Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Unlike the farmers of the Midwest, and of traditional lore, winter is not our season of rest. Rather, the last few months of autumn, before the rains, is our time of freedom. For some, those few months are a regrouping of resources and energy for harvest. For raisin farmers, that is their most hectic time. After the raisins are dried and off to the packing house however, they can rest. The vines go dormant, and the weeds are at their most sluggish. The fog begins, and the trees begin to lose their leaves- except for the olive trees, which become the only green in a sea of dormant almond trees. For us, early fall is a time to relax and take a break from the hectic pace of the early summer and spring and stay out of the extreme heat.
The weeds. That is why winter is not a time of rest here in the food production capital of California. With winter rains come spring weeds, and they don't wait for the spring. The hills are kissed with the fresh green of new grass, as are the orchards we so carefully tend. The grasses like foxtail and the shallow rooted fiddleneck we don't mind so much, but the broad leaf weeds like mallow, sow's thistle, flixweed and stinging nettle. The weeds that resist being sprayed and have large tap roots that entwine with the incredibly shallow anchor roots of olive trees and are impossible to pull without disturbing the tree. The mustards are fine if they stay within the row, but growing next to a young tree's trunk takes essential nutrients away from the tree and slows its growth. Tall weeds also create a wetter environment, where the frost lingers and can kill trees and destroy fruit.
Two weeks of rain, and no sun, and a farmer can fall hopelessly behind. These weeks before Christmas and now have been divided between waiting for the rain to stop and frantic activity on the few sunny days. We are luckier than some; our sandy ground means we don't get bogged down in mud if we use the tractor and mower a few days after a rain, but steady rain for a week keeps us out of the field just the same.
The weedkiller spray of lemongrass and castor oil is effective, but can't be used on wet weeds, and the dew nullifies its action completely. So there is a narrow window between after the dew has dried and about 3:30, when the air cools down and transpiration starts to occur from the wet ground to the air. In this picture, the right hand side was weeded once with a hula hoe only in the square foot around the base of each tree and then sprayed with the GreenMatch weed killer 2 feet out from the trees on each side. The picture above was taken about 2 weeks after the spray, so you can see the regrowth occurring already. The left hand side is au naturale.
Still, the cool air and beautiful views and the quiet that falls beneath the fog in the morning is a reward in itself for hard work accomplished.
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