Molino Creek Farm

Swishing

Our main old apple orchard and the hillsides around it recovering from the August 2020 fire

On a recent breezy day, I lay down, nestled into the 3’ tall drying grass and watched amazing clouds tearing apart and scudding across the bright blue sky. The grasses around me were singing, swishing with waves of delightful whooshing. The whooshing would rapidly approach, ruffle my hair and chill my skin then pass me to dance across more distant meadows. The breeze carried the scent of sweet fresh grass and the freshness of salty ocean air. In circles around me, between the grasses, and during lulls in the wind, beige California ringlet butterflies were skipping and fluttering – a welcome sign of grassland spring.

It has been exceptionally windy and cold for nearly an entire week straight. The wind has been more than annoying, it has been nearly prohibitive to being outside. The temperature differential between the cold cranium and the warm brain makes for a very specific head pain. We put on winter jackets and wool hats. The barn swallows above the front door complain about leaving their cozy warm nest too early on cold mornings, so I don’t want to disturb them but still must go out.

Last Sunday, an unpredicted series of showers pelted down sometimes very big powerful raindrops from ominous giant patches of fast-moving clouds, and then there was sun. No matter, I thought, I’ll keep mowing…and then it rained again so hard that water was pouring off of the brim of my hat!

Birds

The barn swallows are getting so friendly that they brush past me and I can hear their wing beats. They chatter “chui chui chui chui chui…” chasing one another, expertly turning to capture bugs. I don’t know why but one sometimes will sit in the middle of the road looking around at the others flying by. Nadia our neighboring land’s Forester tells me that the Purple Martins have returned- their homes are in a ridgeline tree up above our new tank complex. Purple martins are a rare thing around here.

Two great horned owls were hooting from the roof the night after yard mowing: a promising feast of newly uncovered rodent runs. They fly silently but you can make out their weight when they land on the peak of the roof: a gentle but solid…wump! When the winds pick up, the turkey vultures play around the eddies and updrafts around the Farm. They tilt their bright red heads to follow the movement of the others in what seems like playful chase, giant wings arching acrobatically.

On the other side of the size spectrum, many chestnut backed chickadees are chick-a-dee-deeing in the trees and shrubs along the field edges. A very bright bird caught my eye as it flitted into sight, staring right at me: oh! The lazuli buntings have returned! What a treat- this one a bright blue breeding plumage male with a nice neat orange bib. I could go on and on about birds…the Spring Bird Show is going strong.

Slithering towards the Leaping

The dust on the roads and trails reveals the movement of snakes…many big snakes. The 2020 fire has opened up acres of new weeds and grasses where there used to be shrubs. The herbaceous post fire world is rodent heaven…and therefore more snakes! Someone reported a rattlesnake near downtown Davenport. No reports from Molino…yet. We have gopher snakes wending their sleek long bodies silently through the grass, shiny skin and wary eyes. Their bellies push and flatten long wavy patterns through the fine road dust.

Many tiny tawny harvest mice have been leaping away from the mower this spring. This is the dominant small mammal and there never were so many. Snake snacks. Below ground, the gophers tunnel and store food. Digging a hole for a new table grape planting, the soil gave way and out came a softball sized cache of gopher groceries: a ball of grass and weeds stowed for future consumption. Gopher hay!

People Food

The orange trees are hanging heavy with fruit and we keep trying them to see if they’re ripe. Juicy – check! Tasty – well…just okay. Sweet – no! For all that juice, you’d hope for sugar, but we have to wait longer. The limes are great, though. Not enough lemons this year: maybe next year. The one remaining mature Bacon avocado tree has maybe 50 fruit on it that are just starting to hint about getting ripe, maybe a month from now. And that’s about it for farm food except for a few sprigs of arugula or kale, snacks on nasturtiums and perhaps some nettles for the industrious chefs. The apples have set fruit that is growing rapidly while still the same tree is in flower. We hope that the prolonged flowering means a prolonged fruiting season as well!

Gala apple with fruit and flowers at the same time!

Plantings

Our hard working Two Dog Farm partners are doing just that as another season ramps up. Headlights rake the hillsides, shockingly cutting through deep dark pre-dawn; off they go to start a new farming day. Long rows of new peppers and onions are settling into the fluffy brown soil of their Roadside Field. Mark Bartle (bundled up!) was recently steering back and forth, back and forth to seed this year’s crop of winter squash into beautifully formed seed beds. He is an artist with a tractor and his sculpture grows!

