Tuesday, February 20, 2018

February 2018 Spotted Bear Vacation Rental

February 2018 Blog
Spotted Bear Vineyards & Lavender Farm
Polson, Montana

          February, and here I sit and write with snow covering everything outside and minus zero temperatures for the last three days.  There were other winters when right about now I would be starting to enjoy all the tulips and other bulbs I planted last fall, but that is just not happening this year. So, all I can do is take advantage of the time to plan and prepare for spring and summer.
            The vacation rental cabin on Finley Point has gotten an incredible overhaul during the past month.  A Baker's rack was added to the kitchen for extra storage and convenience.  It’s very stable and has given us quite a bit more counter space. 
I found it on Amazon and all of the items purchased from Amazon for the cabin were ordered through “Amazon Smile” with a percentage of the price going to the Colorado Prairie Initiative. The cabin is currently booked very heavily in July through Airbnb and VRBO, but there are still plenty of openings in the other months.
            The “old lady” decorating style that we inherited with the cabin is gone and now it is in with the new look which I like to call “Hudson Bay Company, Great Northern Railroad" cabin motif.  Going for the “kick back your heels” and enjoy what Flathead Lake has to offer a visitor.  I recovered the dining room chairs, took down the lace curtains and added small conveniences such as more mirrors, utensils and appliances.

            Running late on starting my pepper seeds, and will try to get that accomplished this weekend.  I added d’espelette peppers to my current seed collection consisting of shishito and chile d’agua peppers.  D'espelette Pepper peppers are the backbone of Basque cooking and I hope that they do well here in Montana.  
            I just renewed my Montana plant nursery license for 2018 and will offer lavender plants for the first time this spring.  On the list of offerings are Buena Vista, Phenominal, Provence and Ellagance lavender plants.  Just contact me by email or phone or the Spotted Bear Vineyards facebook page if you are interested in 4” plants.  These will be for pick up at the vineyard only. Twenty-five per cent of all plant profits will go to the Mission Valley Animal Shelter.
            Looking forward to distilling my own Spotted Bear Lavender Farm’s essential oil from fresh flowers this summer but until then I have purchased some essential oils from Mountain Rose Herbs to make several household cleaners.  My favorite is the “Thieves Blend” which uses clove, lemon, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus, and rosemary essential oils.  I always add lavender essential oil because it just makes it better.  Mix the Thieves Blend combination with water or white vinegar or witch hazel or even vodka and it makes a great cleanser and disinfecting agent.
            Before I end the blog for February, I have to include a picture of a mountain lion that was taken on our property on December 6th, 2017 by our game camera.  I have other pictures of cougars taken in the same spot but this one is just so clear and spectacular.

            Spring really is trying to arrive.  My lilacs actually have buds in this minus seven degree temperature so hopefully, very soon I can get back to gardening and enjoying what spring has to offer in Montana.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

January 2018

January 2018 Blog
Spotted Bear Vineyards & Lavender Farm
Polson, Montanna

            Hope everyone is getting through the crazy weather this winter.  The road to our house on Hwy. 35 is impassable and we have had to move to our guest cabin in the vineyard on Finley Point for a few weeks.  Overlooking all those vines that need pruning is making me hope spring gets here sooner than later.

            I have been keeping very busy but it’s not the same as working outdoors.  We have listed the Spotted Bear cabin with VRBO and Airbnb and already are booked heavily for July.  We also have some adventuristic competitors booked in May for the Spartan races in Big Fork.  I am definitely planning on going to the open house on May 4th from 3-5pm at Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge to get into the spirit of the races.  https://www.spartan.com/en/race/detail/3249/overview.
We are very fortunate in that Deb Carstensen of Diving Dog Vineyard https://www.facebook.com/divingdogvineyard/ , is giving the cabin a style overhaul.  Soon it will become that relaxing cabin at the lake where one is able to escape the bustle of the city and enjoy wildlife and nature.
            It’s almost time to start my pepper seeds so that they are ready for summer planting.  I try to have them in by mid-February.  This year, I dropped Padróns from the lineup.  Every 2 out of 10 is purported to be hot and the rest mild.  Well, that didn’t happen last year, they were practically all hot!  This year I am planting Shishitos and Chile de aguas.  Shishito and Padrón peppers are “cousins.” In fact, both Shishito and Padrón peppers are cultivars from the same variety:  Capsicum annuum var. annuum.  Shishito peppers are the East Asian variety of the cultivar and are named because the tips of the peppers resemble the head of a lion, shishi (or jishi) in Japanese (from: http://www.friedas.com/karensblog/demystifying-shishito-and-padron-peppers/ ).  Shishito peppers have a great flavor, and 1 out of 10 is hot (better odds), and you can never have too many of them.  If they overproduce just make this great sauce that goes with fish tacos or pork or eggs or almost anything.  This recipe is from Trader Joe’s:
1.     1 bag TJ's Shishito Peppers.
2.     3 Tablespoons Spanish EVOO, divided.
3.     2 Tablespoons Lime Juice.
4.     2 Tablespoons TJ's Plain Greek Yogurt.
5.     2 TJ's Premium Peeled Garlic Cloves.
6.     1/4 teaspoon TJ's Sea Salt, or to taste.
7.     1/4 teaspoon TJ's Ground Black Pepper, or to taste.
(Never hurts to add a dash of fish sauce)

