Fruit thinning

The peaches and nectarines are pollinated to the brim this year. We’ve been coming up with theories about why the pollination seems to increase each year. The nearby honeybees aren’t doing so well – each year their populations seem to dwindle, perhaps because of the Paraquat that gets sprayed on the conventional walnuts across the way. But maybe the native bees are increasing in population since there is less competition with the honey bees? Xerces says here ( that many native bees have a much shorter range, which can be as low as 50 ft. My small 4 acre organic, no-till orchard might be the perfect habitat for native bees. We see many more of the tiny, small native bees versus the honeybees at bloom, so maybe they are helping out!

nectarines blooming

However, peaches don’t need to be pollinated by bees to set – self-pollination can occur for the most part in peaches, nectarines and apricots. Our current theory is that our amazing fruit set this year is mainly due to the temperature during bloom this year. While the chilling hours were actually lower than many previous years, we had an amazing amount of flowers on our trees this year, especially the nectarines. I’m not sure why we had more flowers – maybe the rain after the drought stimulated a large bloom? But then the temperatures during bloom were an average 70 deg F, pretty close to the optimum temp for self-pollination of 68 deg F.

nectarines full
nectarines and ladder

Of course, the high pollination rates aren’t all good news. Each mature fruit would be tiny if we didn’t remove most of the fruit at this stage, a process called thinning. The apricots only take ½ an hour to thin, but the peaches and nectarines are going to take about an hour each to thin. I was taking off 90-95% of the fruit of the nectarines I was thinning today. That meant I took off 15 fruits for every fruit I left, leaving a carpet of nectarine pebbles on the ground.

nectarines fallen

I like to think of the fruit trees sighing in relief after I thin their branches, as if I had just removed about 600 bags of produce they were carrying on their arms as they made their way out of the store. We’re racing to make it by the time the pits harden – if we can thin all the fruits by then, we’ll have big beautiful peaches this year. Wish us luck – you’ll know if we made it when you see the size of our fruit this year!

mousse tired

This is Mousse tired on the way home from a long day of thinning 🙂

The fruit marathon, beautiful peaches and a farm tour!

This week feels like the end of a long marathon — the solar panels are installed on the barn, the first soil moisture sensors are up at the farm and the graywater system is set up where we wash our crates! We are excited about anything we can do to save water and energy, though our water use isn’t what is going to break the groundwater bank. We have our fingers crossed that the well will last to the end of the season — although the groundwater has plunged this year, it actually doesn’t look as bad as last year’s level which in our area got to around 200 ft.

The fruit picking marathon is still going strong, and all the fruit has been ripening much earlier than usual. I think it’s due to climate change, personally — the warm spring I think made a lot of the fruit varieties change their ripening patterns and so we don’t have the normal staggering we’ve seen in other years. But it could also be due to our watering schedule — we try to stress the trees just a little bit with under-watering, and that could be making the fruit ripen earlier as well.


We have had some beautiful and tasty peaches this year! I just sampled the fruit in San Francisco this weekend in front of the Bi-Rite store. It was very gratifying to hear from so many people how tasty our peaches are! A lot of times we are picking and packing the fruit as fast as we possibly can, so it is nice to hear the feedback of our customers! And also to carefully savor a section of peach as carefully as you would a square of chocolate. Each peach is perfect in it’s own way — look at this awesome peach with a whale and a sunset that you could be so lucky to buy!

We also have a farm tour this Saturday with Slow Food Yolo. We’re going to bring out the hand-cranked ice cream maker to make some slow and salt-chilled peach ice cream. And then we will have Shelly’s peach crisp as well and a farm tour where you can try the peaches straight from the tree. See the flyer below for more details. Yum!

cloverleaf flyer

A new fruit season!

We are entering a new fruit season at the Cloverleaf! We’re excited and nervous for a new season — we’ve got a big beautiful crop of fruit, but the drought is lurking in the back of our minds as to whether the groundwater will last for the season. We don’t have a big deep well, so we could easily lose pressure half way through the season. But we have our fingers crossed (June rains, anyone?) and are working ahead on a lot of water and energy conservation projects, which at least makes us feel productive.

The Cloverleaf, Collins Farm and Hearty Fork farmstand will be opening up this Saturday, May 23rd! We should have the first of the Robada apricots and also amazingly flavorful Zee diamond peaches. Obsidian blackberries, the best for making jam, can be bought by the flat as well. We’ll have pies from both Collins Farm and the Butterfly Vegan Bakery and FatFace popsicles! The stand is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1 – 7 PM — Kidwell exit off of I-80. Ruhstaller also has beer tastings at the same time, as an extra draw.

photo 4 (1)

Also, we will have two U-pick events this year, instead of the weekly U-picks, on July 5th and August 2nd from 8 AM – 3 PM. Mark your calendars! Also, for any Cloverleaf volunteers and CSA members, we’ll be having more frequent U-pick events, so email us to sign up (see picture above for how idyllic our volunteer days are, wine tastings and all). We planted melons this year in a small patch — they seem to be doing great & we are excited to include them in our CSA. This coming 2 weeks we are trying a no-till cover-crop mulched planting (idea from Mike Madison) and we’re excited to see how those turn out.

photo 3 (3)

We are working on a number of water projects (a new solar panel for our pump, soil moisture sensors in a collaboration with Mark Chang, a graywater system for the vegetable washing water) and I feel like an ostrich with my head buried in too much to do (also getting to check out the soil moisture at the same time 🙂 We also have a new farming partner — Mousse the puppy! He has been busy helping us thin the lower hanging fruit on the trees.

photo 1 (4)

Hope to see you out at the farm soon! Emma & Katie

Aerial seed bombing and wildflower community event – Saturday Sept. 13th!

A FREE community event celebrating the Bee Friendlier Movement. Educating the community on the importance of planting wild flowers and its direct impact on the farming community. Come see us drop over 50,000 brightly colored seed balls from a vintage WWII crop duster to plant a wildflower field at the Cloverleaf, Collins Farm and Hearty Fork farmstand! Meant to be an inspiring spectacle for children and adults alike. Educational workshops and speakers.

See the facebook event here:

Come join us for:
Live Music from F St Stompers featuring Panmixia. 
Food Vendors!
Honey Tasting by Moonshine Trading Co!
Wild Flower Seedle Making Demonstration!
At 5PM don’t miss the Filming of Aerial Stunt for Bee Friendlier Documentary!

This is a kid friendly event and kids are invited to make a wildflower seedle to take home. Please Note: Documentary film crew may be on site filming.

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.


 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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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!


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!


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