Monday, May 31, 2010

Out with the old and in with the new

Here is another perfect strawberry photo. They seem to go on and on which is not something to complain about. The Chandlers are wonderful. Large, sweet and the poor things have endured quite a bit of rain and grit this season with little trouble. There are lots of berries to enjoy now!

And if that June-bearing Chandler ever starts to slow down in production, not to be worried because here comes the everbearing Seascape you all remember from previous seasons. Strawberries seem to be one of those crops that Lee and Wayne have mastered over the years, in addition to many others.

Fresh snap peas finally made their way into the fresh product inventory this last week and I highly suggest all you folks take advantage of their limited season. It will get too hot for them and NOW is the moment to enjoy. A large quantity will be harvested for the first CSA box of the season next week so the farm stand could have limited supplies. That is one of those benefits of being a CSA subscribers; often the best stuff gets saved for those of you who have committed, given us your trust, and paid ahead.

And here is what the end of fava season looks like. A little more yellow than the beginning of the season as they mature and dry out a bit. Still very edible and flavorful although less tender, the fava will go on for another week or two. Then that is all until next season. Last chance opportunities!

Where did the asparagus suddenly disappear to? Well, it is out there in the middle of the field as it will perennially be as long as the farm goes on, but it is now left to flower and feed itself for future seasons. Wayne and I calculated the duration of harvest and decided it was time to let it alone for the health of the crop. A fine time to transition as many early summer crops are starting now. I was impressed to see the large loads of asparagus move out of the farm stand this season. We sure do have some spear lovers out there. Sweet as they are, this is quite understandable.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Field Operations

Farm work is busy. When there are things to do (which is almost always) there are tons of things that need to be done at once. Priorities are a MUST and we wander about picking and choosing out battles all day long on the farm. A Saturday afternoon project yesterday was to apply row cover to newly planted and emerging seedlings. I think it was arugula the guys were trying to save from insect damages. It typically gets munched into a doily full of holes by flea beetles. Other plants like cucumbers and squash are attacked by cucumber beetles, and the list goes on and on. When is it worthwhile to spend the time and energy to save a crop from these pest damages? Wayne and Jesus work together in the above image to attach a large roll of brand new row cover to the tractor for application. Tis the season of insect pests and if we want to have certain crops they will need protection in the form of exclusion.

Once the tractor is rigged to apply the row cover it can actually drive itself while the guys follow along and cover the edges so that it will not blow away. All of this extra time and labor and the resources are good examples of why farming organically can be challenging and costly in the broader scheme of food production techniques. These row covers will be re-used around the farm again and again until they out live their life cycle and a full of holes and tears. The guys will have to remove the covers in order to harvest and once the crop is done. It is a lot of extra work, but lets the crop thrive without the damages of our local insect pests.

Meanwhile, Roberto got called off of field operations to go pick more strawberries! He is our number one berry man when the time comes around to re-stock inventory throughout the sales day. We try to pick enough for everyone while also not over-picking. But it is trivial because we never know hen a large strawberry order might hit a the end of a day. You can often see Roberto out filling boxes of sweet berries from out the back of the farm stand. I'm certain he loves his sweet job as he was probing and calling for months as we anticipated the first berries of the season. I never find hesitation is asking for MORE berries AGAIN.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A New Farm Stand Hand: Dominique

Introducing a girlfriend of mine, Sonoma County grown small farm fan and sustainable agriculture follower, Dominique. Evie and I are lucky that Dominique was finishing up school this spring and seeking practical experience in the field of farming, making the farm stand sales position a perfectly suitable environment for her to gain some new insights and exposures from some very experienced farmers.

Evie and I are still here too, but the farm stand is about to open full time for the season and we are going to divide the job amongst us to avoid overly long days and to share the work load. There is always plenty of work at a farm and while Evie is coming to the end of her treatments, she is still in recovery from all she has been through lately and will not be around as often as recent years, at least for now.

