Tuesday, December 28, 2010

served in only the finest establishments

My friend Kerry of Magpie Cafe writes lovingly of Kingbird quince, inspiring me to post this menu shot from a few weeks back.

Ed Rohr and Janel Inouye (good slugs both) birthed Magpie Caterers a few years back and morphed into the Magpie Caterers and Cafe 20 months ago. Ed and Janel have an extraordinary talent for food, and for assembling a talented, well-functioning team. At 14th and R, downtown Sacramento, it's an oasis of good taste and good feelings and one of the best things to happen in Sacramento for years. A perfect place for a good time with friends, or for just a one on one with Pliny the Elder. And the perfect caterer for your next wedding or 60th birthday celebration ...

And Ms Kingbird reminds me that Magpie was one of a handful of inaugural recipients of the "Snail of Approval" a few months ago, a recognition conferred by Slow Food Sacramento on those restaurants best embodying the principles of "good, clean, fair food."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

kingbird peninsula

The storms of earlier this week brought water into the slough that wraps around our property for the first time this year - the earliest "fill" of any of the 10 years that we've been watching closely.

The pounding of the past few days brought the level substantially higher, to within a few feet of our driveway at its low point. The Cosumnes River is flowing at about 10,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) (and rising) where it exits the Sierra at Michigan Bar, and where California's Department of Water Resources maintains a gauge that feeds real-time flow information to the web (here). 10,000 cfs is less than 10% of the record peak achieved on January 3, 2007, but more than enough to cause the Cosumnes to overflow its banks in the reach below Twin Cities Road, which has no levees. To behave, in short, like a real river.

The forecasts for precipitation over the next few days were, a few days back, fairly over-the-top - forecasters appear to love to dwell on extreme possibilities - but the weather systems aren't coming in or lining up with quite as much punch as advertised.

We're prepared, none-the-less, for anything, with the car parked where it will remain able to access the outside world, and the canoe at the ready.
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Friday, December 10, 2010

weather whipsaw

The photo is just post-Thanksgiving, when for a few nights some local communities set new records for night-time low temperatures and we had daytime highs in the mid-40s.

Last night's low temperature here was 54 degrees, tying or setting a record high minimum for this date. Last night's minimum was above the historic average maximum daytime high temperature for the date (52 degrees) by 2 degrees. The record high for this date in history is 66 degrees. If the sun shows itself (at 11 am it's overcast and 60 degrees) that record may fall.

The (perhaps previous) record high minimum for this date was set in 2004, at the time the fourth-hottest year on record for the planet as a whole. 2004 has since slipped to seventh-place; 2005, 2009, and 2010 all turned out to be hotter. Ten of the hottest years on record have occurred within the last twelve years. 1998 (during a "solar maximum") remains officially the warmest year ever. 2010 is likely to bump 1998 to second place, but that won't be determined for official purposes until early next year.

"Solar maximum" refers to the sunspot cycle, an oscillation of solar heat output (and thus receipt by the earth) that looks similar to a sine wave and generally repeats itself every 9-14 years. Climate change denialists for years took cover from the fact that 1998 was a year of solar maximum (the actual peak was in 2000) and confidently predicted that the years 2005-2010 would log in on the cool side because they coincided with a solar minimum (the peak of the next maximum is predicted for May 2013).  So much for wishful theory. The reality is that the increasing heat-trapping capacity of the earth's atmosphere (a function of increasing carbon dioxide levels - from about 360 parts per million in 1998 to about 390 ppm today) has been more significant to actual climate than declining solar input.

I'm not looking forward to seeing what the 2012-2014 combination of a solar maximum (although it's projected to be a weak one) and circa-400 ppm CO2 concentrations gives us.

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our new financial advisors

Based in the People's Republic of Berkeley, of course ...

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

kingbird annex

Fairsite Elementary School (one of many alma maters, incidentally) is in downtown Galt. Because of population shifts, it's now mostly bereft of students but does host adult education, ESL, Head Start, and nutrition programs. Twenty years ago, several enterprising teachers and their students created an extensive school garden at one corner of the grounds. A year ago, a few of us rehabbed the old garden and planted a range of winter crops. (It was actually a narrow range - from fava beans to fava beans - since we were too late for anything else. But the favas grew exuberantly, giving it that worked-in garden look, enriching the soil, and providing hundreds of pounds of beans in the early spring.)

