May at Sunnyslope

It has been a busy May at the farm. Renee has been planting almost every day. We have been harvesting artichokes, fava beans, lettuce, arugula, kale, collards and chard as well as beets and radishes.

Here is my farmer girl:
Renee is standing in the apple orchard where she has just planted peppers
and eggplant. Our blackberry hedge is in bloom behind her.

Here are the goats, (L to R) Lucy, Apricot and April in the pasture.

A beautiful caterpiller found by Renee in the garden. We need to find out what it is!

Still planting

Renee has been busy getting crops into the ground and Darryl has been installing drip lines into the various gardens. The chicks continue to thrive, and the bees are busy visiting all the flowers. At least one of the heirloom apples (Cox’s Orange Pippen,1830) is producing some fruit this year!

Renee planting peppers in the apple orchard.

Renee’s gloved hand is holding back some apple leaves so that 3 young apples can be seen on our Cox’s Orange Pippin tree. This heirloom apple was developed in England in 1830.

Bee visiting blackberry flower.

The new chicks are growing fast!

On April 20th we picked up 5 white leghorn and 5 Wellsummer chicks from Livermore Hay and Feed. They are now 3 weeks old and can spend all day outside in our “chicken tractor”. Sadly, one of the leghorns didn’t survive her first night, but all the rest have been doing well. We picked these two breeds because they were very different from what we already have. The leghorns are good producers and will provide us with white eggs. The Wellsummers will produce very dark brown eggs.

Here are a few pictures:

White Leghorns and Wellsummer chicks have arrived!

Pretty easy to tell the two breeds apart.

Here they are at about 2 weeks. They are outside in the “chicken tractor” which is like a chicken coop on wheels.

Construction, Finally!

Fall is here and things are winding down in the garden. We have harvested over 350 ears of corn, canned at least 50 jars of tomato sauce, and got enough blackberries picked to make a bunch of jam.  and finally watching the demolition and construction of our house!

For the past few months Renee and Nathan have been working on the “in-law” end of the house. The painting is done, and the new floors are almost in.

Here is Nathan laying vinyl tiles in the in-law kitchen.

In the meantime, demolition and the beginning of construction has begun in the main part of the house.

Living room carpet is gone. Our project is beginning!

Living room as seen from the new dining room. Notice the nice large opening.

One major part of the demolition was the removal of back hallway. The back wall was reinforced cinderblock and was probably part of a major home addition in 1970.

View from our master bedroom through the (future) french doors to where we 
will have our deck.

Mid-Summer Harvests

The corn is in full production. Renee has been picking corn every other day for the past week or two. She started of with 3 or 4 ears at a time, but Saturday she picked 84 ears! Most we shared with church, some we parboiled to freeze and the rest we ate.

Saturday’s crop of super sweet hybrid corn from Johnney’s Selected Seed Company. Actually this is more of
a yellow  corn.

Here are some pictures from around the farm’s garden:

This is a view looking east through our little corn field.

Red runner beans growing with the corn. We also planted different
types of summer squash. The “three sisters” (corn, beans and squash)
is a type of companion planting.

Another picture of the corn and the red runner beans.



And blackberries.

The Newest Sign at Sunnyslope Farm

The newest sign at Sunnyslope Farm is our plaque showing that we are a Certified Wildlife Habitat!


Renee went on the National Wildlife Federation website and had the farm certified as a wildlife habitat earlier this month. Actually it was pretty easy to do and the farm had all the elements already in place. If you would like to find out how to certify your property, check out this link:

Here is why Sunnyslope Family Farm is a Certified Wildlife Habitat:

There is lots of food on the property for supporting a wide range of wildlife. I have seen turkeys, quail, hawks, crows, robins, Stellar jays and scrubjays, woodpeckers and many other smaller birds. On the mammal side, there are squirrels, skunks, racoons, and deer.

During the wet part of the year there is at least one small stream below the pasture, and there is Pacheco Creek at the bottom of the property. All year long, there is a water trough for the horses that is used by other wildlife as well.

