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Frey Organic Wine Blog

Nathan Frey
 
October 29, 2021 | Nathan Frey

Birdhouses in the Vineyard, 2021

Bluebird sitting on its eggs
Bluebird mother sitting on her eggs.

In 2020 we put up 33 birdhouses in our vineyards to attract bluebirds and other species in need of nesting sites.  They also help the vineyards by feeding on insects.  102 chicks fledged over that summer.  Check out my blog post last year for the backstory and how we used mostly recycled wood to build the boxes.  Birdhouses are easy to make and maintain, and we encourage you to make your own to help out your local bird population.  A great resource can be found at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

This year we nearly quadrupled the number of birdhouses to 121, and 554 chicks successfully fledged the nests! 

Total fledged:
336 bluebirds
172 tree swallows
29 house sparrows
11 ash throated flycatchers
6 white breasted nuthatches

This is more than quadruple the number of fledglings from 2020.  Last year we learned that the birds in general prefer boxes hung on metal stakes in the open vineyards over boxes placed in trees.  If a box was vacant, more often than not it was in a tree.  The birds know what we observed: boxes in trees had a higher rate of disturbed nests.  Racoons and snakes can easily climb trees and reach in for the chicks, but the metal stakes are nearly impossible to climb for predators.  Also, mice like to turn birdhouses into their private apartments.  Even after eviction, birds seem to avoid the boxes.  No mouse squatters appeared in the birdhouses hung high on metal poles.  Of course not all birdhouses in trees had problems and birds will use whatever suitable hole in a tree they can find, but in general the rate of troubled nests was much higher in trees.

Of the 121 birdhouses, 26 remained unoccupied throughout the breeding season, usually those on trees or were in the shade for most of the day.  Of the 95 boxes that were taken up by the birds, 36 of them were used twice!  After a pair finished raising their brood and moved on, another pair sometimes moved in.  That makes 131 successful nesting pairs using only 121 boxes.

As spring turned to summer, the number of nesting birds dropped off and the number of chicks per family declined as well.  In spring when insects were plentiful, bluebirds and tree swallows averaged 5 or 6 chicks in a box.  Later in the summer the average dropped to 3 or 4.  Nature can be brutal, as many chicks don't make it.  A brood of 6 chicks might decline to 3 later in the summer, probably because of fewer insects for the parents to catch.  Inexplicably, around three nests were completely abandoned, each with 5 or 6 fledglings, the parents likely victims of predation.

I checked all 121 birdhouses about every 10 days, often with the help of my 10 year-old sun Julian and 6 year-old daughter Sofia, counting the eggs, chicks, and noting if they had fledged.  Some online sources recommend checking every 5 days, but it takes a lot of time to go from box to box, using a ladder or climbing onto the back of a pickup to reach the boxes.  Each box has a door for inspection and cleaning.  After a pair of birds raise and fledge their babies, the nest gets cleaned out.  If it’s not too late in the season, another pair of birds will use the same box.  When cleaning out a bird box, be sure to wear a mask and take note of which way the wind is blowing.  The chicks leave a lot very dusty bird waste behind, that you don’t want to breathe.

The boxes set up last year were left out in the vineyards over the winter.  They got noticeably weathered by the cycles of rain and sun, cold and heat, after just one season.  So this year most were removed at the end of summer and placed in dry storage for the winter.  They’ll be put out again early next spring.  We hope this will add several years to the life of these wooden birdhouses.  At the ends of the rows of most of our vineyards are metal pipes used as anchors for the trellises.  The metal stakes, with the birdhouses attached on top, can easily slip into these thick pipes, making for easy installation and removal.  Removing them at the end of summer also helps the harvest crew, as they otherwise would have to get them out of the way for the harvest machines.

We look forward to spring 2022 for another season of raising bluebird chicks in the vineyards!


Stack of bird houses under construction
Stack of birdhouses ready to be attached to the metal stakes.

Birdhouse in the vineyard at sunset
Birdhouse at the end of a row of grapes.  The metal stake slips right into the anchor post.

