Summer on a sustainable California Rancho
Summer is here at the Rancho and with that comes new life, the heat and the beginning of harvest season.
Hog department manager, Don Sinnot, and his team have been busy tending to the hogs and making sure they stay comfortable. The team added more misters to the hoop barns increasing the coverage to at least 1/3 of each barn. Also, in case you missed the update on Facebook, 18 mulberry trees have been planted around the hoop barns to grow for added shade. The hog department also updated their sprinkler systems. This update is to irrigate newly planted trees and to continually water the hogs and the dirt they roll around in. "The primary intent is to keep the pigs cool," Sinnott said.
Wheat harvest finished up last week and we are excited to have harvested organic Emmer, Spelt, Sonora, Cal Rojo and Patwin. Harvesting so many organic grain varieties is a meticulous task. The grain harvester is cleaned before a new varietal is harvested to ensure CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) certification and also to keep grain properly separated. Dry wheat and barley were also harvested for our sustainable raised hog feed. The straw that is left after the wheat harvest has been bundled and will be used in hog bedding. Harvest for the rest of the crops will take place the first week of August through the last week of October.
Cowboys and Conservation
The heat is also something the cowboys take into consideration for their ever-grazing, pasture-fed beef. The cowboys continue to prep more land for irrigated pastures creating even more grazing acreage for the cattle. Prepping land for irrigated pastures includes determining the acreage available on the Rancho, continued restoration work along the Sacramento river and planting edible and native seeds. The cattle department hopes to increase their herd head-count after all the work of adding more pasture land. The herd will continue to feed on the irrigated pastures and green grass around the Rancho until winter. Then, half the heard will be moved to "The Rocks," 5,000 acres of winter grazing ground. Moving the cattle to "The Rocks" gives the herd more pasture to roam, graze and allows the fields on the Rancho to replenish.
Along with developing more Rancho land for pasture we are also working with our conservation partners in restoring easements back to their natural habitats. The Nature Conservancy will be restoring properties in three phases over the next 15 or so years. The first two phases are in the areas of the ranch where the cattle currently graze. This means that current areas that we farm will eventually be restored back to their native habitats. Check out this video to hear a bit more about our conservation efforts. "Our relationship with our easement partners requires us to operate somewhat differently than most farming operations," said Ranch Manager Joe Mendes. "We have certain restrictions on what crops we grow and where we can grow them. What, when, where and how we plant most of our crops begins this time of year."
Not only are there new crops popping but also new life has begun to emerge from the wildlife corridors and dry land fields. If you look close enough you can spot does bounding between the walnut and almond orchards, diving into sloughs, quickly followed by their not-so-coordinated, somewhat clumsy, fawns. The Rancho is no stranger to turkeys and this summer has brought many new poults to the countless flocks that roam the acres. Small, puffy and still only grey in color, the poults can be seen scurrying behind their raptor-like mamas.
The seven mile stretch of the Sacramento River that borders the west side of the Rancho has seasonal species of fish swimming upstream to spawn. During this time of year you can see shad and striped bass. If you're lucky enough to catch a shad be sure to enjoy the roe, one of Charlie's favorite summertime delicacies.
The branches from the 162 black walnut trees, lining the mile long driveway into headquarters, sag heavy as the walnuts grow bigger and bigger. Although not for harvest we're thinkng about picking a few and trying to preserve them with these recipes from our friends at Edible East Bay magazine.
The 300 acre field to the west of the driveway is blooming bright yellow, full of safflower buds. Safflower, once harvested, will be processed into cooking oil. The thigh-high, spiked sprigs jutting up from the soil don't seem to mind the Chico summer heart. The field full of sturdy, summer safflower is just the first crop field you'll see as you enter the Rancho and only a small portion of the 14,400 acres of crop and pasture land monitored during the summer.
Crops and Heat Concerns
This year's harvest will include 75 acres of vineseed (squash, watermelon, pumpkins and cucumbers), 87 acres of sunflowers and nearly 600 acres of tomatoes that will be used for canning. Along with more than 25 acres of heirloom beans, set to harvest in the fall, we also planted 12 acres of a new popcorn. The robust varietal is a "butterfly style" popping corn and will yield a tender and sweet kernel. "Butterfly style" refers to the irregular shape of the popped kernel, compared to a "mushroom" style popping corn where the popped kernel is a more uniform, ball shape.
All crops, except for the almond and walnut orchards, which are permanent crops, have to be rotated on a regular basis to prevent disease and maintain good soil. The crop rotation is based around the tomato acreage. Fields are rotated every two years and this requires about 2,000 acres of available ground to maintain a proper rotation. Each crop has their own unique fertilizer requirements. On the buried, drip irrigated fields, fertilizers are applied through the irrigation system. This is commonly referred to as fertigation. The most used and applied fertilizer is Nitrogen. The plants convert nitrogen into carbohydrates, which they use as their energy source. Potassium and phosphorous are two other major nutrients plants need in their growth. In the organic crop fields chicken and cow manure, certified salmonella free, are used to supply the plants with nutrients. The Rancho has had an "excellent growing season," Mendes said. He is anticipating "very good yields," at harvest time.
Temperatures creeping over 100 degrees can lead to farming and ranching challenges. However, Mendes is optimistic about our farming practices on the Rancho and keeps a close eye on crops and livestock. "We have had a mild summer so far by our standards," he said. "But these 100 plus degree days are becoming a regular occurrence." There are no real differences in the way Mendes and the ranchers treat the crops. Heat can be damaging but as long as the crops are tended to and water levels are monitored there isn't a large concern.