GMO vote coming up

I’ve posted about this topic in general before, explaining what a GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) is and why it might be a bad idea to set it free in the environment, let along eat one. Click here to catch up. For years, the “Right to Know” movement has been gaining force, with people demanding that there be a requirement that foods containing GMOs be labeled as such, much like foods containing allergens (peanuts, etc.) or dairy products produced with bovine growth hormone. The general thinking here is that if we can’t legislate against the use of GMOs in our food, at least we can force manufacturers to admit when they are using them and vote with our wallets. Right now, GMOs are sneaking onto our food supplies in a lot of hidden, insidious ways.

meas92_SMThis voting season, ballots measures in Oregon and Colorado (two of the craziest liberal states?) are up that, if passed, will require food manufacturers to admit when they are using GMOs in their products so consumers can decide for themselves if they want to eat them. The Cornucopia Institute, a nonprofit watchdog agency, just released a good infographic showing which companies are donating big sums of money to either side of the political campaign. Some big spenders on the Pro-GMO side are no surprise: agorchemical giant Monsanto donated millions against our right to know, for example, but who would have expected Santa Cruz Organics, Lara Bar, Kashi, and Annie’s mac-and-cheese? Turns out, those companies are owned by food giants General Mills and Kellogg, who have a vested interest in us not knowing exactly what goes into their products.

Currently, Maine and Connecticut are the only states where consumers can tell if GMOs are in their food. Hopefully, Oregon (and others?) will soon follow suit. This is another sad instance where we’re lagging behind 65 other countries in protecting the health of our population in favor of making it easier on big corporations.

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We had an interesting diversion last weekend. Some local friends of ours who’ve been making their own wine for decades invited to join them for their annual fall trip to pick grapes. We waffled on going; we’re buried with the Dreaded House Remodel, and it would kill an entire day. But in the end, we figured that it would be a GOOD thing to take a little time to do something new, interesting, and couple-oriented.

CourtingHillSMBoy, did we guess right. It was fantastic! We joined Burt and Patty, our octogenarian winemaker friends, at the Courting Hill Vineyard about 90 minutes east of our house. I bet you didn’t know that Oregon has a respected wine region with prefect climate for certain kinds of wine grapes, including Pinot and Chardonnay. Courting Hill is a small 80-acre specialty vineyard, that’s been run by a pleasant old fellow named Jimmy for over 30 years.

picking_grapesSMHere’s Emily picking the grapes. Apparently, there is a pretty narrow window for this, when the grapes are at maximum sugar but not yet getting moldy. Burt gave us the quick lesson on how to do it, and we got to work. It only took half an hour or so to pick the 200 pounds of grapes we needed for the wine.

Then, we made our way back up to the house to de-stem the grapes with a motorized machine. Jimmy’s grandson Adam ran that process, with us passing buckets and so forth, and Adam’s wife Jenna moving equipment, spraying things down, and the all-important Setting Out of Snacks.

destemmer2SMOnce the grapes were de-stemmed, they went into the antique wine press. This thing was awesome… cast iron base, giant screw, big ratchety arm. Adam and I ended up doing most of the pressing, because I was 40 years younger than most of the folks there except Emily and Jenna, who were spending a lot of time talking about farm stuff. We’ve had this great fortune to meet many couples our age who are getting into farming, and we took an immediate liking Adam and Jenna- I feel we have a lot in common. Enthusiastic, part-time farmers with an appreciation of rural living, they moved out here a few years ago from the east coast to look after Jimmy (who is now 91) and help out with the vineyard. They soon figured out that Courting Hill wasn’t big enough to support them all, so they also have jobs in graphic design and photography. Interesting people.

winepressSMAt one point during the pressing, Jenna mentioned that Jimmy used to fly airplanes for the military. I’m all about airplanes, so I asked him which kind. He flew this one… one of the most powerful, awe-inspiring fighters in the closing days of the propeller age. I said as much, and he shrugged his hunched shoulders a little and replied, “it was a fierce airplane.” There aren’t a lot of WW2 vets left any more, so I’m glad I got a chance to meet this guy. That, and he was funny, pleasant, and knowledgeable.

