Welcome!

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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.

Into the Fall

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Another heat wave today and tomorrow- but with clean skies…harvests bountious and at peak production.

With this rare warm night, crickets loudly serenade the full moon rising over skeleton trees. Tomorrow promises 100F (in the shade). I smiled this evening at raven beaks wide open midflight, cooling- junco beaks, too- birds are panting. Our feathered buddies are filthy- bird baths need cleaning often, water swirling with soot.

The hot days recently drove me down to our namesake creek, down deep into the cool(er) canyon. The creek is flowing with beautiful clean water – just a little ash floating in some eddies. California giant salamander larvae were darting around, water striders skating and skimming. So, creek life continues, though the canyon sides are a real mess, strewn haphazardly with large blackened logs. Charcoal mars hiking clothes. Our redwood groves, the big trees – all standing…same with the older large Douglas firs. Creekside seep walls still run with drippy drips, but the mosses are singed and only just turning the slightest green under ugly brown roasted mats.

The stink of soot and char is really getting old as are the flare ups and the occasional smokey air. A huge column of smoke yesterday late afternoon just uphill of the farm disturbed the jumpier neighbors enough to call 9-1-1, but needlessly- whatever pile of stuff burned up quickly and then no fire…such fires can’t go anywhere anymore. Frayed nerves, fire weariness.

Across are farm fields, the fall harvest is JAMMING. Two Dog boxed up lots of dry farmed blue hubbard and spaghetti squash this week. Their peppers are rocking. Tomato fields all over the farm are the thickest they’ve ever been with ripe fruit, beautiful lush rolling patches of green healthy tomato plants- they like the heat.

Native bunch grasses are re-greening the burnt interstitial areas between our fields, those grassy patches where we harvest mulch for the orchards. California brome grass has lush 10″ long leaves rapidly covering the ground, providing cover for the mices, food for the crickets and grasshoppers that feed our western bluebirds.

The sunflowers have gone to seed and there are big flocks of goldfinches enjoying the tasty seeds. Our cutflower crops are otherwise continuing with Judy’s Most Gorgeous Dahlias brightening many people’s homes. 

A few starlings have returned: eek.

I downloaded the temperature data logger at the top of the orchard, under full canopy of our biggest trees. Looking back for the temperature during the fire…it peaked at 108F at 9 pm on 8/19. Ironically, this was also the high temperature of our last heatwave on 9/6. They got the hottest of heat from below and from above!

We hope you are happy, healthy, and safe through these most tumultuous of times. Think of us out here on the farm- we are so lucky.

Fire Oasis Resprouting

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This past week brought us lots of new basal sprouts from otherwise charred native shrubs, plump tasty Gala apples, thousands of the sweetest red, ripe tomatoes, hares a’plenty, golden crowned sparrows, and Fall.

As we look around us, we realize how lucky we have been. The Farm is an oasis in the blackened scar of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, which destroyed 1000 homes and charred 85,000 acres. We lost much, but not as much as we might have.

Up from the blackened earth- 6″ bright green sprouts of thousands of native plants. They know fire down deep in their DNA. No rain since April, ground seemingly dusty dry and baked from multiple heat waves, and yet…lush new leaves and tender young shoots. 10 years ago, we planted a 1600′ hedgerow full of native shrub diversity (from the Hayfield Gate to the exWhite House). The fire scorched it- not to ash, thank goodness (we’d managed it, for goodness sakes, to keep the fuel down)- killing all above ground plant parts. And yet, here comes the hazelnut, coffeeberry, blue oak, valley oak, coast live oak, currant, and elderberry…all bolting from the ground, begging us to remove their dead past and make way for their vibrant future. Clippers and chippers a’hoy!

We rush about when we can, picking up literally truck loads of scorched, spent apples from the ground and stripping them from the trees- off to the deer outside the fence (on top of Cape Ivy, for their hooves and stray bites to pulverize). But, then again- up in the branches high above the fire’s reach…tasty apples! The gala trees put on lots of fruit and there are many good ones ripe right now (come and get ’em!). Even the blackened young plum trees survived! We keep running the microsprinklers along that mile of new drip line to ‘keep ahead’ of the need for water as the trees are still drinking and recovering and trying to put up sugars in their trunks for the coming winter. 

Field after field now – tomato bushes laden heavily with perfectly ripe fruit. Too much to deal with! Our neighbors, everyone we can get, picking fervently and sending fruit forth to fire victims so they might enjoy some good food solace. North Coast refugees via the Davenport Resource Center got some and soon the displaced folks in Boulder Creek will have meals cooked with these sweet red orbs. 

 Bats flit, red bellied sapsuckers whine. Bunnies scratch and scamper in the scant remaining vegetation, bodies packed in nearly on top of one another, which they don’t seem to mind as they are social, kind and playful. 

Missing the shrubs just as bad are the recently returned golden crowned sparrows. On schedule, they arrived the first day of Fall- Tuesday. So, that familiar winter song is with us again and these avian grazers will soon be at work eliminating our garden greens. What a shock they must feel as they were really looking forward to re-occupying the same 15′ of shrubs they left last spring: their (winter) homes, burned up – gone, all gone.

Fall started and the fall weather came at the same time. Chilly nights and warm days. The smoke has subsided, celebrations! It took 2 hours of hiking through the ash to find a smoking stump, but there it was, fire way down below the ground. Should have packed some beets to roast! 

That hike also revealed too many roast San Francisco dusky footed wood rats to count, so sad. Maybe its the many roasted animals that has led to the Scourge of Flies that are everywhere. Quite annoying and hard to keep out of the house.

Two foxes wander all night long through the fields, together. Two pairs of eyes glow in the flashlight beam. Scrounging for apple, feasting on bunny. The small cougar leaves tracks in the inch deep dust of our farm roads every night.

And now we have a barn owl, the first in many years. Two great horned owls would like to eat it, and the screech owl is warning it to beware.

The incursion of fire tourists is new. Small planes taking the overhead tour, making for noisy skies. Intrepid trespassers taking advantage to drive past the temporarily open gate (now locked!) drive way up in the hills visiting make believe neighbors, seeking rumored farms. Streams of motorcycle engines echo across our canyons from packs of tragedy ganderers jetting around the hills of Bonny Doon above and to the south of us. Let them learn! This is the landscape of California, it is a fire landscape that we live within. This tourism is good, the destruction real…it must be felt, seen, and smelled to sink in.

Our once monthly group meetings accelerate to weekly meetings on Sheri’s patio. Decisions a’plenty to grapple with and consent decision making has (unbelievably) sped up. How to recover, where will our homeless neighbors sleep, who is doing what with insurance claims, what chores need doing? So much to coordinate!

We haven’t been able to welcome the many volunteers who have offered assistance- we are in the last evacuation zone and still not allowed to be on the farm except for essential farming operations. So, we rely on our already strapped neighborhood to do the work of the once many community orchardists. Last Saturday at our normal gathering time it was just Jen, Ian, and me attempting orchard hygiene and weeding around the burnt trees. The sharp scent of apple cider vinegar is strong as apples ferment in the understory…

Flowers Emerge from Burnt Trees

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A month ago this evening, at about the hour I’m writing this, flames were starting to engulf our farm, but we’re back on our feet with the help of lots of love and support, hard work, and a steady stream of good wits.

Many thanks to many (>300) donors! We met our fundraising target (and a little more!) of $60,000. Big Smiles all around- we are so very humbled by the outpouring of financial support to help rebuild the farm. As we figure out what insurance will cover and what these funds will help with, we’ll send you updates Meanwhile, what could have been financially ruinous has a nice buffer and we can focus on more positive things.

Looking across the farm, one is stricken by the contrast of the bleak, burned surroundings and the green agricultural fields. Some are surprised, but agricultural fields don’t burn! Not the way we manage them. We mow perimeters of the fields, have a network of trails and roads, and the fields themselves are lush with productive growth but devoid of dry fuel. And so, the tomato crop is going to market as is the peppers, zucchini, etc. Even our orchards, which had understory burns, are relatively resistant to fire, though some areas were quite damaged.

If we had had 2 more years, even our orchards would have come through unscathed. We had just turned the corner with our apple orchard where dense, lush perennial understory plants were taking hold: a fire resistant orchard plant community. Where those perennial mats were thickest, the fire couldn’t get a grip and the trees, irrigation lines, and all were undamaged. The trees that were most damaged were in places where we most recently placed lots of dry mulch that hadn’t had even a few weeks for the fungi to take hold and moisten it…big, fresh piles of grass and twigs without perennial plants in the interstitial  areas burned hot and cooked quite a few 6 year old cherry trees. 

And yet, some cherry trees…seemingly toast…are showing some hope! Flowers are emerging and there is promise of leaves right behind the flowers.

The apple orchard is bouncing back much more quickly. Cooked fruit and lower branches contrast with buds breaking and trees going into flower.

Our fruit tree flowers are odd but very important for the pollinators. Ants on cherry flowers, honey bees on the apples- nothing else around!
The tomato vines are heavy with rapidly ripening fruit. But, all of the crops have been taking a beating from our hot, hot August.  
Here is a graph of high, average, and low temperatures for the month. The fire hit the farm on August 19 (we had a reading of 97F at 11 pm during the fire…not too hot in that part of the orchard!). The most recent heat wave was 107F a record for our record keeping.

Meanwhile, the wildlife show has been very interesting. The 2 Cooper’s hawks are having a field day, still: lots of prey with no cover. The great horned owls hoot up a storm each night. A kestrel is hunting around the farm, too. The screech owl that was there before the fire is still ‘singing’ from the same spot, though that spot is pretty burnt. Many birds eating roasted seeds. Spotted towhees scratching through charred litter. House finches relishing the post fire world, singing and dancing a bunch; they seem more numerous somehow, too. The quail are less ready to bolt- getting inured to lack of cover, methinks. I haven’t seen a single quail with damaged bodies- how did they manage the fire?? Thrashers are still about, though their favorite habitat, the thick brush, isn’t there anymore. The big flock(s?) of dark eyed juncos are still numerous. Maw and Caw came through the fire alright, still standing on their favorite hillock first thing in the morning, hopping up and down merrily greeting the dawn. 

Oh, and we have a Snake Story. Fiona, the Bartles’ pit bull mutt got bit by a rattlesnake this week: this one dog is enough for 2 Dog Farm, at least in dollars spent. Said venomous snake was in their padrone pepper patch and poor Fiona took one for the team, perhaps saving a farmworker similar agony. She got antivenom and recovered from her Winnie the Pooh poisoned appearance. The Bartles have had a hard summer having lost their house a few weeks before. (They will rent an interim home near their fields in Rancho del Oso for a bit while working on a new home)

Rattlesnakes haven’t been really apparent, but we have seen many gopher snakes since the fire. Also, I found a roasted alligator lizard with baby lizards roasted in her belly! What a sight.

The air today was fresher than for more than a month, and we could clearly see the ocean. But, smoke plumes adorn our blackened landscape still- new ones every day. Bob Frank put out a fire in the trunk of the pernicious downed fir (again!) just yesterday. 

The recent heat really spurred the need for a speedy response to burned up irrigation lines. Thanks to Thomas Wittman and Brian McElroy who joined Bob Brunie, Jen and Ian, and me to replace around 1 mile of poly line irrigation tubing in the orchards…and ~300 micro sprinklers! The orchard irrigation is up and running, but despite running irrigation every waking hour for a week, we still haven’t caught up to the soaking that the trees really need. 

Now, if only we could find enough spry labor to pay to put together the 2 miles of fencing where the wooden posts were burned up. It has been an adventure keeping our herd of 5 deer out of the fields.

CRASH! WHOOOMP!! Oh, another tree went down. That will be the percussive ‘entertainment’ of the next long while.

Here’s to the tomatoes in your near future!

CZU Lightning Fire Recap

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All of us and our extended network are alive, safe, and so are our immediate non-human family members. 

We lost the (duplex) White House, the 1920’s era stucco house shared by Judy and Mark and Sharon. Community orchardists will recall it being next to our picnic table under the walnut tree.

We also lost the Bartles’ (2 Dog Farm) family home. That’s the one highest on the farm, along Warrenella Road.

We feel these losses terribly and grieve for the memories and treasures past, anxious about the cleanup and rebuilding process.

Our mechanics garage torched. All of the wooden posts holding up our miles of deer fence burned (fence on the ground, deer feeding on crops now).

All around us, the landscape is burned. Here’s an aerial image from a little while ago- Molino Creek Farm is the green spot on the right, at the end of the gun barrel of raging fire- now ash.

We have lost a lot of rabbits, wood rats, song birds. The swallows left the farm. The areas we spared from fire (with fire hoses) are packed thick with refugee rabbits, wood rats, harvest mice and the like.

Our tomatoes and other fleshy annual crops survived. Our orchards lost a bit: 23 of our 50 cherry trees are toast. 18 of the oldest of our 50 avocado trees probably won’t make it.  Most of the apples will probably recover. Almost all of our orchard irrigation melted.

This is a set back, but we will survive. The outpouring of love and generosity humbles us all. We are so very grateful for our extended community. We still have a GoFundMe drive going…we know many have given generously- thank you so, so, very much! Here’s the link to spread around.

Now, today, was our first fresh air morning. It is the “smoking holes” stage of the wildfire: underground root systems burn away where the stumps of trees once rested – smoking like lil’ volcanoes. If you wanted to roast some beets in the woods, many opportunities. The cost of that opportunity might be crushing: trees falling everywhere, once an hour, big crashing messes.

The raptors are having a field day: no cover for the prey. Cooper’s hawks getting chubby. Great horned owls so full they can hardly hoot. 

Us humans scuttle to patch things up with the limited time we have: part of a fence propped up, melted parts of the water system repaired, generators and other equipment needs extra tinkering from heat/smoke damage, juggling a more limited water storage system, monitoring smoldering and falling trees, cleaning up. Paperwork.

But then there’s the farm work, too! Middle of harvest season. Too long kept away, too much ripe fruit, thinning out the ripe- piles on the ground. Not enough labor. Going back to market. Will do a U-Pick for tomatoes as soon as we can welcome people back.  

The landscape surrounding the surreally green farm is blackened. It is black and gray, like dirty snow, says Holly. Towering trees: big black skeletons. Acres of white ash where coyote bush recently teemed with wrentits and thrashers. Everything smells of fresh fire, even like a cheery camp fire as its still burning.   

A Look Back…the Fire Timeline

Days before- a long, long heat wave! 94F or higher at the farm for several days, then…

Sunday August 16 

2 a.m. LIGHTNING! What a show!! Not a bolt here and a bolt there and distinct thunder claps…no, rather, sheets of netted lightening all across the sky with a rolling ongoing thunder like the biggest timpani crescendo any sane orchestra has ever performed. And on it went. Fascinating to watch after the disorienting awakening. Social media studded with equal confusion “What’s with the flickering lights?” was amusing, but nevertheless serious in its way. 

Then a roll cloud, aka derecho, aka arcus cloud. One second I was doubting what I saw- a sudden appearance of a silvery cloud on the horizon, lit by the constant lightning. I looked away for a second and then it filled a quarter of the sky. The first of a long line of TERROR. I knew what that was, rushed to close the windows that were wide open to cool the house from the oppressive heat. I got 3 closed before it struck 70+MPH blast and high winds for around 15 seconds. Metal yard furniture moved from front to side yard, luckily not thrown through the windows. Branches broken, mayhem.

I had been counting seconds between lightning and thunder: all 10 seconds plus before that cloud. Suddenly, bolts closer and more distinct. And quickly the front sped past…more distant but still ‘exciting’ – but, needed sleep: 3:30 am -back to bed.

4:45 a.m. SMOKE!! smell woke me and made me upright and out of the door. Whole toasted tanoak leaves and burnt stuff landing everywhere. Clothes on, boots and all- quick into the truck, drive to neighbors horn blaring “FIRE!!” 

-calm down, says one neighbor, its not close-

morning unwinds and neighbors get up, start preparing

Here’s an 11 a.m. photo of the smoke plume over the tomatoes- looking south towards the fire

All day Sunday, we’re preparing for the fire. Fire hoses set out, Go packs into cars, water wetting down all surfaces, wells pumping tanks full. Plans afoot. We learn of the Warrenella Fire, at our doorstep- just a mile or so as the junco flies between us and Davenport- on the walls of San Vicente Canyon below the quarry. We think that’s the threat.

Monday August 17

Seems like they have Warrenella Fire under control- greatly relieved. We go back to our business as normal. That fire limited to ~40 acres or so. Rumors of many other small fires…22 in all across the county, all very small.

Tuesday August 18

Things getting much more serious…Fires around us grew overnight to a hundred or more acres each: 4 fires…one at Waddell was becoming well known. The ones up in Gazos Creek were even a bit bigger. 

We return to fire preparedness work, making lists, focusing on preparations again. Giant loads of vegetation going to remote piles, away from infrastructure. 

Here’s a photo from 6pm that night, smoke abounds:

Evening falls and I snap the following photo of the smoke coming from NORTH! What’s going on up there?? We thought the threat was from the South??!!

Went to bed very uneasy. Few of us slept much.

Wednesday August 19 

Full tilt boogie on preparation from first thing in the morning; the fire tracking news shows that the once separate fires grew from 1200 to a single conflagration of something like 15,000 acres overnight! Teams go to water tank complexes to assure they are clear of remaining debris; these crews work until they can work no more…leaving one tank complex incomplete (it later burns). 

People clear around their homes, remove needles from rooftops. 
Loads and loads of vegetation hauled from everywhere: our brush piles were never so big. 

2pm Mike Chiodoni, Battalion Chief for the Bureau of Land Management, our near neighbors, comes to the Farm for a briefing. If the Shit Hits the Fan, he says, just get into the middle of your fields, you’ll be safe. He says he’ll be back to give an update if anything more develops (but never comes back). 

One by one people evacuate- the smoke is too much! Here’s a picture of the 4pm sun that fateful day. It had been so dark from smoke you needed to turn on the the lights in the house at 2pm.

7:30 pm, last person leaves Molino, except me. I pull fire hose out, change clothes to fire clothes, mask, gloves, etc. 

Loud exploding trees, roaring approaching fire noise. Utterly terrified.
7:42 pm, fire roars onto the farm from the north. Moving sprinklers, wetting the yard. 

-seems to be moving slowly and not too terrifying now-

8:57 pm, looks like the fire is spotting close by:

9:00 pm, fire barrels into the yard, everything starts exploding in flames, terrified again but adrenaline pumping. Hauling fire hose from one wall of flames to the next, putting out spot fires in between. Have to suck down to close to the soil, create a pocket of fine water for protection with the wonderfully engineered nozzle, back up, keep from getting too hot…protect the house and self.

9:15 pm?, Bob Frank appears like an angel in the night, helps put out remaining spot fires around house. He and I are the only ones all night fighting fire, together- no professional fire fighting support!

We wait for fire storm to subside in our little safe envelope of post-fire steaming char.

Up to neighbors’ house, put out flaming plastic table, flaming rags, etc…with seaweed extract and a hoe- hard to find water in the haste; hoses seem dry…assume tanks have burned up. Bob stays and keeps putting out spot fires (finds a working hose), I return home for more fire control.

Fire subsides enough for us to venture then to other places to find and stretch and use fire hose…running from one structure to another.

August 20

Until 2 am we do what we can, moving hoses, hauling hoses, connecting more hoses, turning on and off water so as not to drain tanks into burning buildings, conserving water and using water. Dousing huge flaming trees and creeping grass fires, urging the longest jets of fire hose water towards too distant flames up against buildings. Protecting the Barn, putting out fires next to our chickens.

In the rotation between fires, we think we’d protected one house, but then we return to find it irreparably in flames. Rushing through it to gather what seems like valuable things that aren’t too deep in the smoke. Smoke alarms ring until the house collapses.

Then, finally, it is safe to go still further afield to other neighbors, one more house gone, in ashes already, others okay.

We are both soaked and tired. Our bodies no longer able to operate. My hands were entire cramps such that gripping wasn’t possible anymore. Bob says his legs might collapse. I return home to cry as loud as I ever have for 2 hours. Thanks to Wes Savage (in Romania, 2pm) for talking me back to earth. 

Back up at 6 am 8/20 to do more work…the work continued for days and days…

August 21, land still smoking, bad smokey air…assessing damage: tomatoes survived!

August 25, evening

Assessing damage- finally getting to the orchard, couldn’t bear to look before…it lives! Scorched, crop lost, but growth buds swelling to replace lost leaves. First flowers coming out like its spring.

All is not over…the fire is at 86,000 acres and only 35% contained! A heat wave is coming this weekend….

Please, friends, be safe- prepare for the Worst Case Scenario with your homes…earthquake, fire, flooding…preparation makes all the difference!

Please help Molino rebound from fire

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Dear Friends of Molino Creek Farming Collective,

Last Wednesday, our historic and iconic community farm was ravaged by the CZU Lightning Complex Fire as it exploded across the Santa Cruz Mountains.  We are all safe and mostly still evacuated, but our farm and community has suffered extensive damage.  We are asking here for your help to stabilize the emergency situation. We have established a GoFundMe fundraising drive for that reason: click here.

After we take care of basic safety and critical infrastructure, we hope that the farming operations can salvage some production for 2020.  Beyond the basic recovery, we will begin to take some baby steps for post-catastrophe transformation.

Besides several precious homes, we lost large portions of our water system, many orchard trees, some of the new 2 Dog vineyard, much of our deer fence, our mechanics garage, gates, and irrigation.  These funds will help us restore the basics in order to begin our recovery and prepare for the future.

Our partners who have lost their homes have their own individual GoFundMe campaigns for their personal emergency recovery, with links below:

Mark and Nancy Bartle (Save Two Dog Farm)

Judy Low

Sharon Potteiger and Mark Jones

We are so thankful for an extensive and supportive community.  As we get ourselves stabilized, we will do whatever we can to support our neighbors and communities in Davenport, Swanton, Bonny Doon, etc.

For more background on Molino Creek Farming Collective and (eventually) current reports on what is happening:

https://www.facebook.com/molinocreekfarm


https://molinocreek.wordpress.com/

THANK YOU
STAY SAFE
BE BRAVE
TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER

#WeWillSurvive

 
Very Sincerely,
 
Los Moliñeros
2020 firescape

Fog, Heat and Worms

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edge o fog
Fog came back after a brief reprieve. We’ve barely had any breaks from the billowing diffuse moisture, so not the best of pepper growing years, but the tomatoes don’t seem to mind it. Here’s a photo of a typical Molino scene this summer; the fog just below us, wafting in, wafting out.
 
But then again…HEAT again (though we don’t miss the fog). Tonight is one of, what, 5 days a summer that it is warm enough to be outside with short sleeves? 95F today at Molino-hotter tomorrow. As Mike says- let’s try to stay ahead of the watering!
Ever pry back 8″ deep moist mouldy mulch to be greeted by the squirchy wet noises of moving worms? Its worth it. An invitation to pile up some grass clippings and peel them back from time to time to see what goes on down there.
Why? Because worms are happening. And, they are making the soil more porous and sticky, making tunnels for tinier things and worm poop for fertilizer, turning ‘waste’ into root food. Its fascinating to see all they do. As John Lennon might have said: “All we are saying is give worms a chance.” All they need is mulch, a little water, and peace (no tilling!).
So, there I was, peeling back the mulch to say hi to the wormy friends, when I first realized that it was quiet. Readers may recall the consistency of our bird chorus, all day long but louder at dawn and dusk. Recall also the plethora of bunnies- out in the open, oodles of bunnies. New Neighbors! 2 Cooper’s Hawks have come to the farm, consistently hunting- piles of feathers blowing across the trails. And, this unusual behavior: agile Ms or Mr Cooper zig zagging into holes in the shrubs and then landing in one such patch to….try and run down bunnies on foot, chasing them bodily through the shrub tunnels. Eeek! Lesson learned: peace and quiet doesn’t mean peace, it might mean ‘scary! shush!! sharp killing talons in the neighborhood!’
Not enough Cooper’s Hawks, by the way. Still too many jays eating too many fruit.
Fruit! 30 pounds of pears cycling through the dryer; neighbors and orchardmates hauling off comice pears by the peck. Its pear season. We also harvested the last of the Bacon Avocados – Kosher Bacon? – this past Saturday…another 30 or so this past week. Now, we must await the next avocado variety- Gwen? A month away? Meanwhile, apples are ballooning towards tastiness: gala apples racing to the fore, Gravenstein feeding the birds. Bob says the Hudson’s Golden Gem trees are making tasty apples with a very unusual flavor. Summer limes and lemons and just ate a tangerine!
At long last, the winter squash are making bulbous protrusions that will be fruit. Squash are Molino’s fields of color in October.

Full Moon with heat, now breezy mist

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Full moon 8.2.2020
Fog-drizzly and peaceful breezes with crisp, fresh air sweep across the noisy fir covered ridges and down onto Molino’s fields as I write…dusk falling. A stroll around the farm is delightful with many bright yellow flowers ornamenting the tomatoes which are weighted with green fruit; the squash fields are colored by large, floppy orange flowers: no fruit (yet). Blond freshly dried grass is bright along the trails, between the fields, and by the roadsides. Dust blows even through the mist with rain months away.
 
The fear of fire is growing: winds have been intense and we’ve had some really hot (for us) spells this past week. 80F last Saturday and Sunday and all the way up into the low 90’s on Monday. During this last heat wave, there was a great contrast between the pleasantly warm surrounding forest and coast to the dry, hurting heat we encountered when taking that last turn into the farm. The heat, though, is good for peppers, tomatoes, and squash all of which grew immensely in response. This sudden drizzle, though- not exactly pepper growing weather.
 
Bob Cat is wandering around, not as fat as one would think for the plethora of prey.
 
It is Second Clutch time. Quail babies appeared over the last couple of weeks and are getting bigger, faster than the first clutch. Second clutch of barn swallows emerged this past week, too- larger and less clutsy than their sisters and brothers did a while back. The skies are filled now with swallows over the farm. 3 or 4 species? Barn, cliff, tree, and violet green maybe. The invitation is there: lie back on the dry ground and marvel in that aerial dance, its easily as fun as watching the funnest children at play. Second clutch, too, for the dark eyed juncos and goldfinches. Baby birds abound.
 
Babies come and babies go. The fawns are down to 2 from the 4 at the beginning of the year. 2 baby deer, 2 does (who don’t like each other), one big and one smaller buck. A lion is undoubtedly in the ‘hood.
 
Snakes! The most common snake this year, revealed by mowing, is the yellow-bellied racer. This snake moves FAST but you can find one sometimes not moving and they are beautifully nondescript in coloring. Not a real yellow on its belly, but its yellower than the brown-green back; tiny eyes; long tapering to the thinnest tail. Gopher snakes of all sizes. A single rubber boa revealed itself recently.
 
The red tailed hawks have gone decidedly into the forest; a mystery that they don’t want to come more out into the open, or maybe they don’t have to with all of those bunnies near the forest edges.
 
Speaking of bunnies, I ousted 5 in the 3/4 acre hay field that feeds the cherries, but we always leave a patch of tall grass for the fleeing critters- maybe we’ll find more when that one comes down, a little later. They sure look disconcerted when their homes of many months get mowed to the ground. Hard to give them that shock.
 
