Ingredient:
Springtime Blooms on the Farm

Although the infamous Food Drought occurs during March, there’s still a lot happening in the orchards and fields. Here are some pictures of the various things that are in Spring bloom for you to enjoy. (Originally posted in March 2013)

ApricotsBlooming1

The apricot trees are a riot of blossoms exploding like popcorn right now. Though we need more rain, keep your fingers crossed it holds off long enough for proper pollination and fruit set to happen.

ApricotsBlooming2

We dream of a bumper crop of ‘cots this season since we haven’t had one in years.

ApricotsBlooming3

Apricots are self pollinating, which is why you won’t see many bees buzzing from blossom to blossom. The blossoms smell amazing though, and if we could, we’d add a scratch ‘n sniff to the picture for you.

HedgerowBlooming1

This is one of the many hedgerows planted on the Farm as part of a partnership with Wild Farm Alliance. This hedgerow contains ceanothus (California Lilac) and sage, among other native plants. There is a self-guided tour you can take that highlights more of these projects around the Farm.

PeachBlooming1

This beauty is one of the few peach trees on the Farm. We have few stone fruit trees since our coastal climate is too moderate for them to grow and produce well. They do much better in the inland valleys, like the San Joaquin, which get colder during the winter.

PeachBlooming2

So close you can reach out and touch them.

MustardBlooming1

The yellow of mustard blossoms is a common sight in the cover crops we plant to recharge the soil and control erosion during the winter. Here it is competing with rye.

MustardBlooming2

Mustard also provides cover and food for song birds during the winter. You may only see just the one, but you can be sure there are a dozen more hidden in there. They flutter and pop up like Jack in the Boxes as you walk past the fields.

MustardField1

Mustard, originally planted among apple trees that were removed (you can see some of the remaining ones at the top of the picture), has taken over this sloping field where we grew dry-farmed tomatoes during the last Regular Season. Mmmm … dry-farmed tomatoes. Is it August yet?

PearBlossoms1

These are blossoms of an early blooming variety of pear tree. The trees that produce the Warren (French Butter) Pears that go in the shares have yet to bloom.

PearBlossoms2

While pear blossoms look a lot like plum blossoms, there are differences. Notice the blush of pink at the tips of some of the petals and how dark the pollen is. Now, check out the plum blossoms in the next picture.

PlumsBlooming2

See how there’s no pink on the petals of these plum blossoms? The pollen is also yellow, rather than brown like on the pear blossoms above.

PlumsBlooming1

Plum trees have different growing patterns. Notice how the branches and trunks of these trees swoop around in curves.

PlumsBlooming3

While these plum trees send their branches shooting mostly straight upwards.

PlumsBlooming4

If you look closely, you can spot the places where the branches of this plum tree were pruned just a few weeks ago.

QuinceBlooming1

Quince trees make good root stock for pear trees to be grafted to, and that’s what these trees were originally planted for. Farmer Tom became fond of them, though, and decided to leave them as is. We’re so glad he did, because otherwise we wouldn’t have the quince candy (membrillo) their fruit gets turned into for us by Happy Girl Kitchen. This quince orchard is near Toasty 2, our cob oven that’s used during Community Farm Days to make things like pizza and apple tarts. Did someone just say, “Yum!”?

QuinceBloomBee2

Unlike apricots, quince are not self pollinating, so it’s a good thing the bees love them. Here’s one coming in for a landing now.

QuinceBloomBee1

It’s great how the quince blossom acts like a cup to keep the bee inside as long as possible to ensure good pollination.

QuinceBloomBee3

Notice the “peach fuzz” on the leaf below the blossom. This same fuzz covers the quince fruit itself which is pear shaped, so imagine a fuzzy pear and you’ll have a good idea of what’s to come after this bee does her job.

WesternHoundsTongue1

At the very back of the Farm is a short wild-land trail where native wild flowers like this Western Hound’s Tongue can be found growing under oak trees near groves of redwoods.

OrchardFields1

This picture captures a patch of mustard in front of one of our apricot orchards on a hillside above the lower fields where we are growing veggies that will soon be in your share box.

Community Supported Agriculture, whether receiving a share or going to a Farmers Market, is the best way to ensure a farm like ours thrives and continues to provide a place for natural organic diversity.

