Molino Creek Farm

Coyote Calling

Another of my regular posts for Molino Creek Farm’s website

She stood in the middle of a field still strewn with winter squash, yipping her higher and higher trilling song, snout pointed upwards, sweeping her head to throw her voice across the hills and ridges. She stopped, listening and peering around before starting again, facing other directions. The echoing coyote song might have been another one calling back, and it seemed she wondered, too. But these were just echoes and there was no return call. No one came to join her. She kept singing her piercing high yowls and, in the long pauses between song, she mumbled widely spaced, low hoarse growling barks. This went on for 20 minutes and then suddenly stopped. Then she paced wearily across the farm fields, pausing to glance this way and that across the ground for sign of some small mammal that might be dinner. After a long while, with the failing evening light, I turned away briefly. Looking back, she was gone.

Adan told Judy that he saw two coyotes. That was the first one I saw or heard for more than a month. They seem to be passing through but not daily lurking. Same with a big healthy looking male bobcat: it slowly walks through a field and then is gone, sometimes for many days.

Hungry

There is less prey for these predators than anytime in memory. There is little sign of voles. Gopher throws are there, but not very thick. I haven’t seen a brush bunny in months. There were only ever a couple squirrels- now none. I haven’t seen a new wood rat house assembled anywhere around the farm since the fire.  So, coyote, fox, and bobcat must have to travel widely to get enough to eat right now. And the nights get colder, the ground suddenly constantly damp and chill.

Storm Consequences

Another storm swept in this past week. Winds rattled windows, threw foam from tall ocean waves, and took half of the leaves off of the walnut trees. Showers, sometimes heavy, pelted the North Coast, making puddles and rivulets in the fields and roads. The soil is wet enough to have woken up the earthworms: open holes surrounded by round globs of earthworm frass now dot the soil everywhere.

With the series of storms this early rainy season, the grassy areas have turned green and the creeks are running again. There is no still summer nighttime silence: now the farm is serenaded by the constant rush of waterfall splashing, accented by great horned owl hooting. Just one owl, though maybe it is answering one in the next drainage that I can’t well hear.

Harvest Fading

Orchard harvesting is winding down. We have been selling 200 pounds a week of perfect apples, which means a harvest of 800 pounds to sort through with apples also going to cider and the Pacific School lunch program. We get a month of that kind of production this year, even though the Fire had damaged the trees. We are lucky to have the volume of fruit we are getting- the proceeds will pay for compost and coddling moth control, maybe a soil test, maybe some other supplies. Next year will be much bigger…from this year’s 5000 pounds to 8000 pounds and we’ll be asking once again- what do we do with all the apples? And the reply will come: More Cider! There are 70 gallons bubbling away in either Bob Brunie’s or Jacob Pollock’s ciderlairs.

In years past, we would be picking olives right about now. But, Sheri’s not on the farm anymore; no one organizes a pick this year. The fruits are few and small, anway. But the trees are still beautiful and this silvery patch is home to many birds.

Still people comb the tomato rows, the plants mere skeletons but festooned with fruit. The sunflowers have passed, as have most of the cut flowers. String beans, zucchini, cucumbers, and peppers- all fading and melting with the chill nights and soaking rains. The farm pace is plummeting, the season winding down. To thwart any ambition, the ground threatens to eat tires. Long weed-scalped tire tracks tell of spinning tires and nearly stuck trucks. Ambition to drive threatens hours of unstucking. We pulled a tractor with a pickup and a pickup with a pickup, at least, so far. Any wetter, and wheels will get so buried that vehicles will stay until drier times: the bulldozer is dead and the ultimate solution is no longer available.

Thanksgiving normally marks the end of the farming season and the beginning of a much-needed break. The days are getting shorter, and we turned back our clocks this past week. There very nearly is no time at all past our desk job’s quitting hour and the last sunlight, so afterwork chores must be hurried. Anyway, there won’t be any harvest worth harvesting in a couple more weeks. There will be a month until we turn to citrus harvest. It will be nice to rest.

