Volume 8, Week 26, February 15-21, 2015
Could anyone imagine prettier days than these? Mid 70s, everything in bloom, 90 percent of North America’s honey bees doing their annual San Joaquin Valley buzz through the blooms thing. It’s really hard to snap out of winter’s foggy plodding and into spring’s full gallop but that’s sure the case; no stretching or warm-up lap, better to be galloping to stay ahead than running to catch up.
Orchards have to be cleaned up and prepped for frost. That means disking in the shredded winter prunings and grass that have been growing since October. I think this is about my favorite job; driving a tractor through blooming orchards, the earthy smell of freshly opened spring soil mixed with the fragrance of orchard blooms is idyllic. And other than bees, there aren’t many bugs and no dust.
Of course you get to sing Uncle Vern’s favorite tractor driving song real loud. Lyrics (which many of you have learned on farm tours) go like this: “I got a humpback mule, a plow and a tater patch, eggs that’re gonna hatch someday. I got the Lord above and a good girl to love me. I’m the richest man in the world!” It’s really hard to be anything but grateful on such days as these. And thanks to all of you for paying me to drive your tractor, pull your disk and care for your orchards.
The task right now is four fold. Get the winter vegetation turned under. Pull a frost furrow down each side of the tree. Irrigate—not something we should have to be doing in mid-February; but the fourth year of drought is definitely with us—and protect the blooms from blossom blight. Now how’s that for a fun week’s itinerary?
Vegetation gives up its daytime warmth faster than bare firm-packed earth, plus, dark soil absorbs more heat than green vegetation. So, that’s the motivation for disking everything up and then pulling a narrow frost furrow. The water will settle and pack the ground while giving the thirsty trees something to wake up to.
The furrow is narrow, so on a frosty night, we can get the water to the other end of the row and hopefully raise the temp a couple precious degrees.
And as for protecting the blooms from blossom blight, this is definitely the biggest challenge we face as organic farmers: the lack of synthetic fungicides. This challenge is also why you don’t find an organic stone fruit industry in humid parts of the country and another reason to be grateful to be here in California. I’ll talk a little more about this next week.
But Uncle Vern, shouldn’t you be worried that bloom is so early; you could be a sitting duck for hail or frost. And there’s no snow pack in the mountains to fill canals, everything’s going to have to be pumped for the fourth year in a row, and…
Nope, remember the rule from a few months back? “Only worry about what you can do something about.” So the way I see it, these are the most beautiful days and I intend to enjoy ’em to the max. Enjoy the best, prepare as best we can for the worst and