Some Cotoni Coast Dairies Reflections

Ever since the United States Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took control of 5800 acres of northern Santa Cruz County, conservationists have been asking themselves “what have we done?” The fateful transfer day was in 2014 when a private land trust, the Trust for Public Land, donated the property to BLM. It would be years before the negative repercussions of that handover were obvious. 7 years later BLM unveiled a draft management plan for Cotoni Coast Dairies, a document rife with errors including tables cut-and-paste from other plans from faraway places, lists of misidentified species, and proposals with little analysis and findings absent scientific rigor. How did such a bungling land management agency gain control of such a precious part of California’s coast? The story unfolds…

BLM’s Standard Bearers Support Poor Standards

As one comes to expect in our community, unctuous support for BLM’s draft plan for the property was lugubriously lauded by affiliates of profiteering recreational industries and their political hacks while conservationists carefully documented voluminous errors and omissions and suggested reasonable improvements to protect natural resources while providing access to open space. Subsequently, BLM perfunctorily changed the plan to address only the most egregious errors and, as expected, chose the ‘moderate use’ alternative, publishing an Environmental Analysis (EA), the easy, low-input, and cheap means for the agency to officially finalize approval. Shortly thereafter, conservationists filed an appeal to the Department of Interior and BLM asked for two extensions of the appeal window. During those extensions, and before the appeal was settled, BLM staff bulldozed areas of the property to prepare for one of its planned, but not yet permitted, parking lot. We don’t yet know which BLM official ordered that disgusting and undemocratic act, but we will find out. Conservationists won their appeal, but meanwhile the BLM had destroyed sensitive coastal prairie and cut trees that had long supported the federally threatened monarch butterfly. Meanwhile, it became clear that the only other parking lot location that BLM’s faulty plans had analyzed could not progress as planned because the road to the parking lot traversed private property without the consent of the owners. That was almost as surprising as the Coastal Commission’s allowance for that access road, which would have also paved a stream channel. It seems wherever one looks these days, the Coastal Commission pushes for maximizing public access even if it means careless destruction of natural resources. That matches well with BLM’s management philosophy.

No One Home and No Friends Left

Back in 2014, someone working at BLM told me that their office was ill-prepared for Santa Cruz. For years, their staff had managed land where there was no conservation constituency, where nature degrading recreational activities and other “resource” uses were unquestioned. Since BLM moved into Santa Cruz County and took control of Cotoni Coast Dairies, they have been unable to retain consistent managers: two field managers overseeing the property have departed and the newest one is rumored to be ‘remotely managing’ the property while living far away from the region. And yet, our community has long offered BLM friendship.

At first, BLM welcomed enthusiastic friendships, signing partnership agreements with the University of California at Santa Cruz and the Amah Mutsun Tribe. Now, BLM only admits to being partners with the group previously known as Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (see sidebar, from BLM’s Cotoni Coast Dairies property homepage). Why has BLM rejected its tribal and science partners in favor of the mountain biking industry? We need to go back to the beginning of the story to understand.

Swiss Dairyman and Subdivision Moguls

The Cotoni Coast Dairies got its two last names from a Swiss dairy and land investment company, which started in 1901 and ended in 1998 when the investors sold to the Trust for Public Land instead of a subdivision mogul. For 97 years, the land referred to locally as ‘Coast Dairies’ was managed by farmers and ranchers who made it clear that the public was unwelcome. Much of the rest of the County had been explored by botanists and wildlife experts whose wisdom and documentation led to so many parks purchases. But this was not the case with this huge part of the County: it had remained largely uncharted. In 1997, real estate magnate Brian Sweeney announced that he had an option to build more than a hundred luxury homes on the property. The owners were able to quote extravagant roperty value, so conservationists had to raise a lot of funding to conserve the property and thwart the threat from development. Without biological surveys, conservationists had to convince funders about the value of the ‘spectacular views’ and recreational potential instead of conservation values. That seems to me to be how the seed was sown for how people came to value the property in the years to come.

Trust for Public Land: 14 Years at Coast Dairies

After purchasing the property, for 14 years the TPL managed the property while trying to find a way out. TPL managed to give State Parks the ocean side of the property, including the beaches. State Parks opened those beaches to public access without any planning or environmental review. It took many more years to find any organization willing to own the inland portion of the property. TPL solicited proposals from various potential landowners. UC Santa Cruz made a proposal, which didn’t work out. Meanwhile, it was costing TPL a lot of money and headaches to retain the property and the funders wanted it opened for public access. As a last resort, TPL turned to the federal land management agency that had long served as property managers of the last resort: BLM…there didn’t seem to be another option. Besides, some of the illuminati of open space purchasers thought perhaps it could soon be a part of The Great Park, owned and managed by the National Park Service.

The Great Park

For a while after TPL purchased the property, the Open Space Illuminati advertised something called “The Great Park,” an expansive interconnected park system, with a National Park nucleus derived from Coast Dairies and a newly designated National Monument on the adjoining San Vicente Redwoods. For a while, it seemed like this idea had become fet a compli, but enough powerful opponents started asking questions…politics changed…and perhaps funders’ willingness waned. After some time, this particular iteration of a National Monument waned and the Great Park idea became a dim memory held only by a few.

A National Monument

As the Great Park and the San Vicente National Monument ideas waned, a new idea dawned: Cotoni Coast Dairies could become part of a National Monument! Charged up with a great deal of funding from the Weiss Family Foundation, the Open Space Illuminati parachuted in something that appeared to be popular movement: glossy brochures and websites popped up and The Monument Campaign was born. When conservationists exclaimed concern at the number of visitors that would be attracted to the property with such a designation, the Illuminati said ‘Shut up! This is the only way to make BLM accountable to protecting the property!’ They succeeded: in the last days of the Obama Administration, the president decreed that the property would become part of the California Coastal National Monument.

Post Monument Blues

Shortly after the President’s decree, the BLM dissolved the only staff positions whose work entailed guaranteeing protection under National Monument regulations. Since then, the BLM has refused to abide by its own regulations for managing National Monuments. Meanwhile, the Great Park and Monument Campaign Illuminati have likewise disappeared from the scene, their concerns for protecting the land swept away as they entered the next funding cycle’s focus in some other arena. Enter stage left the influential Outdoor Industry Association where business and profits pour from Nature commodified. Advertisements for ‘rad times’ on Santa Cruz County trails bring thousands of visitors, supporting a ‘green’ economy. Sales of super-expensive bikes skyrocket. Many conservationists are getting too old for the fight. It is easy to see what we have done, but what’s next is anyone’s guess. Best to stay apprised and keep asking questions; perhaps this is a good time for a renewed conservation movement in Santa Cruz County.

