Water Dousing

Water Dousing I had a surprise call from Week’s Drilling. I could either have a well drilled this week or I would have to wait until June, 2017. Since the only work I was doing was clearing and burning sticks, I told them to come on by and start drilling. Rob and Billy showed up Read More

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Water Dousing

I had a surprise call from Week’s Drilling. I could either have a well drilled this week or I would have to wait until June, 2017. Since the only work I was doing was clearing and burning sticks, I told them to come on by and start drilling.

Rob and Billy showed up a few hours later. First order of business; well location. I suggested that the well should be drilled about 300 feet from the driveway. This would place the well and pump close to the fields that would be planted in the spring.

This was not a good idea according to Rob and Billy. 1) The rig was about 100,000 pounds and would get stuck in the muddy fields long before they reached the well location. 2) running power out to that location would be costly; in time and money.

Having no particular interest in arguing the point, I conceded that the well should be close to the driveway. It took about a day for setup, a day to drill and a day for cleanup. During that time I learned a lot about drilling, the local area and BBQ.

Rob is an avid BBQ chef and had a lot of stories about the technical and social aspects of BBQ culinary delights. I really enjoy listening to people talk about things they are passionate about.

Drilling wells requires both skill and a bit of luck. Rob and Billy explained that they are not Hydrologists or Geological Engineers. They therefore cannot guarantee that the wells they dig will produce water. In my case, they pointed out that my neighbors on all sides had wells that produced sufficient water for agricultural purposes and that there was no reason why the well that they would dig would not do so for me.

After they started digging, they would update me on the progress. After about 5 feet, they hit surface water. Surface water is where rain water goes after it contacts the ground. I learned that surface water typically is polluted with gas/oil residue, agricultural runoff and sometimes nasty biologics. Not water that should be used in your house or on the farm.

At the 25 foot mark they hit the substrate that separates surface water from the ground water. Groundwater in this area is not polluted and is quite plentiful. There is a lake nearby that keeps the groundwater aquifer full, even during the most recent drought.

At 85 feet, they reached the bottom of the groundwater cavern. This is where they stopped drilling.

Later in the day, the health inspector arrived to witness the installation of the ground water cap. The cap is put in place to reduce the chance of surface water contaminating the ground water.

Now that my well is intalled, I need to find someone to put in a pump….

All this will have to wait until after Christmas. I am going to take a break for 2 weeks.

Sticks, Sticks and a few Logs

Sticks, Sticks and a few Logs I have a process for clearing the sticks and logs from the ground. Walk up and down the rows with a shovel, stick or other implement and stab it into the soil. If it hits something start digging, if not move to the next spot. Each day, Pauline and Read More

Mike_blog

Sticks, Sticks and a few Logs

I have a process for clearing the sticks and logs from the ground. Walk up and down the rows with a shovel, stick or other implement and stab it into the soil. If it hits something start digging, if not move to the next spot. Each day, Pauline and I clear anywhere from several hundred pounds to a ton of sticks and logs. They range in size from a foot long to 10 feet, with diameters up to 2 feet.

The goal is to till 5 acres before spring. It has taken about two weeks to till ¾ of an acre. I had expected to be done by Christmas, this looks unlikely.

I also had to figure out what to do with the logs and sticks that we have collected. I spoke to my neighbors and they all suggested that I get a burn permit and light it up! I had read about a state program for hauling and chipping of green waste, but evidently that program ended a few years ago.

The fire chief was more than happy to exchange a burn permit for $25 dollars. I thought the permit would be good for a single use, but I was wrong. I had until May 1st, 2017 to burn my logs and sticks.

My first burn was pretty pathetic. It took me several hours to get the fire going satisfactorily and I was ill prepared to deal with fueling the blaze sufficiently. At the end of the day, I only burned a couple hundred pounds of wood, less than a day of collections.

My second attempt was much improved. I watched a few videos on YouTube, and followed the instructions. After about an hour I had built a blaze that burned wood faster than I could feed it by hand. After another hour of throwing wood on the fire, I had the ingenious idea of using the front end loader on the tractor to dump several hundred pounds of sticks and logs on the fire at once. By the end of the day, I had burned several thousand pounds of wood.

