Hello Organic, Dry-farmed Sebastopol Apples

We’re stewards of the orchard during all seasons of the year to get to this point of fruition. We’re already 3 weeks deep into apple season and are starting our cider press very soon. It’s the busiest time of year. Find us at the following bay area farmer’s markets this season:

  • SF Ferry Plaza Farmers Market: Saturdays from 8:00-2:00 pm, Tuesdays from 10:00-2:00 pm
  • Marin Farmers Market: Sundays from 8:00-1:00 pm, Thursdays from 8:00-1:00 pm
  • Napa Farmers Market: Saturdays and Tuesdays from 8:00-12:30 pm
  • St. Helena Farmers Market: Fridays 7:30-12:00 pm
  • SF Inner Sunset Farmers Market: Sundays 9:00-1:00 pm
  • Walnut Creek Farmers Market: Sundays 9:00-2:00 pm

Check out the list of our farm’s heirloom apple varieties to be found exclusively at these farmers markets. Since we are out and about this time of year, we cannot accommodate farm visitors until things die down in December. Follow us along on our cider journey through our twitter account and facebook page. Cheers, y’all!

Summer Lovin’

Summer solstice brings great weather and lots and lots of weddings. ‘Tis the season of love, after all. Our summer flowers are blooming like crazy in brilliant shades of the rainbow—dahlias in oranges, pinks, corals, and soft champagne; zinnias in Barbie pink and sunset hues; 15 varieties of sunflowers, etc. Needless to say, we’ve been playing with flowers all week and will continue until apples come in the beginning of August.

Last weekend, June 22nd, I had the pleasure of designing the florals for two weddings. One Bodega wedding and one in Healdsburg wine country. Both were gorgeous! Luckily, my dear cousin Paolina helped me tackle it all! Here are a few photos of our work….

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Spring 2013 Release

Spring out of bed earlier

A great start to the day includes waking up to sunshine, singing birds, and the sound of tractors plowing through the orchards below. With those sounds combined, spring is officially here. It’s a special time of renewal, especially of all things green on our farm. Our apple trees are all about to burst into bloom, the pinot noir vines are breaking out of their buds, the lettuces are looking great, and the flowers are just starting to turn into colors. We’re preparing for a gorgeous spring season of pastel-colored flowers and tender small lettuce heads.

Our 'Winter Elegance' Sweet Peas are just starting to pop

Our ‘Winter Elegance’ Sweet Peas are just starting to pop

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Susan Devoto admiring the first crab apple blossoms, ‘Malus Florabunda’

Thinning out the lettuces and sunflowers to prepare for planting

Thinning out the lettuces and sunflowers to prepare for planting

A Winter Wrap

Apples

These past few months were all about preparing for apple season, which means pruning, grafting, top-working, and planting. We planted hundreds of rare apple varieties into the ground and grafted an additional 500 trees or so. We’ve top-worked some of the “blah” varieties into fantastic varieties that will be great for both packing and cider. For example, a golden delicious tree was transformed into a Yarlington Mill tree through a mature tree grafting process known as top-working.  In just a few years, we’ll taste the fruit from our 100+ varieties of apples. We’re excited to announce that we’re among the first farmers in the bay area to commercially grow these rare French, English, and traditional American apple varieties!

One of the many grafting days

One of the many grafting days

For Stan Devoto, orchard man, planting a new orchard is like the birth of a child, serious and exciting.

For Stan Devoto, orchard man, planting a new orchard is like the birth of a child, seriously exciting.

New Orchard

We started leasing an additional 11 acres of apples and were able to hire 3 full-time and one part-time employee to help get the trees into tip-top shape. All the trees are planted on semi-dwarf rootstock, which we like, and the orchard contains many Jonagolds, Gravensteins, Granny Smith, and Fuji’s. Since these apples had previously been grown for processing, we pruned them very aggressively when we acquired the orchard about a month ago. The idea is to space the buds out evenly so the branches aren’t laden with fruit, and to clip away the scraggly branches so enough sunlight can penetrate through the branches.

