Thursday, April 9, 2015

Putting spring together

Brandywine tomatoes ready for planting
Rhubarb plants growing in shade house

Tomatoes protected by frost cloth as more rows readied

Black cherry tomatoes are silhouetted against frost cloth pulled up to facilitate a morning inspection.

Weather being unpredictable, and time being of the essence, we here at Singing Frog Farm decided to plant a few rows of tomatoes early this year. Early for us, anyway. Last year we got them in around May 3. This year it was April 6. It's always risky to do that, but this year has been pretty warm and it may just continue that way after this unseasonably cool spell. Besides, we hedged our bets a little by covering the young tomatoes with frost cloth that boosts temps underneath by 6 to 8 degrees. And let's talk about the rain! The rain was perfectly timed for me: I have been waiting for it because, unlike other years where farmers wait for fields to dry out enough to get tractors onto them, this year I've been waiting for a storm to WET the fields up enough to get my tractor onto them. If not for that storm, the only way to get my fields ready for planting would have been to put big sprinklers on them for long hours so the tractors could get in there and do their work. Just one of many things making this a very interesting farming year. What will the rest be like? Only time will tell .... 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Cry me an electrified atmospheric river, please

A rabbit's eye view of Mizuna growing under a shade cloth
Envious onions lust after straw mulch
When I was a kid, back in the last century, there was no such thing as  an atmospheric river. What we had then were big storms and such. We even had warm storms coming up out of the tropics once in a great while.   If someone had said "atmospheric river" or "El Nino" back then they would have received a blank stare in return, at least that's how it was in Stockton, where I was fortunate enough to have grown into adulthood. But that was then. Now I'm a grown-up and am in the midst of enduring my second atmospheric river in one year! And this one is flowing along dropping off lightning bolts here and there, which I didn't hear any of our weather forecasters predicting. Ha! So since I'm the first to notice, I hereby call such a storm "an electrified atmospheric river." This should be picked up by all the weather talking heads, who will start pronouncing it and not even think a second thought about the name. Why should they? If it appears on the tele-prompter, they say it!! Who's in charge of those tele-prompters, anyway? Sounds like a good job for a subversive progressive liberal. But I like farming too much for a career switch. Anyway, it sounds like one would have to spend a lot of time looking at stuff on a monitor for that job. Then figuring out how to tweak the stuff on the teleprompter to subtlety reflect the progressive, liberal outlook would take creativity. Plus you'd be thwarting the ultraconservative owners of the media, who are so very busy trying to do the same thing, only in the opposite direction. (As an aside, it looks like they are winning.) A labor of love for sure, regardless of what side you are on. Nevertheless, I think a higher call might be growing wonderful, organic vegetables! Like that Mizuna you see growing under shade cloth above, or the leeks lounging in a bed of straw. In fact, time to get back to reality: I've got some stainless steel mixing bowls to fasten to the tops of posts! Part of my great secret plan to channel Marxian spirits into my soil.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Hay, what's going on here?

Hardneck garlic pushes through plastic mulch in a sea of straw. It's already been in the ground four months with four to go.

Straw is the latest thing to happen to my 50' x 50' garlic plot. It's just part of the ongoing saga for this little piece of land, commonly known as 5A around here. Last October, after a hard year's work growing melons and peppers, the plot was cleared, tilled and then had 7 cubic yards of prime organic compost added, followed by another tilling and mounding up of 11 planting rows, putting in drip irrigation and then covering each row with plastic mulch. Spread over a matter of days, it was pretty manageable. As Ron Popeil would say, "But that's not all!". The final step was to make about 4,000 slits in the plastic, then push a clove of beautiful Russian Red hardneck garlic through each slit. So, that was four months ago.  Now the garlic has burst through the slits and all the weeds that came through with it have been pulled. However, in between the rows, where there is bare dirt, weeds are growing and that is where the straw comes in.  Some of those weeds were pulled and tossed, others left untouched. As of this morning all the bare dirt and weeds have been covered with a nice layer of straw, 3 bales in all. That's going to be a powerful suppressant. Now all that's left to do is three or four foliar feedings over the next four months. Then, in late spring, this plot will begin giving back: First it will be a harvest of tasty, young garlic scapes, followed by the harvest of the garlic bulbs themselves, which will be pulled, bunched, and hung for a few weeks before making their debut in discerning kitchens around Sacramento and of course doing their part to ward off devils, werewolves and vampires!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Something tells me

 When Herman's Hermits recorded their hit "Something Tells Me I'm Into Something Good" back in the '60s, I'm sure they weren't referring to a shade house for an organic farm. However, working on just that project this winter has me humming that tune ... mostly in the fog. It's no huge project, only 30x30, but it will provide a little home out of the bright sun for tender plants coming out of the greenhouse. As a matter of fact, some of those little plants have already poked their heads out of the potting soil (see bottom pic). And with a tiny little greenhouse, they soon will need to make way for the stars of summer: tomatoes! Well, maybe some zucchini, cucumbers, melons, herbs, greens and watermelons. Last year it was a struggle to juggle all these various plants while waiting for that perfect moment to pop them into a nice warm spot in the ground. This year may be different, but only if the project is finished in time for the plants to make use of it. And we also want to sell our organic heirloom starts to gardeners right off the farm and this new structure will provide an appropriate place for them to be set out for perusal by browsers. And while something tells me I'm into something good with this project, something is also telling me this bleak midwinter is going to end all too soon. So I better get back to work!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

It's January? Better get out and weed the leeks!

I love leeks. They are the only member of the allium family to commonly stand on their own at the dinner table. And of course you can add a little potato and come up with a fabulous soup. So here you see my two little rows of leeks and a very necessary activity going on around them: weeding. All that rain, then a little sun and the unwanted vegetation has taken off. Who knows what might happen with a little warm weather. That would be scary. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Ready, willing and able

Eugene's dad brought his bee's back to my place this weekend. His timing was great. Two weeks earlier and he would not have been able to get them on the property due to floodwater. And I had no way to contact him! He's a jovial Russian guy about my age. Well, his bees are most helpful in pollinating some vegetable crops, like cucumbers, squash and melons. And of course they LOVE sunflowers and lots of the other blooms we grow. I expect he'll haul his hard-working bees off to an almond orchard for a few weeks at some point this spring where a farmer will pay a pretty penny to help insure a good crop and then he'll probably take them all the way home later in the summer, particularly if it's dry again this year. He lives quite a bit further north where spring hits a little later. By the way, if my head was see-through (my wife sometimes thinks it is) you could see that he brought two lines of bee hives this year, not just the one along the fence line.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Burn, baby, burn

Winter weeds are spring up all over our place and, being certified organic, the best ways to get rid of them are hand weeding, or flaming. Flaming is far faster but has it's limitations, the biggest of which is that if you let the weeds get away from you, the torch won't get rid of them. It just singes the tops. The flame is fabulous on just-emerged seedlings and progressively less so as the plants gain in size.
Unfortunately, no flaming was accomplished yesterday because this farmer forgot how to hook up the flamer hose to the propane tank's valve spigot. Sounds rudimentary, but maybe not as much as it appears. As it turns out, there are inside and outside threads! So yesterday it was hand weeding as my tender brain processed this problem. And then, this morning, I had an epiphany! Strangely, this IS the Epiphany, the day according to Christians when the Christ child was revealed to the world, or at least the Three Wise Men who had travelled from afar. So today, those pesky weeds -- like the ones under my shoes in the big photo -- will have a fiery adversary. And I will have fiery farming fun! And I may be kicking myself with one of those steel-toed shoes in the big picture for not figuring it out yesterday!!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The winter of our discontent

Every winter provides new challenges and for farmers, and the rain and freezing weather of this winter have not let this farmer down. In fact, the massive storms that pounded our parched region for a good two weeks left my place flooded. At left is the low spot at Singing Frog Farm before and after the storms. All that water didn't just evaporate, either. It needed help to move on down the line. But that's not all. Significant portions of planting plots ended up sitting in water for a goodly number of days, then suffering through three nights of freeze one of which had my thermometer sitting at 23 degrees. The result is seen in the before and after pics up one of my planting plots. Before the storms, green and healthy and after the storms flooding and freezes, brownish and struggling.  Let's hope for some warm weather to help it green up again before I plow it into the soil. So the deluge's positive impact at Singing Frog Farm may be to expedite creation of a retention pond to hold all that water ... a pond that just might be a good place to put some fish and crawdads, and which could be     ringed by native flowers and grasses, providing a permanent home for some very special little singing frogs! It's times like these that make one yearn for the warmer weather which hopefully is already on its way. Rows of tomatoes, corn, cukes, peppers, potatoes. In between dealing with the ravages of winter we've been plotting a bounteous spring and summer and are chomping at the bit to get back to the farmers markets. So here's to the New Year. May it be even more bounteous than the last.