orchard

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.

Fall Schlogg

from my blog for Molino Creek Farm…

“How’s it going?” I ask my neighbors. The answer, ‘busy,’ is common. Everyone, especially since last year’s fire says just that. But this past week people answered ‘busy’ with a more heavy seriousness. For emphasis, one person shook their tense and invisibly full upward turned hands – exasperatingly exhaling ‘BUSY!’

With that answer, there are smiles. And humor. But our eyes are lined and worn. People move more slowly, a little more bent. Farmers are midway through the peak harvest, 6 weeks to go. Sharon our midwife neighbor just managed an unusually intense spate of births. Mark and Bob, furniture makers, are stretched with work. In two days, Ian will hit the second of the year’s tax deadlines. Family matters, health recovery, fire rebuilds, community business, job tasks…so much going on! And, household chores never go away: chopping, splitting, stacking, and covering the heating wood piles is a urgent priority. We all heat with wood and want warm winters.

Apple Toting Time

Orchardists are toting apples. 800 pounds picked and processed so far this season. We haul heavy shoulder-slung picking bags up the steep orchard hill. We climb carefully down tall ladders, lopsidedly laden and awkward. We roll apples from bags into sorting bins with a familiar, distinct soft percussive sound. Skilled hand-eye expertise helps dartingly sorting apples by size and condition. Only perfect apples for market. Small apples gifted to children. Blemished apples to ‘sweat’ in boxes for cider pressing.

Starting last year, Davenport neighbors and core community orchardists Mike and Charity have been taking our apples to schoolchildren. Emelia Miguel uses these and other donations, orchestrating nutritious delicious meals for the Pacific School in Davenport. Providing electric Tesla transport and endless labor, Mike and Charity have thus far this year gifted over 150 pounds (more coming!) of community orchard produced apples. Emelia’s crew cooked oodles of applesauce and packed pounds of “lunchbox” sized beautiful peak flavored Gala apples for the young down the hill in our greater community.

Putting Food Up

Industrious orchardists recently preserved a boat load of quinces, liberated from a wind- broken limb. Now there’s quince jam! Blemished apples are processed into dehydraters (schnitz!). Jacob, Eva, and John Brunie toiled last Friday to make a cider pressing…120 pounds of fruit to juice, including a bunch that turned out light yellow from quince…used to spice up the otherwise non-complex Gala juice in hard cider. I dried 30 pounds of seckel pears- after days of tending. Dried tomatoes, canned tomatoes, too!  Most recently we’re picking walnuts, keeping them tumble turned in open baskets for drying. Also, I collected the first small bowl of a mixed variety of hazelnuts, all shed this last week from bushes onto the ground; there will be many more next year as the bushes are getting big.

Squawking with Beak Full

While tending trees, I was attracted to a California scrub jay making the oddest squawk. Jays are known vocal tricksters, mimicking other birds, especially hawks. This vocalization was nasal and muted, but otherwise a normal alarm call. I searched about and finally spotted it: bobbing proudly up and down with each call from the top of an apple tree. Its beak was full of acorn! Like all those jays, once spotted with their catch, it ducked away. If they see you watching them bury their acorn, they dig it up and move it where you can’t see, always nervous about any others stealing their cache.

Other Birds

Our winter-only bird flocks continue to settle in. Thirty meadowlarks flush along our entrance road, down by the coast, if we startle them driving by. Sixty or so tricolor blackbirds are also flocking among the grazing cows down there. The nasal “squee” of the sapsucker is now common up here in our orchard- it is opening up rows of pecked ‘wells’ in the tree bark, again. The tally of band tailed pigeons: 14 in the farm flock. Hundreds of golden crowned sparrows and goldfinches still abound. Jen was delighted to encounter part of our flock of western bluebirds in her yard recently.

Morning Rainbow, offshore rain

Offshore Rain, North Wind and Sickle Moon

Rain skipped us again this past week, it is so very dry. Many people remarked about the offshore rainbows first thing one morning. That day it smelled like rain and looked like rain, but it didn’t rain. Then it blew, blew, and blew. For more than a day, wind shook our homes. Harvesting apples high int eh trees on ladders was difficult. We watched more soil blow away, our roads swept clean of any loose material. The walnut trees to show early yellow fall color were blown to bare branches. Overseeing the squalls and wind, low in the sky, a beautiful golden sickle-shaped moon was surrounded by bright fields of silver stars. The evenings darken early and the winter wet season looms.