The third attempt was even more ambitious. Instead of loading the wood in the front end loader and dumping it on the fire, I positioned a number of piles so they could be pushed onto the fire.

The was by far the most successful burn that I had.

It started raining a lot this week. After the drought over the last few years, everyone is glad to see some rain.

Farm implements are heavy

Farm implements are heavy After watching a number of YouTube videos, I figured out how to drive the Kubota. Not hard, thankfully it has an automatic transmission (Hydro-Static Transmission in farm speak). Now that I could drive the tractor, I wanted to start preparing the land for spring planting. There is a lot of discussion Read More

Mike

Farm implements are heavy

After watching a number of YouTube videos, I figured out how to drive the Kubota. Not hard, thankfully it has an automatic transmission (Hydro-Static Transmission in farm speak).

Now that I could drive the tractor, I wanted to start preparing the land for spring planting. There is a lot of discussion on the internet about if, when and how much a farmer should till. In my case, the soil is Cole Clay Loam, which gets a very hard when dry. California has experienced 5 years of drought, the soil was very, very hard and needed to be churned up. My plan was to till once in the winter and then a final time in the spring. The final step would be constructing the raised beds for planting the berry bushes.

Getting a 3 point, PTO driven implement on a tractor requires much patience and a little luck. I watched several YouTube videos before starting. The big problem with farm implements is that they are very heavy. The tiller weighs in at a hefty 1500 pounds, meaning you have to move the tractor to connec the tiller, because you are not going to move the tiller.

The connection process goes something like this:

  1. Back up the tractor to the implement
  2. Move the tractor forward, back, left, right an inch at a time, until your three control arms on the tractor align with the holes on the implement
  3. Connect the adjustable control arm to implement
  4. Hopefully other arms align to holes, if not, go back to (2)
  5. After three control arms are secure, connect drive shaft (PTO).

I took me two and a half hours to get the tiller connected to the tractor.

I was ready to start my first farmer task, tilling the soil. First, let’s consider the ground that I am about to till.

The 10 acre parcel had been part of a large walnut orchard. The trees had not been tended for several years and many had died in the drought. We had the orchard removed in 2015. The team that removed the orchard focused on the stumps and roots. There were still a few partially burned stumps dotted on the property, but not much else visible to the naked eye.

I moved the tractor to tilling position. Lowered the tiller, turned it on and began my slow movement forward.

***BAM**, ***Grind****, ***Crunch**** I had gotten no more than 10 feet and the tractor ground to a halt. Pieces of wood exploded from the tiller. Oh dear! I got off the tractor and opened the back gate and saw that there was a 4 foot log jammed into the tiller blades. Not to be deterred, I cleared the log and started again.

***BAM**, ***Grind****, ***Crunch**** I made it 6 feet this time.

I walked in front of the tractor for several feet, but did not see any logs or sticks. What was going on? I grabbed a shovel and started poking it in the ground. After ten or so pokes, I realized that just under the surface, there were many, many logs.

Tilling is done for now, I need a new plan

Aren’t all tractors the same?

Buying a tractor My wife and I have left our jobs and moved to Northern California to become Raspberry farmers. I have no background in agriculture or farming, in fact the totality of my knowledge of the subject comes from books and YouTube videos. I had read about small scale market farmers not owning a Read More

Mike

Buying a tractor

My wife and I have left our jobs and moved to Northern California to become Raspberry farmers. I have no background in agriculture or farming, in fact the totality of my knowledge of the subject comes from books and YouTube videos.

I had read about small scale market farmers not owning a tractor. I thought about saving money by foregoing the purchase of a tractor. Fortunately, I have an uncle who has experience with farming, he actually laughed when I told him I did not need a tractor. Not only did he tell me to get a tractor, he also said I should, “get the largest tractor you can afford.”

Tractors are rated by horsepower, the more horsepower the engine can output the bigger implements you can tow, larger loads you can lift and etc. Sizing a tractor for your needs can be difficult, especially if you are like me and have no experience with tractors.

After talking and emailing my uncle a number of times, we figured I needed a tractor that had a tiller, a front end loaded and an auger (post hole digger). He suggested that I stick with Kubota, since they are known for small farm/vineyard tractors, focusing on the “L” or “M” series, since they are geared for general use, rather than a specific task.

