The warm spring sun began feeling prickly to my skin, and so it was sunscreen and sunhats to go outside. It had been a long time: a long cold, rainy winter. Suddenly, spring pollen dusted everything, everyone sneezing across the farm and into town, sneezes in parking lots, bike paths and in lines at the store. ACHOO!
Spring warmth triggered grass to bolting, really toweringly bolting grass flower heads arching and poking up high, waving pollen from dancing wands ladening the ever present breeze.
A Sudden Dryness
It seemed like the rain was over, as it normally would have been, but we were in for a surprise. Us orchardists hustled to get the irrigation set up, discovering mouse-chew leaks to repair, stuck valves, broken sprinklers – the perennial time-consuming setup always seems to come too late. The ground was DRY…very dry! Cover crop was wilting, bent over in the springtime heat. Digging weeds out from under orchard trees became a hassle, shovels and hoes striking hard ground, ringing metal sounds. It was dry not only on the surface but a foot down into the soil. Last Saturday, I asked my fellow weeder, “anyone discovering any soil moisture?” The answer was a disbelieving ‘No!’ Someone said, ‘It calls for rain.’ Yeah, right. It seemed somehow impossible.
Wind to Rain
The wind picked up strongly that evening and the next day it was blowing trees and branches down, hard gusts joining a steady stiff wind from the northwest. A little drizzle followed. Then there was a shower with quite big drops. A few hours later, another shower, that one longer, also with big raindrops. And then it poured on and off for many hours late through the night. Afterwards, still the soil is only wet about six inches down, but its moist down a foot. That much water will get used up in a few days when the sun shines again. And, it is enough to spur the grass growth (and pollen). What a surprise! At least it will be easier to weed for a few days.
The Resulting Flowers
The flowers are out. Poppies and lupines in peak flower. Cassandra reports binocular-spying a strikingly bright patch of solid lush orange California poppies high on the steep slope across Molino Creek canyon. The coast live oaks, tassels fading, are dense with shiny new leaves, a rich array of greens, each tree its own unique shade. On oak twigs, the tiniest of acorn babies have been born. Forest edge madrone trees display giant pom-poms of white flowers, a celebration of the moist winter. Big yellow blankets of post-fire germinated French broom sweeten the breeze but make my muscles tense with the stress of the seemingly hopeless weed invasion on our farm’s otherwise beautifully diverse hillsides. Redwood sorrel carpets the forest understory with strikingly pink blossoms. The wild iris has begun its colorful parade, trailside through the woodlands.
The return of rain also reawakens mosses and lichens. The black walnuts and oaks host a wealth of moss, growing thicker on the older branches and on the shady side of trunks. Summer comes and their thick green piles shrink and fade. Just as quickly, with dense fog (or this rain), they brighten and grow plush once again.
An adolescent buck with the faintest of felty nubbins jutting from its forehead warily considered me during a recent walk. At first, its giant pointy ears tilted towards me like satellite dishes honing in on my approach. Each time I get close to deer, I talk to them, gently letting them know that I am no threat. Generally, this slows their retreat, but this one was suspicious. It took off, energetically bounding with all four feet high in the air between pounces. Reaching a good distance, its ears were once again on alert, pointed at me as I tried urge it, ‘don’t worry.’ I looked down and up again. He was gone. Why so concerned, deer? This one was new to the neighborhood, maybe just passing through. People still hunt deer in these hills, so wariness is warrented.
Bright white citrus blossoms unfold sweetly while cherry petals drop to reveal shiny fruit. The apple orchard has entered peak bloom. The freshly clipped understory, not long ago was ugly stubble, but now it’s turning green, resprouting through the mown mess. The faint rose smell of apple blossoms is temporarily overpowered by a rain-fetched dank compost smell, hints of the bitterness of rotting chopped up weedy mustards and radishes. At the base of the apple flowers, furry hints of apples to be. Down the hill from the apples, fruit grows fast in our stonefruit grove- mostly various apriums and pluots, a hybrid swarm that also includes the parents, plums and apricots. Those fruits are mostly silver dollar sized, hard as rocks and green. The wild hazelnuts of our hedgerow have set fruit, bracts swelling. Elderberry flower clusters are a curious near-black, their buds forming.
Barn swallows have formed pairs, their mates arrived sometime in the last couple of weeks. They dive and swoop right past my face, closer than ever, as I mow the orchard. Maybe these are my porch swallows, and they are comfortable with me, and so the proximity. It seems I can feel their wingbeat wind on my cheeks they swoop so close.
The band tailed pigeon flock is back to its more normal farm size: 18 (ish). There were many more last week, but some moved on. As always, they scare easily from the walnut trees where they feast on catkins. Their clapping wings send them quickly skyward where they wheel about in a flock that eventually alights in a tall tree awaiting a safer moment to glide back down to their feast. How many times a day do they make this circuit? Sometimes, we hear them cooing deeply, at times answered by the higher, more sad sounding mourning doves that strut on the ground in pairs across the moist freshly tilled farm soil.
In the understory of the orchards, there are bunches of sharp-billed robins.
Somewhere nearby, there is the call and response sing-song of grosbeaks. In the woods, a flycatcher serenade joins the flute-like Swainson’s thrush song.
There are many other birds making lots of noise. Such is spring on our beautiful, diverse, wildlife friendly organic farm. We are so thankful.
-my weekly blog for Molino Creek Farm simultaneously published here.