Clif Notes

Keeping Bees the Natural Way

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Blog post by Drew Erickson, Assistant Farm Manager

My Grandfather Clifford grew up on a farm in Door County, Wisconsin. That’s the thumb shaped peninsula that sticks out above the town of Green Bay. On the farm the family grew the area’s prized crop, sour cherries, a tree that requires pollination to produce fruit. He told me stories about what it was like growing up on the farm. A favorite story was how he and his two brothers were tasked with gathering the fire wood for the winter. As a ten year old young man he was felling trees with a cross cut saw, skidding logs behind a horse, and splitting the wood with an axe. I recently saw a census report that showed him and his brothers working 60 hours a week. Not surprising that he left the farm for the big city of Chicago at sixteen. He left the farm as a young man but never lost his connection to the land, and always understood the value of fresh, home grown produce.

In all his stories and during our visits back to Wisconsin, I never remember him talking about bees on the farm. My grandfather has passed away so I can’t ask him about his experience with bees, but we are lucky to have a great teacher in Rob Keller. As a new bee keeper Rob has helped me get over my fear of getting stung and taught me everything I know about bee keeping. He likes to remind me, “don’t get jiggy, and you won’t get stung.”

Today’s commercial bee keepers truck there bees around the country from crop to crop at the precise time of flowering. Drive through an almond orchard in California’s central valley in the spring and you will see shipping pallets stacked with four hives each. This is the bee’s first stop of the spring after a cold winter in the Dakotas. From the almond blossoms they bounce around the country strapped to the backs of 18 wheelers pollinating trees and making honey from the nectar of the crop. While this method has its place, and is responsible for effective pollination of a huge amount of the food we eat, this is not the life of our bees that live on the Clif Family Farm.

At the farm Rob has taught us a different way to care for our bees. We find a good spot for a colony. A place east facing to the morning sun, in a bright spot where it will get a little shade on a hot summer day, but not too much shade in the winter, near water, and most of all surrounded by a bounty of nectar and pollen producing plants. Once we find that perfect bee space, we build a stand and place the colony with the intention of leaving it there for the entire life of the hive.

Now that we have several hives placed around the property it’s time to let them grow. Throughout the season of nectar and pollen production we continually check the hives to make sure the queen is laying eggs and the workers have plenty of space to grow the colony. While a young colony will effectively pollinate trees, it does take some time to grow the hive to a point where it will produce honey. Most of our colonies are in their first year. For the first year it is important to leave some honey in the box to help the bees survive the winter. Once established, a healthy hive can produce loads of honey, given proper forage. So help a local bee keeper and plant some nectar producers in your yard.

Raising Chickens Nature’s Way

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Friday, May 17, 2013

Blog post by Drew Erickson, Assistant Farm Manager

There are two ways to raise a chicken. The modern method involves collecting fertile eggs and placing them in an incubator that maintains a proper temperature and humidity. The more advanced incubators even tilt the eggs back and forth to replicate a mother hen turning her eggs. Today’s chicken farms have entire rooms dedicated to incubating eggs. Once hatched the chicks are sent down a conveyer belt where workers check their sex and box them up for shipping. The box of young chicks has a two day window to make it to its destination where the farmer unpacks the chicks and places them in an artificial brooder that can be as simple as a cardboard box with a heat lamp. The chicks are fed starter feed and have free access to water. Eventually the chicks grow to adults and at eighteen weeks are ready for introduction to the rest of the flock. This is a great way to get started with poultry; it’s how we got our first few flocks of pullets (baby chickens). It’s how we got our ducks, and it’s still how we get our turkeys. This modern method is the easiest way to produce lots of birds, but it does have some drawbacks. Mainly, it is energy dependent, and a short power outage could result in the loss of hundreds of fertile eggs. It also requires petroleum for shipping. The cost of shipping live animals long distances in a short time frame is also very high. So how else do you produce chicks?

In our constant effort to reduce petroleum inputs we decided to breed our own chickens this year. Here’s how.

