California has had a bunch of rain this month. And it’s taken a toll on our fields, especially the artichokes. Wet soil and wind combined to flatten many of the tall, in-full-production, gorgeous plants. I guess the weeds, mud compaction and cold hands are a small price to pay for the groundwater recharge. Onward!
Tag Archives: Tools
Rain is in the forecast, a novel situation for us in “Droughtville” (California). We’ve had a couple practice storms roll through, dropping an inch, more or less, just to tease us. But this week, we’ve heard up to 7 inches could fall. The whole community is excited, hoping this will open the storm door and eventually lead us out of the dry conditions we’ve experienced for several years now. The reservoirs are low and steps are being taken to monitor ground water supplies. We have two good wells on the property we use to irrigate year-round. And so far, that’s been enough. Paul has also switched most crops to drip lines for most of their life cycle, rather than overhead, sprinkler-type watering. We trade off using less water for more plastic and more labor.
The farm prepares for winter rains every year, whether they come or not. As the day length shortens and the nights cool, fields are cleared of finished tomatoes and eggplant, tilled until smooth and flat, composted and finally cover crop seed has been planted wherever we want to give the beds a carbon boost. Ditches are checked and regraded where necessary.
Hoops are set up over beds in case the rain becomes too much for small plants. Plastic covers can be pulled over the top of the hoops, if need be. We’re ready and waiting to have time in the shop, to clean and sharpen tools, to change the oil for the many machines, and to get to the projects that await, like the recently purchased cultivating tractor that needs a new front axle and for the whole under-belly apparatus to be rebuilt and mounted.
So we wait to see how much will fall.
It was premature to think that summer had begun. It’s sprinkling now. The greens are greener when seen under a grey sky. Many summer crops have been in the ground for weeks, and are struggling to stay ahead of the insect pressure. Cucumber beetles are very active and making a mess of the first bean crops, beet greens, cucumbers (natch). Once the heat comes, the plants will outgrow the damage. We believe in history and the power of positive thought.
Here’s a virtual “Walk-Around” of the farm today.
Some days, weeks, months, are so positive, that all I do is smile.
We (Kristen, Alexandra, Paul and I [and Lauren]) set up our third Roadside Farm Stand this morning and each week we see more faces and move more product. Everyone seems happy and grateful, impressed and willing to share stories from their gardens and kitchens. We are thriving. Thank you, one and all.
We have finished moving and the household and office are functional, if still a little clumsy. After the market, I look out my window, ready to put my feet up and what do I see?
Naturally, I had to run out into the wind and take a shot while he ran through those carrots. I’ll have to ask him about those “spiders” sticking up around the tractor seat. Must be for adjusting the cultivator, depending on field conditions. They look cool.
Some days, I can’t believe how lucky I feel. Please excuse my long absence. Getting back on track now.
I know that the solstice is weeks away but here in Sonoma, it feels like summer has started. Schools are letting out. It’s been 90 degrees days in a row. Vegetable gardens are everywhere and everyone is busy. Outdoor weekend parties are being given and planned.
The farm has some big plans too. We are going to open a farm stand on Saturday mornings, toward the end of this month. The site is quite visible from Arnold Drive as one drives by. Watch for changes in the next few weeks. We’ll keep you posted…
Today the farm was busy with field preparation. It feels like spring. But there was added urgency because much needed rain is predicted. Not just trace amounts, but possibly days of the wet stuff which will hopefully be able to bring us closer to some kind of rainfall normal. We’ll see.
One field is being readied for some long overdue cover cropping. This field has been in constant production for many years, but in the interest of restoration and more fall production, it’s getting tilled, composted and planted with a “green manure” crop which will grow through the spring to build a better soil. In June or July the crop will be incorporated into the soil to augment the fertility and enhance soil structure. The vegetable crop that follows should get a boost from this process.
Another field is being readied for peppers, eggplant and tomatoes, about a month away from target first planting.
Our salad production is in full swing. Rows of colorful lettuces are in stages, some ready to be picked, some already grown past their prime. And some rows are just emerging, barely there yet full of promise. The head lettuces are grown in the greenhouse then transplanted and covered to keep them warm. The covers have been a huge help this year, allowing better growth for many crops, including the kales and chard. The plastic is a bit tricky to attach to the hoops that cover the bed and when it is windy, checking the covers is the first chore of the morning. But even with that issue, the covers are a plus for us.