Two Dog Chardonnay
Two Dog Farm new pepper planting

-this originally and simultaneously posted at Molino Creek Farm’s website blog

Surprises

The winds come and go, the nights are still chilly, and the days are getting warm again. Today it was in the 70’s. The whole world seems sparkly, extra vivid and alive. Critters are zipping about and the breezes sporadic and then, some days, ripping. The sky has been mostly clear but then suddenly fog will creep up the canyon or giant puffy clouds peek over the ridge above the farm. Many little birds are cheeping and carrying on midday, but there are occasional surprising quiet moments. Once this past week…zoom – the vultures not lazily but energetically were sweeping across the farm, chasing one another, riding a sudden new and steady afternoon wind. Some nights it has been so breezy that the house shakes, but then there was a recent night that was so quiet that you could hear a million crickets near and far.

Surprises and Singing Friends

Yes, crickets are singing at night, and many birds sing all day long. Song sparrows are making the most constant melodious songs. I flushed a snipe from the Avocado Bowl this early evening…what a surprise – for both of us. It yipped and I yelped: it was almost under foot. Off it went downhill off the farm. They say it is passing through- lots of migration happening these past weeks.

Bizarre Black Birds, redux

A while back, bicolor blackbirds changed their social behavior. Towards the end of winter, bicolors joined the Brewers blackbirds and starlings in the leafless walnut trees, raising a cacophonous symphony but somehow breaking into a hypnotic melodious chorus (and sometimes with soloists, other times with jazzy subgroups, and always with startling punctuated pauses). Then, the Brewers left the stage. The starlings took to their own flocks. And, the bicolors broke off in small groups. Now, bicolors are exhibiting undecipherable and very different behavior. As is normal, males continue puffing up with their extraordinary epaulettes. The males and females have intricate chases or face offs; I have seen very alert females clustered together, I have also seen the females apparently chasing males, and I have seen males chasing ravens, swallows, and even hummingbirds. Those guy bicolor blackbirds seem proud to bravely chirp at me staying as close as they dare – showing off?

Sneezing Time

The grasses are turning tawny even with the late rains and pollen is flying thickly. Ten minutes outside fill the corner of my eyes with dust that starts immediately itching. Before my nose fills and congests from the pollen, there is a sweet grassy scent blanketing everywhere. I want to keep smelling that but it is subtle and my nose reacts poorly to the pollen filled air. It is, unfortunately for me, indoor time lest my lungs seize and my neighbors too serenaded by the loudest of continuous sneezing until my throat is chaffed and my eyes water to streams of tears. Oh, those N95 masks are serving another purpose!

Gophers and Snakes

Meanwhile, in the soil…hundreds of gophers are tossing up small piles of earth across the farm – crumbly mounds, the fresher excavations dark and moist for a little while, sprinkled with a mess of critter cut hay. A meadow vole was midday sunbathing in some short grass next to the solar panels the other day, not even moving when approached. I got to see how tiny its ears were, folded up against its head: un-mouse like. Shortly thereafter, I was startled by the biggest gopher snake I’ve ever encountered – around 5’ long and 2” thick. This snake was almost under foot and I found myself emitting another involuntary yell, body levitating up miraculously and seemingly sky high, arching up and up before touching down and happy not to have squinched it. Yesterday, there was yet another gopher snake, this one a ’mere’ 3’ long, near the citrus orchard about to cross the road. It is a good year to be a snake and a good time for accenting the need to be present when walking, so as not to tread on them serpents.

Ursi’s Bouquets

This is the time of year that roadside wildflowers are at their most diverse. When I visit farm partners Bob and Ursi at their beautiful downtown home, this time of year there are the most beautiful bouquets of wildflowers from that roadside: lupines and poppies, deep blue globed bulb flowers, monkeyflowers…and many more. They so appreciate that beauty and it has been increasing because of their attention. They are the ones who requested that the roadside mowing crews avoid the once few lavender bush lupines. We did. Those few spread and then after the fire erupted in giant patches of color and quick cover for so many creatures. Bob and Ursi are profoundly appreciative of natural beauty and share their observations easily with bright eyes and kind smiles.

Newly planted tomato plants – off to a hard start but promising much in the long term

Crop Planting, Orchard Production

A variety of neighbors have been pitching in to plant the Molino Creek Farm crops this year. The first tomato plants are in the ground as of today! Onions went in a few days ago. The sad but promising rows of new crops are settling in, a hard transition from the nursery but they will soon adjust.

In the orchard, the limes are getting so ripe to be dropping from the trees, but the oranges don’t have sweetness yet. Nearly every apple tree has set fruit, and those tiny fruits are growing fast in large clusters. The cherry trees have few fruit, fewer still the prunes and apricots: late rains might have pummeled the tiny fruit or perhaps the wind? It will be a big apple year if the pests don’t get too many; there are very few jays as of yet.

The farmed and natural worlds of Molino Creek Farm change by the day, as does the world around everyone. Catch it while you can! Enjoy the changes!!