We followed that winter garden with an aggressive summer garden of tomatoes, beans, squash, and melons, with a handful of volunteers participating and the harvest intended for the Food Bank housed on site. Unfortunately, over the summer we suffered a series of vandalism acts in which most of the crops were destroyed. Boredom + not knowing where food comes from = a tragic equation.

As a result, most of those involved in the garden decided that their efforts would be more productively focused in their own back yards, on growing extra that could be delivered to the food bank.

A few of us have hung in there and we've planted a few beds to vegetables this fall. Kingbird has two beds of broccoli etc. and three beds of fava beans. We're hoping for a decent stream of fresh goodies into the food bank in March and April.

Updating this: Urine separation and reuse makes the New York Times! The report is from Haiti, where the soil fertility and sanitation benefits are both desperately needed ...
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Thursday, November 25, 2010

California the invaded

California's modern ecological history is one of successive invasions of non-indigenous species of plants and animals*. The earliest and perhaps most profound transition was initiated by the seeds of European grasses in the guts of the cattle and horses that accompanied the first European explorers. Within probably a century, non-native annual grasses displaced most of the drought-adapted native perennial and annual grasses of pre-contact California. The brown hills of the modern California summer are one artifact of that displacement. Native grasses are mostly green most of the year, and can be seen today only in isolated areas where soil conditions were unfavorable to the invaders.

Our most recent local large invader, an appropriate subject for a Thanksgiving Day rant, is the turkey. A small flock at yesterday's dusk is pictured above. Not native to California, turkeys have been introduced - to be shot at - by the State's Department of Fish and Game (DFG), not an entity generally open to considering the ecological nuances or long range implications of its actions, at least when they involve its hunter-supported programs. Kind of like "shoot first, ask questions later." Or, as a friend likes to say, "ready, fire, aim."

The turkey is native to North America but not to California. DFG released a couple of pairs of turkey onto the Cosumnes River Preserve, without consulting its more science-driven partners on the Preserve, in the mid-1990s, just a few miles from where I sit. We had no turkey visitors here until about 2005, and since then the growth in turkey population has been seemingly exponential. It's not uncommon to see 200 turkeys at one time, in several flocks spread among the grasslands and oak savannah areas visible from Kingbird.

Turkeys are neither cute nor benign. They are voracious omnivores, eating acorns, seeds, roots, tubers, grass, reptiles, and amphibia. In this environment they compete directly with sandhill cranes, nibble on endangered amphibia that we've spent significantly to protect, and appear to get all of the acorns in their forage areas, which doesn't augur well for future oak forests and forest-dependent bird species. They are a scourge on this patch of earth. Local ecosystems are losing complexity and diversity as the turkey population swells.

The turkey population explosion here has coincided with a general rapid increase in numbers and expansion of range across much of Northern California. They've joined deer as a major suburban pest and go with growing boldness into cities - a friend on Sacramento Street in Berkeley reports that they see flocks there occasionally.

Turkeys will be over-abundant for at least as long as humans are around to supress the populations of predators that would enjoy a dinner of uncooked turkey, but one can envision, in time, a new balance** as mountain lion populations rebound and wolves trickle back onto the Modoc Plateau and from there into the Central Valley.

*The late Elna Bakker's An Island Called California (1971) provides a very readable exploration of how and why California plant communities were vulnerable to invasion. An amazing ecologist and conservationist, Bakker worked for years with the Oakland Museum and was responsible for much of its excellent natural history interpretation.

**Alan Weisman's The World Without Us (2007) is an excellent and thought-provoking exploration of this general topic. What would the world look like without us?

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Monday, November 1, 2010

out of the (water) closet

It happens, but it's not widely discussed.

I'm talking about making use of the perfect fertilizer - local, organic, easy to apply, free, sterile, with an NPK ratio of 18:2:5 and plenty of important trace minerals. It's a product of perhaps the best filtration device in existence, the human kidney.

Conveniently, our body places most (80% - 90%) of our excreted nutrients - the good stuff - in the urine. And all of the microbes and other bad stuff, but relatively little of the nutrients, end up in our feces. Diluted anywhere from 2:1 to 5:1 with water, urine is a perfect soil amendment. Undiluted, it speeds the composting process. Used as a soil amendment, one person's urine can provide the nutrients for one person's food consumption, more or less. A perfect circle.

And it gets better. Each flush uses precious water that has many higher and better uses. And each flush has its own carbon footprint from the energy used to pump, treat, and pressurize the water system and treat the effluent on the other end - a footprint that is tiny per-flush but large in the aggregate, especially when counting the energy cost of building and maintaining all of the associated infrastructure. Even more massive is the carbon footprint associated with the process of creating synthetic nitrogen fertilizer out of natural gas and the extensive loss of soil carbon that synthetic fertilizers have enabled.

