Thursday, December 27, 2012

dawn to dark

today started early with mike up and out of the house before the sun broke...but that is his story and i will allow him to tell of it. 
my chores were of the domestic type:
-admiring the creaminess and sweetness of the homemade yogurt i had put up last night
-brewing a strong pot of coffee and fixing cups for both myself and mike
-kvetching about the brand new couch and how it wasn't at all like i imagined
-contemplating why they don't sell coffee cake strudel yogurt at trader joes (it is darn tasty, let me tell you)
-more kvetching
-dish washing
-refrigerator cleaning
-net surfing
-polling my friends and complete strangers about my couch issue
-et cetera, et cetera, et cetera

and then it was already 9
so i could start making phone calls about the couch
only joking
sort of
i did call the furniture store and tell them i was coming in with the cushions
and back up
mr. larsen
who, unbeknownst to him (mr. larsen), was just as terribly unhappy as i

check that off my list
then i went to work trying to find barley seed
mike has a plan, and it is his plan, so i will let him tell you that story too
i was just looking for the stuff, because i like to chat on the phone and ask important questions like

"where exactly does this seed come from?"
"is it organic"
"will monsanto own me after i plant an acre or two?"
it isn't obvious i am a bit of a farm rube at all--wink, wink, nod, nod
it is a wonder they would sell it to me at all
again, i brought back up

last thing before heading out
made a list

when you live 30 minutes from a major...and when i say major, i really mean minor, but bigger than nothing, which is what our town make a list.  otherwise, you are just makin' due
list done
mike came in from his morning chores a little worn and slightly muddy, whilst i was just as fresh as a daisy with a bit of rouge. off we went to town with purpose.
after shopping for essentials like seed, socks, gas cans and an onion, we stopped at a nice little restaurant for a quick lunch. while enjoying our kobe beef burgers we perused the local ag source catalog, discussed the grading of olive oil, and naturally, what i was making for dinner.
which is really the purpose of this post
and i am getting to it
i promise

by the time we made it back home, daylight was on the down-swing and  mike figured he had about 3 hours left to do 6 hours of work.
me too
because one of the things i had to do
was chat up our caretaker

just last week--yes right before christmas---i had written her to tell her we wouldn't be needing her services any longer.  it is all good.  she is a good person whom has done a fine job, but we have plans...and it just wasn't the right fit.
we had picked up a gift certificate to a local restaurant as a year-end thank you for her work, and i wanted to hand deliver it to her. 

but first
i had to get dinner started

several weeks ago, the last time we were at the ranch, i realized, upon pulling into our tiny little town, that i didn't have a pot to cook in. i had a car full of things like langostino, linguine, crusty bread, ripe tomatoes, wine. my menu was planned, grilled cheese and creamy tomato soup for night 1 and pasta with langostino, white wine, butter for night 2.  all very good and well, but no pot.
i stopped at the local thrift shop and found the only pot in the place...a wok... joyce chen standard issue.  it would have to do...and it did
but this time i thought ahead
i had packed a few things from our fridge at home
and grabbed one of my le cruset dutch ovens along with them

i love a wok for stir fry, but not so much for a slow braise on a cold december eve--which is why i needed that onion
so before setting off to visit with our caretaker, i put a bit of olive oil (just a little) in the dutch oven, with a rasher of thick cut bacon sliced into batons, 2 cloves of garlic, i crushed but kept whole, and a roughly chopped medium-ish onion.  i let it go until the onions just started to brown a bit, then i added about a cup of white wine, a pinot grigio, i think.  
it was meant to just stop the browning, but it smelled so good, i just kept ended up being a cup or a bit more...maybe a cup and a half.
i dropped in a bunch of kale, that i had washed--not dried, but chopped and removed the stem from the end.  a small..14 oz or so can of diced tomatoes with the juice, a 14oz (or thereabouts) can of great northern beans (drained and rinsed), and about a cup and a half of chicken stock.  
i turned the whole thing down to as low as the gas burner would go
popped the top on it
put on the muck boots
grabbed the walking stick
whistled the dog
and began the hearty walk from our upper ranch homestead, to the lower ranch domicile of the caretaker

