Thursday, September 29, 2011

Down With the House!

I think I mentioned that we're hoping to do a remodel out at the walnuts during the coming months. I've been wanting this since Day 1, the day that I opened the door to the second house.

As you approach the property from the west, there are two houses. The big house, and the original house.

This is the original house, viewed from the east. It looks nice enough, if you don't look too closely, but open the door? The mold and mildew stench will knock you to your knees. From the beginning I've been talking of bringing the house down. We're finally to the stage of drawing plans and waiting for a final bid. yay!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...or perhaps I should say in back of the ranch...The boys have put together this lovely deck. It is quite sturdy, and very level. It's delightful to sit out there, under the tree and check out the view. Simply lovely!

This is the best picture I've ever taken of Chupa. I used a zoom, as she gets up and runs away as soon as I get anywhere close. She's rapidly turning grey. I can see the changes almost every time I visit.

Finally, Mr. Cat is still hanging out. If I sit down, he climbs in my lap. The only problem with that is that he plays rough. He bites. A lot. And not in anger, it's just what he does. I think he also had a rough childhood. ;)

And now, I should head back to the Studio and see if I can accomplish something, anything, today. Have a good one!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

This n That

It's been go go go around here, with little, if any, time to visit my blog. We've got a few things in the works, I'm thinking the next month will be when the big one starts. We're hoping to do a remodel out at the walnuts. With any luck we'll have a bid in the next week or so. I'll keep you posted once we start, yuck, yuck. ;)

Did I tell you I had two quilts accepted to Pacific International? That was a weird thing, to pick up two letters in my mailbox. I have no memory of entering one of them, but apparently I did. I hope that's not a bad sign, that missing memory chunk. Now if only I remember to ship them in time...

Today two of my boys are hiking Half Dome with a friend. "Please don't fall off." I know. Mothers worry. But this year it's not just an ordinary worry, Yosemite has been a serial killer park. I think two people have fallen off Half Dome. Not good. Not good at all.

On a lighter note, I found a few minutes in my Studio on Monday, and put this together. The embroidery came from an old linen. I think the piece might be more successful in a larger size, but my cards are always 5" x 7". Despite the distortion in the photo, it lies flat and is square.

And I guess that's about it. I need to zip over to the walnuts, because I think I left my cell phone there last night.

Scattered. yep. That describes the condition of my brain. If you see any pieces anywhere, can you please send them back in my direction? Thankyouverymuch!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Kings River Quilt Show

This weekend is/was the Kings River Quilt Show, held at Immanuel High School, in Reedley. Fun stuff, definitely. I looked around for my camera (that took a while) and headed out. Can you believe I wore out the batteries after snapping only three pictures?!!

First is Pat Bell's quilt. It's a cute little thing. Pat, I hadn't seen this one before. I like it!

The next is a basket quilt by Pat Robertson. It's made from Cherrywood fabrics, and she says that the background fabrics were all the same until she washed it. It bled like crazy. When she called them, they told her to wash it in hot. It blended nicely, but the setting triangles were originally as light as the background squares!

This was one of the few art quilts I saw at the show. My camera died as I took the picture, I couldn't even see what I was photographing, I just pointed and shot. I like the way the maker cut a circle print for the thin pink border. It made the quilt. My apologies to the maker, for missing out on her name.

I hadn't planned to shop, but then I never do. It just kind of happens.

I've been asked to donate a quilt for a silent auction in a couple of weeks. I don't have one. I should say I didn't have one. Now I do. This red white and blue quilt by Liz Beshwate was for sale and the price was right. It should fill the bill nicely.

In addition to the quilt, I bought some other things. There's a scarf from India, in brighter colors than you'd think from my picture. I'm not sure of the fiber content, it kind of feels like jute. I'm hoping that washing it will soften it up.

The gourds are hollowed out and have lids. You can stash treasures in them. And then there's another murder mystery. I should probably stop buying them. I'm making my boys nervous.

The pattern was a freebie, with a quilt show coupon, I loved the red batik, and I just couldn't pass up Kristin's ice-dyed purple. yum!

And that wasn't all. The colors of yarn were simply luscious. "What are you going to do with the boucle?" ummm... Do I have to know? I've been warned that it is not comfortable to wear. hmmm. I just REALLY like the color. I'll think of something. And then there are the cookies, made by the Home Ec class at the high school.

