certified organic by California
Certified Organic Farmers since
1987. You might want to visit the
CCOF web site to learn more about
organic farming in general.
We take a slow approach to farming
The foundation of any good crop is
And of course, we use generous
We spend two years or more preparing the soil for planting strawberries, adding compost several times and growing several cover crops. Prior to beginning ground preparation, we grow at least one crop of broccoli.
Almost twenty years ago, we discovered that this crop has the effect of suppressing some soil diseases, most notably verticilium wilt. We tried at the time to get the University of California to study this phenomenon, but we met with great resistance because the University (with the notable exception of the Agroecology department at the Santa Cruz campus) was actively blocking studies on non-chemical alternatives to the soil fumigant Methyl Bromide, which is still used extensively in conventional strawberry production. The University finally gave in to outside pressure about eight years ago and began looking at the matter, and confirmed that a broccoli rotation has a suppressive effect on some soil diseases.
Every year we try to outsmart the weeds, and we always lose! We try extra irrigations to sprout the weeds, and then either try to knock them down mechanically (with a tractor), burn them with a 'flamer', or cover them with black plastic mulch. (We've tried sawdust and straw, but it always blows away!) Some years we plant into bare soil, and other years we install plastic mulch first, and plant through it. We install a drip system (a tube with tiny holes in it) before we install the mulch. And we do our best to secure it well because it has to endure 40 mph winds at least a few times during the winter.
Deciding when to plant is part science, part art, and mostly guesswork. Strawberry plants will behave very differently according to how much chilling they get during the winter. If they have too much, the plant will be very vigorous but will not produce much fruit. If they get too little chilling, the plant will be too weak to produce much fruit
Our plants are grown in the northern latitudes (far to the north of the fruit growing regions), where they will get more chilling than they do here in the Central Coast region. Then they are stored in coolers until they are ready to be planted.
Should you plant them with one week, two weeks, or three weeks of cold storage? The answer depends how much chilling they will get during the coming winter on your farm. Will it be a cold winter or a warm winter? This is where you have to guess. The wrong guess can make a huge difference.
And of course, we mustn't forget the weeds. Since we don't fumigate the soil with herbicides we have a wonderful, unending supply of weed seeds in our soil. They come up around the plant. They come up in the furrows. They even come up wherever a bird has pecked a hole in the plastic mulch! We have to weed about six times after planting before we begin to harvest. And sometimes the winter is so wet that you can't keep up with the weeds. You pray for a dry spell and work like crazy when it comes.
We have to fend off the deer and the wild pigs too. We spend a great deal of money building fences to keep these guys out. But our fences are designed to allow the bobcats and coyotes to pass through so that they can help with the gophers. Gophers? Gophers R Us! We trap them by hand.
Birds are a problem in the early spring, but they tire of strawberries after a couple of weeks and don't bother us much after that. If they become a problem later, we place speakers in the field with recordings of predatory birds.
Snails creep in from the surrounding hillsides, and we pick them off by hand if we have to.
Now for the insects. There is a little critter called a two-spotted spider mite that lives on strawberry leaves and can overwhelm a plant. We keep a close eye on them and when they start to increase in numbers, we release 'predator' mites to attack them. These are little guys that are raised in nurseries and then sold to us farmers; we put them out into the field and let them chow down on the bad guys. During the Spring we have to do several 'releases' to keep the two-spotted spider mite under control.
Then, we can't forget our friend the lygus bug. This little fellow, which looks like a small light brown fly, loves to munch on the strawberry flower. This is not good, because wherever he munches, the fruit does not develop properly and becomes misshapen. The word 'gnarly' is particularly apt! We try two strategies with this bug--plant flowers which will provide habitat for its predators, and plant large blocks of mustard , which the lygus actually prefer to strawberry flowers.
We can’t forget our vegetables, which have a following of their own among our customers. After the soil has dried out from the winter rains, we disk in our cover crops, add compost, and plant our vegetables, which we harvest in the summer and fall. And after the vegetables are harvested, we plant "cover crops" to protect and improve the soil through the winter months.