Milo Mitchel

Science Education

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Preserving the Winter Harvest

I’ve been busy making holiday gifts using what I have growing as much as possible. One of my favorites is pickled beets. To make them you start by roasting the beets. You could just coat them in olive oil and roast them in a foil packet, but I like to add some orange juice, bay leaves, and fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme as well. Next you peel the beets in cold water and slice them thinly and place them in small jars with spices like fennel seeds, coriander seeds and peppercorns. Then boil apple cider vinegar mixed 1:1 with water and pour this over the beets. Seal the jars and place them in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, then put them on a dish towel and do not touch them for 24hrs. You can use this recipe to pickle lots of other stuff from the garden too, like baby carrots and chard stems.

Dried persimmons are not just delicious, they are beautiful.

Another great gift to make is dried Hachiya persimmons. These trees are abundant in Sonoma County and most people don’t know how to eat them. Unlike the squat and crisp Fuyu, the acorn shaped Hachiya are ripe when soft and mushy, and otherwise are very astringent. It turns out that when you dehydrate them, they lose their astringency. So you can slice the Hachiya when they are orange and hard, around a 1/4in thick, and then dry them in a dehydrator or in the oven. They are addictive!

I’ve also been making syrups with fresh herbs like Pineapple Sage and Lemon Verbena. You simply steep the herbs in a simple syrup of water and sugar 1:1, then water bath can them. Check out this blog friend Amy wrote about making these syrups:

Lastly, I’ve been making hot sauce with a variety of different chiles. For a basic spicy vinegar I de-stem and roughly chop the peppers, then simmer them in vinegar, salt and water for about 10 minutes. Let this cool on the stove then strain it into jars or bottles. I like to buy the Tapatio bottles for 89 cents each and use them.

For hot sauce, I puree the peppers first, then add them to the vinegar. I also add add Xanthan Gum as an emulsifier plus garlic and salt.  I use different types of vinegar depending on how spicy the peppers are and what sort of flavor I’m after. For milder peppers, I use apple cider vinegar. For Thai chiles, I use rice vinegar. If you are making large batches of spicy sauce you may want to blend rice vinegar with distilled grain vinegar to save money.

For more gift ideas such as Limoncello, Quince Paste, Sauerkraut and Strawberry Jam, check out this online show about making edible gifts from Make Magazine: Food Makers

Padron and cayenne peppers for hot sauce. I also use jalapenos and a small fiery chili called Apache. I use a mini Cuisinart to puree the peppers, before straining them into jars or bottles.

Cider, Syrup and other Apple Delights

Over the fast few weeks we’ve been harvesting, pressing and processessing Gravensteins, the sweet and tart apple that made Sebastopol famous. I’ve teamed up with local cider brewer Isaac Alexander to develop several styles of Gravenstein hard cider. Together we have started the Sebastopol Apple Project (SAP), which is dedicated to preserving hertitage apples and apple culture. I’ve also been making lots of apple syrup, delicious on pancakes, ice cream, or in cocktails and smoothies. Our favorite Gravenstein cocktail is the Gravito.

Isaac picking Gravensteins at Felton Acres. This tree had large, beautiful fruit despite no thinning. We realized it is just below where the chickens were processed for 2 years, so it got fertilizer and water every time the chicken processing area was sprayed down.

The easiest way to make syrup is to fill a crock pot with fresh cider, then leave it uncovered on high till it is 1/7th of its original volume. Use a clean ruler to measure the depth of the juice. The syrup can be used instead of cider in cocktails like the gravito. We water bath can this syrup in small jars for use year round.

I picked up a copy of “Cider” by Annie Proulx, which covers both the history and the making of sweet and hard cider. I highly recommend the book. It contains lots of good advice plus amazing facts like this: “John Adams, second president of the United States, drank a tankard of cider every morning before breakfast, and lived to the age of 91.” (Cider,

Zazu on the River

Zazu on the River is our new demonstration farm and lunch destination. A partnership between Davis Family Vineyards and Zazu Restaurant and Farm. There is Bocce Ball, picnic tables, and a large shaded deck surrounded by our raised vegetable beds. Over by the Wine Goddess you’ll find troughs with tricolor amaranth and purple sweet potatoes.

Pete pruning the tomatoes.

Look for these Armenian cucumbers on zazu’s salads and in gazpacho.

Progress on the School Lunch Front

Our Farm to Institution Committee hosted a Farm to School workshop at Santa Rosa City Schools last October. With over 70 food service staff and farmers in attendance the event was a huge success. I harvested kale and winter squash especially for some of the demonstration recipes, which were served for lunch. After a series of talks by leaders in the farm to school movement we had a productive farmer/buyer speed dating session, during which connections and deals were made with school food service. Next week we are hosting a second workshop, where we will hold a series of breakout groups on topics like food safety and distribution.

Our winter squash and new spicy kale being served to workshop participants. Notice that the winter squash is not peeled; when baked, the skin is soft enough to eat.

Over in West County, I’ve been working closely with Analy’s eco action class. The class came out last Fall to harvest corn and plant fava beans on our farm(Three Leaf Farms). The students made pizza for school lunch last winter with Three Leaf Farms produce. Just last week, the students came and harvested the fava beans they planted and we made fava bean hummus.

Since August I have been delivering between 60 and 200lbs of vegetables per week to Santa Rosa City Schools. These include kale, sweet peppers, radishes and squash. We now have written agreements to supply produce next school year.

Analy students making pizza with Three Leaf Farms peppers, squash and tomatoes. Zazu baker Casey (on the left) gave dough forming lessons.


