It was early June about ten years ago, and I was walking through the slider door of a cute and cozy rough-hewn 10 x 12 cabin owned by our friends. I remember the wood deck worn where many feet had come in from the fields, bringing arm-fulls of greens for salads, or Chioggio beets, Tokyo Market turnips, Danver carrots or maybe a big juicy Desert King watermelon. I remember being in love with the idea of farming, being obsessed actually. After graduate school and being in the workforce for sometime, moving back home to Northern California, was the stuff of my dreams. Finally in 2010, we were able to come home. From the summer of 2010 to the summer of 2015 we drank up all our new friends could throw at us, from when to plant, to how much compost to use, weeding methods, and seed harvesting. We helped them wherever and whenever we could with their burgeoning business, Redwood Seeds and we learned… we learned like never before, we learned like the need to know was burning from our bellies out.
The Redwoods are, really, more than friends, they are family. They are the kind of people who are straight shooters. The kind of people you can trust, and depend on–always. The ones that text you while at the grocery asking what you need, or the ones you call if stranded or the ones when stopping by for tea, leave you feeling like a fresh new spring day, full of ideas and fascinating things happening. You know the kind of people I mean, right?
Well, one day while at their farm during a planting pot-luck party, standing around the dinner table, I noticed there was no salad dressing. I ran inside, after kicking off my boots, I swung open the fridge, grabbed the dressing and shut the door. Then my mouth fell open as I looked at the most intricate cultivation notes pasted on the outside of the fridge door. It was hand-written on a large poster board, taped at all corners. It was a list of all the crops they were growing with detailed notes of location, when to plant, when to harvest, and notes of things that were done, or had to be done. That impressed me so much it etched into my brain.
Fast-forward, Pandemic year! 2020 marked the 5th year we had been on our family farm! An expansive parcel, with an established walnut grove, and pistachio nut trees. We moved to our farm with the hopes of growing hops. They were traditionally grown in our area, from the Sacramento Valley up the coast to Oregon and onward. We had found some varieties that would work in our climate and had some fair success, but nothing that was sustainable. Between a market geared toward pelletizing hop cones, and ground squirrels eating our rhizomes, we decided to give that a rest and just grow homestead crops for our family.
But 2020 had different ideas for us. The Redwood’s small organic seed company’s sales had gone through the roof. They had just about sold out of seed stock! Everyone around the world realized how much their food sovereignty was in the hands of someone else. A real wake-up call for some.
So, we decided to grow seed for our friend's company. Last year, in 2022, we grew 33 different crops and did fairly well. There were some ‘fails,’ like the purple podded runner beans, which didn’t set flowers until late August and a small infestation of thrips on the pinto beans, but that’s life as a farmer. Our first full year as CCOF certified organic seed farmer was a blast! And the paperwork was a breeze too, because I remembered that large map of the gardening year that my friend Kalan had made, and made one too! It was a lifesaver when it came time for CCOF inspection! I had all my field notes in one place (and later moved online).
It’s mid-January now and we are starting to map out the 2023 year. It's been raining non-stop, so it's difficult to get outside and prep the gardens, but the land is drinking in the much needed water. I hear sun is on the way, and my map says garlic in the ground by end of January. Happy Gardening!
The Hop Yard
We are trying an experimental way to growing hops, the side trellis design. We retrieved old heart wood pine trunks that had been burned out by a fire in 2005, from a friends property, and drove those into the ground at an incline. We planted our plants closer than traditional hop yards, due to the short trellising feature of creating hedges of hops. We will see how this works out. All of the studies that we have read, which aren't many, seem to tell a story of moderate success growing hops in this fashion. We will keep you posted here on how well this works.