Mice in a birdhouse!
Birdhouse squatters soon to be sent on their way!

Birdhouse in the vineyard
A lovely spring day for a birdhouse in the vineyard.

Bluebird eggs
Bluebird eggs.

Baby bluebird chicks
Ash throated flycatcher chicks!

Eliza Frey
 
October 29, 2021 | Eliza Frey

Harvest Report, 2021

White grapes dumped into the crusher

Harvest started earlier than usual in 2021, due to the smaller than average crop.  Low yields were the result of an extremely dry year, but these low yields produce concentrated flavors.  Fruit quality was exceptional across the board, the fermenting wines smell and taste rich and fruity.  We had an all-star harvest team both in the field and in the cellar.

Crop estimates were low this spring and yields were down by around 50%.  We were lucky to start partnerships with more organic growers throughout the state who helped ensure we have enough wine for the season.  We are looking forward to a more bountiful harvest in 2022.

The weather was in our favor throughout the weeks of picking.  Early on there were some very hot days but the grapes held up and we had no damaging rains or frost before the crop was brought in. We were blessed with clear skies in our region all summer and avoided the threat of smoke taint from wildfires.

Since the harvest was small and quick there was plenty of time to finish spreading compost and planting cover crops before heavy rains fell in late October.  An atmospheric river washed over the lands, bringing several inches of rain, ending the threat of fire season, swelling dry creeks and filling ponds.  Now warm weather is ushering in a “second spring”; you can almost feel the grass growing.

We haven’t had a killing frost yet and are busy building this year's compost piles and tidying up for dormancy.  The vines have a chance to soak up sunshine and rain before losing their leaves.  They’re making good use of the wet and mild fall weather, storing carbohydrates in their roots for a strong bud break and full crop next season.

The olive crop was riper than usual and came in earlier than ever with a decent crop.  Oil is milled at the local olive mill in Hopland, the hub of olive processing in the county.  Growers large and small bring their olives to be pressed at the Terra Savia facility.

We thank the land for continuing to support us from the ground up, and are grateful for rains to hydrate soils and end the threat of fires for the season.  Aside from the drought conditions, 2021 has been an excellent year for fruit in Mendocino County. We look forward to sharing these wines and wish you all health and well-being.

A bin full of red grapes

Harvest machine in the vineyard

Tamara Frey
 
October 26, 2021 | Tamara Frey

Maple Apple Crumble

Close-up of Apple-Maple Crumble and Organic Viognier wine bottleMAPLE APPLE CRUMBLE PIE

I was in New England recently and with the apple trees and maples in full splendor, got inspired for this recipe.  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

FOR TWO PIES
Line the pie pans with 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon per pan.  Spread the butter all over the pie pan. I used my washed hands to do this, the best tools for the task.

FOR THE FILLING
Place in a medium to large sauce pan:

10 Granny Smith Apples. Any good baking apple can be used. Quarter, core and slice as thin as possible. I prefer not to peel the apples.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons cardamom
Zest of one large lemon (Meyer lemon would do also)
2 cups Frey Viognier Wine (any nice white wine will do)
1 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla

Bring to a boil and simmer approximately half an hour, until apples have cooked, and the wine maple syrup sauce has reduced and thickened. Meanwhile prep the crumble.

FOR THE CRUMBLE
4 ½ cups thick cut oats (any oats can be used)
½ cup maple syrup
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and chopped.
2 tablespoons vanilla

Place oats in a Cuisinart or blender or vita-mix, and blend smooth. Add the cold-chopped butter and vanilla and blend.
Add the maple syrup and blend. It will be somewhat sticky and hold together.

ASSEMBLE THE PIES
Place the apple filling in the two pie shells that have been lined with the unsalted butter, half of filling for each.
Break up the wet crumble generously on top of the apple maple filling, dividing it between the two pies and bake for approximately 20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until crumble is toasty and golden.

