Milewide Nursery

Garlic in the garden… — August 9, 2015

Garlic in the garden…


Garlic, now that is my favorite, and it always delivers. Looks great in the garden and is very easy to grow. We start our baby garlics in October – they are cloves from the last year’s harvest. We fork up their bed with compost and manure; we add some ranch mix (cottonseed meal, seaweed, oyster shell flour…) and then water it in well. Every clove gets pushed into the soil and the whole thing is then covered in straw. If things are a little cool, then we cover with a woven row cover; but if it is a warm fall, we leave them uncovered and water regularly. As fall lengthens, we cover anyway as protection against our winter’s frost – garlic will fail if it gets frozen. We use a heavy mulch and the row covers to protect them. When spring arrives , we top dress them hard with manure to encourage rapid growth. We expect harvest in  late spring, around the first week of June.
When you harvest, fork the plants up, tops and all. Wash em up and dry them out throughly. You will use those tops to braid your garlic for storage. We keep ours in our pantry – at as moderate temperature as we can.

Garlic is central to the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which also involves lots of vegetables, fish and olive oil. Allicin is the compound that provides most of the health benefits derived from garlic and it also gives garlic its distinctive smell. Garlic is very rich in Vitamin C, in Vitamin B6 and in Manganese. Garlic use has a significant impact on your susceptibility to the flu and the common cold. High doses of garlic will actually reduce high blood pressure for those who suffer from this issue. The antioxidants in garlic helps prevent Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.


Olive oil health benefits… — January 10, 2015

Olive oil health benefits…

For me, I have always lived a Mediterranean diet or close to. My Nana and my aunts all cooked off the boat Sicilian. And just like you read, the diet is based around what was available around the Mediterranean Sea for thousands of years. This includes olive oil, garlic, vegetables and seafood – we might mention, lots of vegetables. My Nana made eggplant melanzane that just rolled in olive oil; my Dad, an old North Dakota guy, was deeply suspicious of all that oil. But it has turned out that a couple tablespoons of olive oil a day is really very good for you.


The health benefits aren’t some old wife’s tale and quite a bit of research has floated to the top on the subject. Olive oil offers antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral properties; it helps the cardiovascular system and, generally, offers antioxidant and ibuprofen-like effects as well. Not only is the oil to die for, but many of these benefits can come from olive leaf extract and, perhaps, even from olive oil processing water.
The phytonutrient in olive oil, oleocanthal, acts like ibuprofen; but it isn’t the only virtue to the oil. Olive oil use, partly because it lowers your use of other oils and butter, lowers general levels of total blood cholesterol. Oxidative stress causes aging, general deterioration and weakens the body in the face of cancer but olive oil is rich in antioxidants, especially vitamin E. Olive oil also very high in monounsaturated fat, which has a much lower oxidizing effect on the body. Olive oil also decreases blood pressure, helps in diabetes control, helps with osteoporosis by improving bone mineralization and calcification.
NOW that you have some small idea of what olive oil and olive leaf extract is about, you need to check out the links below. These go into detail about what we have just touched on. is a commercial website, but you can explore their information for free. If you want to try the extract out, you can purchase a bottle from these folks right away. But, Milewide Nursery has just bottled up its first olive leaf extract, which you can try when it is ready. Milewide uses fresh picked leaf from our olive orchard – grown using natural and sustainable techniques. We will let you know on this blog.
Dr. Amanda Jackson has compiled an excellent essay on the benefits of olive leaf extract. The essay seems to be available at several web sites – here is one:
Well worth the read…

It isn’t hard to make a tincture. Fill a clean mason jar with olive leaf (or rosemary leaf or whatever) and then pour the jar full with grain alcohol (Everclear). Let it sit in a dark place for a month. Turn it over every couple of days. Watch in case the alcohol level drops a little as the leaves absorb it – you may want to add a little more to top off. Alcohol tincture can’t go bad, but it can evaporate.



A Meditation on Maples: Breathing Room — December 17, 2014

A Meditation on Maples: Breathing Room


Years ago, on the land now owned by Milewide Nursery, cowboys were running cattle. Their lingering remains can still be seen here and there in man-made spring trenches and old, fallen-down fences. What we call the ‘Cowboy Shade’ was once a fenced-in area they used to corral and brand the cattle under the oak canopy above. This space is now used as shade for Milewide’s potted maple trees, it spreads over an acre plus, enough to hold several thousand maples. Out there you will find Japanese maples of several different phenotypes, as well as paperbark maples, and other species like dogwoods, white oaks, witch hazel, and hydrangeas. Considering its size, watering the Cowboy Shade is a task we are fortunate enough to have on an automatic system. However, the boss certainly threw all caution to the redwood wind when he invested in his maples – currently, we have about 5000 Japanese maples, in diverse age ranges. Each year several hundred are selected to graduate into larger pots so that they can to grow to their potential. The older Japanese maples, in particular, have proved their worth in size, and created a spacial predicament in the Cowboy Shade.

