Molino Creek Farm

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

Surprises

The winds come and go, the nights are still chilly, and the days are getting warm again. Today it was in the 70’s. The whole world seems sparkly, extra vivid and alive. Critters are zipping about and the breezes sporadic and then, some days, ripping. The sky has been mostly clear but then suddenly fog will creep up the canyon or giant puffy clouds peek over the ridge above the farm. Many little birds are cheeping and carrying on midday, but there are occasional surprising quiet moments. Once this past week…zoom – the vultures not lazily but energetically were sweeping across the farm, chasing one another, riding a sudden new and steady afternoon wind. Some nights it has been so breezy that the house shakes, but then there was a recent night that was so quiet that you could hear a million crickets near and far.

Surprises and Singing Friends

Yes, crickets are singing at night, and many birds sing all day long. Song sparrows are making the most constant melodious songs. I flushed a snipe from the Avocado Bowl this early evening…what a surprise – for both of us. It yipped and I yelped: it was almost under foot. Off it went downhill off the farm. They say it is passing through- lots of migration happening these past weeks.

Bizarre Black Birds, redux

A while back, bicolor blackbirds changed their social behavior. Towards the end of winter, bicolors joined the Brewers blackbirds and starlings in the leafless walnut trees, raising a cacophonous symphony but somehow breaking into a hypnotic melodious chorus (and sometimes with soloists, other times with jazzy subgroups, and always with startling punctuated pauses). Then, the Brewers left the stage. The starlings took to their own flocks. And, the bicolors broke off in small groups. Now, bicolors are exhibiting undecipherable and very different behavior. As is normal, males continue puffing up with their extraordinary epaulettes. The males and females have intricate chases or face offs; I have seen very alert females clustered together, I have also seen the females apparently chasing males, and I have seen males chasing ravens, swallows, and even hummingbirds. Those guy bicolor blackbirds seem proud to bravely chirp at me staying as close as they dare – showing off?

Sneezing Time

The grasses are turning tawny even with the late rains and pollen is flying thickly. Ten minutes outside fill the corner of my eyes with dust that starts immediately itching. Before my nose fills and congests from the pollen, there is a sweet grassy scent blanketing everywhere. I want to keep smelling that but it is subtle and my nose reacts poorly to the pollen filled air. It is, unfortunately for me, indoor time lest my lungs seize and my neighbors too serenaded by the loudest of continuous sneezing until my throat is chaffed and my eyes water to streams of tears. Oh, those N95 masks are serving another purpose!

Gophers and Snakes

Meanwhile, in the soil…hundreds of gophers are tossing up small piles of earth across the farm – crumbly mounds, the fresher excavations dark and moist for a little while, sprinkled with a mess of critter cut hay. A meadow vole was midday sunbathing in some short grass next to the solar panels the other day, not even moving when approached. I got to see how tiny its ears were, folded up against its head: un-mouse like. Shortly thereafter, I was startled by the biggest gopher snake I’ve ever encountered – around 5’ long and 2” thick. This snake was almost under foot and I found myself emitting another involuntary yell, body levitating up miraculously and seemingly sky high, arching up and up before touching down and happy not to have squinched it. Yesterday, there was yet another gopher snake, this one a ’mere’ 3’ long, near the citrus orchard about to cross the road. It is a good year to be a snake and a good time for accenting the need to be present when walking, so as not to tread on them serpents.

Ursi’s Bouquets

This is the time of year that roadside wildflowers are at their most diverse. When I visit farm partners Bob and Ursi at their beautiful downtown home, this time of year there are the most beautiful bouquets of wildflowers from that roadside: lupines and poppies, deep blue globed bulb flowers, monkeyflowers…and many more. They so appreciate that beauty and it has been increasing because of their attention. They are the ones who requested that the roadside mowing crews avoid the once few lavender bush lupines. We did. Those few spread and then after the fire erupted in giant patches of color and quick cover for so many creatures. Bob and Ursi are profoundly appreciative of natural beauty and share their observations easily with bright eyes and kind smiles.

Newly planted tomato plants – off to a hard start but promising much in the long term

Crop Planting, Orchard Production

A variety of neighbors have been pitching in to plant the Molino Creek Farm crops this year. The first tomato plants are in the ground as of today! Onions went in a few days ago. The sad but promising rows of new crops are settling in, a hard transition from the nursery but they will soon adjust.

