Spring in southern California and a good Harvest Monday on Wed, Feb 24 2015

I just came in from Yard Patrol–my morning rounds of my  tiny yard and garden. With a cup of coffee in hand, I walk around the garden to keep an informal eye on what is blooming, what is ripe, and what needs doing. It is magnificent out there today.

Some of the cilantro, red-oakleaf lettuce, arugula, and red mustard that I harvested this week. It all went into a salad.

Some of the cilantro, red-oakleaf lettuce, arugula, and red mustard that I harvested last week. It all went into a salad.

We had a lovely rain a couple of days ago, and things are still wet. The sky is crystalline blue, flowers and fruit trees are in exuberant bloom, and birds are singing from every tree top.

Our Katy Apricot tree has about 70 blooms on it. We got a few more hours of winter chill this week, so maybe we will get some fruit set from those blossoms.

Our Katy Apricot tree has about 70 blooms on it. We got a few more hours of winter chill this week, so maybe we will get some fruit set from those blossoms.

Our semi-dwarf May Pride Peach tree has 19 blooms on it this year. Will any of these flowers set fruit in our very low winter chill year? Too soon to tell.

Our semi-dwarf May Pride Peach tree has 19 blooms on it this year. Will any of these flowers set fruit in this very low winter chill year? Too soon to tell.

Our Valencia orange tree produced three oranges this year. One went into a Moroccan orange cake along with four eggs from our hens--delicious!

Our Valencia orange tree produced three oranges this year. One went into a Moroccan orange cake along with four eggs from our hens–delicious!

As you are probably aware, California is in a major drought. We normally get a mere 14 inches of rain a year. So far this 2014-2015 rain season–with not a lot of time left for additional rain–we have received a piddling puddle of about six inches. I save rain water in rain barrels and Rubbermaid trash barrels stationed under the eaves. You can see one rain barrel in the photo above behind the orange tree. I had already emptied three of our 11 rain barrels prior to this week’s rain. One of those barrels–the one under the downspout–is full again. The ones under the eaves with no gutters collected about eight inches of rain from a small storm that delivered less than an inch of rain. Yesterday I used all of the water in one barrel to keep my newly planted veggie bed from drying out.

I have 8 red mustard plants sprouted, all volunteers from a mesclun mix that went to seed last year.

I have 8 red mustard plants sprouted, all volunteers from a mesclun mix that went to seed last year.

I am fired up about my garden this year. I was sick a lot last year, and it only rained four inches during the entire rainy season from November to April. The birds and night critters were out of control and they got a lot of my crops–all of the apples, peas, and tomatoes. It was an abysmal year for my garden. I have higher hope for this year. Kale, arugula, collard greens, and limes are ripe and ready in abundance. All of the citrus trees and our avocado tree are bursting into bloom. Thanks to the application of bird netting to my veggie beds, two rows of peas are thriving and undamaged. And the chickens are laying again. Oh, joy.

I planted 27 garlic cloves. so far only 18 have sprouted, but  if I get even 10 bulbs of garlic out of the crop I'll be happy. I planted the bulbs way late--they should have gone into the ground in November. It remains to be seen if I will get ANY garlic bulbs. Fingers crossed.

I planted 27 garlic cloves. So far only 18 have sprouted, but if I get even 10 bulbs of garlic out of the crop I’ll be happy. I planted the bulbs way late–they should have gone into the ground in November. It remains to be seen if I will get ANY garlic bulbs. Fingers crossed.

Right now growing in the vegetable garden I have mixed beets, Scarlet Nantes Carrots, Purple-top Turnips, Komatsuna (an Asian mustard green), Red Mustard, Rainbow Chard, Red Oakleaf Lettuce, red cabbage, cauliflower, Easter Egg Radishes, 120 onions (Texas Red and Texas Sweet White), garlic, Oregon Sugar Pod Peas, Super Sugar Snap Peas, bell pepper plants that overwintered, three kinds of over-wintered kale, collard greens, and a lot of herbs (cilantro, basil, dill, rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, and one struggling parsley plant). The Mibuna (an Asian mustard green) crop was  failure. Old seeds. I think I have some Mizuna (yet another Asian mustard green) sprouted from the mesclun mix that went to seed last year. Hope so.

