Here are some pics from my wife, taken wile I was picking the first wave of Fuerte avocados off the tree. I didn’t even have to move the ladder to get 20 pounds worth. For reference, I am on a ten foot ladder with a twenty foot picker, and in this position could only go halfway up the tree. It gets dicey trying to get the ones on top. I stand on the second to top rung of the ladder in full extension with picker, which weighs 20-30 pounds on its own, completely vertical over my head. It usually takes a few weeks to warm up each year, but I’m getting pretty good at it.
So for those who would like to gorge on this bounty, you either come over for a lesson in picking them, or I get an fruit swap IOU for some other crop/service you can provide. Just like in the old days, a neighborly exchange. Deal?
I took a wild guess, and racked my one gallon of Viozinho this morning. As you can see it isn’t very clear at this point, but the smaller jug was very clear before I messed with it. It’s a little on the brown side, too but I’m not too concerned with that right now. All in all the wine itself looks to be proceded in a predictable way… well not predictable to me, but what I imagine would be to a professional. The process on the other hand, as usual has not been wonderful.
About a week ago, I was reaching for a book neer the bottle, and as you might guess it fell it the weirdest and most Murphyesque way, bouncing two feet around a chair right on top of the the air locks. One shattered, and the other went flying across the room. The bottles and wine were safe, fortunately.
After checking two local brew shops, who “for some strange reason” were completely sold out of the cheapest most abundant part of home brewing, I finally found one at a crazy price in a wine makers shop. Not a good sign for Timo’s home brew wine.
Flash forward to this morning and Murphy was still dictating the direction of things. Starting the siphon on such a small container was much less than smooth. I had practiced with water for about 20 minutes and thought I had it down pat, but alas there were a lot cuss words flying as my precious wine spilled all over the place and my hand came in contact with all the equipment. I even had an extra set of hands, but it didn’t help. I seem to have an aversion to smoothness when it comes to making fermented beverages (Don’t ask about the other night of beer bottling! I must have said, “That’s never happened before” about ten times.)
Anyway, I did pull off a little for a taste. I was expecting something horrid, akin to the plum wine I made a couple of years ago. That wine had so much acid in it, and so little sugar entering fermentation (I miss calculated the recipe) that the bottle I opened last month didn’t even pass as a good vinegar. This true wine was not vinegar, though. It actually had a pretty good feel considering I’ve never tried Viozinho, nor have any idea what a wine at the first racking is supposed to taste like. It wasn’t even a struggle to swallow.
I kept the stems with the berries when I crushed it, which isn’t normal for a white wine, but as I have mentioned before, I have no idea what I am doing. Some of that carried through as a sour tannic note. It actually tasted like a young intense Chardonay in a lot of ways. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t very good, but if it ages well, it will pass as wine.
I have been thinking of adding 3 or 4 more vines in the back yard. My first choice was a classic red, like Cabernet, or Syrah. Maybe even a Durif, After tasting the potential of what I already have, though, now am I am considering upping the anti. I may make this whole project even more complicated (the way I like it,) and try my hand at cloning the Viozinho onto a resistant rootstock, so I would have 5 vines all with the same varietal.
Of course I haven’t found a source of rootstock, and have never grafted vines before. But, I watched a couple of videos on Youtube, so how hard could it be, right?
I have very little idea how to make wine, but it is something that has always interested me, and living in California, it is something that’s just part of life. Anywhere you travel in this state you are bound to come across vineyards and wine tasting rooms. Go south from the Bay Area on US 101, and you will literally be driving through vineyards within an hour or two. Another hour more, and you will be in the heart of the Central Coast wine region with wineries and tasting rooms at every exist.
Go to the North Bay, and well, I don’t have to tell you where you are, but you will be in some of the most picturesque viticultural districts in the world, if not the best producing ones. Head east, or in just about any direction, down any road and you will likely find a vineyard of some sort. All my memories are filled with grape vines, from visiting my aunt’s house in the South Bay hills, to heading to Monterey, or to the mountains to fish. Everywhere, there is a vineyard in central Califa.