-this post originally posted at Bruce Bratton’s wonderful BrattonOnline.com blog

January’s Flower

For me, each month has its signature flower, one that I look forward to as a sign of the changing season, that I can find as predictably as the sunrise and sunset. If you follow this column in 2023 and are up for the challenge, I’ll give you 12 flowers to seek out, and I’ll describe the ways that it is emblematic of its given month. January’s flower is called Scoliopus bigelovii, Fetid adder’s tongue a.k.a. slink pod.

The name is not alluring, though perhaps you may find it beguiling: fetid adder’s tongue is the first wildflower of the New Year. It is a lily, but not your typical lily, so you might not recognize it as such. I judge how good I have been at being a naturalist each year on the basis of my having seen and smelled this distinct flower. The flowering period is brief. Too often, I find the plant after the flowers have faded, when I then recall its alternate name ‘slink pod’ for the seed pods that slink across the ground on long sinuous stems.

This is a very short plant, so you will have to bend nearly to the ground to put your nose to the maroon striped flower. The scent is like not very fresh fish, hence the ‘fetid’ part of its name. Those of us who sniff old mushrooms are familiar with the old fish smell of many mushrooms that are past their prime. The similarity of scent is not an accident…it is co-evolution.

Fungus Gnats

This year’s prize for my spotting this deep-shade wildflower was seeing its pollinator in action. Flies! “Of course,” I thought, “that smell and that maroon color are diagnostic for fly-pollination!” Reading up, I discovered that fungus gnats are important pollinators of fetid adder’s tongue, which needs to receive pollen from another plant in order to produce viable seed. The pods won’t slink unless the flowers get pollinated!

This flower appears in the darkest, coldest part of winter in the most shady, moist habitats around – not good conditions for most pollinators. Bumble bees, honeybees, and butterflies wouldn’t find enough to eat in the cold forest to warrant forays. On the other hand, moist soil and mushrooms are the perfect combination to support healthy populations of fungus gnats. As weak sunlight filtered through a rare patch of open sky, I watched slow-flying fungus gnats hovering around patches of the stinky fetid adder’s tongue flowers, dipping down to sip nectar, clumsily bouncing into the pollen-bearing stamens.

Ant Plant

As if specializing in dank forest fly pollinators wasn’t enough, fetid adder’s tongue also needs another insect helper to survive: ants. Once the fungus gnats have pollinated the flowers, the plant starts pushing the seed pods across the forest floor, far from the mother plant to ensure that any offspring don’t compete for the same rare forest floor nutrients. The pods ripen with seeds that have ant-food attached. The part of a seed that is ant food is known as an elaisome (ɪˈleɪəˌsəʊm): it is sweet and fleshy and nutritious. To get the tasty parts, they haul off the seeds and, as ants will do, bury them in their colonies. This is particularly handy for the fetid adder’s tongue as then the seeds escape both hungry deer mice and scorching fires.

Conserving a System

Fetid adder’s tongue’s natural history illustrates the interconnectedness of nature and the reasons we need to think broadly about what it takes to conserve species. To conserve this amazing plant requires having large enough slink pod populations for cross-fertilization and big enough populations and diverse enough species of fungus gnats for pollination. How large and diverse those populations should be is unknown. Those ants, fungus gnats, and fetid adders tongue populations require shady forests and rich soil covered with moist thick duff: those elements speak to not too much soil disturbance…think trail or logging disturbance management. How does wildfire play with these factors? Fire can’t be too catastrophic, and patches need to be burned less for shade, soil, and duff: that might take forest fuels and other wildfire management. Also, there are issues about invasive species: invasive fungi, weeds, and invasive ants could all negatively affect components of this ecosystem that would trickle into the health of slink pods. This all points to the wisdom of our community in fighting so hard for so many years to protect vast areas of redwood forests – we are seeing the patchy but catastrophic fires, invasive Argentine ants invading forest edges, and expansive soil disturbance from trail networks. Do we have enough forest set aside so that future generations will be able to witness the complex relationships between fungus gnats, ants, and fetid adder’s tongue? Are enough people now appreciating and viewing these amazing interactions? Let’s get out there and see…

Sleuthing Locations

Slink pod is not easy to find, though with a little effort you can do so. The trick is to be on time (January!) and to know where to look.

When I want to research exactly where to go to look for a plant, I turn to a database called CalFlora. This amazing online resource often has great photographs of each species, the Latin and common name(s), and an interactive map of locations. Click on a dot on the map and out pops a window telling you how it was documented there. In some cases, that allows you to see a scanned image of the herbarium specimen of the species. By looking at that map, I can suggest the best places to see this species in our region. The Forest of Nisene Marks and Big Basin State Parks have many records of this plant.

Plant People

If you click on that ‘scanned image’ link above, and examine the herbarium sheet of the plant, you’ll notice that it was collected in 1991 in Nisene Marks by Larry Kelly, now a leading international botanist at New York Botanic Garden. Clicking on other specimens, you’ll encounter other famous botanists going back in time, including Dean Taylor, an Aptos resident who was one of the cornerstones of California botany (1986), David Self, a founder of ecological restoration in California (1975), Deb Hillyard, for years our region’s protector of plants via the California Department of Fish and Game (1975), Ray Collett, long-time Director of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum (1966), John Hunter Thomas, the author of the go-to regional plant book ‘Flora of the Santa Cruz Mountains’ (1954), and Milo Baker, one of the State’s early famous botanists (1896).

Join In!

The Cal Flora website has recently begun to host observations from people posting on iNaturalist, an online forum for documenting and learning about nature. Download the application to your smart phone, take a photo of the plant, and you have an easy catalogue of your nature observations. You can also ask for help identifying a species. This crowd-sourced scientific catalogue can help others find a plant for which they are looking and provide scientists with long-term data on the population trends of species. Plus, because there are so many people placing observations at the site, it is mesmerizing to virtually explore the photographs, maps, and conversations about species – already there is a lifetime of things to learn and the site is young.

If you are up to my challenge, take a deep, dark forest stroll soon and try to find fetid adder’s tongue in bloom…and maybe enter that into your iNaturalist account.