So why doesn't it happen more? The "ick" factor? Cultural inertia? Just plain ignorance? All of the above, no doubt. Plus a large dose of what Wendell Berry terms the "rift" between body and nature in modern culture, creating a "dualism" that has caused "confusion about the body's proper involvement in the world."

But there are signs of change on a few fronts. A brand new gardening book, The Resilient Gardener, by Carol Deppe, addresses the subject boldly in a subsection titled "The Power of Pee," part of a longer chapter on "Soil and Fertility." Carol gives a quick rundown on collection, dilution and use. Steve Solomon's 2005 Gardening When It Counts tiptoes up to the subject, gives it a strong endorsement, then punts by sending the reader for details to Joseph Jenkins' The Humanure Handbook, a short how-to book available in print or downloadable free from a few web sites.

Globally, "pee-cycling" policies and technologies are advancing rapidly. Separate collection of urine and feces is being done on a large pilot scale in both Sweden and Germany. And a Swedish company, Separett (see www.separett.com) manufactures a variety of source-separating and composting toilets, including an accessory urine tank ("Ejektortank 50 - For the green gardener") that facilitates dilution and garden application.

Outside of the western developed world, where soil enhancement needs are greater and the commitment to costly flush-it-away infrastructure less widespread - and perhaps the "disease of dualism" less advanced - both urine and feces are increasingly seen as resource, not waste. In China, a UNICEF/Red Cross program has installed over a million urine diversion dehydration toilets (UDDTs) over the past decade. UDDTs separate urine (for immediate agronomic use) and solids (for agronomic use after a year of composting). Similar programs are widespread throughout Africa.

Closer to home, an amazing non-profit organization called SOIL (Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods, www.oursoil.org) is working to rebuild soil resources and improve sanitation in Haiti through the recycling of human wastes.SOIL volunteers embrace a philosophy of "liberation ecology" with roots in "liberation theology." 

Liberating urine from the bounds of misconception and cultural prejudice - now there's a simple concept with far-reaching potential benefits.

Update: The Haiti project is featured by the New York Times here.
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

the summer garden is gone

Impelled by last weekend's weather (3" here) and the prospect of more very soon, we nuked the summer garden today - a slow process of removing the infrastructure of stakes, trellis, drip tubes, and labels, followed by a chopping of the consideral amount of plant residue.

I'll rototill tomorrow, and then watch the forecast for imminent precipitation, with the goal of getting the cover crop seed in just before the next rain.

Gone - but not forgotten, because before we started the process of destruction we did a thorough gleaning which yielded copious amounts of red and green peppers (right), tomatoes, melons, beets, green beans and corn. Most of that bounty will go to the Galt Food Bank early tomorrow.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

from the air in early autumn

WWOOFer Hannah (young, adventurous, brave, and capable) took to the air with Pilot Bill and took this photo from overhead. It captures Kingbird in flux. The summer garden is still pumping out copious quantities of a few things - tomatoes, corn, cucumber. The winter garden is thriving with brassicas (several varieties of broccoli, chinese cabbage, bok choy), lettuce, and spinach doing very well.

In the forest, it's a moderately heavy acorn year (a sign, the old-timers say, of a wet winter) and they're dropping quickly. This weekend's forecasted rain will likely spur some significant leaf drop.

In the skies, we're entertained by cranes and large flocks of white-fronted geese. Closer to the ground, we're enjoying some of our signature winter birds (Say's phoebe, Northern flicker) and enduring the white-crowned sparrows, whose voracious attitude toward tender greens necessitates the white fabric covering many of the beds in the photo above.

Hannah in flight-suit - mission accomplished! - is below.
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Thursday, October 21, 2010

late season melon feast

They are still coming. The pallette of flavors is across the board and hard to characterize - various mixes of pineapple, orange, lemon, lime, vanilla, floral, butterscotch, grape, berry, apple, peach. The flavors seem to improve as the season evolves, but perhaps that's just the contrast between the bright flavors and the summer garden as it fades from green to yellows and browns.