Serve with vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

 

Time Posted: Oct 26, 2021 at 1:33 PM Permalink to Maple Apple Crumble Permalink Comments for Maple Apple Crumble Comments (1)
Carolyn Brown
 
August 23, 2021 | Carolyn Brown

New Landscaping Project: Native Plants for Native Insects

Gardening team at Frey Vineyards
Andrew, Carolyn, Monet and Jessica – Gardeners extraordinaire at Frey Vineyards!

A central focus of Bio Dynamic Farming is to keep in or restore to at least 10% of a farm’s native vegetation. This provides habitat for wildlife and insect species that together create a healthy and resilient ecosystem. In turn, the presence of these animals, insects, plants and microorganisms help protect the crops from harmful predators, parasites and diseases.  Frey Vineyards is working to reestablish native vegetation on a large berm at the new winery. The berm will be part of a nature trail where visitors can enjoy the beauty of our vineyard nestled in the surrounding oak woodland, learn about key plant communities and the wildlife that they support.

The plants chosen for this project will provide habitat and forage for pollinators and birds; create a landscaped backdrop for the winery; and provide privacy and a shield for our neighbors. These plants are being propagated and grown out in a shade house and hoop house at the new winery site. Last fall, acorns were collected from favorite heritage oaks growing at the original winery site and were planted on the berm with the first rains. This summer these pioneering trees are now a few inches tall. They will be the backbone of the new plantings on the berm. Oaks are the superfood of the plant kingdom. “A mature oak supports thousands of caterpillars, making it a foraging heaven for birds and other animals. In 87% of U.S. counties, oaks feed more moth and butterfly caterpillars than any other type of plant.” (From “The Chickadee’s Guide to Gardening“ by Doug Tallamy).

Native flowering shrubs are being grown out in 1-gallon pots and are ready to be field planted with the coming fall rains. The plants selected are those that will provide an extended period of bloom throughout the growing season, giving our insect visitors an abundant and varied source of nectar and pollen. We are also growing out three species of milkweed native to Mendocino County. Milkweed is the only host plant of Monarch butterfly larvae and it is also a favorite nectar and pollen plant for many insects. This fall we will seed flats of perennial bunch grasses native to Mendocino County. The grasses will be interplanted with native wildflowers to create meadow areas. Together, the grasses and wildflowers will provide displays of color and visual interest throughout the seasons.  The grasses will help stabilize the bank and protect it from wind and water erosion and they also provide overwintering shelter for many species of bees, bumble bees, other insects, as well as nesting materials for birds.

When we talk about protecting pollinators and butterflies, perhaps the first species that come to mind are the European honeybee and the Monarch Butterfly.  These two beloved species have seen devastating losses over the past several decades; however, California has over 16,000 identified species of bees and over 1,177 species of moths and butterflies.  Many of these fragile creatures are suffering from the same environmental threats as the honeybees and Monarch butterflies.  The European honeybee is essential for the pollination of many of our food crops, especially those grown in large monocrop systems, because the hives can be moved into a crop during flowering and fruit set and moved on to another crop after the bloom has passed. The pollination services of the European honeybee in large agricultural systems are necessary because the native pollinators are unable to survive in these mono cropped systems. There is not an ongoing source of nectar and pollen in weed free mono crops environments to support and sustain their populations and the pesticides used are as toxic to beneficial insects as they are to the target pest. However, our reliance on the European honeybee has caused significant stress to these essential creatures. Bees, like us, need a balanced and varied diet. When they are moved from crop to crop, they are getting mostly one type of food at a time which leads to nutrient deficiencies. Also, there may be toxic pesticide residues on the crop, in field irrigation water that the bees drink, or in adjacent fields that the bees fly to. These toxins can be fatal on contact, diminishing the population of foraging bees. Sub-lethal doses are brought back to the colony where they may build up in the wax honeycomb, in much the same way as they build up in the fatty tissues of mammals. The accumulation of these toxins cause ongoing stress to the colony.  The bees also go through a stressful period of reorientation each time they are moved to a new field throughout the pollination season. They need to learn where the flowers and water sources are and must slowly reorient themselves to the new landscape so they can find their way home. Also, some foraging bees are often left behind with each move, diminishing the foraging workers. Finally, colonies of bees are transported into crops for pollination services from great distances and diseases and parasites can spread rapidly between colonies during these concentrated situations.
 