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What’s Coming Up in the Fields – May 2016

April and May are the months when many crops are seeded or transplanted in preparation for the upcoming main season.  There are also many crops on the verge of being ready for harvest.  Take a walk with us through the fields to see what’s coming up.

parsely5

Italian Parsely seedlings break up the brown soil with rows of green.

fennel5

Nearby to the parsely are rows of Fennel, their wispy shoots reaching up toward the sky.

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The lettuce crops have been bountiful this spring, and these rows of Green and Red Butter Lettuce are no exception.

basil5

A nice, healthy Basil plant just about ready for harvest.

summersquash5

We have three crops of Summer Squash all at various stages. The one pictured here is ready for harvest, so there’ll soon be squash for the shares.

Summer Squash May 2016

Still small, these are one of the other crops of Summer Squash.

Radishes May 2016

These French Breakfast Radishes are pushing their shoulders up out of the soil, letting us know it’s almost time to harvest them.

Cucumber May 2016

The Cucumbers are sizing up, while more blooms means the harvest will continue for a number of weeks.

potatoes5

Potatoes – little jewels of the earth – are just a couple of weeks away from being large enough to harvest.

Potato Flower May 2016

Though potatoes are a root that grows in the ground, the plants also produce lovely blossoms.

A Broccoli head, peeking out from its nest of leaves, will be ready in about two weeks.

Gold Raspberries May 2016

The first Golden Raspberries of the season, these are just a teaser since the rest of the berries are still very green – about three to four weeks away.

The Red Raspberry vines are loaded this year – all their blossoms have made the bees very happy.

Strawberries May 2016

While the raspberries are still weeks away, the Strawberries have been producing for about a month now. We had some initial difficulty with soft spots from the rains, but the plants are sizing up nicely and will be ready for our first U-pick on June 4th.

Plums May 2016

These young Santa Rosa plums will have turned purple and be ready for harvest by mid-June.

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Tomato seedlings were transplanted before one of the recent rains. We dry-farm them, so their roots are following the water down into the soil, and their delicious fruit will be ready in about 3 months.

pepperseedling5

Pepper seedlings are sown at the same time as tomatoes. The first peppers will also be ready around the end of July or beginning of August.

Apples May 2016

The Apples are ready to be thinned (this cluster will be thinned to just 2 or 3 apples), which helps them reach a decent size. These Fujis won’t be ready until the end of Sept. or beginning of Oct.

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Two days a week, after the harvesting is done, we set up in the barn to pack our CSA Shares full of the goodness the Farm provides.

Thank you for taking this walk with us.  We hope to see you on the Farm this Saturday, May 7th for the Season Kick-off of our Farm Stand, and on Saturday, June 4th for our first Strawberry U-pick of the Season.

2015 Winter Week 9: Crop & Field Notes from Taylor and Laura

Taylor’s Crop & Field Notes:

The farm is particularly alive and green right now, thanks to that lovely warm rain we had a few weekends ago, and though it may still technically be winter the tempo these past few weeks is definitely starting to pick back up with the fields and orchards awakening early from the unseasonably warm weather.

We have large blocks of Romanesco cauliflower, rainbow chard, green garlic, and crunchy carrots coming on strong. I can’t believe it, but the early Chandler strawberries are not far off. The apricot branches are swelling – ready to burst into life in the next couple weeks. The tractors are working hard to prep fresh new beds for spring crops, and we are direct sowing seeds of spinach, radishes and various varieties of mustard greens.

We are all trying to relish these last few weeks of winter around the farm before things launch back into high gear for the start of main season CSA deliveries in April. Weekly restaurant, retail and wholesale deliveries have been on hiatus, and will begin again the first week of March.

During the seasonal CSA delivery break between winter and main seasons, we welcome you to come stock up on plenty of produce at one of the 3 year-round markets we attend: Santa Cruz Downtown on Wednesday afternoons; West Side Santa Cruz Saturday mornings; or Los Gatos on Sunday mornings.

The main CSA season is just around the corner…and it’s shaping up to be a great year ahead.

A rainbow of winter veggies at one of our Farmers Market stands.

Laura’s news from the greenhouse:

The warm weather we’ve been experiencing over the past couple of weeks has really helped speed things along in our greenhouse. Many of the seedlings for our staple crops (chard, kale, lettuce) are already being planted out into the field, and even the first of our spring specialty crops (summer squash and onions) are beginning to poke their heads out of their trays.

