Our Warre beehive swarmed today! We gathered to watch as the buzz intensified, rose up into the air, and found a place to rest in a tall redwood tree.
Life on the farm is full, as baby goats, little lambs, and spring plants take in the warm sunshine and thrive in the lush green landscapes of the farm and vineyards. This past weekend the Frey family hosted an Earth day celebration with foods from the land, to honor the abundance of life in the spring, and to appreciate the land that we all are grateful to be working with.
In biodynamic news, our preparations went to the BD prep-making conference in Colorado the first week of March along with Luke Frey, the farmer who made them. His preparations were judged to be the best of the conference for their substance, smell, and texture in a panel comparison of all the different preparations being made domestically. Go Luke!
Today we had twin lambs born to a mother sheep under the warm sunshine, while bees buzzed to and from between the plum blossoms and their hives. We're hoping that we get the rain that would be so greatly appreciated in this dry year; and yet, I hope that the fruit trees get a good run at pollination before those rains come down so that we can have a fine set of fruit later in the year. Farmers and gardeners in our climate hardly had a break this past winter. More days than not the weather has been so warm that hibernation just wasn't an option. As seed flats are promising sprouts for the spring and summer, we're looking to make more and more time in the garden to prepare beds for this growing season. Luckily we have had enough rain that the grains in the vineyards are growing steadily, and all our ruminant friends are pleased with this years crop of grasses and pasture options.
Just as the winter solstice came to the Frey Farm, our sheep gave birth in the pasture. We've had three lambs born to date to our herd of Navajo Churros, and all are doing well. Baaaa! For more information about this heritage breed, go to the Navajo Churro Sheep Association website.
The beekeepers at Frey vineyards have collaborated the past several years to create a habitat specifically for bees. This past spring, Luke Frey helped install a bee border to support the pollinators of our locality, and now this hedgerow has come into full bloom. Master gardener Kate Frey helped choose plants that would be beneficial to the bees by having a late-summer onset of blossoms and a drought tolerance for our California clime. Every day I see the bees taking full advantage of the precious August nectars, and I'm looking forward to the future of this perennial garden space.
Preparing the bee hedgerowLuke Frey preparing the bare land for the bee border.
Plants for the bee borderPlants in the pots, ready for planting in the bee border.
Bee plants are plantedThe bee hedgerow takes root.
Bee border in full bloomThe hegerow this August, with the plants in bloom, offering sweet flowers for the bees.
The glory of the summer sun shines down this time of year, illuminating the full palette of colors and flavors in the Frey Vineyards gardens. Out past one vineyard, beyond a blackberry hedgerow, Jonathan Frei works with the soil. His experiments began long ago in his childhood garden where kitchen herbs grew around his New Hampshire homestead.
Jonathan Frei in his garden.
After graduating with a B.S. in soil science from the University of Vermont, Jonathan transplanted himself in the West coast where he’s become an acclaimed master gardener, turning the earth into black gold wherever he tills. He adds that he is a “proud father to three amazing children,” two of which were in the garden when we arrived.
When entering Jonathan Frei’s garden one can see his gardening roots where culinary herbs surround his cabin in the woods. Paths lead out from his home between rows of colorful drought-tolerant bushes, many of which were in full-flower when I interviewed him. I brought my four year old son, Osiris, along to visit, and he found bliss in the several patches of Jerusalem sage, sucking sweet nectar from the abundant yellow flowers.
Little Osiris enjoying Jerusalem sage nectar.
Jonathan and I walked to his experimental garden project, where he is cultivating 20 different types of blueberries amidst native perennial trees, shrubs, and poor soils. We grazed on some of the most successful bushes that have provided a taste of fresh fruit for several years now.
Jonathan Frei's organic blueberries.
Aside from his blueberry adventures in homage to his Northeastern heritage, Jonathan has a history of making gardens come to life along the West coast. He worked at what is now the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, to lead a team of gardeners there years ago. Later, in Mexico, he started the internationally acclaimed organic garden of Rancho La Puerta in Baja, California. These days, when Jonathan isn’t working at the winery to help produce and promote Frey wines, he’s working with the land, perfecting the art of kitchen garden design, and pairing aromatics with vibrant flowers – all to create a whimsical and functional landscape.
Spring is in the air, in the barn, and in the fields! All the animals are enjoying the lush pasture from the rains, and have been steadily munching for months. Our goat herd has grown, and the goats that kidded in March now have attentive young following them on the goat walks through the vineyards. Because of the "bud break" (when the grapevines begin to sprout new shoots for this year's growth), the goats, cows, horses, and sheep are moving out of the vineyards to find forage instead in the meadows and grasslands. The chicken flock has also matured, making eggs for Easter omelets. The free-range eggs reflect the nutritious green grass of the pastures, as the chickens who graze on it have the beta-carotene needed to produce really rich and orange egg yolks. One of our hens went broody and hatched out her first nest of little chicks this week. And we have several "teens" strutting around the barnyard too, enjoying the bugs and grasses that this season brings.
Fresh farm eggs.
Six kids joined the barnyard scene this week. They came every other day, twins for each of our three mama goats. Everybody is nursing well and looking very adorable in their warm little goat coats. The baby goat below was born just this afternoon and the pictures taken during its first hour. It's being licked clean by its very caring mother while it tries out its legs for the first time on fresh hay.
Our goats are ripe and ready to give birth, all of them are full term. On our goat walks through the vineyards I see the kids moving around from inside their mother's bellies. Goat gestation is about 5 months, and last fall we bred our does to a Nubian buck, which should make them all excellent milking kids. For now, we're keeping the barn stocked with fresh hay, and checking on the mothers all day long. This is the other part of animal husbandry: animal midwifery!
January on the farm has the taste of fresh grass for all our hoofed friends. The cows, horses, and goats are pasture feeding in the vineyards again, in-between rows of cultivated wheat and oat. Our herds have the dual purpose of fertilizing the vineyards and keeping the grass populations in check, like live-powered mowers. Our daily goat walks take us through the vineyards to favorite oak trees where acorn browsing gives the goats rich, luscious coats for the winter weather. And, while they munch on the wild blackberry hedgerows, the pregnant ones get a dose of herbal medicine to help tone their reproductive tract before the Spring kidding. We're expecting several births in the next few months, which makes this time of year extra exciting.
Our chicken program has also taken to the vineyards, where egg layers are happily scratching up grubs and weeds along the edges of the cultivated vines. All these animals make the land seem more like a farm, where a walk along the rows now has the sound of moos, neighs, and clucks! For biodynamic agriculture the element of having the animals on the land is especially important because the animals impart a special quality to the land. Additionally, the farm animals help us maintain the land as a sustainable system, which feeds us while we feed it with "black gold" manures.
In the gardens our family members are ordering seeds and getting out old saved seeds from the previous year to grow cabbages, peas, kale, broccoli, and other early crops. I just pruned the raspberries in our garden last week, and the fruit trees are next.
Our biodynamic farmer friend Hugh Williams of Threshold Farm was here for the past two weeks, teaching workshops on apple orchards and pruning our trees using his unique method. We also just hosted the Winter meeting of the Biodynamic Association of Northern California here at Frey Vineyards; it was a wonderful success and inspiring to have all the farmers come together to discuss truly sustainable agriculture amidst the backdrop of the vineyards. Frey Vineyards, which has become a model for biodynamics, was the first BD certified winery in the United States. Also, Katrina Frey is now a member of the Demeter board, spreading the conscious farming movement in the hopes that more farms will join.
For now, it's time to get back out into the fields, making flat mixes to sow our seeds in for the first crops of the year!