A bud grafted Lapins cherry on the Colt Rootstock that survived the fire to resprout. Thanks, Drake Bialecki for making this magic!

-this post simultaneously posted at Molino Creek Farm’s website.

The Long Return of Winter

The wintery weather continues if only with some clouds, cool air, and gusty breezes. The days are noticeably longer and the sun has some heat to it, but it has been chilly sweater weather in the mornings. What’s left of the ridgetop trees have been ‘talking’ – a groaning wind has been pushing across the ridges and dancing across the grasses on our hill-protected farm. The giant sets of waves send roaring echoes up the canyons and white caps make a mess of the surface of the ocean. Is it winter leaving or are we headed to more weeks of weird deja vu for weather that should have been, but wasn’t, in January?

Would seem to be post-winter storm, but this is April!

Excited by Flowers

The bees know it is Spring with swarm after swarm landing in the beehive traps. The apple trees buzz with honeybees, the lupine fields bob with bumbles; avocado flower clusters rustle and whine with a myriad of flies, butterflies flit from calendula to radish and onto flat-topped yellow lizard tail flower clusters. Flower biomass is at its peak here and across the hills- especially if you count grasses (achoo!). The farm fields have long sported weeds and cover crops in bloom, and now the wildlands have erupted in color. Monkey flower, weedy brooms and vetches, colorful native bulbs and paintbrush, lupines and honeysuckle – all in bloom from the oak groves to the steep brushy hills. Grassy fields are 100 shades of green, oak groves are turning a dark green as the leaves settle in, and all else is adorned with patches of yellow and orange, lavender and blue…with accents of red or bright white – an astounding naturally artistic landscape.

Critter Escapades

Recently, I mentioned in this newsletter the entrepreneurial two lithe deer. I thought they were just passing through, but they settled in nearby the farm, but are still quite shy. These two are graceful and thin and healthy and golden brown and jumpy. Great new additions to the community of playful farm creatures. April is normally reptile month: earlier it seemed to fit, but later in the month the reptiles have been interested but barely able to move. Huge alligator lizards drop lazily out of mulch piles as we move them. A massive momma lizard sat immobile in the road waiting to warm in the midday sun. Snakes are hiding somewhere for warmer times. The gophers and mice celebrate the cold predators- there is more rodent herbivory than anytime recently. If there were more rabbits, they would be getting well fed- we just have a handful after last year’s sudden dearth. I found a giant dead mole (stinky) just lying on the ground next to a tree I was weeding. The persistent truck beeping backup noise of the local pygmy owl is incessant, from the nearby forested canyon.

Greens

The final set of deciduous trees on the farm are leafing out. The so light spring green of the black walnut trees is always magical, set off more so from the dark brown bark background. The winter skeletons of those trees, so prominent across much of the farm is now being lost to a summer of seemingly subtropical canopy.

On the drive out to the coast, the meadows have grown in green again, healing from the wintertime drought. The winds make waves of mesmerizing nodding grasses. Far off, the grass flanked fields, hills, and ridges make a soft mat resting the eyes and mind- it seems so right.

Molino Creek Farm is just past the highest point on the horizon- way up there.

The Production of Food

Two Dog Farm planted their first row crops of the season: rows of baby padron pepper plants are settling in to the harsh reality of life under open sky, in the wind and wavering temperatures…so different than their greenhouse lives of the past months. They will quickly turn darker green and get sturdy, but they look so pale and fragile right now.

The orchards are setting fruit and flowering. Where we can, we have left understories and rows of cover crops to grow more and bloom. The apple blossoms waft elusive hints of dusty rose scent. Lupines and now profuse bell bean flowers delight our noses with rich and heavy purple-grape perfumes. We are suddenly finding ourselves in the OCD fruit thinning program. After work strolls – can’t help but stop (an hour passed??!) but thin some apples. Weekend irrigation management and then, whoops, stopped for too long to thin some pears. Etc Etc. We’ll soon be in round two of mowing with new sickle bar blades making the work easier for a change.

The cherry fruits and plums are shiny plump and growing…what promise!

Hoping you are letting your mind wander in the Spring Clouds – there is so much there.

Beauty.

-this post part of my weekly blogs at the Molino Creek Farm website.

Full Moon, Sparkling Ground

Last Saturday night, the bright full moon shining from the clear cold sky, set off the grassy fields into a sparkling hoarfrost that lingered in the low, shady spots well after sunrise. That same startlingly clear sky graced Sunday with a cool light breeze, inviting my gardening self to expose sun onto skin for too long: my back burned red to ouch, now itchy painful. Following that temptation was not too smart! The week plugs away with echoes of last week’s email: drizzle, sun…warm…repeat. But, now the National Weather Service says it will really rain tomorrow and Friday, so our orchard irrigation rounds will be delayed once again. The rain has been just enough for a while to keep up with the increasing demand for soil moisture from the leafing out orchard trees. The forecast looks like it will get dry again soon- maybe next week will begin the long, dry summer? So hard to say. We are extra thankful for the late rains re-wetting everything. As we learned a couple of years ago, drought makes for extra heat and then fire! The late rainfall boost will make a lag for the heat, pushing it further into the summer and reducing fire danger a little longer. The clouds sneaking southward in advance of tomorrow’s storm were particularly ominous- perhaps hinting at the predicted ‘instability’ and perhaps marble (!) sized hail.

Very Odd clouds coming before the storm this evening

Out in the recently-burned forest around Molino, the understory is bursting with flowers. The iris are still thick with blossoms- around here, a pale yellow or creamy white, but higher on the mountain all the way to rich blues. The local pink version of globe lily has just come into full bloom with especially many plants post fire. There are yellow or white violet flowering carpets. Native sweet pea and checker lilies are fading but the woodland tarplants are blossoming and, in moister places, there are many sprays of white, sweet-smelling false Solomon’s seal. The forest understory never faded from the drought in January and February and it is especially lush and green now with the recent return of rains. Madrones aren’t flowering anywhere near as thickly as last Spring. The creeks are singing their watery songs.

Orchard Renewal

Some may recall Drake Bialecki’s patient revival of burned trees last year…his skill with the summer grafting of avocados and cherries. After he was done, we kept an eye on the cherry bud grafts and watched as they slowly healed into the rootstock stems, splitting the grafting tape and pushing forward as if to say ‘we made it!’ Few of those buds did much last season. But now, we’re watching them burst out with promise of making new trees. We’ve never seen this work before, so stay tuned as we document what was a dime-sized bud become a branch then get comfortable being a trunk and on up to the sky. I have a hard time guessing how big these might get this year- the roots are huge and established for full-sized trees…might these get 6’ tall and around this year? They’ve got all they need from water and finely stewarded soil.

Drake Bialecki’s expert cherry bud graft from last July coming alive this Spring

Other Fruit

The lime trees are popping with nearly ripe fruit, the lemons close behind, but the oranges a ways behind. The early apples have set their first fruit, now wanting to be thinned. Avocado blossoms are opening, some getting past- alas, few trees are mature enough to bear fruit this season (or the next).  Some of the avocado trees we thought survived the fire are showing themselves to be zombies as their basal bark peels off to reveal lifeless and fire-girdled stems. Similar things are going on with many of the fire-surviving trees: their expanding trunks are revealing large dead portions of trunks near the ground- ah, shoot!

Respect yer Elders

On the field margins and in a far part of the North Orchard: elderberries! Elderberry flowers are opening. The California native elderberry plants that George Work donated to the Farm in 2008 sprouted vigorously after the fire and are large, lush bushes adorned by many flower clusters. Then there’s the herbalists’ patch of exotic elderberries quickly establishing but not yet blossoming.

Oh Crop!

For the row-crop farming, all eyes are on the greenhouses where the starts are getting big enough to plant – planting will start soon, the soil is prepared and waiting. The field enterprises are multiplying with a new organic vegetable seed growing partner on a quarter or so acre in the Brush Field.

Another crop has identified itself: wild nettles! Anyone want to harvest them? The wild miner’s lettuce is fading, but the nettles are going strong.

Here Today, Gone Tamari

Chewing on these wild things are the migratory deer. Two lithe brave but wide-eyed teenage deer loped up the main road a few days back, stopping here and there to gaze at the deer fence, sizing it up to see if they dare test it but then running further along. The fat female has gone missing. No bucks.

Other missing wildlife: turkeys, kestrels, red tailed hawks…bobcats, harrier hawks…skunks….But, some expected are here: there are more than 18 band tailed pigeons eating walnut catkins. They aren’t any braver about nearby humans even with the higher numbers.

PS: there is no tamari, only today, he added saucily

-this post simultaneously published to the Molino Creek Farm website as my weekly blog.

The Return of the Rain

HOT (85F), then cold and massively windy (wind damage!) … then drizzle…now gap (cold)…drizzle tomorrow gap…drizzle Saturday (cool): what an odd April! The April showers bring May flowers adage isn’t supposed to work here in California, or at least it hasn’t for a long time…but then again, it Does Work! Way back in March, the prairies were turning brown and the grass was stunted and dying. Ranchers were selling their cattle quickly to get in before the big sales rush later in the spring, when they would make even less money. Now, the grasses are growing again, and the prairies are mostly green where they were brown. Weird. The big lupine year here on the Farm will be prolonged maybe into May if this keeps up. If it keeps up, maybe we’ll have the plump tasty handfuls of native blackberry that we got last year with the late rains….that would be wonderful. Some nearby got an inch of rain this last round, where we were promised only two tenths. Roof runoff rainwater buckets filled entirely, which normally suggests a good soak.

