Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Apple season starts


…the county’s orchards have long been “dry farmed,” or without irrigation. Other regions, including parts of Washington and California, have proven far more productive, both with irrigation and with newer, high-density growing methods.

Apple season kicks off next Sunday with a celebration at the Sebastopol Farmers Market, where Slow Food Russian River will have a community apple press and fresh juice.

This Friday will mark the opening of Sonoma County Cider Week, an inaugural series of events with 10 craft cideries taking part.

The celebrations will continue Aug. 11 and 12 with the 45th Gravenstein Apple Fair at Sebastopol’s Ragle Ranch Park.

Apple season in Sonoma County

The Chevy flatbed farm truck has been hauling apples and other crops for 43 years. The small yellow tractor has been chugging through the orchards for over 50. And some of the nearby Gravenstein apple trees have been blossoming for nearly a century.

The farmer, Paul Kolling, is 63.

“We keep the old stuff going somehow,” said Kolling, standing in a sparse orchard in Sebastopol where a crew of workers Thursday shook trees and collected apples for cider vinegar.

Kolling, a former engineer who switched to apple farming four decades ago, was thinking about the half-century- old Massey Fergusson tractor, whose front and back ends each carried a wooden apple bin. The tractor wouldn’t start until the farmer adjusted a loose battery cable.

However, “the old stuff” just as easily could have referred to the orchard’s aged trees, a few of which keep producing apples though their insides are nearly hollowed out or the holes in their trunks are big enough to put a hand through.


Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , ,

Knights Valley winery approved by Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

A new winery proposed for Knights Valley was approved Tuesday by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, which denied an appeal from two local groups concerned about the long-planned facility’s impacts on the remote area.
With little fanfare, supervisors unanimously followed through on the intent they relayed last month during a lengthy public hearing about the Knights Bridge Winery.
Under a condition placed by county officials, the project cannot draw more groundwater than currently used at the site, which already includes about 43 acres of vineyards. The winery, which can produce up to 10,400 cases, is slated for a roughly 86-acre property off Spencer Lane.
A potential squeeze on the area’s already-scarce groundwater supplies was a primary concern among project opponents, including the Maacama Watershed Alliance and the Friends of Spencer Lane, who appealed the Board of Zoning Adjustments’ 2015 approval of the project to supervisors.
To meet the condition, the county is requiring the winery to reduce the property’s existing usage of groundwater by at least 0.5 acre feet annually, or nearly 163,000 gallons per year. Project applicant Jim Bailey initially plans to meet the requirement by dry farming three acres of vines, according to county staff.
Read more at: Knights Valley winery approved by Sonoma County Board of Supervisors | The Press Democrat –

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , , Leave a comment on There's a better way for California to water its farms

There's a better way for California to water its farms

Danielle Venton, WIRED
California’s Central Valley farmers have a problem. Agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of the state’s water consumption, and in the midst of a historic drought, it is the largest potential source of water savings. Farmers want to be good stewards of the land by helping save water—it is, after all, what sustains them. But there’s a limit to what they can eke out of the soil with the water governor Jerry Brown has given them to work with.
Or maybe there isn’t. New irrigation techniques have made it possible to increase yields with less water than farmers once thought they needed. It’s even possible to farm essentially without water—growing produce by using the water and fertilizing nutrients already in the soil.
In Templeton, California, Mary Morwood Hart is using dry farming on her Grenache, Mourvedre, and olive trees, carefully cultivating the soil on her 20 acres so it can sustain growth without water. Over the past century, US agriculture has pushed itself to produce higher and higher yields by carefully engineering its plots: building larger farms with more advanced mechanics and increasing reliance on fertilizers, weedkillers, and pesticides. That’s brought more food to market. But it’s also depleted the soil—those steps tend to kill the microbes that build organic material and make it sponge-like.
Hart and other dry farmers think they can find a solution in the dirt itself. When soil is left to its own devices, it becomes rich in organic material. It loses less water to runoff and evaporation, and food can grow with little or no irrigation.Increasing soil organic content in an acre of farmland by just 1 percent can save up to 27,000 gallons of water.
That’s especially true of grapes. Hart and her husband, who run the farm together, believe dry farming prolongs the vine’s life, and their method isn’t exactly devoid of moisture: The calcareous clay soils in Templeton, she says, hold a lot of water. “It creates a situation where the tap roots have to dig deep down into the soil to find moisture and it brings about character and a complexity of flavor,” says Hart. “When you do irrigate a vine, the roots tend to grow very close to the surface, because they’re just waiting there for their drops of water.”
The downsides are what you might expect: Dry-farming reduces the weight of the grapes, so the farm’s overall output is lower than average (typical output is four to six tons per acre, while Hart gets a measly 1.3 tons). But without irrigation, her plots are less expensive to tend to and easier to grow on hillsides. And old vines and the smaller grapes that grow on them are prized for their flavor—which she can charge a premium for.
At Molino Creek Farms on the Central Coast, grower Joe Curry raises dry-farmed tomatoes on 136 acres. He and the other farm founders chose dry farming because their land has very little access to water. Once his tomatoes are taken out of the greenhouse and planted in rows, they receive no additional irrigation. That’s only possible, he says, because the farm takes care of the soil. Prior to planting they mow cover crops, leaving them on the ground to decompose. The nutrients re-enter the soil, used to support the next season of growth.
The effect on water usage is dramatic. According to the National Resource Conservation Service, an arm of the US Department of Agriculture, increasing soil organic content in an acre of farmland by just 1 percent can save up to 27,000 gallons of water. (Other estimates are less hefty, but still impressive.)
But waterless agriculture isn’t the answer for everyone. Tomatoes, grapes and vegetables are relatively high-value crops—not all farmers can afford sacrificing their high yields for higher quality. And certain crops like lettuce would taste terribly bitter if dry farmed. So other farmers have turned to other methods to conserve water.
Read more at: There’s a Better Way for California to Water Its Farms | WIRED

