Category Archives: Farm Life

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

Look What’s Growing in Suisun Valley/ July 2017

 

We are growing grape stakes and milk cartons!

Looks that way but not really, soon you will see little green sprouts.

To the Farmers, this means that grapes are going to be planted. The grape stakes and the milk cartons protect and support the young grapes.

No harvesting or suckering is going on in the vineyards, so now is the usual time for preparing for planting. Watering support is in place and the ground is ready for little grape plants. There are many ways to plant, grow, trim, and support grapes.

Next time you are in Suisun Valley, look around at all the different methods of farming.

Last weekend we met our farming neighbors across the way, who come from Sonoma, and are planting Cabernet Sauvignon. Delighted to have them farming in Suisun Valley! This Valley’s soil can help with growing great grapes.

I only hope they are as concerned about organic farming as we are at IL Fiorello. It is a huge commitment, is not easy and can get very expensive! Controlling the weeds and providing nutrients to support the soil and the growth of the trees and grapes is critical to a good crop.

This year’s olive harvest looks to be very heavy. All of the growers that mill with us are reporting very heavy fruit set. Bountiful. Our growers meeting is August 5, so stay tuned for updates on best milling practices.

Here’s to better growing practices from those of us committed to better food and better growing with organic principles.

 

 

Ciao

Ann

 


Milk cartons on Suisun Valley Road

 

Grape stakes, directly across the street from us on Mankas Corner Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Bird Walk

 

This past Sunday, IL Fiorello Olive Oil Co., was host to the Napa-Solano Audubon Society. This is a biannual event and we hope to have many more. Beginning at 6:30 am, a group of intrepid birdwatchers gathered in our parking lot. With grove map in hand, bird list, and binoculars at the ready, we all set out to document the morning chorus. The birds were happily singing and song identification quickly became an integral part of the identification.

The female killdeer sitting on her nest in the front of the ellipse, evaded everyone’s identification by superb camouflage. Her mate on the other hand flew over our heads trying to distract us by very loud calls and evasive maneuvers.

 

The robin’s nest in the Citrus grove now has 4 robin blue eggs. I carefully climbed up on a ladder to get this precious picture.

I am on the lookout for hummingbird’s nests, but they are very hard to spot. I will keep looking in the citrus, and report back. The expert birder’s told me to stand very still and look for lichen on the branches of the lemon and orange trees.

The walk continued on for 2 hours with lots of bird identification and camaraderie in the group. We were watching for burrowing owls along the canal but they were elusive today. The squirrels that dig the holes were all too present. Our domestic chickens, even though beautiful and truly loved, were not the stars of the Audubon show.  They do produce beautiful eggs for us.

The local white goose showed up later on in the morning, announcing his displeasure in our walking through his groves.

 

 

The walk ended with Darren’s magnificent vanilla blueberry scones and hot coffee on the back patio. A beautiful day had by all.

We are considering planning an evening walk in the Fall to identify the hawks and owls on the farm.  Anyone is welcome, just contact the Napa-Solano Audubon Society and keep in touch with us at IL Fiorello.

 

Ciao,

Ann

 

HEN’S EGG RECIPE

Eggs and Leccino oil

Poach a hen’s egg in one tablespoon of Leccino oil every morning

Serve on warm toast

Drizzle with more oil and a curl of shaved parmesan cheese

Add salt and pepper and maybe a tiny bit of French thyme from the garden

Good for your soul good for your health

Earth Day 2017

 

IL Fiorello celebrated Earth Day/Weekend, in a big way, with 650 people visiting our Farm on Passport Sunday!

Thank you to all who visited, everyone had a wonderful sunny and delicious time. Thanks to Slow Food for a display and information, to Denise Revel, Girl on the Hill for her beautiful lavender, and to the Erickson’s for their wonderful jams. Thanks also to Napa Valley College Oenology program for making great wine and pouring with such support. Chef Gloria and Chef Darren presented a wonderful food pairing of our oils, Sicilian meatballs and ancient grain salad for everyone.

Thank you also to our staff who smiled all day long.

We celebrate the actual Earth Day by working on the Farm.

