Farming in the rain

I just ducked in to escape an April Fool’s hailstorm and downpour. The build up to the thunderstorm was amazing from the top of the apricot trees. The orchard looks beautiful and lush out there with all the rain. I know I should be hating the rain coming down on all the baby peaches, and keep checking them for any signs of disease, but after the drought this winter, the abundant green fills my heart up with gratitude. We’ll all be a little late planting this year, but that’s OK, right? Much better than the brown, dry soil crust we had before.

I’m also feeling so grateful for all the help in the orchard this year. Katie Fyhrie is my new farm partner and she is great! She comes to the Cloverleaf after starting a small vegetable farm last year and is currently in the California Farm Academy. Katie’s also trying to start a juice business (Juice Mama!) for the farmstand this year and is currently hard at work deciphering all the regulations. I could go on about how complicated this state makes starting a small business.

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 We’ve been weeding, thinning, working on signs & owl boxes, and … planting vegetables in the orchard! We are both very excited about this – we’ve planted beets, carrots, strawberries, spinach, arugula (in very small quantities) and wild leeks (or ramps).

We’re going to be planting all these crops on the berms to increase our water use efficiency. Rather than watering weeds on the berms, we’ll be watering our crops! We’re also going to try a strip down the side with perennial herbs and one strip down the middle with peanuts and sweet potatoes. Oh yeah, and about 300 basil plants in the nectarines because they are supposed to help with thrips. Maybe we’ve been getting a bit too excited – we can’t lose sight of our big thinning task and the fruit! I estimate we’ve got about 5 weeks left until harvest begins… We had a wine and weeding party and some classy looking ladies helped supervise Tree weeding on his knees in the cleavers.

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And good news – we just got our official organic certification this morning! It’s been a long transition period. I’m hoping that this will help the net sales this year and hopefully I will finally break the minimum wage barrier in my fourth season! The cover crop that we planted with our EQIP grant is another thing that makes me so grateful and excited lately. The BIOS cover crop was a mix developed with almond farmers and researchers at SAREP – it has over 20 different kinds of seeds. The tidy tips, mustard and red clover are just blooming, we’ve been harvesting cilantro and dill for about a month now, there’s carrots, wild celery, rye, alfalfa, lupine, calendula and the vetch is just starting to climb out of the mix. The idea is that the cover crop will go to seed and I’ll be able to mow it just before our first U-pick.

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When taking this selfie, we both realized it was the first time for both of us to take a picture we called a “selfie” (also later learned that we are making duckfaces). Slowly joining the 21st century… 

The end of the marathon

I’ve had a great year at the farm — so many tasty fruits my stomach is going to burst at the collective impact of all the peaches I’ve eaten this year. The farm has been supported by so many: the Davis Food Coop, Soil Born Farms, Heavy Dirt Farm, Bi-Rite market in San Francisco, Everything Under the Sun (who is soon going to bring us our stashes of dried fruit), Pop Nation, June Taylor’s Still Room, and all the loyal customers in Davis including our fruit CSA customers. Thank you so much! I have about a week left of picking apricots and then a couple weeks more of figs, and then I’ll be waiting for the fruit to begin again next year. I’ll be having some weeding and wine parties soon to whip the orchard back into pristine shape — the weeds have been winning in the weeding vs. fruit picking battle. And then the pruning, then the thinning and then it begins again!

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The unloved unlovely peach

My friend Jen is a big fan of the unlovely peaches in the orchard. The ones with bite marks, powdery mildew marks, contorted flesh, split pits, the small, bite-sized peaches. By far, the biggest aesthetic problem we have is the powdery mildew, which occurred back in April during those big wind storms. The spots don’t spread and only affect the skin, not the taste of the peach at all. However, it means a lot of the peaches can’t go to market. When Jen picks peaches in the orchard, she rants about the jam-makers who require perfect looking fruit and the grocery stores that need fruit without a blemish. Or the “size queens” that look for the biggest, best fruit. In this organic orchard, about 1/4 to 1/10th (depending on variety) of the peaches are able to go to top-quality markets. The rest do find outlets (either fruit drying, popsicle makers like Pop Nation, farmers markets and farmstands where blemishes are OK and accepted) but I find myself with a large quantity of only aestheically challenged peaches (ie. tasty except for the blemishes).The CSA boxes get some perfect peaches and some appearance-challenged peaches & I thank you so much for supporting the unloved unlovely fruit. You all are really supporting the Cloverleaf in that way and I hope you are loving each of those imperfect peaches.

