Backyard Orchard News
The people of Suzie's Farm, diversified organic growers in San Diego, have explored many ways to connect their customers to the farm and the good food growing on the farm. They offer regular farm tours, a CSA program, strawberry U-Pick days, farm dinners and other events. About a year ago, farm manager Lauren Gagliano Saline and her staff noticed that some of their customers wanted more chances to get their hands dirty, maybe to harvest their own CSA.
Suzie's staff tried an open vegetable U-Pick, letting customers pick vegetables from the fields. That didn't work out so well. Many people didn't know how to walk in the fields without trashing the beds, and didn't know how to harvest the different crops, and the random picking adventures tied up staff time. So Lauren and the team created a guided U-Pick option, and the U-Pick Harvest Club was born.
Now about fifty U-Pick Harvest Club members pick their own CSA every week. They join and prepay for four, eight, sixteen or more "picks". Each "pick" is a varying list of eight items with a set quantity of each item, designed to be approximately equal to a CSA share. Harvest Club members are told the times each week that they can pick their shares, on Tuesday, Saturday or Sunday. The picking times are when farm staff are leading their regular farm tours, so Harvest Club members join any of the tours and are supervised in their picking by the tour leaders. Of course they are not charged for the tour, which usually costs $10 per person.
One advantage the U-Pick Harvest Club members enjoy, an option not available to regular CSA members, is the chance to customize their pick. Rather than picking a set amount of each of the eight items, they are allowed to substitute more of one crop if they prefer. For example, they can pick eight melons one week if melons are one of the listed items, and take none of the other things on the list. And some people, Lauren explained, just prefer to pick that perfect bunch of kale. Harvest club members are also allowed to bring along up to three people to "help" them pick; which includes the free farm tour.
The first year of Suzie's U-Pick Harvest Club has been a success, seeing steady growth and renewals for the second year. For more information, see Suzie's Farm website.
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Third grade teachers from around California toured UC ANR Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center (KARE) Center July 21 during a week of Next Generation Science Standards training in nearby Reedley sponsored by the K-12 Academy and WestEd.
Led by Chuck Boldwyn, KARE superintendent of agriculture, tour stops highlighted the California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS) weather station, sorghum deficit irrigation trials, and how a soil weighing lysimeter measures tree and vine crops water use.
Boldwyn encouraged teachers to subscribe to California Agriculture journal. Readers in the United States can subscribe for free. Published by the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR), the quarterly peer-reviewed journal reports on research, reviews and news of California's agricultural, natural and human resources. Content can be easily understood by non-specialist readers. International subscription rates are $24 a year, or $20 a year for two years or more.
Khaled Bali, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in statewide irrigation water management at KARE, explained at the weather station how the data is used for irrigation management decisions. CIMIS was developed in 1982 by the California Department of Water Resources and UC Davis. One of the first CIMIS weather stations to be put into use is still located at the UC ANR West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points.
At a stop in a peach orchard, teachers were surprised to learn of the large weighing lysimeter just below their feet. Basically, a lysimeter is a large "flower pot" measuring 6.5 feet wide by 13 feet long by 6.5 feet deep that rests on a sensitive balance-beam weighing scale in an underground chamber. Why would you want to measure soil weight? Short-term soil weight loss is almost entirely due to water evaporation through leaves or from the soil surface. When a specific threshold is exceeded, the crop is automatically irrigated. The orchard lysimeter has also been used to study the effects of water stress on tree water use. Two lysimeters were constructed at KARE in 1986. The second lysimeter is located in a vineyard.
Comments from teachers recognized the value of the agricultural science research underway at KARE.
"I was not aware of all the research that is going on in ag."
"A great tour. I hope the Reedley teachers take advantage of having the Kearney Center so close to them."
"It was amazing to see the concepts we have been learning put to work."
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Despite the growing interest in soil health in many parts of the country, the notion hasn't captured the imagination of most farmers in California. The Golden State's lackluster attention to soil care is likely due to “phenomenal yield increases over the past several decades, the sheer diversity of cropping systems, and widespread perception that California's environment and crop production mix doesn't lend itself to soil health improvements,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension agronomy specialist.
A series of farm visits this summer in the Central Valley prove this rationale wrong, Mitchell said. The farm visits were sponsored by the UC Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center (CASI), USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts. The farm visits showcased the soil health goals and experiences of six farmers who are familiar with soil care principles across a wide range of local cropping contexts.
The series of visits demonstrated the use of no-till and minimum tillage farming, cover cropping, enhancing the diversity of above-ground species and underground soil biology, surface residue preservation, and compost applications. Read more.