Over half the property is oak and California bay woodland and the other half is garden and pasture. Around the edges of the pasture are oaks, conifers, and other trees providing shade. We have a lot of tall “weeds” growing throughout the property: there are several types of thistles as well as hemlock, mallow, nettles, and grasses.

Places to raise young
I have seen several bird nests on the property, the most interesting of which was the turkey nest in one of our unused animal pens. Back on May 4th I was mowing down the weeds in that area and suddenly a turkey jumped up from the tall weeds and flew away. I stopped what I was doing and went to investigate. There was a simple nest on the ground with 10 eggs in it.

The turkey nest with 10 new eggs!

I carefully avoided that area as I finished mowing the rest of the pen. The next day, I was happy to see that the hen was back at the nest. Renee and I continued to take a daily peek at the nest for the rest of the month. On May 30th we noticed that the nest was abandoned with a number of empty eggs and two intact ones.

Not the greatest picture, but this was the best
I could do to get a picture of the empty nest
with the discarded eggshells and two unhatched

The following day I saw the turkey hen and 6 chicks (or more properly, poults) walking away from the nesting area and heading off to the woods.  That brood was the earliest one we have seen this year. Since then, I have seen a number of different hens leading their young poults around teaching them the to fend for themselves. I have also seen at least one doe and her fawn passing through. I am sure that there are lots of other families sharing our property. I am looking foreward to meeting more of them in the coming years.

The Signs of Sunnyslope Farm


      The Hex Signs

When Renee and I first saw Sunnyslope Farm, we noticed all the bright and colorful round signs nailed to various buildings. We recognized them as Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs and that they were generally used to bring good luck, but that was about all we knew about them.

I thought it would be fun to photograph the various signs around the property and find out more about them. I hope that you enjoy this information.

Let’s start at the house. The picture above shows the sign that is over the front door. It is a house blessing sign that has several common Pennsylvania hex sign symbols. The two birds at the bottom are called a “double distlefink“. Distlefinks are good luck birds and having two give a double measure of good fortune!  At the top of the sign are two “trinity tulips” which symbolize both the Trinity and faith, hope and charity. I am not sure if the other flowers have any specific meaning. The heart at the very top represents love or as one source on hex signs has said: “the heart of God, the source of all love and hope for a future life.”

By the way, the Pennsylvania Dutch, were not from Holland, but in fact were of Germanic origin. The term “Dutch” came from the fact that the german settlers in this region referred to themselves as being “Deutsch” or German. They came to the Pennsylvania area
prior to 1800 from Germany, Switzerland, and the “low countries” (mainly the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg).

One of the most decorated buildings on the property is what we call the “chicken house”. It is really more of a chicken hotel than a house! There is enough room there for 30 or more chickens PLUS 3 small stalls for goats or lambs to be born. Here is the front of the chicken house:

The mystery of why there are 4 signs on this building and not that many on any other structure may be related to the fact that the old chicken house had burned down a few years back. I suspect that the previous owners wanted to protect the new chicken house with a lot of “good mojo“!  Here is a closer look at each sign. Starting from the left, the first sign has what appear to be 5 maple leaves on it.


Maple leaves symbolize contentment.  Beside the door, there is another “Double Distlefink” sign. The two birds on this sign are another traditional rendering of the distlefink different from the one seen earlier on the front door. There is also has a heart representing love and what appears to be an artichoke. I have no idea what that represents. The wavy boarder along the edge symbolize “smooth sailing”. Both of these signs have the signature of Jacob Zook on them. He was a well known designer of Hex signs.

Here is the sign on the chicken house door. On it is a 12 pointed rosette, which stands for good luck in each month of the year.

This is a pretty self-explanatory sign with a single distlefink and a large and a small heart. Good luck and lots of love
Below is a sign on the well house. It has an eight-pointed star which are often blue and symbolize goodwill. It also has sheaves of wheat which represent abundance which make a lot of sense for a well. I too hope that the well will produce abundantly!

