Summer slides into fall and fall into winter….we’re ready!
As we wrap up our first year with all our business offerings, we did well and make plans to do even better.
What a whirlwind of a summer it has been. We did get some projects done but, generally, not by our four hands. Fact is we were too busy making and selling food. Guess that is the point of being a caterer.
The best news of all is that the concept of farm to kitchen to table truly worked, almost without fail. I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to watch the produce roll, via our little farm wagon, to kitchen’s big French doors and become amazing dishes to gobbled up by happy people. Just as we intended! Wow. By and large, all the farming went well. However, there were a few key things we learned. You can sequentially plant tomato plants every two weeks for even two months if it makes you happy. However, it will not have one iota of an impact on when the tomatoes ripen. They will turn when they damn well choose and it will be all of them at once. I could have 200 acres and still not have enough room to plant all the herbs, greens, scallions and sweet onions we use. We now have two barn cats…we need 100 more to help manage the gophers!
Everything in the field has been hit by frost at this time and we’ve borrowed some farm animals to eat it up, dig it up and, well, frankly, poop it up. We have a goat, a sheep, 2 Russian geese and 3 pigs. They are doing a mighty fine job!
Yes, and two barn cats; Samantha and Tabatha. The later went AWOL for a while but I spied her while doing some irrigation repair way back on the property yesterday morning. They are lovely and love to hunt the varmint and just couldn’t give two hoots about us except that we give them a bit of kibble each day and apparently provide the perfect warm habitat under the house. Bess built them a beautiful cat house that they have zero interest in. Cats be cats.
We did get the lean-to built and insulation in to cover all the irrigation the exposed pipes and valves now needed, as we also finished the frost protection irrigation for the vineyard. Oh and speaking of…the vines went nuts…truly. Like Sideshow Bob’s hair out of control nuts! As we are on an ancient lakebed, the soil here is truly rich, about the closest I’ve ever found to the perfect black earth of the upper Midwest. I’ve often said I could plant a wicker basket out there and it would grow! This is great for the farm and vines but no so great for grapes, as struggle is required. However, our vineyard installer/manager is not worried. He says we can manage that with water, and lack thereof, and leaving more competing weeds – which is a good thing because being organic, weeds are more than plentiful ‘round here.
The orchard did well but as not as well as the previous year. For the record, we were told this property was completely organic. Let’s just say NOW it’s organic. So I’ll be spreading 5 lbs. of organic chicken poop, per tree, in the spring. Not difficult really, apparently I just shovel it under the drip irrigation and the water does the rest. I have a feeling this will be a bit of deja vu. Decades ago I had an apartment with a 10x10 outdoor deck and stairs down to a backyard. Even then I was a grower and filled that deck and each of those stairs with pots of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, herbs and on and on. I then decided they needed fertilizer and ordered some designer chicken poop through mail. Once disbursed and watered, I can tell you it was nearly a month before the air could be breathed and we could sit out on that deck again!
The orchard planter and a previous owner of this property, who actually still had a plot plan in a file at home, dropped by to share. I was stunned to learn there are some 15 apple varietals out there of the 18 he originally planted. Many are varying types of Galas and Fuji’s, with a bunch of Delicious and Granny’s mixed in. There are also several varieties of Asian Pears and French Plums. He’s a member of one of the big pear families in Lake County and this orchard was an experiment to see if we could grow apples as well as other kinds of pears here. Turns out we can! However, also turns out Washington, New York and Oregon pretty much have a lock on the apple market. I smile at the plot plan I made last summer, where all I could write was red or green for each tree, well, except for the Granny’s. You can spot that perfect pie pumpkin a mile away. I learned a lot from him and plan to actually test for ripe and harvest by type this coming year. Not sure if that will help us sell more, I have to say the orchard is pretty much a money pit at the moment, but it’s worth a try. He also told me the tiny vineyard that was here when we moved in was planted by them and it has merlot, syrah, chardonnay and sauv blanc grapes. It was intended to yield two field blends. Thank heavens the home winemakers association has taken over those grapes. They came this year to harvest and then drop the remaining grapes. They’ll be back in February to prune. And we’ll wind up with a couple of cases of wine. Sweet!
And all of this leads 'round to the kitchen. The barn was the main reason we purchased this property. Not just its size and potential space for the kitchen but mainly its location on the property – almost directly center. As any kitchen is the heart of the home, our barn kitchen is the heart of the property, everything feeding off it and into it like a wagon wheel. This summer we did both big and small event catering, held 20+ classes, happy hours and barn events, introduced Poly at home weekly meals, feasts and wholesale and popped up with our Poly trailer more than 50 times which all equates to feeding about 9,000 people. It was nothing shy of a fury of a summer. No wonder I can’t keep enough Italian parsley growing! The year’s breadth and volume pleasantly surprised even us.
Earlier this month, we held our annual executive meeting. So that you know, that consists of Bess and I. The two dogs are there but don’t offer much except an occasion nudge to get outside. We start at a set time, have an agenda, review, discuss, make decisions and leave with deliverables and due dates. This is a business, after all. Truth told, there were no questions on the table about our concept, our joy in this work or our location. Fact is, we are creating a lovely little mini Eden, we love every minute of what we both do and we love this place. Yes, even droughts and fires do not dissuade us because the people make this place. Now it’s just a matter of turning this new venture into something sustainable. We have good plans laid out and God willin’ and the creek don’t rise, you’ll see most of them made manifest over the next year.
As for right now, we are looking forward to winter. The borrowed animals will finish their work, we’ll serve a big holiday barrel room dinner at a local winery and some small events, as well as some take home feasts for Christmas and New Years Eve. I’ve got a new pile of books to read, several creative projects and a backlog of need for naps. We plan to fly off to a warm beach for a lovely time away, be visited and visit several faraway friends and then, before you can bat an eyelid, it will be March and time to plant sprouts. More to come as I do farm planning for next year…oh and I’ll be sure to let you know the aroma when I put out all that chicken poop. We may have to come and stay at your place for a month!