Molino Creek Farm

Heat Breaks, Monsoon #4

Heat fades. Cool nights. Cloudy, muggy days. Clouds scatter northward – tattered remnants of Hurricane Kay make for spectacular sunsets and less intense sun. This was the fourth odd monsoon of the season.  Most years we have no monsoons. Global weirding.

Apple Love

We were so proud to last weekend to pick up a whole season’s fallen and thinned apple fruit, ~700 pounds. But the heat wave triggered mass fruit shedding. Big fruit now litter the orchard floor. So, we must go again – only ~300 pounds this time. Perhaps we will save these windfalls for pressing. And, perhaps we will add Molino’s first hops to the juice.

The cool nights should help the Gala apples get sweet and floral, so that we can send the harvest to markets next week. Two Dog Farm will be carrying boxes to their markets for the first time in a long while…we have a big crop.

Each apple type is coloring up with varietal distinction. Braeburns are deeper red, mutsu medium apple green, fuji – grayish green-red, cheery red and yellow striped gala, maroon esopus spitzenberg, cheery red and green wickson crabs, and so on, and on….we have so many varieties. The colors of help gage (subtly) ripeness…in the right light. Apple growers benefit from expert color memory. There are plenty to taste test.

On Cherry Hill, Around the Avocado Bowl

A similar heat wave ushered in the CZU Fire in 2020, destroying our cherry orchard and one big block of older, bigger avocado trees. In 2021, the California Certified Organic Farmers organization sponsored their employee Drake Bialecki to take a sabbatical to work at Molino Creek Farm helping us with fire recovery. Drake’s steady hand, nurtured by years of fine pottery, graft-healed the cherries and avocados, patching buds onto cherry stems, matching new shoots to avocado root sprouts. A year later, we have 6’ tall, big bushes of avocados and 4’ tall vibrant starts of recovering cherries. Phoenix orchard blocks. We envision dense cherry tree shade sheltering families with giggling children raking in UPick sweet fruits in just a few more years.

A big bush from a 2021 graft: phoenix revival of burnt up avocado trees

Return of the Cool

Cool nights in the upper 50s, contrasted with heat wave nights in the upper 70s to mid-80s. Waves of low clouds, like a wall over the near ocean, send occasional arms inland and wisps of fog lick treetops.

The nocturnal cricket chorus is much muffled and seems more distant. Owl hoots less frequently. Everything needs rest after a week of extreme heat stress and all the work that entailed.

Wildlife

Some critters appear, others disappear. Each week there is change. I frequently encounter a huge antlered buck sometimes near the female and her young, sometimes alone. He holds his head high, three points on each side of a big set of antlers. Some bucks with these many points are barrel chested and bulky; this one is more graceful but still strong. He bravely moves only a little bit away from people. Deer always seem to be browsing.

For a long while, I could spot fresh snake trails every day. Seeing gopher snakes was normal. Now, no snakes and few snake tracks. Where did they go?

Sky the kestrel is back to being always around the farm, as is the red-tailed hawk. There were for a moment two Coopers hawks: we hope both stay – one is normal. The kestrel fusses at the others, screeching and dive bombing them.

Blue bellies and alligator lizards are easy to find. Baby blue bellies- 2” long- are commonplace, nervously scurrying to the lips of gopher holes as we walk by.

-originally published in my blog for Molino Creek Farm

Loud Crickets, Warm Nights

Ripples and waves of peachy color-brushed fog flows downcoast at sunset, cloud tops at 400 feet elevation, well below the Farm. As darkness sets in, it is one of the rare handful of warm night opportunities to immerse in outdoor sounds. There’s a fullness to the cricket chorus, with windows wide open all through the night. The crescent moon barely shines, a dull orange from high altitude smoke once again blanketing the West. There’s no wind tonight and it won’t get below 70F. Hooot Hoot hoot-hoot hoot hoot calls the great horned owls. Tiny animals make small curious noises as they scurry through dry leaves. All the night noises filter clearly indoors tonight.

Heat Wave

Maw and Caw the raven pair hop and pant, beaks wide open midday. They are trying to scare up grasshoppers around the farm fields, patiently pacing. Big black birds have a particularly hard time with heat waves. 

Today was the first of a predicted weeklong heat wave. We hope for the sometimes unpredicted fog to roll in and provide relief. Already, near mature apples have burned-bleached skins on the sunniest of fruit sides.