The names are a key part of the experience: Eel River, Marigold, Retato degli Ortolani, Tendral Valenciano, Piel de Sapo ("skin of the frog") ...
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Friday, September 10, 2010

vole pellet

Or, more conventionally, owl pellet. Owls consume small rodents, separate the digestible from the indigestible elements in the craw, and cough up pellets like this one composed of fur and bone. This year, an abundant one for voles, the owl diet is almost all vole (plus an occaional gopher). Hence, vole pellet.

It has been a good year for the vole population because abundant rains through the spring produced lots of feed and cover. A good vole year is a good owl year. The barn owls that annually use our nest box produced two clutches of young, as did several of the owl boxes in a neighboring vineyard, and they've been audible, and visible, most evenings and nights. Barn owls both hiss - a medium-long, edgy sound that I visualize as tearing paper - and click repetitively in 15-30 second bursts (and they make a noticeable "thump" as they land on the metal roof of our house). Infant owls are dependent on their parents for food for the first 6-8 weeks of life and make their demands by repetitively hissing. Watching young owls learn to fly, land, and perch is an entertaining spectacle.

The barn owl (tyto alba) is a global species, the most widely distributed owl and one of the most widely distributed of all birds. Barn owls, with a relatively high metabolism rate for birds their size, are among the most efficient predators of small invertebrates on the planet. A study in the Central Valley some time ago determined that a pair of adult barn owls will feed a family of owlets an average 68 pounds of prey before they fledge. Monitoring one nest box, the researchers found that one brood of owls had been fed 140 pounds of rodents.

This year's best owl experience occured on a late June evening under a full moon. In what must have been a convergence of several different families, there were 8-10 owls circling 80-100 feet overhead, hissing and clicking. Occasionally, one or two would separate from the pack and come down and inspect me, hover 3-4 feet above my head in the light wind, and then, satisfied or not, return to join the others soaring above.

My son's 3rd grade teacher, an eccentric with a genius for instruction, encouraged his charges to collect owl pellets, and Frederik and mom or dad would regularly scout the ground under the palm trees by the golf course in Sacramento's Land Park for pellets. The treasures would be soaked in formaldehyde and then teased apart and evaluated for content. Ecology, anatomy, zoology, fresh air, sunshine, microscopes. Although in this case he helped to produce a mathematician, not an ecologist, I hope that there are teachers like that one still surviving in our public schools.

The meadow vole (microtus; our variety is microtus californicus) is remarkably productive and may be the world's most prolific mammal. Females can breed when they are a month old and produce litters of 3-10 pups every three weeks for the rest of their lives. They go through boom-and-bust population cycles which do not, from local observation, always track with weather or rainfall conditions. They eat green growing things; an irrigated garden is a magnet for voles in the summer.

A good vole year is not a good gardening year, but the owls help significantly.

(Thanks to Frances Oliver's father for the owl box and to Steve Simmons of Merced for some of this information.)
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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

the birds of heaven have arrived

Today I saw and heard sandhill cranes for the first time this season. They arrive in their wintering grounds in the lower Cosumnes and North Delta beginning about now each year. These early arrivers are likely of the "greater" subspecies which nests in northeastern California and eastern Oregon. Arriving later, and in larger number, will be the "lessers," which nest in Alaska, northwestern Canada, and northeastern Siberia. All of these cranes of the Pacific Flyway spend their winters in California's Great Central Valley.

The cranes are large, ancient, and mystical. With a wingspan of 7 feet, a standing height of 4 feet, and a bright red head, the birds are visually striking. They are also among the oldest of birds, with a fossil dated at 2.5 million years and a close relative or ancestor dated at 10 million years. As a species, they've witnessed the movement and fusion of continents, repeated glacial cycles, oscillations of sea level of 100 meters or more, and the emergence and eventual global dominance of homo sapiens. That history offers some hope that they will successfully navigate the enormous changes underway in the Arctic as a result of climate change and the even greater changes looming for the Arctic and for California's Central Valley - but it's a slender thread of hope, because the current pace of climate change is without precedent in the geological record.

Because of their size, beauty, and ancient roots, as well as their haunting call, cranes have a central place in many of the world's mythologies and religions; they are often portrayed as intermediaries between heaven and earth. Cranes are revered as symbols of long life, happiness, marital fidelity, and love. Studies have determined that 80% of crane couples are monogamous for life - a significantly better achievement than that of contemporary homo sapiens in some cultures.

Globally, there are 15 species of cranes, occurring on all continents excent Antarctica and South America. Several species are highly endangered and on the brink of extinction. Different species of crane are national birds in China, South Africa, and Uganda.