In the same way that our attention has focused on the plight of the honeybee, so too have we focused on the loss of our exquisite Monarch butterflies. These remarkable creatures make up two groups. The Western Monarchs migrate from the coast of central California throughout states west of the Rocky Mountains.  The Eastern Monarchs migrate from central Mexico up to the northern plains of the United States and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. Loss of habitat, loss of milkweed species, climate change, pesticides and diseases, have all contributed to the devasting decline of these magnificent butterflies.  

How can we farm and garden in ways that protect and nurture these essential pollinators? At Frey Vineyards we strive to create healthy, viable ecosystems on the farm. For example, many bird species rely on insects to feed their young, so over 100 bird nest boxes are distributed throughout our vineyards.  Blue Birds, Tree Swallows, Ash Throated Flycatchers, among other species, use the boxes and they help keep insect pest populations down. Planting local, native plant species also helps to foster healthy farm and garden ecosystems.  Insects have evolved with specific plant communities, using a variety of plants that are native to one’s region and choosing a selection of plants that provide a continual bloom throughout the growing season will provide the best food source to attract and sustain these beneficial creatures. Making a commitment to not use pesticides or using only the least toxic methods possible at only the most vulnerable stages of a pest’s lifecycle is also essential. At Frey Vineyards, farming practices follow the strict USDA Organic Farming and Demeter Biodynamic Farming standards.  Regulations governing pesticide use in both organizations prohibit the use of any synthetic compound and best practice guidelines further require that judicious monitoring take place before any control measures are taken. If it is determined that there is a significant threat to the crop then the least toxic and least broad spectrum measures available to organic growers are used to control a pest.

U. C. Davis has an informative website to help you make the decisions about these least toxic pest control options. Provide safe, undisturbed habitat for these insects. Many bees and bumble bees build their nests in the ground. Leave bare patches of soil, in areas that drain well, for them to nest in. Some bees lay their eggs and provide a nest for the developing larvae in the hollow stems of plants. Leave these plants standing over the winter and cut them back later, during the following year. This will give the developing larvae time to mature and emerge as adult bees. Provide a year-round source of drinking water. Place stones in a shallow basin so the insects can safely drink without falling in and keep their water fresh and clean.  Learn which species you have in your area and focus on providing habitat and food sources for them. There are many excellent websites to help you learn about plants and pollinators native to your area.

The California Native Plant Society has information on plants and their respective communities and the wildlife that they support.
The Xerces Society has a wealth of information on gardening practices that support butterflies and pollinators.
Butterflies and Moths of North America is a data base that has photos to help you identify moths and butterflies in your area as well as helpful information on host plants you can plant for each species.  

We look forward to having you visit when we are once again open to the public. Until then, happy bee and butterfly gardening!

Carolyn Brown
Lead Gardener, Frey Vineyards Ltd.

Carolyn Brown, Lead Gardener, Frey Vineyards
Carolyn Brown, Lead Gardener, Frey Vineyards

Native plants in the nursery
Plants in the nursery next to the BioFiltro water purification plant.

Nursery plants
California native plants in the Frey Vineyards nursery.

Close-up of nursery plants

Carolyn on the berm
Carolyn Brown on the berm.

Baby oak treeYoung native oak tree, one year after acorn!

Tamara Frey
 
April 20, 2021 | Tamara Frey

Pene Pasta with a Leek and Jalapeno Cream Sauce

Leek and Jalepeno Cream Sauce

This dish was inspired by a trip to Baja California where I had a wonderful plate of tequila jalapeno cream sauce with shrimp and scallops. I’ve created a vegetarian version using leeks instead of seafood and Frey wine in place of tequila.  It turned out very tasty!

