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From the Fields® - December 4, 2013

By Janet Kister, San Diego County nursery grower

The mild weather this fall in San Diego has been a nice change over the past few years’ cold temperatures and early frosts. Yet, these conditions can be a double-edged sword as they are ideal for plant growth, but are not cold enough to knock down damaging insect activity, namely thrips. One good cold snap should send them packing.

This time of year brings a change in the types of flowering plants we grow to cold-loving plants like cyclamen, cineraria and carnations. We are also busy preparing Christmas cactus, amaryllis and rosemary topiary trees for holiday shipping. Although a few of the crops came in a little early due to our mild summer and fall, most everything has been on schedule and looking fine.

This is also the time of year when growing space is at a premium. No sooner has a crop been picked and packed, when that same space is immediately filled with the next crop to grow. Whether it is amaryllis for Christmas, lilies for Valentine’s Day or spring cactus for Easter—there is a flowering plant for every occasion and season, and we are constantly producing to meet holiday shipping deadlines.

By Chris Lange, Tulare County diversified farmer

We have a lot to be thankful for, with bountiful harvests in 2013. We've just had a tremendous year.

Our raisin crop has been harvested and our production was up 35 percent from last year. The quality looked excellent. One of the benefits of a dry fall is we don't have to deal with fruit being downgraded because of rainstorms. But the raisins look really good. I read where the price is down this year, but I'm sure that the additional production and the quality will more than make up for the reduction in price.

We have reduced our cattle herd by about 50 percent due to the drought, just because there is not enough grazing land to support them. I just made a big purchase of hay last week—very expensive—and we're also doing supplemental feed. We transitioned our beef cattle operation to organic, so we'll see how that plays out. Supposedly, there is going to be a much higher return for the calves that we sell. My son has joined the operation and he is very interested in going in this direction.

Our olive crop is finished. The quality looks outstanding. We had the biggest crop in the last four years. The prices were very respectable and so we're extremely pleased with olives this year. We were surprised by the sizes that we had and the returns as they grade each load that's coming in. The grade really stayed up there the whole time.

By Tyler Blagg, San Joaquin County diversified grower

We just finished planting our winter forage hay. We would have liked to plant sooner, but needed more moisture.This meant waiting until we got our first rain. Who knew that it would be late November? With the recent storms we received over an inch and a half of rain, so we had great moisture to get the ground worked up and fields planted. We chose a three-way blend due to quality of the forage at harvest, yield and price. Last year's hay was sold to local ranchers and to a feed store.

This summer, we sold a group of dairy springers and now have a new group of heifers bought at a dairy dispersal sale. In the last couple of weeks, we moved the dairy heifers off the irrigated pasture before the rain. This helps to reduce soil compaction and allows us to leave the fields grazed at the proper rate. Since there is a shortage of winter ground leases, we rent a corral with a covered hay barn that makes daily feeding simple.

This summer, we planted a small petite sirah vineyard. We were able to get a long-term contract with a winery. It has been a true family effort from my father-in-law giving us advice to our children helping while we tie vines. It's a great place for them to learn and grow an appreciation for agriculture. This winter, the vines will be pruned and we will add crossarms. They will be trained to a quadrilateral system.

By Bill Pauli, Mendocino County winegrape grower

It was an early year. We were able to start two to two and a half weeks earlier than normal and that was terrific. And we had ideal picking conditions that continued until we finished a few weeks ago.

The thing that was amazing about this year was that the grapes tended to ripen steadily and evenly, so it made for a pretty orderly harvest. The earlier varieties ripened first like they should have and then it just progressed all the way through, versus everything coming on all at once like we earlier thought it might. So it was a smoothly transitional harvest from one variety to the next. And because the weather was so ideal and we didn't have any real heat spikes or any big rain events, the fruit ripened and matured really well. It didn't sunburn, it didn't raisin, it just matured very well.

It was just a very orderly harvest in which everyone up here had very solid crops of 5, 7, 8 or 12 percent larger than normal, depending on variety, which was really good. And the great news is that the wineries took those excess grapes and everyone was able to get their grapes to the wineries in the end because the wineries needed them and were able to utilize them.

By David Lundberg, Butte County rice grower

We had a beautiful fall with exceptional weather that allowed us a wonderful harvest. The rice loved the weather this growing season and produced higher yields.

With all the dry weather, we were able to disk the rice straw into the ground after harvest. Some growers in our area even lasered their fields. It was nice to get everything cleaned up and put away early.

We now are irrigating the rice fields for rice straw decomposition and providing a natural habitat for the wildlife. With the rain late last month, it shut everything down. Hopefully, we get more rain. We need it.

By Ron Macedo, Stanislaus County diversified farmer

For me it isn't the end of the year, I am very busy. I am selling Christmas trees for the first time, so I am trying to learn everything about it. We get our Christmas trees out of Oregon. I sell Noble firs and Nordmann firs for the most part. We have a food trailer here and I just put in a portable ice rink here, too. So I am rolling right now. I am extremely busy.

The Christmas trees and ice rink are an extension of our pumpkin patch and corn maze. The pumpkin patch and corn maze were outstanding. Our numbers were about 20 percent to 25 percent higher than last year, so I am very thankful that people come out to the ranch and support this effort. So far, we have been getting better each year.

As far as the farming part of my operation, everything is all wrapped up. We had a very successful harvest and our winter grains are planted. We had beautiful weather for that.

By John Miller, Placer County beekeeper

Beekeepers are preparing for dormancy—the bees, not the keepers.

Most California beekeepers move their bees out of state during the winter, or are now in storage buildings or resting in holding yards across California.

Water is short. The 2013 national honey crop is record small due to lack of forage. Weak hives will be evident at almond bloom.

Varroa mites are a plague. California State Beekeepers Association leadership is working on safe forage and access projects; California Farm Bureau Federation and Almond Board of California have joined the effort.

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