Even later, I couldn’t get away from the vines. Not that I wanted to. I did my undergrad at “The” wine university. You know, the one that now produces the worlds premier viticulturists and enologist, who go on to head up every major winery around the world. When I went there, though, the school celar wasn’t open to the public, and Mondovi hadn’t turned it into a wine tourist trap, so we only heard rumors of the vintages that got dumped down the drain instead of being drunk each year. Now they get sold off to the public, and the wine culture descends on the campus in hords to visit the Mondovi wine complex, celars, and wine shops etc..
One of the things Davis used to do, and still does, I think, is give away vines to the first few hundred people who get in line at the viticulture booth on Picnic Day. They are the vines that students practice their grafting techniques on, so they often aren’t wonderful, but they are free. In the past, before the world knew of this little give-away they gave away interesting varieties, and it was easier to get them.
Six years ago, my wife (also an Aggie) and I went to Picnic Day and got two of the last scrony vines they were giving away that year. I think it was the fact that they were small that let is in on something cool. No one else wanted the runts, but they were just a small slow growing varietal. The variety was called Viozinho, a white wine grape. (More on that in a bit.) We’ve been to Picnic Day since, and have gotten other vines, but these were the only ones that resulted in a producing vine.
Funny enough, at the time I had no where to plant them, so I potted them up and put them on the balcony of our place. For a couple of years they languished, putting out a few leaves each spring. One eventually died, but in the third year the survivor showed some good growth, so I was happy to keep it on board. In that same year we bought our house, and I found a good place for it in the ground. Having little idea what type of grape vine it really was, or its characteristics, I just put it where there was room. It had more sentimental value than anything at that point.
In its new home it didn’t do a whole lot except grow. Last year it produced some grapes but the squirrels (I hate squirrels!) ate every last berry, so I had no idea what the grapes where finally going to be like.
This year was different. I netted the whole thing as soon as they were forming sugar, and they grew and grew. So many and so well in fact, that my poorly made trellis partially collapsed.
With a whole crop to deal with, I finally looked up what they where, and thought about what I was going to do with them. They are a grape used in making Porto, a fortified wine from Portugal. They are supposed to have great character, but are little grown because of the slow growth and low yield. In fact they seem to only be grown commercially in the Douro Valley in very low quantities. The guy at my local brew/wine store had never heard of them.
So what do you do when you have something little heard of, and considered a treasure? Of course, try to learn how to use it for what it is meant for. I only have enough for about a gallon of finished wine, but it will be a good first trial. Also, since this variety is rarely ever made into a varietal wine, and is usually blended, the low volume works in my favor. My guess, is that it will be very acidic and complex, so I will have something good to use in blends with future years (maybe going the Porto route,) or with my plum wines, which have little complexity.
Who knows where it will go, but so far it’s been fun starting down another path of learning. I already had the vine and the equipment, so I have little to lose, and wine to gain. Should be fun.
This is how our new bed looked in our room when I brought it down from the truck.
Here is how it looked out of the box and unpacked.
Did I mention this is a Queen size full spring coil mattress?
We decided to go with this Keetsa bed, because it was surprisingly comfortable, reasonably cheap, has a very long 12 year full guarantee, and uses all organic cotton, bio-foam, is recyclable, and the packaging is pretty ingenious and Eco-friendly.
Here is a little vid of it poofing up. Just like a camp pad, only bigger. I’ll post back in a couple months to see if it gives us good nights of sleep.
This last winter was a particularly warm one, and though my apple tree and pear trees are barely scratching out fruit and staving off disease, the loquat tree went gang busters with fruit. The combination of weather, dispatched rats, cats keeping the rodents away, and a neighbor with a BB gun has produced a bumper crop that’s still on the tree. This from a fruit tree we barely knew anything about before we moved into our house.
