It’s not unusual to see bees around me when I’m in the fig orchard. Figs don’t rely on honeybees for pollination, but the bees do like the flowering covercrop and native pollinator planting that is a part of Farm Lab.
But at a certain point it seemed louder than usual. This is what I saw when I looked up.
It seems that a colony from our existing hive had decided the time had come to move on. They wanted to settle in the tree I was inspecting, giving me a closer look at swarming behavior than I really expected this morning. (Staying put to take this picture won me a couple of stings.)
We always want a healthy hive at Farm Lab, and had been prepping a new hive in anticipation. A few quick texts brought Beekeeper Colin to the scene.
While I understand the concepts of beekeeping, I am happy to involve somebody with better training and equipment… even if I probably stayed closer to the action than I should have.
Branch and bees together went into the new hive, but the bees quickly settled and allowed us to start closing up.
Final new home pictures will be up in a couple of days, after we relocate the hive to a better permanent location.
Last Thursday we were fortunate to have a very nice rain, 1.3″ that fell steadily over night. Now it’s Monday, and I’m already considering my next irrigation. Why? This graph holds the answer.
This is a data log of our soil moisture after the rain that fell on the night of December 15/16. The light blue line represents soil moisture at 12″, the dark blue line represents moisture at 36″. The range represented by the shading and dashed lines is the preferred range; a fully saturated soil would be at the top.
What we’re seeing here is that prior to last week’s rain we were quite dry… very close to the lower acceptable limit. We were ready to irrigate had the storm failed to deliver. Thankfully it delivered in line with expectations. Where are we now?
The rain had the clearest impact at 12″ (light blue), which is as you would expect, but it was insufficient to fully saturate the soil. At 36″ (dark blue), the rain barely registered at all. Shallow soil moisture has already dropped considerably as the rainwater wicks through the soil.
Hoping the rain forecast for next Monday turns up!
(Hat tip to our technology providers at Acuity Agriculture for a great tool!)
I am grateful for the rain last night, but I’m also frustrated. We only get so many storm systems a season… when one falls 50% short of expectations, that hurts. Last night’s system had the water we needed, but it stalled over the Santa Barbara Channel. More than an inch of badly needed rain fell directly into the ocean, while most of our agricultural areas and watersheds saw half that amount or less.
Archaeologists believe that writing may have been invented to facilitate crop reporting and tax collection. I believe that complaining about government paperwork was invented by farmers not long thereafter, although I have not seen any scholarly work on the matter.
There seems to be a fair amount of interest these days in edible cover crops. We’ve experimented with a few, most notably sugar beets. (Read about them here !) And some we know are edible but aren’t practical to eat, like barley. Finding a cover crop that is both effective and marketable has been a challenge.
We’re taking another stab at it with daikon radishes. We’ve been very pleased so far. They grow very rapidly, and seem to be able to out-compete weeds. The deep tap roots are great for getting down into the soil, and they are reputed to give some nematicidal effect once they have been turned under.
Quick growth also makes them well suited for a market crop. Other crops we have tried as covers need 100 days or more to reach maturity. Inevitably, they will get trampled in the course of orchard operations during such a long period. Daikon radishes only need about 45 days. With a little planning, we can work around that time frame in the fig orchard. (Lemons or avocados might be a different story.)
This week we will start to make daikon radishes available to our customers. Like any cover crop, we don’t expect to harvest all of it. A cover crop exists to feed the soil, not the people. But we’re looking forward to being able to add a little variety to our program.
One of the things I find fascinating about our FarmLab educational program with SEEAG is exploring kids’ understanding of agriculture. It comes as no surprise that many are unfamiliar with farming and plants, but it is interesting to see the different ways that lack of understanding is manifested.
I noticed a new one today. One of their activities was drawing a plant, after a discussion and demonstration of the different parts of a plat’s anatomy. They could draw any plant they wished. Most of them looked somewhat like this:
Yes, even after talking to them about food coming from plants, many ended up with something like a sunflower or daisy… no fruit. Sigh. But… what really struck me was that almost invariably the plant grew from the bottom of the page. Roots were often a hastily scribbled in afterthought. That suggests to me that we missed something… Roots are a vitally important, and often a sizable, part of the plant. We brought out this guy as an example:
The tap root on that sugarbeet broke off, but probably extends another 8″ or more into the soil, breaking up clay and scavenging nutrients. That’s the sugarbeet’s role in our orchard. Sure, they’re edible (in fact I just ate the one pictured above) but there’s more to it than that. Roots perform so many vital tasks for the plant and for the farm that I really want to make sure the concept sticks.
So as often happens, bringing the kids out to the farm for lesson resulted in a lesson for me. Next time…
Over the past few years, I’ve shared updates from our farm. Usually I like to share the moments and images that make farming a joy. Sometimes I post to give people an insight into farming that they might not otherwise have. Tonight’s post falls in the latter category.
Tomorrow morning we will be spraying the citrus trees in our Santa Paula orchard to help control the Asian Citrus Psyllid. The “ACP” is a vector for a bacterial disease called Haunglongbing (or “HLB”) which is deadly to citrus trees. More info on the pest and disease here.)
Picking some fruit for our household tonight before tomorrow’s treatment, I was able to spot multiple adult psyllids with my naked eye. I was even able to get this picture with my phone. This is an actual ACP, and that is my finger, in our grove today. 3/15/2016.
Usually farmers are reluctant to talk about spraying in a public forum. Why not simply let this pass unmentioned? Because it is too important. This pest/disease combo has destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of citrus in Florida because they were too late to stop it. We have been forewarned, and while the tools available to us aren’t perfect, they may slow the spread until some better options come available in the next few years. For now, Ventura County growers are voluntarily treating in a coordinated fashion to try to minimize the areas where ACP populations can flourish. Growers both large and small are part of this effort. All treatments are being done under the regulations established by the EPA, CDFA, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, and our Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner.
If I have generated any goodwill over the years, please believe me when I say that this is both important and our best opportunity to preserve California’s citrus trees for the future. This disease has spared no citrus… large orchard or small, backyard or commercial, conventional or organic.. it has not mattered in Florida. But we can still stop it here.