Fall Color

Grass and weeds have turned the dusty, tired gray-brown tint that is typical of late summer. Early bearing stone fruit – apricots prunes, and plums – have leaves that are turning fall color (yellow, orange).

Stone Fruit Fall at Molino Creek Farm’s Community Orchard

In the wildscape, poison oak fall creates bright red patches on the hillsides, its early fall with big leaf maple coloring creeksides yellow. The last flowers of summer have reached peak: silver-gray foliaged sagebrush holds up spires of tiny nodding green flower clusters…female coyote brush is also displaying –  furry flowers buzz with flies and bees, flutter with buckeye butterflies.

Last of the wild flowers…coyote brush, a female shrubs fluffy fur

Deer!

Momma deer still has her two small adolescent offspring. They are well fed plump but in good muscular form. She teaches her young not to panic when I walk by, sauntering relaxedly. ears alert, nibbling and walking to keep a little distance. There’s a long dark straight scar down her belly. The whole family has dark brown-gray fur, summer coats grayer than the blonde-tawny winter coat…or maybe they’re just dusty dirty- the color closely matches Molino Creek Farm’s soil.

Fox

The One Fox has become at least two…each time encountered on the uphill edge of our property, mostly with late night driving. Lower the headlight beams, give them time to find a way off the road that isn’t in the stickers. We beckon them to migrate further in…closer to our gardens and farm fields where their rabbit and mouse eating might help us with our plight. It is a Big Year for gnawing damage, crops and ornamental plants suffering.

Pests

Two Dog Farm workers draped rows of bird netting over their Chardonnay this week. The vines and their first dime-sized fruit hanging in sporadic thick clusters are now obscured by green netting, but birds still cheep and flit among the open rows, between the netted vines.

We won’t have to net the avocado trees, but they will be a few years before they bear much fruit. Nevertheless, the young trees look healthy and are putting on their second wave of growth.

2021 planted avocado tree…healthy and sprinting upwards

-this post originally from Molino Creek Farm’s web and facebook pages.

Monsoonal Moisture

It poured down rain yesterday and thunder rolled across the sky. This was the third warm, wet monsoonal system to whoosh up from the south across Central California this summer: very unusual for this era of our climate. With the rain came petrichor, the complex sweet odor of freshly moistened soil. For a few hours, there was no more dust. Coincidentally, this storm came on the anniversary of the 2020 fire. The weather prediction centers know our memory and assured us that this system was not like the one two years ago. Nevertheless, many people watched the sky carefully. Fire spotting helicopters combed the hills. No fires have yet erupted, but sometimes they smolder for days after a lightning strike awaiting a heatwave…

Best Weather

Inland, it has been hot but cooler on the coast: several days were in the low 80s this last week at Molino Creek Farm, but the evenings were cool and so on balance the weather has been glorious. This is the longest stretch of the most beautiful weather we’ve seen in a long, long time.

Organic, Community Orchard Grown Gala Apples – weeks from ripeness, and growing sweeter/bigger by the day

Good Pears, Apples Coming

Apples like warm days and cool nights. The pears are ripening. After a sprint from small to medium sized fruit, apples seem to have taken a break in enlarging, but perhaps it’s our patience- it will be some weeks before they are ripe. On the other hand, we literally can’t wait for the pears now: it is a race to pick them before they get too ripe on the tree. Three harvests from the Big Comice, one week apart each: the first two picks have been delicious, but the third pick is sporting many ‘water balloons’ with overripe, brown and fermenting centers. It is an art to recognize the correct coloring of each type of pear in order to know when to pick them. Fruit separation strength should also be a clue that we might heed. Live and learn! Community orchardists can’t take enough pears home, so understory fruit fall critter feasting is heavily underway. Some homes are abuzz with dehydrators, others’ fridges are stuffed with pears, counters crowded with bowls overflowing.

Bowls of Bartletts

Future Fuels for Fires Falling

Today, there was a CRACK and an extended rushing crash: another huge burn-damaged tree fell on the hillsides above the farm. It is dangerous to walk in the forest. This one fell with no breeze, just a still warm late afternoon. The hundreds of fire-killed trees are starting to fall. Their crisscrossed trunks will pile up across thousands of acres awaiting the next conflagration, which will encounter this fuel and roar hotly, cooking the soil and all life nearby. No number of termites or unusual monsoonal rains will be enough to rot those downed trees before the next fire.

