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turkeysupclose2When the gang of wild turkeys arrived on the farm last year they didn’t cause much trouble. They hung around the pumpkin patch and scratched around in the grassy edges. However, they have now become a major farm pest for us.

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cinderella-pumpkinsIt’s starting to feel like fall around here—warm and sunny. At times the sun is filtered through smoke from the Sobrantes fire, casting things in an orange glow. As with past Big Sur fires, because of the rough terrain, it will probably burn until the rains start later in fall, and our air quality will suffer as a result.

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elkhorn sloughAs I start planning out the cover cropping scheme for our farms this fall, I am thinking back to the workshop I attended last summer at Moss Landing Marine Labs concerning water quality issues in Elkhorn Slough.

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strawberry field Feb 2It’s the time of year when strawberry growers throughout the valley start preparing their fields for next year’s strawberry crop and we are no exception. Conventional growers start to plant in early October—those who grow organically usually keep their plants in the cooler to give them more vigor and therefore don’t normally start planting until the later part of November. That may seem like a long way off, but a lot goes into getting the field ready.

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sarahtruckthumbnailFor the past five years Sarah Brewer has been our CSA administrator (a job she meant to take over only “temporarily” when her mother Chrissi moved out of the area). Sarah has done this job so well that I don’t ever have to worry about the running of this end of the farming venture. I know that our CSA members will get a prompt, accurate, and helpful response to any question or need they have, and that the detailed paperwork she gives to Steve and the drivers for CSA packing mornings will always be absolutely accurate and complete. She understands the quirks of our Farmigo on-line software well and knows all the ways to work with and around them. She has helped keep us organized and made sure that the delivery routes run as smoothly as possible. She communicated with the hosts about any issues that come up, and was always willing to jump in to help if things got crazy on the farm. And she has put her heart into researching and writing the Veggie Notes for the newsletters, interjecting her own wonderful sense of humor and writing style. Now she is phasing herself out of the administrative duties to pursue a career in cultural resources management. Go Sarah! We’ll miss Sarah greatly, but this is clearly a good move for her at this time in her life and we wish her the best in her new career.

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broccoli fieldWithout a doubt it has been one of the coolest summers I can remember in some time. Nearly every morning has been damp and drizzly, and if the sun comes out at all it is only for a few hours in the afternoon. For some crops these conditions can be problematic—downy mildew has set in to some of our lettuce, cucumbers and basil crops. Other heat loving plants like tomatoes, peppers and squash just slow way down. There are, however, crops that love it cool and damp and of these, the broccoli and cauliflower in your boxes this week are fine examples. If conditions are too warm when broccoli is maturing, it tends to “button up” prematurely and form heads that are small and uneven. In cool weather like we have now they form larger, denser, dome-shaped heads with creamy, light green stalks. Cauliflower plants tend to remain closed with their inner leaves wrapped tightly around the developing heads keeping them white and dense rather than discolored and “ricey” when it is hot. Both crops develop more slowly under cool conditions which gives us a larger window to harvest them in.

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scrub jay in orchardFor today’s essay, here are some recent pictures from the farm. At lefGoat - redbeardt, a scrub jay in the orchard on a misty morning.

At right, our goats enjoying some beets leftover from Sunday’s Mountain View Farmers Market. This goat’s new name is Redbeard!

 

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blackbirds in treeOne of the advantages of being a CSA farm is the flexibility that we have in putting together the boxes each week. When a farm is geared towards wholesale markets, it needs to meet the expectations of providing a consistent product throughout the growing season. For instance if you want to be the carrot supplier for a wholesale outlet, you want to be able to harvest a consistent quantity and size of carrots every week throughout the season. This sort of marketing favors large farms, and in fact, there are two huge producers that grow the majority of carrots consumed in the US (Grimway and Bolthouse Farms). As a diverse small farm, we can take some risks in trying new varieties, and we have the flexibility to constantly change what we are growing on any given part of the farm to try to stay ahead of pest and disease problems.

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packing shedIn the Ag History Museum at the County Fairgrounds here in Watsonville there is a picture of our home ranch back in its heyday as a grade-A milk dairy, probably from sometime in the 1940’s. The picture was taken at some distance, and visible in it are the house we currently live in, the old milk cooler that we now use for an employee break room, and the loose-hay barn that had mostly fallen down by the time we moved in. An occasional visitor from the Midwest will recognize our packing shed for what it truly is, or was, a six-stall herringbone milking parlor. When we bought the property in 2000, it hadn’t functioned as a dairy for nearly 15 years and by all indications had been in decline for sometime before that.

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owl box 2016On the evening of July 4th, I walked out to the conservation easement to check on the goats and horses we have grazing there to make sure they weren’t too freaked out by the fireworks. As I approached the oak trees I was suddenly aware of a multitude of barn owls. They were making their hissing shrieks and flying back and forth over my head. I counted at least six owls. I figured they were mostly young ones newly fledged. It was clear that I wasn’t wanted there, so I backed off and took a different route.

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by Amber Sciligo, Guest Contributor

blueberry u-pick Amber2

A colleague whose parents are CSA members told me about the blueberry u-pick event at High Ground Organics. I was very excited to attend because: 1) I adore blueberry picking: My husband Jeremy and I used to regularly pick blueberries during the short season in Christchurch, New Zealand, where we lived for many years. And 2) As a postdoc at UC Berkeley, I’ve been working with Steve and Jeanne since 2011, conducting strawberry pollination research on their farm at the old Redman house and more recently, at their home ranch. I was excited to support them and their operation, especially if it meant I’d get to eat blueberries.

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strawberry u-pick 2 2016The u-picks have really been a nice opportunity to connect with a lot of you in person. Thank you for coming out! The next strawberry u-pick will be Saturday, July 23rd. The strawberries continue to come in strong and delicious, but blueberries are pretty much done after this week. If you haven’t yet made it out for a u-pick, this might be the time to plan that summer jam-making party.

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romanesco croppedI can always tell who the engineers are at the Mountain View–Nerd Central–Farmers Market by how excited they get when they realize that the spiral pattern at the heart of a head of the Romanesco sitting on my table is a fractal. I could probably sell more if I re-named it “fractalflower” but I guess I am too much of a traditionalist for that. The same pattern can often be seen, more subtly, on cauliflower as well. (I am a self-proclaimed farm nerd, so the above is in no way meant to be an insult.)

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woodchipped field closerFor me, one of the most gratifying parts of life on the farm is watching the land change over the years in positive ways. When we first arrived here at our home site along Harkins Slough sixteen years ago, the upper portion of the property was almost completely devoid of vegetation around the farm fields. In the first few years we planted hedgerows around most of the periphery of the farm, as well as riparian buffer strips and landscaping around the house and outbuildings. As the trees and shrubs that we planted over the years have matured, the number of birds that visit the farm has increased dramatically. There is something very special about seeing a black-shouldered kite perch on a tree that you planted. But some of the less obvious changes on the farm are arguably even more significant—such as the improvement in soil quality.

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Allis Chalmers G cultivatingWhen 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. Conventional growers commonly use pre-emergence herbicides at planting time that prevent weeds from germinating in the strip of soil where their crop seeds are sown. Selective, post-emergence herbicides, which kill most of the surrounding weeds but leave the crops unscathed, are also used for many crops. Conventional strawberry growers in our area fumigate at planting time with materials that kill most of the weed seeds in the soil.

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pumpkin greenThis week we finished planting all the winter squashes and pumpkins. We’re doing more delicatas this year since we ran out too early last year. All told there are 12 varieties of squash and pumpkins planted–delicata, carnival, spaghetti, Blue Ballet hubbard, orange and green kabocha, butternut, Marina di Chioggia, and blue kuri squashes. The pumpkin patch has winter luxury pie pumpkins, rouge vif d’etampes (Cinderellas), and Jack O’Lantern pumpkins.

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By CalCAN

There are many environmental and health advantages of farming organically the way we do – fewer toxic chemicals released into the environment or consumed, safer conditions for farm workers not exposed to pesticides, safer food sources for pollinators, more attention to maintaining the diversity of both food crops and native flora and fauna, and a long list of other benefits. One area that is sometimes overlooked is the connection between farming and climate change.

We are happy to be connected with the California Climate and Agriculture Network. (We hosted a farm visit with CalCAN for state legislators including Mark Stone and Bill Monning in 2014.) CalCAN is involved in efforts to promote agricultural practices that will help to reduce climate change. Below is a brief discussion of the issues they have identified.  —  Jeanne

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fennelI can remember back to a time that I just didn’t get the appeal of fennel. This course, stringy, strongly scented vegetable didn’t seem worth the trouble to cook. But now I can honestly say that it is among my very favorite vegetables. I fully realize that there are many of our CSA members who still don’t “get” fennel, and if you are among these, you simply must try Jeanne’s recipe for roast fennel and onions. The key is to cook it long enough and to use enough olive oil so the fennel doesn’t dry out. When the fennel and onions become soft on the inside, and carmelized on the outside, the combination is sublime. This simple dish was one of my step-father’s favorites when he came to visit us on the farm, and is one of mine as well.

