Farming, Foodshed, Healdsburg, HomeFarm

On HomeFarm: Spring Has Sprung

While the calendar doesn’t have it slated until 3:45pm this Friday, spring has already spread out her finery at our HomeFarm in the Dry Creek Valley. With this exciting shift comes the usual flurry of work that farmers have been engaged in throughout the centuries. As do all who tend the Earth, we’re preparing for the growing season ahead, amending our soil with compost, pruning our trees and vines to do their best through harvest, and making sure there’s plenty of forage for the bees and chickens as they grow their hives and flocks.

The awakening orchard with fava beans interplanted to deliver nitrogen to the soil.

The awakening orchard with fava beans interplanted to deliver nitrogen to the soil.

Doug oversees the operations at HomeFarm. A soil chemist by training, Doug ensures the cycle of soil-building that brings green scraps from SHED’s kitchens and turns them to compost at HomeFarm, whereupon it is used to grow new produce for SHED’s kitchens — and so on.

Doug moving compost. It steams in the morning's chill, having created so much microbial energy as to produce its own heat.

Doug moving compost. It steams in the morning’s chill, having created so much microbial energy as to produce its own heat.

Doug practices no-till methods in which the ground is not plowed for planting but rather, is enriched by the leavings of the last crop, thus protecting the topsoil. Mowing cover crops down, he then shreds and chops the nutrient-rich vegetation into an insulating layer that encourages water retention in the soil, provides a favorable environment to the necessary microbes, and allows the nutrients that such plants as fava beans store in their roots to be released back into the soil.

Gorgeous, lovely compost as seen from the front of the tractor.

Gorgeous, lovely compost as seen from the front of the tractor.

We have been tending HomeFarm for 20 years, long enough that some fruit trees are ready to be replaced, particularly less robust semi-dwarf varieties. Focused on heirloom varieties, this year we are rooting in new apples (Arkansas Black, Braeburn, Winesap, Ashmead’s Kernel, and Cortland); peaches (Indian Blood, Nectar, and Peregrine); pears (Moretini, Duchess d’Angouleme, and Forelle).

While the bare root trees will take about three years before they’re ready to produce, HomeFarm’s extant fruiters are at their loveliest now.

Peach blossoms.

Peach blossoms.

Lush plum flowers.

Lush plum flowers.

This year we’re pleased that Sophia Bates will be offering locally hatched Plymouth Rock day-old chicks, selectively bred from a free-range flock in the hills of Yorkville, and we’re planning to add a few to our flock.

A new clutch of eggs is an everyday miracle.

Salad greens are continuously sown for our SHED salad, while brassicas and edible flowers are going into the ground now as starts. In a few weeks we’ll be thinking about getting those summer crops like tomatoes, okra, and melons planted.

Tender shoots to toothsome salads.

Tender shoots to toothsome salads.

In order to serve beneficial pollinators, we’ve been planting the hedgerows with many drought tolerant, native perennials that welcome bees, butterflies, moths, flies, humming birds, and other pollinators. The bee meadow is being restored with achilleas, angelicas, astilbe, asters, buckwheat, ceanothus, ribes, rudbeckia, origanum, sedums, goldenrod, and native grasses, to give the resident hive enough access to forage that will sustain the bees through the season.

A HomeFarm workshop last summer in the bee meadow with Michael Thiele demonstrating the Sun Hive.

A HomeFarm workshop last fall in the bee meadow with Michael Thiele demonstrating the Sun Hive.

Vines have been newly pruned in our vineyards where we grow Muscat and Gewurztraminer (for dessert wine) and Grenache, Syrah, Mouverdre (for rosé).

Producing just a GSM rosé and a Muscat-forward dessert wine, HomeFarm's vintages are of place.

Producing just a GSM rosé and a Muscat-forward dessert wine, HomeFarm’s vintages are of place.

When considering new plantings for the hedgerows, we always enjoy a trip to Cal Flora Nursery in nearby Fulton, one of the oldest purveyors of California native plants. Natives are generally drought-resistant and are of course adapted to our Mediterranean climate. Anything that saves water and is already beloved by our native insects is welcomed here!

We also like to use the mail-order option offered by Digging Dog Nursery, based in Albion, on the coast north of Healdsburg. Specializing in unusual perennials, Digging Dog is a great outlet for adding to the diversity of HomeFarm’s bee meadow.

If you have the itch to add more to spring’s own greenery, please plan to join us on Sunday, March 29, when Nature in the City’s executive director Amber Hasselbring leads a “Wildlife Gardening” workshop in our upstairs Grange that focuses on bringing pollinators and other beneficial wildlife closer to your own part of the awakening world.

After all, gardening and farming both tend to connect a person with nature.

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