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Thursday, February 16, 2017

National Almond Day

Today is National Almond Day! What a perfect time of year it is too. The bees are out and getting happier by the day. The blooms are starting to open so those little bees have something to pollinate and keep their tummies full. (Want to keep your tummy full too? Keep reading to the end)


National Almond Day is a day to enjoy the beauty of the almond, the almond bloom and the almond tree. Besides the fact that almonds are a healthy nut and offer great amounts of protein and vitamins they are also a beautiful nut.


This time of year isn't just for a great family photo or one of best times for local photographers to get some great shots, it is a time to enjoy the lifecycle of the almond. I take this time to showcase how the almond gets a starts. That little bee needs the nourishment and protein from that almond bloom to be able to jump start it's spring. Almonds are the first nutritional crop the bees will be pollinating after a long and cold winter. They look forward to almonds to give them that push of love and vitamins to make it through the year.


Not only do bees need almonds, but almonds need bees. Without bees almonds wouldn't be able to be pollinated. We need bees to cross pollinate the almonds and bring pollen from one almond variety to another. This ensures the almonds will develop into a delicious nut.






The buds and blooms are signs of the tree exiting dormancy and waking up after their long winter nap. The blooms are a sign of new life, new beginnings and a new crop. Bloom set is what many look at as a market predictor to try and guess the crop yield. So many look at bloom as a time to start planning for harvest in a mere 6 months.


There have been plenty of foggy mornings like this during our winter season this year. This keeps the temperature down and the bees asleep. We anticipate the warm afternoons where the bees can get out and bee active! Bees are picky and won't come out unless the temperatures are perfect and sunny. But too many sunny days will speed up bloom and make it happen to fast.


Farming is all about balance and finding the happy mediums. We don't always get the ideal weather, ideal growing conditions or ideal days. But that is what makes farmers the eternal optimist.




So today, let's celebrate almonds! Go eat a handful, feed a bee or just enjoy the beauty of bloom.


So how do I get my hands on these tasty treats to celebrate the National Almond Day?
I will select one lucky Almond Day winner and send you
  • 40 Mariani Nut 1oz snack packs
  • a Large "California Almonds" T-shirt
Enter to win and have a great National Almond Day!




Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ask the Expert: John Wilkins, Valley Tool

Technology is a hot topic that I get lots of questions about. The average consumer doesn't realize just how much technology and advances farmers use every day. This certainty isn't the day of cows and plows anymore.


Ask the Expert is a series of posts to answer your questions. I asked you what questions you had about technology and I went out to answer those questions. I am bringing in what I consider industry experts to answer these tough questions and to provide another view point. I am by no means an expert on these tough questions, so I found the experts for you!


Valley Tool and Manufacturing is a company I became familiar with when they acquired the Vrisimo orchard mowers. They are a popular orchard mower that my father used. I enlisted John Wilkins, who is a sales representative for the company, to help me answer your techie questions.


Almond Girl Jenny (AG): Can you give us a brief introduction of your company?
John Wilkins (JW): Valley Tool & Manufacturing is a manufacturing business focused on industrial agriculture machinery. The brands we manufacture include Vrisimo (flail mowers and shredders), Windmill Spraymaster, RockHound, and BrushHound.
The company was created after a few bad years of peach crops in 1968-69' when the Brenda family had to start over from scratch. The family sold the farm and opened up Valley Tool & Manufacturing in Hughson. The entire facility was only about 1,000 square feet. We began as a tool sharpening business for bay area machine shops and over the next decade began to do bid work for companies in the steel industry such as US Steel and Lockheed Martin.
As we grew, Fred Brenda developed Valley Tool into a full-fledged fabrication shop with a wide variety of capabilities. Then, in the 1980’s, we diversified again by purchasing the Vrisimo Ag mower brand and later Windmill Spraymaster. In the last few years, we’ve developed our newest brands, RockHound & BrushHound Attachments – equipment companies focused on contractor and forestry equipment.
We’re proud to still be a family-owned business and committed to developing Valley Tool as the next generation steps in. Currently, Fred serves as President and his son, Vaughn, is our Vice President.


