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Molino Creek FarmWelcome to the Molino Creek Farm Collective, the Central Coast’s oldest dry-farmed organic tomato grower. We moved to the Farm in 1983 –land formerly called ‘The Greek Ranch’ – and have been deeply involved in this labor of love ever since.

“Molino Creek Farming Collective is a community that actively supports the growth and success of the farming busines on our land: a business that supports the community and is sensitive to its needs. We are committed to preserving integrity in our relationships with each other; and to loving, responsible stewardship of the land.”

We take great personal pride in the amazing produce grown on our land: uniquely situated almost 1000′ above sea level, giving our crops the advantage of warm, sunny days and cool nights. The effect of such conditions on vine crops in particular –grapes, tomatoes, and the like– is a sweeter fruit, with a far more complex flavor and mouth-pleasing texture than tomatoes grown under conventional or hothouse conditions. You can buy great tomatoes from our friends on other local farms all up and down the Central Coast, but only at Molino Creek Farm do you find such perfect growing conditions and such perfect tomatoes.

We make weekly stops at Farmer’s Markets in Santa Cruz, Palo Alto, and in Aptos at Cabrillo College. Please check our schedule, or subscribe to our Twitter or Facebook feeds, for specific market dates and times. Our produce is also sold in Whole Foods Markets, New Leaf Markets, and other local grocers and wholesalers. We are happy to pack custom orders for pickup at one of our market stops as well. Send us a Tweet or an email for more information.

On the Edge of Spring

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The many more peaceful nights recently relinquished and now it is WINDY, howling, roaring wind storm raking across Molino’s hills as I write. Drafts in even our best built houses, roofs strongly deflecting the force noisily. Birds’ talons gripping tightly onto the branches of their night roosts, swaying in the bushes and trees- a sleepless night for our feathered friends.

Bolting, rustling and sprinting plants shooting up…warm days…moisture…and the brightest sun. Molino Creek Farm is enjoying all that’s needed for plant growth, fueling the soon-to-be knee deep cover crop. 

Three deer! The herd has thinned from last summer’s 3 young and two mothers, down to one (bigger), now adolescent. The roving small antlered male is missing as of late. The whole herd looks a bit bedraggled and hungry, though their winter coats keep the ribs from showing. Not much to worth it for them to eat, the resprouting shrubs still with scanty shoots. 

The nearby turkey flock can’t be having a much better time. Bluebirds and Say’s phoebes might eat grasshoppers, and those are starting to come back…so, somebody’s getting happier for that type of food.

Roland is pruning Sheri’s olive trees, so nicely cared for…60 some trees with silvery, sunny sprays on the south-facing slope.

Not long ago, it seemed we had So Much Time to prune the apple trees. Now, suddenly, we must hurry!! Lots of hands and the chorus of quickening “snip-snip-snip” have helped us come so far in the last 2 weeks. As we tend the branches, we realize the fire’s damage: scorched undersides of now half-dead lower branches, small twigs dead and shriveled. And yet, higher branches escaped severe damage. So, the skirts are higher, perhaps adapting and preparing for cycles of fires to come. This photo is from our more well attended work party a couple weeks back:

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Pruning the older trees…planting the new. We’re perhaps 35 trees into this year’s goal of 80 new trees, filling out the remaining orchard areas with apples, stone fruit, and avocados. The fire didn’t stop us, it just spurred us on. Whips to spurs in just a few years, we don’t have long enough to live, but these trees are for generations to come as we dig our heels in and smile bracingly: to resilience! to perseverance! Dig dig dig. Here’s stalwart volunteer Eva Wax digging one of the many holes to start New Life in our community orchard:

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In the understory of the apples, tall radish and mustard nearing full bloom. The ash makes for lush growth and huge taproots on these weeds: it takes some strong muscle behind the hoe to clear rings around the trees for less competition.

Our barn revitalization project, led by Sharon and helped by many, is coming along well. Super exciting to get the place cozy once again; its a post-and-beam building of magnificent construction, now more easily appreciated. Envisioning post pandemic gatherings on the second floor, as with yesteryear.’

Many work parties, after the hard work and accomplishments, we bonfire it. Flame warmth while its wet is a good and beautiful thing, and it helps to eliminate unwanted fuel, diseased fruit wood. It is still cool enough to rationalize this extravagance.

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We’re hoping you are sleeping well, resting up with this last part of winter as the energy of spring builds and awakens the shimmering forces of fructification.