 

Harvesting favas, shelling favas, cooking favas, and eating favas. Our harvest was abundant and we will be serving fava beans in many different ways.

 

We are watching for bugs in the grove, planting more trees, expanding our garden, our grove, and putting in more fruit trees. Figs, apples, cherries, pears, much more citrus, and apricots. The big girl chickens (4) and little girl chickens (10) do have a pecking order. The big girls Henrietta, Millicent, Winifred, and Hyacinth are now out in the grove in Nick’s mobile chicken coop, already eating weeds and bugs and fertilizing the grove. The little girls will now be happier in their chicken palace, and not “henpecked”.

 

 

We are watching herons, eagles, owls and quail. The ever present killdeer are busy defending their ground nests. The quail are in their usual spring panic, for food and friends.

In the grove the trees are almost in bloom. The buds are fat and tight but we are finding some blossoms that are open. A week of sun and no hail and we may have blossom. LOTS of blossoms. Even the Aglandau, which was in a heavy production last year, is loaded and very heavy set this year.

We are looking forward to our Growers Meeting this week.  We are meeting old friends and making new ones. Lots of information to share and discuss.

Eat well, be well and plant a tree, or a lavender plant, or a fruit tree for jam.

 

 

Ciao

Ann

 

Spring 2017

 

It is finally Spring! Happy Spring!

Spring is for seeds, chickens, eggs, plants, gardens, blossoms, and fun.

Seeds are in the ground, seeds and plants are in the greenhouse, and baby chickens huddle under a warm light in the coop. They look as if they are under a grow light; each day they grow bigger and eat more.

The new baby girls are a Barnvelder, a Barred Rock, an Egyptian Fayoumi, a couple of Golden Hens, a white Delaware and a couple of Bantams with feathered feet. They are sooo little and look like they are walking on fuzz and shavings. Keeping them hydrated and fed is a three times a day job. The little girls need so much food at this time of their little life.

The new yellow portable chicken coop is almost built and now the older girls can go out into the grove to bug and scratch. It has a sign that says “Last One in is a Rotten Egg”! They have warm nest boxes and a lot of room to scratch in the grass. It will be a fun addition to the Farm. You will be able to meet them when you book a Farm Tour!

The older girls give us white, brown, and blue eggs. These are well used by our Sous Chef Darren in Kitchen in the Grove. The frittatas are marvelous, let alone the French omelets and pickled eggs.

Executive Chef Gloria will teach a Spring Brunch class on April 9 and use eggs in almost every dish; Hollandaise, Sabayon, egg white frittata. I will provide a “surprise egg” for the class that everyone will enjoy. It will be an egg-cellent day!

We have two organic gardens at our Farm. The herb garden is located in the back of the Visitors Center, while the main garden is located near the mill and groves.

The herb garden is used for edible flowers and herbs for the Kitchen in the Grove. Yesterday I planted Johnny jump ups, marigolds, parsley, and thyme. Seeds for bush beans and wax beans went in just before the rain.  Nasturtiums in many colors will pop up very soon and will be delicious on our tasting plates. The delightful color and taste of edible flowers make everything in life better. The oregano, upright pine rosemary, borage and lemon grass have overwintered very well and love their spots. Basil, sorrel, chives, and chervil will be going in very soon.  The mint surprisingly needs replanting, but this is after 5 years. The mint at our other farm grew right through the asphalt driveway! Hint: always plant mint by itself in its very own box to prevent it from growing over the house!

Many of our plants come from Morningsun Herb Farm in Vacaville. It is a great resource for really healthy and diverse herbs and plants. We will partner with them in June for the Vacaville Lavender Days. Save the Date for June 3. Il Fiorello will host an all Lavender Dinner in the Pavilion, presented by our Executive Chef, Culinary Curator, Gloria Ciccarone-Nehls.

We planted Fava Beans in December; they are now 4 feet tall and full of blossoms. We will be serving different Fava dishes until next year! Fava puree, Fava beans with oil, Parmesan cheese & salt, Fava bean with fresh pasta, Favas with oil and crostini… the list goes on!

