When a saffron crocus corm (a corm being similar to, but not a true bulb) is growing and reproducing, the "daughter" corms feed off of the "mother" corm and grow in size as the mother eventually becomes just a small, dried-out and shriveled remnant that then disintegrates entirely into the soil. Each corm can make many daughters, and a successful saffron farmer hopes for many large, fat daughters produced every year, thereby multiplying their yields of saffron in coming years. Plant one corm, and end up with dozens of saffron plants - it’s a great investment into the future.
2018 was our first full year on the farm. Our anticipation to see what each season would be like and our long list of projects for the year kept the months flying by. It was a good year and we are happy with our successes and glad we learned from our failures. Many of our projects would not have been possible without the generous support we received through our Kickstarter campaign. We are grateful to all who contributed to the seed money that helped grow our farm. The support we received all year, whether it be emotional, wise advice, or sweat and muscle here on the farm, made our goals more attainable and we thank you all.
Our first spring had us longing for the trees to leaf out and green up which seemed like it took forever. Our fatigue of seeing the monochromatic landscape month after month drove us to search out and plant evergreen trees and shrubs that would feed our eyes during the bare months from late November thru late April. We share the farm with overwintering hummingbirds and songbirds that would also benefit from the addition of some evergreens, so we planted bottlebrush, blueberries, 50 toyon, flannel bush, ceanothus, and more for them to shelter in and feed from and feed our eyes too. Three of our major plans for 2019 include more planting, this time an area of lavender, a small pear orchard, and an olive grove. Each year we hope to continue to increase the diversity of trees and other plants - for our benefit, but also for the benefit of the soil, and the insects and other wildlife that we share the farm with.
Spring also was the time when we worked on our Airbnb cottage and began renting at the end of April. We were not sure how it would go and how many people would travel from the Bay Area and beyond to come visit our little farm and countryside. We expected maybe two weekends a month to be booked and instead, ended up not only booking weekends, every weekend in fact, but during the mid-week as well, with people from Europe, the East Coast, LA, Seattle, and all over Northern California coming through and sharing our excitement about what we were up to here and the beauty of the place restoring them as much as it does us. We often see folks drop their stress and tiredness after a day on the farm. They arrive from the city, after battling the traffic and making their way over the spaghetti road full of twists and turns that is highway 175 and get out of the car with frowns on their faces, to be replaced the next day after a walk around the farm or a hike on Mt. Konocti with a brightness in their eye and a relaxed smile. It makes us feel so good to be able to share this place and know that it has made so many people feel happy and restored to have spent some time here. We have turned away dozens of inquiries this year as we were fully booked, so we decided it was a good idea to add another spot for guests. Our first project in 2019 is to complete the renovation of our vintage Airstream and have it ready by late spring. It will look out at our baby olive grove and the neighboring vineyard in its own private spot so more folks can drop their worries, hug a chicken and get happy.
Summer was all about saffron this year. We had to dig up all our remaining saffron corms that hadn't been eaten by gophers, store them in a specially built storage room, and replant them into custom protective cages to guard them against any additional rodent pressure in the field. Getting the corms out of the ground whole and un-nicked by a shovel blade was extremely hard work, and took weeks of patience and diligence on Simon's part. We thought we had lost most of the 11,200 corms we had planted last year to gophers and voles, but it turned out, because the remaining corms had fared so well, they had reproduced more than we thought, and we ended up with over 28,000 corms. That, along with the 22,000 we purchased from our grower in Holland, meant that we put 50,000 plus corms in the ground. Prep for this massive planting was extensive and again took several weeks during the hottest months of the year. It was also slowed down drastically by the wildfires that came within 3 miles of the farm, forcing us to evacuate and polluting the air with smoke to the extent that being outside working was not possible for weeks.
