birds

July Awakens the True Summer: Warmth and Welcome Shade

Sunshine rakes across exposed skin, prickly hot. A cooling light breeze helps, but the shade offers a more pleasing comfort. We smile entering the cool understories of lush walnut trees or beneath the canopies of perky well-watered apples. It is nice to have both the summer warmth and the cool shade in proximity. Our creature brains welcome the return to normal weather patterns with this typical July weather at Molino Creek Farm. The past week’s temperatures were precisely what the dry farmed tomatoes, winter squash, peppers, avocados, apples, and sunflowers crave: highs in the mid 70’s and lows in the upper 50’s. The cool breezes emanate from the tops of the billowing fog racing down the coast 200’ below the farm, obscuring our view of the wind-swept waves.

Don’t all you folks way East of us slather at our weather, it comes with a cost…the potential for FIRE! (I shouldn’t have said that). Do non-human critters worry about fire?

Wildlife

How would we know if our critter friends fret about wildfire? The turkey mothers seem to worry less about their young than the quail, judging from their skittishness. Bigger birds might have less worry and these turkeys look proud and bold. The turkey ‘chicks’ which we encounter along the road out from the farm are mostly pretty big, half the size of the adults and not so many as the quail. The quail are raising their second flush of teeny-tiny young fluffballs, stumbling along the roadsides. Their big brothers and sisters are nearly the size of adults- they grew so very fast. A 30-strong covey isn’t unusual to see on the Farm- we might have 4 of those calling their territories here and there. The coveys of quail have mostly orchestrated their flushing formations, launching and landing in unison.

A high flock of 50+ smallish swallows (species TBD) gathers at the top of the Salix Stream’s highest burnt Douglas firs, alarm calling and scattering when our resident red-shouldered hawk flies by. The above-door barn swallows have either just fledged (neighbors) or are feeding their second clutch (my house). A large flock of Brewer’s blackbirds has settled back on the farm after their off-farm nesting; they are accompanied by at least one adolescent bicolored blackbird. The pair of band tailed pigeons who are robbing chicken feed bravely from the coop are still at it.

No new news on the gophers and voles. The gopher population still as the upper hand as the vole population rebounds, crowded into thick-thatched corners of the farm, here and there. I predict the gophers will start losing ground to voles later this year…

Farm Activities

Mark Jones is still the rock star behind the mowing- weed eating and mowing to get the grass down to a fire-safe, dirt-touching mulch. Adan made a pass through the tomatoes with the tractor, tilling in the summer weeds. The Two Dog crew has been assiduously hoe-hoe-hoeing the row crops which had an unusual flush of weedy amaranth this year, so lots of work! Free the peppers!

As I type, Molino Creek Farm has made its debut at the Downtown Santa Cruz Farmer’s Market. Judy took many beautiful sunflowers, zucchini and various other goodies to say our first hellos to new friends and old.

Organic Tasty Gala Apples, Growing Fast for a September Harvest

Crop Report

Tomato bushes are 18” across and a little taller with the first green, shiny fruit plumping up half way up their stems. Two Dog winter squash is bounding- tendrils stretching and long stems bounding from vibrant plants whose bases are adorned by big yellow blossoms. The orchard mulch project is gaining ground- we’re almost through with raking, delivering, and placing the first mulch field, aka “Squash Field”- an acre of ground just past the Old Apple Orchard. We’ve got much more to do with the 1-acre “Habitat Field” near Cherry Hill. And then, we have more patches to gather as our hunger for hay mulch has grown with the new plantings the past few years. Our 3 acres of orchards seem to want to be fed 3 acres of hay, easy math.

The Heavenly Scented San Pedro Cacti are in Bloom Right Now at Molino Creek Farm

Flowers

There are very few flowers alive on the landscape. The row crops are too small to make many flowers, yet and the wild plants are too far from rain to be making many flowers. The exception is toyon – a rose-family shrub that we’ve planted here and there for habitat and pollinators. Toyon is aglow with big bouquets of small white flowers, abuzz with bees and even attracting Allen’s hummingbirds. And so, things are drawn to our home landscape gardens. An old Molino tradition is cultivation of the sacred columnar San Pedro cactus, a native of the west slope of the Andes. Twice a year, San Pedro goes to bloom, opening its massive white fragrant trumpets at dusk. The flowers are full of drunk and dazed honeybees and you can smell the divine smell many yards away. And…what a show! Otherwise, we keep a few salvias and petunias and things flowering for color near our homes and those must serve as nectar and pollen respite while the pollinators await the Great Flowering – thousands of coyote bush: those are while out.

