Category Archives: Farm Life

“I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.” – George Washington

So How Are We Saving Water at IL Fiorello!

The drought is full on and everyone is making concerted efforts to save water. We are very lucky at IL Fiorello because the founding fathers of Solano County developed Lake Berryessa. We have some water, precious but present. We have water available from April through October, but from October to April we have no supply and rely on rain to replenish the systems and support our trees. This is one of the reasons we planted olives because they are drought tolerant. Our newest planting is Chemlali, a North African olive tree that is drought-resistant. We are anticipating planting 100 more Chemlali trees next year.

Consult the Master Gardner’s program; they have a lot of information on how to conserve water and keep plants alive.

So what are we doing at our Farm? Here is the list of measures we have undertaken to be water efficient. We are complying with Solano County water restriction guidelines.

• Science based watering system for the trees, continuous in-ground monitoring system
• Fertigation: water and fertilize at the same time
• Our baby trees are surrounded with olive pits from the last harvest to protect from water stealing weeds and for water conservation.
• We water early in the morning or very late at night to herb and vegetable gardens as all landscape and turf irrigation is prohibited between Noon and 6 p.m.
• No washing down of patio or walkways unless there is a health hazard, such as bird or animal droppings
• Shut off valves installed on each hoselogo-save-water_G16Sg6tu
• The fountain in front of the Event Center provides water for the birds but uses recycled water.
• No extra cleaning in the olive mill when we are not milling or bottling
• Solar supported Event Center and Mill
• Water for customers is always offered but served upon request at the tasting room
• Only fully loaded trays in commercial dishwasher, cycle 3 minutes long.
• In the Kitchen all extra clean water goes to plants in our herb gardens
• On site commercial septic system to recycle potable water out to the trees. This includes water from the Visitors Center, the Commercial Kitchen, and the Olive Mill.
Here are some resources for water conservation
• Solano County Water Agency: www.solanosaveswater.org
• California Department of Water Resources and Association of California Water Agencies: www.saveourwater.com
• UC Cooperative Extension – Solano County – Master Gardener Program: www.cesolano.ucanr.edu

Growers Meeting

IL Fiorello Olive Oil Co sponsored a growers meeting on Saturday June 28, 2105 we were joined by Marvin Martin, of MarvinMartin Olive Oils and a professional olive grower and master taster from Napa and Tom Turpen, Plant Biologist, from Davis, CA. Chef Martin is also the Executive Chef at IL Fiorello.

The days discussion centered about olive fly in California and in Italy. We reviewed the methods available to growers to use GF 120 or Spinocid. Most of the growers were aware of the application process and the dilution ratio of 1 to 1.5 or 1 to 2. When mixed the Spinocid must be used within 24 according to the Dow Chemical product information. Discussion centered about how problems arise with the olive fly when neighboring growers do not spray their trees. An example is of ornamental trees planted in neighborhoods or city plantings. Suggestions were made to contact neighbors and do cooperative spraying, and to discuss with city officials that city trees need to be fruitless or sprayed to preserve commercial or private crops. There is a spray that can be applied to prevent fruit set. Swan variety of olives is also fruitless.

Discussion also centered on the use of Kaolin clay. One of our growers has been using it on tomatoes with good success. Application is at least 3 times a season to protect the olives. In California, this does not seem to be a problem, but if it rains reapplication is necessary. The manufacturer reports that this product does not have an effect on photosynthesis. No one at the meeting has direct experience with the residual Kaolin wash water risk at the mill. We at IL Fiorello are trying to find more information about how this residual is handled at the olive washing site. Short of washing the olives on site by the grower we are concerned about the residual clay in the water at the mill.

Chef Martin was a guest at Expolivo in Spain and reported to the meeting some of his findings and experiences. Expolivo is the world’s largest olive oil convention. Reports and books from the Expolivo meeting are available for your perusal at IL Fiorello, courtesy of Chef Marvin.

Tom Turpen, from Innovationmatters.com, discussed Xylella infestation in the citrus greening disease and the concern for like diseases in olives. Please refer to the article Olive Quick Decline in Italy Associated with Xylella Fastidiosa, by Elizabeth Fichtner, Dani Lightle, and Rodrigo Krugner, published in California Fresh Fruit, June 2015. OQDS, (olive quick decline syndrome) is destroying trees in Southern Italy. It is of concern here in California and growers should report dieback or scorch on olives to farm advisors or agricultural commissioners. He also discussed the possibility of research to control olive fly propagation. The group consensus was positive to go forward with this discussion and research.