Falling Leaves with Swards A’Greening

from my blog for Molino Creek Farm

The meadows are turning GREEN: electric, eye straining, shiny, bright grassy green. It smells fresh and alive again. The sky seems a deeper sparkling blue and the stars shinier: it’s like the rain cleaned everything.

I’ve heard it said (with derision?) ‘back east’ – “California’s where Fall means the leaves drop and the grass turns green.” (Ironically, this is sometimes said by the same people that claim we don’t have seasons at all)

In the forest, yellowish fall colors, the scrublands dotted with brilliant red. Maples and hazelnuts are at their brightest fall pale yellow. Nestled into the mostly evergreen bushes of coastal scrub, poison oak glows brilliant crimson, leaves sometimes swirled with subtle purple or blushed with melon orange.

The honeybees have been getting hungrier as the last of the coyote bush flowers fade. A lone Australian import in my landscape, a white bell-shaped flowering Correa shrub, is now nearly being carried off by honeybees. I have never seen a single plant of any kind so buzzy.

Native wild strawberry, naturally established in our orchard understory…a rose by any other name (in a rose family orchard!)

Bonfire Time

It is bonfire time. Directly after the rain soaked the land, regulators lifted the ‘burn ban.’ With increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns, we know better than to wait. Even after running a chipper on many piles earlier in the summer, we have around 10 tons of brush remaining to burn.

Beautiful, guilty pleasures, bonfires. With the heating of the planet, we are torn about this torching of biomass. In the few years leading up to this wildfire, I told everyone I knew that there was no feasible way of composting wood around here. Any branch over an inch diameter, I said, is just waiting to fuel the next wildfire. What does one do with the trimmings, fallen branches and trees, in that case? In the ten-year interval we expect between wildfires, we would quickly fill all of our open space with brush piles…and then they would burn anyways (as they did in the last fire). If we place branches in the forest, the forest trees will burn hotter and be more likely to die. And so, we burn piles when it is safe to do so. That means burning every time a storm is blowing in. Two piles down….20 more to go…At least we can enjoy the warmth and cheer: friends join in…bonfires by request! (selfishly, this helps us tend the fires)

Non Human Farm Mammals

The mammals love the rain-fueled regreening, too. Last night, I heard the first caterwauling of a cougar in a long time. It was yelling from near the intersection of Molino Creek Farm Road and Warrenella Road. Her sounds freak many people out as they are somewhat similar to a screaming human. The lion in the area making those noises would explain the reason our neighborhood dog, Fiona has had a few long barking sprees recently! What a terrifying sound…what a brave guard dog! Ruff! Ruff! The fierce barking echoes off the surrounding ridge lines.

Some may recall my mention of the relationship between skunks and ground wasps, aka yellow jackets, aka vespid wasps. I have seen it so many years…the first rain and the skunks dig up the wasp nests. What an amazing and guaranteed service. After this last rain, where there were once dangerous zones of sure firey stings, now there are holes, soil thrown up with scattered torn up papery honeycombs, a few upset wasps still trying to make sense of their broken homes. Somewhere there’s a skunk with a very full belly (and lots of skin welts).

Scary (and curious) Birds

One recent dusk, I was dreamily soaking in the beauty of the fading colors and the wet scents of the newly moistened landscape when the oddest sound startled me. The noise was sudden and like the horror movie sound of a hundred attack raptors – coming right at me! I almost ducked, but then realized that it was a hundred mourning doves flying as low and fast as they could, over and all around me. Their wings make a sharp swooping air-cutting noise as they come towards you with only the slightest dove wing whistle after they pass. This pattern has been repeating every evening at dusk- mourning doves jetting at tree (shrub) level downhill across the whole farm to roost somewhere at lower elevation. The conservation of elevational clines, from high to low elevation, on the western slope of Ben Lomond Mountain may be important for undocumented and mysterious reasons…We saw robins doing the same thing (though less speedily) at winter solstice a couple years ago.

Our resident ravens started an unusual bout of extreme danger warning calls, and I left my desk to go outside to ask ‘what up?!’ Whoosh- right by my door-exiting body: a norther harrier. This big acrobatic predator hunted all day long Monday, all over the farm. Late afternoon and the ravens were hoarse from alarm calls and making sad and exhausted crows; I thought maybe they lost a friend, or maybe were crying in despair that this dangerous foe would set up shop more regularly around the farm. They were probably hungry for the day of hiding.

Then, right after the raven dirge…a screaming peregrine falcon lit up the soundscape! What a drag to be on the receiving side of bird-on-bird predators! Eternal vigilance…

A more genteel bird observed…late afternoon and I hear a persistent raspy squeaky bewick’s wren call. It is most persistent, too persistent. And then I saw it, on top of a columnar cactus under my house eaves- looking up at the 3-year-old wasp nest that it had used the last two winters as a winter roost, with a mate. That wren was squeaking and flicking its wings, twitching its tail upwards, and making quite a show, over and over glancing up at the wasp nest…for 15 minutes. What was on its mind??

Harvest Season

Giant Mutsu Apples, Just Getting Ripe

Our Two Dog and Molino Creek Farm crews are still at it: lots to harvest, still! Tomatoes are still holding out, a little. Winter squash still colors the ground. Peppers hang thickly. The flowers are fading…

In the orchard, the apples are mid harvest: this is late! The Gala apples are a distant memory, and we are halfway into the Fuji harvest. We are also picking Mutsu, Braeburn, Jonagold, and Golden Delicious. Those personally passing through the orchard can eat many other varieties…Arkansas Black, Esopus Spitzenberg, and many more.

We are going to have to be quite measured and tactical to sow the cover crop seed in the apple orchard- leaving harvesting rows to last but getting seed in wherever we can- and soon!

Besides the colorful and varied crop of rain-drenched, juicy, delicious apples…the orchard is giving us the longest most colorful fall. A long while ago already the prunes started changing flaming red and orange colors, now the aprium and other stone fruits are rapidly progressing into similarly spectacular colors. Some apple branches are giving it up to their signature yellow leaves. If the past is any indication, this slow fall will continue way into January until we have bare trees. The Wassail seems to happen right as they enter their leafless dormancy.

Fall flaming stonefruit, eye candy in the orchard

RAIN

-this from my weekly post for Molino Creek Farm

Tuesday, most of the day, it was sunny but noticeably cooler. There was a breeze and then it started getting colder after noon. It was 1pm and I glanced towards the ocean and was surprised to see thick fog down there. Another look at 3:30 pm- clear at the beach but a deck of clouds suddenly obscured the whole sky. It smelled like rain, but the rain didn’t start for hours. Sometime in the early dark hours of Wednesday morning, I awoke thinking a coyote was lapping water in the birdbath, but it was the pitter patter of rain dripping from my roof into the rainwater catch buckets. It’s been raining on and off all day, raindrops vying to be the teeniest of them all: a small raindrop contest! Mist was so thick it stuck to everything on all sides, wafting in from all directions. Then some bigger drops pelt down for a bit, then misty drippiness returns, again. Everything sparkles with droplets under a silver-gray sky.

This “first significant” rain started a month earlier than the past two years, when the first real rain was at Thanksgiving…following uncomfortable lengthy hot spells. What a welcome difference! Tomorrow, we’ll have petrichor, the smell of the freshly wetted soil, which takes a bit to emerge.

Thus far, Molino Creek Farm might have had a little over a half inch of rain, judging from the rain buckets and the amount of soil wetting. Our soil is ancient- more than 300,000 years old. It is hydrophobic once dry, so wetting it takes some time…droplets scoot down soil pores or sit on the soil surface or reluctantly soak in. Once the soil starts accepting water, it takes 1” of rain to saturate 1 foot of soil. If we get the expected 4” of rain between now and Sunday, the soil will be gushy four feet down!

Ten Pound Mud Boots

As one neighbor remarked, farmers must now reluctantly stop working, though there is much to do. If we steal off to try to harvest something…and there is much to harvest…we’ll end up with “ten pound mud boots.” Farm field mud is so sticky that each step adds more globs onto your shoes, making huge hunks of mess: you are quickly 4 inches taller walking on mud platforms that stick out 3” in every direction. Lifting your feet makes your pant legs muddy, very muddy.

Boots that weigh ten pounds are good if you want to exercise without moving far, but practically speaking, they are an absolute and unarguable hinderance to vegetable harvesting. We must wait for things to dry, and that’s going to be a while. “Luckily” the show goes on…we rushed and harvested enough prior to the rain to go to market, so off to market we go. Boxes and boxes of late season delicious tomatoes, glowing piles of beautiful winter squash, piles of shiny red ripe peppers will soon grace our sales tables.

Two Dog Farm’s Beautiful and Even More Tasty Red Kuri Squah

The rain has put a stopwatch to the end of the tomato season. The wetness means melt down. Already, a wave of russet mites seriously damaged the Molino Creek Farm plants. Patches of plants started turning a characteristic russetty-brown that you can see half a mile away…the patches spread quickly in all directions, vibrant deep green healthy plants folding over to this vicious pest. And now, the rain. Thousands of tomatoes remain on the plants…

Molino Creek Farm’s Dry Farmed Tomatoes…nearly end of the season

Ravens Back to Normal…and other birds

With the advent of the rainy season, Maw and Caw are back to their normal selves. Everyday inspections of the farm reveal just these two Farm Ravens without their rowdy children or their rowdy children’s proud new mates. Once this past week there were three other ravens, Maw and Caw talking loudly to them, spinning up to meet them high above the farm. Do our two friends feel they must chase away their kids to protect their territory, now? Are the playful windy days of spring the only days they feel comfortable to reunion with their more extended families? Oh, to know the dynamics of Raven Society. I love these two, they are such good friends, and I’m so happy to see them each and every time (especially when they are hopping up and down with their characteristic wing flicks).

We have a kestrel back on the farm and a (single!) sapsucker returned. The kestrel seems to be scooping up Jerusalem crickets these days, sometimes with a few accidental grass stalks. Its plumage is particularly vibrant and so seems very healthy. Why do we only ever get one individual kestrel…and only once did another show for just one week…?? Speaking of pairs, there is, once again, only one sapsucker. So, this second widow(er?) will linger how many winters in this territory before we get another year or so with none and then a pair shows again- that seems to be our story. This got me to thinking that sapsuckers might not have that large of populations…how well are they doing?

At dusk…gliding, prowling, and perching…great horned owls: easy to see around the farm right now.

No Till Orchard Crops

Back to the mud boots…are lack thereof. As we do not till our orchards, we can walk in those, still, to harvest and to harvest some more. We are 1,000 pounds into our expected 4,000 pound harvest. Almost all we have been harvesting has been Gala apples- the old trees our forebearers planted in 1998. They were laden with the most beautiful glowing red fruit, now all boxed up or as fermenting juice for next year’s cider.

You, yes YOU can get these incredibly sweet, crunchy, and beautiful Gala apples at the Food Bin, right on the main drag…Mission Street (and Laurel) in Santa Cruz. Support us Community Orchardists and go buy a bag of these gems. An apple a day….does what? (and have you done it?)

Next up…Fuji apples. In fact, we are sending Fuji, Mutsu, Gala, and Golden Delicious apples with Judy to the Palo Alto market this Saturday. So, if you are over that way…more diversity, more deliciousness. Plus, this is the run up to the last tomatoes of the season- we might not be at markets after another 3 weeks (or sooner for the mud boots).

For internal use only, us Community Orchardists are sharing the prized quince fruits. The legendary addition to apple sauce…the quince jam…the quince juice…the smell and beauty of this novel and ancient fruit. The test this year: do we need to plant more, or is 4 bush/trees enough for our needs? Already, people are suggesting we plant more, but they sit at the markets, unmoving.

Quince! Beautiful.