Farming in 2021: Year of Extreme Drought, Heat, and Fire

The year started off with a stand off between a coyote and a vulture fighting for some animal out in the fields. I don’t know exactly what they were fighting over but I snapped some photos of what I could see, without getting too close.

Post battle remains…look like feathers, but I wish it was a rabbit or squirrel!

Back in February the hens were still laying eggs. Thought I would show this huge Aracona egg in comparison to the average sized brown egg.

Remember snow? These pictures were taken back in March when a storm blanketed the mountains and valley with fresh glistening snow!

April warmth brought out the blossoms on the trees, followed by trees loaded with promises of fresh apples, cherries, and apricots.

Believe it or not, the trees were full of developing fruit until they were ravaged before they were even ripe by multitudes of squirrels. It was the most challenging year ever for fighting off the critters. Squirrels were out in force all season, as were the rabbits.

There was still snow on the mountain in April.

Happy to report that the onions had a good year! We planted a field of Candy, Red Zeppelin, and Copra in late April/early May. Onions are a staple crop out here on the farm!

Birds were stopping by on their travels.

Here’s our “new” farm truck! 2017 Chevy Silverado. Purchased at the end of April.

Mt. Shasta blanketed in clouds with a little snow at the beginning of May.

We started about 12 flats of tomatoes from seed. This what they looked like just before planting in late May.

We planted approximately 450 tomato plants out in a back field, thinking they would be safe, as nothing had ever bothered our tomato plants in prior years. We were wrong this time. Even after throwing cages over the plants, squirrels and rabbits methodically ate every plant and poked holes in the drip tape to get water.

Greenhouse with shade cloth and fans to protect the seedlings from the heat. We set flats on top of buckets so the mice couldn’t climb into the flats and eat them.

Omi chose some perennial flowers for her garden from Spring Valley Nursery in Mt. Shasta. The kale plants definitely needed shading!

Planting onions takes longer than most crops and is very tedious. See the small starts in the moisture of the drip line? And you can also see how dry the soil was in general. Tools for laying drip tape in the bucket. We were already repairing holes in the line from the get-go. Animals had a hard time finding any water out in the hills this year.

Mt. Shasta framed by roses in May.
Grapes nicely pruned!
Grapes starting to develop on the vines!
Laying irrigation and transplanting.

We worked in the early morning and evening hours to get all the young plants in the ground before our family came to visit after a long time apart, mostly due to the pandemic.

Kirk, Barbara, Omi, Ina, Ute, Jeff, Sean, and Skye at Omi’s house on the farm in June!
Now it’s finally starting to look like there’s something growing! Cucumbers did very well this season!!! We had to bury the drip lines to keep them out of sight of the critters. We had to order another load of couplers to do daily fixes on the lines.

Potatoes and onions doing quite well in June! I think the squirrels and rabbits preferred melons, corn, and tomatoes(?) Still can’t believe they ate all the tomato plants! Skye shooting his musket to get his aim on target for the squirrels. THEY ARE NOT CUTE!!!

Grapes at end of June!

Shortly after everybody left, the Lava fire began on the mountain. Lightning caused a small fire to start which grew out of control very rapidly. The first picture was taken on June 26th and it grew to what you see in the second picture on the 27th.

By the 28th, I was seriously rethinking why I choose to live here. On the 29th, fire tornadoes were developing and making it difficult for the fire crews to control the spread.

This shows how the smoke was billowing up into thunderheads and reaching up to the next atmospheric level and being pushed back down onto itself. The wildfire drama continues through the remainder of the season…

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Caught on motion sensor camera in the melon field prior to covering the rows with agribon. This was back in June.

Here we are in the melon field in July. We left the agribon covering on until the plants got established and we could still clear the weeds. The first picture shows a few rows after hoeing the weeds, a couple rows after removing cloth and before weeding, and the rest still covered. Deanna was visiting while we were hacking away at this field.

The melon plants are clearly growing well in this picture. We covered the perimeter with cages to give a little buffer from the ravages of the critters. The field behind the melons WAS to be a huge corn field that never happened. First, we dropped the seeds along the rows and went in for a short break. When we came back out to cover them with soil, they were GONE…eaten by squirrels…that fast! Before discouragement could set in, we planted again and covered them immediately. They started germinating and popping up through the soil only to be gobbled up about as fast as they arose. We ended up planting a small stand of corn up closer by the grapes. They made it because we started them inside and planted when they were about 4″ high, then surrounded the field with wire cages.

Potatoes going strong!
Nice stand of onions!

Despite all the setbacks, we did not give up! The crops that did make it produced very well! The sky in the background is typical of what it looked like from July through September. The air quality was bad from wildfire smoke and the temperatures were above 100F consistently. We had to get our work done by noon or definitely no later than 1PM, or it was intolerable outside. We didn’t see the mountain for a long time.

Cucumbers in July

Deanna and I went for a drive. The fire worked its way around the mountain.

Here are the tomato plants in early stage from the flats that didn’t get planted with the original 450. They are a little late, but they actually produced quite well!

We are still eating fresh tomatoes in mid November.

Eggplant was growing well, but was also one of the crops we didn’t get to harvest. The critters ate every last one, but this time they left the tomatoes and peppers…go figure!

