Category Archives: Farm Life

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

The Owls of Il Fiorello

We have an owl! There are lots of owls in the valley but this one has chosen to grace us with her presence. Earlier this year we had an eagle and then found remnants of an owl that became dinner. We did not think that we would have owlets this year. BUT! On Saturday June 29, I walked around the corner to water our roses and wisteria. To my surprise found a very large and not so friendly owl on the ground facing in my direction. It was clearly a teenage owl as it had full feathers and some pin feathers. He was very hot and in distress from the heat. After consulting Wildlife Rescue and Bird Rescue we ran a hose with a water mister close to the bird and within an hour it was obviously much better.

Owls can be dangerous birds as they are predator birds with large beaks and large talons. Do not approach the birds as they will be aggressive, even if they are ill. We have owl boxes on the property to control rodents, and support good agricultural practices. We would rather have the owls control the little critters that eat our trees than use pesticides.

On Sunday morning we arrived to find the owl in the tree branches and much happier, the wings were closed and eyes shut just riding the branches of the tree with the wind.

Today Jenny and I went out to check on the birds and there were two on the perch outside of the box. We were very happy to see them healthy and enjoying the Suisun breezes. Mark then went out and declared that there are three teenage owls. So of course we named them Olive, Olivia, and Oliver.

I hope you enjoy their pictures. They are very wary and move back into the house if I get close. We do not want to disturb them as they need the breeze to cool off. We are taking pictures with a very long lens so as not to disturb them.

We treasure the presence of the owls and respect that they are wild and aggressive birds. We hope sharing these pictures will give you a sense of what it is like to live on a working farm.

Pruning

After the very long hours of harvest and milling, we pruned our trees – all 1,400! Fortunately we have a crew to help that is knowledgeable and works very hard. Mark and I just follow behind and pick up the trimmings. We plop them into the trailer and then to the compost pile. The truck only got stuck once in the deep grass. Marvin said it was like wet spinach, spoken like a true chef. Our little mule pulled the trailer out with its four-wheel drive. Pruning is so important to the trees’ health and production. The beautiful Italian saying is that a swallow should be able to fly through the olive tree without touching its wings.

Our trees will be about 12 to 15 feet high so we can harvest without using tall ladders or, as Mark says, without using helicopters. Olive trees can grow to be very old and very large. Old like hundreds and hundreds of years old and still producing. Large as in 40-50 feet tall, too tall to harvest safely. We have seen pictures of trees during harvest of huge trees with 10 ladders and 20 people surrounding the tree.

Mother Nature vs Mother Nature

There is a battle between Mother Nature and Mother Nature. Our olive trees are growing and more trees are better for our carbon footprint offset. But we are also growing bugs , weeds, and some unwanted animals are living in my grove. So a balance is important. Although we are not certified organic, we practice sustainable agriculture. We are very sensitive to the overall environment. We only use an organic spray for the olive fly, which is one of the most dangerous pests for olives. The olive fly drills holes in the olives and lays their eggs. The worms hatch and eat the inside of the olive, destroying it. We would prefer not to have partially eaten olives to mill into oil.

The lanes between the olive trees are mowed to develop a thatch, protect the soil from erosion and add nutrients. If we mow we do not have to till the soil nor use any weed killers. It is better for the environment. The areas around the base of the trees have to be cleared to protect the roots and avoid competition. As the trees get bigger, the trunks grow stronger and the roots reach deeper, we will have to do less and less intervention and the land will be better sustained. The trees will be happy and grow strong.

Another great example of support for Mother Nature is our owl boxes. We have 4 at the Olive Farm and one at home, where our more mature grove thrives. The owls seem to like the boxes. They nested and hatched little ones last year. Owls need homes in the orchard and eat mice, gophers, moles and voles, and snakes. Mice and gophers eat trees and the roots of our trees are little as many are less than 5 years old. No roots, no trees and no olives for oil. The red tail hawks are plentiful and they follow the tractor when we are mowing. Lots of delicious mice and moles to catch.

Next season our project will be bat boxes. Bats eat insects like mosquitoes

 

DECANTING OLIVE OIL

Olive oil, like wine, needs decanting. Even with two very powerful centrifuges some olive particulate matter remains suspended in the oil. Many people, ourselves included, love the thick rich flavorful Olio Nuovo, New Oil the first of the season. Right out of the centrifuge, it is thick, pungent, unctuous, and just wonderful. We all line up to taste the first oil of the season. The olio nuovo is spectacular in its freshness and richness and is only available during harvest and milling season, November to very early January.

Decanting means letting the oil settle for 2-4 months and then siphoning off the clear oil leaving the sediment. The purpose of decanting is to remove the vegetal olive matter that can ferment and ruin the oil. If you do not decant the oil, you can taste a “winey” or “fusty” flavor that is not favorable. Following decanting, the oil then goes back into storage or is bottled. Our oil is stored in large glass containers or 55 gallon drums, depending on the volume. It is kept at a constant temperature of 61 F and in darkness until bottling. Just-in-time bottling allows the oil to be untouched and undisturbed, protecting the quality. This is very important so that the flavors are maintained and as little oxygen as possible is touching the oil. Air produces oxidation and degrades the oil. Light and high temperatures also degrade the oil. At home keep your oil in a relatively cool protected place, not right next to the hot stove.

So early in March we decanted all the oils from this last harvest. We will bottle in the next month enough to sell and keep the remainder undisturbed until we need it for further sales. This is a serious process that protects the oil.

The funny part of the whole process is how slippery the oil really is. There are inevitable drips from the siphoning tanks and hoses. We slip and slide and hoot and holler. Now add soap to help clean and we can slide from one end of the mill building to the other. Ultimately after we wash everything with biodegradable soap, the oil and soap go to a state-of-the-art filtration septic system and ultimately out to the trees for irrigation support. This is a good farming practice.

 

WINTER IN THE GROVES

A quiet time. The olives have been harvested; the trees are giving a sigh of relief- their work done for the year. They rest until the days grow longer and the weather warms. The little olives are already beginning to form from the new branches. Olives will only grow on each branch once. Correct pruning is so important to produce new growth and olives. Inside the mill, we are still cleaning the equipment and watching and tasting the oils. The trees are growing and our job is to re-tie, prune, and support the baby trees. The winds of Suisun Valley in early spring can reach 40 MPH and our little trees are learning to stand up by themselves. Last year our new citrus trees had every leaf blown off and they had to start all over again. This year they produced, so I guess it didn’t hurt them much.

The rain made a pond in the frontage area with ducks having a fine time swimming in the drainage ditches. The local blue heron and white egrets are fishing for frogs in the drainage pond. Our local flock of geese and ducks watch us from the top of the Putah Canal, and “yell” at us as if they owned the place, I guess they do.