            I purchased my Chile de agua (Capsicum annuum) seeds from Jim Duffy at www.superhotchiles.com. I was very impressed with the instructions for starting the seeds that he included with the order.  They were very detailed and suggested many natural alternatives to chemical fertilizers. The Shishito pepper seeds were purchased from Baker Creek. https://www.rareseeds.com/,   I also got some Godiva pumpkins seeds to plant in the garden this spring.  I tried these last year and they were a good tasting pumpkin that has hull-less seeds. You can just roast the seeds and eat them, very easy. I added them to lavender granola and it just put it over the top.

20L Alembic Copper Still

            I purchased a beautiful 20L copper alembic still this month from the Essential Oil Company in Portland  https://www.essentialoil.com/.  It is beautiful to look at and I can’t wait to distill my own lavender this summer.  I currently have lavender soap available, made with my own lavender essential oil that Tootie Welker distilled for me last summer. Tootie sells her own products made with various oils that she distills. https://www.facebook.com/mayarisingshop/  Tootie and I plan on offering lavender distilling workshops at the vineyard and lavender farm this summer.  Please plan on spending a few hours harvesting your lavender and then learn about the distillation process as the freshly cut lavender is placed in the still and the essential oil and hydrosol is coaxed out.  There will be some lavender culinary items available to keep our energy flowing.  If there is interest I would also like to do workshops to make lavender wreaths with grape vine canes and also weave potato baskets from canes.

            When we purchased the property next to the vineyard we picked up a beautiful orchard. We now have cherry, apple, pear and plum trees that haven’t been pruned in years.  So add that to my list of new things to learn.  I never though retirement would be this challenging.

            I spoke to one of our favorite winemakers a few weeks ago, Gary Sloan. http://www.charkoosta.com/2016/2016_05_26/Sul_Lago.html   He reported that the L’Acadie Blanc wine that he is making from our grapes is coming along nicely.  He was getting ready to bottle it and enter it in its first American competition.  I am hoping that his talents will take this grape far.

            Let’s continue the count down until spring!

Skiing in the vineyard last week. Surveying the damage to the nets 
from the snow.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Nova Scotia Vineyards

