Because Three Apple Trees Are Not Enough! That's Why!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Wild about Walnuts? Nutty over Nectarines? Does the thought of apricots make you anxious? If you find yourself in a panic over plums, then this weekend was made for you and every other fruit fanatic in the Sacramento area. Because it is -- this weekend -- where you can satisfy that compulsion for Plumcots.

A WHAT? Plumcot you say? Do those actually exist? Thanks to the freaky and Frankensteinish efforts of Modesto-area biologist Floyd Zaiger, by golly, you betcha they do.

Scion Exchange-2012
The Sacramento Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG) holds its annual scion exchange this weekend. More precisely, the give and take will take place on Sunday, January 20th at the Cooperative Extension Offices located at 4145 Branch Center Road in Sacramento. The fun starts at 10:00 AM and lasts until 1:00 PM, which will put you home just in time for some 49er playoff football!

But if you want my advice? My advice is get there closer to 10:00 AM rather than 1:00 PM. If this event is anything like last year's shindig? My friends, it will be packed to the gills with fresh fruit lovers from all over the territory.

Apple Pie! Oh My!
What are scions? They are branches, small branches, from fruit tree varieties that are simply too numerous to mention. The scion exchange features thousands of varieties from hundreds of different trees -- and I'm guessing that you probably haven't heard of a great many of them. I simply didn't know THAT many plum varieties existed -- until I found row after row after row of perfectly labeled scions at last year's gathering.

In other words? If you've come for just one? You've come to the wrong place. Why take one when you can have five? Better yet, be a glutton and take ten! Why have one plum variety when you can have so much more?

A Festival of Fruit Opportunities
If you're really not sure -- or sold for that matter -- on the concept of grafting, the fine folks at the CRFG have that taken care of as well. Not only will you find scions at this year's exchange, you'll also see demonstrations of HOW to graft, WHERE to graft and WHEN.

The event is "free" for all CRFG members and a small donation is requested of non-members. You can even sign up for the club. There's room for lots more crazy people -- I mean -- people who are crazy about fresh fruit.

See you there!

In the Dead of Winter...

Monday, January 14, 2013

Something Green This Way Comes
Gardening does not take a holiday in the dead of winter. Your body might feel like taking a holiday. Those playoff games inside a warm home and a soft couch sure are a lot more tempting than that frozen piece of mud doubling as your half-landscaped backyard. Not much is moving out there, except for the occasional dive of a humming bird.

But plants are growing. I give you "Exhibit A" to your upper right. Exhibit A made for a tasty snack during the 49er playoff win against Green Bay. Exhibit A is growing like a weed in the Bird Back 40. Exhibit A shouldn't be growing in this particular spot because a one Bill Bird did everything in his power to kill it last summer.

Gardening Exhibit A
But Exhibit A knows far more and is far tougher than a gardening screwup like myself. It is proof positive that "you can grow this," even if you do everything within your power to "not grow this here or now."

By now, you may have recognized that green plant with the parsley-looking top growing in a very brown and frozen over area of the Bird Back 40 is, in fact, celery. It's not just one celery plant -- it's several. And it's some of the tastiest, most tender I might add, celery that we've been lucky enough to enjoy.

You may begin to ask, "what celery is this that grows so well?" Well, you may ask. My answer would be something akin to a shrug. You see, I'm really not too sure what kind of celery this is. So, we'll just call it celery and be done with it. You may also notice from the photo above that this particular patch of celery is growing OUTSIDE of -- and in FRONT of -- a raised bed.

Home Grown Celery: A Crunchy Treat
To add insult to injury, it's also got a piece of concrete covering the top of it. No matter I suppose. The celery known as "Exhibit A" is doing just fine and dandy without the benefit of a raised bed, regular irrigation or anything closely resembling good soil. There's a two-or-three inch spot between the sidewalk and that raised bed. Exhibit A has found that to be a nice home indeed.

Blame the wife that is Venus for this celery that grows so prolifically. She decided to plant celery seeds in this bed one fall several years back, and it did grow. Everything the wife plants grows. But, to be honest? We didn't like it. The celery that sprouted looked nothing like the celery you can purchase for fifty cents to a buck in your local supermarket. It was thin. Worse yet? It was tough and stringy. We ate some and let the rest of it grow until it was time to tear it out and move onto "Crop B."

You have no business here!
But the stringy celery had other plans I guess.

At some point the celery either went to seed, or one of the cats dug out a starter plant -- who knows -- maybe both happened. But, at some point, celery plants started to grow OUTSIDE the raised bed rather than inside (gardening is tough to contain). I didn't think much of it. I would cut it back with the weeds that would spring up outside the bed. A year later? I hired some guys to pour concrete on it so I could have a walkway in front of the bed. "End of Celery" I thought at the time.

The celery had other plans.

It was while I was removing a prolific number of pole beans from this raised bed last September when I suddenly realized this patch of celery that I'd abused through the years was really getting in my way. Worse yet? There were bugs on it. Last year was a particularly buggy year in my gardening world, and not just for celery. Bugs got into everything -- from pole beans to grapes and flowering bushes like roses. I don't really like spraying what I eat with insecticides anymore, even if they are deemed "safe for the garden." So I let the bugs have their share and got what was left.

Hey! This is GOOD!
But Mother Nature has her way of dealing with bugs that infest the garden. It's called cold weather. And while I was dealing with gall bladder issues during November and December, Mother Nature was delivering one frosty blow after another to the Bird Back 40.

End result? Crisp, clean, bug-free celery for our lazy football weekends. It's celery so good, that we can add it to our dinnertime soups at night, or we can just munch on it raw during game time. Does it taste better with onion dip? Of course! Everything tastes better with onion dip! That's a rule, isn't it?

