Small "big" things in the garden

Our last post was about the flurry of activity—a planting party 
tansitioning from winter/early spring to a spring/summer garden. 
As the title suggested, a lot happened that day with tractors going 
and many hands furiously working to plant 
150 tomatoes, 100 peppers and 100 eggplants. 

But actually there is always a lot happening at the farm. 
Sometimes it may not be as visible or obvious as when the tractor is rolling. 
But there is always activity at the farm—whether it is a day 
when just one or two of us are weeding and 
tending to the beds, 

or on those days 
when no one is even there.
garlic bed photo by Cece Hugo

At the biodynamic farm on Imagery Estate Winery vineyard, 
our stalwart assistants, the "good bugs," 
are ever present doing their work all the time, 
 when we can see them and often when we cannot.

The soldier beettle is aptly named as an important predator of aphids. 
This little guy is" highly desired by gardeners as 
biological control agent of a number of pest insects." 
So we are careful as we do our work 
when we encounter a soldier beetle 
 to allow him to do his.

And we try to remember, and you should too, that while caterpillars 
may be a nuisance for some plants, they do turn into 
butterflies who enjoy the garden as much as we do, and bring us great pleasure.
photo: Matthew Ruff of Butterfly in sage plant at ESTATE
Perhaps the hardest worker at the farm are the bees.
  "Bee pollination of crops, something that most farmers heavily rely on, 
is responsible for as much as 30% of the U.S. food supply." 
Much has been written about this and the current crisis 
of bees dying at unsustainable rates.
Bees are the premier pollinators of the world, and without them, 
farmers worldwide would experience massive crop failures, especially for orchard fruits, 
berries, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, peppers and other bee-pollinated plants.
Bees are truly a farmer's and gardener's friend.
No question about the phrase, "busy bees!"

carefully peering into the lavender where the bees are hard at work

 The lavender bushes in the Insectary which attract the bees,
are close to our planting beds so they can support our work.  

All of the plants in the Insectary surrounding the farm have been designed
to maintain a natural balance attracting the good bugs.

Our owl house ensures we will have a sentry to help control rodents
Certainly the owl monitors all the "small moments" at the farm.  

so much going on in these bushes at the Insectary
And, truly every day there are small things happening
at the farm that are really big moments. 
As one brave blossom appears and begins to grow, 
we can feel the energy of the plant or tree as it begins to "breathe" and stretch out.

one of our first figs
the apricot tree begins to bloom
and pear blossoms in the Orchard
strawberries starting to appear
inspire this vanilla ris au lait with port-roasted strawberries 
The small things in the garden matter as much as the big major events.
And small gardens matter too.
 We are proud of the farm and the orchard
but also appreciate how much we can grow around the restaurants.
this lemon tree right outside ESTATE's bar
makes for a very fresh Lemon Drop (photo by Steven Krause) 
And you can grow so much food at home as well.
Check out Verdura for tips on creating an edible garden, even in small spaces and
we really enjoy A Sonoma Garden for insight and inspiration.

Let us know about the progress in your garden 
and please share links that pique your interest in the gardening experience. 


"Lot's happening"

About a week ago, I received a text from Chef John that said, 
"Tomw at the farm. Lot's happening." 
So, the next morning, I made sure to be at the farm
armed with my camera and notepad.
Often as I trail after John or Ray and Matt from Local Landscapers
I have to scribble notes so I can keep track of what
they are telling me about everything going on—
not just what's planted where, but the good stuff
about why they are doing what they do—all of which comes naturally to them,
but is new territory for this city girl.
Matt introduces me to a soldier beetle, aptly named as one of the "good bugs"
It's those scribbles that ultimately become this blog.
And indeed that day at the beginning of May,
there was "lot's happening."

 We were all looking ahead to summer as we 
set the stage for a bountiful upcoming season.
The morning began with the guys finishing 
the prep work in the beds—hard work, 
both by hand and tractor to get the farm ready for our planting party that day.