Wildlife Mysteries

The mother deer who had two young not long ago is all by herself now.

The Cooper’s Hawk is still terrorizing the birds. The orchard remains quieter than normal- not so many acorn woodpeckers and jays calling as they were constantly before. This bird killing hawk has been very effective at changing the tone of the birds across the farm.

Something is assiduously killing paper wasp nests. The huge one hanging in the pony trailer- torn apart and no more wasps. Three ground dwelling paper wasp nests dug up and dead as soon as the mower cleared around them. Its funny, we don’t smell or see skunks…maybe foxes do the same? What got the hanging one?

Flowers

For now, only the goldenrod is blooming in the natural areas around the farm. The bright yellow tall pointy clusters of fuzzy blossoms bow and sway on 2’ tall flexuous leafy stems…only a few, here and there- not a very common plant and not enough to help feed the hungry bees which now swarm onto rotten fruit and into the crop fields where tomatoes, squash, and peppers are loaded with pollinators.

These Still Nights

The silent night brings out the darkness creatures. Early evening is dark and moonless. And out come the nocturnal ants- big shiny ones with a bit of dark rusty brown…also tiny shiny ones all black and with elongated sections. A gauntlet of black widows still occupies gopher holes in the unimproved roadbeds. There’s a harvest mouse sitting in the dusty road, ducking silently into a gopher hole. Black field crickets. Brown crickets. Tiny cockroaches. A barn owl screeches overhead now close, then far away. The still cool night makes clouds when I exhale. Distant waves crashing, a rhythmic pulsing, though muffled in the nighttime air.

Hoping these still quiet nights bring peace to your restful sleep.

Dark Prunes A’Ripening

-This post originally published at my weekly blog at Molino Creek Farm’s webpage and on that Facebook site

Bluebirds Now, Acorns Later

The bluebirds’ wet warbles call from fence lines, the birds swoop, scooping up grasshoppers from the dusty ground, picking off caterpillars from stalks of dry grass. Acorns fatten on the oaks, not yet ripe, not yet falling. The days shimmer from bright sunshine and a clear dark blue sky. It is nearly half way between the summer solstice and the fall equinox; the days are becoming noticeably shorter, the nights sometimes warmer, the cricket songs more diverse and louder. And, full moon is tomorrow.

Citrus Hill, now with oodles of new avocado trees growing up fast

The Silence of the Birds

The jays and acorn woodpeckers are more silent. Most of the birds have quieted considerably. Cooper’s hawk is terrorizing the entire range of bird life, but the quail are its favorite game. It is everywhere: flying through the apple orchard, winging around corners of buildings, soaring above the fields…full of the energy of the hunt. The northern harrier is more surprising, returning for stints and then disappearing for a day or hours – its hunting ground extends beyond Molino Creek Farm. Two red tailed hawks are constantly but less energetically hunting, sometimes soaring, often perched, watching, waiting. The night brings the barn owls’ metallic screech; these are as commonly calling as the great horned owls- the fire may have favored the return of barnies because there is less of the great horned’s favorite dense tall forest cover. There’s even a barn owl baby calling in the San Vicente creek canyon just over the ridge. I worry, though, since there are great horned owls…when will we find a pile of barn owl feathers in the field- that’s a repeating pattern: the great horned owls always seem to win.

Sunflower Show

 Judy’s sunflowers are making quite a show. What skill to keep a batch always coming into bloom through the entire farming season, making bouquets for farmers’ markets each week. Bright yellow cheerful sunflower heads…the dominant cut flower in the irrigated field alongside onions, zucchinis, cucumbers, and pole beans. She grows a lovely small patch of diverse market crops.

Sunflowers – for sale at local farmers markets

Apples A’ Hoy

Meanwhile, in the apple orchard the burgeoning crop of fruit is unbelievably large. Almost every branch of every apple tree is bent with full weight of fattening fruit, props holding them from breaking or resting on the ground. The frequent zipping by of the hawks have substantially decreased bird damage to apple fruit. Gala apples are always the winners: last to set and first to ripen. We recalled that the second week of September is the week of gala, but it might be early…

Oranges at Molino? Moooo

On Citrus Hill, near the Barn, we have been plucking cara cara oranges from the two trees we planted a few years back. The first substantial crop of cara cara has been wonderfully juicy and sweet: Score! Cara cara navel oranges are crosses between ruby red grapefruit and navel orange. Its flesh is redder than normal oranges. We are very very stoked to be able to grow a tasty orange: the others we’ve tried make okay juice, but they aren’t that good to eat just plain- cara cara oranges ARE good.