-from my weekly blog on Molino Creek Farm’s web page blog.

Two Young Deer and the Pending Summer

Two fawns are losing their spots, following their healthy mother with her shiny coat and her healthy, full, and muscular body. She watches us carefully as we traverse the farm, walking carefully to a safe distance, the young twitchy and nervous, sprinting and hopping when we approach. Often, there is food sticking out of their chewy mouths. The other day, I saw one of the fawns walking around on two feet, not just for seconds but for a good while. WHAT? Oh, that one was eating high up walnut leaves: what a trick!

Molino Creek Farm’s Dry Farmed Tomatoes

Fruit

The tomatoes, apples, onions, pears, and peppers are getting bigger and bigger by the day. The apples are gaining color.

Dry Grass: what next?

It is mowing and mulching time. The lads are swinging weed eaters a’buzzing. They protect the roadsides, the wells and generator houses. The sickle bar is on the bigger BCS walk-behind tractor, the hay is falling and curing, the mulch cart is rolling, and deep dish ’apple fritters’ of mulch a’forming under the orchard trees.

Patterns of cut hay and uncut hay (where the wasp nests are). Mulch 2 B

Drips

It rained this morning. A light sprinkle, very off-season, enough to calm the dust for a moment. A pitter patter falling from the rooflines. Birds sipped droplets from sparkling leaves as the sun broke through the clouds late morning. Beautiful.

Martins

A flock of nesting purple martins wheel and chirp high in the sky above the highest point of the farm. The fierce males’ battle cries ring out against the prowling hawks. These are rare birds around here- glad to host them in cavities in burned trees from the 2009 fire. The snags from the more recent fire will support nesting generations to come.

Wildflowers of Summer

Little white puffs emerge from drying grass, among the post-fire thistles and between resprouting coyote bush. The complexly sweet smell of the native perennial cudweeds drifts on the gentle breezes. The clusters of bright white flowers fade to straw white that feel papery when rubbed to check out their scent (recommended).

Cudweed!

We hope you are enjoying the entrance of summer with its warm spells, foggy beaches, and occasional whiffs of dry grass and resiny sagebrush.

-from my near weekly postings at Molino Creek Farm’s webpage.

Birds from the Coffee Region

Many of us enjoy both delicious coffee and the fascinating birds that hail from coffee growing regions: how do these two seemingly disparate subjects relate to our daily lives?

Coffee Botany

Coffee shrubs are beautiful, lush shrubs, 6-15’ tall and wide with many stems and glossy oval leaves with long ‘drip tips’ – a common feature in rainforest plants that help shed water. I have a potted, indoor coffee plant and many of my friends have raised them, but they are notoriously finicky to care for and especially prone to indoor plant pests. That coffee plant is the thirstiest of my house plants, wilting quickly when drying out: at least it is good at communicating! That thirstiness makes sense as coffee is naturally an understory plant, originating in the lush damp shade of African tropical rainforests.

After 5 years, my coffee plant blossomed this spring, and I was reminded of it’s very sweet smelling (like jasmine!), small white tubular flowers. Now, I’m looking forward to the tasty fruit, which is confusingly called a ‘cherry’ and turns deep maroon-red when ripe and is soft-fleshy (slimy?) sweet (like hibiscus) and full of antioxidants. In the center of the red fruit, there will be a pair of seeds…called coffee ‘beans’ – another misnomer associated with this plant as the plant isn’t related to cherries or beans! Whenever I encounter a small red fleshy fruit, I’ve been trained to suspect the plant co-evolved with birds for seed dispersal. Even when coffee is grown far from its African origins, there are birds that devour the fruit, but cultivated coffee has a more important relationship with tropical birds.

Coffee Farms and Birds

Coffee is a lucrative tropical farming product and is cultivated on 27 million acres. Tropical regions are the most biologically diverse areas of the planet with many species still being discovered. Conversion of tropical rainforest to agriculture is occurring rapidly, threatening that biodiversity. Soybeans and palm oil are two crops that are expanding rapidly, but coffee is much more lucrative per acre. And coffee can be grown more in harmony with tropical biodiversity, but only if it is ‘shade grown.’

Shade Grown Coffee

As reviewed by independent, peer reviewed, published science, the only credible shade grown certification is from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, carrying the logo inserted here.