Joining the crew were Seth and Uriel, sous chefs from 
the girl & the fig and ESTATE—their hands-on work at the farm 
confirms their very personal commitment to "farm to table." 
They will truly appreciate whatever they wind up 
creating with the peppers they helped plant.
sous chefs Seth and Uriel
big moment: the FIRST pepper plant in the ground!
It is a wonderful part of the cycle of the farm and our kitchens 
to have the sous chefs work alongside the regular farm crew. 
Executive Chef John Toulze considers his time at the farm some 
of his most precious personal meditative time. 

Hard as the work is to do,
there is a communal energy between everyone.
We all work carefully to give the farm as much support as we can, 
adhering to biodynamic principles and doing as much as we can by hand.

freeing the asparagus plant from weeds

An aspect of biodyanmaic farming that we ramped up 
this season is companion planting
We all think the radishes are even tastier than usual, 
so they must like hanging out with the onions!
radish alternating with onions in one bed
photo by Matthew Ruff 

If you want to learn even more, Clare Brandt wrote an intriguing article 
on companion planting. Besides the convincing benefits 
on what is grown near each other, she reminds us that 
some of this is also about what tastes good together. 
For instance, it's hard to deny the perfect combo of basil and tomatoes, right?
photo from Plats du Jour by Steven Krause

The concept of biodynamic farming goes 
As part of the deeper ethical aspects of all this, we appreciate 
long standing traditions from natural farming that are still working. 
Have you ever heard of "Three Sisters," the Iroquois tradition of 
planting corn, beans and squash together? 
From this tradition, we are reminded, as Clare Brandt shares in her article, that 
"beans (as all legumes do) take nitrogen from the air rather than the soil 
 during the growing season, and so don’t compete for nutrients." 

While we won't have a "Three Sisters" garden at the farm, we know 
we will get some of these benefits to our soil 
from the squash we will plant in the Orchard. 
But we are thinking about nitrogen and how important it is to our plants. 
Knowing that garlic and onion deplete the soil of nitrogen 
we needed to replenish the beds before planting our tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.
As we added bat guano, a natural source of soluble nutrients
high in nitrogen and phosphorus, 
we were harkening back to another ancient farming tradition. 
Did you know that the word "guano" comes from a Quichua language of the Andes 
meaning "droppings of sea birds," and 

view from the tractor seat

In the midst of the planting party, 
we continued to harvest what is fresh right now at the farm.
So, while we planted that day for summer, we also 
picked pea shoots, garlic and baby carrots
that went straight to the kitchen.

smoked pea sformato radish salad at ESTATE

This particular day in May felt like an important one at the farm,
perhaps the start of the farm's summer?
Hands in the dirt, backs bent over, shovels and hoes, 
plants from the greenhouse that started as seeds going into the ground 
and by afternoon we had planted 100 eggplants, 100 peppers and 150 tomatoes.

tomato starts ready to climb

 A lot happened.

And a lot more continues for us at the farm project. 
More to plant in the upper quadrant, potatoes are growing in the Orchard, 
 John is deciding what else to plant in the other beds, 
a new greenhouse is planned for the half acre behind "the fig"
 and more edible plants and herbs will be planted at ESTATE.

herb beds in front of ESTATE

Follow along the journey with us as we enter the height of the growing season.
And let us know what you are planting 
in your farm project—whether a small backyard space or window sill pots.
Picking something fresh you have grown is a wonder to do and tastes incredible!


Preparing for the veggie explosion

May is always the month that really begins to feel like spring to me, 
when we are anxious to get outside, be in the garden, get going on planting in earnest.
Remember the article we posted about how 
getting your hands in the dirt elicits a feeling of euphoria?
This is true spring fever, which of course will soon 
become full-blown summer obsession. 
one section of our farm early Fall 2011
The seduction of our gardens, enticing us to plant as much as we can, 
may bring us to the moment where we have run out of ideas 
of what to do with the abundant zucchini 
or the rampant arugula (can there really be too much arugula?) 
Of course this is not really a problem-how could there be too many fresh vegetables? 
And certainly, when it is winter time, we know we will be 
missing that just-picked squash, tomato or bunch of fresh herbs. 
One option for all those veggies is pickling
Pickling is not just for fall harvest or something we do as we prep for winter-
it is easy throughout the year and can be a great option 
when you have been overly enthusiastic at the farmer's market or in your own garden. 
One day last summer, John mused while working at the farm, 
that when they are in season, "I just want to eat as many fresh vegetables 
as I can each day." We all know what he means-
those verdant salads and colorful side dishes--
(spring and summer almost persuades us to become vegetarians!)
So, go ahead and plant whatever you want. 
It is amazing how much food you can grow in a small space
SF Sustainable Food has great ideas and inspiration
 for growing food in urban areas or other small areas. 