Ingredients:

2 cups leeks, cleaned and sliced in 2 inch strips
2 cups sliced red pepper, remove seeds
2 portabella mushrooms, slice in strips.
1/2 cup sliced jalapeno. Cut in half, de seed, wash, and cut into strips.
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1 pound penne pasta. Cook, drain, keep warm and set aside.
1 1/3 cups cream
1 1/2 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese
1 cup Frey Chardonnay
3 tablespoons sweet butter
2 tablespoons lime juice from fresh lime
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large sauté pan with the butter on med high to high heat.  Add the leeks, red peppers, mushrooms and jalapenos.  Sauté a few minutes until almost done.  Deglaze with the wine and add the lime juice.  Cook down for a minute or so and add the cream.  Reduce until the cream sauce thickens.  Add half the grated cheese and half the cilantro.  Stir and add salt and pepper to taste.  Mix the sauce into the pasta and put in large serving bowl.  Garnish with the rest of the grated cheese and cilantro.  It you like it spicier, garnish with fresh chopped jalapeno.

Enjoy!

Simmering jalepeno cream sauce in the saucepan

Katrina Frey
 
April 20, 2021 | Katrina Frey

Azolla – Amazing Aquatic Plant

The team extracts azolla from the pond.
The vineyard team collect azolla from the pond.

Late last fall after the grape harvest, Derek Dahlen, Dave Moore and Johnny Arrington, members of our vineyard crew, spent a week harvesting azolla from one of our ranch ponds. Azolla began proliferating on this pond about five years ago.  At first we were quite concerned about the rapidly spreading carpet of reddish plants – until we learned that it was very beneficial.

Azolla is a tiny aquatic fern that floats on top of still bodies of waters and occurs throughout most of the temperate to tropical regions of the world. Our native California species, Azolla filculoides, has coevolved with a nitrogen-fixing cyanobactrium called Anabeana azollae for millions of years.  Together they merge into a superorganism that holds much promise for mitigating greenhouse gases caused by human activities because of its ability to sequester enormous amounts of atmospheric CO2.  Only legumes which are widely used as organic cover crops share this capacity.

Beyond being a wonderful nitrogen fixing biofertilizer, azolla is also a protein rich food for cattle, poultry, fish and pigs.  Already commonly used in China, Vietnam and the Philippines, this miraculous plant offers a great solution to many parts of the world such as regions of Africa suffering from soil depletion.  The beauty of azolla is that it can easily be grown right on the site where it is needed.

Here at Frey Vineyards we are experimenting with mixing it into our compost piles as a high nitrogen addition to our mounds of grape pomace.  I’ve also been using it as a mulch around my perennial flowers, shrubs and fruit trees.  It’s helping with water retention and I’m noticing beautiful vibrant new green growth.  I am next going to start harvesting azolla as a nutrient rich food for the ranch chickens.

For more information on this amazing plant check out theazollafoundation.org

Pond covered in azolla.

Time Posted: Apr 20, 2021 at 4:03 PM Permalink to Azolla – Amazing Aquatic Plant Permalink Comments for Azolla – Amazing Aquatic Plant Comments (1)
Eliza Frey
 
April 19, 2021 | Eliza Frey

More Than Just Grapes

Yoke Frey and Carolyn Brown trimming olive trees in the vineyard.
Yoki Frey and Carolyn Brown trimming olive trees in the vineyard.

Over the years we’ve shared lots of details on the ins and outs of growing grapes and the seasonal flow of work in the vineyards.  This drought year is moving things ahead in the vineyard in full force.  Pruning is wrapping up this week and cultivation and frost protection are ongoing.  But this time around I’d like to share about more than just grapes.

Long before Frey Vineyards was the busy enterprise that it is today, many dwellers of the Frey Ranch were deeply involved in gardens and farming of their own.  When my grandparents Paul and Beba bought the ranch in 1962 they were following an impulse to be more self-sufficient and have plenty of fresh air for their large and growing gang of kids. The home ranch used to be a sheep farm, as was much of Mendocino County.