-this post originally published at BrattonOnline.com, Bruce Bratton’s online weekly blog from Santa Cruz, California

The Elusive California Nutmeg

When I mention the California nutmeg tree to local people, I find most folks aren’t familiar with it, so this article might serve as an introduction to one of our least-known evergreen tree neighbors.

Image thanks to: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Needles to Say

California nutmeg has needles for leaves, and those needles hurt. Pines have needles in bundles, cypresses leaves are scales, and the local firs and redwoods look more like nutmeg in having single, short needles emanating along stems. Douglas fir stems have needles facing up and down and all around. Redwood and nutmeg trees have neater looking needles that just stick out the sides, along one horizontal plane. You can tell redwood and nutmeg needles apart because the latter have very sharp points. Because of the size and sharpness of the spines, nutmeg needles rival the painful jabs of blackberries and thistles.

Needles Afire

I was taught that redwood trees were the only conifer that could have more than half of the needles singed off a tree and still survive. I was taught wrong. The 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fire scorched through many acres with California nutmeg- I haven’t found one that died from the blaze. Instead, just like coast redwood, the trees are either sprouting from their bases (if severely scorched) or sprouting new leaves and branches from their trunks and limbs. As an aside, I also had a Norfolk Island pine that also burned entirely but is resprouting…so, there appear to be more fire-sprouting conifers than once was thought.

The Wood

The wood of this tree is prized, but the tree is so uncommon that harvest is strictly non-commercial. The tree is not generally quick growing so it has close growth rings. And, the wood is quite different than any other wood around: it is a rich yellow-brown. I’ve heard lore that the native peoples used the wood for bows; people have mentioned to me seeing ‘bow wood trees’ where the tip of nutmeg trees have been bent over and weighted down to create a naturally curved trunk.

Conifer Fruit

This species is in the yew family. Some of you know yews, whose uses you wouldn’t guess include ewes. And, you would be right (as far as I know).

Yews are common shrubs in landscapes with bright red berry-looking fruit. Nutmegs do not make bright fruit, but their fruits are substantially odd. Perhaps the term ‘California nutmeg’ comes from examining the seed: peel off the thick rind and extract the hard nut, carve it in half and you might be looking at a nutmeg nut. California nutmeg nuts are solid and resinous like the foreign nutmeg, but our local one isn’t obviously useful as food, though some suggest the nuts may have once been used as food. Don’t eat the nut, though, it is poisonous if you don’t know how to prepare it correctly.

The coating on the nut is very interesting- watery and yet resinous and quite pungent. Squeeze the nuts and you get juicy with juice that doesn’t quite want to come off of your hand.

Medicine

Some of us recall the controversy of the cancer fighting medicine “Taxol” and the scare about losing the California nutmeg’s pacific northwest cousin the Pacific yew tree, Taxus brevifolia. Taxol keeps some types of cancer from spreading and was discovered in these yew-family trees. However, scientists figured out how to synthesize Taxol so we don’t have to rely on trees to make it, anymore.

When contemplating how to convince people that it is important to save species, I am advised to use examples like this where we have discovered life-saving drugs from wild plants. So, use this as an example.

Where to Find Native Nutmeg

I perused the herbarium records to let readers know where the public can go to see California nutmeg. It seems that the best places are in the Waddell Creek drainage from Rancho del Oso on up. One notable tree used to live near a waterfall in Big Basin- I wonder if is still there?

-this post originally published as part of my ongoing journalism in Bruce Bratton’s amazing weekly blog BrattonOnline.com

Storms and Floods

The sky has been raining sweet water across our landscape. What happens once that precious water hits the ground? Is rainwater welcome where it flows and where it ends up? Our collective actions make a big difference about how to answer these questions.

Stormy Times and Mud

For a while in the recent past, the ocean has been stormy with massive wind-blown, white capped waves. We get outdoors when we can and gaze out to sea from the bluffs, noticing bands of brown water coloring the otherwise steel gray ocean. Even streams draining relatively pristine watersheds are pulsing sediment now, providing the sand that will replenish beaches. Our mountains are naturally erosive, but humans have been adding to that erosive potential to our own detriment for far too long.

Do We Need Reminders?

Most years, winter storms remind us of certain places that routinely make the news. Suddenly, people remember that they live in drainage basins also known as “watersheds.” As winter rains commence, more people recall more often the names of rivers and streams. It is flooding time. The flooding San Lorenzo River often threatens Felton Grove and Paradise Park, causing mandatory evacuations. The Pajaro River, Corralitos Creek, and Salsipuedues likewise often pose flooding threats in Watsonville.

Floods: Non-Natural Disasters

Government and the media have trained us to call flooding a “natural disaster.” As with most disinformation, such “fake news” coalesces on grains of truth. Rain is natural. Atmospheric rivers are normal. Flooding happens naturally. Landslides and debris flows occur without human mistakes. If we didn’t have a deep geological history of erosion, some say that the Santa Cruz Mountains would be as tall as the Sierra Nevada. And yet, the frequency, severity, and impacts of damaging flooding is nearly entirely the fault of humans, resulting from poor decisions, often due to greed exercised through political power.

US Flooding History

For the USA, the best documented history linking damaging flooding to greed and political power has been focused on the floods along the Mississippi River. No one should unquestionably call floods ‘natural disasters’ after the investigations and media about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. I am disappointed by the cultural amnesia of the import of George W Bush’s admission that the sole book he recalled reading was John Barry’s Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America. That book documented how the Mississippi’s 1927 flood propelled popular sentiment to supporting federal assistance programs for flood-ravaged communities. And so, was it any coincidence that decisions at the highest level of that Bush administration delayed federal assistance for Hurricane Katrina preparation, creating predictable levels of death, destruction, and suffering? Did these officieals actually think this was a good way to drive home the Republican party’s political message that Americans should not depend on federal governmental assistance? To shirk collective responsibility of such human-caused disasters, we must be trained to look past the decisions that ‘We the People’ made that are responsible for flood suffering. Our third-rate democracy allows greed-driven political decisions to create unsustainable levees to support short-term profits for commerce and real estate, benefiting the very few with disastrous long-term impacts disproportionately borne by the poorest, most marginalized communities. For this economic model and democratic structure to keep some semblance of function, some in power recognize that governmental assistance disaster recovery programs are important. I urge you to think about the lessons from Mississippi’s floods and national politics when thinking about local flooding and the political and media messages that entertain us during such disasters.

Recent Watsonville Flooding

Low-income housing areas in Watsonville recently experienced ‘unexpected’ flooding after levee failures. Why weren’t the residents notified? To believe the media, the fault was theirs: some hadn’t signed up for reverse 911…there was a warning! We pride ourselves with our disaster management systems. The Federal National Weather Service office in Monterey has highly skilled personnel who turn their full attention to flood monitoring, drawing data from radar, real-time rain, stream, and river gauges, and powerful computing. Flood watches come first then flood warnings. Interagency cooperation allows reverse 911 messages to be broadcast via cell phones and land lines, dedicated weather radio channels create alarms, and social media and web posts get regularly updated including pickup locations for sandbags. Emergency personnel deploy quickly to close off flooded neighborhoods.

Recent Rural Road Collapses

Landslides and trees fell across roads, blocking transportation routes for rural communities. Sometimes, the downslope side of the road collapsed. First cracks appeared, running parallel to the slope; then the side of the road slumped lower than the rest; after that, the section of road slid down the hill. Two lane roads will now have only one lane sections until The County can afford expensive repairs. Other times, the hill above the road slid down onto the roadbed, sometimes right across the road. Soil, gravel, rocks, and boulders blocked roads.  You might be able to see the top of the landslide, bare rock or dirt scalloped away, a boundary of precarious bared roots now reaching into the air. Somewhere, someone in the County is mapping the obstructions and prioritizing the deployment of detour signs and earth moving equipment while road closure maps are posted online. Meanwhile, rural residents tap into reserved groceries and try to figure out how to get to town for their jobs and supplies.

What Do We Ask?

The questions we ask about how these flood or landslide disasters occurred says a lot. Do we ask why people chose to live in such disaster-prone areas? Do we ask what history made such areas disaster prone? Do we ask how we can make people safer in the future? Do we ask how we can avoid repeating poor historical decisions that lead to such disasters? How do we prioritize which questions to focus upon? Who should be asking which questions? All these questions have answers including economic, political, and social dimensions.

Pursuing Answers

By law, real estate sales must disclose known disasters, so peoples’ choices about where to live should be well informed, but are they? It would be interesting to examine the history of the Watsonville levee failure: who built the levee – how and why? Did decision makers ask levee engineers to propose designs that accounted for historic flooding, maintenance expenses, and upstream development/land management constraints? If historical decision making was faulty, how has current decision making improved? As we recover from disasters, do we ask our elected officials to prioritize not only emergency response but also improved resilience?

Restoring Floodplains

As old, poorly designed levees fail across California and locally, we should be thinking about floodplain restoration wherever possible. Why do we continue pouring money into developing flood prone areas with real estate improvements that benefit the very few? I have been reflecting on the upswing in development of downtown Santa Cruz, which clearly is unsustainable both from river flooding and sea level rise…there are other town centers to develop that are safer! Instead, the City is pursuing treating the San Lorenzo like a big flood conveyance culvert instead of the river it is…as short-term ‘fix.’ To our south, the Pajaro and Salinas River floodplains could be restored to provide more flood protection for surrounding communities: there are many farmers willing to sell their land, but who should pay?

New Construction

As we develop new roads, trails, and other infrastructure, we should be mindful of their contribution to flooding. Is the City of Santa Cruz integrating rainwater catchment with their new developments? I see no evidence of flood mitigation with the ongoing, endless Highway 1 ‘improvements’ near Santa Cruz. The rail trail developments certainly don’t adequately address hydrological impacts. In our natural lands, there is no consistent approach to trail use to assure recreational impacts address flooding. Meanwhile, at Cotoni Coast Dairies, BLM bulldozed acres of bare soil just before this winter’s rains without any erosion control – slurries of mud and debris are flowing into streams and wetlands.

Next Steps

We can do better. Previously, I urged everyone to be involved with rain gardens – either as volunteers in public spaces or on their own lands. Cry out to the right people when you see bare soil – on farmlands or in construction zones. Only support trails groups like the Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Stewardship if/when they create soils saturation and trail use indexes that inform conservation lands managers to close and then re-open trails as appropriate and according to their purported mission to create ‘responsible outdoor recreation.’ Hold elected officials responsible to improve the resilience of infrastructure repairs/construction, enforce adequate disclosure notifications during real estate sales, and shunt new development to better areas. Together, we can be effective land stewards by fighting the greed that would otherwise cause un-natural flooding and landslide disasters in the future. We should never be cursing the rain.

-this column originally published by our County’s preminant journalist Bruce Bratton at his BrattonOnline.com weekly blog

Wrapping the Farming Season

It is a bit of a stretch to say that a farmer’s life ever allows for season breaks, but we are reaching the moment when things slow down. This is a rhythm derived from the Sun.

As the sun passes on its lower arc in the sky, the days grow short and the overall temperatures colder. Occasional blasts of cold air from the Dark North make for chill and fear of frost. Those winds push rainy storms our way, and we hope for atmospheric rivers. The bright white winter sunlight is often bracketed by the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Farm Scenes

We had a bit of rain in two storms, enough to make things green again here and there. The mowed areas are green, but the unmowed areas stand tall and brown, the worn out tall dead grass of yesteryear in stark contrast to the new growth.

Fall color unfolds across the landscape, each week a new show. Cherry Hill is a fire with orange and red-orange. Big leaf maples are so very yellow in the canyons nearby. In the orchard, hazelnuts and apple trees are turning color. The Two Dog vineyard is in peak fall color.

The walnut trees across the farm have lost most of their leaves, not so colorful anymore.

Final Touches

As orchardists, we finish the growing season by lightly harrowing the soil over cover crop seeds, by gathering up and stacking the tree props, and by raising the irrigation lines into the boughs of the trees…out of the way of the springtime mowers. We watch the sky for impending rain and hustle the harrow in front of the weather, allowing natural precipitation to germinate the bell beans, vetch, and oats in rows between the trees. We pull on gloves to avoid splinters and the sound of wooden polls clanking together into a neat pile fills the air as we stack a hundred props. We walk back and forth, pulling the 18” stakes with micro sprinklers, tugging the irrigation lines out of mulch and from the grasp of entangling weeds…then hoist the lines up into the tree branches. The rows are clear and blushing green, but at least the apple trees are a month away from dropping their leaves.