Once the grapes were fully squashed, we transferred the juice to carboys in Burt’s truck for transport back to the Coast where he’ll be adding yeast, fermenting, and siphoning. Emily and I spent some extra time with Jenna, who showed us a lot of other behind-the-scenes things they have going on at their farm- and she offered to give us a bunch of grape cuttings in the spring to plant on our farm! Apparently, there are a few varities that would probably do OK on the coast, including Glenora, Venus, and Himrod. Table grapes all, but super yummy nonetheless. We gave Jenna and Adam some honey, and hope they will stop by our farm next time they are out at the coast. Farm exchange!

In all, a perfectly splendid outing. We met some really nice people, saw pretty countryside, and even came back with six bottles of wine to help us through the coming wintery months.


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2104 honey results

2014_honeycolorsSMThe final honey harvest is in. We had a particularly good year for bees; long warm summer with little rain to get in their way. As a result, many of my hives performed way above expectations and they look very healthy as we get ready for the winter dormant period. We also harvested the full gamut of varieties, varying from straight knotweed honey (the darkest one) to a very light multifloral that is mostly blackberry.

Here’s honey harvest stats to date:

2014: 414 pounds (about seven 5-gallon buckets!)

2013: 152 pounds

2012: 108 pounds

2014_somehoneySMSome of that is due to adding the extra hives, but not much- most of it came from the existing apiary at Miami Foley. Those colonies are mature, whereas the others are getting started so aren’t producing much yet. Next year will be a different story, and I fully expect to be buried in honey! I’ll need to prepare; extracting and bottling all that honey is a bit of work, and you have to buy a lot of glass to hold it all. Here’s some of the harvest, ready for market, waiting on our living room floor. That’s less than half of it.

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The Last Market

Last night was the end of the market season for 2014. Wow, this year has gone by quickly.  Here we are presiding over the stand, waiting for the starting drum and first rush of customers. It’s nice that we were able to still have a pretty good showing, despite paying a lot less attention to the garden this year while distracted with all the housebuilding. Even with the lower attention to gardening this year, we still managed to increase sales over previous years. This is encouraging! We feel confident we’ll do even better next year. Oh, and notice that spike in the graph the last few weeks? That’s when the honey comes on (more about that in a future post).

2014_MFMsalesWe officially started the “decommissioning” process of the garden today, and have stopped watering and tending. What remains- mostly pumpkins and winter squash- will do fine without water, as it dries out and cures for its final stage. The focus, for now, is to get moved into the new house. Immediately thereafter, we’re going to start moving the garden from the old property to the new. We’re extremely grateful to Ryan, Julie, Betty, and Farmer Ned for all their suport while hosting us these last three years and we look forward to now living on the same property we are farming in the years to come.

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Apple Tasting

There haven’t been a lot of posts lately, because we’ve been pretty busy with trying to finish the house, and my architecture business has also been quite brisk this summer- you know the saying, “make hay while the sun shines.” This has left less time to pay attention to the farm tasks the way we’d like. This week, however, we were able to sample the fruits of our labor (literally) and have a private Apple Tasting.

Apples2014_SMHere we see several of the varieties that came out of our orchard, from left to right: green gage plum (OK, not an apple, but really tasty nonetheless), Chehalis, Gravenstein, Honeycrisp, and Spitzenburg. Not pictured, we also had Cox’s Orange Pippin and Bramley Seedling. The results of the taste test were interesting, enjoyable, but inconclusive.

Chehalis: Green, firm texture, slightly tough skin. Emily: “Like a granny smith!” My favorite of the trial, I found it fulfilling and satisfying, a nice blend of tart and sweet. Also the largest of the bunch.

Gravenstein: Reg & green w/ orangeish tint- firm texture, moderately tough skin. Sweet, candylike flavor. Emily liked the flavor the best, and I agree, it had a lot of personality.

Honeycrisp: Red & green, firm texture, medium skin. Crisp and sweet, it totally lives up to its name. It’s our friend Adam’s favorite, and he donated the Honeycrisp trees several years ago. It will be nice next year when we have more than two of them, so we can send him some.

Spitzenburg: Red & green, firm, w/ tough skin. Very “bright” taste that is tart and sweet. We think this one might not have been quite ripe. It has a cute pink blush on the flesh inside. Supposedly susceptible to lots of apple diseases, it’s an old variety that Thomas Jefferson liked.

firstPeach_SMAnd we also had a really pleasant surprise to go with all of that. Years ago when we first planted the orchard, I installed three peach trees the would supposedly survive this climate. I didn’t really tell anyone, because I figured they’d laugh at me… but I knew that I’d get the last laugh if we ever had a really long summer. And this summer was just that. On the way out of the orchard, I happend to see a flash of peachy color out of the corner of my eye, very high in one of the Charlotte peach trees. This was the single end result, and it was glorious.

