The Longest Winter

Through late last week and into this one, waves of unseasonal rain kept sweeping across the sky: shower after shower, sheets of drizzle, or a splattering of only a few big raindrops. It was mostly cold rain, and any remaining heating firewood is gone – the longest, coldest, rainiest winter in memory. Wearing sweaters and hats inside, we wonder when the transition to summer will come. Perfectly reasonable people are now complaining about rain, even arguing with an emphatic, ‘enough!’ when reminded about the contrasting potential for heat, dryness, and fire. Some of us will never complain about rain again, but perhaps that’s just the indelible memory of dangerously close-at-hand wildfire.

The Scents and Sound of Weighty Fog

Is that fog now? The sky is still capped but ragged bright blue holes appear in the clouds by midday. The sounds of gusty winds mix with the echoing roar of big waves. The air smells sweet from vegetal spring mixed with salty ocean spray and dusty pollen.

At the end of the rainy period, before the winds, there was a still morning and both the canyons and ridges were draped in clouds. Dampness coated every surface, leaves glistening with droplets. I could hear the nearby waterfall song and a bit of the creek below. It was so peaceful. Then, <<CRACK, CRASH!!>> another big tree fell down somewhere near our boundary in the Molino Creek canyon.

Colors Splashing

Besides the spectacularly blossoming apple orchard, there are dots and pools of color popping out from the mostly grass-green landscape. There are striking large powdery blue patches of wild California lilac, both large shrubs that escaped the 2020 fire and a sea of smaller ones that emerged after that fire. Whorls of sky lupine flowers brighten shallow soiled nobs and ridges, aided by our firewise mowing. On the rare occasion that sunrays warmed their petals, California poppies open with their flame-orange shiny glow. It takes a curious eye and intrepid soggy walking to spot some flower colors: buried in the thick grass are hiding patches of blue-eyed grass, a miniature deep-blue-blossomed iris relative.

Hello Yarrow!

Standing up high among the tall grass, bright white patches of yarrow just started flowering. Like so much of the farm’s color, this one is a result of intention. In 2008, there was no native yarrow on the farm. But, there were a few patches of yarrow poking through the roadside shrubs nearby. In the dusty summer heat, we paced those roadsides, shaking yarrow seedheads into paper bags. Then, as winter rains approached, we shook the seed from those bags in the areas we were mowing for fire safety. Now, there is yarrow proliferating and butterflies alighting on their flat-topped pollen-rich platforms of white flowers.

Random Acupuncture

Everyone who is anyone is controlling thistles. On hikes and impromptu field meeting strolls, we pause to pound our heels into the ground, trying to uproot invasive thistles. When we stroll through anywhere that hasn’t been mowed within a week, we get poked by needle-sharp thistle spines. Italian thistle is the main culprit, but there are also pokey giant lush leaves of milk thistle with which to contend (in the moister spots). If we wanted to wait a bit to mow, there can be no more waiting – there is an urgency about the timing. Seeds will soon be forming then taking flight on thistle-down gossamer parachutes, creating next year’s problems.


Baby turkeys, baby bunnies. The thick tall grass nearly hides the adults and completely veils their newborn young. Turkey young, too small to fly, struggle through dense forests of oat grass. They don’t have to venture far with tasty grass seeds presenting so thickly. They have already learned mother’s beak precision to pick individual seeds from grass inflorescences. At the boundary of shrubs and grass, tiny newborn rabbits are also gazing at their parents for lessons, from when to scurry from danger to what to eat and where. It is fattening time for coyote, fox, and bobcat.


The unexpected late soak changed the farming routine. We stopped our panicking irrigation setup, grabbed hoes and went to work on the easily removed weeds. The big field hoe pries giant radish roots from the wet soil. Glove protected hands yank clusters of grasses that grow too close to tree trunks for the hoe. Either way, hoe or glove, the spring has presented the opportunity for building forearm muscles and body core strengthening.

A new generator arrived and will provide backup power for our normally solar-powered well. The well has been mostly idle for months because of the rain, but soon will be running every daylight hour to keep up with irrigation needs. Should smoke shroud the sun with the onset of wildfire, we’ll need the generator to keep our fire fighting water replenished.

The sounds of powerful diesel engine tractor tilling, weedeater droning, and the lower growl of mowers fill the air most days. The early mornings and the longer evenings provide respites from farm noise. Then, the air is filled with spring bird song.

Spring Heat then Rain Returning

The warm spring sun began feeling prickly to my skin, and so it was sunscreen and sunhats to go outside. It had been a long time: a long cold, rainy winter. Suddenly, spring pollen dusted everything, everyone sneezing across the farm and into town, sneezes in parking lots, bike paths and in lines at the store. ACHOO!

Spring warmth triggered grass to bolting, really toweringly bolting grass flower heads arching and poking up high, waving pollen from dancing wands ladening the ever present breeze.

A Sudden Dryness

It seemed like the rain was over, as it normally would have been, but we were in for a surprise. Us orchardists hustled to get the irrigation set up, discovering mouse-chew leaks to repair, stuck valves, broken sprinklers – the perennial time-consuming setup always seems to come too late. The ground was DRY…very dry! Cover crop was wilting, bent over in the springtime heat. Digging weeds out from under orchard trees became a hassle, shovels and hoes striking hard ground, ringing metal sounds. It was dry not only on the surface but a foot down into the soil. Last Saturday, I asked my fellow weeder, “anyone discovering any soil moisture?” The answer was a disbelieving ‘No!’ Someone said, ‘It calls for rain.’ Yeah, right. It seemed somehow impossible.

Wind to Rain

The wind picked up strongly that evening and the next day it was blowing trees and branches down, hard gusts joining a steady stiff wind from the northwest. A little drizzle followed. Then there was a shower with quite big drops. A few hours later, another shower, that one longer, also with big raindrops. And then it poured on and off for many hours late through the night. Afterwards, still the soil is only wet about six inches down, but its moist down a foot. That much water will get used up in a few days when the sun shines again. And, it is enough to spur the grass growth (and pollen). What a surprise! At least it will be easier to weed for a few days.

A May Storm at Molino Creek Farm

The Resulting Flowers

The flowers are out. Poppies and lupines in peak flower. Cassandra reports binocular-spying a strikingly bright patch of solid lush orange California poppies high on the steep slope across Molino Creek canyon. The coast live oaks, tassels fading, are dense with shiny new leaves, a rich array of greens, each tree its own unique shade. On oak twigs, the tiniest of acorn babies have been born. Forest edge madrone trees display giant pom-poms of white flowers, a celebration of the moist winter. Big yellow blankets of post-fire germinated French broom sweeten the breeze but make my muscles tense with the stress of the seemingly hopeless weed invasion on our farm’s otherwise beautifully diverse hillsides. Redwood sorrel carpets the forest understory with strikingly pink blossoms. The wild iris has begun its colorful parade, trailside through the woodlands.

Two Lupines: Lupinus nanus (sky lupine) and Lupinus bicolor (miniature lupine) side by side

And Bryophytes

The return of rain also reawakens mosses and lichens. The black walnuts and oaks host a wealth of moss, growing thicker on the older branches and on the shady side of trunks. Summer comes and their thick green piles shrink and fade. Just as quickly, with dense fog (or this rain), they brighten and grow plush once again.

A Diversity of Ephiphyes…Rain Soaked and Glorious. On one of the Farm’s black walnut trees

A Deer

An adolescent buck with the faintest of felty nubbins jutting from its forehead warily considered me during a recent walk. At first, its giant pointy ears tilted towards me like satellite dishes honing in on my approach. Each time I get close to deer, I talk to them, gently letting them know that I am no threat. Generally, this slows their retreat, but this one was suspicious. It took off, energetically bounding with all four feet high in the air between pounces. Reaching a good distance, its ears were once again on alert, pointed at me as I tried urge it, ‘don’t worry.’ I looked down and up again. He was gone. Why so concerned, deer? This one was new to the neighborhood, maybe just passing through. People still hunt deer in these hills, so wariness is warrented.

Lapins Cherry Fruit – seems to be setting thickly, but we have to wait to see..they often drop off later

Fruit Forming

Bright white citrus blossoms unfold sweetly while cherry petals drop to reveal shiny fruit. The apple orchard has entered peak bloom. The freshly clipped understory, not long ago was ugly stubble, but now it’s turning green, resprouting through the mown mess. The faint rose smell of apple blossoms is temporarily overpowered by a rain-fetched dank compost smell, hints of the bitterness of rotting chopped up weedy mustards and radishes. At the base of the apple flowers, furry hints of apples to be. Down the hill from the apples, fruit grows fast in our stonefruit grove- mostly various apriums and pluots, a hybrid swarm that also includes the parents, plums and apricots. Those fruits are mostly silver dollar sized, hard as rocks and green. The wild hazelnuts of our hedgerow have set fruit, bracts swelling. Elderberry flower clusters are a curious near-black, their buds forming.


Barn swallows have formed pairs, their mates arrived sometime in the last couple of weeks. They dive and swoop right past my face, closer than ever, as I mow the orchard. Maybe these are my porch swallows, and they are comfortable with me, and so the proximity. It seems I can feel their wingbeat wind on my cheeks they swoop so close.

The band tailed pigeon flock is back to its more normal farm size: 18 (ish). There were many more last week, but some moved on. As always, they scare easily from the walnut trees where they feast on catkins. Their clapping wings send them quickly skyward where they wheel about in a flock that eventually alights in a tall tree awaiting a safer moment to glide back down to their feast. How many times a day do they make this circuit? Sometimes, we hear them cooing deeply, at times answered by the higher, more sad sounding mourning doves that strut on the ground in pairs across the moist freshly tilled farm soil.

In the understory of the orchards, there are bunches of sharp-billed robins.

Somewhere nearby, there is the call and response sing-song of grosbeaks. In the woods, a flycatcher serenade joins the flute-like Swainson’s thrush song.

There are many other birds making lots of noise. Such is spring on our beautiful, diverse, wildlife friendly organic farm. We are so thankful.

-my weekly blog for Molino Creek Farm simultaneously published here.

Buds Break

this is a post I just published on Molino Creek Farm’s webpage

Let’s hope for a repeat of the last couple of years where March and even April have brought us additional important rain. The shallow soils are drying out on the grasslands nearby, but the creeks are still running.

Since last we posted this news blog, back in November, there have been deluges and droughts, cold and heat…Molino is a land of extremes! December was unbelievably wet with heavy storms intermingled with endless mists and drizzles. January came and someone turned off the tap, then no rain expected in February, normally our wettest month. It was 75F today and the sun felt very hot. But, in total this winter, we’ve had lots of cold nights…we’ve burned more firewood to keep warm than in recent memory.

Calling Critters

The most noticeable wildlife is the mixed flock of blackbirds. If you were hard of hearing, you might think it was our ancient bulldozer squeaking and rattling across the hills. Better hearing can make out the seemingly multidimensional mélange of starlings, brewer’s blackbirds, and bicolored blackbirds singing together. Mostly the song is brewer’s blackbirds, but the others are in there, too. 80 birds exchanging, at their own tempo without any evident coordination, low-to-high crescendo-Ing whistles combining to near dizzying cacophony. If you walk by, the song shockingly and suddenly stops and up goes the flock in a vibrating dark cloud. The bicolor blackbirds land again in downward arks like windblown leaves. Then, a few brewer’s blackbirds make clicks, like drumsticks on the edge of a snare drum…but not keeping any pace or rhythm: Chek…chek……check…chek chek…chek….then one, then ten, then suddenly all 80 birds erupt in their whistling joy once again. The whole farm reverberates with this chorus, which is particularly loud this winter.

The other wildlife calls are much more subtle. In the last 2 months, I’ve heard a single fox yawl and a single female lion cry, but the coyotes are keeping quiet. Every night there is but one great horned owl hooting. The red shouldered hawk, a friend that still needs a name, hasn’t been scree-ing as much, but is still omnipresent as is a kestrel and recently a pair of red-tailed hawks. A single peregrine falcon comes by once or so a week to scream terrifyingly at the Molino prey.

Winter Crops

In this climate, we harvest all year round. Gleaning 2 Dog peppers was over in early January, but now we are starting to get a fair harvest of Persian limes with Meyer and ‘real’ lemons on their heels. Venturing out in the cover crop, there are pea shoots to forage. Kale has done well this winter in the home gardens.

Peas in the cover crop – a forager’s delight

Orchard Tending

Not much to do in the row crop fields, but the orchards have needed tending, especially recently. A few weeks back, Bob Brunie and I started up the backpack sprayer and sprayed most of the apple orchard with a mix of ground up kelp and fish along with living beneficial microbes to foster tree microbiomes for maximum health. Small groups and individuals have also been pruning, fertilizing, and assembling/burying water lines. The early winter planted cover crops germinated, but then have only been growing very slowly due to cold and lack of rain. The Robins have been enjoying late afternoon feasting on orchard cover crop vetch.

Cherry buds are swelling…like so many of the fruit trees in our orchards right now

The Storms

This story would not be complete without some notes about the storms of December. That month brought one rainy front after the next with a few days’ pause between storms, so that our solar arrays recharged batteries and the soggy grasses bent back upwards. Lake Molino resprouted and (glug glug) drowned the Bottomlands Field cover crop. For nearly three weeks we had that big pond, but no ducks showed up this time.

This massive rain and all of the fire damage must have sent some debris flow into action along Molino Creek. If you walk down there now, it’s a massively changed scene. Instead of lush Creekside vegetation, now there’s a twice-as-wide scoured rock bed with pummeled banks. Upstream, there is a series of small granite waterfalls into clear pools where once there was just mud, logs, and a few ferns.

The downpours, however, produced very little damage to the Farm. We had some rills on the road, which needed some maintenance anyways. The winds broke oaks apart along our fence lines, those damaged by the fire or some prior issue. In the hills around us on the more recent rainless windy days you can hear tree after tree cracking apart and falling with big bangs and low thuds. Zephyrs are taking down the burned trees and its not safe walking in the forest on blustery days.

The Coming Spring

The first orchard trees are about to bloom. Plums are breaking bud. Early peaches are unfurling leaves. Citrus blossoms are filling the air with sweet perfume. Avocado blossom clusters are unfurling. The fields and field margins are massing with weedy Calendula and oxalis color. And…it is just the beginning!

The biggest show will soon be poppies and then LUPINES. For whatever reason, this is a Huge Lupine Year. Bumble bees are going to be very, very happy and the returning swallows will be feasting on them before too long.

We hope you are enjoying these (too) wonderful days.

Whorls of lupine leaves form an understory to the flowering wild cucumber of Molino’s restored grasslands