All of our trees deserve a big 'haircut'

All of our trees deserve a big ‘haircut’

Sipping on Cider

Things on the cider front are going so well! We cannot meet the demand for our cider. This upcoming season, we’ll be making about 5,000 cases of all different kinds of ciders made with our heirloom apples. We love our “Save the Gravenstein,” a juicy California-style cider, and we’re also exploring all types of ciders made with different apples. Our “Save the Gravenstein” original is still available directly from us at the Saturday Ferry Building Farmers Market, soon Berkeley Farmers Market, and various other locations. Our “Save the Gravenstein” raspberry is drier than the original and reviewed in the SF Chronicle as “Bringing to mind Lambic.” Get them while you still can!

Delicious cider for springtime

Delicious cider for springtime

Cider Makers Rescue Backyard Apples

We’re also preparing to facilitate a wonderful backyard apple rescue project, called “Backyard Cider”, which will be a community cider blend made with local residents’ backyard apples, and 100% of the profits from this batch will be donated to Slow Food Russian River. We appreciate Slow Food Russian River’s dedication to help “Save the Gravensteins” and the Sonoma County Apple industry in general.

I’m proud to say that we helped make charitable winter events a huge success by pouring at events benefitting women with cancer and autistic children.  We love our Sebastopol community.

Beautiful Sebastopol straight ahead

Beautiful Sebastopol straight ahead

Green Thumb Gals

It’s strange that the winter is the time of year when we have the most fun in the dirt, because we’re not too busy selling our products on a daily basis.  In our free time, we love taking care of and cultivating succulents of all different shapes and colors. We even planted an old-railroad log that had been sitting up near the barn for 40 years, so it was naturally hallowed out for us to plant our succulents into! The succulent logs are priceless to us. With that said, get your hands in the dirt.

These bountiful succulent logs are priceless to us

These bountiful succulent logs are priceless to us

Lots of love,

The Devoto Wade Clan

WASSAIL 2013

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When the orchard is hibernating and the west county fog lies stagnant like a thick blanket covering the orchard floor, it’s the time of year for wassail. The verb, ‘wassail,’ means “health to ye” and it also refers to the warm, mulled cider that is drunk upon the night of the wassail ceremony.  The ceremony itself helps scare the ancient evil spirits out of the orchard and helps ensure a bountiful apple crop and cider for the upcoming season’s harvest. Our farm’s wassail celebration took place just a few nights ago on the fourth eve of February.

Nothing beats a chilly, foggy night for wassailing. Fifty of our friends and colleagues gathered on the farm to share a warm meal, share songs and merriments, and celebrate the birth of Apple Sauced Cider, our farm’s cider house. Each and every one of these people had a large impact in helping us get started, whether they were instrumental in helping us create the idea of starting a cider house, or buying our cider as the purveyor of a restaurant, or just helping us get the word out about it.

One thing is for sure: the cider will continue flowing in many new varieties next season, and this year’s wassail was only the first of many, many years to come.

WASSAIL! HEALTH TO THE OLD APPLE TREE!

Devoto Gardens Winter Skyline

The New Barn

The New Barn. Photo Courtesy of Sylvain Gentile Photography

Devoto Gardens Winter Skyline

It’s time to drink a lot of cider, wine, and all things delicious. Hope everybody had a very merry holiday. We’re preparing for another full year of apples, flowers, winegrapes, lettuces, tomatoes, and peppers. The rain is abundant this time of year, so we’re stuck inside when it’s downright pouring. But the days with a bit of sunshine have been downright gorgeous. We’ve started pruning our apple trees and are done with about 1/4 of the work. Our baby trees look amazing and took on a lot of growth this past summer/fall. Everything is going into a dormant state, so its time to realize what is really important while we complete the circle of the year and start of a new one.

A lot of things have happened this year. After we traveled for about 6 months learning the old-world craft of fermented ciders, Hunter and I returned to the farm and we started a hard cider company that aims to use 100% Devoto Gardens apples. A little bit of sauciness in moderation is good for everybody. Oh, and WE GOT MARRIED <3! Cecily, the youngest Devoto gal, is back on the farm helping us out with marketing, sales, accounting, and basically a little bit of everything. Stan is running around like “the rabbit” he always was. He even built a beautiful new barn this year to properly house our apples and flowers. We grafted over 30 new varieties this past year, comprising 500 trees and a new orchard. No more lavender fields, though. We replaced our almost 1/2 acre of lavender with more apples :)

Wishing everybody a safe, delicious, saucy, prosperous, important, and abundant new year. Love, the Devoto Gardens crew

Cilantro Pesto

If someone asked you, “what is your favorite apple?” What would you say? Would it be a sweet or a tart apple? And on what occasion? Here at Devoto Gardens, people ask us this question multiple times a day, and every week, our answer changes. The truth is that most of the apples are our favorites, and some are better for baking,  while some better for munching on the spot, but they all serve their purpose. In fact, every variety we grow on the farm serves many purposes.

