July 2013 - Morning Song Farm

Squirrel Nation

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We had a tough time last week getting the lids shut on our boxes, particularly the large shares. Despite the ongoing war with rabbits and squirrels, our gardens are offering bumper crops of lots of different items; with thousands of row feet of tomatoes coming soon! We really weren’t expecting the baby kale-dominated braising mix to be still going strong in the middle of summer, but there it is; looking great. The basil looks succulent this week, and we’re proud to offer large box subscribers our carefully tended Arugula.

We’ve discovered using winter row covers to guard against  this time of year’s total flea beetle devastation and we’ve cut beautiful, small bunches for all large shares. (There’s no way large bunches would have fit in the boxes!)  Little by little we’re providing less outstanding organic greens for resident squirrels by shoring up the matrix of entrances to our gardens. We’ve fenced, dug down and buried chicken wiring barriers, we’ve wrapped the fencing in dust barriers so that squirrels can’t see into the gardens. (This is a trick that Joe over at JR Organics offered us, and it seems to help).

Garden Two appears to be Squirrel Free, an absolute 10 year first here on Morning Song Farm. All of our row crops are completely fenced in, but that doesn’t stop agile, fence climbing, tree climbing, organic arugula eating varmints. Ha! A mere fence? Surely we jest? Because our 700 macadamia tree grove is really just a Squirrel Magnet, and because when I first became the farmer here over a decade ago, I insisted that we could all live together so let’s not hurt any cute squirrels, the Confiscatory Squirrel Invasion is only now, so many years later, finally getting beat back to a dull roar. And for transparency’s sake, let me be clear that “beating back” is a loose term and in no way should be interpreted as our having won the Squirrel War. So lesson learned: when you buy a nut farm and your totally experienced grove manager insists you can’t coexist peacefully with the cute fluffy tailed squirrels… consider the possibility he knows his stuff and don’t intervene with his pest management program. Override the experienced guy in the cowboy boots and well worn sling shot hanging out his back pocket… at your peril! There have been years where we really lost 95% of the mac crop to squirrels, once their population took hold, it seemed like it was hopeless. Such that it was pointed out to me back then, never mind by whom, ….each quarter pound of macadamias “sold,” represented a wealth transfer equivalent to a down payment on a small condo.

I had thought that we could just allocate a certain amount of our crops to the bugs, rabbits and squirrels, and then we could all live in peace.  That really is who I am, and I thought that losing some produce to squirrels was a good trade off.  I’m also really committed to being a successful, sustainable farmer.  At some point I had to decide to get out of farming completely or adjust my viewpoint. There, right there; is the overlapping intersection of ivory tower farming ideology and rural reality. I wasn’t aware of the Varmint Population Explosion Theory of our former grove manager (who continues to be a dear friend and regularly offers his advice)  that reads something like this: the varmints will increase in population until there is nothing left to eat. With 700 macadamia trees, and hundreds of fruit trees, that’s a whole lot of squirrel food before they run out of nuts, and when the nuts are all eaten…and the macadamia nut-fueled furry population explosion gets hungry…they aren’t going to buy a plane ticket elsewhere…they will be forced enmasse to start devouring other things, like tree bark (killing the whole tree outright) or anything leafy green at all that you foolishly think you can grow. Chain link fences won’t save you, electrical fences won’t save you, digging down and putting underground barriers won’t save you. Unless you plan on going Caddy Shack on your whole farm at some point, focused, unrelenting pest management is key.

Ouch. Yep, I do remember him saying all that, but I just really thought because he’d never tried coexisting, that we should try it. Unfortunately, it’s taken almost a decade to get back under control. Wow. Hats off to you Gregorio. Wish I’d listened to you to begin with, it’s only taken us 10 years to get back to where we were to begin with because we didn’t.

Partridge in a Pear Tree

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Well, not a a partridge, and not a pear tree. Peering out at the photographer: our not-as-stealth-as-they-think-they-are juvenile hens roosting in their new favorite tree: a sapote.  They’re not laying eggs yet, but have finally taken to launching into the trees at night to guard against predator attacks. Baby chicks don’t roost, so we know we’re halfway to eggs when a young hen starts to fly at night.

True story: back in the day when I was married and living in the suburbs of San Clemente and commuting to the family farm…I raised our chickens against city ordinance law right there in San Clemente and then brought them; squawking and clucking to the farm when I (inevitably) was issued a San Clemente “chicken ticket.” The kids couldn’t bare to leave the cute babies at the farm all week, only seeing them on the weekends, and I truly have always enjoyed raising baby chicks. Even today, so many years later, I  get such a kick out of watching their antics. Often a quick feeding turns into a chicken sojourn as I sit under a tree of their enclosure and watch them enjoy life.

So, I’d pick up just hatched babies at the SC post office, and raise them in one of way too many bathrooms in that house that always felt more like a hotel  than a home. No, I did not fit in, demographically, as chickens and toddlers romped in my enclosed front yard, during the day, and then we’d go through the drill, of herding the babies into a crate that I’d put in a bathroom at night. As they got a little larger, the crate wouldn’t do, and so I chose an enclosed shower to keep them in at night. In the early days, I had no idea how chickens developed, and so went through quite a panic when one morning I discovered two dozen half grown chickens missing from the shower floor. (the call to my then-husband to admit that two dozen pooping chickens had gone missing in his house did nothing to ameliorate the growing distance between us;)  As it turned out, had I just looked UP, I’d have discovered the chickens peering down wondering what all the fuss was about. They had all discovered THAT very day, that they could fly, enmasse, and were roosting on the top of the shower’s expansive glass shower enclosure.

Despite the four acres our home was situated on, someone offended by our outlier activities  eventually complained each and every time I raised a new flock over the years, and the City of San Clemente would dutifully send out an “enforcer” to come pay a visit with yet another chicken ticket that my ex would use as demonstrable proof I was nuts. And so,
the new flock would be moved to the farm.

Still got chickens. Still may be nuts.

Farmer Donna Weighs in on CSA Box Value

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 I received a note from a subscriber today cancelling her subscription, and because she brought up a point that my own brother gleefully pointed out to me, a man with no farming experience who spends his days in an air conditioned office…yet every year beats me to the table with with tomatoes and squash,  I thought I’d share my thoughts. Her point, (and my brother’s is)  paraphrased here:

Thank you. I was very pleased with the quality of the product. It was always excellent. My complaint is with the variety ….when most backyard gardeners in north county have tomatoes, squash, beans, apricots, and other fruits and vegetables, we did not get them in our boxes. 
Here’s my response……
Dear …..

Thanks for your feedback. Not to be argumentative, but I do want to point out we do grow squash, beans and tomatoes. We put two of those items in our boxes from end of June through half the winter.  And tomatoes are on their way! Attached is this week’s harvest ticket.
What is also true is our CSA box is an outstanding organic value, but isn’t for everyone. With 20 acres, we can’t grow everything under the sun. Most backyard growers aren’t growing macadamias, Purslane, beets, avocados, onions, mint, Asian pears, spinach, kales, braising mix,  spring mix….I can go on and on. Forty four bucks a week can’t feed a family, nor can it include every wonderful thing available that any farmer anywhere grows in the summer months, but it goes a long way towards providing lots of local, organic produce that many subscribers choose to augment with things we don’t grow, or don’t grow every month.
Ok, I wince when my suburb living family members joyfully…gleefully… point out their bountiful May/ early June crops that I, the commercial farmer in the family… am weeks away from producing. Backyard growers like my brother, can buzz over to home depot and pick up a few dozen conventionally produced “starts” and have produce by May. Or they can start a few starts in a window sill in January, with the same results. That’s not a commercial, certified organic paradigm.  We have limited green house space, so much of our summer crops don’t arrive until mid-summer. Even our tomatoes that we started in February won’t be in production for weeks. So we may shift forward in the arrival of our summer produce, but it does arrive.
Particularly with the skyrocketing cost of American produce, our CSA box is an outstanding value. As the economy continues to shift downward, (despite the falsified media reports to the contrary) more and more, “organic” production will be coming from third world nations with sketchy pollution and hygiene industry practices. Certified organic, but grown in conditions that no first world farmer would have anything to do with. The reason is it’s cheaper. It’s always cheaper to source produce from the third world. First world, certified organic, micro farmed and local will be more expensive because it costs more to produce; but the value is there. Sheesh, California Certified Organic Farmers, (CCOF) puts their California label on produce they certify out of Mexico. How confusing is that? It comes up here at right around half the California wholesale price, and impacts growers here. Grocery store buyers are hard pressed  NOT to purchase the third world produce, because they can make more profit, and sell the stuff cheaper besides, keeping everyone happy; as long as the consumer doesn’t ask too many questions and become overly informed.
I do very much appreciate your business, which is why I’ve taken the time to thoughtfully respond to your email; and hope as the months go by you will keep an eye on the actual costs of replacing your CSA box contents with domestically produced organic produce  and consider rejoining us.
Farmer Donna
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