Davis Wednesday afternoon farmers' market can be quiet in December, so what better time to learn a little about what's going on back at the farms? Every farmer I talked with today had delicious treats to sell and a story to tell. Here are a few:
Did you know that Gridley is the kiwi capital of America? There used to be a kiwi festival and a kiwi queen, but that all got too expensive for Gridley's kiwi farmers quite a few years ago, Frank Stenzel reports. He's getting ready to start pruning his 14 acres of kiwi vines next week; pruning will take a crew of 12 about two weeks. After pruning, each of the 25 or 30 canes on each kiwi vine will need to be tied to a trellis, very much like grape vines, to be ready for next year's growth.
The fuzzy green fruit for sale today from Stenzel's Kiwi Farm was harvested late in October and has been held in cold storage at 32 degrees since then. The fruit will last about six months stored this way, allowing Stenzel to bring out what he needs, grade it by size, let it ripen a little, but sell it while it's still firm. When you bring your kiwis home, let them ripen three or four days more for the best flavor.
Now that the weather is getting colder, the older chickens at Annette Jones' Islote Farms in Esparto have started molting. For a few weeks, they will lose feathers and stop laying eggs. But Jones isn't worried; in fact, she planned for this. Younger hens are picking up the slack because they hatched later in springtime and are just starting to lay eggs in December and January. The older hens can take their much needed break while the youngsters get busy. The fresh eggs from the younger hens are available at the market today in small and medium sizes. When springtime comes, all the birds will be laying again and eggs will be plentiful.
On Federico Toledo's Toledo Farm in Lodi, his son, brother, brother-in-law and other family members are busy planting this month - cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, beets, cilantro, carrots, onions and curly parsley. What they're planting now will be at the farmers markets in March, April and May, if the weather cooperates. The 20 long rows of onions going in now will yield green onions in February and March, full-size fresh onions in April and May, and then dry onions in June and July. Today's market table has stories too: The last red tomatoes of the year are for sale today; they were picked green in November and ripened with a heater. The winter squash was actually grown in summer and harvested in August - it gets sweeter over the months and keeps well in winter. The persimmons, grapefruit, lemons and apples were all fresh-picked by the farm family.
All the rice has been harvested now at Robin Harlan's Bullfrog Farms in Winters, and the 3,000 hives of Bullfrog Bees are getting pollen patties to make it through the winter since there aren't enough blossoms to keep them fed without help this time of year. There's time now for bottling the honey; it's been stored in big stainless steel barrels since the Harlans harvested it in the summer. Bullfrog Farms grows more than 200 acres of almond trees which start blooming in January, so the bees will have blossoms very soon to pollinate and pollen to gather for more honey. After working in the Bullfrog orchards, they'll go to Blue Diamond almond orchards, and then to orange groves in Winters. Local honey is the sweet result of these hard-working bees.
Todd Evans works at certified organic Mount Moriah Farms in Clements. Today he's selling crisp Fuji and Pink Lady apples. Up until two days ago, Evans, farm owner Steve Smit, and a couple of other guys were harvesting apples. Now they're getting ready to prune all the trees, which will take the four of them about a month. The apples should last in storage until about May, just long enough for the cherries to be ready.
Give it a try - visit your local winter farmers market and learn some new stories!
To find farmers' markets in your community, visit the UC small farm program's California Agriculture Tourism Directory.