And here is another eight-pointed star for goodwill (actually two stars and a eight-petaled rosette). This sign is over the door on the potting or tool shed in the garden. Besides the stars and rosette, it also has the “smooth sailing” waves.  Notice the raindrops, which could mean water, crop abundance and fertility.

This sign is found both on the stable and on the garage.  This hex sign has a green five-pointed star and pictures of various animals. Another meaning of stars is protection, so I am guessing that this sign is for protection of the animals. The orange is for abundance and the green is for fertility.

The two signs on the garage are pretty faded. The one on the left appears to be a 12-point rosette and the one one the right is the animal protection star just like the one on the stable.

Here is the sign on the hay shed. It has lots of stars for prosperity and the 12-petalled rosette for good luck every month of the year. 

Here are two signs that I found in the green house which have not been installed yet. The sign on the left has the blue 8-pointed star of prosperity as well as wheat sheaves and tulips. This is one of the most common hex signs. The wheat, as mentioned earlier is for abundance and the tulips represent “faith and trust in man”.  The sign on the right also has some symbols I have not yet mentioned. The four oak leaves represent strength while the four colors symbolize the seasons of life or the seasons of the year. The blue wavy boarder, as seen before is for smooth sailing.

So there you have it. These are the hex signs we have found on the farm. I hope they continue to bring their good luck!

Sometime soon, I will show some of the other signs at Sunnyslope, which are not Pennsylvania Dutch. I think that you will find them fun (and funny) as well.


Long live the Queen! (or queens in our case)

On Friday, I took my first look at the beehives since installing the bee packages. I needed to check to see if all was well with the two hives and to see if the queens had been released from their queen cages. I was happy to see that both queens were free and hard at work laying eggs in the new honeycomb. 4 or 5 frames showed a fair amount of activity. Because there are not a lot of flowers out yet, I have kept the hive top feeders filled with sugar syrup (2 and 1/2 quarts water and 5 lbs of sugar). So far the two hives have used a total of fifteen pounds of sugar! They will probably need the syrup for another 3 or 4 weeks.

Since I had to do the inspection on my own, I didn’t have Renee around to take any pictures this time. I hope to have some pictures later this week, so stay tuned!

— submitted by Darryl

The Girls Have Arrived at Sunnyslope Farm!

Last week Darryl picked up two packages of Italian honey bees from Noble Apiaries of Dixon California. He was able to arrange to pick them up at the UPS distribution center by the Oakland Airport. Each package contained approximately 10,500 bees including a queen. He had previously ordered materials to build two bee hives and has been working on them for the past 3 months. So the day after the bees were picked up, he installed them into the two hives in our apple orchard.

Here are some pictures of the bees moving in.

Here are the two packages of bees sitting on top of a beehive. There are about 20,000 bees total in the two packages.

Darryl with the two packages of bees ready to install in their hives.

Here is the queen cage covered with attendants ready to be installed in
the hive. Hopefully over the next few days, the worker bees will be able to
chew through the candy plug on the cage and free the queen.

The queen cage has been placed between two frames of the hive. Just
to be safe, Darryl put a piece of wire through the cage so that it wouldn’t
fall to the bottom of the hive. The cage is surrounded by attendant bees.

The rest of the bees have been shaken onto the frames. The rest of the
frames are now being added. Finally, Darryl will put a top feeder and
sugar water (syrup) on top and cover the hive with it’s lid.

All done!  Now we will leave the bees alone for a week to get comfortable
in their new home.

Spring at Sunnyslope Farm

Springtime at Sunnyslope Family Farm

This is a view of the grape arbor begining to sprout leaves with Mariah eating in the background.

Spring is here and we are pretty busy keeping up with what needs to be done at the farm.Darryl has begun to plant corn. The first 3 rows of super sweet hybrid went in on Tuesday March 28. As soon as the corn has grown 5 or so inches, we will plant beans and squash around them. Darryl bit the bullet and purchased a John Deere riding mower! He was falling far behind in weed control and the mower is really a huge timesaver.

Here is Nathan trying out the John Deere.