Harvesting Potatoes

Analy’s Eco Action class came out to work on the farm today. I was amazed by how much 30 high school studens could get done in an hour. The potatoes we harvested will be served mashed in the cafeteria next week.

Analy students hoeing weeds at Three Leaf Farms.

Students dug about 5 boxes of potatoes and hoed about 1/8th of an acre of weeds.

Students harvesting potatoes

The Magic of Manure

From left: garbanzo beans, corn, sunflowers, black eyed peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash and potatoes at Rancho Pillow. I just top dressed the corn and beans with fresh Silva Star Farm chicken manure.

I’ve been experimenting with using fresh chicken manure on veggies, and the results have been remarkable. In the past I have only used composted manure, but I am now convinced that fresh manure is just as useful, if not more so. Providing enough nitrogen to veggies is difficult when farming organically. Fresh manure is full of available nitrogen, a nutrient which escapes quickly into the atmosphere when manure is exposed to light and air. This season I have limited my application of fresh manure to heavy feeding crops like corn, which is also a crop that has no direct contact with the soil (never spread fresh manure on salad greens).

For the past 5 months we have had 300 chickens moving around Rancho Pillow in a 30ft eggstream trailer. Unfortunately, our proximity to Atascadero creek meant that predator attacks were frequent, despite electric fencing. We believe a family of foxes was digging under the fences and massacring up to 12 chickens at a time. Sarah Silva estimates she lost 80 chickens to predators since last March. It’s safe to say those are some well fed foxes!

At Felton Acres, we have access to manure that is mixed with pine shavings in the 2 Brooder Rooms. Both were filled with about 2 and a half feet of manure, which we spread in the lower field around rows of corn and squash. Pine shavings and manure are both acidic, so I spread plenty of oyster shells to balance the PH. The corn an squash have been growing rapidly, and lots of tomatoes have volunteered from last year’s seeds.

Corn and winter squash growing at Felton Acres in the pasture where we spread manure from the Brooder Rooms.

Wildflowers: From Pomo Canyon to the Coast

A lush display of Hedge Nettle (Salvia family), Monkey Flower, Salmon Berry and ferns growing in a creek bed.

One of the most beautiful hikes in Sonoma County runs from Pomo Canyon Campground to the ocean just south of Goat Rock. About 6 miles, this hike makes a steep climb through a majestic redwood grove before meandering into open meadows and chapparal to the coast. Last weekend we were treated to a phenomenal wildflower show, and some exciting wildlife sightings as well. Among the flowers were the lush creekside plants like salvias and mints, lots of Clarkias, Self Heal and Blue Dicks. Red Elderberry shrubs and striking blue Clintonia berries populated the forest. Among the wildlife we saw was a huge flock of white pelicans circling over the river, a spotted toey, and an osprey. Last year I did this hike at night and observed several large owls hunting in the open meadows. There is a picnic table at the midpoint, on the plateau overlooking the Russian River, a fantastic spot for lunch.

Building a Bio Swale at Ragle Park

Jenny, Eliza, Greg and Sarah work on sheet mulching with cardboard around Juncus Patens (a native rush) and Carex Glauca (a meadow sedge).

We built a bio swale in Ragle Park today. This dry creek bed will filter runoff from the nearby gazebo, recharging the aquifer, and providing habitat for native plants and animals. The project was a collaboration between the Sonoma County Parks Department (spearheaded by Jenny and Eliza) and Three Leaf Farms (my sisters and I). We carved out a channel for the runoff, then planted native rushes and sedges. Next, we sheet mulched with cardboard to suppress weeds and retain moisture, and placed boulders to capture silt and debris. Lastly, we added a thick layer of wood chips. In the Fall, we will seed native wild rye grasses.

Hacking the Scraper

Robert welding soil diverters to the box scraper.

Over the past week Robert Kelly and I have been converting (hacking) an old box scraper into a raised bed former. We’ve been making modifications, and then doing field testing to see how our design ideas work and might be improved. The idea is to build a tool that will be specifically suited for our soil and farming techniques. Robert first removed the scraper’s blades and then cut a bed outline out of the remaining steel. Next, steel diverters were added to the side walls to direct soil towards the center of the bed. Robert welded pieces of steel to the scraper’s rippers, which now act like little plows, hilling soil inwards. This implement will save many hours of labor that we used to spend raking soil into beds. Soon we will add another tool bar to the back of the scraper to which we can add implements like tines to dig furrows, or wire weeders (spring-steel wires that weed around vegetable rows).

The bed former in action. It takes a couple of passes to get a nice smooth bed, this is the second pass.

Wild Spring Salad

Les Goodman (sous chef at John Ash) and I presented a miner’s lettuce, arugula, pickled beet and raw milk ricotta salad at USF’s Farmer-Chef luncheon. My sister Sarah and I picked 8.6lbs of miner’s lettuce the day before, mostly at Luther Burbank’s original experimental farm, along with a pound of arugula I grew at zazu farm. We talked farming and food with incredible chefs and farmers like Mark Dommen of One Market and Andy Griffin from Mariquita Farm. Les took the leftover salad back to John Ash and added it to the menu, where it promptly sold out. It’s easy to make fun of a plant that is so ubiquitous that many consider it a weed, but you can’t find it in stores, it is chocked full of omega 3’s, and it’s delicious.

We served 240 attendees of the USF hospitality management symposium. Lots of people had never heard of miners lettuce, or Claytonia, as it is know on the East Coast where it is grown as a greenhouse crop. It is one of the hardiest winter greens and it is also chocked full of Omega-3 fatty acids.

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