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blueberry u-pickersWow! We had the highest turnout ever for a u-pick in our Blueberry patch on Saturday. Fortunately the berry bushes were loaded with fruit and there was plenty for everyone to pick. It was great to see a lot of old and new faces of CSA members and others from our community out in the berry patch! We’re planning another u-pick for Saturday, June 4th.

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3carrotsAt this busy time of year I really appreciate the members of our dedicated, hardworking, and seasoned crew. As the years go by I find my role on the farm changing as I pass along many of the responsibilities that used to be mine. It’s taken time for me to realize that, when properly trained, certain employees are capable of doing things just as well, and in some cases better, than I could. This shift was partially necessitated by the fact that I simply don’t have the strength and stamina I once had, but also by a realization that our crew finds the work much more engaging and rewarding when they are given added responsibility.

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Allis Chalmers G cultivatingI was listening to the radio recently and heard a brief he-said-she-said “debate” between a supporter of conventional agriculture and a supporter of organic agriculture. The conventional agriculture supporter’s main argument was that organic growers use pesticides too, just organic ones. The organic supporter (not a farmer) wasn’t able to address this point but talked about wanting to eat vegetables without pesticides on them. Her support for organic ended up sounding a bit simplistic, while the conventional supporter made it sound like organic and conventional agriculture are practically the same thing. It was not an enlightened or enlightening debate.

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transplantsIt’s a busy time on the farm. Last week we finished planting out a round of tomatoes and basil in the high tunnels as well as new successions of lettuces, radishes, cilantro, beets, green onions and mustard greens outside. This week we planted a large block of broccoli and are preparing the fields where we will plant our winter squash and pumpkins into—yes it is that time of year again. We may think of them as fall/winter crops but they do most of their growing through the summer months.

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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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Sweet Anne March 1When we first started farming we rented an old craftsman house in downtown Watsonville and I made the daily five mile commute to the field we were leasing on the outskirts of La Selva Beach. My route passed right by a large conventional field being managed by a company that was bought out by Dole Foods. Passing by two or more times a day, I learned a lot about their practices. Specifically, I learned that they sprayed—a lot. One of the basic tenets of IPM (Integrated Pest Management) is to scout your field assiduously and apply pesticides only when and where they are really needed.

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brassica field with alyssumAs always at this time of year, rainfall brings with it the good and the bad. The good far outweighs the bad in many ways, the most obvious being that we are still in a time of drought and the less irrigating we have to do the better. It helps in other ways as well. Most of the fields that were in over-wintering cover crops have been mowed down and tilled and are, in a way, like large, shallow compost piles. The addition of moisture can greatly speed up residue breakdown. This is especially helpful at our Lewis Road site with its sandy soils which dry out quickly. Moist soils also produce less dust making for healthier conditions when we resume working up beds next week.

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eagle closeupOne of the perks of farming where we do is that we live in a birder’s paradise. Our home farm is on a hill perched above Harkins Slough, a freshwater wetland that is host to copious waterfowl. We regularly see great blue herons, egrets, terns, ducks, geese, coots, grebes, white pelicans, marsh wrens, kingfishers, and night herons. Add to these the hawks, kites, owls, falcons, grackles, swallows, phoebes, meadowlarks, hummingbirds, and songbirds that populate the uplands, and we could spend all our days just watching birds.

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My main task as president of the Central Coast Chapter of California Certified Organic Farmers (a position that sounds way more important than it actually is), is to help organize two meetings each year. Last night was our “Spring” meeting at the Grange hall in nearby Aromas, and it went really well. Part of the function of the local chapters is to connect with other growers and educate ourselves about problems and issues affecting us here in our region.

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alyssum greenhouseWe recently received a question about what “organic pesticides” we apply to our crops. Certain microbial, botanical, or mineral substances are approved for pest control in organic agriculture and we occasionally use one to address a specific situation on the farm. However, we rarely use even these organic pest control products. We manage our farmland with the intent to create a balanced system with natural pest and disease control provided by natural predators, crop rotation, and the ability of healthy plants to withstand some pest pressure.

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steve tractorThis week we shift from our winter schedule to start weekly deliveries again. We’ve been planting like crazy in the dry times and enjoying the last down times of the season when the rain keeps us out of the fields. Thank you for letting us grow your vegetables again this year!

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steveontractorThis week we make the final winter CSA deliveries on the biweekly schedule. The regular season will start again on March 16 and 17 with weekly deliveries through November 16 and 17. The weather forecasters tell us that El Nino still has some rain in store for us, so we’re using this dry window to get some more ground worked up for spring planting.

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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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