(Read further for one of our favorite Fava Recipes)

Aphids love the fava beans, so we have little red lady bugs doing their job to combat the problem. Tiny red finches are also having a great time cleaning the beans.

Down in the main organic garden, the artichoke plants are HUGE. Our friend Denis from Italy said this would not be an Italian garden without artichokes, so now we are “official’. We also have red and yellow onions, garlic, and leeks. The potatoes are loving the rain- we will have great yellow, red and blue ones! Two very small but healthy caper bushes are growing slowly, and hopefully will reward us with capers to pickle for charcuterie plates. Zucchini is in abundance, especially the delicious ones with yellow stripes. Pumpkins and melons will come later this summer, but watch out- we have 10 varieties of each!

Nick has gone wild in the greenhouse with melons, squash, cucumbers, beans, and lots more. We even have a Desi and Delicata squash popping up. We started small, white, flavorful French beans called Tarbias for next winter’s French cassoulet. At 5 days the beans are sprouting and healthy. I am looking forward to that spectacular presentation. The scarlet runner beans and borlotti beans are growing well. They have been a consistent winner on our tasting plates. We even have Chinese long beans this year! Our beans come from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Look in their Whole Seed catalog for many great varieties.

We are also growing watermelon cucumbers. These tiny round cucumbers look like miniature watermelons. They are so cute and very delicious when fresh, but even better when pickled. Kuri Squash is an easy grower that produces a deep red-orange teardrop-like squash. My friend Colleen and I use this squash instead of pumpkin in a chocolate Bundt cake recipe. It produces an extra moist and deep dark delicious flavor. We make this over and over for all our guests. Colleen made this cake for dessert at Thanksgiving. A spectacular and delicious presentation!

Sunflowers are growing, preparing to grace our tables for dinners and luncheons, and also to help feed the birds. We have 7 different varieties: short, tall, yellow, red, and crimson. So beautiful!

The tomatoes will go in the ground in two weeks. We have 30 different varieties, including red current, and blue cherries for our tasting plates. We will coordinate with the Downtown Fairfield Tomato Festival with an onsite tomato demonstration and tastings. So much fun to look forward to!

Our Farm wouldn’t be complete without our olives beginning to set blossoms. It is looking like a great year so far!

Come visit and see for yourself and see how we are growing.

 


 

Recipe: Oil Drenched Fava Beans with Parmesan

Prepare Fava beans:

  1. Hull the beans from their large furry pod (the pods are good for our compost)
  2. Cook the beans in boiling water for about 5 minutes
  3. Rinse in cool water until you are able to touch them
  4. Pop out the beans from their jackets (the jackets go into compost also)
  5. Dress in a robust oil, I prefer Frantoio, add salt, pepper to taste
  6. Dress with thin shavings of Parmesan cheese

Serve with fresh bread and a glass of crisp, dry white wine. We are currently pouring a lovely 2016 Albarino from Turkovich Family Wines- come by for a taste.

 

Ciao

Ann

 

 

January at the Farm

 

What do we do in January at an Olive Farm and Mill?

 

olives-in-mist-9

 

Celebrate the New Year and say thank you to all our guests, growers, and staff!

The biggest job of all!  Clean the mill

Certify all our oils as Extra Virgin, done and completed – all pass with flying colors!

Make decisions about competitions, what oils to what competitions and why

Make Limoncello from our wonderful citrus trees

Make homemade barrel aged manhattans – a treat in a few months

Put away (sadly) all the Christmas decorations as we loved our Ginger Bread House

Get ready for Super Bowl Sunday treats here at The Farm

Order seeds for the garden

Order trees and replant

Plant early seeds in the greenhouse

Build retaining walls

Plant new lavender in the new planting areas

Finish pruning and weeding around all the trees

Turn the compost

Clean the owl boxes

Watch the hawk cruse the canal for errant rodents (and hope it succeeds)

Apply compost to all the trees

Apply olive pits around the small trees

Take care of our chickens, a fun daily task

Clean the refrigerators and freezers Ugh!