Through adolescence the maple trees are lined up next to each other and as a result of the crowded environment, many morph from their natural growth formations. It is very important for us to separate the trees as they get crowded and this becomes a problem when producing such large quantities in a limited amount of space. Realizing this our nursery manager, Ash, devised a plan that would utilize less space and honor the maple’s affinity for breathing room: The Maple Garden. About two years ago the largest maples were ready to enter adulthood and stretch out their delicate limbs in the new space. Inadvertently, it turned into a major potting project that required twelve pairs of hands and an entire week to accomplish the vision. Today it sits atop a quaint hill in peaceful solitude just across the road from the Cowboy Shade. Knowing Ash, I think it must have stemmed from some sort of deep reflection amongst the maples. It’s literally become a meditation garden of maple trees, and also my favorite place on the Milewide grounds.

Whenever the opportunity ever arises, I give an eager hand to water the Maple Garden. It is a precious little world of deep reds, fair oranges, vibrant greens and canary yellows. The power of walking through the circular configuration with a hose is completely different than the experience of turning on an automatic watering system. The plot is dead silent, except for a single stream of water and your own footsteps. Taking a moment to saturate each pot commands daydreams, distances, and prospects. It is an instant that spreads into a minute; the effort of troubling with the hose eases, and becomes a workless progression of hours. It becomes an image of the watcher’s hopes, as if in some tranquil trance plans travel and flow through the water. Trees and all things that move have a unanimous hush, even when the wind falls through the valley. It’s a practice that devours two hours if you want to give each and every maple attention.

The consolation I get from this particular maple patch is the sense of order in a chaotic clutter of tilting trees trunks and intersecting branches. It is a collection that imposes a timeline, signifies existence, and is a vital piece of what makes Milewide unique. There is a conventional notion that art is merely found inside museums and galleries. A wise friend once suggested that art cannot be aligned with any specific form yet it must be aligned with a range of sensations. Each time I enter the Maple Garden, whether it be to water, sit, read, write or just walk through to the barn, a different emotion develops. I’d like to suggest that art has been manifested in our Maple Garden, and extend to you a similar challenge: to unearth a piece of art in nature. It is the only dirt-cheap pleasure I know hat’s always free of disappointment, so enjoy yourself and remember to breathe.

Brielle, ranch hand at Milewide Nursery

Sustenance Practices — December 13, 2014

Sustenance Practices


Whenever I venture off the mountain into the “real world”, I find myself awash in data but starved for interpretation. It’s confusing. There’s no recycling bin, yet the green pamphlet on the hotel nightstand hints I should avoid unnecessary water use by reusing my towels. Meanwhile I have just got in from a dip in one of three indoor pools. Dinner in a San Francisco restaurant features fresh, farm to table cooking, and I find myself paying an incredulous amount of money for a side of vegetables. Now, it isn’t that I mind picking up my towels or paying for vegetables, but I find that what is expected of me sustainably in the city, as opposed to the country, is vastly different. The word sustainable is used in a commonplace way; however, I don’t think many are able to comprehend the personpower it takes to facilitate ‘going green’ in every aspect of our lives. We refer to Milewide in different ways: the mountain, the country, the nursery, the ranch, up the hill, heaven in the spring, hell in the winter, and above all, a homestead. Milewide was built at its core with a sustainable system of solar panels and water tanks that I would like to review, as well the practices that we follow – which are much too habitual to be nostalgic about.

Overtime, as most things so naturally do, Milewide has inched its way into solar power. Ten years ago the first installation, consisting of a small series of panels, was meant to supply a simple greenhouse with air circulation fans and a little electricity. Today, our solar power is used for light, power, and to run our electronics in just about every structure on the ranch. I’m no solar authority, but I will give you my brief understanding of how it works. The solar panels absorb the sunrays, which is sourced into energy, stored in batteries, and then dispersed to our needs throughout the day. Sometimes, when a gloomy Humboldt fog sets in we take extra care to not drain our solar batteries by keeping energy usage to bare minimum. There is a learning curve to using the system, but getting it down soon becomes second nature. Once the solar is in place, things seem simpler. It’s not a ten-point plan to save the world from fossil fuels, but we do our best. Maybe you aren’t so certain about trading your washing machine for a five-gallon bucket, and who would be? We certainly have a standard washer and dryer, but more often than not, we put our laundry out on a line in the sun. Our hands are our dishwashers. When leaving a room, we turn off efficient CFLs. Firing up the indoor wood burning stove on chilly winter nights is ritual. And, in worst-case scenarios, we do have a back up diesel generator.

