News From the Farm | December 4, 2012

News From the Farm

A powerful winter storm passed over the farm last night bringing deep soaking moisture. By mid-morning, Cache Creek, running along the eastern border of the farm, had peaked at nearly 15,000 cubic feet per second, and was a fierce power, sweeping whole trees, piles of floating cattails, and debris past the farm at incredible speed. Our relationship with the Creek is a bit like having a semi-wild creature for a neighbor. We respect its beauty and marvel that it is a sanctuary for so many animals, birds and other life forms. Yet its power can be at times a writhing, churning, brown powerhouse, licking at bank edges, uprooting plants and trees, transporting millions of tons of sand, silt and gravel past the farm and to the basin near the Sacramento River. Within six hours the creek level rose from 2,000 to nearly 15,000 cfs, and 12 hours later was back down again — an astounding change.

The value to the farm of such a downpour is substantial. This is the best weather start to a fall season in many years. Our wells are getting recharged as small feeder streams are running full. Walnut, almond, fig and peach orchards are storing moisture deep in the soil profile, lessening the need to pump water next summer. Winter hay and grain crops are lush and healthy, off to an early start, and now with reserves to root deep and withstand prolonged cold or dry weather that may come.

We ready ourselves for the moisture and cold of December and January by planting cover crops on nearly all of our fields. Our winter covers are now a soft green and help to absorb the heavy rains by keeping the soil open and blanketed with living mulch. These fields will be planted with next year’s spring and summer crops – from spring greens to summer’s tomato, melons and zucchini – (are you missing summer squash yet?) The cycle of our planting seasons is nearly ended, and tractors are put away. Winter offers a chance to harvest carbon and nitrogen with plants that thrive in the low light and cold of winter. Our mix of vetch, oats, clover and flowering plants become the food source for next season’s crops. Their complex of plant proteins will help to provide the flavor for crops to come by feeding our soil’s micro-life. Once planted, cover crops require little attention – we can spend time indoors as the farm breathes slowly and quietly – absorbing the gift of life-supporting moisture.

2012 is nearly at a close. It has been one of the most fruitful in the 30 years of living and farming here – a reflection of a maturing ecosystem and benign weather. We are storing bins of apples, pomegranates, winter squash, feed grains, wheat, popcorn, walnuts and dried fruits and flowers. We had a fine summer harvest of peaches, figs, grapes and other fruit. At the same time, fall harvest continues with beautiful greens, potatoes, root crops and brassicas. Our five acres of oranges are ripening and gaining sweetness for an early January harvest, and will appear in your boxes when we return from our break.

We have spent the last 28 years planting, diversifying and building for a four- season harvest each year. We have developed a strategy characterized by the notion of cautious planting and planning, trying not to speculate on markets, but trying to grow crops that when picked, display peak seasonal flavor – growing these in quantities that we feel we can sell for a fair price. We realize that we are on a journey of experimentation to do it better every year, learning about each crop as one would any new relationship. We venture tentatively at first, discovering crop likes and needs, fine tuning, checking market acceptance, and then risking a bit more by planting more. All the while we are trying to reduce risk by managing the variables that come with this livelihood.

I am sure that there have been some hits and some misses this year in your boxes. We have, at all times, sought to put great produce together for you as a varied and interesting reflection of each season. We realize that at times we have tested you with too much of one thing or another and now promise to practice more restraint at next year’s planting time, based upon your comments – to minimize the misses and plant more hits. We very much appreciate your supportive patience with our farm’s evolution and relationship with your family. As we go on, we have members who have fed their children with our food and now those grown children have their own young families who are choosing to continue in a multigenerational relationship with our farm!

We go into our break satisfied with a year of peak effort; appreciative of the gifts of this good land; feeling blessed by our hardworking crew; and thankful that the seasons turned with a gentleness that allowed all life forms, great or small to be healthy and fruitful. With a wary eye on the creek, and acknowledging our relationship with forces greater than our design, we head into the break to gather the wherewithal to do it all again next year. Have a great holiday season. Thank you for your support. See you in January!

— Paul Muller

open field