The grapes sort of arrived by default.  In the late 1960s local agencies were searching for a site for a large reservoir and there was speculation that it might be built in the little valley here at the bottom of Tomki Road, at the headwaters of the Russian River.  That never came to pass but the grapes were planted to increase property value in the event that the land would be acquired by imminent domain.  The project did move forward a little southeast, and today Lake Mendocino (low as ever!) covers what used to be several homesteads in Coyote Valley.

Here on the ranch the first vines were planted in the early 70s.  At the same time there was a lot of work towards getting gardens and orchards going.  Paul, Beba and the kids raised hogs and chickens, peacocks and many fruit trees were planted. Starting in the 1970s the Frey siblings and their partners grew many amazing gardens.  My earliest memories revolve around the stone foundation of the greenhouse my dad built, just a stone’s throw from the winery; the garden was rich and fertile with mulberries, filberts, pears and apples.  My mom’s garden is still there, although only the foundation of the greenhouse remains.  I was given my very own garden bed to plant what I chose: peas, cockscomb amaranth, cucumber and daisies.  My mom Katrina and her best friend had a small perennial nursery, following in the footsteps of my great grandfather Johnny who ran a nursery in Vermont.

Jonathan Frei, my uncle, started some of the earliest plantings of crops besides grapes, establishing Peach Tree Lane, the first olive orchard, and has experimented with medicinal herbs, blueberries and a plethora of native and drought tolerant shrubs and trees.  My younger brother Johnny Frey Jr latter added even more olive trees along the vineyards.  My other Uncle Luke Frey and his family also have cultivated beautiful biodynamic gardens and fruit trees.

Over the years as the family has branched and grown, several beautiful gardens and orchards have arisen, and the ranch is a great place to share produce.  Now, with the wine business and vineyards humming along and relatively stable, the enterprise is working with a little diversity to break up the monotony and monoculture of grape growing.

The help of Carolyn Brown, deeply experienced garden teacher, beekeeper and plant lover has been wonderful.  Carolyn has installed an orchard in the riparian zone of a seasonal stream at the Road I ranch where figs, plums, peaches and nuts are thriving at 4 years old; olives line the fence and entry road.  She’s also designed and will install beautiful native and edible landscaping around the new winery.

And while we continue vineyard care and development, each new planting is accompanied by an area for other crops, native and habitat plantings.  Winemaker Paul has mastered the art of using baby vine irrigation for summer crops of winter squash, melons and veggies and we’re excited about the prospect of future plantings of cork oak, hazelnut, walnut and prune plum, hedge rows and sunflowers.

Grapes are wonderful after all, but humankind cannot survive on wine and raisins alone.  Happy Spring Everyone!

Jonathan Frei
Jonathan Frei

Time Posted: Apr 19, 2021 at 3:46 PM Permalink to More Than Just Grapes Permalink Comments for More Than Just Grapes Comments (2)
Molly Frey
 
April 16, 2021 | Molly Frey

The Art of Grazing

Goats on the hilltop

This Spring we've got baby goats, baby cows, baby lambs, baby chicks, baby bunnies, and a baby kitten in the mix at the Frey farm. Our neighbors have some adorable baby pigs too that I have visited several times. It makes sense that this time of year when fresh, wild greens are at their lushest, it’s also when new life is coming forth to eat and forage. Everybody is happy frolicking through the green pastures and meadows. Every Spring when the grapes bud with new growth, we take the animals out of the vineyards and bring them to their summer foraging spots. I also enjoy preparing my garden beds throughout the Spring and giving the excess weeds, grasses, prunings, volunteers, and other edible plants, to the animals. 

We keep the goats grazing along trails throughout the wilder parts of the property, to maintain road access. And every place where the animals are allowed to graze (and pee and poo) soil fertility increases. Instead of leaving animals in the same place all the time, we rotate them through different areas. This maximizes natural cycles of grazing while minimizing impact. Anytime you leave animals in the same spot all the time, that space becomes a kind of dead zone because of the hyperaccumulation of waste products and foot traffic, along with compacted soil.  Most industrial animals are unfortunately raised in such conditions. 