But it's just another reminder that "you can grow that here." No need to buy celery, or carrots, for that matter in the local grocery store. We can dig that up outside, even in the worst of weather.

Chopped Celery for soups and side dishes
Dead of winter? It might be a tad brown outdoors at the moment. But it's not quite dead.

NOTE: The wife that is Venus claims full naming rights for the Sacramento Vegetable Gardening title of "Dead of Winter." She wanted you to know that.

The $70 Chicken

Friday, January 4, 2013

Pastured Chicken: Chaffin Family Orchards
I don't often make New Year's Resolutions. However, I am quite good at breaking them. Which is probably why I don't make a lot of New Year's Resolutions. But if there's one thing that I resolve to do in 2013 -- it's this: Invest in more $70 chickens.

What's that you say? A $70 chicken? Is this a chicken made out of gold, perchance? I know what you're thinking. The last time you visited your local supermarket, you didn't see any of them $70 chickens. Nor would you buy such a thing. Chickens are cheap! Especially if you watch the sales and buy in bulk like we do thanks to a handy-dandy floor freezer.

Foster Farms Chicken!
The wife that is Venus and I do happen to "shop the sales." I must admit -- I am a tad partial to my Foster Farms chicken. I grew up less than a stone's throw from an old Foster Farms processing facility on McHenry Avenue in Modesto (it's a fire station now), which is Foster Farms "home territory." It's also the home of one of the last "Chicken Barns," but we'll save that story for another day.

If Venus and I spot a store ad for Foster Farms whole chickens selling at a price of 79-cents or 89-cents per pound? Count us "there" and attempting to corner the market. We have a million and one different recipes for chicken dishes, ranging from beer can chicken, honey-barbequed chicken, fried chicken, baked chicken... You get the story. Chicken is a fabulous meal.

The $70 Chicken: Cut Up and Ready for BBQ
But the $70 chicken? The $70 chicken is special. The $70 chicken is never on sale. The $70 chicken is available only for a few weeks every year. If there's one thing I've learned, it's this: Foster Farms cannot compete with the $70 chicken.

What am I? "Made of gold," you ask? Not hardly. But I've discovered something quite good and I'm not letting go of it.

The Logo Says It All
During my months of research on the Duke Avocado, it's storied beginnings in Butte County and it's legendary ability to withstand frosty cold conditions I began to gain awareness of a 2,000 acre family farm located just north of Oroville. Five generations of the Chaffin family have farmed this land, and according to the words printed on their own family website: "have had a deep respect for the environment, preservation of open space, promoting wildlife and producing food for the local community."

I would come to learn that more than just Duke Avocados came from the Chaffin operation. The family presses their own olive oil from old growth Mission Olive trees. I was shocked to receive a recent email from the ranch operation, informing me that one can purchase "shares" in the upcoming olive harvest and olive oil production. SHARES? In olive oil? I'd heard of purchasing stock in companies or precious minerals, but OLIVE OIL? I remember chuckling at the thought.

Shares? In Olive Oil? You Kidding?
As it turns out, the joke was on me. By the time I seriously got around to thinking about purchasing a share or two, none was to be had. I suffered the same disappointment when I waited to place orders for an upcoming grass fed beef sale. I balked at the price. By the time I finally ginned up the courage to buy? There was nothing left to buy, not so much as a soup bone.

I couldn't begin to understand, yet, why these products would vanish so quickly. It's not like grass-fed beef is hard to find. It's more expensive than conventionally produced beef, but it's easy to find if you know where to look. But never had a I run across a situation like this: Wait, and you'll be SORR-EE.

Chaffin Broilers on Pasture
I vowed that I would not make the same mistake when I was alerted to sales of Chaffin's pastured chickens. They are sold only twice a year, in the spring and fall,  and like the grass-fed beef, if you wait too long to place that order...

And -- so -- I placed that order.

It wasn't until I traveled to the Nevada City Farmer's Market that sunny October morning did I truly realize just what I had done. First: Nevada City is a LONG way off the beaten path from the Bird Back 40 when it comes to purchasing chicken. Let's just say the neighborhood market is just a tad closer. Secondly, I wasn't expecting a price tag of -- GULP -- $70 for three chickens.

OMG! Have I Lost It Completely?
It was at that crucial point where I read the fine print. Pastured chickens cost $4.95. Not per chicken mind you. That's $4.95 PER POUND. With each chicken weighing anywhere from 4-5 lbs., I could just see the reaction from the wife that is Venus. I would soon be sleeping in the backyard with the cats...

What's so special about pastured chicken? Again, from the Chaffin Family website: "Because about a third of a truly pasture raised chicken's diet actually comes from forage of grass and bugs in the pasture, they have more healthy fats like Omega 3's and CLA (Conjulated Linoleic Acid) in the meat. They are allowed to be happy and joyful chickens, which adds to the quality of the meat."

BBQ Chaffin Chicken: Heaven on Earth
Yeah, OK, but here's the $64 question: Are they really worth $70?

That is a question that I will leave to you, faithful blog explorer. What I can tell you, however, is this much: There is a world of taste difference between those chickens that sell for $5 or $6 in the store, and those that have been raised on pasture grass and bugs. You'll notice it in the first juicy bite of one of those very special chickens.

I've never tasted chicken like this before. I'm not sure how to describe it to you in simple terms, but I can tell you that only one of the original three chickens is left in the freezer and the wife is saving it for one very special event. A special event deserves a special chicken. The taste of any meal prepared with a Chaffin pastured chicken is incredible.

And now the final question? Will I gin up the courage to buy more next spring? But of course! I'm beginning to like spending nights in the backyard with the cats...

Visit the Chaffin Family Orchards website here.