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From the Fields® - February 2, 2011

By Shannon Wooten, Shasta County beekeeper

We are waiting on putting bees in orchards. Farmers say the almonds are still pretty tight, and it's foggy in the valley. Bees are doing much better up in the foothills where they are getting a little pollen and growing. I think we will keep them up there until the last minute and then move them in. That way, they will never go backwards on the growth. The hives at 2,500 feet are doing better than the hives closer to the valley floor because they get sunshine. There is alder pollen in the foothills and the willows are going to start blooming, which will provide pollen for the bees. Pollen is the big indicator for bee growth. As soon as they can make natural pollen, then we can add carbohydrates to really make them grow. They need the natural protein to get them started good.

I lost about 30 percent of my bees to colony collapse disorder. That is a little bit more than last year. I thought I had a handle on it, but obviously I didn't. I had a pretty poor summer going in and I knew I might have a problem, but I didn't think it would be as bad as it turned out. We put a lot of artificial nutrition into the hives, which should have carried them through, but it didn't seem to. When they die they just die; they go away so you can't get samples to examine. So it is very difficult to try to figure out what the problem is or to trace what happened to the bees. I've heard of some other guys with the same problem. It is not widespread, but it is there.

There is strong demand from almond farmers for bees this year. At beekeeper meetings, no one seems to have many extra hives. When a beekeeper says, "I have a few extra hives," they are gone. We won't know for several weeks whether there is a serious shortage. I think there may be a shortage but I don't think it will be really bad, just a little shortage.


By Ed Terry, Ventura County diversified grower

We harvest all the time, just harvest different crops. Our crews are harvesting and planting celery. We finished the summer strawberry deal; now we are into the winter strawberry deal. That was delayed about three weeks because of the rain in December. We started harvesting in early January. The quality looks very nice. The plants look nice, so it is starting off OK.

The rain came just as we finished the summer deal and just before we started the winter strawberry production. In a normal year, we would be just starting to pick a few berries when the rain came. That just kind of delayed everything. But, the rain was a godsend as we needed the rain. It was beneficial, as it flushes out the salts and just kind of sweetens up the soil more than what irrigating could do.

Now, every week the strawberry volume should pick up. Right now we are back to where we should be. We usually start sending strawberries for Valentine's Day 10 days to two weeks out. I don't know if there will be a shortage, as it all depends on what is going to happen in Mexico and Florida as well as California.

We are happy with the strawberries. We are still a little short of rain and hopefully we'll get some more, but right now it's fine. As a farmer, you have to be optimistic. That rain in December saved us some irrigation. We did not irrigate for about two weeks. We shut all the wells down and let the rain do its magic.

We had a little internal decay in the celery from all the rain in December. The rain was heavy so there was a little bit of growth cracking. But, overall it is OK. Our celery harvest will continue now through the end of June. We are just starting to make the turn to start getting bell pepper ground ready. We'll start planting bell peppers about the middle of March. We grow red, yellow and green bell peppers.


By Rich Collins, Solano County endive grower

We are just finishing up our root harvest. Everything is out of the ground now. This marks our 28th season. In another couple weeks, we are going to start planting for season number 29. We hope to get bigger and better. We hope to expand our organics. We grow some organically and we are probably going to increase that.

We grow chicory roots in the fields. Then we bring them into cold storage and then we bring them to Rio Vista and grow them again. The second growth is inside, in the dark, in a mushroom-type facility. It's a climate-controlled room with a mild temperature. It is 60 degrees all the time with high humidity, but completely dark. We do that year-round; we never stop. I tell people we do that 53 weeks out of the year. That's what it feels like, like a dairy.

We put the roots in cold storage and then we remove them almost on a daily basis so there is always a product ready for harvest. They go into cold storage in big waves from the fields. We have several different fields where we plant the chicory root. We plant some earlier, some later, to spread that risk and to spread the work. Chicory root tolerates heat fairly well if the heat comes at the right time of its growth phase. It's a tough plant. It's a weed throughout most of the United States. But when grown for the second time in the dark, it becomes endive.

We are really busy with marketing efforts. Valentine's Day is a big sales time for us. I think it is the No. 1 restaurant day and we sell a lot of endive for that holiday. We also have a big sale time for the holidays, from Thanksgiving on.


By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

Got dark wine? Hats off to Mother Nature for a cool 2010 growing season. Our premium Sierra foothill wines responded with natural low PH wines that extract the deep, dark pigments of the skins into the darkest red wines throughout all varietals we have seen in years. The primary fermentation of converting juice to wine went smooth. As you are reading this report, our wines are just completing the malolactic fermentation, known as the secondary fermentation, which gives that wonderful butterscotch flavor. Out in the field we are starting to prune the dormant vines for the 2011 growing season. Due to the abundant moisture, we are leaving fewer spurs, so the plants do not produce excessive fruit. Like most other farmers, we are repairing and maintaining equipment from the past growing season on rainy days.


By George Hollister, Mendocino County forester

Right now I'm working on equipment. I'm just doing some routine maintenance. It's good to get this done in the wintertime. It is not something I enjoy doing, but it has to be done and the weather is pretty good. I don't have a shop, so the equipment stands outside and it is good to get this done in the sunny weather.

The trees respond differently when there is a wet fall. The trees are constrained by soil moisture. If you get an early rain and then warm weather, or even if you don't have warm weather, the trees will grow in winter. If you have high soil moisture, they will grow more. You will get a wider winter growth ring, which is the dark growth ring when you look at the growth rings on a tree.

I don't have any plans to plant trees this year. That is because I've changed my thinking about trees to plant. I'm going with the idea to plant clones instead of planting seedling stock. With the clones, you can focus on trees that are best adapted for your particular site. When you buy seedling stock, you get a wide variety of genetic stock, some of which isn't so good for your location. I'm going to switch to cloned seedlings that are suited to my property. I'm working on that. It is not an easy technology to develop. But, it seems like that is the way I need to go. All the big landowners are going to cloned redwood stock.

There is always uncertainty about when to harvest. Right now the mills are full of logs. That may be because of the weather. People haven't been doing a lot of building. The redwood market right now is geared not so much to housing starts, but to people who want to build a fence or deck or maybe buy some redwood furniture or something like that. That generally happens when the weather is nicer. Right now, the mills have a lot of logs.


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