Back to the melon field… the melons were being eaten, sweet as they are. We weren’t exactly sure if it was squirrels or rabbits doing most of the damage. Well, here’s the proof! Nightly visits by rabbits, despite the 3 rows of electric fencing around the field! Needless to say, we didn’t get any melons to harvest AFTER ALL THAT WORK! Oh well.

August started with another visible fire out by Tennant, on the east side of Mt. Shasta. I can’t remember the name of that fire, and I don’t want to! I’m getting tired of wildfires and heat and drought! None of that puffy stuff in the sky is clouds. It’s all smoke and getting difficult to breath and work outdoors.

It’s understandable, then, that we started dreaming of greener pastures, eh?

So I left for a few days to visit my childhood friend, Lisa, in Washington state. In fact, I made two trips up there since I liked it so well!! I became enamored with the Olympic Peninsula in the northwest corner of Washington. There are temperate rain forests, with flowing rivers, near the ocean, lush foliage with ferns in the under story and moisture in the air. We almost traded the farm to move there, but it was all so rushed. The timing wasn’t right. But oh how beautiful! Above shows the trees locals call Dr. Seuss trees because of the way they reach and branch out. The lovely garden was small enough not to feel like we’d be laboring. Rather, tending our garden with berries as big as our thumbs!

There’s Lisa with me (Ute)!

Snoqualmie Falls in Washington state…lovely water!

Local talk included how little snow was on Mt. Rainier this year. Sure looks like a lot more snow than on Mt. Shasta!

A bit of sad news…we lost Cleo (18 year old cat) in April and Buster our 7 year old chocolate lab in August. It was very sad and unexpected with Buster. Daisy was very depressed, as we all felt their absence. Here’s the three of them together.

2021 was definitely our most challenging year of farming. The heat and wildfires pushed the wildlife down into the valleys where the animals were not accustomed to living. The lack of water brought them to the few sources they could find and that often happened to be on someone’s property or farm, where crops were being irrigated.

However, we do not give up easily, and managed to deliver 400 boxes of assorted produce during the months of August and September to the Shasta County Food Bank. It was a program through CDFA and CA Food Banks Association to deliver produce to senior citizens. It’s a part of the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. ..or as our farmer neighbor Erik put it, “SFMNP=Super Fabulous Magnificent Nifty Produce!”

Here’s Jeff with a delivery!!!
Inside of typical box

Meet Jake and Eddy! They are our new little buddies! Skye and I drove out to Etna at the beginning of September to “look at” some pups we found on Craigslist. We brought Daisy with us and she got along with them and the mom, who is 100% border collie. The father is 100% Catahoula. They were the last two left of the litter so we took them both home! We do not regret it. They are awesome dogs!!!

It took a little time for Daisy to totally accept them and to establish her authority, but they all get along well now!

So here’s proof of bear visitations to our valley! It was difficult for me to believe in the talk about bears in the neighborhood until I saw this photo caught on motion sensor camera at Hunter Orchards down the road. The animals are definitely being pushed out of their habitat due to the wildfires, smoke, and lack of water. We have never seen any bears in these parts before…unprecedented!

To add to the bear stories, I actually saw one face to face shortly after receiving this image. I was taking the pups for a walk along the back of the property by the apple trees. As I came to the end of the tree line, I saw what appeared to be a juvenile black bear lumbering down the hill towards the corner of our property. Quickly putting the leashes back on the pups, I looked back up and the bear stopped and looked at me before we both immediately departed in opposite directions. At least they back off when they see humans! Upon later inspection, we found bear fur stuck on the barbed wire and bear scat in the area. I know they were around for a while, but the cooler weather, rain, and with the wildfires under control, they must have moved on back towards their regular digs. I hope!

We finished September with weekly deliveries to Redding. We regularly stopped at Soda Creek on our way back up the Canyon. It was refreshing to see and feel the fresh water of the Sacramento River!

Lots of tomatoes in September and October!!! We pressure canned a few loads of tomato sauce.

The peppers did very well for the few rows that were planted. We also harvested sweet Silver Queen corn for the delivery boxes!

So here’s a faint visual of a rainbow in October as the clouds move in and provide rain to the drought-affected earth.

Farmers all around the valley are turning the soil and planting in anticipation of the coming rains. Mt. Shasta has snow and the puffy stuff in the sky are clouds…the smoke from the wildfires is gone!

With eight of ten days having rain in the forecast and overnight lows in the 40’s, we disked up the fields that we farmed this year and plan to farm next year to plant cover crop to nourish the soil! You can see it did germinate and should be a good stand in the spring!

Here’s a well formed lenticular cloud leading the storm clouds that bring us rain and much need moisture in mid October! Natural glow from the early morning sun!

This is why we’re called Mountain View Organics!

It’s November and the beauteous clouds continue to envelop our skies bringing us fresh lovely water to green up the earth and cover our mountain in snow.

We are optimistic about the weather and hopeful that the future brings us enough water for all creatures and plants who need hydration wherever they are.

Ute

2 thoughts on “Farming in 2021: Year of Extreme Drought, Heat, and Fire”

  1. I am so impressed with your farm. What a purposeful and beautiful life you have. The pics go so well with your story. Happy holiday season to you.

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