Onions are growing from tiny sprouts. They should be ready to harvest about July or August.

Onions are growing from tiny sprouts. They should be ready to harvest about July or August, God willing and the creek don’t rise. Ha, not much chance of my garden getting drowned out this year.

I neglected to make a post on Harvest Monday, but I did indeed have a harvest. Here it is.

Some of the kale we are harvesting: left to right, Dwarf Blue Curled, a mystery red kale from the mesclun mix, and Lacinato (Dinosaur kale).

Some of the kale we are harvesting: left to right, Dwarf Blue Curled, a mystery red kale from the mesclun mix, and Lacinato (Dinosaur kale).

HARVEST MONDAY week ending February 22, 2015

FRUIT

8 oz Lemon, Eureka

3 lbs 14 oz Limes

1 lb 7 oz Oranges, Valencia (three oranges, our entire crop!)

5 lbs 13 oz Subtotal Fruit

VEGETABLES

5.5 oz Arugula

4 oz Bell Pepper (in February!)

2 oz Green Onion

2 oz Herbs

13 oz Kale

3 oz Lettuce

1 lb 13.5 oz Subtotal Vegetables

7 lbs 13.5 oz TOTAL PRODUCE plus 12 EGGS

If you had a harvest, or want to see what others are harvesting this time of year, visit Daphne’s Dandelions. The link is on the sidebar to the right.

 

Farewell to Henrietta, Hello to spring

I have sad news to report. My favorite hen, Henrietta the Black Australorp, has passed away at the age of 8 years. She hadn’t changed into the normal red, swollen comb and wattle of spring, so I knew her estrogen levels weren’t normal. I thought maybe she was going through “henopause.”

Henrietta, a couple of days before she died.

Henrietta, a couple of days before she died.

But then she quit eating and became listless. She perked up for a couple of days, but then she went off her feed again. She didn’t come out of the coop one morning last week. She was the only one still sleeping in the coop. The other four hens preferred roosts in the enclosed run for their sleeping quarters. Henrietta was old and preferred the indoor shelter of the coop.

My other four hens all have swollen red combs and wattles and are now laying eggs.

My other four hens all have swollen red combs and wattles and are now laying eggs.

Henrietta was hunkered down, alive but not moving. I petted her and left her alone. I checked an hour later, and two other hens were with her. One was gently grooming her neck feathers. Another hour passed, and so had Henrietta. I buried her under my fruit trees and put a paving stone on top to keep the night critters from digging her up.

She was my favorite hen because she was the only one that let me pet her. I have since learned that the Black Australorp was developed in Australia from the Orpington Breed. Orpingtons are known for their docility. I thought I wanted to replace Henrietta with a Buff Orpington, because they are the best pet breed. But they don’t lay as well as other breeds and tend to go broody. Also, other chickens tend to pick on the Buff Orpingtons because they are so docile. On the other hand, the Black Australorps are great layers, and are docile and friendly as well.

This may be the same Barred Rock as in the other picture.

This is a different Barred Rock. Her upper beak is a bit short in comparison. No, I don’t trim their beaks. At some factory farms, the chickens have their upper beaks cut part way off to keep the birds from pecking each other. They peck because they’re over-crowded and stressed.

 

Since the rest of my flock is three Barred Rocks and one Black Sex-linked (cross between a Rhode Island Red and Barred Rock), I think I will seek out more Black Australorps. But not just yet. Even though my two youngest hens will be three in July, egg production has picked up after the winter hiatus. We are getting all the eggs we need for now. Frankly, Henrietta wasn’t pulling her weight in the egg-laying department the last couple of years anyway. Hens enjoy an unlimited vacation and retirement package here on our urban mini-farm, especially friendly hens that let our grandkids hold them. On factory farms, the entire flock is slaughtered at age two when egg production slows down. They have to do that to keep their operation cost effective. I have the luxury of letting my chickens enjoy full lives.

This is my current flock. Chicken Little is the Black Sex-linked. The others are Miss Hillary, Peep, and Cheep. Miss Hillary is five years old and needs a nail trim.

This is my current flock. Chicken Little (age 7) is the Black Sex-linked. The Barred Rocks are Miss Hillary (age 5, on the right), Peep, and Cheep (almost 3). Miss Hillary needs a nail trim.

