News & Photos

October 11, 2016

A definite change in the seasons is upon us. The first soaking rain is approaching so we are scrambling to get the rest of the potatoes, dry onions and dry beans under cover. We are also hoping to take advantage of the free water to plant cover crop on the sloped fields and even do some winter crop transplanting and seed sowing. We are beyond ready for the rain. It will be much more pleasant getting around the farm as the farm roads have gotten very dry and dusty.

This late summer season has been pretty good as far as crops go. September got off to a cool start but the heat came on late in the month and brought a lot of crops on that had been lagging. We even got some watermelons to ripen nicely due to some very hot days.  The vines on the winter squash are dying back and we have great yields on red and green Kabocha and Delicata winter squashes. We are on the verge of some late season Italian pole beans coming into harvest as well.

Unfortunately the tree squirrel overpopulation locally has decimated our chestnut crop. We were really anxious for them as the crop looked pretty good following last year’s drought-induced shortage.  Not sure what we can do about the squirrels as their numbers have become overwhelming.  It’s not something we have seen before in our orchards. You win some, you lose some.  Luckily our diverse crops keep us going.  The persimmon crop looks good and are coming on quickly.  Let’s hope the squirrels don’t take a liking to them too 🙂… Read the rest

September 27, 2016

It’s autumn already but with this heat you would think it’s mid-summer. We had the hottest day of the year on Monday with some triple digit readings including on our Ocean St Extension farm. Our thoughts are now with those who live up in the Loma Prieta area who are dealing with the wildfire that started yesterday afternoon.  We are hoping that everyone stays safe and that the fire is put out soon!

On Sunday it was around 96° out on the farm for our last farm dinner of the year, with over a hundred guests attending. The shade was provided by chestnut trees that kept things comfortable enough along with the great food creations of Kendra Baker and her team from Assembly and the amazing wines from Denis Hoey’s of Odonata Wines.

During the reception and tour, Louise Jackson, a researcher from UC Davis shared some of the results and insights of her trials of organic dry-farmed tomato patches done in different parts of California. It is eye-opening and encouraging to get some actual science behind the different growing methods and practices on farms such as ours, who are committed to using sustainable organic practices and diverse cropping systems. Walking from the reception area to the orchard put us out in direct sun for a bit, so we tried to keep the tour concise due to the heat but there always seems to be more to say.

The evening temperatures cooled somewhat and made dining under the chestnut tree very magical. We are so lucky to have all the great people, great conversations and sensuous food and drink all put together outdoors on the farm…it doesn’t get much better!

We are shifting into fall mode now: digging lots of potatoes, onions and beets. The lack of fog is welcome as that last bout we had created quite a bit of mildew on the leafy crops we grow. That’s not a problem now as we are looking at year to date high temperatures and with the cooler nights coming there will be less humidity as well.… Read the rest

September 13, 2016

We are about to turn the corner from the summer season towards the crisp and coolness of the fall. The apples are turning red, the Kabocha squash and persimmons are turning orange and even some of the chestnuts are beginning to fall from the trees.

Usually September is the sunniest and warmest month we have here in Santa Cruz. Not so this year. Thirteen days into the month and it has been pretty cool and quite foggy. The fog usually burns off mid-morning but it has not been burning off in many parts of the county all day long. Some of our crops love foggy weather but others prefer the warm sun.

Planting a diverse crop system helps with unpredictable weather patterns by adding insurance that there are always crops coming into harvest regardless. We have been pretty lucky this year with enough water in the creeks and the wells to keep things going and with good crop quality to help our markets thrive.

Even though it’s still summer we have started cover cropping open areas early this year. It’s not that we are using our psychic abilities to predict an early winter (which we are) but more so, we just don’t have the crew to keep up with planting any more than is already possible.

There will be a big push to get winter crops in among the cover cropped areas over the next month or so even though it is still peak harvest time. It’s a balancing act; by using more frequent plantings to take into account the shortening day lengths going forward, things will mature at a more consistent level. We will be finished planting our last fall crops by the first of November. By then the task list will allow us a bit of a rest, but for now it’s still GO time.… Read the rest

August 30, 2016

The dog days of summer are upon us. The days are getting shorter but the work load list is getting longer. We are still putting out transplants for a few more weeks for the fall and winter crops, but that will slow down soon.  We are now knee deep in colored bell peppers and the apples are also ripening, of course that’s added to everything else we grow.  The cover cropping season is coming up and we will discuss our planting strategies in the next newsletter.

As we head into Labor Day weekend, we are giving respect, thanks and appreciation for those who work in the fields to bring food to our plates.  Our field crew is one of the best anywhere. Agricultural work is different in a lot of ways than most other work in that there is a lot of seasonality and weather related variables that demand you “make hay” when it’s time and live somewhat within the boundaries that nature and the economy bestows us.  It’s some of the hardest work out there and it requires long hours for parts of the year and of course the slower times in winter months.

Because of this difference there is some controversy within the agricultural community about new overtime laws that might go into effect.  It is most important to hear from the workers and farmers themselves whether they want to limit daily and weekly hours worked and whether that is something that is even feasible, for sure not without prices going up. Another question is  how many farms with razor thin margins would go out of business and how many workers would end up with two jobs if they are seasonally limited?

I’m glad this conversation is happening.  It is well overdue because a lot of agricultural production happens out of the public view. Our increasingly urbanized society needs to reconnect to its agricultural roots if we are going to have a just, sustainable and brighter future.  Shining a light on what’s really going on in the fields is important.… Read the rest

August 3, 2016

We can’t believe it’s already August! There is no problem with an abundance of crops ready to harvest right now. The tomatoes are on and so are many of the other summer crops, such as potatoes, bell peppers, summer squash and coming on soon, eggplant. McIntosh apples and red pears are next in the fruit lineup.

Our main problem which won’t likely be solved soon and is something that is statewide in scope is a shortage of farm worker labor. There are several reasons for this that are coming to light. We typically have about 30-35 full-time field workers during the peak months, which for us runs April through to about Thanksgiving.

Some will stay here and work all winter, some just take time off for a few months, and others return to Mexico to visit relatives and maybe tend to family farms there. Most of our workers have been with us for a long time, some as long as 25 years or more.  This year the shortage is severe and we have only 18 full time field workers.

It’s a wake-up call that some of those who have been with us for a long time are now not returning. In one respect it’s possibly a sign that maybe life is getting better in Mexico and has more appeal to remain now. There is also a building boom around here and construction work can typically pay more than farm work does.

Another factor is that, as many of you know, the cost of living and housing availability around here is extremely difficult. Unfortunately we can’t supply worker housing for our employees as has been done on farms in this area over the last hundred years. Property values being what they are, make it impractical for us farmers who lease land to house our workers. Things are changing and hopefully a solution will be found so that more crops don’t remain unharvested because we don’t have the labor to bring them in.

We are using a little more part-time labor than years past to supplement the field team.… Read the rest

July 19, 2016

Midsummer and the bounty is ever expanding. The potatoes are now entering the mix as are yellow onions and early Gravenstein apples. Gravensteins are an old favorite but are not planted as widely as they were in the past. Newer varieties bred for their size and productivity have become the norm in the larger apple growing areas, but smaller local producers still grow them for their earliness and excellent unique flavor especially good for applesauce, tarts and pies. Following the Gravensteins are the McIntosh, Gala and everyone’s favorite, the fall ripening Rubenstars.

The dry farmed Early Girl tomatoes are on now and will be making their way into the CSA boxes and farmers markets pronto. We are also dry farming the cherry tomatoes for a super sweet treat as well.

The peppers are firming up on the plants on Ocean St. Extension but are still in the green unripe stage. We think the colored bells should begin ripening mid-August with some sun. Following the bells will be the jalapeño, poblano and then the paprikas.

Our first dinner of the Summer Farm Dinner Series was this past Sunday at Rancho del Oso. Thanks to the heroic organizing efforts by Jasmine, it went off amazingly!  Brad Briske, our guest chef, knocked it out of the park with a dazzling performance with the help of his crew from la Balena in Carmel. The ‘out of the box’ earth grill he created worked perfectly for every course!  Barry and Jennifer Jackson of Equinox provided an awesome selection of bubbles, reds and whites. It was so much FUN!  A perfect midsummer evening!… Read the rest

July 5, 2016

The fog is in full effect as is usual for mid-summer. Clear mornings aren’t happening as they were earlier in the summer. This is somewhat welcome in slowing down the crops as we are still working hard to keep up with them and all of their needs.

We got the drip irrigation system installed in our orchard at Rancho Del Oso, flushed the lines and ran it for the first time. Not only will this save tons of water but it will be much easier than hauling irrigation pipe up and down the hill whenever the trees there need watering. Now, all we have to do is turn on the pump, open some valves and let them send moisture to the roots of the trees. The bit of maintenance we may have to do is clean out any clogged mini sprinkler heads should that happen.