Misty Spring Unfolding

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Almond Flowers Brightening the Late Winter at Molino Creek Farm

The first of the trees are aglow in floral snow: pearly pink giant almond flowers splash color into our bedazzled eyes.  

The winds brought us more RAIN…thick ground-level clouds and blowing mist really soaked things earlier this week. Slippery muddy roads and Big Puddles made for slidey driving. Suddenly, the grass grew tall, quickly turning the brightest unbelievable greeny-green. Shiny ryegrass blades brighten the meadows below us, cows finally sated on the new sweet forage. Everything sparkles now in the morning sun, excess moisture beading on every surface: the world is really, really wet and we can’t get enough. After last summer, I would be pleased to have three more years of just this, but that would defy the Mediterranean climate that is natural here. Appreciating now for what it is.

As we pruned the apple and pear trees last weekend, we noticed the early blooming apples’ buds a’swelling. Early peaches almost breaking flower buds…new leaf spikes poking out here and there. Spring is accelerating, the sap is flowing. 

Weedy calendula – rafts of bright orange contrasting (defyingly!) the muted blacks, browns, and grays of the charred hills where toasted firs and roasted redwoods wag their bare skeleton silhouettes in the gusty winds.

Sticky, pungent Calendula increasingly blankets field edges

Last winter, we had two red breasted sapsuckers, the first pair for many years, following on three years after the death of the bachelor who mourned for 5 years the hawk-death of his mate solo in our orchard. We celebrated the return of life mate sapsuckers. But, awe, snap! Just one sapsucker is back this year…she lost her mate somewhere on her migration to and from here – an ode to the fleeting nature of temporal life reality and reminder to gaze at our mates each day as if its the last- it might be. Peent! Peent! A nasal plaintive mew and then the sapsucker flits shyly and quickly away from us as we visit the orchard. ‘Look at all that damage’ say our visitors. ‘Many thanks to that critter who helps keep our trees shorter’ say I (besides, she sure is pretty!)

Red tailed hawk and Cooper’s Hawk are every day occurrences. Big, fast wingbeats with killer swoops and fierce fiery eyes…razor talons. There is a flush of songbirds, a rush of rabbits, squeaks of alarm, then silence…time stands still…the hawk sails by…the quiet continues, the danger slowly passing. Then a tentative squeak or two, birds and bunnies scooting out from their hiding places…within a few minutes its all back to ‘normal.’ No post traumatic nothing- just life going on.

And then there’s another danger- coyote out the front door! 10′ away, rabbit hunting first thing in the morning…thence to late morning- joining her adolescent girl and then lounging all afternoon in the cover crop, napping…up and stretch, look around then curling up again in the lush 1′ green padding. A bit russet in color, both of them…healthy and well fed. Contrast that health with the bobcat that rounded the house right after the coyotes took their naps- she sure is skinny and old looking…I hope she finds some food!

No deer. No recent turkey gobbling. 

We’re picking limes! Persian or “Bearss” (dare we call them Iranian??) limes are the best- sweet and juicy, thin skinned and sunny yellow when fully ripe. What a wintertime treat.

Persian Limes, Juicy Surprise

 These cold nights, still so long, keep the peace, chilling the trunks and roots of our trees…adding up the necessary ‘chill hours’ to keep our orchard healthy: might we need this time, too? If we avail ourselves of the opportunity, what might we discover?

The Powerful Place: Between the Dark and the Light

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It might be a good time to let our minds follow our open and curious eyes. There is so much to learn from the Nature around us.

Some places on the farm suggest darkness, destruction, fire, decay. Look other places, and there is such light and color it makes your eyes ache- lush growth from fertile, well stewarded soil, flowers, swelling orchard buds on young and old orchard trees, promising more and more fruit…rebirth, renewal, and rewards from solid, long term stewardship. We live in both worlds here at Molino Creek Farm, learning what we can from the past, the things that must end, and smiling with increasing wisdom, welcoming the light as the next day unfolds what it may.

Lush Cover Crop Contrasts with Burned Hillsides at Molino Creek Farm

The first poppies are blooming, so spring has arrived.

Molino Creek Farm’s First California Poppies of the Season

Other early season flowers are also peeking out- the tiny white popweed (an annual cress), white-green sweet scented people root, and lots and lots of the weedy calendula: brighter orange and much more numerous than poppies. But mostly its GREEN on the farm with the cover cropped fields burgeoning and bounding grasses everywhere. Only the roads or the burned areas have ground showing- everywhere else is 6” deep in lush, vibrant green. Surrounding the fields, the tall swaying redwood trees that didn’t get charred by the CZU Lightning Complex fire are laden with pollen cones, appearing a paler green than normal, branches heavy. And, even the charred redwoods now are blushing green with new sprouts from their branches or trunks.

Another early spring treat: the native flowering currants we planted are blooming, feeding the hummingbirds and brightening the roadsides in our 10 year old hedgerow.

Native Flower Currant, the Hummingbird’s First Feast

A series of supposedly gentle rain storms are on the way. Our waterfall is singing and will make bigger noises soon. Tree frogs are croaking, newts taking big strides to hurry across the roads. We welcome these spirits of the wet season, which can’t last long enough.

Birds. A few notable friends are making a splash. The turkey is really wound up with gobbling, repetitive and ornate gobbling, over and over from up above Vandenberg Field as of late, picking a high point on the farm perhaps to carry the melody as far as it will go. It is unusual for us to have a barn owl (the great horned owls chase them or kill them), but the barnies’ ghostly rasping calls grace our nights. Neighbors report great horned own hooligans flying so close they ruffle their hair. Pileated woodpeckers call frequently, a cackling laughter, celebrating the profusion of bug-ridden trunks for their expanding families. Huge flocks of golden crowned sparrows are everywhere with their attentive glistening eyes, chasing one another, hopping and running about. A covey of quail is back- eating in the understory of the olive orchard, the largest patch of hawk-protective cover left on the farm.

Tales of other wildlife are getting interesting. Curiously, for instance, no more fox sightings for some time now. But, a reddish young mountain lion has been regularly seen around the farm-  this one young enough to suggest its momma must be very nearby. No wonder the coyotes have been coy and absent. A singular bobcat is right up against the houses, doing big regular patrols in predictable places. Weasel poo on the road suggests yet another predator is lurking about. The rabbits are getting scarcer and scarcer!

Turning to planted trees…

The avocado trees that burned and then we cut to stumps are sprouting rapidly. A few more weeks and Bob Brunie will work his magic, grafting onto the root sprouts: carmen haas is the target, but we’ll do more than that.

Burned Avocado, Sawed Down: Now Root Sprouts Promise New Life for Grafting Soon

We’ve been planting the lower apple orchard, where we reclaimed an old irrigated farm field “Bees Field” for trees. The dogged off-season community orchardistas Jacob Pollock, Eva Wax, John and Bob Brunie have planted two dozen trees in the past few weeks: two big blocks of trees to extend our market apple season – 8 Gravenstein (first apple of our season) and 13 Granny Smith (last apple of our season) trees along with a few other early and late varieties. More are on the way- a few ‘standard’ trees to dry farm in the lowest part of the orchard…looking forward especially to the Newtown Pippin apples, but we’ll be waiting a decade for much of a harvest from those what-will-be large trees.

And the chores…

There’s a pile burn almost every day as we clean up debris from the wildfire. Fire tending is the major hobby. Nighttime bonfire enjoyment can be had all week long.

The Barn is getting a serious overhaul, so many hours of clean up of generations of accumulation of whatnot.

Keeping the road open has been a bugaboo. Chainsaws for the downed trees, shovels for the drainage outlets. A Big Year for transportation system maintenance.

And, many thanks to Matt Clark of Clark Plumbing who has become a regular member of our team, patching up post fire plumbing everywhere, making it better than before- fire proof metal risers and valves that really work. He even generously donated a 5,000 gallon water tank to us! Our hero, and what a wonderful, solid, skilled, and kind gentlemen.

This weekend marks the beginning of our regular volunteer events. If you’d like to join the Molino Community Orchard, drop a line via coastalprairie@aol.com and to get on the email list. The group gathers (socially distanced) on Saturdays 2-4 pm. Take fruits for your labors, the fruit keeps getting thicker every year and Fruit Season is nearly constant nowadays, but it really comes on thick in apple, pear, and plumb season. (Limes and lemons are it right now)

May the gentle rains hydrate the fertility of your minds, wash over the openness of your heart, and bring you strength to stand in that powerful place between the darkness and light.

Until Soon.

The Green Patch in the Midst of Blackness

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The rains started late again this year, a smattering at first and then not much for too long, a heat wave in January (as is normal), and then what was feared as a Big Storm was just a good wetting. Things are turning green now, at long last. 

Rather: it is turning green right here on the Farm- around us, not so much. The blackened slopes are still grizzly black, but a closer look has some sprouts at the bases of trees and as of this past couple of weeks, seedlings…mostly wild morning glory, sweet pea, and lupines. There will be flowers this spring.

Sluggies say ‘where’s the food??’ They would eat mushrooms, but there aren’t many…

Local Mollusk, The Banana Slug, Exploring a Charred Trunk

People feared the rains but what was worse was the wind. Two wind storms, the first three weeks ago was a doozie. Terrible, terrible howling wind made worse by the lack of tree buffers, canopies all burned up, holes in the forest inviting toppling trees that had never seen such a brunt. Cracked trunks, topsy turvey messes all over the roads and the forest floor. Roofs of the few remaining outbuildings torn off, sent willy nillie. We don’t want that to happen again. It was scary. The roaring noise alone was terrifying. Poor outdoor critters. Its been calmer recently and the peace is more appreciated for the recent din.

Chanterelles, normally going into gravy at Thanksgiving, didn’t come up in the burn footprint until midway through January.  We have been looking.

Coyotes are trotting around the fields each and every day, sometimes singing. A singular bobcat hunts in the fields when it feels safe. Bobcats and coyotes are not out simultaneously (surprise surprise).

The Great Flock of melodiously catterwalling blackbirds are back to festooning the trees. Epaulet-ted bicolor blackbirds bow and flare their redness (already!). Brewers clickity clack to their browner babes. Starlings intermingle and jingle/jangle complex jazziness. Up from a walnut tree, whirling and lighting in the cover crop, then shortly back again- skittish flock. Only in their orchestrations do they sit still and sing, sing, sing.

We replaced the burned up bluebird boxes on the few remaining wooden fence posts for The Five (always 5) western bluebirds. I bet they’ll be in the boxes in the next few weeks.

Two deer, maybe only 2 deer, march around the deer fence salivating at all the green stuff inside and cursing the sparse herbage outside of the fence. One was chasing another, the one in front huffing loudly, must be rutting season. Don’t worry friends, forage will grow soon…

The nights seem cold and long, the days cool too. Our wood stoves are eating logs. 

As the rain falls, the winds rush, the mud glistens and the shoots green…we humans are striving to get back to normal, but the post fire chores are still all consuming. So much burned up dry brush to reduce to ashes in burn piles before it is a Problem next summer. More water flowing on bare ground calls for more road work. Picking up burned up stuff, putting it in piles for landfilling. Sawing down burned up avocados- getting them ‘the heck out of the way‘ to let the root sprouts see sky (so as to graft, come spring). Many chores.

And, up comes the cover crop. “THANKS!” say the birds…

Bell Beans, Vetch and Oats with a Smattering of Weeds- Our Biodiverse Cover Crop

We’re harvesting limes on Citrus Hill, sending them with 2 Dog Farm to the markets…our partners pick pea sprouts from the cover crop to add to stir fry and salads. Soon, miner’s lettuce will bedeck the oak understory and add yet again to the spring salads.

May your wet season be bountiful!

Rain Drips, Coyotes Yip

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Down poured the rain. At first it was tentative and piddling- a mist forming drops on the window screens on the side of the house where the wind blows. Then, a light shower. Stop. Light shower. Stop. The whole of Ben Lomond Mountain from here through Bonny Doon and on into town…everyone holding their breath, hoping, praying for rain sweet rain. Then, gradually, the clouds let loose and real wetting rain pitter patter drip drop noises hitting the roof. How many of us spent long moments on the porch watching the rain come down with big smiles? If UCSC were in session, there would have been hundreds of naked young adults running around whooping and hollering, but alas ‘the covid’ kept them more alone and the first rain naked run must wait for future times. 

Such is the life of us Mediterranean climate denizens. The first rain is when a storm drops around 1″ – enough to wet the first foot of soil and turn the hills from gold to green. It was April when the last rain fell and lots of heat in the interim making it a particularly dry summer. Normally, the first rain is in October.Roadside bushes and trees, those few still left after the fire, now enjoy polished green leaves that were a dusty gray only a couple of days ago. Sparrows bathe in dirt road puddles and sip droplets hanging from fencelines.

Another new thing: coyotes! Three coyotes were yipping and barking at each other this past Sunday. One right in the middle of one of our fields facing off its closer challenger on the ridge up near Sheri’s house. A further one yowled and yeeped from up near our road intersection by Warrenella. They went on from midnight Friday through Saturday morning around 10 when people started moving around too much when they **poof** disappeared. This was the first time in 9 years that we’ve had them vocalize on the farm, though we’ve seen them along the road closer to the highway.Meanwhile, the hills remain black with green spots. Shrubs are venturing forth with lively sprouts, redwoods, too! We wait to see if the more burned redwoods will sprout back from their branches or trunks- time will tell. Manzanitas sprouting from their lignotubers, aka burls, make particularly red-tinged sprouts, sometimes with pink or maroon edges. 

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In this changed landscape, our farm remains an oasis. Still, lush green padron peppers are still making peppers. Citrus Hill near the Barn is lush and growing, having escaped the fire. And, the trees of Molino canyon dense and lush with rain drenched branches of fir and redwood. Our giant black walnut trees all survived, the big one still hides the barn and provides farm workers shade while they pack veggies.


High above the farm, at the headwaters of Molino Creek, where the ridges were not long ago draped with impenetrable chaparral shrubs, now black with ash stripes and bony fingers of what were 11-year old knobcone pines (great views).

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 How about another great photo of the resilient redwood, sprouts like asparagus 2′ high now, stark against the ash and charcoal trunks.

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 (except the farmscape, photos by J. Gilardi, many thanks)

Settling down into what suddenly seems the Holiday Season.

Beware the Black Poles!

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Sunday the wind roared, whipping light things way way up in the air, branches and trees crashing down, dust and ash eliminated- blown elsewhere. And then it got cold- upper 30s. A pinch of rain wasn’t enough to wet much but changed the smell to wet-doused bonfire smell. Rainwater buckets from the roof were full of the nastiest of water- not fit for houseplants! Plants must be happy to have some cleaner leaves. The wind eventually died down and the star fields bright, so bright: the Milky Way shining.

Our long lost pine siskin flock just returned to the farm. They cheerily squeak and frenetically fly in big bouncily flying flocks- high speed spirits that make the days brighter. The quail are pretty much gone. Our now-solitary red tailed hawk is frequently hunting, loudly calling, diving…terrorizing the prey. “Peeeent! Peeent!” a whiney red breasted sapsucker makes itself known, maybe looking for a companion. 
The wet places in the forest that burned- seepy rush patches that were thick with chain ferns- now black and littered with white, roasted snail shells. Hillsides of black poles, the soil covered now from needle fall. Our giant redwoods will live on, though some douglas firs of considerable girth died. The two old growth (300+ years old) douglas firs near the road intersection onto the farm not only died but crashed and burned, badly; I’m sorry to lose those friends.

The old growth tree stand in Molino Creek Canyon mostly did fine, a ribbon of green in a landscape of brown and black.

Another of the farm’s giant old oaks has been accounted for- it, too, will live a while longer. We have 4 coast live oaks that scratched grizzly bears and fed native people.

With the cold nights, wet weather, and shorter days, tomatoes are nearly gone. We’ll do another week or so of harvest and call it the end. Fuji apples like the cold, so we feast on their sweetness while they last. Black walnut harvest is on, nutstomp to remove the nasty husks (a mess!), then power wash what’s still stuck, dry them and then use a special saw to get large meat out of the grip of the hardest of shells. Anyone want to give a try? There are lots and lots right now…

A solitary bobcat is the shiest of critters, really annoyed if you get to see it, scooting rapidly away.

(there was a bunny in the driver’s seat of the defunct box truck near the barn!)

Hoping you are having some good walks in this lovely fall weather.

The Chill is Back

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Breezes and dropping walnuts, Fuji apples, tomatoes, cool nights and warm days………….

Big puffs of unexpected wind left debris all over the place this Monday night. Branchlets on the road make for messy driving, leaves splaying out from the walnut trees (now turning yellow), and legions of fallen walnuts. Things are brewing up north, they say- maybe rain is on its way, maybe this wind is telling of change.

Cool nights, dipping into the upper 40s a bit, also seem to be telling us something- maybe winter is really on its way! The days have been hot, though. It was a sweltering surprising hot 84F yesterday on the farm! Temperature swings must confuse the deer about if they should grow their thick winter coats.

The growing flock of now 18 Brewer’s blackbirds are clicking away- yellow eyes and metallic blue-black feathers on the males. Gregarious and friendly birds this time of year, but they turn wary and noisome in the spring after they build nests. They were gone for the summer but probably our whole home flock has returned now. We share this space with so many others!

