Community Orchard

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.

Buds Break

this is a post I just published on Molino Creek Farm’s webpage

Let’s hope for a repeat of the last couple of years where March and even April have brought us additional important rain. The shallow soils are drying out on the grasslands nearby, but the creeks are still running.

Since last we posted this news blog, back in November, there have been deluges and droughts, cold and heat…Molino is a land of extremes! December was unbelievably wet with heavy storms intermingled with endless mists and drizzles. January came and someone turned off the tap, then no rain expected in February, normally our wettest month. It was 75F today and the sun felt very hot. But, in total this winter, we’ve had lots of cold nights…we’ve burned more firewood to keep warm than in recent memory.

Calling Critters

The most noticeable wildlife is the mixed flock of blackbirds. If you were hard of hearing, you might think it was our ancient bulldozer squeaking and rattling across the hills. Better hearing can make out the seemingly multidimensional mélange of starlings, brewer’s blackbirds, and bicolored blackbirds singing together. Mostly the song is brewer’s blackbirds, but the others are in there, too. 80 birds exchanging, at their own tempo without any evident coordination, low-to-high crescendo-Ing whistles combining to near dizzying cacophony. If you walk by, the song shockingly and suddenly stops and up goes the flock in a vibrating dark cloud. The bicolor blackbirds land again in downward arks like windblown leaves. Then, a few brewer’s blackbirds make clicks, like drumsticks on the edge of a snare drum…but not keeping any pace or rhythm: Chek…chek……check…chek chek…chek….then one, then ten, then suddenly all 80 birds erupt in their whistling joy once again. The whole farm reverberates with this chorus, which is particularly loud this winter.

The other wildlife calls are much more subtle. In the last 2 months, I’ve heard a single fox yawl and a single female lion cry, but the coyotes are keeping quiet. Every night there is but one great horned owl hooting. The red shouldered hawk, a friend that still needs a name, hasn’t been scree-ing as much, but is still omnipresent as is a kestrel and recently a pair of red-tailed hawks. A single peregrine falcon comes by once or so a week to scream terrifyingly at the Molino prey.

Winter Crops

In this climate, we harvest all year round. Gleaning 2 Dog peppers was over in early January, but now we are starting to get a fair harvest of Persian limes with Meyer and ‘real’ lemons on their heels. Venturing out in the cover crop, there are pea shoots to forage. Kale has done well this winter in the home gardens.

Peas in the cover crop – a forager’s delight

Orchard Tending

Not much to do in the row crop fields, but the orchards have needed tending, especially recently. A few weeks back, Bob Brunie and I started up the backpack sprayer and sprayed most of the apple orchard with a mix of ground up kelp and fish along with living beneficial microbes to foster tree microbiomes for maximum health. Small groups and individuals have also been pruning, fertilizing, and assembling/burying water lines. The early winter planted cover crops germinated, but then have only been growing very slowly due to cold and lack of rain. The Robins have been enjoying late afternoon feasting on orchard cover crop vetch.

Cherry buds are swelling…like so many of the fruit trees in our orchards right now

The Storms

This story would not be complete without some notes about the storms of December. That month brought one rainy front after the next with a few days’ pause between storms, so that our solar arrays recharged batteries and the soggy grasses bent back upwards. Lake Molino resprouted and (glug glug) drowned the Bottomlands Field cover crop. For nearly three weeks we had that big pond, but no ducks showed up this time.

This massive rain and all of the fire damage must have sent some debris flow into action along Molino Creek. If you walk down there now, it’s a massively changed scene. Instead of lush Creekside vegetation, now there’s a twice-as-wide scoured rock bed with pummeled banks. Upstream, there is a series of small granite waterfalls into clear pools where once there was just mud, logs, and a few ferns.

The downpours, however, produced very little damage to the Farm. We had some rills on the road, which needed some maintenance anyways. The winds broke oaks apart along our fence lines, those damaged by the fire or some prior issue. In the hills around us on the more recent rainless windy days you can hear tree after tree cracking apart and falling with big bangs and low thuds. Zephyrs are taking down the burned trees and its not safe walking in the forest on blustery days.

The Coming Spring

The first orchard trees are about to bloom. Plums are breaking bud. Early peaches are unfurling leaves. Citrus blossoms are filling the air with sweet perfume. Avocado blossom clusters are unfurling. The fields and field margins are massing with weedy Calendula and oxalis color. And…it is just the beginning!

The biggest show will soon be poppies and then LUPINES. For whatever reason, this is a Huge Lupine Year. Bumble bees are going to be very, very happy and the returning swallows will be feasting on them before too long.

We hope you are enjoying these (too) wonderful days.

Whorls of lupine leaves form an understory to the flowering wild cucumber of Molino’s restored grasslands