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I could pick it out on the aerial photo, a little brown square next to the freeway by the Fishtrap exit. It looked small compared to the miles and miles of wheat fields and scab lands around Sprague, Washington. But when I got there, it seemed anything but small. I was researching and sometimes just plain searching for compost. Barr-Tech is the closest and certainly the biggest composting facility in northeast Washington. It processes 350 tons of compost each day. As part of a contract with the City of Spokane, green landscaping material, mostly branches and leaves, some wood in need of recycling, biosolids, food and paper waste arrives at the facility in enclosed semi truck trailers that are weighed and dumped one after the other. Windrows of steaming compost towered above huge loaders and other equipment stretching out of sight. The spacious modern office is solar powered. I met with manager Scott Deatherage and salesman Mike Brown there to learn how it worked.
Have you looked at bags of compost and potting soil
lately? Gourmet ingredients have
arrived, steer manure, sphagnum peat moss, mushroom compost, mycorrhizal fungi,
perlite, kelp meal, biochar… You
won’t find those at Barr-Tech. They have
two varieties, BT+ which includes the “green” yard waste mixed with
biosolids, food and paper waste and BT Green, which is just green yard
waste. BT Green can be used on certified
organic farms. BT+ cannot. On the plus side, buying bagged compost at an
average of $10 for 50 lbs. would cost $400/ton.
Buying compost at Barr-Tech costs $35- $45/cubic yard. I’m okay with adding my own ingredients, what
I came to find out was what is the basic process.
That can be as simple as stacking a bunch of yard waste and
waiting a year or so, or as complicated as layering leaves, branches, soil,
grass clippings etc. and adding yarrow blossoms, stinging nettle, valerian
flowers and oak back in specific places as prescribed by Rudolf Steiner, father
of Biodynamic Farming. In its favor,
Biodynamic researcher, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer pioneered composting municipal waste
in Oakland, California in 1950. It
worked incredibly well with bacteria multiplying 300 million times within 2 or
3 days but as documented in [Ital] Secrets of the Soil [end Ital] by Tompkins
and Bird, chemical companies opposed its use as fertilizer and the process was
stopped until closer to this century.
Barr-Tech is still at odds with chemical companies. I’ll deal with the market end later but on the receiving end just finding organic material not contaminated by chemicals is a big issue. Any crop, lawn or other waste source that has been treated with a chemical ending in “cide” will kill bacteria. Even chemicals marketed as fertilizer, especially ammonia, will destroy microbes. Composting depends on microbes although the plant does not need to add any. Just truck in a fresh load of tree limbs and they are ready to rip, Pretty much literally.
The heart of the operation in the grinder. Everything that comes into the yard is stripped of any actual garbage such as plastic bottles and bags and run through the grinder. From there it is either mixed with other material to create BT+ or used as is to make BT Green. During grinding it is hydrated to 65% humidity and then moved to windrows aligned along the aerating system which is more like the backbone and lungs of the operation. As an aerobic composting system a balance of air, water and temperature needs to be maintained. The piles naturally heat up as bacteria go to work. The amount of nitrogen-rich material needs to be below 3% of the carbon mass to limit the temperature rise. Piles need to rise above 132° to kill seeds and some harmful organisms. But they need to stay below 160° or the bacteria themselves will die. By covering the piles with already composted material the crew insulates them from the winter cold. The aerating fans actually suck air into the piles for cooling with tubes placed beneath them. The steamy air is exhausted through a filter of large wood chips to absorb smells. I will testify that the plant smells good to a farmer and there are no neighbors to complain. t
That was probably not the case in early operations at other
sites. Now the industry is highly
regulated with Washington State statutes similar to those governing
biosolids. All the material is tested
regularly for heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Records are submitted to the State Dept. of
Ecology and the local health department annually and to the US Composting
Council (USCC) Seal of Testing Assurance program monthly.
New windrows of compost are left alone for a week and then
remixed and moved to a new row. After
another week that windrow is taken off the aerator and left to finish. It takes
42 days from start to finished compost.
The large undigested chips are separated from the pile with a rotating
filter and the fine particle compost is stockpiled until sold.