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Some surprising new fruits

fruit-berriesberriesSMIn the mayhem and distraction surrounding the house remodel, we’ve been lax on some of our farming endeavors. Our blueberries and strawberries, for example, have only received the most superficial care- a few weedings and that’s about it. Despite that, they have still yielded some tasty snacks for us, as you can see in this picture. In this case, the timing was perfect: an evening where we were gardening late, forgot to bring food, and were really needing a snack.

The orchard, however, is in a truly sad state. It hasn’t been mowed or tended AT ALL this year, and looks completely derelict. It’s shameful.  Earlier this week, Farmer Ned was over by our fields hauling firewood, and he stopped by to have a chat.

“Got any apples on yer trees?” he asked.

This made me feel quite silly, as I really had no idea. I’ve been so busy I haven’t even checked. To avoid looking like the worst farmer in the world, I said something weasly like “They’re not doing much this year” then started talking about Ryan’s apples up the road, which are doing quite well.

fruit-spitzenbergSMA few days later, though, Emily and I were fiddling with the irrigation system and had a few quiet twilight minutes to enjoy a little break, so we toured the orchard. What a surprise! The Spitzenburg apples were loaded on the tree, and there were some Gravensteins as well. Further investigation found a mountain of crabapples on the Whitney (it did that last year too).

fruit-pearSMBut then Emily cried with glee at seeing a pair of pears! What fun. They look so happy on the tree.  I took one to try, and it was well shy of ripe. I kindof suspected that would happen, but I couldn’t help myself.

fruit-plumSMThe best news of all, though, was on the way out when I noticed there are plums on one of the Green Gage trees. I have only recently learned to appreciate plums, probably because grocery store plums are not too inspiring. A very fresh plum, however, is an incomparable treat. I gently squeezed a few of the plums, and they were pretty hard, but I found one that was soft so I picked it and we tried it. WOW! THAT WAS AMAZING AND I MUST HAVE MORE! We will be planting a few dozen of these trees at Gravel Creek, for sure. In addition to growing well and looking great, these trees make a delicious treat indeed.

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Grocery run

suppliesSMThe best part of the farmers’ market (besides seeing our friends) is the last 10 minutes. That’s when the crowds have mostly gone, vendors are chatty, and with only a few minutes left, everyone starts drifting around to their neighbors’ booths with armloads of produce to trade. It’s like a food swapmeet. Here we see last night’s haul of groceries acquired by barter: hard goat cheese, hummus, feta, eggs, blueberries, fresh milk, strawberries, and raspberries.

I might add that the hot food vendors participate, as well. Not shown is the tasty bowl of chili that I ate, and the hot panini that made Emily’s dinner earlier in the evening. Those vendors have shut down their grills by end of market, but dutifully drop by our stand to select some tasty veggies to take home with them. Some nights, we even trade for things like wine.

This all got me thinking… though we clearly don’t (yet) produce all the groceries we eat, how does our annual grocery bill compare with our overall produce sales? A little time with the accounting software came up with the answer: gross farm sales for the last 12 months is about $500 less than our entire grocery expenditure for the same time period. Wow! Who knew? And I expect that our overall revenue this year will increase enough that we will likely produce more than we eat. So, effectively, we can say that our garden feeds us… just that for now, we still have to use some green paper as a trade intermediary.

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Big broccoli

big_broccoliSMAnd a little update on the farm, while I’m at it. This picture makes me extremely happy, mostly because of how much of a good time my Dad is having in the background (click to enlarge). He and mom helped us harvest for the market twice during this visit, and it was a hoot. Good going taking a 10-day vacation, Mom! Emily is showing off this broccoli becuase it’s the beggest she’s ever grown. That is, until the following week, when she found one almost twice that size. It weighed in at 2.5 pounds, and a very heppy person bought it for $10 at the famers’ market. And, I assume, fed his entire family. If you want to see it, though, you will have to go check out Emily’s facebook page.

20140718_standSMOur farm is doing pretty well, despite the extreme lack of attention we’ve been giving it. So far at each market, we’ve grossed more than all previous seasons. This bodes well for the day when we can actually focus on making the garden great. Here’s a picture of the stand two weeks ago. I didn’t take one this week, as I got there late, but we actually had TWO full tables of produce. Yay!