The bead vendor was also there. This was their first quilt show. We're pretty excited, because we've talked them into having a booth at Best of the Valley as well.

And I guess that's about it.

Things are happening all around me, what with the walnuts and everything else. It's hard to find time to post, but I'm trying. Thank you so much for your patience!

And if you have tomorrow free, you should swing by the show. It's lovely.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How Your Nuts Get to Market

Today my son and I traveled to Selma, to tour the Poindexter Walnut Plant. Wow. Wow. I asked if it was well marked from the road. They laughed and told me, "There are no signs, but you'll know." They were right. We did.

Although our nuts arrived on Saturday and Monday, I'd called early enough to see if I could watch them being graded. They had already graded the first batch, but held the second until our arrival.

This is what was waiting for us. First, the nuts are sized, using the plastic guide to determine Jumbo, Large, Medium, or Baby. Most of ours were jumbo. yay! (If they fall through a hole, they are the next size smaller.)

These are the nuts that have already been cracked and graded. Most of them are very good, but at the bottom you can see one with an insect, and another that has a touch of mold. On the whole, the batch is very good. The lighter the color, the higher the price.

While we toured the plant, the shelled nuts were left with this woman, who cracked them and sorted them by hand. Each sorting tray holds 100 nuts, and yes, that is a pizza box that she's using as her base of operation.

Our nuts will be sold in the shell. This is the area where they bag them. The ladies are sorting out any nuts that are broken or unappealing. The rest go up the conveyor belt, to the bagging machine.

The team of four men work together to bag and seal the nuts. It is amazing how quickly they are bagged and tagged.

These are ready to go. If you look closely at the tag, you might notice that they are headed to Turkey. I have to trust my guide, because I couldn't read the tag myself.

If I understand correctly, nuts that go to Turkey to not have any extra processing. When they get there, bags are distributed to families. The families crack the nuts by hand and then return the meat for sale to other countries. Can you imagine such a livelihood? I can't, it's as simple as that.

This machine was also in the in-shell area. It's a size sorting machine. At the top you can see a long barrel made with holes that the nuts will fall through. The first section kicks out the babies, the next medium, then the large, and finally the jumbos fall into the last container.

I'm not sure what size these are, I just took the picture of the bin with the most nuts in it.

Here is a small number of the shipping crates. These California walnuts are sold around the world. wow.

The next building held the sheller. This machinery cracks the nuts, spitting the meat in one direction and the hulls and debris in another. That's Mike, our tour guide.

Here you can see the nuts coming out one side of the machine,

And here the hulls fly out the other.

The sheller does an amazing job. Look at all that nut meat! I do see a single shell in there, which will be pulled out by hand before it is bagged for sale.

I believe these ladies are quality control, again watching the nuts go by, making sure nothing unwelcome is among them.

This is a one pound bag of nuts, destined for a grocery store.

I didn't take pictures of two other areas, one was the fumigation room, the other was outside. Shelled nuts that go to South Korea or Australia or any number of countries require the nuts be fumigated with Methyl Bromide. It takes 24 hours to treat them, before bagging.

The alternative is to place them in bins outside, wrapped in black plastic tarps for 8 days. This probably sounds a bit sketchy, but I'm typing this from memory. I did not take notes. I was too busy taking pictures. The point of tarping or fumigation is to prevent any insect contamination to the importing country.

This fork lift is moving bags of nuts into cold storage. Once inside, the entire door closes from the roof, sealing in the cold. There is a regular door inside the fork lift door, that we walked through. To raise the door for the fork lift, there was a string hanging from the ceiling. I'd call it a bell pull, but it was just a string.

I thought the next was the most impressive piece of machinery at the plant. It is a pasteurizer. It is currently the ONLY one in existence/use that is certified to pasteurize walnuts. There are a few more coming online at a couple of other walnut plants sometime in the future, but Poindexter has this one, and uses it.

The nuts go in the front of the machine, which is then filled with dry steam heated to 88 degrees centigrade. A vacuum system sucks out any condensation.

This is the guts of the machine. You can see it if you walk to the left side of that stainless steel and peek around the side.

When the pasteurization process has been completed, the nuts come out this door. Mike was very clear that food safety is job number one, and their investment in this particular equipment shows that it's not just talk.

In the time it took us to tour the plant, the nut-cracking lady was able to crack this many of our nuts. These are the ones shown in the shell, in one of my first pictures.