The view downhill of Molino…down Molino Creek Canyon to the coast

Night Walks

Shorter, hotter days create conditions for night watering of the orchard, leading to late night walks to turn off irrigation valves. This leads me to unavoidable opportunities for nurturing the nocturnal naturalist in me. Tonight’s observation: black widow spiders aka Molino farm road median lurkers. Over and over again I witnessed (for the first time!) black widow spiders busily building web networks 4” or less from the soil surface on the unimproved road median strips, emanating from web encrusted gopher holes that must be their lairs. Another nocturnal roadside observation: the emergence of many brown field crickets, now evident in the chorus from various areas. Also, slender shiny dark brown ‘night ants,’ tiny cockroaches, big greasy looking black field crickets, and a myriad of different spiders. No mammalian eye shine gave something away with my bright headlamp, darn.

Rodent Fiasco

The fact that this is an epic Rodent Year still is in force. Mark Jones reports hundreds of rodents fleeing the path of the mower. Every inch has been rototilled by gophers. Farmers are losing crops. Orchardists are seeing girdling, making for more urgent trunk clearing. Every storage shed reeks of mice. A family of 10 mickey mouse deermice greeted me when opening up the small orchard tool storage shed. The bunnies have proliferated in areas, as well. And that fox which we had been seeing down the road a bit…well, its moved onto the farm! Prints in the dust, leaping fox scattering to hide: welcome back Gray Fox!

Hoping you get some warm weather basking!

-this is from my weekly blog at Molino Creek Farm’s webpage

Dripless Fog and Peace

Gazing out to the ocean from 900’ above it at Molino Creek Farm, I notice layers of fog. The high one is at farm height – just peeling back from the land, wisps still hanging in the sheltered canyon, shrouding tall redwood trees. It is white-silvery and seems light and airy. The lower fog layer is darker and heavier, streaked with patches of varying shades of gray. The layers seem still but are moving slowly. The lower, denser deck as normal marches southward. These foggy mornings are quiet and still, except for the occasional muffled purr of waves playing with the shore. The sets of quiet waves accentuate the peaceful silence between.

Foggy Shrouds Surround the Farm Frequently this July

The fog has kept the air cool despite the mostly cloudless skies above the farm’s fields. Even when the fog moves across the entire farm, it has been too light to precipitate. It seems odd that the fog can play so thickly around the tall trees and not make for under-tree precipitation. This might be the least wet foggy spell I’ve seen. If it would only drip…it would feel even better.

The view from our drive off the farm…Santa Cruz County’s Beautiful North Coast

Along the Coast

Out the main road and downhill to the ocean, the sun breaks through the shrouding fog and lights the ocean in bright patches. Flocks of turkeys roam the edges of the grasslands and kestrels harass the voles. The meadows have turned summer brown. The damp air smells sulphury and salty from the ocean’s seaweedy soup. An alert coyote lopes rapidly away through the close cow-cropped dry grass, glancing back at me, tail low, wary. I passed a mother and a cub fox similarly rushing for hiding; others report gray foxes on the road frequently.

Fruity Orchards

Wandering into the orchards, we encounter delicious orange-red cara cara navel oranges and unripe, but just getting tasty gala and gravenstein apples. We pick a few ripe limes and lemons as a new dark green, shiny-bumpy crop grows bigger. Downhill, the Swanton Pacific Ranch orchard is turning out a few ripe Lodi apples, a light gold-green and sweet-tart. Flocks of starlings, acorn woodpeckers, stellar and scrub jays are exacting their tithe from the fruit, but perhaps it saves us some thinning.

The apples are hanging so thickly that we can’t keep up with the propping. We lost a half tree last week when the branches pulled it apart. The big old pear also peeled off a major limb; same with an old apple tree. The birds stripped an entire tree of comice pears, saving any additional thinning; same with a couple of the Italian prune trees. Argh! The acorns are getting ripe, so maybe the woodpeckers and jays will be off for more nutritious long term food storage soon.