Since this orchard is up on a hillside in pretty well drained soil, it needs water about every 3 weeks. In contrast, the fruit trees on our Ocean St. Extension farm, can do fine without any irrigation whatsoever. Those trees are totally tapped into the underground river, as the farm borders the San Lorenzo River.

As for crops coming on in the near, near future, it looks like tomatoes will be happening soon! We can’t wait! Caprese salad anyone?… Read the rest

June 21, 2016

Happy Summer Solstice as well as happy strawberry full moon! The gravitational pull of the moon in tandem with the longest days of the year are combining to accelerate plant growth to the max!

So much is happening all at once, it’s been difficult to keep up with it all. Usually, nature will ramp up slowly but it seems that this year it’s full throttle out of the gate.  It’s a fine balancing act to keep up with consistent weekly plantings but at the same time keeping up with what we already have in the ground. Between the row crops, flowers, and the more long-term summer crops like peppers and tomatoes, finding time to deal with the permanent fruit tree crops is a challenge.

Speaking of tree crops, it’s an ON year for the avocados. Yay! The good thing about them is that you can spread out the harvest over a much longer period then say stone fruit, so there is some flexibility in finding time to get up in the trees.

As we move into summer there are fruit crops that are starting to ripen. Green Gage plums are sweetening up with the peaches aren’t too far behind. As I was walking the fields I noticed some ripe Sun Gold cherry tomatoes on our Ocean St. Extension farm. This is the first year we have ever harvested outdoor grown ripe tomatoes before July.  Guess we need to find the time to start staking them up. Maybe by the light of the full moon?  Ha ha.

I am happy to say that the water situation is holding out and it looks like we will be okay this year. We are putting in a new drip irrigation system in the orchard up at our Rancho Del Oso fields, in order to conserve water.  Getting regular water to where it’s needed will keep the trees healthier and also make the job of irrigating trees (especially new ones) a heck of a lot easier than it’s been in the  past.

Welcome to all of our new and returning CSA shareholders! … Read the rest

June 7, 2016

We were very excited to begin our 28 week CSA last Tuesday after we had to put our winter CSA on hiatus. We look forward to an increasingly diverse mix of crops for all to enjoy as the season progresses.

Things are looking pretty good out in our fields. There’s a good flow on Waddell Creek and the groundwater on Ocean St. Extension seems to be holding its’ own for now. It may take a couple of years of more normal rainfall to get the aquifer fully recharged but this year we are assured enough water to get us through the season if we use the available water wisely.

Pretty much every one of the 55 acres we farm have gone through the transition from winter crop and/or cover crop into freshly worked ground with lots of compost spread and shaped up into new beds ready or already planted. It’s kind of surprising that some of the very first areas planted in early spring have been harvested and are getting ready for round 2!

The 2016 main season is gearing up even if the persistent fog is slowing growth rates a bit. Compared to a little further inland, where temperatures have reached well into the high nineties, we have only seen a few days that have hit eighties here on the Santa Cruz coast. Still, we are already picking lots of summer squash and looking at quite a few tomato blossoms in the dry-farmed patch.

Hot weather crops planted out so far are a variety of peppers: bell, paprika, poblano and jalapeño.Tomatoes that will be coming down the line are Early Girl, cherry, heirloom and orange varieties. We also are watching the eggplant, winter squash, basil, beans, and a few melons grow and grow. The abundance is on it’s way!

One last thing, don’t forget to VOTE!!! Polls are open till 8 p.m.… Read the rest

December 8, 2015

As we head into the middle of winter, there is still a lot to do on the land. Some of the tasks in the slow season include keeping the winter crops weeded in between the rains and getting ready to start winter pruning now that the fruit trees are finally losing their leaves.

Most of the cover crop seed has now been sown for areas that we leave fallow in the winter. If any more lettuce or spinach patches get harvested through the winter they will then be listed up into beds for early spring crop rotations, as seeding at this point in the year will be too slow growing to do much good. Pulling all the irrigation drip lines out of the  now spent pepper and eggplant patches is another job. Winter is also a good time for making all the repairs on trucks and equipment that we never seem to have time for in the growing season.

The real winter break will likely be happening after the holidays as we are anticipating more rainfall for our thirsty land and waterways. There will be plenty of time to crop plan for the coming year and assess our strategies moving forward. There are always ways to improve and get a better understanding of how we can work with nature to keep the farm healthy and balanced.

This will be our last newsletter of 2015 so our best to all during this holiday season!… Read the rest