So, if my day has a routine during harvest, it starts out going around to the different fields being picked today, visiting with the different crews and farmers, and then looking at how tomorrow’s fields are ripening. Simultaneously, of course, I’m noting evidence of nutrition (or lack of it), soil moisture (or lack of it), quality, size, flavor, color… then getting to the packing shed mid-morning. While that routine might be a general pattern and goal, reality usually reassigns intent.
This morning, what struck me as totally unique, and very cool—separating our farm from even other organic stone fruit farms—is our berms: that 4-5-foot-wide mound of dirt that runs down the tree row. Really, Uncle Vern? Berms? Yep. They are never cultivated on our farm, so the native winter grasses grow up 2-3 feet high and then dry up, lay down, and die when summer comes.
In essence, (without really intending to) we have set aside and dedicated 20-25% of our farm—even if it’s 20-25% of each row width, as an undisturbed organic sanctuary with indigenous grass species Native Americans would have recognized. This sanctuary harbors mice and gophers, which attract gopher snakes, owls, coyotes, hawks, and about one feral cat per five acres… I should write a story on these cats some time; they’re not “kept” but they are free and healthy and a valuable part of our rodent control program.
That grass also serves as an insectary for various beneficial bugs. If you sit there and watch, you’ll see this whole native ecosystem going on. But what struck me this morning was the wholeness of activity going on because of those berms; seemingly unrelated to growing peaches yet totally related to the way the peaches are being grown here.
Crickets are having a contest with song birds as to who creates the best music; a live performance all day every day that we always share with visitors. I think we’ve even recorded the difference walking fifty feet from a neighbor’s conventional silent orchard into our organic farming version of “The Voice.” The hawk population on our farms has greatly increased as well. One very large grey colored pair are new this year, very active and no, I have no idea what species they are.
Now if I had any sense I would be very concerned. Bugs eat trees and fruit. Conventional wisdom is to kill them. Birds eat fruit, conventional wisdom is to scare them away, yet very little of that negative is happening. The insects are eating the grass, the birds are eating the bugs and they all seem to be having a jolly good time of it.
And if all this is going on above ground, imagine the symbiotic nature preserve at play below. It must be a microscopic version of the great herd migrations of the Serengeti; Kingsburg’s organic wild animal preserve on the Kings River. And the wild nectarines, peaches, plums, and apricots are a nice side benefit.