But there are many farms attempting to make holistic rotation methods the norm. Some use "holistic management" practices by grazing large herd animals, then follow up with a poultry flock that distributes and breaks down the poo from the herd when foraging for bugs, and finally to give the land a rest so the added nutrition can be integrated for a year. 

We're still experimenting with rotation patterns, and as northern California becomes dry from June onward, we're looking at ways to create as synergistic an experience for the land and animals as possible. The goat herd, which I tend to, will happily eat the wildest greens (blackberries and tree leaves are favorites) well into the Fall when acorns (perhaps their favorite foods) become available. After the grapes are harvested, the goats will return to the vineyards where they enjoy grape "seconds" as well as various leaves from the hedgerows we have planted.

Holding a freshly laid chicken egg
A freshly laid chicken egg!

Sheep and goats grazing in the vineyard
Goats and lambs in the vineyard.

A happy cow on the farm

Molly Frey
 
January 14, 2021 | Molly Frey

Triplets on the Farm

Baby goat looks out onto the world
Pinnacle of adorability

Recently our Oberhasli goat, named Peanut, had her first birth to triplets!  Two baby does and a buckling arrived on Tuesday to much jubilation from the farm crew.  While twins are most common for goats who have two nipples to nurse two babies, triplets are not unheard of.  In my many years of goat tending, I have had a few sets of triplets and a few singletons too.  

Throughout the birthing day we came to check on mama Peanut to make sure she was progressing well.  There's a ligament where the tail attaches that becomes like jelly when the mama is ready to give birth.  Her udder "bagged up" with colostrum in preparation to nourish her young offspring.  Additionally, Peanut began breathing more heavily than usual and sequestered herself off to one side of the pen; goats are typically very social animals and prefer each other's company to solitude.  Just after dark we started a small fire to help us stay warm throughout the evening.  In between checks on mama we made tea and enjoyed the night sky. Warm brews in hand, Peanut began to push around 8pm.  She made steady progress and the first baby Grogu arrived (so named for the Star Wars Mandalorian series character that is the same alien species as Yoda, replete with ears jutting out at adorable angles).  

Peanut had been very pregnant and very wide, so I was not the least bit surprised when baby Mitzvah arrived.  Her name means good deed, which she accomplished by being born a baby girl goat.  The babies’ father, Little Jimmy Dickens, had only thrown boy goats so far this season.  After some celebration and reveling in the miracle of birth, we started to move Peanut and her babies to a new pen where they could relax for the evening.  In transit, it became obvious that Peanut had not completed her initiation into motherhood, for a third baby arrived.  The girls were all but identical in their beige coats, and so we named the final baby Matzah, of Jewish flatbread fame – mostly because the girls could be referred to as Mitzy and Matzy and that playful name pairing well reflected their adorable personalities.  The birthing team made sure the babies were properly licked all over by their mother Peanut to stimulate their tiny bodies to awaken to this world, take to their feet, and attempt their first nursing.  Around 11pm we assisted some first feedings so that the babies could thrive through their first cold night in the world.  There were a few more late-night check-ups to make sure everybody was adjusting to life outside the womb.  A few weeks later now, everyone is enjoying mother's milk and prancing about. 

Peanut's mother Apricot had also spent a session with Little Jimmy Dickens in the summer, but didn't take that time.  So she is having a romantic interlude at our neighbor's place where she’ll hopefully come into heat and be able to enjoy motherhood by next Spring.  

This smaller and shorter herd of goats will be mowers on the fire protection team, strategically eating the undergrowth on the Frey ranch.  Meanwhile, our herd of larger goats born last Spring began their first browsing of grass between the vineyard rows.  For the past several weeks Aspen, Cally, and Chispa were munching acorns in the South vineyards and nibbling everything else they find on their daily walks around the ranch.

Mama goat and her newborns
Mama Peaches and her newborn triplits!

Bebay goat standing in its pen
Future member of fire protection team.