We are almost out of carrots, but this week was our first harvest of baby Tokyo Turnips and Green Garlic. You can see the beautiful turnip greens are plentiful and vibrant. The next carrot crop is just to the left. The rainbow chard is just out from under covers and shining. Spring is springing.
Sure feels like spring…warm, dry and windy. Our beekeeper is concerned about the lack of nectar to feed the bees. It’s been so dry. And the worry is that it will rain throughout the month of March.
Ideally, before we do get rain, all the ground that can be planted should be bedded up and composted. Paul is spending a lot of time on the tractor with his compost spreader right now. This first picture, you can see him off in the distance. Through the power of ZOOM, he comes a bit closer. The spreader he made last winter is working like a charm and getting a lot of use. Looks like it’s gotten a nice rusty patina over the year.
It’s the green glow, post-rain flush. Nothing like what happens after rain in the garden. Just look outside. Take a walk. Look at the ground. Weeds and grasses are springing to life with all the vigor they can muster. Somehow the weeds know the difference between rain and irrigation. Maybe it’s the change of weather that prompts all of this activity. In fact, if you look closely, the weeds are entirely different than just a month ago. So it’s time to cultivate EVERYWHERE at once.
The cultivating tools have been out in force, wheel hoes, stirrup hoes, and the cultivating tractor. It has to be done now, before they gain on the crops too much. Every once-in-a-while, we’ll lose a crop to weed pressure. And conditions like last week are a perfect storm for that possibility. If the ground stays wet too long the weeds will get to a size that it’s not economically practical to do anything except start over.
Walking around the fields this morning, I was struck by how much had been cleaned up. I’m amazed how fast the crew jumps on these issues. As soon as they are finished picking or packing, Silvano, Servando, Austin and Orlando have hoes over their shoulders and are headed to another bed.
There are also many empty beds, with the spaghetti of drip tape gathered into furrows, to be moved later. The obvious weed growth on these open stretches isn’t important at all. And in some open fields, the grasses are coming up in distinct rows, sure sign of the tractor mounted cover crop seeder. This crop of bell beans, winter peas, vetch, barley and oats will be tilled in sometime in the spring. There is nothing like cover crop to build the soil fertility and structure.
This was the first crop of cherry tomatoes planted outside in April. The trellis has come down, so did all the plants. They’ll lay here until the stakes are pulled and then the plants will be chopped and incorporated into beds for either cover crop or or early 2012 plantings.
Little problems always come up in the course of working with machinery that can stop everything. Paul was transporting a load of compost to the new front field when the wheel on the spreader broke. Luckily he was on the road and able to jack it up and re-weld the break.
That was fast. We got possibly an inch of rain last Wednesday, the first rain of the year since May(?) and that made quick work of the summer season. We are expecting warm weather again this week, but there is no doubt that the first rain begins a new kind of work on a small diversified produce farm in California, such as ours.
The summer fruits are quickly sucking up the water from the damp soil, leading to splits and cracks in the skins and then to rot. The flavor dilutes. The leaves are clean and yet brittle. The first planting of tomatoes has been abandon and the trellising has come down. The stakes will be pulled as soon as there is time.
Most of the crew has Saturday off which is the first time several months.
So much is changing so fast.
Nothing lights a fire under a farmer faster than the prediction of the season’s first rain, especially if the timing is early or the outlook is for significant precipitation. Ideally, a farm’s fields are fully clean of plants and weeds, bedded up, composted and cover cropped if necessary, before the first rain event of the season. And rain is predicted for the next three days, not a lot, but certainly it will change things.
In our case, many of the fields are still producing a straggling amount of food. In some cases a newer planting is kicking into high gear; tomatoes for instance. In other cases, the crop is finished for the season, like the first plantings of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. The fields with finishing crops are the target of attention before the rain. For example, this field of peppers was essentially finished with another crop in full production so Saturday it was mowed, tilled, composted and bedded up.
Another important winter prep detail involves making room for storage crops, onions and winter squashes, in our case. Storage crops are the staple for small diversified growers who rely on having something to sell while they are unable to get into their fields because of weather.