The Coming Winter

Community orchardists next gather in the orchard for Winter Solstice and then we Wassail to keep the tree spirits from snoozing too deeply. With any luck, we will burn less in the Solstice Fire this year. We have enough funding from apple sales to rent a big chipper to make food for the trees from the massive piles of fuel reduction biomass piled near the orchard and the bonfire space. Bonfire ash fertilizes and diversifies the mulch field. While making that ash, a great gathering of the network comes together with food, music, and stories to welcome the lengthening days. A while later, at the arbitrary date of Wassail, we formalize the ritual to celebrate and decorate the Grandmother Tree with ancient song and big noises. The work, however, waits until mid-February with a host of springtime chores…if we are ambitious, we’ll plant a few more bareroot trees in the few locations left in the orchards.

Wildlife

We have bobcats in the neighborhood! Sylvie spotted a juvenile bobcat near the entrance to our farm this past week…the first bobcat in a long while! She and others have also seen fox, not on farm, but nearby. There are so many rodents on the farm that any predators that do show up will eat well for a long while. Stand still anywhere on the farm and you can hear the rustling of small mammals…day or night…within a yard of you anywhere. With the moistening of the soil, gopher throws are getting bigger and more frequent. After a long hiatus, in some areas you can find vole runs again- the voles are recovering from a population crash more than a year ago. Mostly, there are several species of deer mice scampering about. There aren’t that many wood rats or rabbits, but a few of each, here and there. No racoon, few skunks, maybe a weasel, no badger, few coyote, no real lion sign, no coyote sightings but an occasional yip in the distance, and a handful of deer from time to time. There are moles and harvest mice for sure, but I haven’t seen them recently. And there are domestic (some quite feral) cats and dogs (mostly fierce) and maybe invasive rats and mice, too. Perhaps there are shrews but I never see them. That’s most of what I know about the furry creatures around Molino Creek Farm. I’m betting the many species of rodents are feeling the chilly air and the short days and are doing what they can to figure out ways to make it through the long winter. They line their nests with dry grass, shredded bark, thistle down, or leaves and fill food storage chambers with piles of hay or seeds. They burrow deep under rocky ledges. They engineer drainage systems to help water flow away from their sleeping areas. They grow thicker fur and some pile together for shared warmth.

Squeak Squeak!

-this is the last of my 2022 farm blogs from the Molino Creek Farm website stay tuned into 2023 for my next posts.

Green Hills, Bare Trees

A good friend from Back East (USA) once told me that they had a hard time getting used to California’s “seasons” where “winter is the time that the leaves fall from the trees, and the grass turns green.” Here we are, in our rainy season once again.  And, unlike Back East, we are planting things: cover crops. The first bell beans we planted have cracked their seed coats, shooting a white root down into the moist soil; leaves have yet to emerge. The nights have turned so cold that the crickets stopped singing. The moon is big and the nights long, bright, and silent. The last few days, 3+ inches of rain soaked our farm. There are puddles everywhere.

Farm work

The pace of harrowing is the rhythm of the moment. I pull on gloves, hearing protection, a dust mask and hat then turn the key to start up the BCS tractor. Backing it out of the garage, the racket of the engine distracts wildlife from their otherwise peaceful times. Shifting into high gear the machine lurches forward and I pick up my pace, steering it down the road towards the orchard. I park it and then go get the heavy bags of cover crop seed: vetch, oats, and bell beans. Full bags are difficult to pour into the bucket and seeds spill onto the ground. Half full is heavy enough, and I take off down the rows, tossing seeds as evenly as I can, just where the harrow can scratch. Scoop, toss, swish…scoop, toss, swish. I sew bell beans at 3 seeds per square foot, oats at 10 and vetch at 5 per square foot…at least that is what I aim for. The seed spread is never that even and the resulting cover crop is patchy with one species growing more lushly than the others, different species in different places. The bucket empties quickly though I’ve covered good ground – back to the emptying bags for a refill.

After the Seed

After the seed is spread, I fire up the tractor and the heavy duty work begins. I put back on my hearing protection, hat, gloves and dust mask. The BCS is a bear to turn, but turn it must…at the end of every row it’s an about face. Back and forth the harrow scratches, sometimes bucking when it hits particularly hard soil. The harrow sometimes digs into one side or the other, pulling the heavy tractor sideways. I heave-ho to straighten it, tilt it back to clear debris, and then its back to harrowing long rows, pulling and weaving to miss the tree branches. After just 2 rows, I’m soaked with sweat. After 6 rows, I’m beat and its dark. Tractor in high gear again, off it goes to cover for the night. I haul the heavy seed bags back to the barn. The bucket gets stowed for the next cover cropping session. This BCS cover cropping takes us around 15 hours each year just for the orchard areas. The resulting lush growth gets mowed in the spring and raked under the trees for mulch and fertilizer.

Laughing birds poop

The blackbird cacophony is loud, a hundred birds calling from the skeletal branches of a big dead fire-scorched Douglas fir close to the orchard. They alighted there, flushing from a part of the orchard that I had planted in cover crop a week before. I walk up the hill and take a look where they had been: 3” tall fresh bright green oatgrass sprouts have been pulled up and messily scattered, but they left the bell beans alone. Soon, enough cover crop will be coming up all over the farm to more than satisfy the blackbird maw, but for now the early cover crop plantings bear the brunt of bird hunger. Bicolor and Brewers blackbirds strut and peck shoulder to shoulder. I reflect that they are leaving behind bird poop that would otherwise cost us a bunch if we were to import chicken manure: thanks, flock!

-this from my weekly blog at Molino Creek Farm’s webpage.

Voting for the Environment

Isn’t it interesting what political candidates are willing to say about their environmental platforms? If they are good at running for office, they gage what they say carefully in reflection of what they think will be supported by the majority of voters. So, what political candidates are saying is as much a reflection of who we are as who they are. Let’s look at some of the things that District 3 Supervisorial candidates have been saying about how they will conserve wildlife and protect parks in northern Santa Cruz County. And, let’s reflect about how what they say reflects on Santa Cruz County residents.

Wildlife Protection and Parks Conservation

Let me start by outlining the main threats to the County’s wildlife and parks so that it is easier to put candidates’ positions into context. The main threats to wildlife and parks are as follows: loss of social support for wildlife conservation, loss of habitat, loss of landscape-level habitat connectivity, mismanagement of recreation on conservation lands, mismanagement of disturbance regimes on conservation lands, and invasive species. County Supervisors have the capacity to influence all of these threats, some more than others. It is important that anyone elected to office in our region understand these threats and have well formed ideas about how they can help.

