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pumpkin fieldWe’re enjoying some beautiful August days here on the farm. We’ve cut the water off on our winter squash and pumpkin fields. Over the coming weeks we’ll let the plants dry down and the squash fully cure before we cut the stems and pack them in totes for winter storage. It’s always a bit difficult to see what you have got, in terms of yield and quality, until the plants have died back, but at this stage things look pretty good.

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Tractor CatWe’ve been busy this last week trying to get caught up with maintenance on our tractors and trucks. It’s always a challenge at this time of year because the trucks are out on the road most days, and the tractors are out in the field. One of the big advantages in having our own shop, as humble as it is, is that, in addition to saving us a lot of money, it is simply quicker and easier to do routine maintenance ourselves rather than having to shuttle a truck to an outside shop and back. And I can have my feline helper with me.

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berryThe strawberries are coming in very strong now, so we’ll continue Strawberry U-picks through the month of August. The berry patch is right next to the Farmstand this year, so we can spread out the U-picking time window to accommodate more of your schedules. Come anytime between 10:30 AM and 4:00 PM on Saturdays or Sundays. Just check in with Mike at the farmstand first to weigh your containers or get an empty one from us.

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StevetomatoThe tomatoes look great and we are right on the cusp of having lots of them, so expect to see them in the web store soon. This year we planted several new varieties including grape and “San Marzano” type sauce tomatoes and they all are loaded with fruit. This is the third year that we have used the single stem method of training the tomato plants in the greenhouses and every year we have gotten a little better at it.

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weedsLast week I discussed some of the farm practices we use, relating to soil fertility, seed purchases, and pest control. But one of the biggest differences between growing vegetables organically vs. conventionally is how we deal with weeds. Conventional growers often use chemical weed killers before planting their crops (or even after the crops are planted if the crop is resistant to that weed killer—like the genetically modified “Round-Up Ready” crops.) Organic growers control weeds through only non-chemical methods.

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hedgerow1As an organic farm, we’re always looking for natural ways to combat insect pests. In the 15 years or so that we’ve been farming we have rarely resorted to using any of the wide assortment of organically approved pesticides that are available. Rather than spraying a crop with something that will impede or kill a targeted pest, most of our pest control methods are more indirect. We rotate a diverse array of crops in small plantings through the different fields of our farm so that pests don’t get to feast on large blocks of their favorite food over a long period of time in one place.

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fennel etcAs a CSA farm, we get a lot of questions about how we grow our vegetables. In this article I’ll address some of those questions at least in a general way.

We are certified organic by CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers). While in some cases the rules to qualify as certified organic don’t go far enough, they do go a long way towards addressing many of the concerns that consumers have.

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lanicheetahMost of my work for the farm involves communicating with people from behind a computer or phone, so when an opportunity comes up to step out a bit and mingle with people face to face, it’s a real thrill! I had three such events recently.

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pumpkin seedlingJune is one of those months where all the different farm tasks come together and everything has to be done right now. The harvest is in full swing, with vegetables and berries ripening quickly and needing to be picked and sold. The weeds are also growing in leaps and bounds, requiring hoeing and tractor cultivating to keep them from overwhelming the crops. Meanwhile seeding and planting has to happen for the fall crops or we’ll miss the window for those. And everything needs to be kept watered and monitored for pest and disease problems.

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flea beetlesOutside of the early problems we had with red lettuce aphids, we have had very light insect pressure so far this season. The cabbage aphids, which were so bad last year that we had to disc in several plantings before harvest, have only appeared in a few areas and in light numbers. And I have yet to see a single flee beetle this year.

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strawberry upick 61210The summer weather pattern has taken hold here. While those of you who are inland a bit are feeling significant heat, we are enjoying our cool foggy mornings in the 50s with warming into the high 60s or mid 70s mid afternoon. Much of what we grow really loves this weather, we don’t need to water as much, and it’s easier to work outside in the cool weather than hot, so we don’t mind. But be prepared if you come out for the u-pick this Saturday with a sweatshirt and long pants.

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LanibluBerries, Berries, Berries!

We’ve still got plenty of blueberries coming in and are ready to do some strawberry u-picks as well. We’re making the first three Saturdays in June U-Pick days – June 7, 14, and 21 from 10 am to 4 pm.

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pearblightThings have cooled off greatly since the hot spell that we had a couple weeks back, but its effects are still evident around the farm. The two-spotted mites, which are one of the largest pest problems for strawberry growers in this area, reproduce at a much greater rate when temperatures are high. We’ve had to release more of the beneficial, predatory, persimilis mites to combat them than we normally would have.

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greenhouseI 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. Starting most of our crops in the greenhouse instead of planting directly into the field has several advantages. For one, germination is never 100%; it typically ranges from 50% to 90%.

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blueberries in hand croppedWe’re bracing for the hot weather this week. It can be a struggle to make sure water gets to all the crops that need it when it gets this hot. We also try to do as much of the harvesting as possible early in the morning. This is most important for delicate vegetables like lettuce and for the strawberries, which will move quickly from ripe to rotten if they are too warm when they are picked.