It might seem that a facility that can produce 100,000 tons
of compost would be an overwhelming supply, but the numbers don’t say
that. The recommended coverage is 10
tons per acre for a couple of years on cropland. Many farms in the Columbia Basin and Palouse
are 1,000 acres. So 10 farms using
10,000 tons each could use all the compost produced. Only 60% of it is used for agriculture. The other 40% is used for landscaping, often
for highway construction.
To understand the pros and cons of compost on a big farm I
talked to Lamar Hege. His family uses
Barr-Tech compost on their 800 acres of alfalfa and grass hay near Deer
Park. He pointed out that one truckload
of chemical fertilizer contains as much nitrogen as 30 semi loads of
compost. But he prefers the
compost. He read an article in [Ital]
Progressive Forage Grower Magazine [end Ital] showing that compost enriches
soil long after synthetic fertilizer and even manure have lost their
impact. So he bought equipment
specifically for spreading compost and tills in 5 tons per acre before seeding. Obviously transportation is a big drawback
but not insurmountable. Typical
customers are within 50 miles of Sprague.
So what I learned from my foray into big compost is that it
is not a panacea but it is an option and a starting point. The bacteria are there and a lot of nutrients
for “higher” organisms such as protozoa, fungi, nematodes, mites and worms to
develop. You can add gourmet ingredients
such as manure, grass clippings and biochar to speed up creation of a complete
fertile biome. You can also build your
own piles. Grinding, moisture,
temperature and turning speed up the process.
If you want fungi, using compostable material as mulch will help them
develop in place. Moving compost slows
the growth of fungi that are crucial to root growth.
What stuck with me is the realization that despite all the
organic material I passed through in a hundred miles of farmland driving to
Sprague, the most abundant source of organic matter untainted by chemicals was
the city of Spokane.
days lately I look out my window and don’t think twice, it’s all white. But
actually if you can get out in this snow comfortably, it is a great time to
make biochar. And biochar is black!
Besides that, it is good for your soil.
So good in fact that all of our local northeast Washington state
politicians have signed on to a memorandum listing the virtues of biochar. HOUSE
JOINT MEMORIAL 4000 State of Washington 66th Legislature 2019 Regular Session
states: “WHEREAS, People working for the United States Forest Service, the
Washington State University, the University of Washington, and the Washington
State Department of Ecology have been researching the use of biochar and found
that several potential markets exist for the product, including as agricultural
soil amendments, reforestation treatments, pollution remediation, animal feed,
and landscaping material;…decrease fuel loads… increase soil carbon, soil
nutrient content, and plant productivity;”
It goes on and on but you get the idea.
biochar is cool mostly because there is money to be made selling it. But there is also money to be saved by making
it. (It costs $60/yard from Pacific
Biochar with a 40 yard minimum –
and that’s the wholesale price. I already have a lot of dead Ponderosa Pine
that leaves a lot of ash and clogs up the chimney when you burn it in a wood
stove. So we mostly burn Fir and Larch
for heat. I used to burn a big 10′
diameter pile of “agricultural waste” every year. It was spectacular, but not productive. So now I burn small batches of pine to make
biochar and after a lot of trial and error, feel like I have a good system.
You can make fancy biochar reactors. I’ve tried my hand at that. A good one is shown in the Fall 2015 issue of The Natural Farmer in the article about David Yarrow’s biochar reactor. To understand the reactor you need to understand the two stages of burning that go on in a typical fire. When you first ignite a fire the burning material, (let’s say wood for the sake of simplicity) is heated up and volatile gases vaporize, combine with oxygen and create bright flames. To the extent that they don’t combust completely, they create smoke. When those volatile gases are exhausted, pure charcoal is left. It will combust and leave only ashes if it stays hot and is exposed to oxygen. To get charcoal – essentially the same as biochar – we need to prevent that. This second stage of combustion is preferable for barbeque – even heat and no smoke – hence charcoal briquettes. The objective of a biochar reactor is to use the flame from the volatile gases to drive all the volatile resins out of the wood while creating very little smoke and then allow the oxygen to be cut off from the charcoal before it turns to ash so you can harvest the biochar.