The growers meeting concluded with a tour of IL Fiorello Olive Mill and a discussion of the plan for milling this coming year. Clear communication between growers and millers can make the difference call us with questions.

Ciao
References:
Marvin Martin marvinmartinoliveoils.com for information and olive grove management
UC Davis IPM Integrated Pest Management
Dr. Frank Zalom Professor of Entomology UC Davis
Dow Chemical: Spinocid information
Novasource: Surround WP Crop Protectant OMRI Organic for the Kaolin Clay

Blog Sustainability Part 2

What we do with and for the land at IL Fiorello

We compost on site and that includes all the olive tree pruning, the material other than oil after milling olives, kitchen byproducts, and manure from local horse farms. The mass is composted all year long and then put on the Grove just after harvest and before the rain begins. The trees respond immediately with solid growth.compost copy

The bees on site belong to our beekeeper, Brittany Dye, Ms. Honey Bees, and her boss, Rick Schubert. They are using our land for queen bee propagation from April until June. The queens are sold to start new hives. We have assisted them by planting wildflowers for bee food. Bees can fly over 3 miles to forage and right now there is lots of food for them. They seem to like our olive blossoms, but do not participate in pollinating the olives. Olives are pollinated by wind. bee

About 85% of incoming olives become a usable by-product once the oil is extracted.  Only 15% of the mass produces olive oil. The material other than olives- the water, the skins, the tissue, and the pits are all used. Everything but the pits go into compost. The pits are placed around the new little olives trees for weed prevention. We distribute the pits around the organic garden as walkways. The pits can also be used in bio fuel generation to produce energy. More on this very exciting topic in future blogs.

Rodents are an issue on a farm and we have four owl boxes on site. Last year they hatched three baby Barn Owls, Olive, Olivia, and Oliver. They were huge and probably ate lots of gophers, moles and voles. This year there is another hatching, but we have not seen them yet. You can hear them hissing and screeching at night. Quite the sound. Looking at their owl pellets they too are eating the moles and voles.  We do plan to help bats by placing bat boxes on property. It is on the long list of very important things to do.

Sustainability and bio-diversity drive our Farm and our farming practices. Come talk with us about this wonderful process.

Sustainability Blog Part 1

Il Fiorello is working hard to be sustainable.  We believe that good stewardship of our land and our trees is very important. Although we have just submitted paperwork for the formal organic license, we have been growing organically and sustainably for the past four years. Our Mill has been certified to mill organic olives for over 5 years. In our tours we always discuss how important it is to be good to the land and then reap the benefits in great fruit and healthy trees. We also discuss how we grow and care for the trees.  Biodiversity on our property gives us a balance. Biodiversity is critical in a balanced farm and we grow olives, citrus, tend an organic culinary garden, figs, lavender, and plant flowers for the bees. All these plants encourage wildlife.

So what makes us say we are sustainable? First, sustainable agriculture is defined as environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. These are also the goals of Slow Food International: Good, Clean and Fair. The UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program at UC Davis has an excellent position statement on the concept of sustainable agriculture.

Let me take you on a tour of our beliefs.photo 2 copy

Last year we made a significant commitment to solar energy production. Our home, the Visitor Center, and our milling barn all are solar supported. We are thankful to be able to use this fabulous source of energy. The solar savings are significant. Watching the Visitor Center solar counter run gives all of us great satisfaction. Our Milling Barn is also very well insulated to protect the oils and the machines. Our eight stainless steel oil storage tanks are well insulated and cooled.

Water management in this drought is so extremely important. We use only drip irrigation, from April to October, then we pray for rain. We have an onsite monitoring system that measures depth of soil moisture content at one, two, three, and four feet. This corresponds to olive root depth. We also take into account temperature, evapotranspiration, and wind effect. Olives close the pores of their leaves in high temperatures and hot winds, a lifesaving characteristic. They are drought tolerant but our little trees need some help. During milling water conservation is important and our centrifuges operate with little water in a very efficient manner. We actually may use more water for cleaning the mill than in the process of making oil.