I really enjoy having my own hens. I know that the eggs I eat were laid by hens that have plenty of room to move and flap their wings, lots of sunshine, and nutritious food, plus scratch and organic greens to keep them busy. They have ample pine shavings in their coop to keep it smelling nice. No ammonia build-up or stressed out birds in my flock. And no battery cages. My girls get to scratch in the dirt and duff. I even toss autumn leaves in their run to give them more to dig through. Chickens love to look for their food. It gives them something to do other than peck each other. Nothing but happy hens in my little flock.

Correlation of winter chill hours with harvests from deciduous fruit trees

I am experimenting with inserting an Excel spreadsheet directly into my blog (see below, bottom of post). It works so-so. I can’t alter the width of the columns after I paste the image, so the winter chill hours (number of hours below 45 degrees) that each fruit variety requires are kind of quirky looking.

Avocado and citrus trees do not require chilling. Our avocado tree is about to burst forth in bloom.

Avocado and citrus trees do not require chilling. Our avocado tree is about to burst forth in bloom.

In this spreadsheet, I separated the deciduous fruit trees (top of spreadsheet), which require winter chilling to set fruit, from the citrus and avocado trees (bottom of spreadsheet), which require no chilling, and subtotaled them separately.

We had good winter chill in 2011-2013, moderate chill in 2014, and a pathetic 76 hours of chilling during the 2014-2015 winter. The harvest of fruit from the deciduous trees appears to correlate better with the amount of winter chill than the citrus harvest–no surprise. I am not expecting very much deciduous fruit in 2015 due to the low chill this winter. My August Pride peach has a pathetic 10 blossoms on it, and my Katy Apricot is blooming early with very few blossoms. The Asian pears, apples, nectarines, and Babcock peach are still dormant.

Our Florida Prince peach tree has nearly finished blooming, and is setting a good crop of peaches.

Our Florida Prince peach tree has nearly finished blooming, and is setting a good crop of peaches.

Most of my fruit trees were planted 2007-2014. Some (persimmon, pomegranate, Gala apple) are too young to bear fruit yet, and some have not yet reached their good bearing years. And some years the birds and night critters get to the fruit before I do. So this is an experiment in progress.

Bees are busy pollinating our lime trees, which are currently in bloom. The lemons and oranges aren't far behind the limes.

Bees are busy pollinating our lime trees, which are currently in bloom. The lemons and oranges aren’t far behind the limes.

I hope you can see the chill hours in the Required Chill Hour column.

My conclusion, based on very limited data and a lot of speculation, is that I can expect the warmer winters brought to us courtesy of global warming to have a negative effect on my harvest of deciduous fruit.

# of trees TREE Variety req chill hrs 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010
  (actual chill hrs)   76 166 497 389 340 95
1 Apple, Fuji 200-400
2 Apple, Gala 200-500
1 Apple, Granny Smith 400 14 60
1 Apricot, Katy 200-300 65 8
1 Asian Pear, 20th Century 300-400
1 Asian Pear, Shenseiki 250-300 121 78
1 Asian Pear, 4 varieties grafted 250-400
1 Blackbery, thornless 100-500
2 Grape, Red Flame seedless 100+
1 Nectarine, Panamint 250 18 56
1 Nectarine, Snow Queen 250-300 37
1 Peach, August Pride 100-200 8 16
1 Peach, Babcock Improved 250-300 5 44
1 Peach Florida Prince 150 150 252 108
1 Peach, Garden Gold 450-500
2 Persimmon, Fuyu 100-200
1 Plum, Santa Rosa 300-500 80 9
1 Pomegranate, Wonderful 100-200
  SUBTOTAL Deciduous   0 271 557 301
1 Avocado, Littlecado 0 133 74 196.5
2 Lemon, Eureka 0 14 51.5
1 Lemon, Meyer 0 321 95 205
2 Lime, Bearss 0 127 385 106.5
1 Orange, Navel 0 460 329 544
1 Orange, Valencia 0 5
  SUBTOTAL Zero chill fruits   0 1041 897 1108.5  
Total oz TOTAL FRUIT in oz 0 1312 1454 1409.5
TOTAL LBS TOTAL FRUIT in lbs   0 82 91 88

Growing fruit on my urban Southern California mini-farm

I have worked really hard over the past 8 years to convert our small, urban southern California yard into a productive mini-farm. I have Barbara Kingsolver and her book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” to thank for that. That book was transformational!

And thus began the conversion of our yard from boring landscaping to a productive mini-farm.

Our very low chill Florida Prince Peach tree is in full bloom. I have my hopes pinned on this tree for a stone fruit crop.

Our very low chill Florida Prince Peach tree is in full bloom here in early February. I have my hopes pinned on this tree for a stone fruit crop.

We now have six raised beds of various sizes for vegetables, a chicken coop and run with five hens, and a surprisingly diverse orchard.

Raised vegetable bed #1, planted with collard greens, bell peppers, radishes, lettuce, cauliflower, red cabbage, and a couple of onions.

Raised vegetable bed #1, planted with collard greens, bell peppers, radishes, lettuce, cauliflower, red cabbage, snow peas, and a couple of onions.

Vegetable bed #2 with bell peppers, dill, basil, radishes, red cabbage, cauliflower and snow peas.

Vegetable bed #2 with bell peppers, dill, basil, radishes, red cabbage, cauliflower and snow peas.

Here are the fruit trees that are now growing in our yard, plus their winter chill hour requirements.But what are chill hours? Chill hours are the number of hours of cold (i.e. 45 degrees F or below) that are required to break down the growth-inhibiting hormones that cause a deciduous fruit tree to enter dormancy and stay dormant, so that normal growth can resume in the spring. A “low chill” variety is one with a 100-400 chill hours requirement.

Chill Requirements for the Fruit Trees

1 Apple, Fuji. 200-400 hrs
2 Apple, Gala. 200-500
1 Apple, Granny Smith. 400
1 Apricot, Katy. 200-300
1 Asian Pear, 20th Century. 300-400
1 Asian Pear, Sheinseki. 250-300

1 Asian Pear, 4 varieties grafted, 250-400

1 Avocado. 0
1 Blackberry. 100-500
Citrus. 0

2 Lemon, Eureka

1 Lemon, Meyer

2 Lime, Bearss

1 Orange, Navel

1 Orange, Valencia

2 Grape, Red Flame Seedless. 100+
1 Nectarine, Panamint. 250
1 Nectarine, Snow Queen 250-300
1 Peach, August Pride 100-200
1 Peach, Babcock Improved 250-300
1 Peach, Florida Prince 150
1 Peach, Garden Gold. 450-500
2 Persimmon, Fuyu 100-200
1 Plum, Santa Rosa 300-500

1 Pomegranate, 100-200


25 Total trees (not counting the grapes and blackberries, and not counting our olive tree, which we keep pruned so it doesn’t produce messy olives)

Our olive tree is getting pruned today. it tends to get huge and shade out my garden beds in front.

Our olive tree is getting pruned today. it tends to get huge and shade out my garden beds in front.

When selecting fruit trees, I paid attention to the number of chill hours that each variety required. We live in coastal Orange County, which is known for its moderate, pleasant climate: highs in the 70s, lows in the 50s, year round. But as you saw from the table above, most deciduous fruit trees need a certain amount of chilling in order to set fruit and remain healthy.

Citrus like this Meyer lemon don't need chill hours at all.

Citrus like this Meyer lemon don’t need chill hours at all.

Microclimates affect chill hours. For example, in San Diego County, the average number of chill hours are:

  •  Coastal strip (within 10-15 miles of coast) = 50-250 chill hours
  • Median areas (between 10 & 25 miles of coast – La Mesa, Clairemont, etc.) = 200-400 chill hours
  •  Inland areas (El Cajon, Spring Valley, Escondido, Jamul, etc.) = 400-600 chill hours (source: California Rare Fruit Growers, San Diego Chapter)

The folks at UC Davis Fruit and Nut Research Information keep track of chill hours for us, and track it thoughout the winter season (November through February). So far, we have had only 76 chill hours this 2014/2015 winter season, which isn’t enough for most of my deciduous fruit trees to set fruit. To check out their table, see

http://fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu/chillcalc/index.cfm

My apple trees are dormant this time of year, with buds that are not yet swollen. They usually bloom in May.

My apple trees are dormant this time of year, with buds that are not yet swollen. They usually bloom in May.

Global warming is definitely affecting the number of chill hours we receive. It is going to affect commercial growers as well. For example, chill hours in California’s Central Valley have declined by 22% over the past 60 years. Farmers and home orchardists may be wise to search out varieties with lower chill hours.

As acknowledgment of our changing climate, I chose to plant low chill Fuyu Persimmons and a pomegranate as the most recent additions to my orchard.

For more information on how to grow and care for fruit trees in southern California, I recommend this great PowerPoint from San Diego County.

http://crfgsandiego.org/Presentations/Deciduous%20Fruit%20Trees%20in%20Southern%20California.pdf

I hope you enjoyed this overview of my mini-orchard of mostly dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees. They are still maturing, so I hope that their prime bearing years are still ahead of them.

A warm Harvest Monday and setting harvest expectations for 2015

The weather here was fairly warm in January. Those 70 degree days and 50 degree nights would seem wonderful on the surface. But as a fruit grower, I know that many of my fruit tree varieties require a certain number of “winter chill hours,” or hours below 45 degrees F.

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The weather has been so warm that my four apple trees never lost their leaves last fall. They are not getting enough winter chilling to set fruit this spring.

When choosing fruit trees, I picked varieties that were adapted to low chill. I’m pretty sure that my citrus trees don’t require any chill hours. But my apples, pears, and stone fruits require 200-300 hours of cold. They’re not getting it this year.

Our Florida Prince peach is the first to bloom. The crazy warm weather sent this tree into bloom in early January, a bit early even for this variety. Now in February is is in full bloom.

Our Florida Prince peach is the first to bloom. The crazy warm weather sent this tree into bloom in early January, a bit early even for this variety. Now in February it is in full bloom. But has it had enough chilling to set fruit?

Here is a comparison of the cumulative amount of chilling hours in Orange County California to date each year over a six-year period. We have received only 76 hours of chilling this 2014/2015 season so far. That is the warmest year-to-date over this six-year period, which was in turn warmer in general than average. This is global warming in action.

DATE   2015   2014    2013    2012   2011   2010

FEB 1    76 hrs   155      332     300     213        81

What this means is that I’m not likely to get many (if any) apples, Asian pears, peaches, plums, apricots, or nectarines this summer. Consequently, I am going to have to readjust my harvest goals, since fruits often comprise a third or even half of my harvests.

The Asian pears are dormant this time of year. They need chilling for proper fruit set, but they're not getting it this year.

The Asian pears are dormant this time of year. They need chilling for proper fruit set, but they’re not getting it this year.

Well, that is the looking ahead part. For now, things are fine harvest-wise. In the past week, I harvested nearly three pounds of limes, plus bell peppers, green onions, and arugula. Keep in mind that my garden is small, with three raised beds of 3 ft x 6 ft, one raised bed of 3 ft x 12 ft, a bed of 3 ft x 3 ft, and a few patches and pots here and there where I grow green onions, strawberries, artichokes and such. Here are the totals.

For the week ending February 1 2015

FRUIT

2 lbs 13 oz limes

VEGETABLES

1 oz Arugula

4 oz Bell Peppers

1 oz Green Onion

TOTAL HARVEST 3 lbs 3 oz produce plus 3 eggs

I finally added up my harvest totals for 2013, and they were low, like 2014 (see sidebar for 2014 totals–Total fruit for 2013 was 92 lbs; total vegetables was 74 lbs). Then it dawned on me that I gave up my community garden plot in 2012. No wonder my vegetable harvest is down in comparison. I need to adjust my expectations accordingly. Between reduced garden space and global warming preventing my fruit trees from getting their required winter chill hours, I can’t expect a big harvest in 2015. All I can do is re-dedicate myself to utilizing the space that I do have (about 100 square feet of vegetable garden space) and making the most of it.

Egg production in another issue. One of my hens laid eggs sporadically all winter long, which is unusual. Still, we had to buy four dozen eggs to get us through the winter. Chickens tend to stop laying in winter due to short day length. The good news is that the days are getting longer now, and one of the other girls has started her spring laying. Now I have two active layers. I also have three lay-abouts who are not producing. I expected them to have started laying by now since egg production here in coastal southern California picks up in mid-January. Well, they’re getting older, just like me.

My oldest hen is now seven years old, and the next oldest is six. Their best years are behind them. If I were a real farmer, they would have gone into the stewpot by now and I would have replaced them with younger birds. A chicken’s best laying years are the first and second years, when she will produce about 250 eggs per year. My two youngest birds just turned three, and the others are five, six, and seven. I am hoping that my flock of older hens will still produce enough eggs for my husband and me. If they were all young hens, they would produce a whopping 1250 eggs, WAY too many for us to use.

I am going to set my egg production goal at 400 eggs this year, which seems reasonable given the ages of my five hens. I will set my fruit production goal at 80 lbs, and my vegetable goal also at 80 lbs.

Looking to a warmer future, I have recently planted a pomegranate  tree and another Fuyu persimmon tree. As far as I know, they don’t require chilling. But they will be too young to produce for several years. I have added netting to one bed to prevent the birds from eating my lettuce and peas. And I dug up another bed and got it planted today with chard and bok choy. Every growing season brings new hope to a gardener.

Taking stock of the 2014 harvest

Critters are getting a lot of my produce, like this once-lovely avocado.

Critters are getting a lot of my produce, like this once-lovely avocado.

I think I will declare my 2014 urban garden in southern California a federal disaster area. I am going to attribute my low harvests last year to drought, climate change, critters, and being sick a lot of the year (colds, flu, minor infections). It all took away from the garden.

You cannot reap what you do not sow. And if I did sow something, it seemed like the critters got it. Bird, squirrels, possums, rats–they all enjoyed my garden more than I did.

It is January and only one of my chickens is laying. The other four girls are "off-line," enjoying the very liberal vacation and retirement package that we offer them.

It is January and only one of my chickens is laying. The other four girls are “off-line,” enjoying the very liberal vacation and retirement package that we offer them.

See the comb on this hen" It is pale and shrunken in comparison to the one laying hen. A couple of the girls are starting to get red, swollen combs, so they should begin laying soon. I hope.

See the comb on this hen? It is pale and shrunken in comparison to that of the one laying hen. A couple of the girls are starting to get red, swollen combs, so they should begin laying soon. I hope.

Let’s get right to the bad news. Fruit harvest was 86 lbs. Vegetable harvest was a pathetic 81 lbs. That makes the total produce harvest 167 lbs. PATHETIC! But egg production was 530 eggs last year, which is not bad. We gave away eggs in the spring, but had to actually BUY eggs this winter, four dozen. Lazy hens.

Now before you Midwesterners and New Englanders laugh your heads off, I should point out that my urban farm sits on a mere 4500 square feet of land, and our 1700 sq ft house, 3-car garage, driveway, sidewalks, deck area, and chicken coop occupy most of that space. I have crammed dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees around the perimeter, with four main veggie beds and a couple of extra little plots here and there, wherever there is room and a bit of sunshine. I have even grown potatoes in Gro-pots in the driveway, but my husband dismantled them this year due to extreme unsightliness.

Citrus makes up a lot of our harvest, but my orange tree hardly bloomed at all last year, giving us very few oranges this year.

Citrus makes up a lot of our harvest, but my orange tree hardly bloomed at all last year, giving us very few oranges this year.

To sum up, here is an approximation of my 2014 harvest.

FRUIT
Apples — 0
Asian Pears — 8 lbs
Apricots — 4 lbs
Avocados — 8 lbs
Lemons — 20 lbs
Limes — 8 lbs
Nectarines — 0
Oranges — 30 lbs
Peaches — 10 lbs
Plums — 0
Strawberries– 0 (in all fairness, I ate all of the strawberries right off the plants without weighing)

VEGETABLES
Artichokes — 6 lbs
Bell Peppers–10 lbs
Chard — 4 lbs
Collards — 5 lbs (I produced a lot more than that but fed them to the chickens without weighing)
Green Onions– 1 lb
Kale — 1 lb
Komatsuna — 1 lb
Lettuce — 2 lbs
Onions — 33 lbs
Snow peas — 3 lbs
Summer squash- 4 lbs
Winter squash 10 lbs

Now doesn’t that make you feel better about your own gardening efforts? Some of you get more produce than that in one WEEK.