AG: How have advances in technology changed equipment manufacturing?
JW: That’s a question that is really difficult to answer quickly!  Technology has impacted our company in almost every facet, not just in the type of end product we manufacture.  Yes, our mowers themselves have advanced as technology has, but we’ve seen technology impact us in how we manufacture, how we sell, how we market, even how we handle accounting.  Over the last 10+ years, we have developed a line of excavator and skid steer mounted mowers and shredders that with previously available technology would not have been viable.  Ultimately, it has allowed us to diversify in what we build, to become more efficient in how we build it, and to be more effective in how we reach people with it.


AG: How has technology changed what equipment farmers demand?
The biggest impact that I can point to with regards to technology has to be expectations.  As technology improves, expectations for higher reliability, improved features, and faster delivery windows also grow with it.  Truthfully, that’s great for us as manufacturers because it pushes us to continue to innovate and improve not just our products, but our manufacturing and business processes as well.  Technology is allowing us to make those necessary changes at a much quicker pace than ever before.

AG: What is the biggest change in farmer’s request from you in the past 10 years?
JW: One of the biggest changes we’ve seen over the last 10 years is the necessity for brush shredding and all of the complications that come along with it.  We’ve gone from being able to push and burn pruned material to trying to shred it so fine that it doesn’t cause problems for processors.  
Vrimiso mower photo courtesy of Valley Tool

AG: What new technology are you working on to help advance farmers for the next 10 years?
JW: Without getting into too much detail, our goal is to help farmers with three main things:  reduce downtime, improve public perception, and increase efficiency.  Mowers are relatively simple, but improvements in bearing technology, knife technology, drum balancing methodology, and other things are definitely on the table to help provide farmers with a “better mousetrap” as we continue to see a rise in commercial farming. 

Brush Hound photo courtesy of Valley Tool

Spraymaster photo courtesy of Valley Tool

AG: How has technology changed the way farmers look at doing business?
JW: One thing that has certainly seemed to change in how farmers do business with us is how informed people are before we even have a conversation.  Technology has certainly created expectations of faster response times, shorter lead times and reduced down times.  We have also seen that with the rise of social media, online news outlets, etc., some farmers seem to be much more conscious about the public perception of their practices when making a decision.



It was a pleasure to discuss technology and farming with John. I hope we have dug deep into your questions. Have more? Simply comment below, send me an email or look me up on social media to ask more!


Don't miss out on the Ask the Expert series
Mike Mulligan, Glory Bee
Matthew Haddon, Sierra Gold


Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny

Friday, February 3, 2017

Ask the Expert: Mike Mulligan, Glory Bee

Buds are forming, bloom will be here soon and bees are starting to arrive. What a better time to answer your bee questions than now!


Ask the experts is a series I am writing to get some of these hard to answer questions answered. I opened the discussion up to you guys and asked your input on questions pertaining to bees. These are just a few of the questions I have been asked. Have more? Ask away and I will try my best to find an expert for your questions!


Mike Mulligan is the owner of Glory Bee, the beekeeper we choose on our farm to contract with for our pollination needs. Mike a good family friend so it was easy for me to find you a beekeeper to answer those stunning questions.
Almond Girl Jenny (AG): Can you give us a brief introduction of your farm/ company?
Mike Mulligan (MM): l got my start in the bee business back in 1975 after I graduated from UC Davis when Hubert (Jenny's grandfather-in-law) offered to start me off. He offered me 400 beehives, a new 1976 Ford truck, misc. beekeeping equipment, and an old shop building.  He had a few of his farm employees help me with building new bee boxes and your father-in-law even helped me a few times moving bee hives. I lived in an old shack for several years nearby. And I was so surprised when Hubert told me that he wanted to sell me the bee business after just two years of working for him.