We’ve been embarking on a number of improvement projects to our greenhouse area as well, with a thorough cleaning of all our equipment, additional irrigation, as well as building some new structures to help improve the efficiency of work-flow with our vacuum seeder. We’re also trialing some new varieties of seeds, so keep your eyes peeled for things you may not have seen from us before. Good things lie ahead for us this season!

Sowing summer squash seeds.

Freshly seeded trays topped off with vermiculite to help retain moisture and improve germination.

 

 

Field Walk – January 2015

The farm’s winter fields are a patchwork of cover crops and winter veggies.  Take a walk through them with us and see all the changes.  Click on the highlighted text to reach related previous posts.

It seems strange to have to irrigate in January yet there were only a couple of brief rain storms in November and December and none this month, so using groundwater is a must if we’re to have anything to harvest in the coming weeks.

These rows of carrots are where cherry tomatoes were growing just a few months ago. Some of you may remember them from our Tomato U-picks.

This field was full of pepper plants in the summer, while the field beyond was full of dry-farm tomatoes. Now there are rows of cilantro, onions, carrots, and purple top turnips in the near field, with chard in the one beyond.

Though the fields in the first photo were being irrigated with sprinklers, drip irrigation is becoming more necessary to help conserve precious water.

In summer, this field grew a mix of herbs, peppers, and tomatillos. Now it is full of greens, including a variety of pok choi (in the near ground) that made it into some of last week’s shares as a substitute for a couple of other veggies that came up short.

These year-old raspberry canes that were lush and green in summer are getting pruned back.

This was a field of 2-3 year old raspberry canes. They’re gone now, and the rows are full of recently transplanted greens. Some have been covered to protect them from colder night time temperatures.

Berry canes are not the only thing getting pruned this month, so are apple trees like the old Newtown Pippin pictured here.

While some apple trees on the farm grow without guidance others, like the Fujis pictured here, are espaliered – trained to grow along wires that support the weight of the apple crop and make harvesting easier.

Near the trees pictured above are next season’s strawberry fields – the farm plants over 15,000 strawberry starts at the end of the year in preparation for the April-Oct fruiting season.

Cover crops are sown in between the rows of these espaliered Royal Gala apple trees. At the end of the crop’s growth cycle, it will be disc-ed in to provide nutrients during the time the apples are growing.

These fields are a patchwork of recently plowed ones, current season rowcrops, and cover crops.

Green and red cabbage tough out the colder weather, slowing their growth (CSA members may have noticed the decrease in size of some items in their shares) and producing sugars, making them sweeter than cabbage grown in the summer season.

Next to the rows of cabbage are ones of kale. The Lacinato pictured here is being harvested for CSA shares. We leave the plants in the ground, harvesting just the leaves to prolong the life of the crop.

Bolting broccoli plants lend a splash of color and brightness to the muddy brown fields.

A little further along, rows of green garlic for upcoming shares are bordered on the right by a field of cover crop.

This field of cover crop leads up to an orchard of Newtown Pippin apple trees. This variety of apple was grown extensively in the Pajaro Valley for use in Martinelli’s apple cider.

Windfalls in the orchard provide food for over-wintering birds.

More cover crops are nearby, with rows of raspberry canes beyond (where the white buckets are). The small orchard to the left are apple trees that have been grafted.

Red-tailed and -shouldered hawks are a common sight at the farm. On gopher patrol, this one is perched high in a dead pine overlooking the fields.

During winter, mushrooms, like these boletes, are common in the wilder sections of the farm.

Recently cultivated and formed rows are ready for transplants.

Just like the rest of the farm’s fields, the Farm Discovery fields are plowed, ready for new crops to be planted by future farmers.

Field Walk – December 2014

Take a walk with us around the farm to see the changes from the recent three days of rain.

The apple trees still have some leaves, though they are yellowing as the days grow shorter. The green band in the middle of the row is a sprouting cover crop.

Farmer Juan, on the right, making his rounds. He carries a shovel with him to cut drainage ditches where there is standing water.

The near portion of the field in front of the row of corn stalks is filled with a cover crop.

Looking from the other direction back toward the corn stalks, the near rows contain young leeks, garlic, and cilantro.

Tractors using the road create ruts that fill with rainwater. The mud created is deep, sticky, and clings to boots.