I have yet to meet anyone in District 3 who does not hold wildlife conservation and parks protections as among their highest level of concerns. And yet, for many years they did not reflect those concerns in their support for a Supervisor to represent them. Let’s consider the present two District 3 Supervisorial candidates’ recent statements and what that says about District 3 voters.

Social Support

I cannot find any mention from either candidate that they recognize the peril that lack of social support is creating for protecting wildlife and parks in the County. In their positions as elected officials, they have had the opportunity to use their positions as megaphones for the importance of wildlife conservation. During their campaigns, they could mention the importance of healthy wildlife populations to County residents’ quality of life. Instead, Shebreh’s campaign notes that she will create a very mysterious ‘conservation academy,’ but no description of this academy is anywhere to be found. So I’m not sure of what problem will be solved through this effort. It has been a long time since any County Supervisor has championed wildlife conservation: why are they embarrassed to do so?

Habitat Loss and Habitat Connectivity

I cannot find any mention that loss of habitat in the County or habitat connectivity within and around the County are things that either candidate is concerned about. County Supervisors can influence these issues by working with the Planning Department to assure enforcement of existing sensitive habitat and open space ordinances and by pushing for General Plan amendments/updates to bring the County up to modern standards to address these critical issues. Supervisors have been remiss about these issues for years, resulting in widespread loss of sensitive habitats and loss of habitat throughout the County.

Poor Recreational Management in Parks

Parks recreation is the one area that both candidates have something to say. Shebreh mysteriously notes that she will “prioritize safe and accessible parks and beaches for everyone to enjoy.” What the heck does that mean? But it sounds good, right? Justin has said will “work on infrastructure issues related to beach access”…“bathroom facilities and adequate trash collection.” Both candidates have a lot of media about their strong support for keeping parks free of litter.

Neither of the candidates’ statements come anywhere close to addressing the grave situation facing conservation lands due to poorly managed recreation. Business interests and recreational offroad biking coalitions have been important forces in creating a wildlife habitat crisis due to overuse and degradation of conservation lands. County Supervisors could broadly galvanize support to better protect conservation lands while alleviating traffic, safety, fire and other impacts related to poor parks recreation management. Supervisors could also help County Parks to better manage beaches to protect endangered beach-dependent wildlife, something that is dearly needed.

Poor Habitat Management

Mismanagement of disturbance regimes on conservation lands and invasive species are the last two major threats facing wildlife in the County. For these, only Justin has anything to say: he supports creating a “countywide vegetation management program” so that fires “serve their role in the ecosystem.” How Justin could do that as Supervisor is not clear. But, if you can ignore that detail, his statement shows some wisdom and a nod to the importance of managing intentional fires. Shebreh has nothing to say about how she can help better manage habitats and invasive species in the County.

There is a lot that County Supervisors can do to help to better manage wildlife habitat in the County. They can fund and otherwise incentivize County Parks to better manage habitats and control invasive species. They can also work with County Public Works to better manage invasive species along roadsides. And, they can provide leadership to work with the State and County Agricultural Commissioner to ban the sale of invasive species at nurseries. And, they can work with fire response agencies to do more intentional burning to reduce fuels. No Supervisor has been leading in these ways recently.

What Candidates Are Saying Says About Us

For wildlife conservation and protection of open space, is it true that all we really care about is trash and restrooms in parks? It seems so, because that’s all our District 3 Supervisorial candidates think they need to address in their political messages!  What does that say about how vocal we are about these issues? Can we do better?

Look Around You

If you examine our success with wildlife conservation and open space protection, what the candidates are saying seems to be enough to get them elected.

Lots of people volunteer for beach cleanup: so, that seems like a good group of constituents to speak to. County residents have worked hard to protect open space, to create and make accessible our beautiful parks, another thing to mention that garners votes. The successful politician knows to focus on these two non-controversial and positive environmental areas.

What’s Missing

The problem is, once parks are “protected,” open space advocates disappear and there aren’t many conversations about how to manage parks so that wildlife remain in those spaces for generations to come. In that vacuum steps in business and recreational interests that commodify nature and destroy wildlife values. No number of toilets or bags of trash collected on beaches will mitigate those impacts.

I believe that Justin knows about all the threats to wildlife and open space conservation I outline above.  Maybe he feels he would lose support if he mentioned the things that he could do as supervisor to address them. However, he has said some critical things that show that he understands at least some of the issues. He also has the training needed to understand all the issues. Shebreh could likewise be in a position of not seeing any advantage of a more nuanced platform for addressing environmental threats. But, Shebreh does not have any training in environmental conservation, and she has chosen not to say anything about any environmental action she could take to address the threats to wildlife conservation and open space degradation in the County. The contrasts I’ve drawn between the two candidates should be enough for those of you vote for the environment to make an informed decision for this election.

Voting is probably the easiest way to let our concerns be known that wildlife conservation and open space protection are our priorities for elected officials. You get few chances to vote for Supervisor. Once this is done, I’ll outline next steps for your political actions to help make our County a better place for wildlife conservation and open space protection.

-this post originally published in Bruce Bratton’s BrattonOnline.com

Waves and Cold Rain

First, there was the roar of big waves. It was mild weather, so I left the windows open a crack for fresh air. Open windows are also a treat for outdoor sounds, but something wasn’t right. What might have been the noise of a commercial jet was too consistent, lasting far too long. The air was trembling, the low noise slightly alarming. The waves were back! It has been a long time since the farm vibrated from big waves. Sometimes, it is hard to tell if it is just noise or if the earth itself is shaking. Radio stations warned of sneaker waves. Looking down towards the coast, there were big rolling corduroy ocean patterns.

Precip

Then, there was the rain. The setup was telling. Those waves were followed by an odd hazey sky and then there were colorful sunrises and sunsets and different cloud formations drifting in from various directions. Obviously, the weather was changing. Forecasters at first predicted one-tenth inch, then maybe a quarter, and revised yet again to perhaps a half inch. Tuesday morning was the predicted storm and it occurred on schedule with what I call a ‘small raindrop contest’ – every raindrop trying to be teensy and spread out. Then, dawn brought a precursor shower that wet things pretty good. It wasn’t until mid afternoon when the sky dropped torrents for a short bit as a narrow band of rain swept in from the North. At sea level just downhill not even a quarter inch, but up at 900’ we got more: .81”

With the rain came the cold and a trailing bit of chilly showers. Gray threatening puffy clouds sporadically appeared next to bands and walls of mist. At times, all clouds disappeared and the sun shone or the stars brightly sparkled. It has been a dynamic beginning of the week!