AG: What was beekeeping like back then?
MM: Back then, there were huge acreages of cotton and alfalfa in the Wasco area, which provided summer honey production for the bees. I rented the bees out to almond farmers for pollination for $9.50 / hive the first year. (it's now close to $200/hive, 37 years later). I took the bees up to the Lindsay area for orange honey production after the almonds, then on to seed alfalfa pollination for several years at Boswell Farms.
Busy bee at work
Bee Boxes filled with bees
AG: How is your family involved in your farm?
MM: I married Susan Zachary from Shafter in 1987, and she really got the business, billing and office work organized and she became a great business partner as well as wife and super-mom.  The business eventually grew to approximately 7500 hives today with about 12 full time employees. I had several young men from a Wasco family start working for me and they became the backbone of the business. Almost the entire family has worked for Glory Bee Co thru the years.
At this time, none of our seven kids show much interest in the family business. It is a very demanding business, requiring long hours and backbreaking work, often in extremely hot weather. That doesn't seem to interest them.


AG: Can you give us an insight into care for bees during the summer?
MM: We have started trucking most of our hives out of state, to North Dakota and South Dakota, for summer honey production in the last few years, as cotton and alfalfa have declined drastically in Kern County. This move has presented many new and challenging changes to try to adapt to. Our "beekeeping" year revolves around almond pollination now days. Almost all commercial beekeepers truck their hives to CA for the almond bloom.
Photo Courtesy of Gregory Cook
AG: What is the hardest part of maintaining the colonies?
MM: Somewhere, around 1995-2000, parasitic mites of honeybees spread into the US and boy did that shake things up across the beekeeping industry in the US. One in particular, the Varroa mite, has become the source of all the related problems related to CCD (colony collapse disorder). It is very difficult to control this pest efficiently without damaging the bees, especially the queen bee. It's difficult to produce a food product (honey) and use miticides without contamination problems. All the other problems related to running a farm in CA; Workman's comp, DMV, insurance, CAL OSHA, they have been, and are still scary.


AG: What gives honey its specific colors?
honey samples of various flavors and colors


MM: The main honey batches we have made our main crops of honey from over the years are: citrus honey from Tulare Co, sage and wild buckwheat honey from coast range Chaparral areas, alfalfa honey from Kern Co, clover, sunflower, alfalfa, and canola honey from our Dakota locations, and occasionally a little avocado, almond, and raspberry honey, depending on the year. Most honey production is dependent on adequate rainfall, just like farming in general.   The different floral sources produce different flavored honey, as well as different flavored pollen making them all differ in color and taste. 

Now that you are a little more educated on bees, maybe you will look at the jar of honey a little different.
Have more questions for Mike and other industry experts? Ask away! Shoot me a message in the comments below, send me an email or look me up on social media.
Did you miss the first Ask the Expert post from Matthew Haddon, Sierra Gold?


Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Ask the expert: Matthew Haddon, Sierra Gold

Over the years, I have received numerous questions of how almond trees grow. Do I plant seeds for the trees or buy from a nursery? How long does it take an almond tree to grow? Well, it was time to pull in the experts for some of these questions.


Ask the experts is a series I am introducing to get some of these hard to answer questions answered. I opened the discussion up to you guys and asked your input on questions pertaining to production agriculture in the almond or tree fruit industries. These are just a few of the questions I have been asked. Have more? Ask away and I will try my best to find an expert for your questions!


For the first round of questions, I called on a friend of mine. Matthew Haddon has been a Sales Representative with Sierra Gold Nurseries since 2012. He serves the Kern County area. I asked him to get to the root of your almond tree questions.




Almond Girl Jenny (AG): Can you give us a brief introduction of your company and how it relates to agriculture?
Matthew Haddon (MH): Sierra Gold Nurseries has been producing fruit and nut trees for orchardists since 1951. The mother blocks of source material for propagation as well as the finished nursery trees are all produced on about 1,000 contiguous acres of fields and greenhouse/shade house facilities just outside of Yuba City, CA along the Feather River. Sierra Gold is a family owned and operated company with very rich heritage of fascinating agricultural roots.