In the Surrounding Forest

Seeds hang thick on the native grasses along the forest paths. Woodland brome hangs pendulously with dense furry seeds. Blue wild rye’s dense upright spikes are often woven with spider webs, keeping the seeds on the stalks. I’m drawn to the striking orange stems of fine-leaved fescue with its delicate tiny seeds. The forest understory is still lush and green in the growing shade from fire-recovering redwoods.

Evening Sky

The sunset was gorgeously playing with fish scale high clouds, ushered in from a ‘passing monsoonal system’ (schwew! No summer lightning, please!). The sunsets are also being colored by very high smoke billowing forth from the big fire near Yosemite. No smoke smell – its not dipping that low around here (thankfully).

-from my weekly blog for Molino Creek Farm’s webpage and Facebook sites.

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.

Transitions Between Light and Dark…Day and Night

Each evening there’s a dancing art show: swallows soar and weave higher and higher, snapping up insects, following the intersection of sun and shade as the sun slowly dips behind the ridge across Molino Creek. The disappearance of the sun takes more than an hour to make its way across the farm; the last light glows a deepening gold from the west-facing ridges studded still with many tall black spires of the trees burned by the 2020 wildfire.

Evening

I sit at the end of the days watching sunset transitions, noticing the many familiar but always fascinating evening routines. The world slows down and the stage provides each actor enough time. The raven pair trade an intermittent ‘caw’ tracking one another’s whereabouts as if to say ‘almost time’ before following one another with noisy slow powerful wingbeats, as they sneak off to their mysterious and distant night roost. Clouds of tiny beetles dance silently in dense clouds on the cooler sides of shrubs, backlit by the sun, lighting shiny wings. The flicker family swoops in for one last drink at the bird bath. First one, then the next and soon a hundred crickets are chirping- more when its warmer than cooler. With the increasing crickets, more and more stars shine. The western sky glows long after the sun has set.

Padrones

The long days are fueling burgeoning crop production. The peppers and tomatoes are deep dark green with suddenly stout stems and elongating root systems pushing farther out in the rich, dark, beautiful soil. Two Dog Farm’s padrone peppers have fruit and are lighting up with constellations of bright white star-shaped flowers.

Two Dog Farm’s Padrone Peppers- getting ready to start picking!

The warm days have been followed mostly by cool nights. Plants that wilted slightly during the day return to vigor as the sun rides lower in the sky. At night, those same plants are tall upright and luxuriant. Apples are still small, now 1 ½ inch across; the plums are growing quickly and starting to color. The tops of these trees rise up into the warm summer air; under the trees it is cool and slightly humid, no scent yet from any of the fruit- its too young! As its too soon to have enough food to take to market, Judy’s delivering the season’s first zucchini in neat small paper bags to farm neighbors, and we welcome these tasty treats as the first sign of summer. It’s cool enough to still have some sweet garden lettuce to be combined with geranium and salvia blossoms, baby kale and other greens, for a wealth of home-grown salads.

Comice Pears: Brought to you by a community of Orchardists

Thank You, Friends

We have deep gratitude for the various skilled community members that help our Farm along. Most recently the incredibly talented duo from the Last Chance community, Steve Barnes and Ian Kapostins, have been piecing together a bunch of new water tanks- 30,000 gallons worth- to replace some we lost in the fire. Their artistry and skill combine with nice equipment to create a much-needed bank of drinking and firefighting water. These guys have been sweating out the days with pipe and saws, glue and wrenches, on the side of a hot hill and in and out of dirty dusty trenches. How lucky we are that they are willing to help us way out in the country in less than favorable conditions! It takes a community to afford us the possibility of living and farming in this beautiful place. Thanks, guys…we really appreciate your work!

Dawn

The sunrise dawn chorus has been mysteriously quiet: is there a hawk near the yard? At 3000’ in the Sierra last weekend, I awoke on several mornings to a signature dawn chorus filled with sweet, almost liquidy flycatcher song, so different than our sometimes sharp-peeping orchestra. Each place has its song. There, the chorus was short- half an hour before and up to dawn then quickly quieter. I’m hoping that our dawn chorus song returns soon.

Over to You

I’m hoping you step outside, leave your windows open, turn off anything noisy, and immerse yourselves in these long transitions of dawns and dusks. What is unfolding around you? Whose watching you listen for them? Are there repeating themes in your part of the world?

-post copied from the Molino Creek Farm website where I also publish regularly

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

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