So what is the latest news at Sunnyslope Farm?

March 16th 2010  (Happy Birthday Renee!!!)

— entry by Darryl 

Renee on top of 4 orchard grass bales. Our friends, the Dinos, have loaned us this truck to use on the
farm, what a great help it is!

We have been busy trying to get the weeds under control and preparing the garden for the spring planting. Last week, Renee and I cleared one of the goat pens next to the main garden. I then roto-tilled it. This year we plan to plant “three sisters” in that area. The “three sisters” consist of corn, beans and squash. This technique was originally practiced by Native Americans.

We will be doing several plantings of corn, maybe 2 weeks apart. After the corn is a 3 or 4 inches tall, we will add the beans and squash. The beans will use the corn stocks for support, and since they are legumes, they will fix nitrogen and enhance the soil. The squash will  shade the soil and keep the weeds from getting out of control. Although this will not give the highest yield for the different species, it should help eliminate the need for chemical pest and weed control. This kind of plant strategy is called companion planting or plant guild planting and is a important component of the permaculture approach to farming.

Spring is coming!

Over the past week or so, I have been working on the garden and orchard area. I have been cutting back the blackberries and started seeds in the greenhouse. So far I have planted Purple Passion asparagus, Royal Red lettuce, Super Jericho romaine lettuce, Forellenschluss romaine, Champion collards, arugula, Violetto artichoke, Rubine Brussels sprouts, Golden Star sweet pepper, Mole pepper, and celeriac were planted on February 2nd. All the lettuce and the arugula have sprouted as well as several of the Brussels sprouts. Yesterday, I planted the Costoluto Genovese tomatoes.

Here is a picture of the first sprouts.                                                This is the greenhouse.

There are also some trees that are starting to flower on the property. I am not sure if they are ornamental or not, but they are a sure sign that spring is just around the corner.

Renee and I went to the Alameda Home and Garden Show yesterday. We saw lots of remodeler/contractors, roofers and solar installers there. It was a great place to get information!

— Darryl

Turkeys and Deer and – SKUNKS! – Oh My!

    Wildlife has been the theme on the farm. Darryl counted 32 wild turkeys last week! Chief just saw 32 playmates, and went running for them. That same day, a deer was right in front of the house. It saw Darryl and Chief, and jumped over the gate, into the garden, then out the other side. (We have since bought deer fencing)  But wait, there’s more! While Darryl was feeding the horses he saw a skunk crossing the pasture!
    Today we took Chief to the farm, and Darryl let him into the pasture. I like to keep him out of the pasture because he rolls in and eats the horse manure. Typical dog behavior. YUCK! I had to give him two baths this week alone. As we debated whether he should be in there, we heard him barking. Next thing we know he got sprayed by that skunk! So, now you know what these pictures are of. Notice that I made Darryl clean Chief!

Heirloom Apples

— This entry was submitted by Darryl

Because I love history and also have a strong interest in genealogy, I really enjoy learning and exploring the old ways of life. I think that this is one of the reasons I am interested in growing heirloom varieties of fruit and vegetables. As a first step, I decided to order some old varieties of apples. While the fruit stock are old, these are grafted onto modern rootstock.

So last Tuesday, seven bare root heirloom apple trees arrived from the Trees of Antiquity nursery down in Paso Robles. They are all organically grown and all are on semi-dwarf rootstock. Here is a description of each variety:

The first one I picked was an Arkansas Black, which has been grown in Arkansas prior to 1886. I read in Foxfire book number 11 that Arkansas Blacks were commonly grown in Appalachia earlier in the last century. The fruit is described as strikingly beautiful, dark purplish-red fruit that turns nearly black at maturity. It is very crisp, greenish-white flesh with a sharp flavor which improves with age. It ripens very late and stores in a cellar well.

This is a picture of an Arkansas Black (Arkansas prior to 1886)
from the Trees of Antiquity website.

I also purchased the “Classic Heirloom Bundle” which consisted Ashmead’s Kernel, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Grimes Golden, Newtown Pippin, Spitzenburg, and White Pearmain.

Ashmead’s Kernel is an old English russet apple dating back to 1700. It has a golden-brown skin and the flavor is said to “explode” with champagne-sherbet juice with a lingering scent of orange blossom. It is said to be a winner in taste tests. Ashmead’s Kernel ripens late and is an excellent storage apple.

Ashmead’s Kernel (England 1700)

Another apple originating from England, Cox’s Orange Pippin produces a medium sized red and yellow, usually striped apple. This apple ripens mid season and is good for fresh eating and cooking.

Cox’s Orange Pippin (England 1830)

Grimes Golden (1832 West Virginia) is a progenitor of the Golden Delicious apple. It has a more complex flavor than its descendant and is said to be an excellent dessert apple. It ripens late and is only a fair storage apple, so it should be eaten fresh, cooked and/or preserved (like hard cider!).

Grimes Golden (West Virginia 1832)

Newtown Pippin was George Washington’s favorite Apple. This yellowish-green apple is said to be aromatic with a refreshing piney tartness. It ripens late and is an excellent storage apple that actually improves with time.

Newtown Pippin (New York 1759)

The Spitzenburg apple was grown in New York prior to 1800. This was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite. The apple has a yellow skin covered with inconspicuous red stripes and russet freckles. The fruit’s flavor is said to be a perfect balance between sharp and sweet. Like the Newtown Pippin it is also a great storage apple that improves with time.

Spitzenburg (New York prior to 1800)

Last but not least, the White Pearmain rounds out the heirloom collection. This is the oldest known English apple dating back to 1200 A.D. This medium size apple possesses light green skin and is usually flushed red on one side. It is mildly sweet and aromatic. It is said to be a great pollenizer of other apple trees and is a vigorous tree well adapted to our western coastal areas. It ripen very late and should store well.