AG: How long have you been in operation?
MH: The founder, Walter Berg began growing trees in 1951 with his father-in-law CE Sullivan who was one of the largest cling peach growers in the world at the time. Sullivan was also a soil scientist who had helped generate the original USDA-SCS soil maps in the Sacramento Valley that the industry still uses at the present time. That knowledge base of where the best soil could be found enabled him to acquire some wonderful farm properties, which still serve Sierra Gold Nurseries today. In fact, the headquarters property now has a historic landmark at the front gate as it is known as the "Hock Farm" property– the very first commercial farm in the Sacramento Valley which was founded by John Sutter in 1841.
AG: How is the family involved today?
MH: Today, the nursery is owned and operated by Walter Berg's son Brian Berg and son-in-law Jack Poukish


AG: So just how is a tree grown at your nursery?

MH: The production methods for the different types of trees vary according to the cultivar that is produced as well as customer preferences for certain things such as potted vs. bare root, finished (budded) tree vs. rootstock only, etc. Some trees can be grown well from a seed, a cutting, or from tissue culture…some can only be grown reliably from 1 or 2 of those methods. The typical turnaround time for most trees sold is about 14 months.



Tree Training photo courtesy of Sierra Gold Nurseries
AG: What is rootstock?
MH: Rootstock is the part of the finished tree below the graft union. The part above the graft union (or bud union) is called the scion wood or the "variety". For example Nonpareil is an almond variety and Hansen or Nemaguard are 2 commonly used rootstocks in the San Joaquin Valley. The rootstock is usually a cultivar within the same genus but a different species from the variety and thus has the ability to have desirable growing traits and is compatible with the variety though it may not produce any crop on its own.
Field grafting or budding photo courtesy of Sierra Gold Nurseries
AG: Why do almond farmers use grafted trees?
MH: Nonpareil planted on its own root stock would not grow or produce consistently for any length of time before being overcome by nematodes, diseases, or less than ideal soil chemistry such has high boron, salts, or a myriad of other agronomic issues. However, a rootstock on its own would not be able to produce a crop that is even remotely like the crops that we eat if it could even produce anything at all since it is a different species. Having an almond variety budded onto a rootstock enables consistent production of a valuable food product for many years and is thus the best of both worlds in that by using this propagation method we are "harvesting" the positive traits in a rootstock such as salinity and nematode tolerance while at the same time keeping the size, shape, color, and taste of the Nonpareil kernel that makes it so desirable around the world.

AG: How do farmers pick the best rootstock for their farm?
MH: As a general rule of thumb, it is wise to choose a rootstock when possible that will counter act those "every year" kind of problems or diseases that are a concern to a grower on a certain property. Overall, it is possible to choose a wrong rootstock but not possible to choose a perfect one. In other words there is usually one you should stay away from but 2 or 3 that are pretty comparable for most sites. For example, in Kern county you would never plant an entire orchard on Lovell rootstock but instead would do well with either Hansen, Bright’s Hybrid 5 or Nemaguard.

AG: What are the biggest challenges affecting your business today?
MH: The top 3 biggest challenges affecting the industry today are 1. Regulations 2. Regulations and 3. Regulations. The current and future constraints on water and labor have drastically increased the relative risk assessment for Ag production in the Southern San Joaquin Valley. Over the next 10-20 years the way we farm and harvest our fruits and nuts will certainly change due to less water, expensive labor, and air regulations to name a few. As a nursery we are very cognizant of the fact that a great deal of our business has been and continues to be in the south valley. Naturally, we are concerned about the future growth potential of the industry while at the same time remaining vigilant about staying informed and providing a product that will reduce farming risks as much as possible by making a strong start to each and every orchard of trees that we ship.

