Thursday, April 30, 2015

Planting Annual Flowers - Have Cut Flowers All Summer Long

Hello and welcome back!!  During the last few days, we had a big rain and thunder storm.  Then we had some winds and this week the heat is starting up.  
We have been planting, planting, and more planting in the vegetable gardens.  And with the rain, the weeds start creeping up.  The vegetables planting is my #1 priority and I only plant my annual flowers after the majority of veggies are done.  
The ground had been disked previously, by Frank but after the rain, wind and heat, it has turned out to be a brick field.  Hard on top so it has been rotatilied again. Since we live at almost sea level; have very hot weather, most flowers I grow in my fields have to be sun tolerant.  I actually have to look hard in my yard for any spot where there might be shade.  I have some really fun flowering plants in store for my customers this year.  A few of them I have never grown before, but most are like having old friends back with me.  I wanted to share my choices with you.

Bells of Ireland-these are so interesting, they remind me of orchids in some ways.  I planted these for a couple of years in a row, but then didn't last year and I was very sorry I didn't.  It makes a great filler with other flowers, or very architectural on it's own.  I was previously discouraged because inside each pedal, sometimes there would be a torn type pod and I was worried people would put their nose to it and get hurt.  I read more about it and found out that I just need to pick the flower stem sooner, that the ones with the thorns are going to seed.  Lesson learned.
These adorable flowers are called Gomphrena,Globe amaranths, they come in various colors from white to pinks to dark pink/purple and come even in a red color.  They also can be dried.  They remind me of what an old fashioned garden looks like, with these little pods of colors mixed in with other greenery or taller shrubs.  They do grow to be as high as 24" but the leaves and greenery seems to get lost when the pods start to have color.  If you haven't ever grown these in your yard, think again.  The seeds are not easy to find, I normally buy mine from catalogs.

Celosia is an old time favorite of mine, another heat tolerant plant.  It is also called cockscomb, is very tropical looking.  Some people get creeped out about them because they do have the look of, (dare I even say it so you will think it), a brain!!!  

It too, comes in various colors from pinks, red flames, orange, yellow.  The variety of plants also come in "plumes" which really adds to an arrangement.  Any time you have movement in a bouquet, I find it much more interesting.  And the plume is a flower people like to touch. Some of the heads of the Celosia can get really large and become the center stage flower of an arrangement.
Nigella (also known as Love In A Mist) has become my new love for the garden.  I had planted this a few years ago not knowing really what I was doing.  It had the sweet little small straw like looking flowers,similar to bachelor buttons, I would use them every now and then in arrangement.  Then it dried and I had not done any subsequent plantings to keep the flowers longer through the season.  While weeding that area, I noticed these interesting and quite beautiful pods.
It was like getting two types of flowers off of one plant.  The leaves look like fennel and even those look great in an arrangement.  I believe you will start seeing more and more pod type flowers in wedding and special event arrangements.  People are drawn to items in arrangements that represent more "natural" settings.  The pods do look like you might have gone out into a field and picked something wild.
Another flower on my LOVE LOVE list,
Erynogium-Sea Holly. Aren't they interesting looking, almost thistle like, but the color is just dreamy.  I read someplace that someone described them like fireworks in your garden.  So true.  There are different varieties of them, some more silver to more blue, some smaller or larger.

Can you garden and not have any sweet peas!!! Absolutely not.  They come in early in the spring, if you are lucky enough to have a mild spring and mild early summer, as long as you keep cutting them, they will last.  I had some come back early from last year's seed plus I planted more in early March.  I cut myself a large bouquet for the kitchen and the sweet smell is intoxicating as soon as you walk into that room.  People just can't help themselves putting their face right in the middle of them.  The farmers that have the roadside strawberry farms around Northern California seem to always grow them to sell at the early Farmer's Markets and at their stands.  Treat yourself.  Unfortunately, as soon as it heats up, they bolt to seed.  I planted mine near my greenhouse for two reasons this year.  #1 is because it will give them a slight wind break because the ones I planted are climbers.  I didn't even realize until this year that there are varieties of sweet peas that are bush like.  See how gardening is a never ending education!!! #2 reason is because I am going to put a shade cloth over my greenhouse and attach it to my sweet pea support poles, giving them some shade.  I am hoping to extend my season a little longer, will report back on this experiment in a later blog.
My last flower I wanted to suggestion to you, whether you have a small, medium or large garden is the Zinnia.  It blooms its' heart out, had every color of the rainbow, well almost doesn't have a blue; comes in single, double, or ruffled varieties; the plants can get very tall but there are also short varieties.  The bees and butterflies love them.  And you can cut and cut and cut clear to the end of summer.  I plant an early row in late March; then another row in April; and another row in June and I can cut hundreds of bouquets and the garden is always looking like a paradise of colors.  The seed catalogs have come up with some fabulous new colors, my favorite is the Queen Red Lime, I found in the Burpee catalog.  These are truly fabulous and can stand on their own without adding any other flowers to the bouquet.  The seeds are a bit expensive for a grower of my size farm, but I still always have part of a row dedicated to them.  I have a few customers that only request a bouquet with them.
Have some fun trying something new in your garden.  A seed packet is fairly inexpensive, sprinkle some seeds in your flower bed and be surprised what may show up!!1  Maybe a Sea Holly?  Or a Nigella?
My next post will show you how I purchase, plant and grow onions, so come back again. (Photo from Johnny's Seed catalog)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Unfinished Business

I have been wanting to write this blog for some time, but it has been difficult.  Most of my posts are rather positive, this one will not be, so get ready.
We received a telephone call on March 5, 2015 from Rose Marie, that her husband, our relative and good friend Bernard Scheiff had died suddenly.  It is those calls you always dread, you are not ready for them, they are shocking and are very difficult to make by the loved ones.  Bernard had battled with cancer for so many years, beat it and had been so well for so many years, we stopped worrying about him.  
He got up that morning and died within a few hours-suddenly, unexpectedly, unrelated to the cancer.
But this can't be.  We talk to Rose Marie & Bernard at least 2-3 times a week even though they live in the Bay Area and we live up in Northern California.  We have vacationed together; we plan their yearly, seasonal trips here to the farm during certain harvest times so we can spend days canning, freezing and cooking.  We plan on their trips here for our special area wide yard sales, which Bernard absolutely loved. We had so many things yet to talk about that we shared like gardening, chickens, cooking, politics.   And whenever we are together, it is non stop laughing, having fun, and of course, eating.
Bernard and Frank were always talking about projects they were working on, or repair jobs they hoped to do. Bernard always admired Frank's ability and opinions on just about everything.  A few days before Bernard died, he had asked Frank about some grouting product for his outside patio area that he was re-doing. Frank was checking with our daughter on what they used because they recently installed a new slate patio at their house and did the work themselves.  Simple stuff, sharing and helping each other.  But Frank wasn't able to talk to him about it.  It was unfinished business.
I am a planner, a list maker, a task master, as I am called, I THINK lovingly.  Every day I wake up my mind lists in my head what job/task I need to get done and in which order.  My mother trained me that all the work had to be done FIRST, before you got to do the fun things of the day.  That is how I have lived my life, work first, play later.
 It drives me crazy, because I can't stop myself.  Poor Frank-it usually involves him too!!!  And my planning and tasks just aren't for the present day, but go on for planning my days and weeks ahead.
After Bernard died, my own mortality began to invade my thoughts.  Suppose I die suddenly, unexpectedly.
I have so many unfinished projects that need to be done, suppose I didn't get to them all in time?  I hate not finishing projects.
Unfinished Business
Suppose something happens and the wet wash doesn't get put into the dryer and gets mildew?  Suppose "they" forget to feed the chickens or pick up the eggs?  Suppose they forget about those plants in the green house that need to be watered a couple times a day?  Suppose they forget that the dogs get fed twice a day?  I don't have any food in the refrigerator, I am going to go shopping tomorrow, suppose something happens and then there isn't any food for Frank to eat?  My bedding needs to be changed; I have a doctor's appointment next week; my grandson's birthday is in June and my grand daughter's birthday is in October, suppose I won't be here to be with them for those special days.   I still have some knitting projects in my bag next to my chair that I haven't completed; yarn I haven't used.  I need a hair cut.  I need to pay some bills.  I need to plant more corn.  I need to email my CSA members that we will be starting up in a few weeks.      Unfinished Business.
Suppose I didn't tell Frank I love him, just one last time after being married for over 47 years. Suppose I didn't tell Chris & Celli how much I love them and how proud we are of them for being such wonderful parents to our grand children.  How proud we are of them for living a good life; working hard; sacrificing; being part of their community; being involved in the kids school and after school sports and activities.  How proud we are of them being kind and loving to each other.  Suppose I didn't have time to tell my friends how much they have been so important to me.  
Frank and I had unfinished business with Bernard.  We weren't able to tell him how much we loved him; what a joy he was in our lives; how unique and special he was and how much we always enjoyed spending time together with him and Rose Marie.  He won't be here to help us pick peaches; he won't be here to help with the big, hot canning pots.  He won't be here for his loving and devoted wife Rose Marie; he won't be here to be a loving and caring person to his three sons; he won't be here to continue his devotion to God and their church that they have been going to every week for almost 50 years.
Because he was a man with a deep belief and devotion, I am sure he will forgive us for any unfinished business that we did not do for him or with him, like telling him we loved him and that we will miss him very much.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Chores During Spring Break-Painting Trees; Cleaning Chicken House; Planting Vegetables

With spring break, we had one of our grand children, Carli stay with us here at Windmill Farm.  We normally have both of them, but this year, our youngest, Collin had some fun stuff planned at home for his time off.
Each day we would plan a project-chore to do before we could do something fun.  But most of the time, the chores turned out to actually, BE, the fun.  I had a list of items that needed to be done and let Carli decide what she wanted to do or not to do first.
Day One-clean out my garage.  Since many items in my garage actually were the kid's items, having Carli help me decide what goes, what doesn't, really worked well.  We ended up with a thrift shop pile; a throw away pile; a put away into the garden shed pile; a pile to give to Frank for his shop.  We swept and organized so when finished, it was nice and clean.  During our first day of "chores", Carli had some fun riding the kid's gator or her teal colored electric scooter/Vespa.  She would put the items needing to go someplace else in her Vespa basket or in the back of the kid's gator and drive them to their proper location.  At the end of the day, she helped me fix dinner and collected the eggs.  What a great help she was to us and we got to talk and visit while we were working.
Day Two-paint the tree trucks with white paint.  Trees need to be painted with a latex farm paint on their lower trunks to protect them from some insects and to stop the sun from blistering them.  (excuse her Tshirt.  I told her Mom to have Carli only come with clothes that could be thrown away and this was a shirt that she didn't like)
Armed with our paint buckets and brushes we went to work, chatting away, talking about the various varieties of fruit trees we were painting-some with very rough bark, some with very smooth bark.  And because she could do what she wanted around the farm, she would go check on chicken eggs, ride her Vespa and gator, visit Grandpa in his shop; ride with Grandpa on his tractor to disk the watermelon field.  Before I knew it, I looked over at her and her arms and legs looked like the trees!!  And Bella didn't miss getting paint on her too.

Day Three-cleaning out the chicken coop.  Now most times, this is the least favorite to do, but Carli was so excited.  I didn't want her to be inside the hen house scooping out the bedding as it isn't the most healthy place.  
So while I was doing that, she was catching each chicken and painting their toes different nail polish colors and making a chart of toe colors and chicken names. I showed her how to trim their wings so they couldn't fly out of their pen so she was doing that job too.
I would see her carrying one around, her singing to it.  So precious.
Day Four-planting vegetables.  Unknown to me, Grandpa had been teaching Carli how to drive the full sized gator.  She has gotten so tall, she now can now reach the petals.  She has been in the full sized gator a million times and sat on our laps driving it around, while we would use the pedals so it was familiar to her.  Well, she has been practicing all out in the field and has become a right good driver.  She would pick up a shovel or rake or whatever I needed from the garden shed and drive the gator to me and unload.  Then she would load up the dogs and drive in and around all the fruit trees, checking out the owl boxes, having a great time.
Day Five-inside work.  As a family, we were all going to meet up at a camp ground and camp for a few days.  While I was packing the trailer, getting the food together, Carli was making her chicken identification list.  She loves to draw and incorporated a chicken foot-nail polish-chicken name into a chart for me to keep tract of the hens.
The kids love their time here at the farm and we love them coming as much as they can.  This summer we will have Collin and Carli together several times.
Farming is a business that is slowly dying out so we hope she will take some of these memories and tell HER children some day.  And we had a fabulous time camping together where we saw a beaver, a fresh water otter, ducks, geese and had just plan R&R.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Let's Talk Water; New Chickens In The Hen House

We have all been concerned about water and heard in the news about everyone having to do our part to conserve. Farmer's are no exceptions. I am sure you have heard some rumblings from people talking about farmers using too much water to grow food. I want to re-assure you that from what I have heard from Butte County farmers, they are truly concerned as you are and are doing everything in their power to be good stewards of water usage.  Do people think the owners of farms don't give a heck about other people; about abusing water? And what would be the alternative to not giving farmer's water, government to pay them to not grow food at all?  Possibly some people think it is OK to just import all our food, but for our family, I like to really, really know where our food comes from; and how it was grown.  That's our opinion.

If you give me a minute, I would like to tell you what we have done to conserve water.
Here at our farm, Frank anticipated we may have to reduce our water usage even though we already used drip systems AND we used timers in the past seasons. We talked about ways that we could continue to water our vegetables using the drip system but asked ourselves how we could reduce the length of time the water was being used. All our rows were on one main watering system, one timer and because all the rows were on at the same time, it reduced the water pressure. The result was we had to water longer in order that each and every row received enough moisture.
What Frank did was pull up all the old watering infrastructure and divided the fields into different zones-each zone having specific vegetables. He then put each zone on a different valve and a different set time to run. With that change, we have been able to water in minutes, instead of hours. The surprise result was the change is the water pressure. With less rows to spread out the water, more water is being filtered to fewer drip tapes, having the plants watered in more than half the time. And we have better control on each type of plant's moisture needs.  He even put up a light because sometimes we water at night so need to be able to see what valve to turn on.

As an example, corn may only need to be watered maybe when hot, 2 x a week; tomatoes may only need to be watered 2-3 times a week; but my beets and Swiss Chard may need watering every other day. I was having to previously water everything the same - turn the timer on, shut it off a couple hours later. 
Frank is so clever, this time he even got creative and used up some of his old spray paint cans to help me know which zone references his specific colored valve and timer. We are also hoping we will possibly save on our electricity bill this summer running the ag pump less; saving water being the most important!!  We are excited to see how this big change will effect the growth of our plants
I purchased 12 new Heritage Breed Barred Rock 10 month old laying hens a few weeks ago. I put them in with the rest of my hens, but I must say they weren't received very well. The first night, they weren't allowed inside the hen house. The second night I picked up each one of them and put them inside. Since then, the family of hens have been fine.

Well, maybe not perfect, I am still getting some laid eggs in the corner, on the floor, instead of inside the egg laying boxes. Have you ever heard of the expressions, "hen pecked"? Or "pecking order"? Well it is true, the queen hens (Usually the oldest hens) have the best sleeping spots (at least they think so); their favorite nesting box WHEN they decide to lay; and want to eat the food first. They soon sort out their "pecking order" and live happily together, as long as the younger princess hens abide by the queen hen rules.
That is the latest here at the people's hen house-Windmill Farm.  Come back again soon to hear more of our farming, growing flowers, decorating projects, classes, just some plan fun too.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Fabulous and Awesome Bee Keeping Class!!!

We have been giving farming and "life" skill classes here at Windmill Farm for about 4 years now, lots of canning and preserving classes.  But this Bee Keeping class is by far, my all time favorite.  Maybe because most of the classes I teach myself, or have done it at some time in my life.  If I don't feel I am expert enough, I bring in those wonderful people that are expert in that skill or field.  The bee keeping class was one that I knew nothing about it and found the most perfect person to teach it.
The weather was perfect on Saturday, cool breeze, only low 80s, very comfortable for people to sit under the shade of the big redwood tree out front of the house.
The instructor was Perfecto Valadez and his wife, from Orchard & Field Pollination Bee Keeping business here in Gridley.  Our friend Danny Maciel also came to help them out with all the equipment they brought.
First of all, they brought both of their big trucks that they use to haul their bee hives.  One was used to haul individual hives on pallets; the other truck had a boom where he loaded up individual hives.
All the clothing, smoker, gloves, hats and tools were displayed out on the bed of the truck.  And Mr. Valadez showed how each item worked and the reasons why they were used.  He did confess to us that after almost 30 years in the business, he rarely uses the clothing-brave man.
He brought a live, working hive with a queen bee that had a glass cover over it.  We could see bees working and a miraculous thing happening, baby bees being born!!  There were several children that attended the class and they were glued to the glass case watching the ever busy bees.
Mr. & Mrs. Valadez talked about how they got into the business; how the bee keeping business works; the lives of bees; what happens when bees get hungry, when they have extra queens; when pesticides are used; and answered any question people asked.  I could not believe how much I learned and it was completely captivating for the whole 2+ hours.
Many people stayed after the class to speak directly with Mr. Valadez.  Several people who attended had orchards and wanted to ask further questions about the possibility of having him bring hives onto their property to help with pollination.
I had picked up some helpful information packets from our local Farm Services and USDA office about pollinators; I also made copies of a very good article I had found about the many healing properties of using honey.
Speaking of honey; we were provided 3 types of honey, alfalfa; orange and a weed.  I had several types of crackers that the people were able to drizzle the various types of honey to taste.  It was amazing how totally different they tasted.
Mr. Valadez states this time of year, he takes his hives to the Petaluma area as that is where he obtains the clover honey.  
Interesting facts, Mr. Valadez states that one bee makes 400 trips to the hive to make one teaspoon of honey.  And that bees travel on average 3-4 miles from the hive to find honey.  And bees put honey on their back and carry it back to the hive.  He said it can get over 140 degrees inside a hive with bees working, so some worker bees use the water on their backs and fan their wings at the entrance to the hives.  It creates a cooling-air conditioning effect if the hive gets too hot.
Wonderful class, if you didn't make it, I am sorry.  Bee Keepers are so busy, it was a real treat for us to have him available for over 4 hours here at our farm to spend with people.  I think Frank and I have been "stung" with the bee bug-Frank has arranged to go over to Mr. Valadez's place to help him make hives and purchase a couple from him.  Get some bees from him and a queen to start up our own farm hives.
Life changing experience and I was so happy my daughter and grand daughter drove from Auburn to attend the class and enjoy it with us.