After figuring out what I needed, I started looking at used tractors being sold locally. I quickly found out that tractors hold value, at least in the minds of their owners. It was not uncommon for me to find used tractors for MORE than the original purchase price. Get much older than 20 years and it is sold as a “classic.” Classic tractors evidently are worth more than some houses. After reviewing the used tractor scene, I decided I should call a local dealer. Local being about 2 hours from the house. I thought talking to a tractor salesman would be like talking to a used car salesman. I was pleasantly surprised that after one phone call and a couple of emails, I was able to get an off lease 33 hp tractor with full warranty and all the attachments for less than a used 20 year old tractor with no attachments. They even delivered.

If you are interested in the make and model, it is a Kubota L3301. The orange is nice, I definately will not lose it.

After the dealer dropped off the tractor, I realized I did not even know how to turn it on….This is going to be fun.

Raspberry Buttercream Frosting

Makes: 15-18 cupcakes Prep time: 30 minutes How to Make The Best Raspberry Buttercream Frosting For the Raspberry Buttercream Fosting, you will need 1 cup of Butter – softened 5 cups of Powdered Sugar 6 oz. fresh Rasberries Decorating Bags Wilton 2D Decorating Tip Mixer Small Blender/Food Processor Food Sieve/Strainer directions Puree the raspberries and Read More

best-raspberry-buttercream-frosting-main

Makes: 15-18 cupcakes

Prep time: 30 minutes

How to Make The Best Raspberry Buttercream Frosting

For the Raspberry Buttercream Fosting, you will need

  • 1 cup of Butter – softened
  • 5 cups of Powdered Sugar
  • 6 oz. fresh Rasberries
  • Decorating Bags
  • Wilton 2D Decorating Tip
  • Mixer
  • Small Blender/Food Processor
  • Food Sieve/Strainer

directions

  • Puree the raspberries and then run the pureed raspberries through a sieve. You will need approximately 1/2 cup of raspberry puree. The 6 oz. clamshell of Raspberries equals about 1 1/2 cups of whole Raspberries. This amount of whole Raspberries will give you the 1/2 cup of puréed Raspberries that you need for the frosting.
  • In a mixer, add the powdered sugar. We don’t sift it. If it is really lumpy, we use the mixer paddles to break it up. Add the softened butter and cream together on low speed until the powdered sugar and butter are completely combined. Continue to beat on medium speed until the frosting is creamy. Add the 1/2 cup Pureed Raspberries. This can be a “wet” frosting, if it is too thin, add 1/2 cup additional powdered sugar. Keep adding powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until you have the frosting at the desired consistency. If the frosting is too thick/dry, put a little bit of water in the raspberry purée container that you had and then add this liquid to the frosting 1 tsp. at a time until you get the desired consistency.
  • How much frosting will you need? That always depends on how thick or thin you apply the frosting or how much decorating you do but here are a couple of guidelines. Our recipe should make enough Best Raspberry Buttercream Frosting to cover a 9″ x 13″ sheet cake or a two-layer 8″ cake. If you are making cupcakes, you should be able to frost 24 cupcakes if you apply the frosting with a knife. If you swirl on the frosting with a pastry bag like we have done here, you should be able to frost 15-18 cupcakes depending on the size of the swirl.

Raspberry Butterceam Frosting recipe taken from Two Sisters Crafting

Chocolate Angel Food Cupcakes with Raspberry Frosting

Makes: 14-16 cupcakes Prep time: 35 minutes Cooking time: 20 minutes cupcake ingredients 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp (182g) granulated sugar 1/4 cup + 3 Tbsp (56g) cake flour 2 Tbsp (11g) cocoa powder 1/8 tsp salt 6 large egg whites (212g), at room temperature* 2 1/2 Tbsp (37ml) warm water 3/4 tsp vanilla extract Read More

raspberry__cake

Makes: 14-16 cupcakes

Prep time: 35 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

cupcake ingredients

  • 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp (182g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 3 Tbsp (56g) cake flour
  • 2 Tbsp (11g) cocoa powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 6 large egg whites (212g), at room temperature*
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp (37ml) warm water
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp cream of tartar

directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, pulse sugar until super fine, about 2 minutes (if you don't have a food processor caster sugar should also work). In a mixing bowl, sift together half of the sugar, the cake flour, cocoa powder and the salt.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together egg whites, water, vanilla extract and cream of tartar until well combined, about 2 minutes. Switch to a hand mixer and whip mixture on medium speed while slowly adding remaining sugar to mixture, until medium peaks form (see link here for what medium peaks are). Sift just enough of the flour mixture in to evenly dust the top of the egg white mixture and using a spatula gently fold flour layer into egg white mixture and continue this process until all of the flour mixture has been incorporated (I did this in probably 12 batches).
  3. Divide batter among paper lined muffin cups, filling each cup nearly full. Bake in preheated oven 18 - 20 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center of cupcake comes out clean. Cool completely then spread Chocolate Cream Cheese Whipped Cream over cupcakes just before serving, dust with cocoa if desired and top with fresh fruit.

For the Raspberry Buttercream Fosting, you will need

  • 1 cup of Butter – softened
  • 5 cups of Powdered Sugar
  • 6 oz. fresh Rasberries

directions

  • Puree the raspberries and then run the pureed raspberries through a sieve. You will need approximately 1/2 cup of raspberry puree.
  • In a mixer, add the powdered sugar. We don’t sift it. If it is really lumpy, we use the mixer paddles to break it up. Add the softened butter and cream together on low speed until the powdered sugar and butter are completely combined. Continue to beat on medium speed until the frosting is creamy. Add the 1/2 cup Pureed Raspberries. This can be a “wet” frosting, if it is too thin, add 1/2 cup additional powdered sugar. Keep adding powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until you have the frosting at the desired consistency. If the frosting is too thick/dry, put a little bit of water in the raspberry purée container that you had and then add this liquid to the frosting 1 tsp. at a time until you get the desired consistency.
  • How much frosting will you need? That always depends on how thick or thin you apply the frosting or how much decorating you do but here are a couple of guidelines. Our recipe should make enough Best Raspberry Buttercream Frosting to cover a 9″ x 13″ sheet cake or a two-layer 8″ cake. If you are making cupcakes, you should be able to frost 24 cupcakes if you apply the frosting with a knife. If you swirl on the frosting with a pastry bag like we have done here, you should be able to frost 15-18 cupcakes depending on the size of the swirl.

Raspberry Butterceam Frosting recipe taken from Two Sisters Crafting

best-raspberry-buttercream-frosting-main

Planting Pomegranates

Edible Landscaping Our Pomegranate cuttings have arrived! We are planting several dozen of the Wonderful variety as a hedge along the fence. The Pomegranates, along with grapes, are part of our edible landscaping project. Planting Pomegranates thrive in hot, dry climates. The grow best from cuttings. We planted them several feet apart in a sunny Read More

Pomegranate

Edible Landscaping

Our Pomegranate cuttings have arrived! We are planting several dozen of the
Wonderful variety as a hedge along the fence.
The Pomegranates, along with grapes, are part of our edible landscaping project.

Planting

Pomegranates thrive in hot, dry climates. The grow best from cuttings. We planted
them several feet apart in a sunny area of the field.

Pomegranates are adaptable to many soil types, though they grow best in
loamy soil with good drainage. The ideal climate is zone 7 to 12, with short,
mild winters and low humidity. They may be grown in containers in colder
places, and kept indoors or in a greenhouse over winter.

Pomegranates require little water and are drought tolerant, though will
produce considerably less fruit during drought years.

Blackberry Jelly

Makes: 3-5 jars Prep time: overnight Cooking time: 30 minutes – 1 hour Recipe taken from BBC Food. The apples in this recipe add loads of pectin to set the blackberries in a fairly firm jam. Great with cheese and biscuits. ingredients 3 lbs. fresh blackberries 2 large cooking apples, washed, cored and diced 1 Read More

blackberry_jelly

Makes: 3-5 jars

Prep time: overnight

Cooking time: 30 minutes - 1 hour

Recipe taken from BBC Food.