The standards for this certification include maintaining real shade provided by diverse overstory trees as well as organic practices (certified by another agency)…and diverse other plant life, maintenance of natural mulch, and protection/buffering of waterways.

These standards have been shown to support native bird life as well as providing habitat for many other native species, including mammals.

The Effects of the Central Coast’s Coffee Shed

Here on California’s central coast, we are lucky to have both coffee AND birds that hail from coffee growing regions. Judging from the aroma of roasting coffee, the many businesses supported by serving coffee, and the plethora of local coffee labels, our region greatly appreciates this caffeinated beverage. I am curious about how many acres of coffee farms are needed to support Santa Cruz County’s coffee-drinking habits – anyone know? We can call that our ‘coffee-shed.’ If we support a coffee shed that nurtures the birds that come visit us in the summers, we can look into those birds’ sparkling eyes through the steam of a latte and be proud of those connections…

Beautiful Migratory Songbirds

There are many migratory bird species that come to California’s central coast for the summer to nest, raise young and store up enough reserves to return south before our winter gets too harsh. I’ve been enjoying steaming cups of shade grown coffee while watching two beautiful tropical migratory songbirds this summer. The startling colored thick-billed black headed grosbeak is fledging young right now on the Central Coast. Check out this photo from a Flickr site by Kersti Niebelsek; maybe this striking image will inspire you to purchase certified shade-grown coffee and grab some binoculars to see the bird in the wild.

The other striking species that lights up my mornings and gets me pouring boiling water to drip through freshly ground, certified shade grown coffee is the lazuli bunting. Be similarly inspired by another extraordinary photo, this time by Flickr user Julio Mulero who captured this pretty bird at Ed Levine Park in Milpitas.

Both that grosbeak and the bunting may have traveled from the coffee growing region of southern Mexico, where they spent last winter. Other species come from coffee growing areas even farther away, including: ash-throated flycatcher, olive-sided flycatcher, Wilson’s warbler and yellow warbler. That last deserves a photo, as well. That photo is compliments of Flickr user Kelly Colgan Azar.

Finding and Procuring Certified Shade Grown Coffee

Surprisingly, it is Very Difficult to find certified shade grown coffee in our area. You can always search the internet and have it delivered! Last I checked Whole Foods had one of its wall of coffees that was certified shade grown. Not so for any of our other local grocery stores! You can find all sorts of supposedly “bird friendly” or “shade grown” coffees, but only those with the certification shown above are verifiable. Because shade-grown coffee produces less per acre, you are going to pay more for it. Think of those extra dollars going to the trust funds for these beautiful birds.

This post originally published as part of my series with Bruce Bratton at BrattonOnline.com Thanks, Bruce, for keeping Santa Cruz actively informed!

Twilight, Calming Wind

The long persistent crazy wind continued along the coast this past week, but calmer nights are full of black field cricket chorus. Chip-chip-chip, chip-chip-chip, chip-chip-chip. So tireless and repetitive as individuals and as many together mesmerizing.

Lingering twilight as the wind calms

A long twilight with glowing colors and the calming of the wind closes each evening. Then, a big moon rises and brightens the farm in soft tones of silver and gray. Offshore, the night glows from the bright light lures of fishing boats. On the windy days, the ocean turns turquoise dotted with white caps that we glimpse from the farm. The rain has ended, but we get touched by moist fog and dew still hangs heavy on the still green grasses in the morning. Chilly legs and cold feet…wet pant legs and soaked shoes for us early morning field walkers. The damp morning air carries the early summer sweet earthy scent from the farm fields.

Grass has grown as much as it will – time to mow to prepare for fire

Mowing

It is heavy duty mowing time- the last mowing of a drying spring. I drove the brush mower over a ground wasp nest but didn’t get stung. I’ve become adept at recognizing the patterns of angry wasp flight, luckily especially evident silhouetted against the black body of the mower. There the mower sat for an hour while the wasps calmed down, and I snuck back to (heart pounding) grab the mower handle, shift it to neutral and drag it downhill rapidly away from the nest hole. Now I’m scouting more for the nests before I mow.

Rare Birds

Yes, there are no deer. Instead of those common beasts, we are surrounded by rarities. Storey heard the elusive and uncommon house wren on the farm and she and others have been watching a group of purple martins probably settling into nest holes in a dead tree near our property line. Downhill, at the gate by the highway, crowds have gathered to see a waif scissor tailed flycatcher.