There are two big problems with that method for me. One: even simple reactors are complicated and expensive to build and a little tricky to use. Second: once your biochar is cooled, you need to unload the reactor and start all over again. What I am going to describe is how to make “Backyard Biochar” with virtually no expense and a semi-continuous process that produces one load after another. I owe a lot in this endeavor to Gloria Flora and a simple dish that she developed as shown on her blog: http://terraflora.us/blog/. It is a cone about 3 feet across made of sheet metal. It has a flat bottom and is held together with pop rivets. The first advantage is that in a cone, the embers concentrate at the bottom even though the pieces of wood are stacked up like a classic bonfire. The second advantage is that the cone is light and has chain handles so once the embers are quenched, they can be emptied out into another container. That being said, you can do essentially the same thing with a little fireplace made out of concrete blocks and a flat-nosed shovel.
. It is a cone about 3 feet across made of sheet metal. It has a flat bottom and is held together with pop rivets. The first advantage is that in a cone, the embers concentrate at the bottom even though the pieces of wood are stacked up like a classic bonfire. The second advantage is that the cone is light and has chain handles so once the embers are quenched, they can be emptied out into another container. That being said, you can do essentially the same thing with a little fireplace made out of concrete blocks and a flat-nosed shovel.
standard cycle you get a big bonfire going of wood that is fairly uniform and
not over 3 inches thick. Any bigger and
the piece will not burn through. Much
smaller and there will be hardly any charcoal left when it stops flaming. You want the whole fire to get burning at
once. It takes a half hour to 45 minutes
usually to burn down to charcoal. You
can tell because resins flame yellow, but charcoal just glows red or has tiny
blue flames. When most of the wood has
turned to charcoal and just a few pieces are still burning with yellow flames,
you make your move. I use a pair of log
tongs from a fireplace tool set to move the burning pieces off of the charcoal
into a little stack, usually on top of a piece of bark. They keep burning. Meanwhile, especially with snow around, you
can shovel some snow on the charcoal embers.
It will melt and you can mix it in. (Later in the Spring a hose will
work as well.) I do that a couple times until there is some moisture left on
the bottom of the cone. Even though it
may still steam, the charcoal is ready.
I dump it into an apple bin and reload.
To reload I put the still-burning pieces in the bottom of
the cone. Then I add some small kindling
pieces. I fan it with an old yard sign
until the kindling catches fire. Then I
pile up another round of 3 inch wood and soon there is another roaring
bonfire. The whole cycle takes a little
over an hour. You can cycle 5 or 6 times
a day and still have some time for other chores in between quench, dump and
reload steps. After it is cooled and
dried out a bit, I run it through a shredder.
(If it is too wet, it will gum up the shredder).
For most uses people till about 10% to 15% biochar into the
soil. Although some benefits have been
show for direct use as a “soil amendment”, I think that is a mistake
in both thinking and practice. Soil is a
whole biome of living organisms. It
includes fungi, bacteria, worms, insects and year-round cover crops. Every part of it has a role that benefits the
rest. Plant roots feed sugar to those
organisms. When you till, you break up
the hyphae, the branching filaments that make up the mycelium of a fungus. Those
filaments bring water and minerals to the roots of the plants. Once broken, they take time to reform and the
soil is less alive. You also break the
roots of the cover crop that feeds sugar to microbs.
Too often we isolate some ingredient, (nitrogen, carbon, sulfur, potassium…) and think that adding more of that part will help the whole. An article in The The Natural Farmer , “Biochar a Critical View through the Ecosystemic Lens”, cautions: “In sum, the biochar fad seems to be one more of the increasing number of wishful attempts to prolong the inevitable decline of the industrial way of life. Biochar is promoted as one more technological silver bullet. Seen through the ecosystemic lens, silver bullets don’t exist. Seen through the ecosystemic lens, we do not have a shortage of anything, we have a longage of expectations.”
The best thing for new organic growth is old organic growth, dead or alive. I mix the biochar with leaf compost, shredded branches, potash and grass mulch then spread it on top of the ground. Existing fungi and microbes move into the mix and integrate it into the soil. Biochar reverses carbon pollution because it is inert and sequesters carbon. But it also entrains carbon by promoting more carbon-based life in the rest of the soil. Alan Savory in his book Holistic Management warns about the dangers of growing a crop that will be removed from its own soil, burned and changed so that it will not be recycled back into living organisms. So go ahead and make biochar in your backyard. But proceed with caution.