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , , Leave a comment on Debate over dry farming of grapes divides Wine Country

Debate over dry farming of grapes divides Wine Country

California’s drought has become an integral part of the conversation around Wine Country. Nothing is immune from discussion, from how many toilet flushes are acceptable to the types of gardens and lawns that are best suited in an era with less available water.
As the area’s largest and most valuable crop, North Coast grape growers have been a popular point of focus as well as contention. In fact, an ongoing debate over the centuries-old practice of dry farming highlights the increasing pressure the industry faces as the state grapples with a new water reality that Gov. Jerry Brown said will take “unprecedented actions” to solve.
For some, the practice of dry farming — where natural rainfall, not irrigation, is used exclusively to produce a crop — is rooted in history. Yet, it is relevant to modern times as Napa wines that won the historic 1976 Paris tastings were all dry farmed.
Proponents of dry farming note that drip irrigation can overly protect the vine from stress needed to produce top-quality wines, delay the development of full flavors until later in the growing season and result in wines with higher alcohol content.
“A bigger question is why people irrigate?” said John Williams, the owner of Frog’s Leap Winery in Napa, which has been dry farming its eight vineyards since opening 35 years ago.
For others, however, the practice is ideal, but not feasible to be widespread throughout the area’s diverse landscape, especially in areas where the soil is sandy and vineyard roots are not deep, such as hillsides. Not all soil is similar to that of Napa Valley, where Williams estimates about 20 percent of the vineyards dry farm.
“Shallow soil does not hold sufficient moisture to grow a vine,” said Rhonda Smith, the viticulture farm advisor for the UC Cooperative Extension in Sonoma County.
Additionally, research has shown that dry farming can reduce a crop yield significantly, bringing serious economic consequences.
Read more via: Debate over dry farming divides Wine Country | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , Leave a comment on Weaning vines off water

Weaning vines off water

John Williams, the visionary Frog’s Leap winery owner from Rutherford in the Napa Valley, was the most logical go-to person when an idle comment from a shop owner suggested that the wine industry could face water-shortage problems very soon.
Williams, ever his contentious self on the topic of vine irrigation, is a walking encyclopedia on the subject of water use in vineyards. But his opening line when I called him last week to speak of water use in vineyards, though typical of his philosophy, was still a bit of a shock: “We [in Napa] are drawing 1.2 billion gallons of water and putting it on vines that don’t really need it,” he said.
It’s important to know that Frog’s Leap is one of the most vocal advocates of organic farming. Williams is a firm believer in dry-farming of vines to make better wines.
Williams believes that the best wines are made from vines with deep roots and that by irrigating as routinely as they do, the majority of Napa growers are feeding the vine a drug (water) — and there is no methadone solution.
“The entire valley was dry-farmed for 100 years until 1976, when the first drip irrigation systems were installed,” Williams said. “When the vines have easy access to water, they do not have to push their roots down very far.”
He says that shallow root systems lead to fruit that’s lacking in flavors until later in the season. And a result of that is that growers pick later than they would need to if they were set up to be dry-farmed. As it is today, the broad use of irrigation leads to alcohol levels that are higher than they should be, he said.
Read more via Berger: Weaning vines off water | The Press Democrat.