The best months for viewing cranes in the North Delta and lower Cosumnes area are November and December. I happily share ideas for crane viewing.

No photo for this post, because no one has done it better than Michael Forsberg - http://www.michaelforsberg.com/gallery/. Go there.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

geezer saison

A new beer. Local hops, Belgian yeast. "Geezer" honors my secession from the workforce; "Saison" is the classic farmhouse ale of the low countries, fermented warm in the summer and kept on hand for the seasonal workers. Very drinkable; five gallons and counting down ...
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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

parting shot

An already-weird August, with record highs and lows, delivers a parting shot in the form of an intrusion of cool damp air, producing fog throughout the neighborhood. The overnight low was 45 degrees and we're on track to reach 90 degrees today.

Kingbird is in the bottomlands of the lower Cosumnes river watershed and receives cold drainage regularly, in all seasons. A nearby low spot saw an early-morning low of 39 degrees a few weeks ago, and that's not unique for August. In the winter, our lows are generally 5-8 degrees lower than the offical record for nearby communities. Annual incursions into the low 20s (or even high teens) are normal.
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Sunday, August 29, 2010

our two-day summer

Last week brought a brief reminder of what summer is supposed to be - two days of 105-106 degree highs. For Kingbird, it was the first excursion of the thermometer over 100 all year. Although brief, the spike helped bring lots of melons and tomatoes to ripeness.

Two days later, we were down to a high for the day of 74 and back to wearing sweaters in the morning and evening.

It's been an abnormally cool summer, with daytime highs typically in the range of 85-90 and nighttime lows of 50-55. As a farmer friend said, it's been a great summer for living and a bad summer for farming. He's still guessing as to when he'll be able to harvest his corn.
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Friday, August 20, 2010

rotten magic

Rotten City Pizza, Hollis Street, Emeryville, just over the border from the People's Republic. The name recalls an era when much of the Bay Area's vice was concentrated there. An Alameda County District Attorney destined for much greater things - Earl Warren - once referred to Emeryville as "the rottenest City on the Pacific Coast." It was known for its speakeasies, racetracks and brothels and general lawlessness. But that was then. Now it thrives in a mostly good way, a model for the new urbanism.

Kingbird Farms, vaguely east, over the hills, mid-harvest of a variety of wholesome things.

10 pounds or so of Kingbird heirloom tomatoes, delivered over the counter.

1 luscious large pizza (there is no "small" or "medium") featuring a few of those heirlooms, delivered back.

We paid for the beer - Speakeasy Double-IPA.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

feeding frenzy

Four members of the Ardeidae family - great blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, and black-crowned night heron - as well as American white pelicans scour our shrinking slough for fish, frogs and insects. The herons and egrets congregate with the pelicans, seemingly eager to get their share of the remaining catch. Thirty or so pelicans arrived like a band of roving marauders late last week. They treat us to an elegant aerial display at dawn and dusk. Although silent, the bird's size and wingspan (8' - 10') create an audible whoosh as they approach, alerting us to look up.

Today's dawn brought another gem - a dozen Caspian terns wheeling and calling high overhead. The Caspian is the world's largest tern and this group was probably in migration to its wintering area in northern South America.
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

les tomates

Tomatoes came to France in 1790, from the Americas via Italy, and in France, as here, tomatoes are now integral to cuisine.

Audrey, cheerful, curious, quick-learner, came to us from Paris as a first-time WWOOFer in late July.

It's been a great tomato year so far. Although temperatures have been far below normal so far this summer, the tomatoes are reaching a good size and ripening steadily. A looming heat wave should give us enough ripe ones to begin drying some.

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

melon at altitude

Surreptiously slipped into my friend Hal's knapsack, it was a nice supplemental reward for the climb. It is still glorious springtime in the high country, and the melon added the full flavor of the valley summer. The lake is Dardanelles, reached most easily via the Big Meadow trailhead on Highway 89, south of Lake Tahoe. Stevens Peak is in the distance.
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Saturday, July 31, 2010

melon x

The early season melons get numbered as we eat them or give them away, until the trickle becomes a steady stream and we lose track.

But they all have names. This is Hearts of Gold, flavorful and a good producer, developed in 1895 and patented in 1914.