To feed the trees we use a technique called fertigation, irrigate and feed at the same time. Dual purpose and efficient. We use an organic kelp fertilizer and do tissue, leaf, and soil samples to guide our applications.

Our commercial water treatment plant converts available waste water from milling and from the Visitors Center to usable water that is shifted to the groves.

At Il Fiorello we actively practice sustainable agriculture. Stewardship of our land and trees is very important to us and will remain a central theme of our business.

What’s the Buzz at Il Fiorello!

 

QUEEN BEES AT IL Fiorello

Rick Schubert of Bee Happy Apiaries and Ms. Brittany Dye, Ms. Queen Bee, have honored us with Queens. We should all be wearing crowns in honor of our most royal guests.
bees01

We have 1144 queens in 286 nuc boxes, meaning the Queens are in their own boxes four to a box with their colony surrounding them. The bee hives are all different colors for identification of who owns the bees, what size is the box, and light colors for heat reflection. Some bee keepers paint their hives with letters and pictures for fun and to help the bees identify their home, like little different landing pads. Brittany tells me these bees’ ancestors are originally from Iran, named Carnolian bees. They are known to be gentle and produce tasty honey. These bees are here for Queen propagation, not honey. But lots of honey is coming in the next stage.

This is just an amazing opportunity to see nature at work. It is so fun to watch the dance of the bees.

Come on over and taste olive oils, wines, and see the bees. What an extraordinary experience. We will be having bee classes when all the buzzing settles down. Brittany will teach us all about bees, and Sue Langstaff, Applied Sensory Co. will buzz us through the UC Davis Honey wheel and a sweet honey taste extravaganza.

bees04HOLY BEES KNEES!

Watch for updates on our Facebook page for the latest buzz. We will be posting pictures as the bees grow and the Queens become royal members at IL Fiorello.

 

 

 

 

 

TO PRUNE OR NOT TO PRUNE OR HOW TO PRUNE

Pruning olive trees is an art, an acquired and learned art.  Each and every person who prunes trees has their own best way, and of course it works for them. Consult an expert to help you get started or have them prune your whole grove with you. But here is some basic guidance on pruning.

Prune in the spring after the danger of frost is over, or we hope it is over.

An Italian saying is that “you should prune an olive tree so that a swallow can fly through without touching its wings”.  The inside of the tree must have sun and air to prevent the branches from harboring mold and scale.

Prune from the top down or the bottom up. Either way, prune so there are no branches touching the ground, and prune so that you can reach the top without using extra high ladders.  Prune so that you can reach the top of the tree while spraying for olive fly. If you have a 30 foot tree and spray from the ground for olive fly you will not reach the top olives and your spraying will be ineffective.

Remember that every branch that produced olives this year will not produce again. So protect the offshoots that will bear olives for the coming year.  An off shoot is the perpendicular sprout from a main branch.  A few other tips:

  • Only prune less than 1/3 of any tree each year.
  • Cut out the wispy inside branches that are counterproductive to fruit production. Clear the inside of the tree so light and wind reaches the center of the tree.
  • Prune the crossing branches so as to prevent rubbing and injury to the branch. Your goal is to have three to five main branches from the main trunk.
  • Keep your shears clean especially if you have any olive knot on older trees. This prevents contamination to other trees in the grove.
  • Keep your shears clean and lubricated to help protect your hand function. Carpel tunnel syndrome or just plain aching hands is not fun.
  • Feed the trees in the spring after pruning.

If you are unsure, always consult an expert, someone who has years of experience and is willing to teach you their art and craft.

before and after pruning

Celebrate Citrus

Our citrus trees have finally made a wonderful comeback. They are producing large, no huge, quantities of fruit. Last year, the frost of December 7, 2103 destroyed the plants. I, in my way of trying to take care of everything, wanted to prune the dead branches right away. But I was persuaded to wait until mid-March 2014. Thank you to friends who are master gardeners who advised me to wait. Not pruning right away, the dead wood protected the remaining tree from further frost damage. We fed, weeded, watched, and hoped. And we were rewarded. This abundant harvest provided lemons and oranges for our co-milled oils. Delicious. We have more than enough fruit for a great citrus class on Saturday, March 14. We use the fruit in our flavored water. We eat oranges for snacks each day, we are all much healthier.citrus4