In September 2012, we released our first batch of delicious cider, called Apple Sauced Cider™. This cider is a California fusion with a healthy disrespect for tradition–the first fusion cider takes on Sonoma County’s heritage, heirloom apple variety, the Gravenstein apple.   Originally planted in Sonoma County in 1811, and revered by an older generation as the world’s best pie apple, the Apple Sauced team has re-imagined the variety for the current generation of 20-somethings in order to spark their interest through hard cider.  Thus, the first cider release, “SAVE THE GRAVENSTEIN” was born as an innovative way to save the heirloom from disappearing. Made seasonally from 100% organic Gravenstein apples pressed fresh after harvest, the Apple Sauced ciders maintain the integrity of apples fresh from the tree and are gluten free.

For some reason, people think that using only European cider varieties for cidermaking is the only proper way to make cider, which is a very traditionalist viewpoint–well that’s like saying that basil is the only way of making pesto, even though pestos can be even better made with cilantro or parsley. Yes, we do have other great varieties suitable for cidermaking here on the farm, and we’ll be using those varieties for great cider in the future, but we chose the gravenstein as our flagship because produces THE BEST zesty, crispy, refreshing cider around.  It’s all about how you make it. With that said, our cider is the cilantro version of pesto.

Dog Days of Summer

Engagement party bonfire on the farm at dusk

Last weekend we took a trip to the east coast to celebrate Jolie and Hunter’s engagement party. The majority of our time was spent driving through the predominately Mennonite farmland in northwestern Maryland where Hunter and his wonderful family all grew up. The whole weekend we were surrounded with smiles and outstanding views of the not-so-tall Appalachian Mountains, grand stone houses, expansive corn, alfalfa, and soybean fields, healthy dairy cows, and the occasional apple orchard. We were surprised to learn that northern Maryland had once been a large apple producing region until recent years. Less than a handful of local growers remain in the apple business because prices for fruit are so low…sounds like Sonoma County, CA, right?

Morning mist view from the Wades’ farm in MD

We enjoyed visiting many on-site farm stores in this neck of the woods. One of Hunter’s Mennonite neighbors has a farm store that sells both baked goods and produce at what seems to us a very low cost. It makes you wonder how any other local growers can compete with cultivating any of the same veggies or fruits to make a sustainable living. SO, thank you, California, for making it possible for us to do what we do with the highest integrity possible. Our customers are happy to get what they pay for.

After the 5 hour red-eye flight from the east coast, we realized that the dog days of summer are here as we were welcomed with a blast of heat that blew the blooms open. We’re seeing some flower varieties for the first time this season while other flower varieties, such as the sweet peas and campanula, are dwindling. Our lovely Provence Lavender will make its first appearance at the markets this weekend. Flowers available include agrostemma, cosmos, campanula, godetia, hydrangea, matricaria, lavender, statice, sunflowers, and sweet peas.

Aside from flowers, we’ll continue to thin the apples for several more weeks. Speaking of apples, if you didn’t see the article about our farm in Edible magazine, please check it out! Until next time, must get back to the farm work!

 

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Changing Seasons and Our Focus

Here it is: the northern Californian summer.  Our sweet routine is here: we wake up at 6 am and enjoy a cup of tea and the warm light peeking through the trees, work until dusk, and then eat a great meal filled with lots of greens! The hills are now golden and the sun is hot (hot being high 70’s). It’s a perfect environment for being outside all day.

We’ve been growing several types of tasty lettuces on a commercial scale, and have been blessed with eating big salads every night. This week we planted thousands of San Marzano tomatoes and our Giant Marconi peppers over at our plot of land in Santa Rosa, a place which uses all recycled waste water to hydrate the crops. And of course, flowers, flowers, flowers.