Give tours to everyone who is on vacation and wonders what we do here in January

Get organized for 2017 by planning all of next year’s events, cooking classes, and activities

Watch our web site for all our 2017 classes and events

 

Are we done yet??? Anyone want to help?

 

Ciao,

Ann

 

 

Blossom Time

Frantoio BLOGThis is the expectant time of year where we watch for olive blossoms, blossom set and the resulting fruit set. Flower bud sprouting initiates the process of inflorescence. Average flowering used to be around May 10 but clearly with a change in climate we are seeing inflorescence now in mid-April. This year this is a full 4 weeks early. Temperature for the past two months have determined the time of flowering. Lower temperatures mean longer flowering periods, while high temperatures shorten flowering. Hail, frost, and very high winds may destroy flower buds. Water and nutrient stress between bud sprouting and six weeks before flowering reduce the number of flowers per inflorescence and increase the number of lost blossoms. So time will reveal what our actual crop will hold for us.

 

This is the first time that we as growers have a glimpse of what our crop may be in the fall.
And so far this looks like an amazing year at our groves. Some varieties will produce
heavily one yearZucchini BLOG and not the next, which is normal for olives. This year, as was last year, our Frantoio is productive & the Aglandau French variety has more blossoms than we have ever seen. It is during flowering that wind pollination occurs. A good book for reference is Olive Growing by Barranco, Fernandez-Escobar and Rallo, from the University of Cordoba, Barcelona, Spain, 2004.
As olives are wind pollinated, the winds of Suisun Valley are welcome. The word “Suisun” means “west wind”. Suisun Valley winds come in the afternoon from San Francisco and San Pablo Bay and bring cool temperatures. We would like to have the blossoms stay a little longer on the trees so as to have a really good fruit set. But in farming we do not have those choices, nature is fickle.

double BLOG

We do have bees on site for honey production and to help with the gardens and citrus pollination. Bees love the pollen and nectar in the olive grove but olives produce differently.

We use the Italian variety named Pendolino to help with pollination of all of our olives. This is a productive tree in its own right, and makes a beautiful green grassy tasting olive oil.

Bring on the Suisun wind to help pollinate our olives.

Here are blossoms from our Farm for you to enjoy.

Ciao

Ann

 

 

Celebrate – It is Spring

Planter BoxesTime to think about digging in the dirt, planning and planting your garden, and eating fresh vegetables.

Today it is softly raining and we have not yet finished mowing the olive groves. Some of the flowering mustard is as tall as my tractor. Nick, our assistant miller and super helper, keeps the tractor working, filling it with gas, and then sending me back out to mow some more. It is perfect in the grove. The olives are just about to begin blooming. The red wing black birds follow the tractor to pick up worms and bugs. No cell phones. No calls. Just me and the trees and the tractor. Happiness.

Nick and Araldo, our super work guy, have finished the raised vegetable beds. These raised beds are a showcase in front of the olive mill, all 34 of them. Each bed is 4’ x 10’, with chicken wire in the bottom to deter the gophers. This week we spent time planting radishes, onions, beans, chayote, and LOTS more. We envision a profusion of vegetables for our cooking classes and for our olive family. Our Chef is delighted that we are planting the raised beds behind the Visitor Center for herbs, cilantro, parsley, thyme, basil and tiny cucumbers (because they are so cute).  We use Baker Creek Seeds because of their sustainability and their commitment to wonderful products. I get lost in their catalogue, beautiful pictures and planting suggestions (www.rareseeds.com).

Tours of the gardens will be great fun as we watch all things green grow and mature. The new green house is warm and tidy and little tiny sprouts of seeds are popping up.

With great delight, I have been talking to garden clubs, Rotary, Kiwanis, and Chambers of Commerce, in Northern California. I have presented our Olive Farm and how we grow olives and make olive oil. We have had some lively discussions about the problem of adulterated olive oils, and how to pair good food with certified extra virgin olive oil. I have met some wonderful people, whom I now consider my friends.

Nick and Araldo Planter BoxesMuch thanks to Nick and Araldo for all their hard work building the raised beds and moving dirt.

Come play in the dirt, and watch us grow.  The radishes are up and growing.

Ciao

Ann

 

 

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.

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.