White Pearmain (England 1200 A.D.)

The above information and images were borrowed from the Tree of Antiquities website (

So Friday, I roto-tilled the orchard area where we planned to plant the new trees. Renee and I were able to get them into the ground by dusk. We really needed to plant them that day since a series of big storms were on their way. Now that several days of heavy rain have past, one thing I learned was that I should have only tilled the areas immediately surrounding the new trees. After inspecting the orchard today (Tuesday), I noticed that my tilling contributed to some erosion. Luckily, none of the new trees were affected.

Here are some pictures of our new orchard:

Looking east this is our new orchard . It is hard to see the 7 new trees because
they are smaller than the fence posts. I have tilled the area where the bare root
trees are planted. In hindsight, I should have roto-tilled a much smaller area.
The red building beyond the orchard is our well and Rascal can be seen in

In this picture, you can see three of the new trees (they have the yellow
tags). In the background is Cox’s Orange Pippin, the Newtown Pippin is
in the middle and the White Pearmain is in the foreground.

Rototilling and Rocks (and more $pending)

Darryl and I purchased a Honda 8HP rototiller. We got  Dodie and Robbie (Renee’s sister and her boyfriend) to help us cart it to out to our farm in his truck. It was Robbie’s first time seeing the place. He was a wealth of information, as he is a farmer himself. Dodie was a great help to me (Renee) inside the house because I tend to get overwhelmed, and she helped me focus on what really needs to be done now, and leave the rest for later. Thanks, Dodie!

The rototiller is amazing! Our soil is dark, loamy and gorgeous! About half way through our center plot, Darryl hit rock, and the tiller went flying forward. We ended up having to spend the next hour or two digging out a bunch of clay-sandstone rock. We broke two pick axes (they were old, anyway). We still have more work to do.

OK, I now have to confess to something. A few days ago I was cleaning the inside of the house. Vacuuming the family room in “layers,” and scrubbing and cleaning every inch of a bathroom. I went to take the wall heater cover out to dust it, and found it was attached to the electrical wires. A few sparks flew, and I managed to blow a fuse that affected the whole back of the house and the chicken house across the driveway. We can’t get it to reset, so now we have to call an electrician out. Darryl says I could have killed myself. I will definitely be more careful next time!

Darryl rototills our garden


Renee looks pretty scary as she preps herself for deep cleaning

Learning, Cleaning, $pending

Gosh, only one week has gone by and so much has happened. First, we met a couple of our neighbors, and they are so nice and have been so helpful on things pertaining to the property. I also met Jesse, our local feed store owner, who knows all about the horses on our property, and we now have 27 year old Rascal on a senior pellet food with glucosamine and condroitin. He has no teeth. Turns out 17 year old Mariah, the other horse, stays fat just on the pasture.
    We bought a new power washer, weed wacker, come – along, and are researching rototillers. We are out at the property daily, doing something to clean it up and prepare it for the spring garden. We’ve pruned, weeded, cleared off the roof of the chicken house, dumped old chicken manure from the chicken house into the garden, power washed the chicken house, and are still prepping the garden for spring. Hand turned some of the soil, but we have GOT to get a rototiller! Darryl ordered a bee suit and beekeeping materials. The suit does not fit Darryl, so I am now the proud owner, and Darryl has ordered another one!
    Our son Nathan brought his music equipment to the property to see if he could “amp up” without disturbing the neighbors. Amazingly, we could hardly hear him just outside the house, and couldn’t hear him at all at 50 yards. He is thrilled, because now he can record his music properly. We never let turn the amp past 1 at the Center St. home!

Darryl and Chief check out the partially turned garden

Renee sweeps the roof of the chicken house

Happy Renee in her new bee suit!

Sad Darryl wears the only thing that fit him (bee hat), while ordering a new bee suit


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Renee digs her garden!

Darryl adds to the compost pile

Renee bonds with Mariah and Rascal

Escrow has closed, the farm is ours!

We just heard this afternoon that the property title change was recorded. We are now owners (or stewards) of Sunnyslope Family Farm!

Instead of one mustang, there are now two mustangs, Mariah and Rascal. The two have been together for many years, and the previous owner had asked (as his last wish) that they stay together and live out their lives on the property (a request which we are happy to observe).

Renee and I did our final walk-through and property inspection yesterday. Over the past few weeks, we have tried to make friends with Mariah, who is a bit stand-offish and has not been comfortable taking food from Renee. But today, both horses were reunited on the property, and both took alfalfa pellets from Renee’s hand. She told me earlier that having the horses accept her would be a big step in her bonding with the property. This was a good day!

We are spending most of our time reading seed catalogs and writing up our  “to do” lists. One or the reasons that we have created a blog is that we hope to get a lot of input from interested folks. We look forward to hearing from all of you!

Getting closer!

Over the past week we got all the inspections done. Although not all the news was good, we now have a very good idea of what we need to do to build the homestead of our dreams. With luck we will be closing escrow early, just in time for Christmas. Over the next year we will be pretty busy putting in a new septic system, upgrading the electricity, fixing the roof,  totally redoing the kitchen and planting a large garden.

Here is a picture of Mariah in the pasture:

Here is a picture of the house and goat pens from the garden:

Another view of the house from the garden:

What have we gotten ourselves into?

The big news at the Ray household is that after many years of dreaming, we have finally taken the plunge and made an offer on a nine acre property in Castro Valley. It comes with a 60 year old house, many sheds including a small commercial chicken coop, one horse, two cats and at least thirteen wild turkeys…. and a lot of work ahead for us!

Keep posted for more updates in the coming weeks!