To insure the fertility of our eggs we isolated one of our roosters with four large hens. For a few weeks we continued to collect the eggs for eating. Once we were confident that the rooster had fertilized the hens we began collecting the eggs and storing them in a cool cellar. At this point it is important to turn the eggs once a day to keep the yokes from settling in the shell. As long as the eggs stay cool they will remain fertile but will not begin to develop. They remain viable for up to ten days.

Now that we had a few eggs we needed to heat them up to a precise temperature and humidity for twenty one days. As the days grow longer this is the time of year when hens, “ go broody,” meaning that they will stop lying and sit on a pile of eggs. So the simplest design, we created a nest in a quiet area, away from other birds, and put a broody hen on our collection of eggs.

On day 20 I went to check on Delaney, our broody hen, to clean her stall and refill her food. To my surprise, I could hear a faint peep-peep. Within 24 hours five of the seven had broken free of their shell and were safe and sound under her wings. Typically when you get your chicks in the mail or incubate your eggs under a heat lamp they are also brooded under a heat lamp away from other birds. In our case we are relying on Delaney to be our heat lamp. The chicks spent most of their first two days of life directly under her. On day three they set out on their own for water and their first meal. After snack time it wasright back to mom’s side. We will continue to monitor the situation closely. In a few days they will be allowed to go outside for the first time. While this may not be as efficient for a breeding operation trying to hatch hundreds of chicks at a time it does have its advantages. Our Pullets are gaining immunity from their mother. There is less hands on work for the farmer. Delaney isn’t afraid of the dark so power outages would not kill off our developing pullets. One bird can sit on up to a dozen eggs, which for most small holders this would mean being able to sustain a healthy size flock of layers while avoiding shipping costs (shipping live animals is not cheap). And if she is a good mother Delaney will teach the birds how to forage in our pasture. Over the life of a bird this will save our feed costs. Stay tuned to find out how our birds grow and for other fun Clif Family Farm adventures.

The 2013 CSA Season Has Officially Begun!

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Thursday, May 16, 2013

On Tuesday morning, we were busy harvesting fresh produce from the Farm for our first CSA box of the season. We couldn’t ask for a better day of harvesting – a cool, sunny morning…just the way the veggies like it.

Our 30 CSA members (and a couple of lucky waiting list recipients) received a box of Scarlet Ono Turnips, Radishes, Red & Green Romaine Lettuce, Head Lettuce, Butter Lettuce, Green Garlic, Parsley, Chives, Sage and Oregano.

We are looking forward to a bountiful harvest season with lots of great fruit and veggies in store.

We are also thrilled to be providing fresh produce to two local restaurants! Be sure to make a reservation at Goose & Gander or Sogni di Dolci for a real taste of local flavors!

If you are not part of the CSA program, join our waiting list. And if you live outside the area and are in Napa Valley for a visit, join us on a Farm tour. There is always lots of great produce waiting to be picked and tasted right from the gardens.

Here is one of the recipes we shared with this week’s box:

Green Goddess Dressing

A classic salad dressing made with parsley, tarragon, chives and sour cream for a tangy finish.

Vary the proportions of the herbs to suit your taste. If you want, add some ripe avocado to the mix.

Prep time: 15 minutes

  • 2 teaspoons anchovy paste or 2-4 canned anchovies
  • 1 small garlic clove, mince
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped tarragon
  • 3 Tbsp chopped chives
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and black pepper to taste


Put all of the ingredients in the bowl of a blender or food processor and blend or pulse until you get an evenly smooth dressing, about 30-45 seconds.

Serve as a dip, or toss with salad greens for a dressing.

The dressing should last about a week in the fridge.

Yield: Makes about 2 cups.

A Virtual Tour Of Clif Family Winery

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dry Farmed Tomatoes

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Tuesday, April 23, 2013

By Drew Erickson, Assistant Farm Manager

The first thing I ever grew was a potato, a simple process my grandfather taught me. Put a slice of potato with a few eyes on it in some light soil, cover it with some more light soil and watch it grow. When the plants started to die back we dug them up to find a gold mine of spuds.

He never said it directly, but I’m sure my grandfather was teaching me that growing your own food isn’t rocket science. With a little hard work and a little know how you can grow some amazing veggies to share with your family and friends - an important lesson for a child of a generation raised on food anonymously sourced from the local grocery store. In his garden on a quarter acre in the Oakland Hills grandpa had a variety of fruit trees, a few rows of vegetables, and my favorite part, a raspberry patch. I am often reminded of this garden now that I work on a farm where we grow many of the same trees and vegetables that he grew..

While I will always remember my grandfather’s keep it simple attitude there is always room for innovation, and farming is no exception. In our continuous effort to stay on the cutting edge of organic farming we are planting a crop of dry farm tomatoes. The idea is to grow a tomato with the most concentrated amount of sugar by starving it of water. On the plus side we will be saving water and growing great flavored tomatoes. The down side -more labor intensive to plant, decreased crop yield, and not the simplest crop to grow. Not rocket science, just hard work and a little know how.

The process began a few weeks ago when we turned our cover crop in on a portion of field. The first step was to prepare the soil to a depth of two feet using the double turn method where the farmer removes 12 inches of soil and blends it with well composted manure. The next step is to turn the soil another 12 inches deeper. Finally you add the first 12 inches back to the hole rich with amendments.

Once the soil had been prepared it was time to plant the tomatoes. We encourage the plants to root deep in the soil by growing them in our greenhouse to around a foot tall. At planting time we removed all but the uppermost leaves and planted the root wad and stem as deep as possible so that the resulting plant is only four to five inches tall.

The plants were watered in deep on Sunday and will continue to receive drip irrigation once a week until fruit begins to appear. At that point we will cut the irrigation off, cross our fingers and hope that the roots have made it deep enough for the plant to survive.

In the next few days we will be setting up a support system of trellises and pinching of any early flowers that appear to encourage the plants to put energy into growth rather that fruit production.
Keep your fingers crossed with us and stay tuned for updates on our dry farmed tomatoes and other edible projects we are working on here at the Clif Family Farm. We hope to have these tomatoes available through our CSA program this summer.

Seared Scallops In Meyer Lemon Wine Sauce

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Monday, April 15, 2013

Celebrate Mother’s Day with a delectable seared scallops dish complemented by a Sauvignon Blanc and Meyer Lemon reduction sauce.

I have created this recipe as a single serving size just in case you want to treat your Mom to her own very special meal. Pour her a glass of the chilled Rte Blanc Sauvignon Blanc and start assembling the ingredients.

This recipe goes quickly…. Enjoy!

1 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
1 Tbsp. Clif Family Winery Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tbsp. Fresh Italian Parsley, chopped
6 Large Sea Scallops
1/2 cup of 2012 Rte Blanc Sauvignon Blanc
Sea Salt
1 Tbsp. Meyer Lemon Marmalade – Gary and Kit’s Napa Valley
1 cup of Organic Baby Spinach


Preheat oven to 400F.

Season the scallops with sea salt and set aside. Heat a stainless steel skillet to medium and melt the olive oil and butter together. Next carefully place the scallops in the skillet and sear for 1 and a half minutes on each side. Remove the scallops and place on a heat resistant plate. Pour the butter/oil mixture out of your skillet and reserve in a small dish. Now you can add the wine to deglaze your skillet and reduce by half. Add the Meyer Lemon Marmalade and 1 Tbsp. reserved butter & oil mixture and stir until the sauce appears slightly syrupy. Finish the sauce with the fresh parsley.Prepare the plate by placing the fresh spinach and drizzling the Meyer Lemon sauce over the scallops and the remaining butter/oil mixture over the spinach. Now, place your plate in the oven to finish for 3 minutes. Spinach will wilt and the Scallops will finish cooking with the sauce. Garnish with additional wedges of Meyer Lemons.

Enjoy with a chilled glass of Clif Family Winery Rte Blanc Sauvignon Blanc.

Give your Mom a hug!

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