December 2011 at Sweet Pepper Ranch
This past summer was the most amazing summer of my life—four months of sunny, dry weather! After 25 years in Western Washington, this is a pretty dramatic weather change living here in Southwestern Idaho. I’ve had to learn to relax and not look over my shoulder wondering if tomorrow will bring clouds and rain. It’s exhilarating to go about outside life each day enjoying it, not worrying that it may be the last nice weather day for a while.
If you’re familiar with Horses for Clean Water, you’re probably familiar with our farm tours. Well, after 20+ years (wow—that’s a long time, eh?) I’m gearing up for the ultimate farm tour, one where folks come to visit me and stay at our place, Sweet Pepper Ranch. We’re becoming part of agri-tourism with our new guest ranch and horse motel.
In case agri-tourism is a new word for you, allow me to explain: agri-tourism is an agriculturally-based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm or ranch. Our vision for Sweet Pepper Ranch also has ecotourism or geotourism principals which extend tourism to incorporate nature, ecology and sustainability, focusing on a place as a whole and celebrating the land and the culture of a region. These varieties of tourism focus on being low-impact and are a small scale alternative to standard commercial tourism.
So how ‘bout a brief, virtual farm tour of Sweet Pepper Ranch? You can follow along on our website, www.SweetPepperRanch.com. Inside our modest ranch house we have guest rooms with large windows and ceiling fans (our high mountain desert climate cools off nicely at night!) decorated with real western art, log furniture and a fireplace for chasing away winter chills. Outside there’s a pool for cooling off on hot summer days and a fire pit with benches for star gazing at night. And speaking of stars—there are so many here it’s mind-boggling! You’ll be amazed to see what getting away from the bright lights of the big cities can show you. The agricultural community around us is fun to explore and has lots of food to offer—we’ve found we can find organic and locally produced ingredients for our guests’ meals right in our own neighborhood.
I should be sure to mention that our horses are doing well in their big barn with sand paddocks, enjoying the high desert life. All of them (except RB who’s retired now) get ridden regularly in our 250′ x 150′ outdoor arena and 66′ round pen. During the summer Matt and I ride three to six horses daily. The dogs, Rikki and Saylee, love the trail rides where they can run to their hearts’ content, exploring rivers and mountains.
We’re surrounded by BLM land, so trail riding opportunities are endless and just a short trailer ride away. The names of our favorite riding places are reminiscent of the Old West: Sinker Creek, Kuna Butte, Wilson Creek and Celebration Park, just to name a few.
Around the ranch we’re working on green projects like weed removal (ugh—green removal means long hours of pulling weeds by hand!) and gopher control by encouraging rodent-eating wildlife like barn owls and kestrels. We’re excited to have a barn owl box in place now (it looks like a dog house up on a pole!) There’s more non-toxic insect control with bats (a bat box) and swallows (several swallow nest boxes). We’re also still using fly predators; stingless nocturnal beneficial wasps that seek out and destroy fly larvae by laying their eggs in them. We’ve begun to establish dust and erosion control by reseeding bare, dryland areas with native grasses and flowers. For mud control we’re planting along slopes to help “slow the flow” of rainwater during winter storm events.
Our burgeoning native hedgerow greets visitors as they drive through our front gate. We hope this area and other plantings we’ve done will attract local wildlife like quail, raptors, foxes, marmots, rabbits and a host of small critters. We raise our own grass hay using only compost and good pasture management techniques like rotational grazing. This year, our first full year of haying, we got three cuttings, about seven tons total off of our six-acre hay field.
So what’s in a day’s work for us? Well, besides our “day jobs” we ride eight horses, mow pastures, irrigate, install new fencing for confinement areas, continue to finish the inside of the barn, build new shelters, install footing in paddocks… visitors are always
welcome to to pitch in with any of these chores!
We’ve done lots of planning and have many fun ideas in place for entertaining our guests—from visiting rodeos and wineries to trail rides at sunset near waterfalls or across high deserts. There are wildlife refuges to visit, hot springs to relax in, wilderness mountains to hike, scenic rivers to raft, railways to travel along—and so much more. Our location boasts North America’s largest concentration of breeding raptors, so don’t forget to bring your binoculars!
Our 2012 Cowgirl Weekend Getaway dates are posted (cowboys welcome, too!) with their suggested themes. Photos of this year’s guests are up (be sure to scroll all the way down!) We’re brimming with ideas and can’t wait for you to join us in 2012 at Sweet Pepper Ranch in sunny Southwestern Idaho for your ultimate farm tour.
For now we wish you all Happy Holidays and may your coming year be filled with wonder and be touched by peace.
Alayne & Matt