The second approach to getting sustainable necessities is the water tank. Ever wonder about the trail behind the water flowing out your faucet? If you’re in southern California, rest assured it is being pumped from a place very far, far away. Northern California luckily has a different water situation. Our main source of water is from a spring that goes into a large tank – we call it the Fifty – which then streams down the mountainside, to spout out of our hoses and faucets. The water crisis this year weighed heavy on the ranch, and priorities changed when the spring was drying up. This year a rainwater tank was brought in as a backup for the spring tank. Perhaps it came too late to make an impact this year, but it is better late than never. Hopefully, with the hoped for end of the drought and this winter’s estimated 40 inches or more of rain, we will be OK. I believe Steve is planning on installing the plumbing for the new rain tank himself, and I am interested in the filtration system when he merges the two tanks together. Milewide and all its plant life from the maples to our white oaks, and all the garden contingents alike, drink an incredible amount of water every year so it is necessary to use every resource we can.


Most of us who work on the ranch are conscious about the “trendy little green things” like reusing glass bottles, recycling our waste, and up-cycling old furniture. The single most important lesson I have learned working here are the wonders that steep in a compost bucket, and the importance it has on our crop cycles. The story of how this works is simple: Let’s say we harvest all of our artichokes, and maybe cherry-pick some peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, figs and basil for dinner, too. After the meal, some measly left over’s go into the compost, which I’ve been meaning to take out for days. The next morning, it’s time to clean up the artichoke beds. Soil is a funny thing because the chemical nutrients necessary to grow decent crops are removed with every planting. So, it is necessary to restore them. We do this by putting our compost back into the soil in a mulch ranch mix, as well as using a technique called ‘cover cropping.’ Fava beans are planted in the old bed as a cover crop; they grow quickly and will be cut down right as they flower, and then we compost the remains. The favas, adorable as the dickens, actually put some sweetness (Nitrogen nodules on their roots) back into the soil, so that the next crop will be able to have a substantially improved growing environment. So you see it’s difficult for the circle of sustainability to ever stop at Milewide since livelihood is so closely dependent on it.

fava_flower fava_jungle

If you aren’t living on a homestead, having your own rainwater collector probably isn’t in the cards for you. I’m sure solar panels are still feared by many on a Home Owners Association. Which is probably why the information about eco-friendly cleaning supplies, packaging, and locally sourced foods is so rampant. It suggests that the small act of kindness toward our planet by many, may in fact even beat out the large efforts of one (not that it’s a competition!). I believe the numbers indicate that as a world, we are making strides to reducing pollution, however we are still far away from sustaining ourselves as a human population. So, perhaps your 25% eco-friendly water bottle is 100% recyclable, you purchase overpriced WholeFoods “If You Care” saran wrap, you turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth, eat local foods, or go all out and invest in a hybrid. All of these things make up an incredible amount of energy and effort in reducing our dependence on nonrenewable resources. We’ll keep fighting the good fight, with more sustainable stories from our stint at the farmer’s market to a courageous attempt at refurbishing an old rocking chair, and we hope to hear yours too.

Brielle , Ranch hand at Milewide Nursery

Milewide Nursery Image Gallery — December 9, 2014
The Banana Massacre —

The Banana Massacre

Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana, and before you know it there are Fungus Gnats attacking your bananas. While futzing about in the greenhouse, immersed in the beginning of a winter cleaning, we discovered a Fungus Gnat infestation on our beloved banana plants. They hadn’t been looking their best. Almost all of the banana leaves were brown and wilted, on some only stumps remained. Although our cool falls will do this to these bananas, it was now time for an intervention.

A rotting stump is the major cause of an infestation, as well as the moistness of the soil. We are officially transitioning into a winter water schedule. Many of our high-priority watering duties will be minimized, and we can rely on mother Nature to take a little more care of us through the winter holidays. This means that our banana plants, in particular, do not need to be watered as frequently, especially since a moist environment creates the perfect home for Fungus Gnats.

The gnat itself is relatively harmless, except for the eggs it lays, but it is an irritating nuisance above all other nuisances. The gnat maggot or larva (remember that egg) feeds on roots in the moist soil as well as on rotting plant material. While the hovering gnats are a serious aesthetic issue, these larva are devastating. And the damage can sneak up on you. We follow a simple IPM-Integrated Pest Management schedule to end a Fungus Gnat infestation.
1) Immediately inspect each plant, cleaning up the soil environment
– Remove all weeds
– Remove decayed stumps, roots, or plant matter rotting in the soil
– In certain situations this meant taking a saw from the workshop, and sawing the plant in half to separate the rotted stump from the other tree in the pot.