Here is the final result. Most of them are very large, and very light color, which is good. Two showed insect presence. boo. One was a shriveled nasty looking thing, some were darker than desired, but for the most part? The Poindexters said that they were happy with the quality of our nuts.

"You've done a very good job farming!" Ahh, thank you! Actually, the credit goes to Olson/Pratt, our farmers, along with our boys Andrew and Adam, who did the irrigating. Pete and I? We just paid the bills and said, "Do what needs to be done, and thank you so much for teaching us along the way!"

Truly, this has been an education!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Walnuts and Quilting

So you thought you were done hearing about the walnuts, didn't you? You're not. There's more.

When they shake the trees to knock down the nuts, the trees don't always like it. Sometimes the branches break off, like this one.

Here you can see where it separated. I'm pretty sure that the other side will come crashing down as well. If it doesn't come down before the second shake, my guess is that the second shake will destroy it. The angle of my photo makes it look like there's more to the remaining branch than there is. I should have found a better angle.

To really give you a sense of the size of this thing, my tree model is over 6'3", and weighs ~ 325. The branch is crazy huge.

We're in the middle of irrigating, and last night I volunteered to go along and see how it's done at night. It's done with the Metro, and Chupa.

We flew low across the dirt access roads, and stirred up a lot of dust. Have you noticed that walnuts are a dirty business? I had no idea.

The boy checks the water, closing some valves and opening others.

I watched from the car, as the neighbors watched me.

This is how the irrigator opens and closes the valves.

His helper is masquerading as a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, running through the water, lapping it up and frolicking like a puppy. Chupa, the Magnificent.

But it wasn't all walnuts, I did mention quilting.

First, the SAQA Auction has moved along to Phase 2, with the 12" quilts currently selling for $750. The remaining quilts from Phase 1 are in the SAQA store, available for $75. Yes, you've guessed it. My quilt did not sell. If you're interested, it can be found here. If not, I think it will be returned to me at the end of October.

I picked up my quilts (and photographs) from the county fair this morning. My airplane quilt (the one utility quilt I'd entered) won a nice pink rosette for "FairGoers' Favorite." Apparently the quilt(s) that receive the most comments are awarded the rosette on the closing day of the fair. The other quilt to receive the award this year was an orange and black quilt made from Giants fabric that spelled out "Torture," in celebration of last year's run to the World Series.

I also received two acceptance letters for PIQF this morning, which threw me for a loop. I only remembered entering one quilt, but apparently I entered two. I know I've been crazy-busy and not a little distracted, but really. Forgetting I've entered a quilt in a show seems like a bit much...

And now, I've got some quilts-for-hire that really need my attention.

That, and I'm still hoping to tour the walnut buyer's shelling facility later this week. Til next time!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Off to the Dehydrator

Okay, so the nuts are off the tree, now what? Where do they go? Do they go straight to the buyer? The answer is "no," they go to the dehydrator.

With all of the shadows, it was tough to get a picture of the nuts beneath this grating. This is a holding pen, for the freshly harvested nuts. These are our nuts.

The nuts leave the holding pen, and travel up the conveyor belt to the left, to be cleaned up.

As they go through this processor, twigs and leaves and hulls and debris are all removed from the nuts. Much of the process is automated, but there are stations where women still pull out debris and uglies by hand.

Once they've been cleaned as thoroughly as possible, they travel up this conveyor belt into the dehydrator. That's the big metal building on the right.

This is one of the fans that blows the hot dry air through the building. I'm guessing it's at least 10' in diameter, if not more.

This is Leslie, my tour guide, taking me behind the curtain.

And this is where the nuts are held, as their moisture content is taken down to 8%. Buyers don't like to pay for a lot of water weight. Who knew, other than walnut farmers/buyers? Not I, that's for sure. One of these bins hold about 8 tons of nuts when full.

There are a lot of bins in the dehydrator. I'm standing about 3/4 of the way to the other end of the building.

And these two bins hold our nuts.

It's not all of them, the nuts shown in the first picture in the holding bin still need to be processed. Once the nuts are dehydrated, they will truck up to Selma, to the buyer. Apparently he also has quite the operation, where they rate the nuts and shell them and do this that and the other thing with them. In the next week I should be heading up there for yet another tour. Stay tuned, as I'm sure to share it all with you.