Hope this answers your almond tree questions and helped you understand why farmers make some of the decisions we make. Have more questions? Shoot me an email, comment below or hit me up on social media. I will find an expert for your tough questions!

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny








Thursday, January 19, 2017

The art of a thank you

Thank you. Two simple words that carry so much meaning. Webster Dictionary defines the words as: a polite expression of one's gratitude. Expressing gratitude and showing thanks has become a thing of the past though it seems.




Growing up my parents raised me to right thank you notes after birthdays, Christmas and any time we were given gifts. It was a way for me to show thanks and appreciation for their thoughtfulness. I continued this sentiment with me as I grew up.


After job interviews, when college professors went beyond to help me, and even after staying over at my in laws, I always took time to write thank you notes. After staying over with my in laws a half a dozen times, my mother in law told me I could stop writing her thank you notes. It was just a little something I liked to do to show my appreciation.


There is just something about receiving a note in the mail saying thank you that can brighten your day.  Earlier this week, as I was opening the mail I had two pieces marked for 'Almond Girl Jenny'. Surprised, I opened the letters to read two very nice, sincere thank you notes from readers who had received my Christmas giveaways. It was so refreshing and encouraging to receive these. It gives me a little hope to know I am not alone in the thank you writing world.






Showing appreciation and gratitude is so easy and simple to do these days. A hand written note takes 2 minutes to write. Even faster, in today's world it could be a simple email to say thanks. It is the thought that counts. Email, text, phone calls, and hand written letters are all great ways to say thanks.


The real art of a thank you though is just saying it. In our fast paced world we live in, we are often too busy or too distracted to just stop and say thank you. It really doesn't take that long to do. I challenge you all if you haven't already to take a few minutes and sit down to write a few thank you notes. It really does make you and the receiver just a little bit happier.














Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Storms

A few Wordless Wednesday storm pictures for you....















Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Country Christmas Connection Reveal

As the Christmas season has come to a close, it is always sad to start putting away those Christmas decorations. I always wait until Epiphany to take down my d├ęcor and it helps me drag out the Christmas spirit as long as I can. But I get to relive Christmas one more way today. I get to reveal my Country Christmas Connection secret Santa blogger.
This year I took part in The Country Christmas Connection, where a group of agriculture bloggers across the US linked up to play a little game of secret Santa, blogger style. The Country Christmas Connection was the work of Jenny from The Magic Farmhouse and Darleen from Guernsey Dairy Mama.


I submit my answers to the survey and waited for my email to come in with who I was paired up with. I got my secret Santa name in my email and my homework started; to find the perfect items for Robyn Goddard of The Ranch Wife Chronicles. I politely Facebook stalked her and did some blog reading of hers and then went shopping to buy her gifts. I was excited to see picture of sheep on her page, it reminded me of my childhood. I found the gifts, sent it off and then the real fun started,  I patiently waited for my package to arrive from my secret Santa.


When I did receive my package, I am not sure who was more excited to open the package. My little farmer really enjoyed Christmas this year and he was all over the opportunity to open a gift BEFORE Christmas! After I so gently unwrapped each little package he was right there to play with the tissue paper and roll around in it. He did however, steal one of the items...pork seasoning. He must have thought it was a musical instrument because he just wanted to shake it and run around the house.


My package came from Wanda Patsche from Minnesota Farm Living. I have followed Wanda for some time now, so I was pleasantly surprised to know who my secret Santa was. Wanda sent me a great Minnesota package containing Caribou Coffee straight from Minnesota, adorable coffee mug, great quote magnet and of course that Minnesota pork seasoning. I will admit, once I realized the coffee was made in Minnesota, I went out and got some more to gift for a coffee loving couple I know.


While the pork seasoning was a hit with my little farmer. I enjoyed all the items I received and learning more about Minnesota. The Country Christmas Connection was a great opportunity for me to connect with other agriculture bloggers and learn more from other parts of the country. I can't wait to do it again next year and see what other goodies I get to sample from another state.




Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny