Western bluebird

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

Dry Winter Skies

Ravenous

You might recall the strain of conversation about Maw and Caw our resident ravens. I just want to say that they are So Cute! Well, a little more: they love each other and you can tell it- constantly fretting about one another and this time of year gazing at each other, playing follow the leader and other games. They are well enough fed to have lots of spare time and they fill it with fun. If you travel downhill and along the coast, you find Other Farm Ravens, and not in isolated pairs…big playful troupes of them, paired, yes, but 20, 30, or 50 strong groups – noisy tribes hopping up and down flushing grasshoppers or something just like our two but more. Somehow, they seem smaller, too. I hope someone one day helps us find where our two nest.

Other Farm Wildlife

We’ve got Western Bluebirds in fine spring regalia in and out of the nest boxes already setting up shop. I think I’ll not mention the cacophony of blackbirds much – only to say that they are still noisy and beautiful.

What we don’t have are foxes or coyotes or skunks or racoons. I heard that there is distemper spreading through the predator community nearby- can anyone confirm?

This year had the driest January and February on record in many places around us- San Francisco for instance. Maybe not here, but maybe so. Bob Brunie was digging a hole to plant a new tree and found the soil dry to two feet depth. That’s weird for this time of year- very weird.

Winter Farming

Bob was planting a new peach tree- number 7 in the group of one day 8 on Citrus Hill. If someone wants to donate a nectarine or two, we’ll plant those, too. Whatever we do, we must set up irrigation to start running Soon for the orchards.

It has become mowing and weeding time- 2 Dog Crew has been tidying up the Chardonnay grapes so now the vineyard looks so neat and tidy.

The first cherry blossoms are emerging on the few trees that the fire spared. Maybe we’ll get a bunch of cherries this year!

Lapins Cherries – Starting to Bloom!

Around the Edges: Wildflowers

In the wild places of the Farm flowers are blossoming. A common plant is called bee plant, a Scrophularia with flowers some say are like Micky Mouse – a pair of upright petals are like Mickey’s ears. The flowers are carrion colored red-brown and attract meat “bees” – really wasps. But, honeybees and hummingbirds have figured out those flower cups are filled with nectar, so the plants get lots of visitors right now…meat bees haven’t come out yet. Wild radishes have sprays of light flowers like sea foam across the fallow fields. Across the steep hillsides near Molino Creek, trilliums and other native bulbs are starting to flower as the forest produces more and more spring flowers.

Beeplant- a nectar rich native perennial
  • this post from my regular blog at Molino Creek Farm’s website. I am a partner in that collectively owned farm in northern Santa Cruz County, California.