It is over 40º right now for the first time in over a month. December and January were like Winter Lite. Local folks were scoffing at the weather back then. I’ll try to avoid that in the future, especially if it gets very hot and dry again. February came back with a vengeance. We have not had this much snow in February since 1893 and it shows no sign yet of leaving in March. Thus one long month, Farch. Temperatures were down near 0º for us and substantially below that for most of the surrounding area. Luckily we have a good supply of wood or we would be heating with cabin fever.
During the earlier part of the winter the local birds were not very interested in our sunflower seed feeder or the suet baskets we put in the trees next to the house. But in February it was a feeding frenzy all day. (Click on the picture of the bird feeder for a video of the suet baskets.) The main crowd were Juncos. A surprising addition were Thrushes. Almost missing entirely were Chickadees. But Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers are regulars as well as an occasional Nuthatch or Flicker. We hear Eagles every morning. They have a nest across the highway from us. Once in awhile one will perch in the neighbor’s cottonwoods. Turkeys sometimes swarm the area beneath the bird feeder.
Before they started on the suet, the Thrushes ate every berry on the Rowan (Mountain Ash) tree. That tree was also popular with the local deer, who cleaned up anything left on the ground. Rocky, the Pine Squirrel had a stash of pine cones in the open ends of the wall of the shed next to the Rowan. Now there is a midden of cone petals underneath a perch by that wall. I think he (or she) may have found a way into the storage shed but so far has eluded capture in live traps.
Meanwhile our cat Gray-C is limiting outdoor time to a half an hour at a shot, taking more naps, staring out the window and playing more enthusiastically at catch-the-string. We try to keep a jacket on our dog, Gretchen when she is outside. But she does not seem to mind rolling in the snow on top of her ball with or without the jacket.
Almost as surprising were the Maple Seed Spinners that have been clinging to the trees all winter. One windy day they broke loose and covered the snow. I had wondered how their shape helped them, but the sight of their dispersal answered any questions. In the past week a new outbreak of pine cones, pine nuts and lichen have fallen around the pine trees prompted by the “Arctic Outbreak” temperatures and wind. I noticed the deer wandering through and eating all the lichen off the top of the snow. They are also eating the prickly leaves of Oregon Grape. (The leaves seem to grow right back in the Spring but there are fewer flowers and berries.)
As for us, there are plenty of indoor things to do and every morning a couple hours of chores outside such as feeding the birds, bringing in the wood, exercising the dog and picking up the mail. Last year at this time we were off on a trip to Hawaii. Right now we will settle for some bare ground and sunshine. Of course that might end up meaning “Mud Season”. And this might be another one of those “be careful what you wish for” moments. But right now If it ain’t white it’s alright with me.
After touring the Colville Wastewater Treatment Plant I met some old friends while shopping. They asked how it was going and when I told them I had just toured the sewage plant, they gave me that “Oh, oh, Joe’s gone off the deep end” look and quickly slipped away. Generally we are not comfortable talking about poop. But I have become interested in the billions of microbes in a teaspoon of fertile soil and many of those same microbes in our guts. I was thinking that there should be some boost to soil fertility from properly processed poop. So I asked Waste Treatment Plant Operator, Scott Thomas, for a tour, which he made time for on the spur of the moment.
The plant can treat almost 5 million gallons of wastewater a day and has a bypass system if it goes beyond that. There is a chart of 36 common activated sludge microorganisms that staff in the plant track as a succession of organisms digest each other into “higher” forms with “water bears” being one of the last stages – and one of my favorites. Tardigrades, AKA water bears, can enter a state of cryptobiosis, a dried up little spot to my way of thinking, that can survive in outer space. Actually they prefer ferns and lichens but there are plenty of them at the far end of the sewage plant.
The plant itself is like a giant digestive system. Everything coming in is ground down by the “muffin monster” in the headwaters building. It’s a little like chewing your food, but in this case feminine hygiene products and other junk need to be prevented from clogging the system. The bigger chunks are filtered out in the preliminary treatment plant along with heavy grit and packaged in long plastic tubes that are sent to the dump, AKA sanitary landfill. From there the real action begins in the Selector Tanks. Anaerobic (airless) digestion is started by recycling organisms into these tanks that proliferate in the raw sewage over an average holding time of 12-24 hours. From there the wastewater is fed into the Biologic Digester which is like an artificial river with aerators that introduce air into the water and propagate the next level of microbiotics. This two-stage digestion eliminates a lot of troublesome microbes that would survive anaerobic digestion.