Mother Hens

We have many a wary quail, fretful probably as their eggs are hatching and there are soon to be little clutzy puffball babies following them around. Nearby, there are new baby turkeys with watchful mothers herding them and showing them how to forage.

Adolescent tomato plants- much promise for the season

The Plantings

Tomatoes are getting bigger- the once weak looking seedings have settled in and want to start seriously growing. Likewise, spry onions are getting robust. When the fire came in 2020, we had just begun the Conservatory of Passion, an arbor with passionfruit vines with hope for hops. Those all needed to get replanted and we put in our first McGregor hops a few weeks back. All those vines are settling in and starting to look really good. We need to set up some strings for the hops to climb! The 2020 and 2021 avocado plantings are growing profusely. The earlier batch will get overhead this year as giant bushes and the trees from last year will turn less lanky soon.

-this is one of many of my weekly posts at the Molino Creek Farm website

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 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.

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

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.

Blue Skies, Bursting Blossoms

Right on time, the first tulip-sized California poppies have opened. Unusually, and a month early, the sky lupines have started blossoming, as well. The habitat areas, field margins, the hedgerow, and the orchard are starting to fill with Spring blooms. We hope for the return of rain before Spring’s beginning date arrives.

Lupinus nanus Sky Lupine Too early, but still nice

For a few nights, the air has carried a winter scent, like snow; frost decorates leaves in the grassy areas and wild radish leaves wilt from cold damage. We check the margins of avocado and citrus leaves to see if they are damaged. But, its only been evaporative frost- we still haven’t hit critical freezing temperatures! The cool temperatures are helping some fruit trees to sleep well, but others are waking up. The Santa Rosa plum popped into bloom – it only needs 250 accumulated hours of temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Other stone fruit trees are budding and/or blooming in the orchard.

Juicy Santa Rosa Plums start with brilliant flowers

The semi-cacophony of blackbirds continues, and other birdy things are happening, too. The blackbirds mostly gather in one tree but as you look around, the party has outliers as bicolor blackbirds court one another away from the crowd. I watched for a while as one outlier male bicolor blackbird did his thing: the trilling scree song while bowing slightly, wings shrugged out, flashing his bright red wing patches. A few feet away, a female watched in rapture…it was just this pair alone at the top of an isolated tree, though they kept glancing towards their flock in the tree nearby. Buzzing by, not entirely oblivious to the blackbird antics…hummingbirds, up to their own shenanigans.

Somewhere, I heard that the blossoming of the flowering currants triggers estrous in hummingbirds. Allen’s hummingbirds returned with those blooms from somewhere Way South. I’m not sure how the year-round resident Anna’s hummingbirds like them. Bright flashing throats and aerial sparring is constant around our yards and up and down the hedgerow. Flowering currant isn’t common in the wild around here, though you can find other, less showy species in that genus in the forests surrounding the farm- the hummingbirds like those, too. With the early nesting of hummingbirds under way, it is time to closely inspect any brush we are clearing before chopping it down. There never seems to be enough time to cut out brush for fire safety, especially when being careful with nesting birds.

Ribes sanguineum glutinosum, pink flowering currant – hummingbird food!

The farm fields are sleeping…the cover crops have slowed down with so little rain. The soil surface is dry, road traffic makes dust again. Limes are ripe, tangerines and oranges have color but no sugar, yet. Meyer lemons are hanging heavy and ready to go into lemonade or pie.

The Molino Creek Canyon has changed so much since the fire of August 2020. Big trees and many burn damaged redwood branches have crashed down across the hillside around our farm’s beautiful wintertime waterfall, which is flowing and noisy still. It is difficult to hike there, but we’ll open up the paths again soon with chainsaws and muscle. I’ve been exploring Molino creek, which was heavily scoured by the big rains in December. Now, it is so much easier to walk by the creek- no vegetation and a rocky sidewalk of a path alongside the clear running stream. There are potential dunking holes for the summer and wide rocky beaches. The large expanse of sandstone bedrock has accumulated a covering of redwood seeds. Last year, the redwoods made an Epic Cone Crop, with cones much larger than anyone had seen before. The branches were heavy with cones. For the last month, those seeds have released from the opening cones: dropping and scattering onto the ground. Now there is a red-brown scattering of the delicate seeds. In moist cracks, the seeds are germinating: a new crop of redwoods, just as their mother intended- a rare sight as redwood seedlings only ever get going on bare ground following a fire.

-I published this at my regular blog at Molino Creek Farm’s webpage.