we stopped only once to assess the evidence of furious foraging, left by wild hogs in search of acorns.  it is astounding--  they arrive just after dark and stay the night--eating their fill of the fallen acorns.  which as the adage proclaims, really don't fall far from the tree. in an otherwise green field, what from  distance looks to be shadow, is tusselled earth, effort-fully tilled.  with all those acorn in their bellies, i imagine those swine are a tasty eat. 
what in the city would be a quick, i know you are busy, just want to hand you this, 5 minute stop and drop...took an hour...maybe a bit more, perhaps a smidge less.  we talked about her plans, our plans, the lay of the land, water lines, sewage valves, well pumps, storage tanks--you know, the usual.  
as the weather was beginning to turn, and dark looming, i made my excuses and began the uphill walk back to our place.  as part of our conversation, it was revealed that the path i would be walking, with scout at my side, was a sometime favorite for coyotes.  with the sun setting, i was a bit nervous, as the dog by my side is yet a puppy, and easy bait for a hungry coyote.  so, as we began to walk the sheltered bit of the uphill path, i scooped her up and readied the walking stick on my strong side. just in case.  little scout either sensed my fear, or feared my heavy breathing, as she went from a squirm to a calm that made her easy to carry.
i just love that little dog

back home and dinner was smelling great.  we were just in time, as the greens were soft, and most of the liquid had evaporated. ready for the next step.  
i turned the burner off and lifted the top off the pot. i had a pork tenderloin in the fridge and i pulled it out when we got back from our visit. i dried it with paper towels, then nestled it right in the pot. covered again, and popped into a 350 oven. after about 35 minutes, i turned the pork, and buried it in the kale, beans and sauce and popped it back in for about an additional 30.
by now it was dark
dark, dark
without light pollution to haze the sky
it seems black
and even the most industrious husband
can't do planting chores in that light

which is how it came to be
that mike came in for dinner
with a full ranch man's day under his belt
after dark
for a hot and hearty supper


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Survey says...

The first step in our construction phase for the ranch is to get everything surveyed so we can set up a master plan. It is required for accurate layout and for obtaining permits from the county. We had the surveyors out a couple of weeks ago and they recently provided us with the digital files. The problem with it is that all you see is a bunch of elevation lines on the original file and those old 1952 USGS topo maps on the overlay. I need something I can print out and draw on. I've been doing computer graphics for 15 years, I can't work with that!
As everyone knows, Google Maps has decent aerials available for viewing. Unfortunately, you can only really zoom in as big as your computer screen so you are either left trying to paste several screenshots together or settling for a low resolution print. A little research led me to the USGS website, the same place those 1952 topos come from. You may not know this but if you know where to look they offer a better option.

USGS offers high resolution aerial orthoimagery for FREE download that is at least twice the resolution that I was able to get from Google Maps. It is a little tricky to navigate but once you find your location you can download 250mb squares of image data. Our ranch split 4 squares so a gigabite download later I pieced the squares together in photoshop and dropped the digital survey on top. Now I have something I can work with!

Soon we will start planning out the sheds and barns and hog pens and chicken coops and everything else. A pretty exciting time that we have been anticipating for months!
Below is a small version off the map I made from the USGS aerials with the survey laid over the top. Click it to see a larger version.

Monday, December 10, 2012

360 Panorama

Christy and I got new superphones last week. One of the cool features of the camera is the panorama shot. You just stand in one place, click the button and it takes a picture. Then it tells you to rotate left or right and it takes another picture. After you do this about 6 times, the superphone tiles up all of the photos and turns them into one big long panorama. pretty neat!
The above shot is two of these panoramas which i manually tiled together in photoshop to achieve a 360 degree view of the upper ranch from the middle of the circle driveway. I think this kind of technology will really come in handy in showing our progress with the ranch.
Here is a link to the full sized image.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Critter Me This...