With microbes in the final stages of development at the plant, the water is clarified and irradiated with powerful ultraviolet lights that make the microbes incapable of reproducing and then aerated to make sure it has enough dissolved oxygen before it is sent to the Colville river. Every 5 years the water is tested for just under 200 pollutants. The sludge is sent to a holding lagoon where is kept for years. The current cycle is from 2006 to 2022. Eventually the dried sludge needs to be tested by the Department of Ecology before it can be spread as fertilizer on fields. At that point it will be classified as either Class A or Class B bio-solid.
These plants need to keep their microorganisms alive and to eliminate metals: arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, selenium, and zinc. Colville does not test for other metals or any of the 352 pollutants categorized as hazardous in federal programs other than the EPA’s bio-solid’s program . Simply put, that is not their job. These are good people doing an honest day’s work but the system conforms to laws that are not keeping up with modern society. No two wastewater treatment plants are alike or deal with the same input.
To get the lowdown on the opposition to the application of sewage sludge on agricultural land I talked with Chrys Ostrander who along with other residents of Mill Canyon, just north of Davenport, Washington, successfully stopped application of sewage sludge in fields above the canyon which is also home to Tolstoy Farm, an organic grower. Their battle was with Fire Mountain Farms of Onalaska, WA, a company with a checkered reputation that offers to apply sewage sludge on farms at no cost to the farmer (the company is paid by sewage treatment plants to take the sludge away). Despite the folksy name, Fire Mountain is rich, powerful and has very good lawyers. Several years ago neighbors of Fire Mountain’s sludge processing facility experienced an epidemic of miscarriages in their livestock. Fire Mountain was found to be illegally mixing industrial waste with sewage sludge and was shut down for a time by the Department of Ecology. A new battle is coming in Yelm with Fire Mountain waste products, mostly class B sludge, near the Nisqually River. (See http://preservethecommons.org/biosolids-near-yelm.html) Chrys considers sewage sludge to be like nuclear waste. There is no safe amount for farmland or the ecosystem.
In the opposite corner is Chris Eckhart whose family farms 1500 acres near Deer Park. They have had biosolids applied to their property. Recently they have used sludge from the City of Spokane that scans for 250 chemicals. Chris visited their plant and is glad that now his organic matter in the soil is now up to 3%, a worthwhile number. They also tried solids from the Deer Park wastewater plant. That did not turn out so well and was the last from that source.
Part of the problems with sludge are POPs and I don’t mean soda pops – though I don’t think much of those either. POPs are “persistent organic pollutants”. Basically these are things that bioconcentrate in living organisms. One of the best key tests is on phylum Annelida, earthworms. Sewage sludge can be bad for earthworms. An article about land treated with sewage sludge in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, issue 42, states “The anthropogenic (involving the impact of humans on nature) waste indicators, AWIs, detected in earthworm tissue from the three field sites included pharmaceuticals, synthetic fragrances, detergent metabolites, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), biogenic sterols, disinfectants, and pesticides, reflecting a wide range of physicochemical properties.”
So let’s break that down a little. Pharmaceuticals can include Warfarin, a blood thinner, Testosterone, a hormone, opiates, steroids and antibacterials. These in turn have caused antibiotic-resistant bacteria to develop in sludge-treated ground, half of which are resistant to more than one antibacterial drug. Detergent metabolites include Triclosan and Triclocarbon found in those antibacterial sprays and wipes that have become so widely advertised. They keep on killing long after leaving your kitchen. PAHs, chemicals from petroleum and coal, have been linked to skin, lung, bladder, liver, and stomach cancers in well-established animal model studies. Biogenic sterols are a reliable marker of human sewage contamination. Disinfectants and pesticides are designed to kill and will ultimately kill these earthworms. But they will still not leave the soil where they will concentrate in organisms including food plants or water again.
There are enough studies about people downwind or downstream from sewage sludge having a long list of health issues to put wind and water at the top of the list of things to consider if sewage sludge is coming to a neighborhood near you. Are biosolids totally bad? Ask the worms.
It is near the end of January and not everything is shutdown. Still it is nice to have some time to look to the future as snow and cold slow us down. I have a couple of essays planned on sewage sludge and holistic philosophy. (I knew you would be thrilled.) First here are topics of current interest.