This field of chard and kale will soon be plowed then planted with a cover crop to recharge it for the next main season.

Not all the farm’s roads have standing water in them, yet they remain muddy and slippery.

The white row covers protect fragile crops like lettuce from the worst of the rain and from future frosts.

A view from the other side of the fields, with an area of cover crop in the foreground.

 

Trick-or-Treat – Rain is on the Way!

The season’s first rainmaker is predicted to approach the Central Coast this Friday and Saturday. Although no more than 1 inch of rain is expected to fall, it is enough to give us some drought relief. After almost six months of harvesting every single day, we are tired and dream of slowing down a bit during the hopefully rainier months ahead.

Fuji Apples ready for harvest.

With the exception of a few more rows of Fuji apples needing to be picked, our apple harvest is done for the season. Soon all the apples going into our shares (mostly our sweet Fuji’s) will be taken out of cold storage. After this next rain the strawberries and tomatoes will also officially be done, plowed back into the soil with a winter cover crop planted in the fields to rest and recharge the soil. The only fruit still being harvested for awhile longer are the pineapple guavas and, starting in December, our Meyer lemons should fully yellow to be enjoyed in our shares.

Frosty Cauliflower Field

Since crops are turning their energy inward to form seeds or store their energy in roots or trunks, winter is a good time to sow slower growing root crops that store in the ground over several months. The winter shares are a wonderful opportunity to enjoy both the nutrient dense earthy flavors of many of the root crops we grow (parsnips, celeriac, carrots, beets, and turnips), as well as the unique crisp textures and sweet flavors brassicas develop when temperatures drop into the thirties during the frostier winter nights ahead.

When the rain finally starts falling I will walk the farm to breathe a sigh of relief, surrendering to the inevitability of the more sinister decay of the farm’s crop lifecycle. The rotting windfall apples and tomatoes on the ground, I recognize, are the secret of fertility and the regenerative power of our earthly existence. I wish you all a spooky and safe Halloween!!

Planting and Planning for 2015

Tractor4-30-14With only 5 weeks left, our 2014 CSA Season is quickly drawing to a close, and with impending rains (we hope soon) the Farm is in transition mode.

Tuesday, in anticipation of Wednesday night’s rain, the farm was abuzz with activity. By 7 o’clock in the morning our “Mudder” (high clearance tractor) was out in the field, Juan and Clemente sowing a large block of carrots, cilantro and spring onions. With shorter days and colder weather ahead of us, these seeds will take twice as long to develop into a harvestable crop – I expect January or February of 2015.

Bareroot strawberry starts waiting to be planted.

As soon as the tractor was freed up from doing the field sowing, Clemente and his team hitched up the transplanter and headed out to plant an acre of mixed brassicas (kale, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower). By mid afternoon, most of the crew was busy packing CSA shares in the barn, however when the wind picked up and rain clouds started moving in a group of us headed out with the tractors to get the butternut squash, curing in the field, loaded into bins and hauled off into storage. We had just enough time to get it all done before dark–always a good feeling to know the Winter Squash is dry and safe for the winter.

Planting strawberry starts is a delicate task.

The last couple of weeks a lot of energy and attention has gone into preparing the strawberry beds where next seasons crop will be planted. Not a moment too soon since the nursery called to pick up the first 15,000 strawberry starts. The Chandlers are always the first ones and need to be planted right away. It is our earliest variety and we can, under favorable weather conditions, start picking ripe berries as early as March. In addition to strawberries, other popular spring crops we need to plant now are green garlic, fava beans, Brussels sprouts and onions. To ensure a steady harvest during the winter we’ve also been sowing and transplanting hardy wintercrops such as parsnips, rutabagas, cabbage, turnips, broccoli, and leeks. Less winter hardy crops such as all the salad greens will be grown under protective row covers and hoop structures.

Protective row covers keep less hardy crops from getting frost-bit.

End of Summer

Not much time to sit down, reflect and write – all our energy is focused on keeping up with the pace and intensity of the farm. It is as if Mother Nature is aware that these are the final weeks of summer.  Galas are hanging ripe for the picking.  The first block of winter squash (Delicata and Sweet Dumplings) is ready to be harvested. Everything is ripening and there are barely enough hours in the day to keep up with the raspberries, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and summer squash in addition to the usual staple crops of beets, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, leeks, and strawberries – to name a few. Now is the time we most feel the support of the team at play, and the smiles on our faces at the end of a 12-13 hour day are a mutual acknowledgement of this joint effort.

v-amaryllisbelladonnaThe “Naked Ladies” with their striking pink flowers (Amaryllis belladonna) are in full bloom, which is an early sign that summer is almost over. Knowing that shorter days are just around the corner, we are already preparing the fields and planting our fall and winter crops.