We eventually got all the corms in the ground in the early fall and no sooner had we stretched our backs and taken a breath when it seemed the saffron started blooming - and bloom and bloom it did! We had projected a yield of about 100 dried grams and we ended up harvesting over 300 grams of dried saffron, which means we picked around 48,000 flowers! We really could barely keep up some days. Saffron harvest typically lasts around 3-4 weeks and is a very intense time as the flowers are best picked when the petals are closed (which means plucking them before the sun has hit them), and then the stigmas separated from the flowers that same day. Each day we will pick the field clean of flowers, only to be greeted the next morning by a purple blanket of fresh blooms. This daily blooming occurs throughout the three to four week period of harvest, slowly waning till there is just one or two flowers the last days. We had a few nights of little sleep trying to keep up with the daily tide of purple blossoms. As we sat there into the wee hours of the night, we brainstormed about what to do better next year. 2019 harvest will be at least triple again what we got this year, and there is just no way for the two of us to be able to do this on our own. We had long talked about taking on a couple apprentices and those long days in the fall convinced us that this was absolutely necessary. Along with apprentices, we will look to hire some help for a couple of weeks during the peak harvest time and are starting the planning in order to make that happen. It’s a little daunting to think of this next step in our growth as farmers, becoming employers, and sharing our farm in this new-to-us relationship. There are so many things to learn about being a good and effective boss and though we love having folks here on the farm in our Airbnb and through friends who visit, it is entirely different thing to share the farm with people who will live and work with us. For this reason, we have been doing a lot of thinking, talking and planning about how to make it comfortable and workable for all. Please wish us luck in this next phase of growth!
The fall also saw a major 2018 goal come to completion - getting our saffron and walnuts organically certified through CCOF. This goal not only was important to us commercially, enabling us to sell our goods as premium products, but also confirmed our commitment to good environmental stewardship of our land.
Saffron picked, dried, packaged and.....sold! The winter phase, which really began at the end of November and lasted till just before Christmas, was all about going to market with our goods. We sold at two holiday fairs, both of which were incredibly successful and spurred us on to take part in more fairs and markets in 2019. We also sold locally to our community here in Lake County mostly from people hearing about us through word of mouth or seeing our posts shared through social media and reaching out to us inquiring if they might buy our goods. What an exciting thing to have the local community interested in our farm and supporting it without us even doing much outreach yet. I love meeting our neighbors this way too - what had been a bit of a lonely spot for us is turning in to a wonderful growing community of other farmers and producers and supporters of small local farms. I can't wait to do more outreach in 2019 and meet more of our community and become more involved in the life here in Lake County. We were so heads-down that first year working to get the farm up and running, the the only people we had met were the clerks at the hardware store. Seeing what is going on in our community more now and the excitement that seems to be building around this part of Lake County growing, changing and offering more services and cultural opportunities gets me so hyper I can't sleep at night with excitement about wanting to jump in and participate! We have lots of ideas, (many of which I think up in the middle of the night) of ways to participate more with the local community. Can't Wait!
Community also grew beyond the local community through our social media presence. We made connections with incredible people as far away as the East Village in NYC who took an interest in us and have been incredible mentors providing invaluable advice and cheerleading. I was lucky to meet and share our saffron with amazing chefs and cookbook writers, and see other meetings of this sort on the horizon. It’s one thing to get through the hurdles of growing and harvesting a crop, and the next hurdle ahead is to take it to market and sell it is what we are now going to face in 2019. We haven't officially launched our 2018 harvest to market yet, as we are fine-tuning the packaging and our website needs a revamp, but this is another large project that was beget by this last year's project of getting those 50,000 corms in the ground.
One project leads to many others, and as each of those projects become a strong, healthy one, it then feeds and grows the next. This is the story of our first year on the farm. Each mother-corm-project has reached its maturity and then passed on its energy to the new one. We sometimes hope that these first few building and setting up years will be followed by years of a slower pace when we are just doing maintenance and perfecting our existing work, (and a lot more sitting on the porch) but in truth it's exciting to be in the growth stage, and be molding the farm to how we want it and I know we will look back on these first years with a lot of nostalgia.