Monday, September 20, 2010
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Saturday, September 18, 2010
We have water! My neighbor Juan not only makes awesome organic olive oil, he is an awesome worker as well! He and his two men worked 13 hours a day to complete our water project in three days. They cut nearly 3,000 feet of trenches 2.5 feet deep and laid in new pipes all over the property. Now we are totally prepared for whatever irrigation project we need. Late Thursday I joined Juan for an "opening ceremony" where he hooked up the lines to his diesel truck motor pump and on the count of three, we turned the switch and it roared and started pumping. Using flashlights, we inspected the lines for leaks and watched huge amounts of water gush from our main 6-inch pipe. I jumped up and down and hugged Juan while Grace smiled and ducked safely away from the two crazy old dudes getting wet and screaming in joy.
Bringing in water is a major milestone. Since buying the farm I've gone through two managers and experienced lots of heartache. I've been disappointed by hired help countless times. But now, all the troubles seem to have faded into the past. I'm seeking bids for organic compost that we'll spread across the property along with soil amendments, to ready the soil for planting. We're also planning a garden to grow organic vegetables for the teahouses and we're in discussions with Doug at Prather Ranch about possibly raising free-range chickens or turkeys for him. The hope is that the poultry would help keep the soil fertile while enjoying a healthy and happy life amidst the tea plants. If this idea works out, it could pay for a full-time employee to keep the place running.
The next immediate projects are composting, activating the greenhouse, and importing tea seedlings that will live in the greenhouse until spring planting. Things are starting to happen and I am soooo excited!
Photos below: (1) the main 6-inch pipeline from the aquaduct; (2) late at night: water!; (3) water gushing from the new pipeline; (4) the smaller diameter pipe that irrigates the orchard
According to Roy, the pronounced differences between the 2010 and 2009 harvests are the result of the cold spring, which froze the plants' earliest leaves. The bushes essentially got off to a late start, yielding leaves that, at harvest time, are less mature and therefore have more youthful intensity than a typical yan cha crop.
The selection includes a rich da hong pao with pronounced honey tones that lighten up this often weighty variety; a sweet and fruity bai ji guan; a prize-winning old bush shui xian with creamy texture and lush notes of honey, fruit, and flowers; and a yan ru that Roy thinks exceeds last year's popular edition. The unfired samples we tasted were tantalizing; Roy's firing will improve them by concentrating and refining flavor and aroma. Oolong lovers stay tuned: some of the best tea of 2010 is coming soon. We'll let you know as soon as these intriguing teas go on sale.
Friday, September 17, 2010
This past week, serious work began at the tea ranch. After months of negotiation with our neighbor, various contractors, electricians, and PG&E, we finally managed to start work. PG&E agreed to bring power to the spot where the new pump will be set up to draw water from a nearby aquaduct. A 1,200-foot line was trenched across my neighbor Juan's organic olive orchard to bring 6-inch pipe into our property. Juan agreed to do the trenching so we didn't have to beg the contractor, and with amazing speed, he worked from early morning to late night for two straight days and miracle! The project required over 3,000 feet of trenching and now all the new pipe has been laid. Along with our two wells, this will provide all the irrigation we need to plant tea and any other produce we want to serve in our stores (as well as the Fong household).
I am also ready to prep the future tea field with organic compost and plant a cover crop to ready the soil for early next spring, when we can finally plant some tea. Now I'm concentrating on bringing in tea seedlings - another hurdle to be crossed! I am really excited, things are started to happen...
Photos below: (1) the nearby aquaduct, our water source; (2) the 6-inch pipe that will bring water to our tea plants; (3) my neighbor Juan, trenching through his organic olive orchard; (4) the long trench enters our property; (5) and extends the length of it, all the way to the almond orchard.
On a rare occasion when staff from both stores took a break for Labor Day, we held an all-American BBQ at the tea ranch. Over 25 people braved the long drive and congregated for a huge feast. My neighbor Juan contributed his organic olive oil and some locally grown wines from his brother. We ate, drank, and were very merry until late afternoo, when we reluctantly returned home, wishing that this kind of Labor Day wouldn't end.