In the orchard, the limes are getting so ripe to be dropping from the trees, but the oranges don’t have sweetness yet. Nearly every apple tree has set fruit, and those tiny fruits are growing fast in large clusters. The cherry trees have few fruit, fewer still the prunes and apricots: late rains might have pummeled the tiny fruit or perhaps the wind? It will be a big apple year if the pests don’t get too many; there are very few jays as of yet.

The farmed and natural worlds of Molino Creek Farm change by the day, as does the world around everyone. Catch it while you can! Enjoy the changes!!

A bud grafted Lapins cherry on the Colt Rootstock that survived the fire to resprout. Thanks, Drake Bialecki for making this magic!

-this post simultaneously posted at Molino Creek Farm’s website.

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.

Full Moon, Sparkling Ground

Last Saturday night, the bright full moon shining from the clear cold sky, set off the grassy fields into a sparkling hoarfrost that lingered in the low, shady spots well after sunrise. That same startlingly clear sky graced Sunday with a cool light breeze, inviting my gardening self to expose sun onto skin for too long: my back burned red to ouch, now itchy painful. Following that temptation was not too smart! The week plugs away with echoes of last week’s email: drizzle, sun…warm…repeat. But, now the National Weather Service says it will really rain tomorrow and Friday, so our orchard irrigation rounds will be delayed once again. The rain has been just enough for a while to keep up with the increasing demand for soil moisture from the leafing out orchard trees. The forecast looks like it will get dry again soon- maybe next week will begin the long, dry summer? So hard to say. We are extra thankful for the late rains re-wetting everything. As we learned a couple of years ago, drought makes for extra heat and then fire! The late rainfall boost will make a lag for the heat, pushing it further into the summer and reducing fire danger a little longer. The clouds sneaking southward in advance of tomorrow’s storm were particularly ominous- perhaps hinting at the predicted ‘instability’ and perhaps marble (!) sized hail.

Very Odd clouds coming before the storm this evening

Out in the recently-burned forest around Molino, the understory is bursting with flowers. The iris are still thick with blossoms- around here, a pale yellow or creamy white, but higher on the mountain all the way to rich blues. The local pink version of globe lily has just come into full bloom with especially many plants post fire. There are yellow or white violet flowering carpets. Native sweet pea and checker lilies are fading but the woodland tarplants are blossoming and, in moister places, there are many sprays of white, sweet-smelling false Solomon’s seal. The forest understory never faded from the drought in January and February and it is especially lush and green now with the recent return of rains. Madrones aren’t flowering anywhere near as thickly as last Spring. The creeks are singing their watery songs.

Orchard Renewal

Some may recall Drake Bialecki’s patient revival of burned trees last year…his skill with the summer grafting of avocados and cherries. After he was done, we kept an eye on the cherry bud grafts and watched as they slowly healed into the rootstock stems, splitting the grafting tape and pushing forward as if to say ‘we made it!’ Few of those buds did much last season. But now, we’re watching them burst out with promise of making new trees. We’ve never seen this work before, so stay tuned as we document what was a dime-sized bud become a branch then get comfortable being a trunk and on up to the sky. I have a hard time guessing how big these might get this year- the roots are huge and established for full-sized trees…might these get 6’ tall and around this year? They’ve got all they need from water and finely stewarded soil.

Drake Bialecki’s expert cherry bud graft from last July coming alive this Spring

Other Fruit

The lime trees are popping with nearly ripe fruit, the lemons close behind, but the oranges a ways behind. The early apples have set their first fruit, now wanting to be thinned. Avocado blossoms are opening, some getting past- alas, few trees are mature enough to bear fruit this season (or the next).  Some of the avocado trees we thought survived the fire are showing themselves to be zombies as their basal bark peels off to reveal lifeless and fire-girdled stems. Similar things are going on with many of the fire-surviving trees: their expanding trunks are revealing large dead portions of trunks near the ground- ah, shoot!

Respect yer Elders

On the field margins and in a far part of the North Orchard: elderberries! Elderberry flowers are opening. The California native elderberry plants that George Work donated to the Farm in 2008 sprouted vigorously after the fire and are large, lush bushes adorned by many flower clusters. Then there’s the herbalists’ patch of exotic elderberries quickly establishing but not yet blossoming.

Oh Crop!

For the row-crop farming, all eyes are on the greenhouses where the starts are getting big enough to plant – planting will start soon, the soil is prepared and waiting. The field enterprises are multiplying with a new organic vegetable seed growing partner on a quarter or so acre in the Brush Field.

Another crop has identified itself: wild nettles! Anyone want to harvest them? The wild miner’s lettuce is fading, but the nettles are going strong.

Here Today, Gone Tamari

Chewing on these wild things are the migratory deer. Two lithe brave but wide-eyed teenage deer loped up the main road a few days back, stopping here and there to gaze at the deer fence, sizing it up to see if they dare test it but then running further along. The fat female has gone missing. No bucks.

Other missing wildlife: turkeys, kestrels, red tailed hawks…bobcats, harrier hawks…skunks….But, some expected are here: there are more than 18 band tailed pigeons eating walnut catkins. They aren’t any braver about nearby humans even with the higher numbers.

PS: there is no tamari, only today, he added saucily

-this post simultaneously published to the Molino Creek Farm website as my weekly blog.

The Return of the Rain

HOT (85F), then cold and massively windy (wind damage!) … then drizzle…now gap (cold)…drizzle tomorrow gap…drizzle Saturday (cool): what an odd April! The April showers bring May flowers adage isn’t supposed to work here in California, or at least it hasn’t for a long time…but then again, it Does Work! Way back in March, the prairies were turning brown and the grass was stunted and dying. Ranchers were selling their cattle quickly to get in before the big sales rush later in the spring, when they would make even less money. Now, the grasses are growing again, and the prairies are mostly green where they were brown. Weird. The big lupine year here on the Farm will be prolonged maybe into May if this keeps up. If it keeps up, maybe we’ll have the plump tasty handfuls of native blackberry that we got last year with the late rains….that would be wonderful. Some nearby got an inch of rain this last round, where we were promised only two tenths. Roof runoff rainwater buckets filled entirely, which normally suggests a good soak.

No Chow

There is very little food on the farm, unless you like to eat lemons and limes or to harvest wild nettles. The cover crop pea shoots have been mowed and/or tilled in. It has been too dry for mushrooms, though the recent rains could promise morels if it warmed up and we looked hard. It is too early to harvest the very few Bacon avocados fattening on the trees. Very little of last season’s kale remains that hasn’t bolted. It’d be a good time to turn to eating bugs if you had to forage just on the farm. Canned food season continues. Oh, how we long for the produce of summer!

Wildlife Sightings

I saw as single deer running across the farm this past week, the first for a long time and too far away to know what sex. But it was nice sized and alone, very nervous…kept moving. A few fox barks emanated from the Vandenberg Field area one evening. Not much predator poo around. Gophers, though- very common! And the voles are starting to make a comeback. The Big Winners are the mice – the harvest and deer mouse populations are burgeoning right now. They leap and scurry in front of the mowers and hoes, and if you stand still too long in the grass they run over your shoes- it’s that kind of mouse year.

I spied on one of the bluebird boxes yesterday and watched a momma feed babies which were sticking their hungry maws out of the hole to get the dangly long caterpillar from her mouth. Cheep Cheep! Cheep Cheep!

The band tailed pigeons are the newest entertainment. Our big flock is back eating walnut catkins, an annual ritual. They sure are nervous, flapping noisily away when you approach a walnut tree. I am transported to the tropics when I see them- they trigger past parrot sightings in my memory, being a similar size and shape.

Farming

Adan is back on the tractor. So is Mark Bartle, who has been equally energetic with the big machines. The fields are mowed and a subset are getting tilled. Adan has rototilled the first field, so smoothly turned around, a special kind of soil beauty. Mark mowed the vineyard this past week and the vines opened their fresh light green delicate leaves; they are well trellised and starting to look like an established crop for the first time, their third spring of growth.

The orchard folks got caught up on watering and then with the drizzle can take a bit of a break. Soon the Maserati of Mulcharts will be going 185 with big piles of mowed up mulch to feed the trees.

The hay hauling mulch cart, a Molino Creek Farm invention- appropriate technology

Flowers

The blue, blue-blue native bulbs have burst into their small tight globes of flowers on the road into the farm, complimenting the other patches of white-and-blue lupines. Orange sticky monkeyflower subshrubs are getting towards full bloom, but Ceanothus are fading. French broom is scentfully blossoming, but we don’t like looking at it- what a scourge has been flushed after that fire! In the forest, it is peak iris time and the pale yellow flowered fat false Solomon’s seal is in full bloom (another scent sensation). Did I say iris time? Its really a big iris year! The poppies are in full regalia, meshing large patches of flame orange into the delightfully contrasting purple blue lupines.

We hope you enjoy some rainbows and perhaps the last rains of the season this next week. Our fruit trees will be in heaven.