California ringlet

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