The apples in this recipe add loads of pectin to set the blackberries in a fairly firm jam. Great with cheese and biscuits.

ingredients

  • 3 lbs. fresh blackberries
  • 2 large cooking apples, washed, cored and diced
  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • granulated sugar (amount to use determined by amount of juice extracted)
  • sterilized jam jars and jam pot covers

directions

  1. Prepare cheesecloth or tea towel by boiling in water for 2-3 minutes. Wring well and leave to cool. Arrange the cheesecloth with a large bowl beneath, ready for the fruit juice to drip through.
  2. Place the blackberries, apple, water and lemon juice in a preserving or large, heavy based saucepan.
  3. Bring to the boil, then simmer over a low heat for 20-25 minutes or until the fruit is completely soft.
  4. Tip the soft fruit and juice into the cheesecloth and leave to drip for 8 hours or until all the juice has been released.
  5. Prepare the jam jars by washing in hot soapy water and leaving to dry and warm in a cool oven (250F) for 10-15 minutes.
  6. Measure the juice. For every 2 cups of juice, use 2 1/4 cups sugar. Put the juice and sugar back into the clean preserving pan, heat over a low heat until all the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until setting point is reached.
  7. Skim away any foam from the top of the jelly and fill the jam jars to the brim. Cover, seal and label. Store in a cool, dark place until required.

Poached Pears in Blackberry Wine

Makes: 6 servings Prep 15 minutes Cook time 20 minutes ingredients 2 cups red wine 3/4 cup water 1/3 cup caster sugar 8 oz. blackberries 6 pears 1 cinnamon stick, halved 6 cloves 1 tablespoon cornflour directions Choose a saucepan that the pears will fit snugly into then add the wine, water and sugar to Read More

Poached-pears-in-blackberry-wine

Makes: 6 servings

Prep 15 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

ingredients

  • 2 cups red wine
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 8 oz. blackberries
  • 6 pears
  • 1 cinnamon stick, halved
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour

directions

  1. Choose a saucepan that the pears will fit snugly into then add the wine, water and sugar to the pan. Add half the blackberries and heat gently for 5 minutes until the sugar has dissolved. Crush the blackberries with a potato masher, press the syrup through a sieve and discard the blackberry seeds then return the syrup to the saucepan.
  2. Peel the pears leaving the stalks on then add to the blackberry wine with the cinnamon and cloves. Simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, turning the pears until evenly coloured.
  3. Lift the pears out of the wine and transfer to a bowl. Mix the cornflour with a little water in a cup until a smooth paste. Stir into the blackberry wine then bring to the boil, stirring until thickened and smooth. Pour the syrup over the pears then add the remaining blackberries and leave to cool.
  4. Serve with spoonfuls of amaretti cream, see tip.

Tip

  • Amaretti cream – break crisp amaretti biscuits into small pieces with fingertips then fold into a 250 ml (8 fl oz.) carton of full fat crème fraiche.
  • The pears can be covered and left at room temperature for 2-3 hours or can be made the day before and chilled in the fridge. Take out of the fridge about 30-60 minutes before serving.

Braised Red Cabbage with Blackberries

Makes: 6 servings Prep 15 minutes Cook time 40 minutes ingredients 1 oz. butter 1 onion, finely chopped 1 lb. red cabbage, quartered, woody core cut away, thinly sliced 2 tablespoons light muscovado sugar 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1 teaspoon ground mixed spice ¼ pint apple juice Salt and freshly ground black pepper 8 Read More

Braised-Red-Cabbage-with-Blackberries

Makes: 6 servings

Prep 15 minutes

Cook time 40 minutes

ingredients

  • 1 oz. butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lb. red cabbage, quartered, woody core cut away, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons light muscovado sugar
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon ground mixed spice ¼ pint apple juice Salt and freshly ground black pepper 8 oz. blackberries

directions

  1. Heat the butter in a saucepan, add the onion and fry for 3-4 minutes, stirring until softened. Stir in the red cabbage then the sugar, vinegar, spice and apple juice. Season well with salt and pepper.
  2. Cover and cook gently for 20-30 minutes, stirring from time to time until the red cabbage is tender. Add the blackberries and cook gently for 10 minutes. Spoon into a serving dish, serve with roast turkey, chicken or casseroled lamb or beef.