This year the garden has 15-20 varieties. A couple of the earliest producers began yielding ripe fruit around July 20. We are looking forward to a few months of melon abundance!
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Friday, July 9, 2010

mock scrabble

The Northern mockingbird (mimus polyglottos) is a handsome large songbird with an expansive sense of its place in the world. The basic concept - mimic other birds so as to make them think one of their kind is occupying this particular territory - is good, to a point. But m. polyglottos take the concept to excess in every respect. It mimes outside the volume range, outside the daily pattern, and outside the seasonal pattern of the mimicked species. 2 a.m.? mid-July? with a sleep-disturbing intensity? That bespeaks egomania, not ecology, to me.

M. polyglottos transcends one other boundary, mimicking not just birds but whatever has come to its ear, from car alarm pattern to common ring-tones. Polyglot, indeed.

On a recent night, at an unspeakable hour, this season's resident m. polyglottos treated us to a different kind of serenade. The cadence was speech-like, with lower and higher voices at varied tempos and volumes, punctuated by periodic exclamations. Scrabble, anyone? It was a reasonable encore performance of the previous evening's four-way Scrabble game.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Midsummer accounting

On multiple cusps - spring to summer, waxing to waning daylight, Gemini to Cancer - it seemed time for an accounting, and a stroll with camera at sunset yesterday yielded the slide show below.

The weeds are still worrisome but no longer have the upper hand. The tree crops are looking great, especially the apricots, figs, persimmons, plums, and quince. We'll have abundant grapes over a long season. The late-planted corn is knee-high, and the tomatoes hold great promise. Precocious winter squash and pumpkins have already produced 15-pound fruit. We have several generations of lettuce and spinach, beets in abundance, and a promising prospect for melons.

And the hops are exuberant; most varieties having reached the top of the trellis wire and are spilling over. All show a heavy crop at various stages from burr to bud.

A time to rejoice - and to look forward with some trepidation to the real hot weather that will drive the growth and ripening of the tomatoes and melons.

Midsummer 2010 Slide Show
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Thursday, June 17, 2010


In what has become a birthday tradition, I linger in bed for a few minutes and soak in bird-song, seeing how many I can identify. There's the rhythmic hoot of the grebes, the tympanic thump of the American bittern, the wild arpeggios and dry buzz of the house wrens, the melodic trill of the Nutall's woodpecker, the harsh rattle of the kingfisher, the resonant hoot of the great-horned owls and hiss and click of the barn owls, the insistent high-low call of the red-shouldered hawk, the rough grunt of great blue heron, the wild melody of the kingbird, the zip of the hummingbirds, and many more.

And these barn swallows, of which we have seemingly dozens at each window, each with an insistent "feed me" whine that starts at first light and moves into a crescendo as an adult approaches. This clutch of five illustrates bird adolescence - capable of flight but not yet knowledgeable or skilled enough to secure insect food on their own, and still being fed by their parents. The fading "grin patches" are targets for their moms and dads and representative of that dependency. The thin white crescents will be gone soon and the adult-sized babies forced out to make way for another brood or two.

A symphony of sound, in contrast to the growing silence in the Gulf, half a continent away, a profound overlay of sadness on what should otherwise be a season full of enjoyment of abundance and life.
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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Product or Byproduct?

The hens assume, no doubt, that I warmed and softened this batch of cracked barley just for their eating pleasure.

In reality, it's the spent mash from a batch of summer ale that went into the fermenter Monday evening, 8.5 pounds of English two-row malt to be precise.

They are welcome to it, and to their illusions of primacy in their small and very comfortable world.

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Friday, June 11, 2010


The hop flower, or "burr," is predecessor to the hop cone, used to acidify and flavor beer. The hop plant is dioecious (either male or female) and almost universally propagated by division of the rhyzome. Male plants are rarely grown, and doing so is illegal in some areas of Europe because the unpollinated female flower has a higher content of desirable alpha acids.

This shot from yesterday is from one of my Cascade plants. Cascade is the most aggressive of the dozen or so hops varieties that I cultivate, consistently producing more vine and more cones, earlier, than any other variety. Cascade has a distinctive flavor and is perhaps best known as the hop used to produce Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The plant that hosts this flower is at least eight feet tall and dense with foliage.
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Monday, June 7, 2010


Fig trees produce two crops per year - a first, smaller crop on old wood and a main crop on the current year's growth. The first crop is called "breba" and are termed "olynths" after the ancient Greek city of Olynthus where, apparently, figs ripened early. In the photo, the branch was pruned just above the large fig (which will ripen later in June) and just below the small figs (which will ripen in August). In the literature of figs, breba are generally viewed to be of inferior quality, although I have not found this to be the case. In some articles, "breba" and "figs" are, illogically, argued to be two different types of fruit.

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