Celebrate citrus! Our trees are flowering right now, and the olives are right behind. Come look at our citrus grove and the 23 varieties. Sweet Meiwa (Hawaiian) kumquats, fingerling limes and Rangpur limes. Thanks also to Molly Chappallet, the owner of Chappallet Vineyards, for the addition of a huge bag of Rangpur limes so we can make lime marmalade. Our Kaffir lime, has a double leaf used in cooking Asian and Indian dishes, and delicious fruit. The Seville Sour Oranges make great English marmalade. The variegated lemons are pink on the inside, and make delicious lemonade. Our pomelo tree is just loaded with blossoms, all fuzzy and green. We are using the huge pomelo fruit in the tasting room for a palate cleanser. The menu at Yotam Ottolenghi’s new restaurant will feature pan-fried prawns with pomelo, pickled endive and garlic crisps and tamarind dressing. Get his books, Plenty and Plenty More, they are wonderful reads and super flavorful foods. Great fun.

Come over and have a look and learn about Citrus. We are very lucky to live in California.

Planting in the Garden

beeEverything seems early again this year. We are responding to Mother Nature’s calls of Spring even though it is only February. I feel sorry for my friends back East in all the cold and snow. I hope this blog gives them hope for planting.

Everyone has spring fever here at IL Fiorello. We are busy getting the garden going again and redoing the herb garden to supply our culinary classes. Pruning in the groves is ongoing and is the topic of a future blog.

The garden beds are being filled with rich compost and seeds are flying around as staff members  share planting ideas. So far we have in the ground: cabbage, radishes (both red and white), beets, lettuce (five kinds), leeks, carrots, turnips, chives, kale, mesculin, chard, fava beans, snap peas, broccoli, and cabbage. The rhubarb is starting to get full and raise its head. Nothing better than strawberry rhubarb pie in the Spring. I am sure we will continue to plant more varieties of vegetables. Nick, our assistant miller and gardener extraordinaire, says that there is nothing better than fresh vegetables right from the ground. We all agree. We are all “vegephiles”, people who love vegetables. Our Executive Chef is also looking forward to doing a class on vegetables from the garden.    photo

Joseph, our master gardener, has been busy replanting the lemon grass and dividing the heads. It is lovely and fragrant, and so delicious in soup and stews. We have also trimmed the lavender and are trying to root sprigs to plant some more.  We are considering an organic certification but still have to work out how to control the weeds especially in the new small trees. Watch for sunflowers to poke their heads and turn toward the sun this summer.

Recently, Elisabeth brought back garbanzo beans from Italy, and they are getting pre-soaked before being planted in the garden next to the Mill. She returns  to Italy tomorrow to live in Sicily and make wine at a natural winery on the slope of Mt. Etna. She will blog from there to keep us updated on how to grow Nerello Mascalese wine.

Plant and enjoy the benefits of living in California.  We are all very lucky to have this opportunity. Come see our garden grow.

Farming in the Winter, Sights to See and Appreciate

 

In the winter things are quiet in the olive groves, but the animals are still active.

We grow olives, lavender, citrus, and figs, and have a culinary garden. The olives grow at our home in Green Valley and at our Farm in Suisun Valley. If you live in an olive grove you have animals, domestic and wild. Sometimes they both cross the lines and all the time you can enjoy their presence. Well at least some of the time.

owls

We encourage birds, we have counted 75 different varieties on our land. We have an amateur birder on our staff and she is keeping a count of the numbers and variety. We encourage bees, birds, and most of our friends that are ground dwellers. We love the owls and hawks that help moderate our ground critters that eat our trees. Our owl boxes are being used by local owls, leaving remnants of their nightly feasts. We often find owl pellets, the ones you dissected in grade school, in our side yard. If you are walking in the grove at night you can feel their presence as they glide on virtually silent wings. Maybe next year we can post an owl-cam from the nearest owl box. The turkeys are always present and one lone hen wanders across the road from the vineyards every evening at dusk. The major animal, really a bug that we discourage is the olive fly.
But that is the topic of another entire blog.

bee

At home in the early evening, and early mornings we hear foxes bark and discuss mating and afternoon snacks. They have ventured to our deck and taken cool drinks from the fountain. The fox scared our daughter, whom was also sitting on the deck in the late cool evening. One sharp bark from the fox who was very surprised to find a human in his territory sent her scurrying inside. Of course they would not do anything but bark to protect their territory, but that is country life. If you go on line to YouTube you can listen to the bark of the fox, very unusual. One time we found our cats sitting on the grass near the fountain with the fox lying just near them. All peacefully coexisting for that moment in time.