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Wetlands Warriors (2)Tonight, Steve and I will be going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to see presentations by local teens on environmental projects they’ve been working on during this school year. The program is called the Student Oceanography Club, and it combines monthly informational meetings, monthly field experiences, and team conservation projects. Our daughter and three of her classmates formed a team this year and have worked hard on a restoration project by the wetlands on the neighboring property. Amelia and her friends have been interested in environmental action for some time, and had already formed their own environmental group they called TREE (Time to Rescue Endangered Earth) with our older daughter.

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Blueberries closeup 020511Our home farm on Harkins Slough was a dairy farm until the mid 1980s. When we arrived here in 2000 there were still quite a few remnants of the old dairy here. A classic old hay barn was in the last stages of collapse, and a 6-stall milking parlor still stood with all the plumbing, railings, and grates attendant to milking 6 cows at a time—sadly, we couldn’t save the hay barn, but we remodeled the milking parlor into a fine and very functional packing shed.

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alyssum with broccoli 3I’ve always liked sweet alyssum flowers. We planted them back in our San Francisco community garden plot before we moved out of the city to start farming, and they made a lovely delicate ground cover that attracted the most beautiful little crab spiders. The spiders are experts at camouflage, and can turn different colors depending on the color of flower they are on. The ones on the white alyssum would be white, but those on yellow flowers would be a bright yellow instead. They were welcome predators in the garden plot.

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Spring Farm Tour 2014It was great to meet several of you at our Spring Farm Tour last Saturday. It’s nice to put faces to our CSA members, and you always seem to have the most interesting, engaged children! We seem to have entered our summer weather pattern with fog in the mornings burning off to some sun later in the day. This type of weather is actually what makes our home farm and the Redman ranch so perfect for growing so many crops – including lettuces, greens, and strawberries–that do not do well with summer heat.

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Fava Beans growingIt looks like things will be dry enough here at our home farm by the end of the week for us to get back in with the tractors and continue to work up more ground to plant into. Before the last series of storms we had mowed and incorporated the cover crop on most of the fields and in the intervening weeks the residue has broken down to the point that we should be able to start planting into it in a week or so. My aim every year is to plant our large blocks of hard squash no later than May 1st, and it looks like we are on track to meet that goal.

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pear blossoms3You are invited to our Spring Farm Tour on Saturday, April 12th, at 10 AM, at our home farm. Come out and see where your food is being grown! We’ll take you around to the blueberry patch, as well as pear and apple orchards and the various row crops growing in the field. Special features on this property include our riparian corridor, native insectary hedgerows, the habitat restoration area, and the four-year UCSC research project on crop rotation that we are participating in.

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One of the happier things to happen here in the last five years is that the neighboring 400 plus acre property was purchased by the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County. The three parcels that make up this property are now in agricultural easements which will protect them from development in perpetuity. The previous owners had drawn up elaborate plans for a 1000 plus unit development, complete with shopping center and golf course.

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pear blossoms3The CSA is starting up again and it certainly feels like spring at the farm. The pear trees are bursting out in blossom, the blueberry bushes are loaded with green berries, and of course the weeds are going gangbusters. The bees are thick around anything in flower, ducks are flying over in pairs, and the swallows are swooping about overhead catching flying insects. It’s hard to argue with these beautiful sunny days, though we’re still hoping for some more winter rain before the end of March.

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lettuce in greenhouseThis week’s imminent rains are very welcome indeed. The timing of the first system, late Wednesday morning, should allow us just enough time to get the harvest done for our Thursday deliveries. Things greened up remarkably quickly after the last rounds of rainfall, the bell beans and peas in the cover crops are in bloom, and all is starting to feel right with the world again.

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Fava Beans growingThank you early subscribers! As we gear up for the year, the people who sign up early for the coming season are the backbone of our CSA. We use the early flush of money to pay for the cost of seed, compost, labor, land rent, and insurance that we incur before we can start to harvest the spring crops. We also use the number of early subscribers to gauge how much to plant and to make important decisions about land use and what improvements we can afford to spend some money on.

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Leeks_growing_in_fieldIn a typical year we start hoping for a break in the winter rains sometime in early January so that the ground will dry out enough to allow us to get in and plant. Although the overall long term water picture for the state looks increasingly ominous, the dry weather has allowed us to keep on top of tasks around here like never before.

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So long 2013 — it was a decent year for us, though it had its difficulties (and we’re still waiting for some rain!) But the winter vegetables that survived the frost are sweeter than ever, and we’re getting some time to relax with the every other week Winter CSA schedule.

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back hill with sloughThe drought continues. The National Weather Service website tacked a startling fact on to the end of their forecast discussion last week. With only two weeks to go and no rain in sight, the city of San Francisco is 3 inches below the record low rainfall year, with records going all the way back to 1849! For the 2013-14 “rainy” season, most areas in our region are currently only at 15-25 percent of normal.

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PelicansI hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving (and Hannukah!) holiday.

We finally got some rain last week—though much more is needed.  Including the dry second half of the last rainy season, this is the longest dry stretch that we’ve experienced since we’ve been here. Here in Watsonville, with the exception of Harkins Slough which our home farm is situated beside, nearly all of the five fingers of the freshwater slough system have dried up.

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lettuce 2013This is the final delivery of our weekly CSA shares for the 2013 season. It is time for us to look back on another year of crop successes and failures—the delicious and bountiful blueberry crop; the fire in the apple orchard; the first tasty little pears; the stressfully late strawberry crop; the beautiful cauliflower, broccoli, beans, and carrots;

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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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