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A lot of changes

A lot of things have been going on in the last few weeks; so many that I not only haven’t been posting, but I haven’t even known what day of the week it was. Most of these happening have been regarding the house.

dad_paintingSMFirst off, we finally hired a contractor to do a part of the work. Not a BIG part, mind you, but as Emily pointed out, at this point it makes sense to hire some folks where we can, to speed up the schedule. In this case, we’re talking about drywall. I can do drywall, but the reality of it is that a pro can make it look twice as good and do it in a fifth the time. A local drywaller came particularly well recommended, and he’s done  a fabulous job for a very reasonable price. Suddenly, we have drywall! The person you see in the picture, however, is not the drywaller. It’s my dad! My parents came for their annual pilgrimage, spreading cheer and good times. Dad spent some time with me at the house; it’s always fun to work and chat with Dad.

ceilingworkDad and mom weren’t the only visitors this month. My dear friend Brian came the very next week, after dropping his family off at summer camp. Here we see Brian and Ryan helping me install the knotty pine ceiling. I must say, it looks GREAT! I’m so pleased. The three of us working at the same time made the job go really quickly, and it was fun, too. Working on projects with my friends is one of my all-time favorite things to do in life. Let the good times roll.

trenchSMA few days after Brian left, Emily and I popped up to the house to check out the new ceiling. We were in “nice” clothes, and not planning on working (or even getting dirty) so imagine my surprise when I saw that our friend Dick was on site, digging the utility trench I asked him to dig a few months ago. Wow, is our yard a mess! Even more than normal, I mean. But now that the trench is in, I spent half the day filling it with the various things that span the 500 feet between the well and the house. In this case, that’s a 1-1/2″ HDPE water pipe, a #8 UF copper conductor (240 volts, for the pump electricity), a #6 UF copper conductor (120 volts, for the shop circuit), and a CAT6 direct-burial, full copper ethernet cable. Heh.  One annoying thing I did learn is that a 500′ spool of pipe and a 500′ spool of wire are NOT the same length. I don’t know how that could be, but I came up about 20 feet short on the wire, which is annoying as now I have to do a special waterproof splice to add more on. And what am I going to do with 40′ extra of HDPE pipe?

internet dishSMWe’re also working on our internet solution. The cable company wanted $4000 to bring internet to the house. After a “yikes” moment, I calmed down and set up a meeting with their project coordinator. As I guessed, they thought I wanted them to bring it all the way to the house, about 1000 feet from the road. When they found out all I wanted was a connection right at the pole, the said they could install it for free. This is the part where Michael, one of my most tech-savvy friends, comes in. Besides working deep within the tech.geek.kindom of F5 in Seattle, he also has a passion for wireless remote telecommunications. Interesting hobby, to be sure, but REALLY HANDY if you have a thousand-foot driveway and need to get internet. Here we see Michael testing signal strength on a directional gigahertz-band internet antenna set up temporarily in our house (it will be outdoors in the final install).  It beams data back and forth from a sector antenna set up at a remote station down by the road. Pretty sweet, and a lot less than $4000. He’s coming back in late September to work on it some more.

There is a lot of other happenings on the house as well, too much to tell. But we’re working hard to get moved in before October, so please be patient if you don’t see a lot of posts in the next few weeks.

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When all the flowers are a-bloom, and the bees are up to strength and are working their hardest, that’s the time of the year beekeepers refer to as “honeyflow”.  Right now, we’re well into it. Today I visited my new hive at Gravel Creek, to see how the colonies are coming along. My hopes for them are modest, since they are just starting this year: get a lot of comb built, store enough honey to last through the winter, build up enough bees to thrive and survive.  I don’t really expect much if any honey from the newbies.

superupSMSometimes, though, my expectations are exceeded. The second hive I opened today was literally exploding with bees, and packed to the gills with honey. Wow! So fast! I put a super (honey box) on top, so they can keep up the good work. I went into all 11 of the new hives, and was pleased to discover that 7 of them were in this state. Amazing.

I did notice something odd, though. Look closely at the picture. The hives that are taller are the ones that were doing so well that I had to add extra boxes. They are also, with the exception of one, the hives with north-facing entrances. I don’t know what to make of this. Does a south facing entrance hamper the bees somewhat? I will have to pay attention further. A further point of interest is that in the old apiary, all of the hives have the entrances oriented north.  Maybe I will turn the south facing hives around.

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