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And here’s message from Jen — next time you are in the grocery store, choose the imperfect fruit over the perfect fruit. The bugs know how to choose the tastiest produce out there and you’ll be helping to reduce the waste stream in our food system. And next time you are in a jam shop, look hard for the jam with blemishes (I know it’s hard to see them, but the jam-makers are worried about those blemishes). Who knows, sometime soon it might be a jar of Jen’s new jam line “The Underdog Fruit Company!”

A new year

So much has changed at the Cloverleaf since last year! The orchard is looking beautiful and I’m getting ready for a busy fruit picking season. The most significant change is that my three lovely farm partners, Sasha, Aubrey and Marisa, are no longer at the farm. This is a real bummer as so much happened when there were four of us! When I look back on 2012, I am amazed at how much we did and how much we tried to do. This year, the alumni farmers are busy and thriving in their jobs and going to be visiting the farm a lot this summer to get their share of the tasty fruit.

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I decided to go ahead on my own and keep going with the fruit orchard, but given my limited time on the farm had to scale back from the vegetables. In the past, I’ve mainly worked on vegetable farms, so taking care of fruit trees is new and exciting for me! Many people ask me whether this is easier than growing vegetables, but I can definitely say that 4 acres of hand-pruned, hand-picked fruit is no easy task. Peaches and nectarines are a troublesome crop too in this area — thrips, powdery mildew, fruit thinning, peach leaf curl all conspire to make organic management a labor of love.

Some things are going better in the orchard than last year –  the peaches and nectarines were sprayed successfully for peach leaf curl and thrips. However, little did I realize that the fruit drop because of the leaf curl actually makes the thinning job way easier! We will have so many peaches this year, but unless I can pick up the thinning pace, they may all be on the small side. The wind this spring also made the powdery mildew worse, so the organically-certified salt solution I am spraying is having less effect than I was hoping. Also, the trees are taking a beating – you can see those shredded leaves below! The last couple weeks have calmed down a bit and the new growth is looking much better. Overall, there is a LOT of tasty looking fruit out there.

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The fruit and vegetable CSA season will start next week – I am working with Matt Lechmaier from Kingfisher Farm. Matt’s organizing the CSA, who uses organic practices to grow his vegetables and I am providing fruit for the boxes. I also offer a fruit-only CSA share. The farmstand will start up in a month and then we are hoping to sell fruit to a number of local stores & CSAs. So hopefully if you are reading this, you will get to taste one of the Robada or Blenheim apricots or the June Pride or O’Henry peaches! Mmm, my favorites!

–Emma

Winter at the farm

We have seen the season come and go so quickly!  Now almost December, we’ve wrapped up our CSA and farmstand and are beginning our winter work.   We’re pruning the orchard, planting cover crop in the vegetable field, and beginning to make plans for all the work that needs to be done between now and spring (turns out there is a lot).

Thank you to everyone who supported the Cloverleaf at Bridgeway Farms over the last year.  We are very grateful to have had such a community behind us, and we were consistently excited about providing you all with tasty produce.  We’re looking forward to a little rest, and then gearing up for 2013.

Birds on the farm

Fall is supposed to be right on our doorstop and despite the freakish 100 degree October days, I feel like I can still smell the crisp smell of fall through the heat. We usually see one flock of geese overhead as we pick the morning harvest so the seasons must be changing, even if we can’t feel it yet. I’m having cravings for turnips, greens, and winter squash. We are picking the winter squash today and we’ll let it cure for a week, and then we should have it for you by next week!

Birds on the farm are a wonderous joy to me – we’ve seen some coyotes and Gus chased a very fat rat last week (who I think has been the main beneficiary of all the melons on the farm), but birds are the dominant form of wildlife we see. The songbirds lift my spirits when they sing all morning, but I have no idea what kind of birds they are. Not knowing the names of birds makes me miss our neighbor Becca, who I think knew every bird in California, and took me birding not long before she died.

One day on the farm, I saw this crazy looking bird flying over my truck – bright blue, with a Mohawk and a big belly, which I swear looked something like a small Congo peacock. We’ve heard peacocks on the neighbor’s farm, so maybe they have Congo peacocks as pets too!

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However, my favorite birds on the farm are the pheasants. The other day at dusk, I startled a pheasant and then waited to hear it’s familiar call. In a freak accident, it flew right into a white section of a wind turbine that was parked on the highway exit (pheasants fly up to 60 mph when startled). It was a pretty good thud and when I walked over, there was a mighty dead pheasant. I was so sad – this was my friend on the farm! I couldn’t decide whether to bury it or not, but in the end my friend Yumi plucked it and made a delicious dumpling soup. We’re going to take the 20 different kinds of feathers and make some pheasant memorial art too. Hopefully there was a whole family of pheasants and we will see them again at the Cloverleaf. –Emma

Tomatoes and peppers!