area behind the fig not much bigger than your house

or use a raised bed-we have several behind the fig
And whether you are growing your own food or not, 
 be sure to support your local Farmers Markets. 
I figure if you are reading this blog, you likely already know your Farmer's Markets 
and CSA resources, as well as restaurants like ours 
that serve fresh seasonal food, but if this helps, go to Local Harvest  
to find that information anywhere in the country or more California-focused, 
 is Community Alliance with Family Farmers: "Buy Fresh/Buy Local."  
For national resources and more in-depth discussion, visit Sustainable Table-
celebrating local sustainable food and providing education 
about issues that build community through food.
 "Beacalivore," and join in the "Food Journey of California" 
this new Facebook page connects you to like-minded food friends. 
And of course, build your own community by 
sitting down at a table with friends and family whenever you can. 
So, in your garden or at the Farmers Markets indulge in what is fresh and seasonal. 
It lifts my spirits when I see new vegetables that herald a change in the season-
asparagus telling me that spring is arriving and of course 
tomatoes affirming that we are in summer!  
When your bounty overflows and your creativity for what to do 
with all you've gathered is challenged, think pickles. 
Pickled veggies liven up a salad, are a perfect complement to salumi or certain cheeses 
our house-made pickles from the farm with house salumi
and as for a grilled burger--well, you know what I mean!
the girl & the fig's burger

But not just pickled pickles. John and the chefs pickle lots o'vegetables all year and in 2010 expanded our pickling to create Sonoma Valley Sharecropper project. 
This became a natural outgrowth of the farm project, 
as a way to share the bounty of our harvest at Imagery Estate Vineyards 
 with the Benziger family who own the land we farm. 

This traditional Sharecropper arrangement for us as tenant farmers
 deepens our connection with the farm and 
our commitment to being part of the community. 
From Bread & Butter pickles, Sonoma Valley Sharecropper 
grew to include a wide range of vegetables
 from cauliflower, carrots, and fennel in winter 
to onions, ramps, leeks and fava beans in spring.
Our pickled sweet & sour squash was a finalist for the Good Food Award in 2010.

Now you can use our exclusive blend of pickling spices 
to create your own pickled vegetables.
Sonoma Valley Sharecropper Pickling Spices 
are available at all our restaurants, online at the FIGstore 
or at Local Landscapers' booth at the Tuesday night Farmer's Market in Sonoma.

Sonoma Valley Sharecropper Pickling Spices are created 
using spices from all over world and are available in three varieties: 

color for carrots, red peppers, rhubarb, beets, purple cabbage, 
purple cauliflower, red onions, orange peppers and tomatoes.

blanc  for cauliflower, jicama, onions, turnips, parsnips, 
white radishes, shallots, mushrooms and cabbage.

vert for zucchini, cucumbers, asparagus, brocolini, green peppers, 
artichokes, green tomatoes, peapods, Brussels sprouts and green beans.

The pickling process for the home chef takes about 30 minutes hands-on
in the kitchen and then 24 hours in the fridge for the vegetables to marinate. 
Tips are included from the Chef and we hope you will also be inspired to be creative.
Watch John's pickling demo on ABC TV for tips. 

Pickling extends our experience of the farm, allowing us to enjoy
the abundance we harvest all year and in new ways. 
The same vegetables we savor fresh from the garden 
are transformed into a new flavor with a different use.
We created these blends to help you do the same with your bounty.
Share your experiences, ideas and recipes with us,
tell us how you like to serve the pickled veggies.

And of course now that we are entering high farm & garden season,
enjoy getting your hands dirty as well as
all the freshness the farm has to offer to your table.