3 great horned owls were mysteriously hooting all afternoon last Saturday. Maybe they were excited by the coming full moon?
 
The wildlands are almost devoid of wildflowers…only in the moister deeper canyons in the full shade will you find floriferous color: there, a bit of pink sorrel, some pale blue ‘inside out’ flowers, spangley white saxifrages, etc. Nature is headed to the hunkering down summertime thing or celebrating with subtlety, like sagebrush with its tiny green flowers.
 
We’re harvesting the first tomatoes, which will go to the Molino market a bit later than they already have for a bit for our 2 Dog partners.
 
Tons of pears. Gala apples are close behind. A bit of summer citrus crop are enlivening our bevvies- limes and lemons; we even ate a few tangerines from the new trees, so deliciously tasty.
 
Lots of promise. Green passionfruit. Rock hard avocados. Tiny green olives. Most apples silver dollar diameter, a ways away.
 
Be Kind. Think about your food before you eat it.

Dragonflies, swallows – aerial pest control

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The Molino airspace is teeming with life, a buzz and a twitter with chipper critters most of the day. This stands in clear contrast to the surrounding forest, where midday it is mostly silent. The landscape everywhere is song at dawn and dusk, hundreds of birds singing the sun around.
The newest aerial acrobats…dragonflies! There are at least three pods of fairly large dragonfly congregations patrolling, zig zaggedly, patches of air about 10′ off the ground, just out of reach. Those patches move around a bunch: 10-20 of those elongate, big eyed predators, grabbing pests out of the air and tearing them apart with their formidable mandibles. Word has it that they climbed out of the water, cracked and traded their aquatic phase for the aerial one and up from the creek they flew to just above our farm fields, where they feed for a few months until returning to the water in early winter to breed. A miniature but meaningful migration, up and down the slopes in a single set of seasons.
The swallows are high above, and diving through, the dragonfly squads. These acrobats are all squeaky and joy filled, feasting on Farm Bugs. We await the fledging of the second barn swallow clutches- anticipation and smiles at their white shit covered, squinched, mud nest accommodations.
Every morning and each evening the first and last birds to celebrate the transition: our friends the California towhee. A clean, clear single note Chip! Chip! Chip! Simplicity and consistency. How did we never notice this before this year?
As with last week, big billed brown birds (robin, thrasher) still slurping up the flowering currant fruits. And, the dark green, lush coffeeberry bushes are laden with fruit, too, but not yet ripe. We’ll fill them’s bellies with berries this year. Feeding people and non-people alike with this productive land.
To keep repeating ‘old news’ that is still current: FOG. Oh sweet low wispy clouds, laden with pine smell, wisping in great arches or rolling in from the ocean slowly, in broad rounded billows. Sly sometimes, like this morning’s SUN!rise: we celebrated for like an hour and then…an hour of fog! Cooler days on top of that. Spent some time comparing notes with friends in Big Sur, and they agree: this is the foggiest of years in a long, long time…more than 14 years it has been since a long foggy summer, at least. “Deep” fog, thick fog.  Keep it coming, keep the fires at bay! Oh, and for those of you ‘in’ it or next to it…try this rarely available trick. Stand on a sunny ridge with the sun at your back, looking down at the nearby fog (I know, rare circumstances…): look at your shadow and notice that it is surrounded by a rainbow, maybe even a tunnel of rainbow coming back at you. Such wonder!
The Two Dog squash fields suddenly erupted with orange this week. Giant, lush squash flowers at the base of unfurling squash vines…here they go. The bees are happy. Before this massive, hundreds of flower blossoming, the (fewer) zucchini flowers had 4-8 honeybees per flower, each weighted down with dense, thick grained pollen. Maybe the plethora of squash blooms will make it less crowded for them.
The taste of the last cherries (from the fridge, coveted) just faded and then….the pears start getting ripe. Chin dripping floral juices from custard soft pears with thin green skin. Oh yay, just in the nick of time.
Onward to the Harvest Season…it is happening, thankfully. So much good food emanating from our soil.

Billowing Fog, a Cool Summer

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foggy summer 2020

June GLOOM, redux. The fog, the fog, the fog, and repeat: FOG.  Away it goes by noon, right? Well, yes, (mostly). Back it wafts just before sundown or earlier still. Southwest (!odd!) breeze blowing it onto the farm a couple of nights ago. And, this evening, a moistening drizzle. Redwoods like the weather. Banana slugs, too- out most of the day. People who like sun, not so much. Coolness keeps watering less urgent and fire danger down. Who’s to complain? Hasn’t been this foggy this much in the summer in years and years. Quail killing weather: young chicks get hypothermia and die if they get wet.

Really, we are only just getting into our dry season, and yet the quality of light just changed…fall light, already?? More slanty and golden.

Speaking of dying quail. Raucous jays do scream so when they ambush a covey and make off with a young one. Ugh, hard to watch. So, that’s part of the reason we aren’t totally teeming with quail.

Flocks of birds alert. We have a dozen or so band tailed pigeons- seen eating elderberry fruit, a funny sight since the fruit is on long, thin branches and these big birds are masters of balance to even stand a chance at that snack. Purple poop! The biggest flock of our feathered allies:100 dark eyed juncos, feasting on the carpet of spent grass seeds in our meadows.

Some of you may recall the flowering currants, pink tassles of abundant flowers in early spring. Well, currently those bushes are covered with insipid country currants, featuring cabals of robins a’ feasting, joined by (jumpy!) thrashers and even a beautiful western tanager. So, what we hoped would jump start the pollinators is now a mainstay for fruit eating avian critters.

Acorn woodpeckers aka ‘wop wop’ fly and their wings flash bright white. they are feasting on apples! Motto: grow enough for the birds, too.

Conspicuous in its absence and well missed is our Cooper’s hawk. We could really use one, darn. Bobcat, though – carrying a gopher out of the 2 Dog vineyard!

Oh dear, seemingly tip toeing around the fence lines is the herd of Molino deer. The biggest buck is going to have two points on each antler, thick and felty now. Fawns have lost their spots.

The farm fields are really quite summery. Any crop area is now thick in green, little soil showing. Closer, tomatoes are laden with yellow star flowers. Two Dog padron peppers are bursting with white flowers. Zucchini flowers in patches across the farm, full of pollen-drunk bees. Towering sunflowers quite cheery with their giant yellow flower heads.

Time to prop some apple branches- the trees are getting really heavy with lots and lots of fruit. We’ll harvest 5,000 pounds this year!

Say thanks to the worms for their moist tunnels and coiled, rich poo. Thanks, too, for the wrens gleaning bugs off the cherry trees. Gratitude to the spider killing giant black wasps, flicking their rusty brown wings, methodically zig zagging through the grass searching for the wolf spiders, 3″ across. 

The Lusciousness of Leaves

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2020 squash

It has been the week of beautiful leaping leaves.
Fields of magnificent 2 Dog winter squash coverage. Big leaves, but no flowers yet.
Grape leaves also evident above the protection tubes, light green and lush.
Cherry trees, in their 6th year are giant lush bushes, new long pendulous tapered leaves hiding the delicious fruit.
Tomato bushes are bushing with their hunched, scented raggedy leafy forms. Green fruits!
Four fawns went to 3 this week, the smallest of them couldn’t make it, somehow. But, the herd mostly herds together on and off- 3 bucks two does and 3 of the year’s young. They are wearing gorgeous warm tawny summer coats, shiny and healthy from good diets. I talk to them and a couple of the does stop running away as far, but the biggest buck really still scatters if he’s seen. All their giant ears turn towards any noise, satellite dishes orienting and alert.
Snakes! Everywhere! Rattlesnake-looking gopher snakes are startling- large and small. Yellow bellied racers the next most common. This is a year also for large alligator lizards- 8″ long and healthy soaking up the sun on every brushy edge. A neighbor caught a photo of one of the lizards crushing the head of a much larger snake.
Speaking of fierce predators…we recently first heard and then saw a peregrine falcon high over the farm, screaming and flying fast somewhere: a rare farm sight. More common are many, many quail babies and adolescents. A new hatch has the tiniest of quail again on the (clutsy) run. Also common are black headed grosbeaks and California scrub jays: both feasting on plums and pecking at rock hard apples! Dark eyed juncos aka ‘orange bills’ form large cheeping flocks, eating seeds all along every road and trail, noisily scattering like wind blown dark confetti on approach.
The sun has been hot, but the air mostly coolish from the marine layer- fog just below the farm often but not really touching our fields- perfect!
The cherry harvest is at ~500 pounds of the perhaps 800 total. Bird score: 0. Thank you, net!
Passers by test the ripeness of lemons and limes- rare summer produce, but still a few coming along.
The machinery running here and there: mowers when the grass is dewy (but not for much longer!) and chainsaws on a couple of oaks we are pruning back and tractors doing the passes to get the fields tidy with mowing and weed control. Not much noise from overhead, still: fewer airplanes than ‘before.’ Some saw noise from the surrounding property- a timber harvest in swing: ‘restoration forestry’ returning the forest to more natural mixed age stands and setting the pathway to a healthier, more resilient property.
Mostly, it is peaceful and beautiful and we are lucky to have had some fruit to share and (at distance) visitors to soak in this wonderful place. Gratitude abounds from our group of community orchardists.