The weather has fretted with fog and drizzle then heat and back again, the flux of summer, accentuated over short periods of time. It has been long enough since the last rain that the soil is drying for the second time this spring, and it is time to water once (again).
We picked the very last of this season’s navel oranges, but our one Valencia tree might still have a few ripen and sweeten. Two young mandarins are producing a few sweet fruit each week. There were enough Persian limes to satisfy some of the orchardists, but those are almost gone. Such wraps up the fruiting season, and a bit of a dearth awaits us to be broken in July when the first cherries ripen. If we can get the gumption to net the trees, we will have those delicious fruit.
Rodent Explosions Past
Last year, everyone was talking about the plague of rodents. There were never so many gophers and mice as then; it seemed like not a foot of ground was spared the gopher till. Many winter squash were chewed, unsaleable. A bunch of our old hazelnut bushes fell over, roots gnawed off near the soil surface. A long, cold rainy winter no doubt took its toll on rodent lives. The voles began their rebound, zipping about and ousting gophers to their demise. Now, new numbers of fanged rodent patrols are on the prowl.
Either the long-tailed weasel population has skyrocketed or a handful of weasels are covering some ground. We are all seeing weasels. One weasel was trying to get in the house, poking its snakey body into every nook and crevice, even bobbing back and forth on its hind legs, looking up the walls for a place of better purchase. These weasels have dark red-brown hair and a big white heart spot on their foreheads. They are rumored to ‘run’ down gopher holes. May they control the rodent population!
The Buck Didn’t Stop There
A large buck, its velvet-covered antlers budding up to their first fork, ran hastily across the upper farm this past week. Otherwise, I haven’t been hearing much about deer.
The grass is 5’ tall, on average, in our hayfields. Mostly, it is European oat grass of the “bearded” variety (Avena barbata), but there are also sizeable stands of native brome grass as well as wild radish. When we can, we get to the barn and start up the clickity-clack Italian BCS walk-behind tractor with the sickle bar mower. Aim it at a long row of tall grass and keep it pointed in the right direction. It snicks off the sward at 2” tall, laying down neat hanks of hay that fall to either side. After a few passes, there are beautiful rows of neatly cut grass to cure in the sun before being pitchforked into the mulch cart for placement around the fruit trees. We cut about as much ground as the trees take up- just over an acre! At last calculation, we hoist and spread about 8 dried tons. To do this right, we’ll need to do that pitching before July 1, the magic date that allows the hay to start decomposing and moistening again in the irrigation so that it is less likely to burn very hot with the late summer fires.
From Santa Cruz to Santa Rosa, it is Peak Time for the Native Iris Bloom. Maybe the wet winter spurred such an epic show. The variation in color and petal shape in the plants near Bonny Doon is astonishing. Around 900’ there are patches of Iris douglasiana, but all are a creamy yellow. Just up elevation, they mix in a narrow band with Iris fernaldii, also a creamy yellow. The douglas types drop out at 1100’ elevation and then there are many more fernald’s. At 1700’ elevation, something magical happens. That blue that the douglas iris was supposed to have now seems transferred to the fernald’s, but there’s more. There are rosy flowers and sky blue, pure white and more deep yellow- no two fernald’s iris seem the same- it is a mystical array of a profusion of color.
The colors of iris isn’t all that is happening. The bush lupines and sticky monkeyflower are showing abounding colors. There is so much spring that it can’t be contained. Flowers are gushing brilliant color everywhere. It is time to get out and about!