No Chow

There is very little food on the farm, unless you like to eat lemons and limes or to harvest wild nettles. The cover crop pea shoots have been mowed and/or tilled in. It has been too dry for mushrooms, though the recent rains could promise morels if it warmed up and we looked hard. It is too early to harvest the very few Bacon avocados fattening on the trees. Very little of last season’s kale remains that hasn’t bolted. It’d be a good time to turn to eating bugs if you had to forage just on the farm. Canned food season continues. Oh, how we long for the produce of summer!

Wildlife Sightings

I saw as single deer running across the farm this past week, the first for a long time and too far away to know what sex. But it was nice sized and alone, very nervous…kept moving. A few fox barks emanated from the Vandenberg Field area one evening. Not much predator poo around. Gophers, though- very common! And the voles are starting to make a comeback. The Big Winners are the mice – the harvest and deer mouse populations are burgeoning right now. They leap and scurry in front of the mowers and hoes, and if you stand still too long in the grass they run over your shoes- it’s that kind of mouse year.

I spied on one of the bluebird boxes yesterday and watched a momma feed babies which were sticking their hungry maws out of the hole to get the dangly long caterpillar from her mouth. Cheep Cheep! Cheep Cheep!

The band tailed pigeons are the newest entertainment. Our big flock is back eating walnut catkins, an annual ritual. They sure are nervous, flapping noisily away when you approach a walnut tree. I am transported to the tropics when I see them- they trigger past parrot sightings in my memory, being a similar size and shape.

Farming

Adan is back on the tractor. So is Mark Bartle, who has been equally energetic with the big machines. The fields are mowed and a subset are getting tilled. Adan has rototilled the first field, so smoothly turned around, a special kind of soil beauty. Mark mowed the vineyard this past week and the vines opened their fresh light green delicate leaves; they are well trellised and starting to look like an established crop for the first time, their third spring of growth.

The orchard folks got caught up on watering and then with the drizzle can take a bit of a break. Soon the Maserati of Mulcharts will be going 185 with big piles of mowed up mulch to feed the trees.

The hay hauling mulch cart, a Molino Creek Farm invention- appropriate technology

Flowers

The blue, blue-blue native bulbs have burst into their small tight globes of flowers on the road into the farm, complimenting the other patches of white-and-blue lupines. Orange sticky monkeyflower subshrubs are getting towards full bloom, but Ceanothus are fading. French broom is scentfully blossoming, but we don’t like looking at it- what a scourge has been flushed after that fire! In the forest, it is peak iris time and the pale yellow flowered fat false Solomon’s seal is in full bloom (another scent sensation). Did I say iris time? Its really a big iris year! The poppies are in full regalia, meshing large patches of flame orange into the delightfully contrasting purple blue lupines.

We hope you enjoy some rainbows and perhaps the last rains of the season this next week. Our fruit trees will be in heaven.

Warm Spring Days

From blustery and cool to only slightly breezy and hot. Today might have been 80F and tomorrow will be, too, but the nights will cool down so we can open the windows and cool the houses. Big big waves blown in from some massive storm way way out there; the beaches were swarming with daring surfers this evening at sundown.

Farm Critters

The crickets have been chirping for the last week or so. As usual, the black field cricket is the first to sing. Their brethren the grasshoppers have an early start with fat large adults flying around already.

On the land at Swanton Pacific Ranch today, just over the hill from Molino, I saw a 18” terrestrial garter snake, a 2’ gopher snake, and a 15” yellow bellied racer as well as fence lizards galore. Alligator lizards are around, too. April is always reptile month- and this time around is no exception. Time to see snakes! The gopher snake’s body was bulging in three locations- well fed and recently shed- very shiny new skin.

Real, honest to gosh birders are surveying the Farm these days. Storey La Montagne and Martha Brown were roaming around this morning when I woke up. They reported yellow rumped warblers (“getting ready to leave”) and had good words to say about the numbers of western blue birds. Storey’s been owling here and confirmed our regular farm friend the pygmy owl. When they were here this morning, there were just barn swallows. And then, when I went down to Swanton the day saw increasing numbers of violet green and maybe other types of swallows- from 5 to 50 over the course of the morning. Welcome back swallows, almost goodbye yellow rumped warblers and golden crowned sparrows! I neglected to discuss with them Maw and Caw who curiously had one of last year’s offspring visit them this evening: and then there were three, all friendly as can be.

Little to no predator poop- few bobcats, coyotes, or fox. Only very rare sightings of deer. A bunny here, a bunny there- not many. Dead woodrat in my yard- neck strangled, dropped…gone to the turkey vultures a couple (stinky) days later. Mowing is revealing a plethora of mice, including many of those most tiny and cute harvest mice- must be having a good year. Field mice are probably having a particularly good year for all of the gophers that erupted through the last year, after the population crash of voles. The voles are coming back- beware gophers! The first vole trails are getting mowed and populations are on the rise again.

Apple orchard in full bloom; still recovering from 2020 wildfire…how will they do?

Forage and Fruit

The apples are in peak bloom right now, as of the last 2 days- there’s a few more days of peak bloom left, including this Saturday’s gathering. Pink! White! And, if you get there early or late in the day, you can be tricked into thinking the apple blossoms smell like lupine as that scent settles through the orchard from not far away. Limes are getting ripe and the Orchard Collective members are up to their eyeballs in lime-i-ness: lime juice frozen in ice cube trays…limes peeled and sucked on by Milo…lime drinks…what more?? And, we’re eating pea shoots from the cover crop, but nothing really much more coming in from the fields just yet. In the eternal irony of farm life, the Spring is the time of food shortage, the longest time since the last meaningful harvest of Most Things. And so, we eat the canned things and forage on Spring Greens like miner’s lettuce and baby this and that volunteering from last year’s greens seed crops. Oh, and arugula.

Its not your eyes…the flowers are blurry and the foliage in focus! Sticky monkeyflower. Trippy monkeyflower

It All Happens At Once

On the hillsides around the tilled fields, the normally staggered blossoms of shrubs are all happening right now. Bush lupines, California lilac, sticky monkeyflower, lizard tail, oso berry…all blooming now. There’re not many lilacs of blooming age, just yet- most burned- but, the few missed by fire are weighted down with big wads of blue flower clusters that are quite magnificent. The bush lupines, too- what magnificent lavender displays! It would be delightful to be a bee right now- food everywhere.

California lilac aka Ceanothus thrysiflorus in bloom right now, if you can find a mature bush left by the wildfire

The Work

Farm work means mowing and irrigating right now. All the fields are shorn except the orchard areas, which we are hitting post haste most days. In the vein of ‘it all happens at once’ we had to fix up irrigation a month early and just finished our first full pass of watering trees. It takes ~7 hours of microsprinklers to rehydrate the soil this year…it dried down too much before we started the watering. The solar pump is running constantly for the first time since last October. Soon, the farmers will put hoe to ground and start planting seedlings…

-this post copied from the original location at my blog on Molino Creek Farm’s website

Luscious Late Rain

After the driest first quarter of the year on record, rain sweet rain fell like no one had predicted this past Sunday. Mark Lipson recorded 1.18” of rain – enough to saturate the first foot of our kind of soil. Maybe some water leaked below that, but it was very dry much deeper than that recently, so the water helps the cover crop, which will quickly drink it up while growing a few extra inches.

The recent nights have been chilly. The breezes have been blustery. We had spring a while back but it then returned to winter, and then the fog today seemed like summer. Atmospheric mayhem.

Field Management

We are mowing. Field after field is getting treated to different mowers, flail or rotary, grinding up cover crop to a sweet-smelling pulp that is already getting eaten by earthworm and sow bug to soon enter the soil food web or at least somewhat cover the soil through the coming dry hot summer. We are retiring fields long farmed as Molino Creek Farm scales down for the first time in decades while we re-envision the next generation of farming the best of our deeper soiled flat land. How shall we manage fallowed fields? This, too, we must contemplate.  

Mowing commences – a freshly shorn field in the foreground of two of Molino’s Giant Mother Oaks

Orchard Haps

In the orchard, we are struggling to drop the irrigation lines, test the pressure, flush the pipes, and start up the long process of re-wetting the dry soil before the trees get thirsty. We had to set up irrigation in tall grass that we normally mow first- we must act quickly so trees don’t dry out as they burst into bloom and unfurl their sun-loving leaves.

Orchard understory cover crops, which were so disappointingly tiny, will now grow a bit more. The rain and irrigation spur the more lush growth of purple-flowered vetch, floppy bell beans, and pointy-leaved, thick stemmed oats. Before the rain and before the irrigation, the cover crop canopy was around 6”. Now we can hoo-ray and dance as it grows to more than a foot of valuable green manure to feed the pollinators and fertilize the earth.