A farmer has 18 sheep ... all but 7 die ... how many has he left?Seven. All but seven died. Actually, the farmer still has 18 sheep. Some just smell better than others.
Ok, dumb riddle but it's true. Sheep aren't cheap and Christy will want the best for her cheesemaking. She's still doing the research but ewes in the top milking breeds can cost $200-$1500 each and if 11 are dead that is a quite a hit to the pocketbook. Sheep make tasty cheese, provide luxurious wool and are also delicious... particularly delicious to coyotes and mountain lions. And there are lots of coyotes and lions out at the ranch. My trusty 22-250 hand-loaded with (condor-safe) Barnes Varmint Grenade bullets travelling at over 4000 fps are bad medicine against the coyotes but I can't do anything about the highly protected lions and my gun is useless after dark when most of the problems will occur.
We need something to stay with the flock and protect it at all times, day or night, rain or shine. That something is a beast known as a Livestock Guardian Dog, or LGD. Ideally, our picture perfect setting would dictate that we have the "much cartoon heralded" (and Christy's favorite) Old English Sheepdog out there dropping anvils on Wile E. every time he jumps the fence with his knife and fork. I did research them but it turns out they are more herders than protectors and we already have Scout for that. They are also not as suited to the long hot summers with those long coats. Nope, we need a real LGD... and the Cadillac of LDGs is the Anatolian Shepherd.
Anatolian Shepherds are from the country of Anatolia, now known as Turkey. They have been bred for thousands of years to protect the flocks of the Anatolian Plateau, where summers are hot and winters are cold. They have a short length double coat that helps to regulate their core temp which is perfect for central California. They are also BIG and FAST. Males can be 150lbs+ and stand nearly 3 feet at the shoulder. They have long legs with athletic bodies and an instinct to protect. From my research, I'd say they are about the best there is at protecting a flock of sheep or herd of goats. They are fearless and attentive but have a low prey instinct so are much happier standing watch than running around chasing squirrels or rabbits. They don't herd either and generally just consider themselves part of the flock... Kind of like a male lion, they don't do much of anything until it is time to kick butt.
As you can see in the picture, they dwarf a German Shepherd and while maybe not quite as easily trainable, they will garner the same respect from any two-legged riff raff that might wander through the neighborhood. We don't anticipate needing a guard dog but having this big fella on the lookout for trouble is a nice bonus.
Another plus about Anatolians is that they are relatively long-lived for big dogs. While Great Danes and Mastiffs may be expected to stick around an average of 7 short years, Anatolian Shepherds can live 13-15.
There are also not very many breeders in the United States and the ones I have found are very picky about their stock, in an effort to keep problems like hip dysplasia out of the breed.
Prices run about $1000 for a guaranteed healthy non-breeding animal, a significant investment to be sure but it still could pay for itself in a single birthing season.
What about Scout chasing around trying to herd the sheep he is protecting you ask? I thought the same thing. I sure didn't want her getting the smackdown just for doing her job. It turns out these dogs have been bred to work around herding dogs and as long as they grow up together they should be fine. That's why I think it is important to start with a puppy. It takes an LGD about a year to grow into its job so that is something to consider in the initial Master Plan. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mapping it out

We have been a little quiet on the blog these last few weeks but things have been rolling along behind the scenes. We just hired a surveyor to map out the entire property so that we can start laying out the "Master Plan" and have been talking with our friend Turko Semmes of Semmes & Co. Builders. We met Turko while we were looking at properties when he showed up to ride along with our realtor as sort of an expert witness on what to stay away from with regard to rural properties. In the end, we dumped the realtor and kept Turko and are happy he is helping us. His company specializes in designing custom "green" structures leaning on layout and passive solar systems to aid in efficiency. As many of you know, our ideal is to have this project of ours be entirely self-sufficient.
The Master Plan is to rough out exactly what we want to do with the ranch in such a way that won't have to redo anything later. The first part of that is the survey and the roads. With our best quote and a solid recommendation from Turko, we hired Dakos Land Surveys to map out the property lines and provide a detailed topo map of the entire ranch. With this information we will be able to plan out the best options for layout and access. The survey will show all of the details of the topography including the location and species of every tree on a series of 3' square maps so I am pretty excited to see the results.
Once we have the survey, we can begin to plan out the buildings we need and their locations on the farm. Turko advised that if we can get it all figured out ahead of time we can just pull one permit for the driveway and lay all of the pavement at once instead of having to get the county involved every time we take another step. Smart! Cal Fire will also have to be involved in the road system as they have very specific requirements and we are in a high fire risk area. Plus, I can't get the Harley up the steep dirt driveway so it needs to be addressed asap!
Since we plan to build a dairy early on we will also be sending our ideas to the county dairy inspector. They are rather particular about how things need to be done so it is important to try to work with them instead of against them.
While Christy is bending Turko's ear about how to get a commercial stove into the 1100sf ranch house I have been working on the important stuff... researching critters. I have a couple picked out and will tell you about them soon!