We are enjoying the nice temperatures and the slow end of the fresh fruit season at the Cloverleaf. The last week has been a little rough for me as I’ve been in and out of various medical issues (allergy attack, late night emergency room, bouts of nausea). Being sick makes me appreciate two things though: the farm and my farm partners!

I love seeing the vigorous nature of plants – especially our self-seeded tomatoes and peppers. Somehow those plants seem to outgrow the ones we planted on purpose! This week you have a mixed basket of hot peppers that are hybridized from last year’s jalapenos, thai chilis, shishitos and gypsies. Each pepper plant is different but delicious! Some are fairly mild but some are super spicy.

Our tomato plants are doing well too — after we switched to a different kind of drip line, they are doing much better. This week we have over 14 different kinds of tomatoes: Cherokee purple, Eva purple ball, brandywine, striped german, striped cavern (the short red and yellow striped tomatoes), emerald evergreen, amana orange, shah, indigo rose (the black ones), blush cherry, sungolds, sweet 100s, black cherry and of course, Torbert tomatoes (the small red ones)! That’s the tomato variety that my granddad bred and is doing really well. Sadly, he died this spring but his tomato variety lives on!

My farm partners have been awesome this week, coming in with last minute notice to handle our fruit sorting and letting me hang low in the farmstand this weekend. Farmers often don’t have a safety net for when they get sick – my friend, Rory, had to quit her previous farm when she got mono. If we were farming full-time it would be even worse to get sick (as I’ve yet to work on a farm that offers health insurance). Rory was very influential in convincing me to start farming slowly and do it part-time. For the Cloverleaf, it really makes all the difference that the four of us can watch each other’s backs – thanks guys! – Emma

A New Season Approaches

It is that time of year again, when the corn is mowed down, turned into the soil and in its place beets, carrots, turnips, raab, broccoli, the winter bounty is planted. It’s hard to believe with 100+ degree heat that in a few months, winter crops will bask in a cool breeze and we will be sick of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers… Growing vegetables has always seemed somewhat backwards to me. You rarely get to settle on a season and the crops on your farm, you are always looking forward, anticipating what you will  want and need in the coming months. But without an eye for the future, we would be stuck in December without a head of broccoli and come spring, there would no spring onions.

We now have a mountain of compost sitting in the field, slowly but surely, we will load wheelbarrows full of dark brown goodness and spread it in our fields. The ground is hard and dry from the heat and lack of water. Our soil has a fair amount of clay, which makes it sticky in the winter and hard as rock in the summer. We use our shank to dig into the ground and break up the crusted top and hardpan. The rototiller fluffs the soil, for ease of planting and root growth. There is a rhythm to soil preparation that comes with repeating the same task bed after bed.

Although we are planting for the fall and early winter, the joy of living in the Sacramento Valley and particular in our distinct microclimate, is that come November, we will still have ripe tomatoes on the vine and peppers in the field.

Northwest Adventures

I just got back from a 10-day adventure in the Northwest in honor of my sisters wedding. My fiance and I drove from the hot Sacramento Valley into the hills and mountains of Northern California and Southern Oregon, and slipped into the cool, foggy Northwest. I love hot, dry weather. Being in the Northwest reminded me of winter, damp, cool and dark. But I must admit, it was wonderful to eat handfuls of raspberries, salmon berries and gooseberries, none of which grow well in Davis. With that said, I could not be happier to be back in the hot and dry desert, where melons ripen before September and tomatoes are sweet and tangy.

  Ruby Queen Corn

It is amazing how quickly things change on the farm, everything is growing, growing, growing! In only 10 days all of the corn was picked and sold. Luckily, I was able to scavenge some Ruby Queen Sweet Corn, a variety I was looking forward to. Before I left, I was not sure our tomatoes would ever ripen, yet this past weekend we were able to pick baskets full of red, orange, pink and purple cherry tomatoes. The trees of course are dripping with fruit, white and yellow nectarines, peaches and apricots. The bounty is still in full swing!

I am lucky to be part of a farm partnership that allows its partners to run off in the middle of the summer. In most other farming situations, I would not have been to leave the farm for 10 days at such a busy time of the season. Partnerships allow for flexibility, which lets farmers not only fulfill their responsibilities to the farm but  also to their family and friends. Thank you Marisa, Aubrey and Emma for letting me be part of my sister’s wedding extravaganza!

-Sasha

Peach/Nectarine Salsa
Adapted from Tom’s Kitchen (http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/07/toms-kitchen-grilled-pork-tacos-spicy-gazpacho)


4 ripe peaches/nectarines (or apricots…..)
1 small clove of garlic
1-2 fresh hot chile peppers, such as serranos
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Lime
Cilantro (optional)

Chop all ingredients and mix in a bowl. Eat with chips, white fish, chicken, tacos, etc….

Rabbits

If only rabbits really just ate carrots. The reality is, they are just as smart and wily and sarcastic (oh trust me) as Bugs Bunny, but really, they will eat anything, including plastic. They saunter down the rows of green beans nibbling off the growing tips, one by one. Amazingly, they don’t actually eat the beans, just the shoots and the flowers, which stunts the plants. But even worse, they have discovered our MELONS. I can’t tell you how heartbreaking it is to hunt around for these sweet gems, only to find the baseball-sized melon half eaten. They are voracious, and we honestly worry about our melon supply.  Did we plant enough for the CSA and the rabbits too?  We’ll find out!

What are we doing to control them, you ask? Well, we put up a fence. That worked for about two months until they started wriggling underneath it. Then they started having babies and the babies can get through the holes. I think we might have a benevolent coyote or a raptor, because one morning we arrived and there was a rabbit all tangled up in the fencing, missing a head. Let me explain, before you get teary eyed, that these are not cute cuddly rabbits. These are jack-rabbits, the lean, steely eyed, quick-witted ones that will out-smart you and then go eat your drip tape. Oh, yes, they’ve been chewing holes in our drip tape, which is probably the worst of their crimes. It means that each time we irrigate, it’s a farm circus for hours, as we run around trying to patch all the leaks springing from rows all over the field. What a headache. But I digress. In terms of pest control, we also have Gus. Gus is Aubrey’s ridiculously small, achingly adorable side-kick of the canine persuasion. If you are too close to the ground, he will attack your face with kisses until you fall over.

Gus our lean, mean, (albeit small) rabbit-hunting machine

He also hunts baby rabbits. He would try for the adults but his legs are much shorter. Much, much shorter. But his hunting skills are on the up and up.  Go Gus! Sasha is getting better at catching the babies by the hind legs. She got one back in June, and I relocated it to the Putah Creek Reserve, but not before getting attached (because I am a sucker for baby anything and I was concerned it wasn’t going to have enough food. I know, it’s embarrassing.)

Sasha exhibiting her rabbit-catching skills

Our current rabbit plan is to find where they are slipping in under the fence, and stake it down with some irrigation staples. We are also thinking about putting up some cardboard along the bottom two feet of fence to block their view of our oasis of food, and keep these babies from squeezing through the holes. Hopefully they can’t jump more than 5 feet high.  Ha.  I won’t make any bets on that.  The rabbit battle continues!

-Marisa

This week in your boxes:

Full share:

July Flame peaches (transitioning to organic)
Brittany gold apricots (transitioning to organic)
Flavor top nectarines (transitioning to organic)
Onion
Garlic
Basil
Parsley
Sweet corn
Cucumbers (organic from Mike  Madison’s farm, Yolo Bulb)
Chiogga beets
Cherry tomatoes
Shishito peppers
Jalapeño (hiding in the basil bag)
Chard
Okra
Summer squash (not organic from Susan Ellsworth)

Half share:

July Flame peaches (transitioning to organic)
Brittany gold apricots (transitioning to organic)
Flavor top nectarines (transitioning to organic)
Onion
Garlic
Basil
Cucumbers (organic from Mike  Madison’s farm, Yolo Bulb)
Parsley
Tomato
Jalapeño (hiding in the basil bag)

Fruit share:

July Flame peaches (transitioning to organic)
Brittany gold apricots (transitioning to organic)
Flavor top nectarines (transitioning to organic)
Triple crown blackberries (not organic from Bridgeway Farms)

Recipe of the week:

Sauteed Shishito Peppers (half share folks, you’ll receive Shishito peppers in the coming weeks)

Shishitos are a delicately sweet and usually mild pepper from Japan. They are often likened to Spain’s famous Padron peppers for the flavor. They are best when picked green and small. We love them sautéed in garlic and olive oil with a dash of coarse sea salt on top for a tasty snack.

Ingredients:

1 basket of shishito peppers

2 tbsp oil oil

2-3 cloves of garlic

Coarse sea salt to taste

Heat the olive oil on medium to high heat, add  garlic and peppers at the same time and toss. Sautee until peppers are slightly browned and wilted. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve. Yum.

Enjoy!