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October is Bat Appreciation Month, and with the celebration of Halloween this week I thought I’d take a moment to share with you some of the awesome things I learned about bats while earning my degree at UCSC.

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When it comes to pests and diseases the adage “just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new comes along” couldn’t be more true. Two seasons ago a small patch in the middle of a broccoli planting started to look wilted and stressed even though we had just irrigated a few days before.

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I always enjoy walking through the greenhouse during the busy season. There’s something about seeing all the colorful baby plants that makes me feel hopeful about the future! We now have two greenhouses where we plant the seeds that we’ll later transplant out into the field.

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Things feel much more in control this fall than last. The preparations for our 2018 strawberry field went as smoothly as I could have wished. I altered the implement we use to bury drip tape on top of our beds so we could lay the plastic mulch in a single pass, and it worked beautifully.

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When I give farm tours people often seem surprised when I say that organic farmers are at more of a disadvantage, compared to their conventional counterparts, in the area of weed control versus pest and disease pressure.

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The turkeys are back. Through winter, spring and most of summer we were down to one forlorn tom we called “Lonely Pete”. It was hard not to feel sorry for him as he stood on our back hill calling out to his lost companions and receiving no response. That is until a few weeks ago. As I passed by our blueberry patch I noticed a commotion out in the middle of the field and heard the clipped, chirping calls that turkeys make when they are scared.

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For the past 20 years, we have been both farming and raising children. I’ve come to the conclusion that these two endeavors have a lot in common. Here are some of my basic tenets of farm-rearing.

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This week we will be fully launching into the final preparations for next year’s strawberry crop. The two acre field that we will be planting into at the end of November has been fallow for the last month after we harvested one spring crop of broccoli and other mixed vegetables from it.

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The giant high pressure zone that caused the intense heatwave at the end of last week has slid off to the East allowing the normal on-shore flow of cool air to resume here. There was hardly a breath of wind last Friday and Saturday and record highs were set for both days—well over 100 degrees. Here at our home site, we came through it better than I had hoped.

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I belong to a network of growers from throughout the state and beyond who can post questions, via email, for the group as a whole. Last week the topic of automation on small farms came up and it produced an interesting exchange. Because the minimum wage will be rising to 15 dollars per hour over the next five years and overtime will now kick in after 40 hours a week, instead of 60, automation is a hot topic among the farm community.

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You’re not going to eat them, so why bother to buy organic when it comes to flowers? Three good reasons are worker safety, your safety, and environmental health.

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One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that this profession really rewards those who are able to think and plan well in advance. Strawberries are a good example of this. To help control soilborne diseases, we grow our strawberries on a five year rotation, meaning that they won’t be planted in the same place again for five seasons.  In addition, because it also helps to control soilborne diseases, we like to plant broccoli in all or most of the strawberry plot in the season prior to planting. This requires us to know where the strawberries are going to be planted nearly a year in advance.

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If you google High Ground Organics on your phone, your entire phone screen will fill with links to a website full of colorful pictures of vegetables and fruits, feel-good farm fresh organic language, and prominent sign up buttons. The problem? You’ll be signing up for Farm Fresh to You, a massive CSA-like creature that is gobbling its way to tens of thousands of customers’ doors per week.

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We are officially in our normal summer fog pattern here at High Ground. Early mornings have been dark and drizzly with the fog typically burning off between 9 and 11 in the morning. Not that I’m complaining. As someone who makes their living working mainly outdoors, when I hear about the triple-digit temperatures being forecast for the inland valleys, I’m thankful to be living where I am. Even after the sun appears, due to the strong onshore flow off the nearby ocean, things stay nice and comfortable here.

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One of the truest things my Uncle Jerry ever said was shortly after we bought our home farm back in May of 2000. “The one thing about living on a farm is that you are always surrounded by your work.” So when the notice for a fairly promising auction to be held in the west side San Joaquin Valley came in the mail one day late in the summer 2010, I was ready for an excuse to get off the farm–if even for just one day.

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This morning there are Stanford researchers wandering around the farm with bug nets. They have been out several times this summer collecting data for a pollinator and pest study, to find out more about species interactions in agricultural landscapes. I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

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For the past fifteen years or so, we (and CSA members) have been donating vegetables and fruit each week to a local food pantry called Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes. For years, Loaves and Fishes volunteer Bob Montague was the face of the food pantry program for us.

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At our Lewis Road property we have a very small pond that retains water throughout the entire year.

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As farmers we have to notice the little things—especially little things with voracious appetites like aphids, rust flies, and mites.

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We’ve had a lot of people ask us if we plan to have a blueberry U-pick this year and, sadly, the answer is no. Similar to many deciduous fruit trees, blueberries can enter into an alternate bearing cycle where they fruit heavily one year and very lightly the next.

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One of the consequences of a prolonged, wet winter is that our cover crops can get out of hand. Because the soils are too wet to drive the tractor on, we simply have to wait while the cover crops get taller and taller before things are dry enough for us to mow them down.

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Back when we first moved onto our home ranch here on Harkins Slough, we quickly realized that our 40 horse power Ford tractor, the one that had seemed so big when we first bought it, was no match for the amount of acreage and the heavy clay soils we would now be farming on.

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I’ve always been very fond of swallows. They are hard-working, industrious birds who are a joy to watch fly. When we first moved onto our farm here on Harkins Slough, almost all of the outbuildings, long in disuse, had innumerable mud nests about their eaves. 

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Those of you who have been faithful newsletter readers for a while know that we have been involved with the effort to transition the organic strawberry industry into using organically grown starter plants for some time now.

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Things are hopping on the farm now. We’re doing a lot of planting every week, and getting into the swing of harvesting more each week.

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lettuce transplantsWe are saying goodbye to Molly this week, which is a sad thing for us because she has done just an amazing job as our CSA administrator.

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fennel etcThe USDA has proposed imposing an Organic Check-off Program in which all organic producers would pay a percentage of their income to a federal program that would fund research and marketing for the industry as a whole. Think “Got Milk” or “The Incredible Edible Egg.”

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strawberry plants April 2017This “winter” just doesn’t want to go away—another storm is forecast for tomorrow. We are up to nearly 40 inches of rain this season, which is nearly double what we get in a normal year. This is how I imagine it is to farm on the East Coast, where they get rain throughout the spring and summer.  

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rainy harvest 4This first day of spring is being ushered in with yet more rain, making for a wet harvest day. Steve was on the tractor dawn to dusk through the weekend getting ground worked up and compost spread in advance of the storm. He wasn’t the only one. Some nearby farms have had tractors working through the night.

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Allis Chalmers G 2The National Weather Service reminds us that winter is not over—they are calling for a pattern change and chance of showers after the upcoming weekend.  But it has sure felt like Spring the last few days. We are in full production mode.

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SIGN UP FOR CSA PROGRAM

When you join our CSA, you sign up with the farm to receive a share of the harvest during our 36 week season from mid-March to mid-November. In return, you get a weekly box of organic vegetables and fruit (and optional flowers) delivered straight from our farm to a pick-up site in your neighborhood.

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View our CSA Members Page

This is where you can go to find out what's coming in your box each week, find recipes, identify your vegetables with pictures, and view or print the current and past newsletters. Check here for the information you need to use your box to the fullest.

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