Thursday, February 16, 2012

pigs in pollen

Our warm winter has brought the early apricot varieties out of dormancy and our almonds are set to explode with blossoms any day. One of our two bee colonies made it through the winter, the other did not. The survivors have mobbed the two apricots that are now in blossom.

Although one colony either died or moved elsewhere, our bees generally have it good - a stable environment, year-round sources of nectar and pollen, no chemical insults. That's in contrast to their brethren across the country. Two-thirds of commercial beekeepers in the US move their hives into the San Joaquin Valley each February. They come to pollinate the almond crop; 80 percent of the world's almonds are grown in just five counties of the southern San Joaquin Valley. Scientists' speculate that the stress of travel, the proximity of so many colonies at one time, and the associated chemical exposures may be a factor in "colony collapse disorder."

The warm weather of the past few weeks have the neighborhood wine grape growers in a state of high stress. With consistent daytime temperatures of 50 degrees or higher, grape vines initiate "bud break," the emergence of tiny green spears that will become this season's leaves, branches, and fruit clusters. Those spears are highly vulnerable to frost. We've had temperatures over 60 for a few weeks now, and bud break is imminent on many wine grape varieties. Despite the high temperatures now, the possibility of a hard frost will be with us until the first of April or so. The stage is set for what could be a major economic disaster.
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Sunday, February 12, 2012

the math of it

At dinner, a youthful old friend wondered how much plant material could come out of an 8'x12' greenhouse. That triggered some mental activity.

Above, each plant is in a 2x2x2 cube of compressed potting mix. The cubes in the foreground were seeded a month ago and those in the background about 10 days ago. The cubes in the foreground comprise a block of 20 columns wide and 12 rows deep (each column a different plant or variety); the same for those in the background. The foreground plants are ready to plant out. In fact, two days after I took the photo, they are about half gone, having been distributed at the community garden and to a couple of regular receivers in Berkeley.  The remainder will go into my garden or be potted into recycled paper cups for further growth outside or on a lower shelf of the greenhouse.

So ... that's 240 plants to plant-out or pot-up maturity every two weeks. Assuming (as has turned out to be the case) that I take a holiday from production in June and July, that makes for roughly the potential for 5,000 plants per year.

I don't produce 5,000 plants per year, but I may reach half or two-thirds of that number. In reality, there are germination failures as visible above (I hate to toss old seed!), some plants that need more than two weeks before plant-out or pot-up, and some that just end up being surplus to my needs and I don't find a home for.

And that's just one of six of the benches in the greenhouse, so with a little tighter management the theoretical potential is for 30,000 plants per year.

Room for growth in a room for growth.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

EcoFarm 2012

We're just back from the annual EcoFarm Conference (its 32nd, our fourth), a gathering of the organic food and farming community. Three days of rich learning and networking opportunities - and good food!

The context (the Asilomar Conference Center, on the beach in Pacific Grove) almost stole the show. Our only cloudy day ended with this spectacular sunset display. The others were crystal clear, 65 degrees, with long big breakers rolling in from the west.

While I was absent the Sacramento Bee published a piece I'd thrown at them a few weeks ago, trying to focus attention on the latest threat to the farmlands and wildlands of Sacramento County. It's here.
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