The raccoons are another issue. Very beautiful animals, curious and smart, they found the cat door and helped themselves to the cat food. So the cat door was closed and the cats were kept inside until the raccoons found another place to have a free feast. Four very young raccoons were playing in the driveway making soft chirping sounds. Great to watch but they can be aggressive animals. Flashlight and some clapping sent them out the drive and down the hill. But knowing raccoons I am sure they remember the free feast.

geese copy

We have doves, turkeys, owls, hawks pigeons, pheasants, and Guinea hens. The flock down the road from us cackles and cries and someday I expect they will show up at our front door. Beautiful large birds, black and white speckled, but I am told not very good parents. Ducks, a pair I call Fred and Myrtle fly over each night to find their night spot, White egrets and blue herons make their way up and down the irrigation canal. The great blue herons only need wire rim glasses to look like old dodgy professors. We have a flock of motley geese that supervise our milling operations. We all laugh as they alert to noises that may threaten their territory.

Coyotes in the middle of the night, early evening, early morning. You can hear the coyotes howling up and down the creek. They move and the sound echoes throughout the canyon. Usually it is a sad lovely call, but sometimes they are very active and on the hunt. I always count the cats and try to bring them in but up until now they have all survived. Even Piccolo who is a pure white cat and glows in the full moon.

cows

Cows, we call “the girls,” roam the back hills behind the olive farm. They keep close watch on us during milling season as they must know the olive waste may turn into feed for their winter dinners. At the last Kitchen in the Grove cooking class on cheese, “the girls” and their babies made a cameo appearance and mooed their way into our hearts when we talked about good cheese.

The rattle snakes are the ones that are good for the olive grove as they keep the mice and moles and vole population down, but not good for us. We have had a few on property, both at home and at the Olive Farm. We try to have animal control come out to capture and relocate them, but they are very territorial and often come back to the same spot. Our Vet has some great stories of moving snakes vs snake shot and then holes in his car door, don’t tell his wife we told on her. In reality they are solitary creatures and like to be left alone, but just not under my Visitors Center front porch.

We tell everyone that visits that this is a farm and critters are always around, watch out and you may even see something wonderful. Always be alert and you will see more, much more.

Watch for the announcement of our expanded Farm Tours.

Sustainable, Intelligent Farming

IFOOC Solar PanelsIl Fiorello goes solar! We have installed solar panels on our Visitors Center and on our Mill Barn to capture the brilliant sunshine energy of Suisun Valley. We decided to make the commitment and do what we really believe in, using a better way to produce energy. As we expand the Visitors Center we will be adding more panels and it is our hope to expand the solar array to fully support our energy requirements. As the saying goes this is a good thing, and about time too.

To further our commitment to use resources more efficiently, we are mulching and composting to improve soil quality, conserve water, and to add nutrients to our soil. Much of the trimmings from our pruning, as well as the remaining olive material after making oil are used in our compost. It just makes sense to use what we have and be as self-sufficient and productive as possible. Olive trees are drought tolerant but we want ours to thrive so we are monitoring water usage by weekly calculations of both temperature and humidity. We want to produce good food for you.

National Geographic Magazine recently published an article titled “EAT, The New Food Revolution” (May 2014). A team of scientists were confronted with one simple question: How can the world double the availability of food while simultaneously cutting the environmental harm caused by agriculture? After analyzing reams of data on agriculture and the environment, they proposed five steps that could solve the world’s food dilemma.

 

Step One: Freeze agriculture’s footprint internationally

Step Two: Grow more on farms we have

Step Three: Use resources more efficiently

Step Four: Shift diets

Step Five: Reduce Waste

 

Read the entire article at National Geographic Magazine, May 2014, pp 26-59.

We love to have conversations about what we are doing to help a demanding world, come visit and we can discuss our plan.