News & Photos

December 6, 2016

There seems to be a real winter happening this year. Since the beginning of October, we have measured 13 inches of rain at both the Rancho del Oso farm and the Ocean St. Extension farm. It seems like forever since we’ve had this much weather this early into the fall/winter season. 
 
Although the majority of our land is now cover cropped for the winter, we do have a fair amount of winter crops in the ground. Growing crops for a winter harvest takes some planning. Crop growth slows considerably once the ground cools off so the crops that haven’t reached at least the adolescent stage will likely be in dormant mode until the days start getting longer and warmer again.
 
There’s also the risk of young crops bolting prematurely once day lengths get longer so it’s important to time fall plantings accordingly. We usually avoid planting or transplanting from mid-November through December but will begin new plantings again as weather permits in mid- January.
 
I would like to take the opportunity to give thanks to all of our direct purchase customers throughout the year. Having a direct connection between our farm and local consumers of the food we produce gives us great joy and great appreciation that we live in such an informed and actively supportive community. Knowing we are surrounded by people who realize the importance and benefits of a vibrant local agriculture is truly heartening. Thank you so much and we will see you in the New Year!… Read the rest

November 22, 2016

The colors on the farm are changing as the leaves are turning orange and yellow. There is also a lot of green in the fields and hillsides from all the early rains. We are hoping that the rains continue. Our crew is busy gathering all the irrigation pipes out of the field and pulling up drip irrigation lines. It’s a great feeling not to have to irrigate anymore.
 
We hope that everyone is coming to grips with the outcome of the elections and are getting ready for the challenges ahead, keeping an eye on the future with both feet on the ground. You can be reassured that we will keep moving forward no matter what happens and keep our focus on sustainable agriculture even if the prevailing politics aren’t supportive. 
 
Farmers are generally fiercely independent folk that can survive and adapt to the fickle winds of change. We of course prefer good change and do not want to be going backwards or to undo the progress we have made in developing a more ecological agriculture as well as a renewable energy future. Our motivation to move forward will not change. Our goals have always been and will continue to be healthy soils, healthy workers, and a healthy community.
 
BTW stay tuned for something energy related that is coming to the Central Coast soon that will really increase our independence!… Read the rest

November 8, 2016

The hills are turning green already from all the rain we’ve had. We have registered over 11 inches of rain in October alone at both our Ocean St. Extension and Rancho del Oso farms, so we are very happy! On top of that, the weather is like June in November so things are growing again, including all the cover crops we sowed before the rains came. The ground has not cooled off too much so there’s even a lot of volunteer beans and squash starting to sprout here and there.
 
As we prepare for, uh, winter it’s time to start pruning trees. We start with the citrus and avocado trees that we prune for shape, sunlight and deadwood. Next we do the harder pruning of the deciduous trees. It is also a good time to do early winter fertilizing so the rains can soak the fertilizer in around the root zones of the trees. 
 
At some point, we are hoping to get some cold weather which has been lacking the last few winters. Some fruit trees need the chill in order to set fruit, namely peaches and apricots, which is why we don’t get very strong and predictable crops on those two fruit. 
 
As far as row crops go, we are planning to keep lettuce, kale, chard, parsley, beets, cabbage and cilantro going all winter long if conditions permit. It’s always a crap shoot through the months of January and February, depending on temperatures and rainfall. This year we planted and harvested a good amount of winter squash to eat and sell through out the winter months.
 
It’s the time of year to look through seed catalogues and to start thinking about next years’ crop plan. We are thinking of adding some new dahlia varieties and colors and boy are the pictures fun to look at! It’s hard to pick ones out when there are hundreds and hundreds of color combinations. We will do the dirty work of looking at beautiful flowers though and picking out some of the most striking ones!… Read the rest

October 25, 2016

Here comes the rain again and we are scrambling to get all the winter storage crops under cover, disc under old crops, and transplant some winter kale, broccoli and lettuce aaaaand sow cover crops of clover, vetch, mustard and our favorite, Phacelia. Phew! If only there were more daylight hours instead of less…just kidding 🙂
 
Once things slow down (likely after Thanksgiving) there will be time to reflect and start crop planning for next year.  
  
We really appreciate all our customers and supporters that keep us going. We try to manifest a shared vision of what sustainable agriculture should be. As farmers, our job is to produce food, fiber and in the case of flowers…food for the soul. 
 
Our efforts require putting in place conditions in the soil for the magic of photosynthesis to do the job of harvesting sunlight and converting it into complex sugars and nutrients. It feels like magic when it works well but it can also be baffling when it doesn’t. Knowing that people appreciate our efforts is huge so thanks again!… Read the rest

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