The process of thinning the apples has started. For us, this is the most important step in the apple growing process. It means the highest quality fruit. We thin every single tree in order to create a healthy production and not over-bear the tree with too much fruit. This process takes several weeks and thousands of dollars worth of labor to cover our 20 acres of apples, but it helps us produce the highest quality apple possible. Basically, at the end of a branch, there starts a cluster of 5 or 6 small apples. We “thin” off all but 1 or 2 small apples, which will grow with concentrated flavor from there not being too much fruit overbearing the tree. During this whole process, the little apples grow larger for the next few months until harvest, and they absorb water through the fog that rests on the soil every night, and then through the trunk, into the stems, and finally into the fruit. Dry farmed, organic apples and being a steward of the trees is a win/win situation.  We believe that if you’re a steward of your trees, the trees will be healthier and live longer.

Most apple farmers completely skip the important step of thinning and pump lots of water into the un-thinned clusters of fruit, which will make the fruit large, but it won’t have concentrated flavor like ours do.

Apple report: it’s a fruitful year for some varieties like Mutsus and Fujis, but not a great year for Ashmead’s Kernel or Black Twig or Arkansas Black. Keep in mind that many of our heirloom varieties are alternate-bearing, so they don’t produce in full every year.

See you at any of these Farmers’ Markets:

SF Ferry Plaza: Saturdays

Napa: Saturdays

Walnut Creek: Sundays

Napa: Tuesdays

St. Helena: Fridays

Mayday!

Our farm is like a Ferrari: one second, it is stopped and going 0 mph, and the next second, it accelerates to 60 mph. We’re currently somewhere in between and rapidly accelerating. This week it all came at once: beautiful iris, foxglove, sweet peas, snowballs, and sweet william, and not to mention the all the thinning of the pinot vines. It was also the chickens’ first time being outside and pecking at the ground. They scratched at and loved their little “salad bar.”

Hunter, the guys, and I whipped out the vineyard work, which was thinning all of the excess shoots on the grape vines. The important process of thinning will give us the highest quality fruit with the most concentrated flavor. It was also time to mow in our wonderful cover crop of wild radishes, mustards, clovers, dandelions, dock, and grass.

The apple blossoms on most of our trees have fallen off and the center of the bud started turning into baby apples. These pictured below are young honey crisp apples. We’ve been putting pheromones on the trees to confuse the male coddling moths, encouraging them to fly away because they can’t find their female mate on the trees. Farmer Stan has been carefully spraying lots of organic stuff (sulfur, lime, and oil) to help protect the trees from the heavy downpours. Our apple crop is looking great and we’re preparing for a huge year with our 50+ varieties.

After April Showers

This is one of the most important times of the year as the bees are buzzing happily and dazed from branch to branch, flower to flower. The ‘buzzzzzz’ of thousands of bees can be heard if you’re silent for just a moment. The area around the hive smells like a million wildflowers.

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After a past couple rainy weeks, things finally seem to be in bloom. Our daily “to-do” list is stacking up with sowing, planting, and picking lots and lots flowers. It feels like our first real week of flowers is here. Our blooms in season include tons of blue and white Dutch Iris, Sweet Peas, Foxglove, Sweet William, and Snowballs…all of which decided to bloom at once when the weather here in Sebastopol jumped from 60 degrees to 80 degrees in a day. It’s the realization that the wedding season is upon us and we’ll be playing with flowers all day in the near future.

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We’re planting about 100 crates of Tuberose and Dahlia bulbs this week and hope that they survive the transplant without getting eaten by gophers. I bet they would taste like ice cream to a gohper… These Tuberose bulbs are from a friend of a friend from India, so there is no way to tell if they will acclimate to the cooler costal weather versus their native Indian land where the air heats up to 120 degrees. We’ll see, but we planted many of them in the hottest part of the farm and set up some drip irrigation.

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An entire new orchard was planted where many gnarly quince bushes used to be. The varieties include apples that will double up as cider/dessert apples: Burgundy, Swaar, Spitzenberg, Victoria Limbertwig, Pink Pearl, and Wickson. Each of the new trees was grafted 11 months ago. Since then they’ve been growing in the ground until we transplanted them into our new orchard. The other photos are old Jonathan and Golden Delicious trees that we grafted some Pink Pearl and Golden Russets onto. We’re looking forward to some cider drinkin’and apple eatin’ this fall.

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