Any good homesteader will tell you that when you are given a blessing of extra fruit, you don’t just sit there scratching yourself. You bust out the canning supplies and buy some jars. And that is exactly what my household did! Two batches over the last couple weeks, and another on the stove right now. Plus, the tree barely looks as if we picked anything, so there will probably be more. Tonight’s batch has some of the first plums of the season in it, too. I tried some “raw” fruit in combination off the trees and they seemed to compliment each other quite well. Whomever planted the trees decades ago, was a wise person.
So you might be wondering, if you haven’t been to a house with this sort of tree what the hell loquats, A.K.A Nisperos, are. The answer is that they are a distant relative of the apple, and are from Asia. They taste a little like an apricot and are about the same size. I’ve loved having visitors over in the Spring and having them try a loquat for the first time. The experience tells a lot about a person’s experiences and food spirit. Is the person knowledgeable about food and the fact that there are literally thousands of varieties and species of fruits around the world that never make it to the supermarket? Are they a little adventurous to try new things? Its fun, and most people find the experience of loquats agreeable, though not impressive.
Loquats are a very simple tasting fruit. They are almost generic in the sense that they are a little tart when under-ripe, really sweat when over-ripe, yet don’t have much complexity beyond that. Making jam out of them wasn’t all that hard to figure out either. We combined a few recipes from the web with our experience using plums and Voilà, loquat jam.
I mentioned the jam and brought a jar over to a friend’s party last week and got some, “Ooh, I love loquats,” and “Wow that sounds like a lot of work.” Nothing unusual, but it got me thinking about the idea of hand made foods and more generally anything that is made through craft. In this case, loquats are a fragile fruit that go bad within a day or two, making them unsuitable as a trade fruit. The only way to experience them is by having a tree, or knowing someone with a tree. Next, having enough of them and the patience and energy to make them into a jam, makes this product that much more rare. Additionally, it must be hand made, and so will always bring a different experience when making and consuming the jam. So on the one hand we have this rather benign, little-known fruit, but on the other we have a process that turns them into a jam that has unique hand craft all over it.
The point of crafting things by hand in an age of mass-design and manufacture is that you get unique experiences and outcomes. For me that is one of life’s ultimate pleasures, even if it is slow, tiring, and a “lot of work.”
Just had a try; plum, nispero, and wildflower honey jam is fantastic!
I mentioned that I found a jade doughnut in the garden in a previous post. I finally found it and snapped off a picture. What do you think? Ancient, rare artifact? Or kids pendent lost to play and adventure in the yard? It could even be a relic of the generations of pack rats that lived back there. Who knows, but it is fun finding little things like this. They make my mind wander about the past, and history of a place.
The little chick hatched and the mother is hard at work. I took about 30 minutes to get this, then left them alone. Nice to meditate on nature and its raw beauty. Also, nice to capture a little keepsake of it, and nicer yet to know my yard harbors new life this spring.
Technical note: The plane of focus of the image is off by less than 1/4 of an inch, which is enough to throw the chick and beaks out of focus. The wind was blowing, which shifted the focus, even if it didn’t blur it. So even at 1/500th of a second, the movement was enough to “ruin” the shot in technical terms. I could have stopped down, but that might have added some blur. Plus, at 1600 ISO there wasn’t much room to move up and not introduce noise and/or color shifts at this sunset hour.
This is part of the craft of photography that is like being the quarterback in a football game or keeper on a futbol pitch, and the part that makes it exciting. Making meaningful images over and over again is the part that is hard work. This was for fun and pleasure. Enjoy!
I had a photo shoot today with a new resident of the house. She did very well for her first shoot.
She’s an Ana’s Hummingbird; common to the area, and is sitting on one little egg according to my son. I couldn’t see in, so I lifted him up and he reported down to me what he saw.
They are doing well so far in the 3 days since she began building the nest. The nest is in nice spot for viewing, but a little awkward for them. It should be out of reach of the cats in the neighborhood though. Probably a first attempt for this little one. Good luck little visitor!
Here is a video tour of my compost bin (I promised a video). The bin is over a year old now, and hasn’t shown any sign of material or design flaws. It may have dry wood termites in it, but there is enough redwood that it might take a decade before they do any harm or spread anywhere else. Otherwise I think its working pretty well.
In compost part 1 I talked about reaching a balance. That balance is as much about adding things to the composter as it is about having the right composter for the household. Bins come in many shapes and sizes, so it is important to think carefully about what is needed before the compost piles up.
I built mine with balance in mind. I wanted something that could take care of all of our food waste, and all of our yard waste, yet wouldn’t take up a ton of space, or time to keep going. Turns out my design was just right, and not only can the composter handle all of our yard and kitchen waste, but it actually needs it to function well. The approximately 40 cubic foot bin was the perfect size to reach a balance for my household. It does take effort, but it isn’t too bad and is comparable to taking out the trash.
I hinted in part 1 at the idea of brown and green compost materials, so let me explain them a little. Green material is a term used to describe organic material that is high in nitrogen. Brown is something with little nitrogen and high carbon content. As you might guess something like fresh grass clippings would be considered green, while fallen leaves, brown. But why is it important?
Nitrogen is what I would call the meat, and carbon the roughage and carbs in a compost diet. Most organisms use nitrogen for the complex molecules needed in energy storage and transfer. Some examples are proteins, chlorophyll, and fats. Consequently, those are the things that microbes, bugs, animals and even us humans like to eat, but without the roughage, none of us biological creatures would be energized. I won’t get into the specifics of biological compositional analysis (not that I have a background in it), but think of how you would feel if meat was the only thing you ate.
The needed ratio of carbon to nitrogen is something like 9 to 1 (Correction: 25 TO 1), but I don’t think its super important as long as you have quite a bit more brown material than green in the composter. If you add kitchen scraps and green grass to your compost heap, and nothing else, you will end up getting a lot of nitrogen-rich molecules floating around. These will take the form of smelly fumes, and will probably spur a lot of unwanted growth like from various slimes, and maggots. In any case, too much nitrogen leads to a lot of foul activity. Sure, the waste will still compost, but you won’t like the experience. Trust me, I know from experience.
So what kinds of compost materials generate a good balance?
My bin takes all the leaves (brown) from the various trees we have, along with our kitchen scraps (very green), and anything else considered a natural waste, like fallen fruit (green), weeds (green and brown), or yard trimmings (very brown). Occasionally, I’ll even throw in shredded bills (very brown). This seems to make for a good balance. You would probably be surprised by what else I throw in there, though (like two dead rats I caught in a trap I set out. Gross and very green, plus nutrient rich.)
What surprises most people is that there really aren’t very many limitations to what will compost. There is a myth that centers on not adding meat or dairy to a compost heap. I challenge that myth. I compost everything from the kitchen except bones (these actually don’t compost well). Meat, dairy, bread, paper, you name it, it all goes in and disappears.
The only thing that didn’t break down well in my hot heap, surprisingly, were the leftover tortillas from my MFA thesis reception. I had bought them from the “regular” supermarket in bulk, for cheap, and as a result were loaded with preservatives. Those things stayed true to form in my heap for weeks, while everything else from the reception like the paper plates, beans and cheese slipped away into soilness.
I think the premiss of the myth revolves around the idea that meat takes a while to break down, and in that time becomes foul, drawing in animals. My experience is that with enough compost going on around it (a foot or two of material on all sides) almost anything will rot away before it becomes a problem. The size of the heap is the key factor. Nothing composts well in anything less than 3 or 4 feet of space, so meat would just magnify the problem of a composter that is too small (which I think is often the case.)
So, after all this what do I get from my composter?
In part 3 I will talk about what comes out of the heap, and what I think is important to know about your nitrogen in the garden. Didn’t I tell you compost was complex and fun?
This one came from the old shed in the back yard I took down last spring. There were a whole bunch of little bits of things that ended up there from the various occupants and users over the years. This one stood out as something odd to find in an old wooden shed. Let me see if I can dig up a picture of what the shed looked like…