Playin’ Ravens….the neighbor ravens visited our farm ravens and together they had a grand time doing back rolls and somersaults with nonstop cawing. Not sure what triggers these playfests, but they’re always on windy days. 2 hours of it, at least: I could have watched it all day.

One thing we don’t do that helps our non-human neighbors: we don’t use rat poison! Rodents can be a bother to farmers, from mowing down the pea shoots to gnawing at the zucchini (who’ll buy that??): so, we say ‘no fun!’ They scamper joyously, too, around the barn on top of our harvested produce if we aren’t careful (no one wants that!). Then there are the subterranean munchers: voles and gophers tearing into crops. Travelling down the Pajaro or Salinas Valley, you see updside down white T’s full of poisonous rodent bait. Not here! We recognize that rodent poisons travel up the food chain and poison bobkitties and mountain lions, weasels and owls, hawks and snakes- all our predators! This is (yet) another reason to support organic farmers, who must instead use traps or ingenuity to avoid rodent damage.: more labor, but more coexistence.

Urged on by the warm days, the harvest continues on…citrus and apples grace our kitchen tables. The delicious Fuji apples have finally arrived; the winter citrus crops fatten- lemons and limes- but none of these get far from the trees, not enough to sell this year. But, yes, still plenty of tomatoes going to market!

fruit harvest.jpg

The burned apple trees have set a big second crop of apples at just the wrong time. Calling out all orchard helpers- come and snip the apple fruit from the trees so that they can concentrate their sap into next year’s buds, not wasting it on making new fruit. A stressed tree (from fire) seems to want to set forth some progeny as a last ditch hope for adding to the evolutionary chain: fire resistant apples for the future? There are hundreds of quarter-sized fruit in the orchard right now. Bad bad bad.

The scent in the orchard is odd: the sharp, bitter smell of charcoal and ash has changed to an almost fertilizer smell- a rich, earthy but slightly minerally aroma. Dig a little, and the soil is shot through with dense white fungal threads…eating up the ash and stabilizing the soil.
The orchard’s fall colors, muted yellows and maroons and an occasional firey orange or red, start about now and linger (depending on winds) through January- a gradually unfolding and subtle show. First this year is the stone fruit and the first real color is from an Italian prune. Other fall color in the background is more unusual and started August 19 with the flames- sienna brows are the most common: roasted fir or redwood needles are hanging on for a while. Look carefully in the photo below and see the variegated redwood tree top, a Molino Creek oddity and more for the color treats.

fall color.jpg

We’ve decided to plant a new 50-tree block of cherries this winter! And, we are hoping that our Community can help it establish- lots of work the first three years helping cherry sticks settle in and compete against the weeds. And for the old block, the one that burned up, we’ll graft onto the suckering root stock of the dead trees and try to raise new trees that way. The rootstock is a hearty one (‘Colt’) and would otherwise have to be removed with a bulldozer, so away we go testing Bob Brunie’s grafting prowess in the upcoming depths of winter.Anyone have some scions they want us to try?

Oh, speaking of fruit: Community Orchardists! Suggest away on new varieties you want us to try. Already we have enthusiasm for loquats, peaches, and nectarines…even someone suggesting they want more pineapple guavas (!). But, we need specific varieties and we need them now. We want to try a few new things and, if they do well, plant more. This takes time and observation, so let’s start soon.

We hope you are enjoying the early and long nights.

Fall Chill, Long Nights

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Maw and Caw, our long lived local pair of ravens, have been most vocal as of late. Tomato fueled energy, these loud mouthed sentinels seem to be enjoying the times. Seems like we’re all settling into new patterns on this fire-changed landscape. These raven friends are doing barrel rolls high above the farm, happy to be alive for another fall. As they fly around, their wings make a startlingly loud rough noise carving the air. They are certainly big black birds with honking large bills; one is shy and the other seems to enjoy a little closer-at-hand conversation. If you see them, say “hello!”- maybe they want more friendliness..they are as constant as any neighbor or farm hand around here.

Weasel sighting! Maurica Fitzgibbons was visiting the farm and reports an early morning long tailed weasel close to the road at the Hayfield Gate. We’ve seen their greezy poo poo here and there and someone saw less than one a year ago- glad to know one is still around. (don’t tell the chicken farmers- they don’t like them much for obvious reasons). Weasel is joined by small cougar, two gray foxes, and a bob cat- all regular visitors of the fields this fall…plenty of bunnies to eat, but no deer missing as of late.

Deer! A new pair shot through the other day up near the intersection with Warrenella, on the move elsewhere. The pair included a massive buck. This pair was not our local herd which includes a young buck, two does and 3 young of the year…they are always around and not very shy. One of the does lets me chat with her and get 20′ away with her giant ears facing me, I talk and she looks curious. Deep dark eyes with such sparkle- energy and kindness.

It seemed that our giant quail covey lived through the fire- many were around right after the flames, now  most moved on and, for the first time in years there are few quail on the farm, down from 120+ earlier this year. Not much cover and still the ferocious Cooper’s hawk bothers them- maybe they found a safer place?

The Brewer’s blackbird flock has grown to a couple of dozen birds, up from less than 10 a week ago.

Starlings are back, shy now and not too numerous- maybe 6? 

Final wildlife note- a turkey is gobbling every morning from the hills above the farm. Two hens wound their way through the vineyard the other morning while the tom was gobbling from a ways above. 

On the drive in, you see fold after fold of steep ground below narrow ridges – the Cotoni Coast Dairies BLM property. The once sagebrush-covered steep hills are now black; the oak knolls’ understories are gray; some but not many of the conifers are brown. Interesting new patterns.

The Fuji apples are finally getting ripe- our last crop of apples can start getting harvested and they are Yummy Sweet…perhaps the best ones yet. The cold nights (not yet into the 40s but close) help sweeten them up.
Two Dog Farm reports that their padron peppers are putting on a lot of late fruit. They mowed down all the rest of their row crops and have been hand weeding their new vineyard. 

Molino Creek Farm’s row crops are still pretty vibrant, also peppers setting a second round of fruit. Pole beans are winding down but still look lush. Lots of zucchini still coming along!

The bouts of nighttime dry, big winds from another ‘red flag warning’ event have given way to a calm night and the waves are making background music. Molino Creek also sings, though you have to be close to hear its tinkling notes. Crickets are chirping but not so much in the cooler air.

Thud! Our black walnut trees are dropping nuts even without the wind. Juncos crowd around the occasional driven-over, cracked nut carcass chipping excitedly for nutmeat. Drive over more nuts if you come to visit! We’ll be breaking out the new walnut saw to extract some for people food.

When will the rain come? Its only two weeks late, and we seem headed for an unusual Halloween: nearly every year it is drizzly, but not this and not the last 2 years. First big rain storm as late as Thanksgiving again?

Hoping you are well, enjoying the flush of Fall Harvest…

Our Trees, Thankful and Sad

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Mildly warm days bathe our valley, and the farming and fire recovery pace still go steady and strong.

Mark and Sharon (with many a friend’s help) created a makeshift home from the garage Chuck Overley built a while back…and they are back to living on the Farm!! Yay. 

Rumours of EPA folks coming (soon?) to do the Phase 1 post fire toxic check up and clean up, which we’ve been necessarily waiting for before picking up burned up building parts.

Is the fire over?  Nope. Bob Brunie, Ian, and Julie put out another pop-up flaming pile near the Yard on Monday. This thing just keeps chugging along, until the rains start, which seems like a long ways away.

Wave after wave of UPick tomato folks have helped us catch up with the abundance, so now it seems like the home stretch to the end of the season- last farmer’s markets will probably be the third week of November for the Molino Creek Farm folks. 

Two Dog neighbors have moved the family abode to Waddell Canyon and report booming Alemany markets but need more folks to visit them at the Heart of the City San Francisco market (Sunday), which is slow due to Covid business shut down. Check out their mention in the latest Edible Monterey Bay as their products are featured in the EatLocal.farm CSA boxes which have been booming. 2 Dog finding new ways to distribute their delicious produce. We wish them luck in the many hurdles to rebuilding their home on the farm.

Some of us celebrated Slippy’s 64th birthday in his lovely yard last Saturday with a great meteor shower show.

Brewer’s blackbirds are back on the farm, with their staccato clicking noise and alert jumpiness; wondering if its the same small troupe from Spring- maybe 10 birds. Oh, that reminds me…have to order new bluebird houses as the old ones all burned up along with the fence posts that held them up. We’re back to the normal 5 bird western bluebird flock.

More and more green shoots becoming more evident across the burnt hills. Someone pointed out that the once gray char and white ash dominated forest understory (with big black sticks of trees) has become a sepia tone understory now that fallen conifer needles blanket the ground.