December 2017 Blog
Spotted Bear Vineyards & Lavender Farm
Polson, Montana

            Well, we are just a week away from the winter solstice.  We have had some cold nights in the 20’s and hopefully the grape vines are asleep and will stay so until spring.  We always fear a warm spell in March,  that awakens them, only to have a frigid spell which has the potential to kill the vines. Let’s hope that’s not the case in 2018.  We sprayed the soil on October 18th with a boron solution that should make up for the lack of this element in our soil around Flathead Lake.  We are speculating that the boron deficiency might have something to do with the underdeveloped berries in our clusters, sometimes called “shot berries” and look forward to next year’s harvest being the perfect grape clusters that we recently saw in Nova Scotia.  Our final bursts of energy at the vineyard this season were spent planting 400 garlic bulbs in late October, 100 orange tulip bulbs and adding 25 more haskap bushes.  The tulips consisted of “Princess Irene” and “King’s Orange” and were purchased from Van Engelen, Inc. (www.vanengelen.com ).  I can’t wait to see what they do come next spring!  If my calcualtions are correct they should bloom just before the magnificient poppy display in May.  The haskap bushes were shipped from, “Prairie Plant Systems” (http://prairieplant.com/ ) in Saskatoon, SK. Canada.  Our first haskaps should be producing berries next summer and I am looking forward to the juice and jam and perhaps even wine, that they will provide us.
Vineyard Autumn 2017
            Other exciting news from this autumn is that we now have a legal and delightful vacation rental cabin in the vineyard.  We went through the application process and received an accommodation license from the state of Montana.  Shortly thereafter, I registered on the VRBO website and now our rental is filling up already for next summer!  If you want to take a look at our VRBO listing, our number is 1168269.  This cabin should afford people a quiet retreat on Finley Point and also facts and information about a working vineyard.
Spotted Bear Vacation Rental
            In late October, we took an incredible trip to Nova Scotia, to enjoy the area and to research the L’Acadie Blanc grape which is an important variety in the growing wine industry there.  We drove to Calgary, and then flew to Halifax.  We had been advised to stay at the Waverly Inn in Halifax by a friend of a friend, and I am so glad we followed that advice (http://waverleyinn.com/) .  The historic inn was located centrally and everything that we wanted to see was within walking distance.  By taking a taxi to the hotel and picking up our car rental downtown and not at the airport, we saved enough money to stay at the inn and have a great seafood dinner downtown.  The next day we headed south to the seacoast town of Lunenburg and of course had another incredible dinner of mussels and seafood. The next day, after just heading west out of town, we stopped in Mahone Bay at the Haskapa store. (https://haskapa.com/ ).  I lost my mind, and purchased haskap tea, a maple and haskap syrup, haskap juice, and some dried haskap berries.  It was great reading up on the story behind the berries and the incredible antioxidant benefits that they contain.  Hopefully, these will be products that are available at our vineyard next fall.
            This same day we drove to the Annapolis Valley which is the home of the award winning vineyards that Nova Scotia is becoming so famous for showcasing.  We stayed in Wolfville and toured the Gaspereau Vineyards, Grand Pré Vineyards,  and L’Acadie Vineyards.  We were unable to see all the vineyards on this trip but will certainly go back to see Jost,  Blomidon, Luckett and others. Each vineyard that we visited was interested in the fact that we were growing the L’Acadie Blanc grape in the states and they were more than helpful in answering our questions about growing concerns. The L’Acadie Vineyard is an organic endeavor and talking to the owner, Bruce Ewart, (https://www.facebook.com/lacadievineyards/)  was very informative.
            We picked up a copy of “Halifax Curated Food & Drink Magazine,” (Vol. 6 Issue 23) which featured an article on Mr. Ewart and L’Acadie Vineyards and found an interesting article on how an area’s appellation wine is created.  I will try to include the article at the end of this blog, however, basically an area chooses a name.  “Tidal Bay” is the name that the Annapolis Valley chose due to the spectacular boreal tides that are found there at the Bay of Fundy.  To qualify for the Tidal Bay Appellation, a local vineyard subjects one of their wines to a blind tasting of approved judges to make sure the wine follows prescribed rules and strict standards. It must be a light white wine that has bright aromatics and a level of acidity.  All the grapes that go into the wine must be farmed in Nova Scotia.  We have forwarded this concept of an appellation wine to the Montana Grape Growers Association and hope to create an appellation here that compliments the Montana grape growers’ efforts and the Marquette grape which is popular in the region. 
Ken checking the grapes at Gaspereau

            I would have like to spend more time in Nova Scotia and plan on going back in the future, but the time came to move on to Prince Edward Island.  We took the ferry over and enjoyed a few days of beach combing and exploring that was easy to do in late October.  In too short a time, we headed over the Confederation Bridge and on to a few more adventures in Québec City.
            The time finally came to fly back to Calgary, but we were in no frame of mind to go home right away after such an incredible trip.  We prolonged our visit and got to enjoy a Calgary Flames game at the Saddledome as they beat Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburg Penguins in overtime. We made it home by the second week in November and unfortunately the weather cooperated and we were able to prune red dogwood and copious amounts of brush in the vineyard. We will be burning all spring at this rate.
            The pumpkins are in the root cellar and the jellies are all canned and in the barn.  It’s finally time to sit back and enjoy some family time around the holidays and start perusing all those seed catalogs that I seem to be getting earlier and earlier each year.

A link to the "Tidal Bay Rising" article in "Halifax Curated" mentioned above: