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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.

Heatwave Brings Summer Bugsong

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Heatwave, Summer Bugsong, Bunting, the Scent of Olives, New Avocados, Our Scribbling Scribe, Molino Changes, and Crops

It’s HOT!! Yesterday it was 95F+ on the farm but 75F down by the beach. The ‘cool’ night was near 70F. Repeat today. This is our first heat wave, and we suspect not the last. The wind dies down, and it gets roasty-toasty, seed pod snapping and crackling hot. And so, we must ask: which do we prefer, if only the two- wind or HOT? False dichotomy: we’d like some fog interspersed, at least. (PS, the heat does the tomatoes good).

With the summer heat comes the song of bugs. Night sound is (still) dominated by the common and recognizable black field cricket- a raspy sawing chirpling; we await the addition of brown crickets to the chorus (an octave up and more constant). Days are noisier than nights, with the explosion of cicadas’ metallic constant monotone siren song from everywhere in the tall, dry grass. The air is filled with cicada song at midday; they seem to get louder with heat, their song the backdrop of shimmering heat off the farm fields. A much less welcome summer bug song is the buzzing and whining of the fly millions. There’s the ‘regular’ fly wing beat buzz: big flies landing on your sweaty arms (and biting). Then, there’s the even less welcome and much higher almost mosquitoey note of the ‘eye, ear, nose, and throat experts’ aka ‘face flies’ a tiny fly that invites its whole tribe to feast on you, creating a halo cloud around your grimacing face as they send their most intrepid scouts quickly and deeply into every orifice they can jet into. Solution: stay inside or cover every inch of your skin with a net over your head in the wilting heat.

Birds might be the answer….now eat the bugs, you birds! Swallows are gobbling up the honey bees, making the bees very angry around the hives, stinging passers by. We are thankful for bird song, too. The first and last bird song of the day is….lazuli bunting! They are singing from all over the farm. Word has it that there is an irruption of this bluest of birds all across last summer’s fire footprint. Reading up about their ecology, it seems they are often found with indigo bunting, with which they hybridize. They also like hanging out with finches, and it is an epic year for them on the farm, as well.

A few days ago, I caught my first whiff of the scent of summer, a piney, dry grass smell mixed with dusty undertones and something very sweet. This smell is just here, our Molino summer perfume, destined to be with us until around Thanksgiving, when winter rains change everything.

I’m wondering if the sweet part of that scent mélange is olive flower scent. Thousands of flowers opened up with the heat, releasing a super-sweet aroma you can catch on the breeze. With all of those flowers, its a wonder we don’t have more olives. The trees sure seem well-placed in a landscape of hot days and cicada serenades.

Millions of Olive Flowers Sweeting the Air Broadly

After a group foray to Ventura and help by Damien Parr (thanks!), a pile of new avocados awaits our time for planting. After the distribution of avocado fruit the last two Saturday workparties…we have only a few more on a couple of trees until next season. Last year, we planted 20 new trees, and 18 of them survived the fire- all on Citrus Hill near the Barn. These are growing quickly this summer- only 5 more years to go until we get a sizeable harvest from those…

Now, a shout out to Jacob the scribe who opens our email newsletters (let us know if you want to get those)! He’s been a part of our writing team for a while now and we are very thankful for his scribbling. Jacob is a super-smart PhD conservation biologist who also volunteers his time protecting North Coast wildlife. And, a true renaissance man, he soaks up fruit tree knowledge and skills as our most regular of ‘under the trees’ worker bees. Someday, you should hear him strum some tunes. Thanks, Sir Pollock, for all you do.

Speaking of people- more people stories…Mark and Sharon moved into Sheri’s house. Bye Sheri! We wish you the best and look forward to your joining our after party whenever you can. This is a big transition for our community, as Sheri is the last of the original founding members of our cooperative. Judy has now moved into the Overly cabin, where Mark and Sharon were living after the burning of the White House. Now we learn that Mark Lipson and Cass are planning their move off the farm, and so we are destined to lose more early Farm members. Ch-ch-changes!! We meet this evening, as we do every month- topic: what’s next for Molino? Ah, the work of an intentional community: aka ‘being more intentional’ – this takes TIME.

And now we turn our attention back to the fields. 

Two Dog Farm’s miracle dry farmed winter squash is up and at ’em. Mark Bartle ‘brings the water up’ with his tractor then drills seed into the puffed up, well prepared soil and we wait a bit and suddenly the field turns greener and greener as happy winter squash romps up from nowhere to Everywhere, eventually coloring big patches of the farm with wonderful squashy hues.

Two Dog Farm Winter Squash Miracle

In the orchard, we share the very few cherry fruit on the un-netted trees with the birds and foxes that get most of the fruit. Are you adept at bud grafting? We need some expertise to create our next generation of trees by bud grafting onto the Colt rootstock that is rebounding from burnt up trees! A handful of cherries is still quite a gift this season.

Foreground: Surviving Cherry. Backtround: fire burned cherry roostock (‘Colt’) awaiting Your Help with bud grafting.

Bask in the sun, sit still inside and try to keep cool, or beat it to the creek or beach!

Keep cool and stay in touch.

Windy Weather with Hoes

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Windy days and nights, unpredicted wind, ceaseless, draining wind: who called up the wind? Roaring breezes coming from the West or even Southwest – creeking roof beams at night, trees talking on the ridges, everyone hunkered down, difficult to spend much time outside. The wind dries things and, at the same time, makes it difficult to water – sprinklers send mist into the sky instead of wetting the ground…can’t even water at night. We await the calm, but then it heats up. 47F here last night- happy almost summer! But here we were, promising not to curse the coolness…or the fog…both are so very welcome, so let’s stop griping. Hi ho.

Hanging onto swaying tree tops and singing the longest intricate and sweet melody: a black-headed grosbeak serenades the farm. Huge flocks of house finches chatter and gossip in their bouncy flights; these are doing a second clutch in one home-side nest with the last batch of kids threatening to sit on mom’s eggs in the nest from which they were born. 5 buzzards circling the farm yesterday, perhaps smelling the gophers from our traps. Jays are eating the high up ripening cherries on our feral stock. Bluebirds are swooping around the farm fields. Ash throated flycatcher issues its referee whistle call from midway up in the walnut trees. I could go on and on with bird diversity- its really an amazing array here.

Kitty prints in the dirt: bobcats are around, but too coy to see. Coyote tracks, too! The bunnies are scarcer and scarcer.

The grass on the field margins is shoulder high – wild oats (which we didn’t sow) – and the brightest blonde that it makes you blink to look at it in the sun. It waves about and rustles and forms the best frame for everything else. Already, though, it is coming down to be MULCH for the trees. The Maserati of mulch carts is getting overhauled from fire destruction of both wheels, but soon she will be jetting about carrying Huge Loads of hay to “prevent the earthworms from getting sunburn” and to insolate the ground from the summer’s drying heat. Hay rides?

In the farm fields, its weeding time. Out come the hoes every morning…trying to keep in front of the weeds is a real chore. Blankets of amaranth are rampant, as are bind weed, wild radish and a bunch of other things. But, we have kept ahead of the weeds lest all is lost. Many thanks to the crews who work hard and are ever vigilant. 

Freed from weeds, the tomatoes have set their first fruit and must already have deep roots because the soil looks bone dry on the surface. For Molino Creek Farm, the metal T posts are up and await holding up the string trellis around the tomatoes; not so with 2 Dog whose tomatoes romp with abandon, covering the soil and inviting tip toeing harvest methods.

All that the sun promises…..Sunflower seedings are already big enough to track the sun. Rows of vigorous sunflowers are bulking up and growing fast, promising to brighten tables far afield, making smiles, reminding people of the summer’s bounty. In the fall, we leave some to go to seed and the birds do feast. Seedlings come up the next year and dry farm themselves.

Last summer’s fire changes this year’s work. We were already ‘full up’ with chores around the farm- especially now, during ‘mowing time.’ Mowing time is that brief period after the grass stops growing but before it is so freaking dry that a mower might start a fire. Those 3 weeks are crucial to get the grass on the ground. Now is mowing time- we’re a week in! And, on top of that…as the vegetation dries down, our green fields and orchards look yummy to deer, and yet our fence isn’t back in tact from the fire. Many thanks to Ocean, Raven, Cassia, and Kaethe- our beloved fence patching crew. Ah, the lovely sound of the ringing T post pounder! And still- alarm went out a few days ago- Deer in the fence! Young apples getting randomly and severely pruned, so sad, but who can blame them…not much out there to eat- much more has to grow back to make the palette of deer food that they would like. 

We hope that The Deer aren’t marauding your crops.

And, may your plans for a more social Solstice be shaping up.

Farewell to Spring (and gophersnake)

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Farewell to Spring, what a fitting name for our native wildflower aka Clarkia (named for the partner in the Lewis and Clark expedition) – it blooms last in the series, a bright pink in the sea of golden, drying grasses. This species, C. rubicunda, is the pure red-pink one and not too common around here, but we nurture it along on the shallow-soiled rocky ridge above what used to be the White House. A month ago, this spot was awash with blue lupines, now it is polka pinka dotted with big pom poms of a native dandelion. This wildflower covered ridge makes yet another farm-stewarded pollinator patch. Bumble bees liked the lupine while it lasted (now they’re on vetch)…we await the flower-specific Clarkia bees…or the flower petal harvesting leaf cutter bees.

It has been the Biggest Snake year EVER. Gopher snakes are in such an abundance that we have to be careful not to step on them. One of the bigger ones did the Frank Herbert Dune sandworm trick of diving into a pile of what looked like impenetrable soil to disappear in a flash below ground, right in from of Mark Jones. One was on my front porch and, 10′ away, another across the entrance path…right after I saw the one photo’d crossing the farm road. They are easier to see in mid morning as the sun emerges from the fog but before these reptiles get warm enough to disappear. No rattlesnakes out yet…one crushed ringneck snake on the road…and lots and lots of both blue belly lizards and alligator lizards (everywhere!). Normally, April is reptile month- seems it waited a bit for unknown reasons this time around.

The forests are brightening, and not only from the carpets of wildflowers covering the ground. Up in the canopies, what looked like blackened redwoods are now turning busy green. What a resilient tree…many are sprouting back from blackened limbs. Redwoods can lose 100% of their needles to fire and yet bounce right back to life. They will soon be casting much-needed shade on the forest floor and their needles are already combing the (thankfully frequent!) fog to drip inches of new rainfall onto the ground. Not all of the redwoods are sprouting from their branches- some burned so hard that they are sprouting all along their trunks, like huge bottle brushes. Others are sprouting from only the point where their trunks go into the ground.

The mowing work around the farm is proceeding apace. There’s this narrow window when the soil gets dry enough that regrowth is curtailed and yet there’s enough moisture that the mower doesn’t start a fire – that’s where we are at, right now! Roadsides and hay fields- clip clip clip!

The sunflowers, peppers, onions, and more are all in the ground and growing! Farm labor crews are  out there moving pipe and weeding every day. Dry farmed winter squash in 2 Dog Farm’s fields have just sprouted from their well-prepared soil. Dust erupts from the many vehicle trips up and down the road…farm season is ON!

Here goes….

Hope to see you soon

Resprout and Grow

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Our orange-winged blackbird, bees!, post fire resprouting, Molino Chardonnay, teeny apples, and more…

Orange- and Red-winged blackbirds nest in this weedy, radish filled field below charred hillsides from last year’s fire

What happened to make one of our red-winged blackbirds an orange-winged blackbird? He also has a higher voice. Starkly different. Maybe we should have a naming contest. His red winged counterparts are pleased to have some nesting habitat in the very high weeds of the field we call ‘The Draw’ – we can’t mow it now as there are at least 5 pairs of these feisty birds tending nests there. Some may recall last year’s village of Brewer’s blackbirds who nested in the avocado patch. Apparently, they were not pleased with the post fire structure (few avocado trees made it) and so moved their clan elsewhere to nest this year. We miss their peculiar clicking.

Another winged animal- the Honey Bee- has kept Molino on its mind. Conner’s bee tending operation netted some local honey recently and a new swarm almost made it in his swarm trap, balling up right next to it one day and the next buzzing about energetically. These pollinators are especially abundant on wild radish flowers (surrounding the blackbird nests!) but will soon be feasting on whatever few tanbark oak are remaining post fire. Meanwhile, bumble bees are really numerous on the many vetch patches around our fields. The 1600′ hedgerow we planted 9 years ago was getting over head high before the fire but all of it torched last August in the wildfire that swept our farm. And yet, because we used locally collected native plants, they were all adapted to fire and are quickly recovering. Root sprouts are shooting up from most of the plants- new elderberry stems are 5′ tall, flowering current shoots and hazelnut are 3′, monkeyflower bushes are 2′, yarrow and native grasses are at their full height…oaks are even resprouting to around 2′ now! Lizard tail didn’t sprout but new seedlings are coming up where we had planted it.

Our habitat hedgerow resprouts from fire, even the oak trees bouncing back!

Our Bartle partners with Two Dog Farm are pleased with the vibrant growth of their Chardonnay wine grapes, now in their second year. The trellis will soon be supporting long lush vines. (PS, if you haven’t tried their pickled jalapenos- do it…they aren’t for the faint of heart and are Delicious.

Two Dog Farm’s Molino Terroir – Chardonnay for the Future (YUM!)

More on the perennial front….our citrus orchard flowers are still hanging on- get out there for a heavenly smell! Somehow, all of our citrus fruit has been picked, pointing out our wisdom in the many new trees we planted a few years ago anticipating the desire of our Community for these tasty fruit. With luck, we’ll have even more limes, lemons, oranges and tangerines next winter- a ways away! The apple orchard is sporting the first forming apples- tiny nubbins of fruit that will fatten quickly. Some flowers are still out. The tree canopy is still spring green and leafing out, casting a welcome cooling shade that will soon suppress the understory weeds and slow the mowing. 4, 5, and 6 year old pears are starting to look like real trees this year. We planted many, many new trees this year in the expansion area and those new trees are growing in really deep and wonderful soil that we prepared for years with cover crops.

Teeny tiny apples coming on strong

We hope you are soaking in some rays these glorious and bright late spring days.

A few last flowers and a denser canopy forming in our apple orchard

Tall Grass Turning Tawny

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Seedlings, nestlings, fledglings, saplings (and more).

The highlight on the Farm this week is the many newly planted food-producing plants, pushing their young roots out through the moist, freshly tilled soil. Two Dog Farm’s field has hundreds of brand new pepper bushes, a gadzillion pop up pokey onion starts, and a smattering of purple fuzzy eggplant bush babies. Molino Creek Farm’s row after row of tomatoes, soaked only once- at first by overhead irrigation when planted- are now also wiggling in the breeze. In all these rows, the ho-ers are hoeing to keep the weeds from competing. We were worried about the cool, drippy days and the dreaded fungal diseases that can claim Many Lives. But, nay, no such thing happened, and now the seedlings stand upright, leaves tracking the Sun’s warmth and chlorophyll-exciting photons.

Early Girl tomato seedling, just watered at the outset- dryfarmed from here on
2 Dog Farm’s onions and peppers: an extravaganza of flavor just a ways away

Meanwhile, in the grassy areas surrounding the fields…what was last week a lush sea of flowers and green grass is turning tawny. Tall dry oats flowers wave in the wind above bright poppies. Lupine pods are a’ popping when the afternoons get warm, clicking, throwing seeds in arcs away from mom. The (very) few Douglas fir trees that survived the Fire are sporting their lime green emerging new growth branch tips; redwood shoots push from burnt trunks way up or bristle out densely at the base of charred trunks.

Turning tawny, tall grass

There are billions of seeds dropping from the weedy grasses and wildflowers, so seed eating birds are so very happy, bellies full and crops hungry for new gravel. Wary Quail Males on top of fence posts and bush skeletons, clucking warily as their female friends hunker down on nests full of eggs. Every few days, a new nest of baby birds fledge. Last week, 4 house finches ‘got out’ of my front porch nest – the babies still come back to perch near the next. Are they being nostalgic, do they feel their happy place there? The nest doesn’t look so welcoming, being ringed with poop and probably still crawling with bugs. Also last week, one of the bluebird families welcomed 3 new young to the world. As I paced through the orchard checking irrigation, those babies were getting exhausted being ‘chased’ (with fretful parents, too!) and one eventually fluttered to the ground to rest, took a few (parent-urged) moments and made a sprint for a branch. I saw the same behavior a couple days later in a fresh tilled field: colorful cool birds learning to forage and fly…what a treat to witness!

Lots of brown, with some spring green coming on – the tilled field and burned hillsides of Molino Creek Farm

In the adjoining forest- the thrushes are back. Swainson’s thrush flute melodies fill the soundscape, a banner year for their population. If you listen carefully, you’ll catch that its call and response with a crescendo of competition for sound space until someone tires out. These thrushes are returning to our area to breed, having spent the winter in “Northwestern Argentina and Bolivia north and west, possibly to eastern Panama.” The forest understory is thick with globe lillies right now, another bulb that went profuse after the fire. The native iris’ are just past peak, but add more color to what is an unparalleled understory wildflower display- if you can check it out, now’s the time!

Calochortus albus all big and bouncy from post fire bliss – one of the many forest understory flowers brightening the understory. Photo by Sylvie Childress
More Chalochorti – the landscape shot. note the burned up trees. Photo by Sylvie Childress

We hope you are enjoying the Spring as much as we are. So much hope and vibrancy and life that we can barely contain ourselves.

Peep Peep!

More Fog and Flowers

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Around the table, again (!) in the evenings…in passing, around the fields…we remark “we’ll never complain about the cool foggy air, again!” Wisps or blankets, drippy cloudy mist-swirling-droplets condensing on the grass…off the trees- pattering from the rooflines, road dust wetted in rings under trees. Yesterday, the fog was blowing from the South- how odd! Today, it just hangs with no wind, silencing the world like snowfall.

Bromus carinatus, Californi brome grass, a native perennail grass that we nurture as a local restoration seed source

Robins sing from tree tops, bicolor blackbirds with their hunched and flashing red-orange wings, trill from the highest weeds. Many a spring birdsong continues even through the cool and muted foggy landscape.
Despite the relatively dry winter, the vegetation remains this late spring lush and thick and green. There’s almost no blackened sooty soil showing anymore where last summer’s inferno scorched nearly everything. The fertile fields are either plowed and getting planted or awaiting mowing after the birds finish nesting. In the acres and acres of burned up coyote brush surrounding the fields, the ground is covered and growing: thistles and wild cucumber are dominants, but there are also patches of the orangist of poppies, occasional startling blue lupine, and many green patches of weedy grasses.

Fog blankets our landscape over last year’s scorched shrublands, helping the recovery

Tractor noise from our fields and helicopter noise from the mountain compete with bird song 7-5 daily. Yesterday, 2 Dog ripped the Bottomlands and then smoothed the moist soil back over, prepping for an epic dry farmed winter squash crop. Their peppers and eggplant seedlings are settling in. Judy and Co planted some of Molino Creek Farm’s tomatoes this past week. All of these seedlings are enjoying the cool transition for settling in…hopefully they get some (dare I say it?) hot weather in a few weeks. 
The constant helicopter noise is from salvage logging at the Lockheed Property at the top of Ben Lomond Mountain and only a short air distance away- down at the highway, logging trucks wiz by and the roadsides are blanketed by fluffy pieces of redwood bark blowing off of the trucks. With a supply shortage of 350 million board feet of lumber this year, there’s money to be made with wood. The hills will be less shady and the understory will literally have a hay day…fine fuels guarantee a quicker return interval for the next fire: here we go! Time for better climate change legislation.
Speaking of climate change…Besides our climate smart agriculture with no irrigation (aka ‘dry farming’), we are doing our part in lots of other ways. The orchard systems use state of the art irrigation efficiency practices designed by experts with the Natural Resources Conservation Service: micro sprinklers spread a fine spray of water across the immediate root zone of the trees; we turn on the water only when careful monitoring shows a requirement and only during the coolest, stillest parts of the week. And, our orchard water is all pumped from our well by the sun! Our orchard is capturing and storing carbon for the long term not only in tree wood but also in the soil- we nurture deeply rooted perennials in the aisles and between the trees…and mow them…and mulch their residue as the primary input for the trees. Earthworms and voles take that organic matter deeper into the soil, storing chunks of bio-sponge to enliven the soil food web and keep everything growing. Our orchard soil is deliciously lush and becoming more carbon rich every year.
Another climate change resilience tactic we employ- diversity! Our mulch field, hedgerow, and roadside mowing is promoting extraordinary biodiversity: super diverse grassy areas teem with beneficial insects and pollinators. For instance, we have species of lupines that we can more-or-less call “Molino lupines” – distinct eco-types native to our land. And, you don’t find bicolor lupine much, anywhere…but here it is in the mowing footprint of our stewardship. These diverse grassland plants cover the soil during wet years and dry, keeping erosion down and generally supporting the web of life with their pollen, nectar, and tasty leaves. Insects from these plants are in the mouths of lizards, snakes, and our many hungry birds.

Lupinus bicolor, one of the many diverse species in our grassy areas

May the fog drip moisten your pant legs as you breathe in the rich spring air.

Birds, Bees, and Flowers: A Vibrant Spring!

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The Spring Bird Chorus is raucous and entrancingly continuous. Twirling, landing and arching their backs, trilling and showing off their red puffy shoulders – red winged (aka bicolor) blackbirds are the real attraction if you’re paying attention at all. A tropical sound. Females carrying long strands of dried grass for nests in the tall weeds- lots of pairs this year. We have to stop mowing the tall weeds in big patches and let them do their stuff. 

3 of the 6 bluebird houses- occupied! The first group of bluebird babies already on the prowl squeaking up a storm in the olive orchard. House finches – two nests in the hanging pots on my porches–fuzzy babies getting bigger by the day. Barn swallows nesting, too, squeaking metallically on fence posts all around. Starling babies in a nook in the barn. Somewhere, robin babies, too. **HEY! the golden crowned sparrows bailed for Up North this past week** Big, puffy, watchful male quail keeping eyes out for threats. Great horned owls hooting at night. Those and so much more…
Gophers, voles: mowing, throwing soil, scampering about.

Two Dogs’ peppers settling in, nothing else much planted yet. Their grapes sure look nice, leafing out all Spring Green.
Fresh, pillowy plowed fluffy brown soil awaits seedlings. Onions and tomatoes going in the ground soon, rumor has it. Cold nights and the fog chilling the daytime air- summer is slowly coming on (and we wouldn’t have it differently, fearing drought and heat). Earthworms and fungi, don’t fear- plowed fields are accompanied by many unplowed areas for you! We keep these hay fields for orchard mulch (foreground, below). And, our orchard rows are unmowed, just tended with introductions of native plants, tap rooted plants, herbs, flowers. Between the orchard rows, we just scratch in cover crop with a harrow, which leaves many perennial plants in place- goodness what a cover crop we got this winter!

Plowed fields, hay fields, yarrow, and cool, distant fog over the ocean

The ridges are covered with skeleton trees, but some of the redwoods are resprouting there. ‘I’ll miss the mature conifer stands around here’ one neighbor said- we won’t see those again: how many people in California are saying the same thing, as their homeplaces burn? 

The burned hillsides have softened their starkness- washes of (now sleeping) poppies brighten patches through black sticks.

Sleeping…California poppies, popping up after the fire in a burned scrub patch

The air is sweet, sweet, sweet smelling everywhere you go. The forest has honey smell as the madrones flower like never before- carpets of white blossoms. Our citrus orchards perfumed in orange and lemon flowers. Soon, the olive flowers will waft the finest smells about. Hummingbirds in their finest shining pelts, sparring over thick nectar that’s so very plentiful. Honey bees (Conner caught a swarm here this week!), bumble bees, all sorts of bee friends hard at work while the food flows. Monkey flower just came in bloom, the same poppy orange, same as flames:

Flame orange sticky monkeyflower brightens the unburned patches of our landscape

We’ve been fire proofing the landscape, preparing for the next fire fight as fast as we can. Down came the massive walnut tree next to the Barn and about 10 burned up Douglas firs around the property. We pile burned the last few days of legal burn season- giant piles of big branches…the trunks piled carefully so to make den habitat for bobcat, fox, ringtail, and more. You can see the barn more clearly now- and, its finely polished inside awaits gatherings, soon.

The tree-cleared Barn stands out more; above, skeleton tree ridges from last year’s fire

Not all the walnut trees are gone- we left most and the band tailed pigeons are gorging on the pollen filled catkins these days. Umbrellas of new leaves fan out and cast new shade, stop more wind.

Black walnut trees are a dominant part of Molino Creek Farm- dry farmed and prolific volunteers…catkin-ing and leafing out.

We hope you are enjoying the spring as much as we are…peak spring! beautiful…

Fog + Spring = Swooning Beauty

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Foggy mornings greet cool, sunny days and fast-drying earth…a flower-filled landscape…bright, breeding birds…and a farm filled with hub bub.

The fog is not so thick that it drips from the roof or the few remaining redwood branches.  No, this is the kind of fog that makes the knee-high sward wet and dulls the brightness of the rising sun, smoothing the transition from the 40F night to the 60F day. These would be good mornings for burning piles of cut trees/brush, but who has time for that?

Despite the heavy dew, the first 6″ of soil are DRY and the shallow-soiled patches of grasslands are turning brown- way too early!

A light fog wisps across the morning Molino landscape

The rapid drying from the drought compresses spring flowering: lupines flowering alongside the first poppies, soon to be joined by tarplants, farewell to spring, yarrow, and others. The colors are amazingly dazzling (and low to the ground!).

Sky lupines and California poppies brighten one of our stewarded, shallow-soiled swards

At least two of the brand new nest boxes meant for western bluebirds have bluebirds in them- maybe a third (which would be a record). The males are in their finery and both parents are carrying around wiggly caterpillars, banging them on the top of fence posts and gobbling them down, fattening for the work ahead. House finches are nesting in planters against the house and barn swallows have repaired their muddy nests. Starlings are fighting for the gaps to nest in on the side of the Barn. Many shrubland birds are crowded into the last shrubby refuges….a California thrasher singing from the unburned moist shrubby area below the now cleaned up spot where the White House used to be. Band tailed pigeons are gathering to harvest the emerging black walnut catkins- manna!

Farm fire recovery is happening quickly. The avocado trees that burned are sprouting rapidly from their cherished roots – big, vigorous sprouts promise quickly recovering trees…we are hoping to graft a bunch very soon. We’ll go from our previous 15 varieties to fewer, more certain and tasty types, adding in Carmen Haas and perhaps straight up Haas to our collection; more Pinkertons and Reed, too!

Rootstock sprouts from our previously burned 7-year-old Lamb Haas – grafting soon!

The fruit trees are starting to bloom, the citrus sweetening. Navel oranges have more sugars with this years’ bigger trees. Someone really liked the Cara Cara navels and they’re already harvested, but there are more, unknown types of navels that are tasty, too. A few more of our Persian limes are harvestable along with the Lisbon lemons- all going to the Community Orchardists for their home plates. Across the farm, half of Cherry Hill is bursting with bloom, white snowballs above cut cover crop.

A cluster of Lapins cherry flowers on a tree the fire spared

Farmers are tilling and tilling the fields, making dirt clumps into finely textured soil for planting. Two Dog Farm has planted the first crop: little beautiful pepper plants are settling in. Too much to do in the orchard: weeds are bolting, irrigation needs setting out, final pruning is wanting, composting and fertilizing, too! The quickening spring calls for strengthening arms and more constantly running machinery. Its Farming Time!

Our Molino Clan wishes you well.

Springing Green-ness

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Cold nights, warmish days…breaking dormancy- buds…bird bills full of straw…green splotches on burned barren ground are people root, larger darker masses are bracken fern. Coyote bushes and poison oak are tiny but vibrant patches soon to be rushing back to crowd in.

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Weeks of wind storms, mild sprinkles, and cool weather transition into spring with, still, cold nights (41F last night!) but warmer days. The grass and cover crops bolt, some places chest high!! Bell beans blossoming, vetch tendrils gripping high. The hills are (still) green despite the very low rainfall this past winter. Redwoods are sending their epicormic sprouts out, recovering from fire, bottle brush trees. Giant understory herbs- especially the lilies (Triliums, Fritillaria, Calochortus) spurred on by bright sun and fertilizing ash. Herbs are even large where it didn’t burn: ash fall way down wind in Bonny Doon?

Starlings with their yellow beaks and iridescent feathers, blue birds aplomb with bright hues, swallows squeaking and gyrating way up, band tailed pigeons bark-coos, even. Hummingbirds all shiny and sparring. The annual parade of visiting ravens are wheeling overhead – an unusual dozen over the weekend dropped in on Maw and Caw, who seemed excited by the visit (don’t stay! they say). A strong covey of quail is back, feeding on things in the chopped up cover crop, same with the white crowned, song, and golden crowned sparrows – a ‘mixed flock.’

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Our momma is probably crying for her coyote pup, who is loping awkwardly with some badly injured from right paw. Hoping chopped rodent subsidies can help her heal before she gets et by the cougar, but so it goes.A 5 strong herd of bucks happened through, one a year older than the other 2-year olds. Posse of chaps with the smallest of velvet nubs.

Bees! Lots and lots of small bumble bees and the hives are teeming with life. Lots of flowers right now- tank up! we’re cutting the flowers down! If we work slow enough, then some flowers will resprout and be the next wave of bee food, but its hard to slow down as all the crop areas want to be mowed right now…

The trees are getting buried in cover crop, and the cover crop is drinking all the soil moisture (and then will be in the way of our micro sprinklers. The race is on. Bob Brunie wrassled the Citrus Hill cover crop to the ground with a mixture of weed eating and sickle bar mower: wow! there’s where our 20 new avocado trees went!!

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It is poppy time of year and the hills all around us are in epic poppy bloom. It is by far the biggest poppy display since 1986 along highway 1 in Wilder Ranch, etc. Here, too, the steep burned south-facing slopes above us (which before the fire were monkeyflower, a more muted orange) are now flame orange patches of poppies. Field margins- poppies! Roadsides and ridgelines coming in: poppies! A few radishes, lupines, and peopleroot wend their way between the poppy flowers, the background mostly burned.

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In the orchard, apple trees starting to bloom and lots of last year’s fire damage becoming more evident than before with downfacing streaks on branches shriveled from scorch: will they heal? We cut many already, “lifting their skirts.”   Two Dog Farm is a Step Ahead- cover crop mowed and tilled into the rich brown soil- an excellent cover crop this year and great timing of soil prep! 

Molino Creek Farm only a bit behind- cover crop and lots of farm margins, etc., mowed close and getting ready for tilling.

Fields are still green(ish) but turning tawny quickly.Sweet, sweet smell of freshly tilled soil and mowed grass….ahhhhh!

The farm is Noisy with helicopter logging at Lockheed above us, chainsaws blaring here, too: clearing hazard trees and stacking stuff to burn or in habitat piles. Lots of commotion from tractors. And even more clamor from Big Machinery that cleared away our burned homes this past week. Things are ‘improving’ in ways that only us two leggeds can appreciate. The farm feels lighter, more airy, cleaner, and fresh…

We hope you are enjoying this vibrant spring, getting out for your eyes and your breath. 

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.