cover crop

Black Berry Blossom

Wild blackberries are blooming big time. Their brambly tip-rooting canes are sprouting new leaves and are festooned with bright white five-petalled flowers. In rare years, they make tasty, juicy berries, but mostly the weather turns hot and dry, and the fruits are seedy/not-so juicy. Currently, they are making pollen and nectar for the emerging bumble bees, while we dream of the tasty fruit. Wild blackberries are the dominant wildflower right now on the farm, creating hedgelets along all the fences ‘cause that’s where we can’t mow them too much. They arch out from there onto our fence-side trails: trip hazards!

Rubus ursinus, literally bear blackberry…in full bloom right now

Wild Lilac

Soon, there will be more wildflowers – spring is on the verge of letting loose! Nearby, on south-facing shallow-soiled spots, the poppy displays are epic splashes of orange, bigger than any recent year. Across Molino Creek, on that steep south facing slope, a large patch of poppy orange has erupted where before the fire there had been shrubs. I’m looking forward to the woodland iris displays, though they are getting overtaken by post-fire shrubs like blue blossom (Ceanothus), which is starting to blossom as well. In about 2 weeks, there will be miles of blue blossom shrubs blooming about 5 feet high across at least half of the 85,000-acre burn footprint of the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fire. Imagine a sea of powder blue, framed by glossy light green leaves…thousands of acres of rolling wild lilac scent wafting headily, luring you to just stand still and gaze.

Ridge Guardians

More than a few of the noble ridge-line tree skeletons have fallen, but many remain silhouetted on the ridgelines. The redwoods have enjoyed the rain and are recovering from drought and fire with luxurious new growth; the ones that burned hotter sprouting from only their trunks…others from their branches…and all of them from the base of their trunks with 5’+ tall sprouts sprinting skyward. And everywhere, between it all, so very green and lush, but the ground is getting drier.

The ridge to the North of Molino Creek Farm

Drying Out

Even with all the rain, the ground is starting to dry out. Once the rain stops, even for a little while, the long days and the strong breezy days we’ve been having make for quick dry soil. The upper 2” of soil is dry, dry, but below it is still pretty moist. Gophers are awaking and their soil throws are starting to appear, moist piles burying the surrounding lush grass. Roots pump moisture from deep in the earth and plants grow quickly to blossom and seed before the last moisture is gone and the long dry summer sets in.

Green Manure

The most proud bolt is in cover crop land. Thick bell bean stalks sport rows of big white flowers and flapping succulent leaves. Twining ferny leaved vetch climbs up those stalks. Pert sharp leaves of oats grow in thick forests through it all, promising tons of tough stems for future spongy soil organic matter.

Bell beans, oats, and vetch – ‘soil builder mix’ – a cover crop that conserves and builds soil for organic farms

Along Come the Mowers

Back and forth, hither and yon, the mowers must mow. Behind the machines, dense mats of sweet-smelling chopped up vegetation, either to be tractored into the soil or left on top as mulch, protecting the earthworms from sunburn. We rush to mow the farm fields and the orchard understory to keep the plants from sucking up the soil moisture, to keep the water for the crops to delay irrigation for as long as we can.

It’s suddenly become a busy time around the Farm. I suspect the spring is revving everyone’s energy about now. Keep calm and plod forward!

-from my weekly blog also posted 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