At the top of my list of things to support and get ready for it the Global Earth Repair Conference sponsored by Friends of the Trees. It will be held May 3-5, 2019 at the Fort Warden Conference Center in Port Townsend. Over 96 presenters will be doing workshops on a multitude of topics. My favorite track is Regenerative Farming. There are already 46 tracks and registration is half full with a target of 500 participants. Costs vary but even if you cannot attend, PLEASE CONTRIBUTE TO THE GOFUNDME SITE.
In the meantime people send me links and links have links. So they can be like going down the rabbit hole. Nevertheless I want to share a couple of my favorites. The first one is to a “podcast” by Rich Roll interviewing Dr. Zack Bush. This is probably the best and most in depth discussion of the problems we face medically and environmentally and the solutions available through regenerative agriculture that I have ever heard. Unfortunately it is over 2 hours long and actually a video. So it takes up a lot of one’s data allowance. With Hughesnet I can get up at 2 AM and not spend any of my data. Possibly it is really just “audio” on some cell phones and will not be a data issue for you. At any rate it is ENTIRELY WORTH THE TIME: https://www.richroll.com/podcast/zach-bush-414/. (Thank you Amber!)
A website associated with Zach Bush is http://farmersfootprint.us/. There is already a lot of good content there but it will develop much more as some movies about these subjects come out. Unbelievably, farmers can be making $400 to $500 profit per acre annually using regenerative agriculture but stick to making $40/acre using chemicals. They face huge social and political pressures that this website was built to address.
Given the dustup over wolves and grazing cattle on forest land in Northeast Washington, this next pair of links may seem weird. But I have come to believe that grazing cattle in the forest can actually be good for the forest – improving the soil and reducing the danger of fire – and good for the cattle if it is done in a way that imitates or includes the effects of wolves. https://civileats.com/2019/01/07/silvopasture-can-mitigate-climate-change-will-u-s-farmers-take-it-seriously/ This first link goes to a short article on silvopasture, using pasture under trees. If you are interested, there is a facebook group that discusses this practice. I’m very interested in talking to anyone who has experience with this.
Please take some time to check out these links. I find that media and politics tend to ignore what are really our biggest problems and what most needs to be done about them in favor of what generates the most emotion and attention.
It’s nice to have some confirmation that your wines are good from a wine expert. Recently I was pleased to learn that Ronald Irvine has tasted Barreca Vineyards varieties Léon Millot and Baco Noir. Before I elaborate on what he had to say let’s introduce Ron.
Prior to purchasing the Vashon Winery nearly 20 years ago, Ron was active in preserving the Pike Place Market and he started Pike & Western Wine Shop, which he operated for 15 years. (I’m pretty sure that I bought my first grape crusher there.) Ron is also the co-author with Walter Clore of the book, “The Wine Project: Washington State’s Winemaking History.” I bought that book last year. It is a good read that contains stories of visits to all of the early and major Washington wineries published in 1997. Early on there were only 5 wineries in the state. Now there are over 1500.
Mark Musick introduced the wine to Ron. Here is his description of how it went: “We started with the Léon Millot, which Ron said was much cleaner and softer than he’d anticipated, most likely because it was harvested at 27° Brix, which is higher than any he’s seen. He said it’s phenomenal you didn’t add sugar. Ron added that the wine didn’t have the Concorde “grapey” quality he expected. He said that, while the Léon Millot has good fruit characteristics, it’s also “leathery,” so it’s not all fruitiness. He said he thought people would like the wine because it’s so soft and easy to drink. However, he didn’t think it had the acidity to pair well with food…
From there we turned to the Baco Noir. Ron started by saying it “smelled wonderful,” and he guessed it was because the wine quickly “opened up” due to the lack of sulfites. Because of its higher Ph, Ron said it was sharper, crisper, has more of a “bight,” and would likely pair better with food. He also said the wine would likely age longer…
The bottom line is that Ron thought both of your wines that we samples are good to very good. I’m a novice wine taster, but I had to agree. The Baco Noir in particular would have been easy to drink all afternoon!”
Ron was worried about my “Natural” wines since they do not have sulfites. I think this is a topic that needs a lot more awareness and to that end I added a page to this website, What’s in Your Wine.. I think everyone should read that article because it has a lot to do with personal health as well as the health of the soil and environment.
Another great book, besides The Wine Project, is David Montgomery and Anne Bikle’s The Hidden Half of Nature. This book finally takes all the lessons about how microbes work together in the soil to keep each other and plants healthy and describes in detail how those same microbial systems work inside of our guts to keep us healthy. It is readable (and pardon the pun) digestible in a way that many semi-scientific books are not. Really, you won’t think about gardening or eating the same way again after reading this book.
Christmas at our house.
Meanwhile besides Christmas, New Years etc. the weather has been mild and given me a chance to make a lot more biochar. Thanks to Joe Petrucelli, owner of Meyers Falls Market, I now have an old apple bin to store the stuff in and some new techniques for making it. You can expect a lot more on that topic in months to come.
All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray…
(California Dreamin, the Mamas and the Papas)
The Sky is Gray
Four days after Halloween daylight savings time ends. It gets dark around 4 PM. On the bright side there is daylight at 7 AM. What really closes in is the realization that although winter might not be officially here, for all practical purposes it already is. Get the wood in. Cover anything you don’t want wet. Bring in the crops… I’m sure they put Thanksgiving toward the end of the month because if you are ready for winter by then, it’s really something to be thankful for.
At least the cooler weather keeps fruit well. Unlike grapes, that need immediate attention, apples can wait. So days crushing apples for fresh cider, cider to freeze and cider to make wine out of were spaced out all month. I have been crushing and pressing apples on what I believe is the first apple press made at the American Village Institute in Marcus. They still make cider presses. I worked in their foundry around 1977 having already ordered a cider press, I was able to cast parts for one that was assembled on site at the end of our apprenticeship week and it has my initials cast into it.
AVI = American Village Institute, JB is me, American Harvester is the style.
Now that it is 40+ years old, it cranks a little slower – that may just be me. The juice leaks out in places but mostly goes in the stainless steel bowls where it should. There are no real bearings but the 25 pound flywheel keeps the crusher turning except if you put more than one apple through it at a time. It takes 3/4 of a box of apples to fill one pressing basket and make about a gallon of juice. I crank with one hand and load apples with the other. It goes pretty easy at first but by the time the basket is full (believe me), Nordic Track has nothing on my cider press. So it is really good exercise and I am going to totally rebuild it with an electric motor and real bearings or just replace it as soon as I can.
While crushing apples I listened to Rocky, the overachiever pine squirrel, who has been dropping pine cones from 100 ft up on our huge central Ponderosa pine tree at a prodigious rate. He (or she) takes an occasional break to sit on a limb and chatter at us in between bombing runs and trips stuffing pine cones in the open ends of the old house forms that make up our shop and woodshed. He is good company but don’t walk under that pine tree.
Rocky with a pinecone
The cider process is also popular with deer, who come round to eat the leftover apple pulp from the pressing. I have been trying to mix some of it in with the compost I am still spreading between the vineyard rows, but I don’t always get to that right away and the deer essentially camp out here when there is apple pulp by the compost. There’s nothing like going into your back yard at night and seeing two bright green eyes staring at your headlamp from a deer bedded down on the lawn.
Another creature to feature this month has to be our cat, Gray-C. Cheryl started humming Christmas carols with Gray-C on her lap earlier this month and Gray-C started meowing along with her. But later a big orange tabby feral cat moved into our outbuildings and we saw the two cats sitting in a tree yowling at each other one morning. A couple nights later a cat fight broke out on the south side of the house. There were tufts of orange and gray hair left on the grass in the morning. I wish that was the end of it. But on November 27th Cheryl discovered that Gray-C had a swollen cheek. A hastily arranged visit to the vet confirmed that there was an abscess that had to be lanced after shaving off hair on one side of her face. A couple days later Gray-C brought in not one, but 2 dead mice in the evening and has not slowed down since. It’s probably her way of making up for the vet bill.
Gray-C after a close shave
We celebrated the end of the month at Thanksgiving with our daughter April and her family and friends. Snow was falling on Boulder Creek pass as we drove home but has not managed to stick here yet. Huckleberry/Apple wine is working and wafting great smells in the office/winery. New mapping and history projects are spread over the desk. Gretchen and Gray-C warm up by the wood stove in the morning. All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray, but it’s okay.
That grass ain’t green It’s kinda yellow See what I mean?
Bob Dylan, Traveling Wilburys – Inside Out
So October was “kinda yellow” from the get go. It involved a lot of chilling out from 62 degrees in the evenings at the beginning of the month to 41 degrees and some frosts at night near the end. At first I would bundle up at 50 degrees. This morning it was 44 and I put on a Carhartt vest over my inside cloths and did my chores. No big deal. I guess my blood is getting thicker.
The leaves turned yellow and most of them have fallen off by now. On October 1st I picked Siegerrebe grapes at nearby Downriver Orchards. Last year Don had trouble with powdery mildew but used a variety of organic sprays to bring in a beautiful crop, much of which is now bubbling on its way to becoming a kinda yellow wine.
The vats were full most of the time as crop after crop went through the crusher and into primary fermentation. We were drying prunes, the last of the dried fruit; stacking firewood, making wine and eating our favorite kinda yellow corn fritter breakfasts up until October 9th. About then we started having fires in the wood stove most mornings to warm up the house. Now it’s going, most of the time with a warm yellow flame.
Slow food Group doing some fast picking
A team of friends from our Slow Food group came over on the 14th to bring in our biggest crop, Baco Noir. It was more of a red day with lots of wine, Cheryl’s homemade chili and red leaves on the oaks and ash trees. I thought Baco Noir would be the last red wine of the year but a couple days later some friends gave us their grapes which included Marquette. It’s a grape that I had heard a lot about but never seen. The color is amazing, a vivid deep magenta. There is still a little bright froth at the top of its carboy as it settles in for a couple of years of fermenting before we can taste how it turns out.
But the last grapes to come in are “whites” which really are kinda yellow. On the 21st I started harvesting the
Okanagan Riesling. We have enough to sell this year from the 2016 crop and it is wonderful. In fact although red wines are perennially popular, the whites tend to have more distinct flavors. Siegerrebe caught the attention of the crowd at Barreca Vineyards wine tasting on Friday the 19th at Meyers Falls Market. The slight citrus tang of Muscat was also welcome. Our last grape wine of the season is Gewürztraminer, a spicy addition to our kinda yellow lineup. We made Himrod wine again this year to take advantage of the tangy taste of this seedless variety. Soon after it gets totally ripe, the clusters start to drop, so you have to deal with them.
Cheryl’s Comedy Face
Just before the end of daylight savings time, the mornings are especially dark. We dressed up in costumes for our last Farmers Market of the year on Halloween itself. We set up the canopy in the rain by the light of a kinda yellow street lamp and ate our pumpkin pie for breakfast. It was a little sad to say goodbye to our market friends for the year. The vendors gave a gift basket to Tazi and Tamara because it was also the last day for Tazi’s Coffee Shop that has been such a boon to the market all year.
There is still some yellow going on. The Western Larch (Tamaracks) have turned bright yellow but will soon lose
their needles. I picked Golden Delicious apples that our neighbor gave us. Some started to split and the last of the Yellow Jackets loved that. I have a new respect for them although I think one of them nailed me in the neck on the 15th. They kill destructive insects like leafhoppers and they store yeasts over the winter. And of course they are kinda yellow.
This Praying Mantis is not yellow. Sometimes they are. It’s in a faceoff with a spider.
As you could expect, this is a very busy time of year at the vineyard. So to shorten the blog to a minimum I will just put a link here for an article I wrote in the North Columbia Monthly for October – and have recreated here on this website. It is called Dirt First and gives the basics of Regenerative Agriculture. Then I will put in some pictures with captions.
Dried Fruit for the winter
Tomatoes coming on
Filberts from out trees
Hot Lips are still in bloom
The Red Oak picture by Cheryl
Marechal Foch Grapes
The Rav4 broke a timing belt on the way to the Farmers Market
Siegerrebe Grapes in the crusher
Cheryl sold her 4 wheel drive Toyota to my daughter April. Maybe James will be able to drive it in 2030.
Lucie Kuhlmann primary fermentation
Friends picking a future French Rocks Red wine
Big Cat Face spider
Siegerrebe Grapes at Downriver Orchard
Our VW Vanagon cracked ahead – out for the season
Kit and Sharon Shultz crushing grapes with Tom Distler
Amber and Tom helping out
A big Black Lab Cheryl rescued from the highway and found the owners for