Vetch with a Big Bumble Bee – cover crop doing double duty on Cherry Hill at Molino Creek Farm

Critters

The cold and rainy times chilled the turkey vultures or perhaps they were doing something more. Out there in one freshly mown cover crop field two vultures faced the freshly emerging early afternoon sun, lifted their lovely red fleshy heads and spread their giant wings out as if to soak in the rays. It always seems like such an effort to keep those huge wings held out parallel to the ground. Later, there were four vultures struggling to get altitude in the intermittent gentle breeze. Up and up they went and then there was an unusual sight- one after the other they folded their wings and jetted downwards at one another. Swoosh! You could hear the air cutting across their giant wings a hundred yards away. Playing? Mating rituals? Wow.

Speaking of turkeys, our road intersection hen was so fat with eggs 10 days ago that she could hardly walk fast. I patiently gave her berth as she walked up the Big Hill in front of my truck. Her feet seemed to hurt her, and she wobbled to and fro. After a long, long ways she (finally!) moved off the road towards her normal nesting spot. 4-17 eggs have been laid somewhere nearby. Expect the little ones to be fluffing around in about a month, just like every year for many. They are our welcoming party as you turn into the Farm.

A week ago this past Sunday, around 10 p.m., the slightly open window revealed the repeated bouts of screaming from a lioness not far from the house. That sound is always invigorating. She went on like that for an hour or so before quieting down. No noise since.

The golden crowned sparrows are still hanging around. Hummingbirds are diving and flashing. Quail coveys flock together.

Bright Spring Flowers

The rain will make the lupines even happier this Lupine Year. The bush lupines are in full bloom, big patches of green-blue velvety mounds with thick spired masses of checkered lavender and white flowers. There are two types of annual lupines- the tiny flowered bicolor lupine and the full flowered deep blue sky lupine (aka someone turned the world upside down lupine). These annual lupines are incredibly gorgeous. 10 a.m. in the North Orchard and you can bathe in the sweet scent of purple as lupine flower essence wafts downwards from 3 acres of flowers, floating towards Molino Creek Canyon.

Sky Lupines carpet acres this spring – very unusual profusion!

This post originally published in my regular blog at Molino Creek Farm’s website.

Diffuse Blackbirds

The Big Show around the Farm is the bicolored blackbirds. Instead of trees full of blackbird song, they have become diffuse- a few here and there….everywhere. Everywhere trilling song. The males are so pumped up with Spring, they are squaring off with moving car tires to show the others who is the toughest. As I walk around, the nearest male will keep its bill pointed at me, following my passage, squeetling and chipping and flashing its red shoulders- so tough! Not far away, other blackbird brethren fret and squeak and dance around the showiness, everyone eyeing the complex interactionists and goings-on. The bicoloreds have definitely started investing in nesting, so it is time to mow the cover crops before it is too late.

Green Manure

The orchard cover crop never amounted to much, only reaching a foot or so on average. The vetch has barely sprawled, but will bloom its purple blossoms soon. Bell beans are so thirsty as to be folding their wee leaves- will they make flowers? What will the 6” tall oats do? Us organic farmers rely on cover crops to capture atmospheric nitrogen and put it in the soil to fertilize our crops. It’s a beautiful thing when there’s a rainy winter, because Nature is watering the cover crop, making fertilizer for the next season. When its dry…not so much! But, we plan for that- we’ve been building up organic matter for years and that helps hold the nutrients in the soil, so we have a fertilizer bank- at least for a little while.

Lupine Shows

Out in the more wild places of the farm, the lupine show is Out-Rageous! There used to be much more grassland at Molino Creek Farm. Back in the 1980’s the hillsides were grasses but the coyote bush invaded and then closed ranks and it has been shrubland ever since. Then there was fire. Decades of lupine seedbank erupted in the newly sunny spots and they were celebrating yesteryear. Sheets of knee-high blue and wafting grape bubble gum smells are so delightful. And, its not just us: shout out to Tommy Williams who has also noticed lupines where lupines had not been- in other grasslands, closer to town. Lupine seeds can last many, many years in the soil, waiting for the right time to germinate.

Lupinus nanus, sky lupine, a native annual wildflower- one of the many species brightening Molino Creek Farm’s natural areas.

Oak Branches Bolt

It is time for coast live oaks to grow. Their branch tips are bursting with new growth after having lost many of their old leaves. Some of the trees are blossoming, long catkins dangling and dancing in the wind. Its when these new leaves emerge that you start noticing the individual nature of each tree- some are more yellow, some a deeper green. The new shoots are the yummiest of delicacies for the dusky footed wood rats who are saying ‘Ooh! Ahh!’ and ‘schreeumfst’ (the sound they make when they are tickled to have a mouth full of branchlets filling their craw as they scamper through the oak canopy towards their homes).