Slow Birds

The cold makes the birds move slower. The hundreds of high cheeping dark eyed juncos are feasting on seeds along roadsides and hesitant to move away. When they do scatter, they play leap frog one over the next as if a slow motion windblown rolling wave of twittering bird confetti. The hawks perch on fence posts far too closely when you walk by. Quail wait, thinking they can hide and not have to move but then panic, flush, whir, and bounce off of fences and bushes in their chilled-brain bad aim haste. Before this rain wet the ground, the quail  were leaving oodles of the best foot prints on our dusty roads as they mopped up thousands of sprouting seeds and seedlings. They will soon be eating only salad. There are lots of quail around right now!

Chill

Burr. It’s cold! How cold is cold my back east father asked (Hi Dad!): well, it was 53F as a high today. It’ll be in the low 40’s tonight along the coast but frost is possible inland. Those temperatures are cold for us and will spur a whole new round of winter symptoms. The young grass will turn beautiful shades of red and purple at tips of their blades. The already changing grape leaves in the 2 Dog Vineyard will brighten to a better yellow.

Peent!

In prior blogs, I’ve commented on the winter vs. the summer birds and have before mentioned the red-breasted sapsucker saga, but I hadn’t thought too much about my observations that they are Molino winter birds. Audubon has a range map that shows their winter vs. summer haunts. The map is quite odd. They are mapped as very definitely only winter birds here, but there are areas to our far South and not that far North where this species lives all year round. Now…why would they leave here in the Summer?? Frequent readers with good recall may remember that we had a pair of these birds (they mate for life) but one got et, presumably by a Coooper’s hawk; the one remaining returned alone for a few winters. And then there were none. And now there are three. 3!! Bill Yates pointed them out, including a note that one was potentially a juvenile. Now we have a family of sapsuckers and an eruption of new holes in the bark of our orchard trees. Swarms of ants are drinking at those sapsucker bark wells. So are hummingbirds, which solves one of my mysteries about what the heck hummingbirds were feeding on this time of year, when there are no nectar producing wildflowers around here.

Orchard Stuff

Meanwhile, in the orchard…We still have apples! 2 Dog is selling our apples at Heart of the City and Alemany Markets and Roland is peddling our apples at the Wednesday downtown Santa Cruz Market. The Fuji apples are deservedly quite popular: crunchy and sweet. The Braeburn apples are even crunchier, though not as sweet- they have a more complex flavor. Those are the two varieties that are ripe right now and the last ones to go to market…for maybe two more weeks. It has been a long and productive apple season. You’ll want to get some of these late season apples before they are gone! It will be a long wait until next year’s Molino apple harvest.

I personally walked backwards steering the harrow for another 5 rows this week right before the rain, hoping that the additional predicted moisture would help along the germination. The cold will slow it down. A mixed flock of Brewers and bicolor blackbirds have been feasting on the seeds. So many have moved onto the farm that they now form murmurations, though I wonder if that term is reserved for starlings.

For the past many years, we’ve had to wait until January and beyond for citrus to ripen: not so this year. The harvest is ripening 2 months early and we’ll soon have the second citrus harvest of the year. The Robertson oranges are nearly ripe. The Persian limes are turning yellow, nearly ripe! Our first Improved Meyer lemons are getting tasty, too. Only the mandarins will not make a second crop this time.

Shake Rattle

The last thing to report is the Earthquake from last Friday. It was a long roller with strength. USGS recorded it as a 5.1 on the Richter Scale, centered just east of San Jose – not that far as the raven flies. Pictures were askew on our walls, new hairline cracks in the drywall and stucco. But, nothing fell from the shelves! A reminder that we are in earthquake country. I wonder how many of the fallen apples were due to seismic shaking?

Be well and have a good rest of the week!

-from my regular posting at the Molino Creek Farm website

Oh Deer, What a Year!

The deer have had a good few seasons. Before the CZU Lightning Complex Fire of August 2020, the forest had grown back shady and dense after the prior fire of 2009. Between the shade and the passing of time allowing shrubs to get tall, deer food had slackened off quite a bit. Shrubs are the deer’s favorite food. Also, that extensive shady forest provided just the kind of cover mountain lions like best; they might have been taking out quite a bit of the deer population. Nowadays, there’s not so much mountain lion sign, but lots of post-fire small shrubs, and a burgeoning deer population. Several healthy bucks are roaming in and around the farm. At least one of our does seems to be getting pretty big around the tummy right now, so more are on their way. All the deer are looking quite healthy: there are at last 8 here and there nearby…back to our old record number.

Slack’n Lion

Another sign that the cougar population has slackened…coyotes! I heard a coyote calling again the other night, very nearby. 2008 was the last year the farm had any regular yipping coyotes, but they returned after the 2020 fire and have been regular visitors ever since. Coyotes are a good sign of few (if any) lions in the vicinity. I’d rather have lions, but the coyotes are nice visitors, too.

Hawktober

Winged predators are also doing well: hawks seem quite numerous and healthy. I see the resident Cooper’s hawk and kestrel frequently resting between what must have been successful hunting sprees. The 2-3 red tailed hawks likewise have some down time. There are nearly always hawks wheeling lazily overhead now that the breezes have returned. Oh yeah…it’s hawk migration time along California’s coast! Some are just passing through.

Pomologically Speaking

The apple harvest this Fall has been surprising in many ways. ‘Normally’ the Community Orchardists gather just once a week for the working bee: on Saturday afternoons. During those gatherings, we saw the apple crop growing and growing. We thinned the fruit 3 times to make sure the fruit were fewer and far enough apart to nurture bigger, more pest free apples. The turnout at the working bees was great through the Spring and Summer. As the well-spaced fruit started swelling, we went from weeding to propping branches. We did not expect so many apples to survive the thinning and the pests, including 25 jays and woodpeckers which pecked hundreds of fruits mercilessly. We kept testing apples for ripeness every day until they started ripening the second week of September. For the last 5 weeks, we have harvested a record crop and it has required many extra hands on so many levels.