But hope springs eternal in the heart of a gardener, and I am already planning and planting my 2015 garden. The radishes and snow peas have sprouted. I have transplants growing of red cabbage, cauliflower, and arugula. I have kale, collards, artichokes, arugula, green onions, radishes and bell peppers growing as holdovers from 2014. So wish me luck. The year 2015 can’t possibly be as bad as 2014 was. Can it?

We always seem to have kale and collards on hand. The critters don't seem to eat those, just the peas, green beans, tomatoes, etc.

We always seem to have kale and collards on hand. The critters don’t seem to eat those, just the peas, green beans, tomatoes, etc.

We bought a steer!

I believe in the Locavore movement, which is eating locally sourced foods so that less fossil fuel is used on food transport. That is one of the reasons why I planted a mini-orchard, converted our backyard to vegetable production, and set up a chicken coop with hens.

Even though we live in the megalopolis of southern California, we have many opportunities for eating locally grown food. We have purchased heirloom turkeys from Rainbow Ranch, a lamb from a farmer in San Diego, and boxes of organic produce from Tanaka Farms in Orange County. We visit our local farmers’ markets, of which there are many. And we often buy wines produced in southern California, with Orfila Vineyards in San Diego being one of our favorites.

Now we have embarked on yet another local food adventure, a locally raised steer. We found out about this opportunity from our local chapter of Slow Food USA, and jumped on it. We bought a 1/8th share of a steer in a 4-H project.

Megan and Jenna with Beaux, an Angus-Simmental-Maine Anjou crossbred calf.

Megan and Jenna with Beaux, an Angus-Simmental-Maine Anjou crossbred calf.

Jenna and Megan are raising the steers, which will be shown at the Orange County Fair next summer. It will be a long process of feeding and training the steers. Beaux, shown above, was the first to arrive at the farm in Orange Acres from the Star Cattle Company in Stevinson, Merced County, California.

Here I am petting Beaux. He is trying to get as far away from people as possible, but was interested in sniffing my hand.

Here I am with Beaux. He was willing to sniff my hand.

This is my husband Vic petting Beaux with the safety of a fence between him and the 450 lb steer. Probably a wise move, since Beaux is a little on the wild side.

This is my husband Vic petting Beaux with the safety of a fence between him and the 450 lb steer. Probably a wise move, since Beaux is a little on the wild side.

Finally Bucket arrived to join Beaux. He is a purebred Angus. Jenna chose to raise him, so he is the one we will have a share of later next fall.

When we arrived for a visit, Bucket (in back) was lying down with Beaux (mostly hidden). They spend a lot of time lying down and chewing their cud.

When we arrived at the farm in Orange Acres for a visit, Bucket (in back) was lying down with Beaux (mostly hidden). They spend a lot of time lying down and chewing their cud.

Because they are in training, the calves wear their halters and rope leads all the time. They are learning to walk on command. Bucket is catching on faster than Beaux, who is still fairly wild.

Because they are in training, the calves wear their halters and rope leads all the time. They are learning to walk on command. Bucket is catching on faster than Beaux. But when someone says “walk,” Bucket still mostly pulls back on the lead. It takes him a while to do any actual walking.

I don't know why this photo came out dark and green. It looks fine in my Aperture program. Anyway, this is handsome Bucket.

I don’t know why this photo came out dark and green. It looks fine in my Aperture program. Anyway, this is handsome Bucket.

Jenna and Megan may decide to show their calves in a livestock show in Santa Barbara in February. If so, Vic and I plan to go to support them. The calves still have a lot of training ahead of them. They get weighed regularly, and their feed adjusted accordingly. They will learn to stand still while they get shampooed (with added conditioner to make their coats shine) and their fur will be trimmed for show time. Vic and I look forward to learning about what all is involved in getting a show steer ready for market.

These steers will be ethically raised with love and kindness. They are learning to enjoy being scratched and rubbed. After the fair next fall, they will be shipped to a private butcher in San Diego. They stay there for a week, getting fed and calming down from the transport process. Then they will be humanely slaughtered one at a time, never in a feedlot, never in an assembly line process.

We expect to receive about 75 lbs of cut, packaged, and frozen meat. We eat many vegetarian meals, and a lot of poultry and fish, so this may last us more than a year. Time will tell.