Lots of our big trees are damaged (redwoods) or dying (Douglas firs), from the near to the far ridges, a changed landscape.

But many trees also lived…depends on where you look!

We’re thankful for the Big Oak that survived unscathed from the fire. It was nestled between the Barn and other structures that we protected with fire hoses. That tree has seen a lot and gets to be with us a bit longer. I presume that it was once pruned by grizzlies and its acorns were harvested by the native people.

We took inventory of the Apple Orchard fire losses, having once thought no trees were lost we found 13 dead ones, all young (a year or two). On the bright side, almost all of the trees put on 2′ of new growth this year, and almost all of those branches will get to continue growing, so we built trees this year, all told. We’ll replant those 13 trees and are taking suggestions as to what kind to get.

On Citrus Hill, we are thankful for greatly growing citrus this summer…we lost one to fire, but all the others put on much growth and are setting fruit for this winter. With any luck, we’ll get our first true limes along with many Bearss seedless limes. The lemon trees are loaded but the fruit thus far lackluster.

Rattling Leaves – Heat!

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Heat wave after heat wave keeps us hoppin’and hopin’ for something different, but this isn’t too abnormal: October tends to have heat: summer fog shifting to wintery winds. The hotness makes for sweeter tomatoes and rapid ripening of peppers.

Tomorrow brings another heat advisory, Molino’s fields bathing brutally at above 90F, no clouds in the sky. Our hanging valley builds up heat, surrounded by cooler canyons. Afternoon brings dust (or ash!) tornadoes spinning dust and ash skyward. One of these lasted for many minutes a couple days ago, stuck in one place until it used up all the ash and ran clear (out by the old workers camp). It spun100′ high and twenty feet across, wiggling like it was really enjoying its brief life. Between dust devils, shimmery heat rises off fields with fruit-laden tomato plants.

The sight of the surrounding blackened landscape somehow doesn’t shake its shock. It still gives a neighbor goosebumps. We expect to see something else, but there it is: black and gray and brown, a reminder of how fast even the simple things change.

‘Sky’ the kestrel is our most common outstanding bird these days. Regal and energetic, it doesn’t rest for long, quick arks from walnut tree to fence post, twinkle eyed and watchful-fierce.

Big flocks of golden crowned sparrows, alarm cheeping, leap frogging with frantic fleeing in a wake in front of our walks, worried about no cover. Night time has them cramming into the few remaining yard plants for their sleep. The warm days make them pant, it seems they spend all day next to the bird baths.

Heat or no heat, we must soon plant cover crop seed- delivered last week! Bell beans and vetch for the orchard, gently harrowed in between the trees with as little soil disturbance as possible but still we must bury the seeds. Our walk behind BCS Italian tractor will get a work out, and so will we maneuvering it around the rows. We’ll re-arrange the irrigation, moving it from under the trees out into the rows to wet down the seed beds….trying to get it started while the days are still warm and long(er). It is really key to get our ‘green manure’ started early- we regret each week we wait the later we go, the less fertility next year.

We don’t sell apples this year, so sad not to share those tasty fruit – even scrubbed they taste like smoke. We must peel. Special home blends of smokey cider are in the works. Some of us are drying them, juicing them, making them into quince-apple sauce. There aren’t many left after removing the flame-damaged or fallen fruit.

The scent of this fall is different. Each morning, we sniff the air to say ‘oh, its hardwood (or brush, or conifer) burning somewhere!’ (each a distinct smell) The tad of living firs or redwood needles sometimes give a welcome piney wiff.  Sea breeze smells fresh. Still air smells bitter, like ash. The frequent east to southeast warm breezes smell like the desert. Then there’s that sweet tomato smell, everywhere, every day.

Wind through the many dead leaves makes a dry rattle through the burnt madrones; the ridge line conifers still whisper-roar with frequent breezes.

Our six deer are feasting on spent fruit, thankful for something to nourish them as their normal browse is so very limited.

A five a.m. walk surprised a pair of foxes, and one wanted to make their disquieting ‘killing a cat’ squeal. Goodness!

A walk through the forest reveals the ghosts of fallen trees – ash “shadows” of burnt up fallen trees.

Muscles ache after the many weeks of labor. Eyes strain against the dry air. Farmers are hard at work with the harvest and trying to get ready for winter. It is one of the peak work times. Thank a farmer should you encounter one, like maybe at the Farmer’s Market (see you there?).