Quercus agrifolia, coast live oak, with splendid new growth

Orchard Blossoms

The first apple trees are coming into bloom. The quince bushes are already towards the end of their blossoms. The sweet smell of stone fruit flowers fills the orchard atmosphere. Citrus flowers are so, so sweet and numerous. The avocado blossoms are just starting to open. And, the cherry trees are mid bloom. All of this is a month early, but nevermind: it’s beautiful.

-this is shared over from the site I normally post for Molino Creek Farming Collective

Sudden Springliness

Meteorologists are echoing what we feel in our bones: the rainy season is over and we are onto another year of drought. The vibrant grassland greens are fading into echoes of verdancy, patches in huge fields of growing tawny gray. Cow tongues reach far, pulling at the remaining food previously protected along fencelines and hard to reach places. Poppies pop out and lupines poke up from the short stubble and rocky places. The springs and creeks still flow but will soon be slowing. The redwoods are in for another sorry year and are collectively crossing their needles for a bounty of fog should a warm summer ever arrive. The days are breezy and cool, the nights downright chilly.

Birds

During my short walk at dusk, I startled a big covey of quail- at least 50 whirring out of the cover crop and bumbling  into the brush then taking off again and packing into the thick foliage of a fencline oak where they will bundle up for the night. Quail are ‘chi-ca-go’ -ing again but are wanting for drinking water.

A hawk wheeled overhead.

We missed the ‘chock’ -ing of hundreds of robins or the whistling wings of hundreds of mourning doves- both downhill progression patterns at dusk, but of previous seasons. Dusk tonight was less momentous.

Early Spring(like) Flowers

The cover crop is blooming a good bit early. We plant mustard as a quick growing cover crop that captures nutrients that would otherwise leave the system. Mustard plants produce compounds that clear the soil from pathogens. The flowers are bright yellow and support many early season pollinators, helping to spur their population growth in anticipation of the many crop flowers that will follow.

Radish is related to mustard, both being in the cabbage family. Radish is in full bloom in the fallow areas and hayfields; it is starting to seed. The onset of radish seeding is the trigger for the ‘first mow’ of the hay fields: mowing with the first radish seeds is the right time to keep songbirds from investing in nesting where we want to harvest mulch.

Radish flowers are open, and some have gone to seed

I originally published this post at my blog on Molino Creek Farm’s webpage.

Dry Winter Skies

Ravenous

You might recall the strain of conversation about Maw and Caw our resident ravens. I just want to say that they are So Cute! Well, a little more: they love each other and you can tell it- constantly fretting about one another and this time of year gazing at each other, playing follow the leader and other games. They are well enough fed to have lots of spare time and they fill it with fun. If you travel downhill and along the coast, you find Other Farm Ravens, and not in isolated pairs…big playful troupes of them, paired, yes, but 20, 30, or 50 strong groups – noisy tribes hopping up and down flushing grasshoppers or something just like our two but more. Somehow, they seem smaller, too. I hope someone one day helps us find where our two nest.

Other Farm Wildlife

We’ve got Western Bluebirds in fine spring regalia in and out of the nest boxes already setting up shop. I think I’ll not mention the cacophony of blackbirds much – only to say that they are still noisy and beautiful.

What we don’t have are foxes or coyotes or skunks or racoons. I heard that there is distemper spreading through the predator community nearby- can anyone confirm?

This year had the driest January and February on record in many places around us- San Francisco for instance. Maybe not here, but maybe so. Bob Brunie was digging a hole to plant a new tree and found the soil dry to two feet depth. That’s weird for this time of year- very weird.

Winter Farming

Bob was planting a new peach tree- number 7 in the group of one day 8 on Citrus Hill. If someone wants to donate a nectarine or two, we’ll plant those, too. Whatever we do, we must set up irrigation to start running Soon for the orchards.

It has become mowing and weeding time- 2 Dog Crew has been tidying up the Chardonnay grapes so now the vineyard looks so neat and tidy.

The first cherry blossoms are emerging on the few trees that the fire spared. Maybe we’ll get a bunch of cherries this year!

Lapins Cherries – Starting to Bloom!

Around the Edges: Wildflowers

In the wild places of the Farm flowers are blossoming. A common plant is called bee plant, a Scrophularia with flowers some say are like Micky Mouse – a pair of upright petals are like Mickey’s ears. The flowers are carrion colored red-brown and attract meat “bees” – really wasps. But, honeybees and hummingbirds have figured out those flower cups are filled with nectar, so the plants get lots of visitors right now…meat bees haven’t come out yet. Wild radishes have sprays of light flowers like sea foam across the fallow fields. Across the steep hillsides near Molino Creek, trilliums and other native bulbs are starting to flower as the forest produces more and more spring flowers.

Beeplant- a nectar rich native perennial
  • this post from my regular blog at Molino Creek Farm’s website. I am a partner in that collectively owned farm in northern Santa Cruz County, California.