With summer vacations technically over after Labor Day, we invite you to extend that summer feeling a bit longer by joining us for another round of U-pick Community Farm Days the next two Saturdays – August 30th and September 6th.

Bring the kids to explore the farm; we have plenty of activities planned to go along with your harvest adventures – tractor rides, apple cider pressing, and farm walking tours. Now is the best time to pick and preserve the summer bounty to be enjoyed later during fall and winter.

Here on the farm we measure the end of summer when strawberry beds are prepared for planting and we stop picking tomatoes – with the typical extension of our coastal summer weather, the tomato harvest could last into mid-October. Hope to see you here on the farm to join the harvest effort.

TomatoUPickMontage

Ever Changing Fields

While some crops, like raspberry and blackberry canes, remain in the same place for a couple of years, as the season progresses most crops are rotated through the fields.  Take a walk with us to see the changes.

lower fields 8.2014

In January 2013 this portion of field was flooded, and now there are rows of raspberries and a corner of our community strawberry field.

lower fields 8.2014-2

A little over two weeks ago, this field was being plowed. Now it’s full of transplants, crops that will be ready for harvest within the next month or so.

chard and purslane 8.2014

The chard has a competitor – purslane. Though edible, purslane is considered a weed and can quickly take over a field if left unchecked.

blackberries 8.2014

These blackberries also went through the December frost – so thick in between the rows it looked snow.

winter squash field 8.2014

Two weeks ago this field was just freshly formed rows. Now it’s full of winter squash. The white leaves are the original ones from the transplants, dusted with clay to hinder pests like flea beetles.

raspberries 8.2014

This field of first year raspberry canes was last summer’s community tomato field. And before that, in March 2013 it was full of cover crop.

Be sure to mark your calendar and join us on Saturday, August 16th for a Community Farm Day and Dry-farmed Tomato U-pick.  Come take your own field walk, and enjoy the Farm!

 

 

Dry-Farming – Better Flavor while Conserving Water

The waiting is over, our dry-farmed tomatoes will be in everyone’s share this week, about 2 weeks earlier than last year. If only we could dry-farm more of our crops we might not be so worried about water shortages during this current drought cycle.

Before the rise of dams and aquifer pumping, much of the American West practiced dry-farming. Today only a handful of perennial crops such as Olives, Grapes, and Apples are still dry-farmed on a limited scale. Along some favorable coastal microclimates farms like ours dry-farm tomatoes, potatoes, and sometimes winter squash. What’s special about dry farming is the ability to grow a crop by only utilizing the residual moisture in the soil accumulated during the rainy season.

This year the first field of Early Girl tomatoes was planted just before the last rains of the season fell back in March. Since then, 4 months now, no additional water has been applied to the crop. Key to dry farming successfully is to prevent soil moisture evaporation. This is done by tilling the surface of the soil, creating a layer of dry mulch that effectively traps moisture in the clay-rich subsoil.

tomato field Aug 2014

The “Early Girl” is the tomato variety of choice for dry farming. It has a vigorous rootsystem that can tap deep into the subsoil.Dry-farming tomatoes is a technique perfected a couple of decades ago by Molino Creek, a farming cooperative situated in the coastal hills above Davenport in northern Santa Cruz County. We are fortunate to enjoy a similar microclimate here in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains in the southern part of the county. Under optimum conditions the plants, although stressed from a lack of water, will stay healthy enough to yield tomatoes bursting with flavor.

Although Early Girl’s were bred in France, tomatoes find their origin in the jungles of Central and South America. The Mayans called it “xtomatl” hence the name tomato. When the Spanish brought the first tomato to Europe the Church condemned eating tomatoes as a scandalous and sinful indulgence. The French on the other hand admired its sensuous appearance and were enticed by it, believing that the red fruit had aphrodisiac powers, and so called it “pomme d’amour” or love apple. Today, we probably couldn’t imagine anything more scandalous than not having tomatoes as part of our diet.

tomato board