New baby goat on the farm!
Bleating for mama's milk.

Time Posted: Jan 14, 2021 at 12:32 PM Permalink to Triplets on the Farm Permalink Comments for Triplets on the Farm Comments (1)
Nathan Frey
 
November 2, 2020 | Nathan Frey

Birdhouses in the Vineyards

Bluebird chicks, newly hatched
Bluebird hatchlings at a Frey organic vineyard, Redwood Valley, California.

In the spring of 2020 we placed 33 birdhouses in our vineyards to help bluebirds and other species that are in need of good nesting sites.  A total of 102 chicks were raised and fully fledged!  The birdhouses were made mostly with recycled wood from the construction of our new winery.  The organic vineyards in the spring and early summer provide lots of open space for the breeding pairs to hunt for insects.  The reduced number of insects is also good for the grapevines.

The depletion of woodlands in the U.S. has made life difficult for many bird species, especially for birds that nest only in tree holes.  Native birds also have to compete with larger and more aggressive invasive species for prime nesting sites.  For example, the larger non-native European starling will kick out birds from a site to take it over for their own brood.  The entrance hole for the birdhouses we made are just wide enough for native species to squeeze through, but too tight for starlings.

We put up the birdhouses in trees next to the vineyards and on metal stakes at the end of vineyard rows.  Each birdhouse was inspected weekly.  It’s important to monitor the nests and to clean out the straw and detritus after chicks have fully fledged so another breeding pair can move in, even within the same breeding season.  We observed 4 birdhouses that were used twice.  The birds prefer the boxes to be totally empty, no leftover nesting material inside when scouting for a site.  Also, parents often abandon a nest before finishing it, and on occasion even a finished nest with eggs might be abandoned.  Each birdhouse had a number written on it and a spreadsheet app was used to help keep track of so many nests!

Ten of the 33 birdhouses we set up were not used at all by any birds.  Maybe these nests didn’t have enough sunlight in the morning, or they were too close to other nests.  Several online sources say it’s best to separate birdhouses by 300 or 400 feet, as members of the same species are territorial.  But it’s possible two different species will get along fine when nesting next to each other as each might exploit different ecological niches over the same plot of land.

For the remaining 23 birdhouses, 102 chicks fully fledged!  Four species took advantage of the boxes, mostly bluebirds and tree swallows.  In total there were 51 western bluebird chicks, 31 tree swallows, 11 titmice, and 9 ash-throated flycatchers.  We hope to add even more birdhouses for next spring!

Birdhouses are easy to make and maintain, and we encourage you to make your own to help out your local bird population.  A great resource can be found at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.
 

Freshly made birdhouses ready to set up
Birdhouses made from wood recycled from Frey Vineyards' new winery construction.

Tree swallo perched on its birdhouse
The birdhouses hung at the ends of vineyard rows were very popular with Bluebirds and Tree Swallows.  The wobbly but secure high metal stakes are good protection against racoons, snakes and other predators.

Freshly made nest in birdhouse by the vineyard
Each birdhouse has a door for easy monitoring.  Bluebird and Tree Swallows will not abandon the nest following a quick inspection.  They will divebomb the intruder instead!

Bluebird entering its birdhouse
A bluebird enters a birdhouse next to organic vineyards. 

Tree swallow pair on birdhouse
A pair of tree swallows surveys the vineyard.

A clutch of Bluebird eggs
Bluebird eggs!

Bluebird delivering insect snack his babies.
A bluebird dad delivers an insect to its ever-hungry brood.

Ash-throated flycatcher eggs
Beautiful ash-throated flycatcher eggs.

Young bluebirds ready to leave the nest
Bluebird younglings ready to fly the nest!

 

Ash-throated flycatcher delivering a snack to its chicks
Snack delivery by an ash-throated flycatcher.

Time Posted: Nov 2, 2020 at 8:55 AM Permalink to Birdhouses in the Vineyards Permalink Comments for Birdhouses in the Vineyards Comments (5)
 

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