm of the season is blowing out of here as we speak, leaving behind damp earth and wet leaves.  This morning I lit the pellet stove, and tonight we will feast on a kielbasa/kidney bean/tomato stew I like to make when it's like this outside.  These fall nights are when you truly appreciate a hearty meal, served in soft lighting with some quiet music on in the background.  It's a meal to wind down the day with, eaten in the season of winding down.

When I worked at the winery on Friday it was 86 degrees at mid-afternoon; this afternoon we didn't even break 60 degrees.  That's how it is in this area, you never know what you'll get.  To that end, today I worked on clearing out the pumpkin patch (I have more pumpkins than I know what to do with, a happy problem for me), marrying chicken coop waste with lawn clippings for compost, and general homestead clean up.  I did this in between weather events, ducking inside to work whenever the wind and rain would pick up and make working outdoors unpleasant.

This was a busy and, in some ways, difficult weekend at the winery -- I filled in for a sick coworker on Sunday, which just had to be the day our credit card software went down and we had to process all sales by hand.  Needles to say, today I was very happy to get back to the routine of moving compost, hoeing weeds and cleaning chicken coops.  

Sometimes the brain just needs a sabbatical.  From technology, from people, and even from beloved activities.  That's when the hands can take over and a day of simple manual labor is a joy.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Here's a great chart of some of the food corporations for and against GMO labeling.  Some of the ones against it surprised (and disappointed) me. I really hope the labeling law passes in Washington State and that it produces a domino effect in other states.  If you love the idea of GMO food, that's fine.  But everyone has a right to opt out from it if they wish to.

And here is a link to a high-res version of this chart if you'd like to get a closer look:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A berry nice before and after

Today I spent the morning trellising our berry plants, which were fragile-looking little sticks when we put them in last April.  I think right now we have a total of 20 plants -- raspberries, ollalieberries, blueberries and blackberries -- which have grown exponentially since we planted them.  It's pleasant work, trellising.  You stand around in the fall sunshine, winding the longer vines along the trellis gently, making them support themselves and keeping their growth off the ground.  It reminds you that harvest is done and cold weather is coming, when these vines will sleep and continue putting down roots, getting ready to explode again in spring, with leaves and blossoms galore.

It amazes me how quickly these have grown; they have matured much faster than any of the other landscape plants or fruit trees we planted in early '13.  It makes me realize why berry patches are seen as aggressive interlopers in gardens in other areas of the country, they certainly are hardy and fast to mature.  But here, they are manageable (even in the wild) and so are a welcome addition to our homestead.

The original idea was never to have these many berries, but when I ordered the ollalieberries, I ordered what I thought were three plants, only to discover that each "plant" delivered was actually a bunch -- containing five separate twigs, with each twig capable of growing into its own plant.  So with some attrition (a few of the twigs never produced leaves and were apparently dead on arrival) we ended up with 12 ollalieberry bushes, which is great for us since we absolutely love ollalieberry pies.

Here's a before and after, taken from the same spot out in the pasture, showing how much everything has grown since early spring of last year, or roughly six months from planting day.

From sticks

to bushes

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A New Season

Fall is in full swing here, and that means it's time for fall planting. Around here our winters are cold (down to the teens or 20's at night during our coldest nights), but still warm enough during our sunny afternoons that we are able to grow a few things.

A couple of weeks ago our winter lettuce, carrots, and onions went into the ground after the raised beds holding them were fortified with  compost and extra soil.  I don't know if we will have enough growth to enjoy some fresh salads with our holiday dinners, but that's the idea.


The other beds will be fallowed, with a cover crop of ryegrass and with compost added to them before they're ready for spring planting, so ensure the soil is healthy and happy.  With year-round planting, it's extra important to continually build up the soil, since it's used for more than one crop a year.  But as we now have more beds than before, we will actually be able to fallow everything for at least a season (on a rotational basis) and give the ground a well-deserved rest.

My fall plantings have been all about putting in what grows easily. With a year's worth of growing and harvesting under our belts now, we know that winter broccoli and cauliflower are hard to grow here due to insect issues. So we are not bothering with them at all. Besides, I like to slow down a bit in winter and enjoy some time by the fire, so less planting means I can be more lazy.  But I still need a good crop of carrots and onions ready to go in spring, and the cooler weather is the only time we are able to grow salad greens here, so the work can't stop completely.

Fall is also a good time to complete -- ahem -- the tasks certain farmers promised their wives they'd do all summer long and didn't, so to that end Big Ag has completed the trellis for our grape vines and our berries, which all look very healthy and happy at the end of the long summer.  Now that they're big enough, they will be tied and trained to the trellis to make for easier picking come next summer.

Grounded ollalieberries....
...will now be trellised!

Pretty soon now most of the fruit trees will be undressing and falling into their winter slumber, but these beauties (below) are now adorning our pomegranate tree out in our yard with their delightful (and delicious) red bulbs, just in time for the holidays.  It's hard to pick them when they look so pretty on the tree!

Tree ornaments

Thursday, October 10, 2013

End of the season

It's the end of the season.  The tomato plants have been pulled and are drying on their tomato cages while the last tomatoes ripen.  I'm still not sure what to do with them.  I may possibly do one more batch of canning, or just make a lot of pico de gallo for the family to enjoy.  It's time for pumpkin picking, onion pulling, and planting carrots, lettuce and spring onions.  

The slowdown in the garden is a welcome thing, as the days are so much noticeably shorter.  Watering at sunset is no longer an option, as sunset now coincides with the dinner hour.  I've had the pellet stove on in the mornings the last two days, partly because it was a little chilly (40 degrees, but nothing compared to what's coming) and partly because I want to burn off the dust that's built up inside it slowly so the first time we fire it up on the "high" setting it does not make the entire house stink.  

These are the seasonal chores that make this time of year unique.  There is a great deal of satisfaction in having a pantry stocked with summer's goodness, and the fact that we're finally done with all the renovations and repairs that came part and parcel with this property we bought.

Truly, this year will be one of savoring the season ... first frost, first big storm, and lots of fall and winter dishes made in the new kitchen, which beckons with its Tuscan farm feel and warm wood. Crowds are picking up at the winery, with tourists coming into the area for the harvest season, and it's always a pleasure to talk to them and pour some great wine in their glasses.

Blessed, truly.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Last weekend I was working at the winery (where I am no longer working for wine and am now a paid staffer) and one of the winemakers brought in four bottles of bubbly.  One was labeled "control" and the other three had numeric designations in ascending order, which it turned out had something to do with sugar content.

An informal tasting began among the staff, with the control bottle being tasted first (to establish a baseline), followed by the other three, in order of increasing sugar content.  Then we voted on our favorite.

For me, it was a tie between #3 and #4, but for the drink to be able to be called "dry," it must not go above a certain amount of sugar.  Yet the sweet-but-still-tart versions were my favorite, because I like a balance in my bubbly.  What about you?

Either way, I was reminded again that I have the best job in the world. Where else can tasting sparkling wine be added as a normal task of your workday?