Two Tons of Fun (for starters)

Mind you, we are very part time apple farmers. The Apple Corps are a couple of focalizers, a few dedicated regulars, and a whole lot of others sporadically joining to nurture the Molino Creek Farm Community Orchard. We have sent around 1500 pounds of apples to farmers markets, 500 pounds to Davenport’s Pacific School food program, and 2000 pounds to the cider press. And, we aren’t even done…

Mountains of Fuji

The last part of our apple harvest are from the orchard’s original planting of Fuji apple trees. Fuji apples are half Red Delicious and half Virginia Ralls Janet. They were so named because of the town near the agricultural research station where they were developed: Fujisaki, Japan. Dense, sweet flesh and great storage potential makes this a very popular apple. We sent 200 pounds of those to Saturday farmers markets this week. They will sell out.

Green Manure

When I first learned about organic farming, cover crops were called ‘green manure,’ a term I haven’t heard much more recently. The idea is that you don’t need farm animal dung to fertilize your crops- nitrogen fixing legumes can do the trick if you manage them right.

We’re planting cover crops now across the farm. This evening, I finished harrowing the sixth of 50 rows in the apple orchard: 3 rows to the hour to spread the seed and then run the tractor implement called a harrow to cover the seed with soil. There are many hours yet to go, but it is nice to chip away at the project. Bell bean seeds are big and shiny and fun to throw, like casting marbles around the trees. Tossing about oat seeds has its rhythm, too, and the seeds are bright blond and easy to see how evenly they are landing on the dark soil. Vetch seeds are jet black, perfectly round, and it is impossible to know how well you are casting them about, handful after handful.

A Harrowing Experience

The harrow leaves a pleasant looking seed bed consisting of bits of leaf litter and chopped up plants mixed with soil and rolled flat. Perennial plants are spared (they sprout back right away), and earthworms and other soil organisms mostly survive. We use a BCS Italian-made walk-behind tractor. The harrow is mounted such that you have to back up the whole time while running it, always looking over your shoulder. That’s a harrowing experience!

Fall Report

Fall is progressing in both the wild and cultivated areas. Poison oak still wins the award for the most colorful native plant display: crimson patches brighten hillsides in forests and shrublands everywhere you glance along the coast nearby. The orchard’s apricot relatives and hazelnuts are the latest things to add to the fall color palette with their menagerie of yellows, oranges, and everything in between. Breezes have returned, but the fall leaves are most thick just under the trees’ canopies. Colorful leaves, thickly strewn in tree understories are delightful, each orchard visit presenting a new display.

-original post at my blog on Molino Creek Farm’s webpage, Facebook page, etc.

Stillness and Contrast

Stillness. The air barely moves, and each day darkens into hushed, unstirred nights. The still air phenomenon carries from one day to the next so that now it seems normal, almost beyond comment. It has been weeks since any kind of substantive breeze has blown across the farm. Fall leaves pile directly below trees. Dust hangs along gravel roads for long moments after a farm truck interrupts the windless tranquility.

Dark = Chill

Monday evening, the fog retreated offshore and bright stars twinkled by the billions in the suddenly clear sky. There had been days of fog, sometimes drizzly fog where subdued daylight was muffled by blankets of thick, low clouds. Downtown and at the farm, people stoked the season’s first wood fires to ward off the dank chill.

The chill and darkness combined with the harvest of many apples gifted us our first taste of reprieve from watering the orchard. Once trees lose their fruit, they aren’t as thirsty. This is especially welcome because we pump water with solar power, and there was no pumping potential with the days with such limited sunshine.

Solar powered well water – sustains our homes, orchards, and crops…so glad for good water!

Talon

How does the lack of rustling wind affect raptor hunting? The kestrel reels and screams. The Cooper’s hawk more stealthily turns acrobatically around trees and shrubs, sending our big quail coveys scurrying. Two red tailed hawks have little lift from updrafts; they sit on low perches hoping to pounce on nearby prey. The vultures haven’t been sailing by.

Placid nights echo across the landscape with many great horned owl hoots and barks. Owls scamper and hop on my roof through the night, scanning the rodent filled yard for their meals. Some neighbors suggest the rodent population has (finally!) started declining, but I’m less sure. There is a new, the first, bunny burrow nearby and a new bunny joined the last old and skinny individual remaining. Last year, there were 10 brush bunnies in that same space.

Ripening Harvests

Apples become ripe with surprising suddenness. We bite and compare: is this type ripe enough for harvest? Plewy- the arguments sputter! ‘That Braeburn is a week or more off!’ ‘No it isn’t’ ‘Here, try another one!’ ‘The skin is bitter and tough, its not sweet enough yet…look the seeds are still light brown’ We settle down and wait if anyone is adamant enough. Then, three days later, the Braeburn is indeed inarguably ripe. Same with the Fuji apples. Suddenly, when we thought there was a lull in the harvest and we’d have to skip markets…there are lots of ripe apples again.

Gone are the Gala, Jonagold, Wickson Crab, and Mutsu. Here come the Fuji and Braeburn! After those…we’ll get some rest: three more weeks of bigger harvests!

Meanwhile, 2 Dog Farm eyes its ripening dry farmed winter squash, increasingly coloring the fields. Squash with no irrigation?! Yes! Yummmm!!!

Two Dog Farm Dry Farmed Butternut Squash – the Very Best…and at the market soon!

Orchard Hygiene

A key to successful apple growing is keeping the orchard clean. Stand quietly in the orchard for 15 minutes even on these still days and…thump! There goes another apple falling from a tree. Quickly, the ground is covered with bruised windfall apples. Gophers drag the fruit nearer their holes, gnaw into the flesh, hollowing out the orb from below. Dwayne Shaw from Maine visited and neatly stacked the better windfalls in piles and we haul them to the press. He pitched the nastier ones into the wheelbarrow for disposal; soon, the barrow was teeming with yellow jacket wasps, which clean up the apples as quickly as possible. Those wasps also like to eat soft bodied insects, so mop up the apple pests, the core of the problem which spurs us to clean things up. Thanks waspies!

Chill Turns to Heat

With the clearing fog came a sudden heat. For weeks it barely crested 70F but today it was 85F. At dusk, toasty warm air wafted (slowly) in from the east. Crickets sing again this warm evening. Three days of warmth and it is time to water the orchard again. May the solar array help pump water once again!

The past 2 years have produced an October and then a November heat wave. The heat broke both years when the first real rainy storm soaked things on Thanksgiving. Will we wait that long this fall? It calls for sprinkles next week…fingers crossed! It would be nice to keep the grass greening and the fires at bay.