I met Dominique a couple of years ago when I returned to Sonoma County and was seeking farms and CSAs to work with. She and I worked together packing the CSA at First Light Farm in Sebastopol under the direction of Nathan Boone during the 2008-2009 season. When I left the packing crew out there, I left the CSA management position to Dominique who had the reliability, passion and competence to do a great job. Meanwhile, I worked for Tierra too and babbled on and on about all the incredible farming magic I was experiencing across the county. I was delighted that Dominique followed the sustainable farming trail out to Airport Boulevard and have subsequently gotten to know the farm bit by bit, finally stepping inside as a need for extra help emerged.

Since meeting her, she has always been out to find a way to find the closest thing to a homestead or sustainable living for her family including her beautiful young girl, Marisol. She is a lover of animals and care-taker of many members of her family. She has pursued and completed course work to obtain her degree in Sustainable Agriculture at the SRJC and is currently enrolled in a permaculture course. Appropriately, she is a strong believer in the issues we stand for as supporters and consumers of locally and sustainably grown food.

Please offer a warm welcome when you run into Dominique this season. Not only will she be a figure in the farm stand, helping us keep long and frequent hours to serve you as much as possible, but she will also be involved in packing and managing the CSA this season. Driven to learn and experience farm operations as someone who is truly interested in a finding a way to make a living this way, I know Dominique will put her heart and soul into her roles with Tierra. A chef for a husband (John, he currently works with Rosso Pizzeria), she has tips for use of vegetables that go beyond my realm of experience and ought to be an asset in helping people figure what to do with all the unique Tierra goodies.

We have only had one day together on the sales floor, but I was reminded why I so love working with this friend of mine. She is a hard worker! I was relieved as she stepped right in and just started, organized, informed and out to do the best job possible. I hope you all are able to enjoy more good stuff this season as a result of more good hands that facilitate us being able to do more good stuff for the farm and everyone involved! New energy is upon us and it is a great thing!

Thank you, Dominique.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Caltrans Digging Holes at the Farm

If you pulled up the the farm stand last Tuesday you found a parking lot full of signature orange equipment and white vehicles, indicating Cantrans had finally arrived to start work at this segment of the 101 improvement projects. Specifically, this initial portion of the project on Airport Boulevard involves digging bore holes throughout existing farm terrain and County property that will eventually turn over to the state for the construction of a new and huge freeway onramp. What are they doing here exactly? I'm not privy to internal planning or direct discussion, but I think I understand that the project engineer is collecting stratigraphic soil samples in
these locations where they hope to install footings for the grand new freeway portal that will be erected sometime in the next 2 years. They are a great crew of guys, accomplishing approximately 1 bore hole per day with plenty of equipment hold ups. There is a lovely biologist named Jane keeping a close watch on any tiger salamander issues and like environmental topics.

Farm impacts? There will be plenty of them. Previously mentioned we will lose the farm stand and parking lots as they are today. Airport Blvd will be five lanes in the future, there will be stop lights at Fulton and at the 101 ramp, portions of the land the farm is now operating on will be taken by the state. It is hoped, but unknown if and how the land will be compensated. We can only hope and be optimistic that it is opportunity to change and improve as we adapt and exist as a green belt in a busy location of a crowded community. Please do not let construction activity deter your attendance to the farm stand as this project evolves and continues. All of us will play a part in keeping the farm strong as change is thrust upon us. Come and take a look at this evovles, get out of your car and shake your fist like little strawberry lover, Finn, did last Tuesday or watch in quiet observation. I'll try to answer your questions as I find answers to details.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

First Squash and Cucumber Beetles

Little tiny summer squashes with blossoms attached made it from the field to the farm stand on Saturday afternoon. They ended up selling off to a woman who thoroughly removed the decorative flora from the butt of each squash in disinterest, but made for a pretty sight prior to their kitchen-fate. This looks like a straight-neck squash and we are lucky to have gotten some so early. I think last year the early summer squash took a hit with some frost, despite the use of row covers to protect the plants that are set out early in hopes of a spring harvest like this.

Fascinating to me in the perspective of a grower who is interested in the topic of integrated pest management are the cucumber beetles crawling all over these baby squashes (here is yet another example of your Tierra organic certification-let the pests speak for no spray), relishing one of their favorite garden hosts. This here is the striped variety of cucumber beetle and I do believe they are working on increasing their numbers in this image while dancing around on their favorite plant family. Named for the cucurbit family, cucumber beetles have a preference for squashes, melons, cucumbers and like summer vegetable plants, but can also be found throughout the garden and all season long to some extent. They overwinter just fine in plant debris with our somewhat mild winters, emerging in spring to thrive and multiply.

The spotted beetle is a little harder to see in this particular photo because he is blending in with the stem, but I know you local gardeners have seen it before either in your own garden or maybe mixed in with your Tierra greens upon arriving home. This guy (aka Diabrotica) is all over the place around these parts; munching, sucking and destroying foliage throughout the farm and garden scene. The larval stage will work away at plant roots. A few times a season there will be a flush of reproductive events where they will swarm and demolish cucurbit crops if not covered. This is one of many reasons to compromise and invest in synthetic material row covers to exclude such damages.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Here we go....carrots are back. This one was one of the largest Wayne could scrounge up from the field during a leisurely Saturday stroll through his first spring crop of 2010. In that case, I'm uncertain if they will be for sale this week, but just know it is coming soon! As soon as possible. Little beets are out there too. And, if you didn't already know, there are all those incredible berries (featured in the backdrop here, but not to be overlooked).

Spring crops are rolling in one after another now....the weather is ideal for many of the cool season crops to grow and harvest and it accommodates the planting of summer season seeds and transplants. This is where much of the farming energy will go this month. Planting season is well upon us right now! The farm is in a constant transition and it is fun to come out and see it all occur. We welcome you to do just that.

Enjoy the final signs of spring this month.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sweet and Spicy

What a pleasure to have sweet peas to snip first thing upon arriving to work at the farm stand each day. Lee made a timely sowing of sweet peas seeds last fall and now the incredible long stemmed variety is flowering full blast, enough to keep me busily chasing blossoms throughout a day. This is not the first farm job where I have arrived early to work in order to be sure the sweet peas make it out of the field and are available to those who love the sweet scented and often nostalgic little pea flower. These are the kinds of details in life that bring me joy whether or not appreciated by others.

Well paired with the vibrant hot sauces in the farm stand, the image above is a great representation of the sweet and spice that can be obtained at Tierra this moment in the season. Come get some sweet peas for yourself or a loved one until I run out of time to keep cutting them each morning. The work only snowballs around the farm from this point on.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Breaking ground in the children's farm field

Lee and I have been anxiously waiting for the tractor to find time to move on over to the triangular portion of the farm that sits east of the farm stand and adjacent compost piles. Covered in huge weeds until this last week, we have hoped this would be the site of a children-themed and interactive plot on the farm. We finally broke ground out there last Tuesday and are on our way....stay tuned for upcoming ideas and activities and please share if you have any input on what would be fun and important for you and your family to learn and enjoy about growing food. So far we have brainstormed crop rows with plant family or type themes including roots (carrots, potato, radish), salad, grain, nightshade (fruiting tomato or pepper type plants), flowers, pole bean tunnels, etc... Let's see what kind of magic we can make this season!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A photo of a painting of a photo

In August of 2008 I took a nice chile/pepper overview photo. From left to right the visual pleasure of Gypsys, orange and yellow bells, and then on to various spicy chiles in enjoyed in this image. It was then passed on to artist, painter and long time farm relation Barbara Toschi.

Here is a close up of her final product that is proudly displayed behind the sales counter at the farm stand each day. Not only is Barbara talented with paint, but she also has a historic role with the farm as a landowner who once welcomed Lee and Wayne to farm her land in the early 1990s. See the Tierra History page for more info in the "Getting Bigger" section. These days her role continues as farm friend, customer and supporter with an obvious creative vision of what the farm produces.

Do you notice this grand piece of work when checking out with your produce? Take a moment to appreciate Barbara's work next time you pass through. She will take it away for a week or two coming up as it will be entered in a Windsor art show....maybe you'll find it there?