2) Trim off any dead or unhealthy leaf
– Yes, the plant will look ugly. Get over it, and so will the plant. Think of it as a bad hair cut, it will grow back!
3) Water with Gnatrol (bacillus thuringiensis – a bacteria that attacks the eggs and larva of the fungus gnats)
4) Set out yellow sticky traps to capture existing Fungus Gnats
– Wear gloves, otherwise your fingers will stick for a week

Avoiding overwatering is important because the pests thrive in the moist environment. However, there is a delicate balance to strike between starving out the Fungus Gnat, and starving out the plant. A good trick, which we use quite frequently, is watering from the bottom up by using water pans beneath the pot. This way the moisture on top dries forces the gnats down into gnatrol-moistened soil below.

Repotting might also improve plant vitality, especially if you utilize virgin soil. A bark-soil will retain less water than a potting soil with peat moss. If you are going to this much trouble to rid yourself of Fungus Gnats, you might also consider using decoy or trap pots filled with sprouting grain. Females will lay their eggs in these pots, rather than your precious plant.
Banana Plants ready to repot after being cleaned

Our banana collection has been dwindling, and we are struggling to keep them looking pretty. The irony is that our bananas don’t even produce fruit; we keep them for their – now nonexistent – leafy looks. With a close eye on our crop, we hope they make it through the winter. We’re looking forward to posting pictures when they perk up this spring.

Here’s to Healthy Banana Trees
Brielle, Ranch hand at Milewide Nursery

Olive Harvest — November 26, 2014

Olive Harvest

In the orchard, shaded by the westerning sun, ranch hands toil, sweat on their foreheads and time out of their minds. Wind rushes through an oak savanna, once inhabited by cowboys, who may have nurtured similar aches in their backs. At first blush, one might not believe such a poetic depiction is reality on harvest day in our olive orchard but here at Milewide the fall air brings everything you’ve been daydreaming about all year.
After too many cups of coffee, we slip on our gloves and harvest bags, with a similar excitement only experienced before the age of 7 on Christmas morning. We kneel down underneath a big olive tree, setting out a cloth that will catch the olives combed off their branches. You know what they say, when life gives you olives, make olive oil, and that is exactly what is about to happen.
Step 1 – The Paste
With sacks piled up in our pressing room, we quickly sift through our pickings, removing any foreign material that may diminish the quality our oil. We use a primitive process to produce small, artisanal batches. The first of our semi-industrial equipment- mind you, the sound it makes is by all means industrial – is a food processor, attached to a stand with a bucket fastened on top. The olives are poured in through the bucket, fall through the food processor, and the paste is dispensed.
Step 2 – Malaxing
When we have about 16 quarts of paste, which is about all we can process in a day’s work of two pressings, it’s time to stir and warm it up. This is similar to melting chocolate in a bain-marie, or water bath, for those of you who flunked French. We place the bucket of olive paste into another bucket filled halfway with hot water. Then, fit a mixer into the olive paste, and let it get to malaxing, or mixing. This separates oil from the ground olive flesh, and creates larger droplets of oil for extraction.
Step 3 – The Olive Tower
Thirty minutes later, the DIY supersize bain-marie has done its work, and our olive paste is ready to be prepped for the press. This sequence reminds me of making a trifle cake. The olive tower is made in a large metal tray with a hole on one end fitted with a cork. Our olive trifle is layered with: first a solid, plastic plate, then a sequence of slotted plastic plates and tough, thin fabric is layered one after another. In that order, you begin the tower, then using a square frame, we fill and smooth over a layer of olive mash, so that when you remove the frame, you have a perfect square of olive mash to cover with another fabric mat, then a slotted plate, another mat, olive mash, and so on, continuing this sequence for 10-15 layers.


Step 4 – Just Press It
Now patience becomes a virtue, after transferring the metal tray to the actual press. We very slowly crank the lever, once, twice, maybe three times to start the pressing. Olive water and oil will begin to seep out along the edges of the fabric mats and into the metal tray. As it begins to fill, we uncork the hole and let the contents out into the final bucket. From there, we decant, jar, and wait to for separation to occur so we can extract the oil from the water and other particulate matter.

IMG_5559 IMG_5566

Step 5 – If You Consider This a Step…
It’s time to sit down to a harvest dinner, and reminisce.
“What a day this year has been,” amongst the passing of bread, cheese, figs, articokes, leeks, and wine, “I thought they would never blush.”
Late November’s harvest is a ritual embedded in the culture of homesteading and of the ranch. While we wait for the oil to settle, there is nothing but time to reflect on the year passed, and plan for the future harvest coming too soon. This year, we are entertaining the idea of infusing our oil with rosemary. Stay tuned for how it holds up against Beth’s homemade bread.
Brielle, Ranch hand at Milewide Nursery

PS: We have decided that next year will need a standard commercial press or we will need to use a public press to extract all the oil we can get. And, we will have even more trees producing… we will get back to you.
–    Steve


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: