As with all organic farms and ranches both big and small, the continuous annual cycle of ranch work is dictated by the seasons. Thus preparation for the spring and summer planting of vegetables begins in the fall when foot-deep trenches are dug for each future row of garden plants. Organic fertilizer is then dug from the goat and chicken pens and the wheelbarrows of combined manure and mulch are hand-mixed, using a shovel, into the soil of each row in order to provide sufficient time for the winter rains to accentuate the decomposition and integration of the fertilizer into the soil. Organic fertilizer is also provided for all fruit trees and berries.
January marks the time for pruning of all of our beautiful roses as well as the time to start pruning the peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines, and persimmons. Pruned deciduous fruit tree branches are then chipped into mulch or cut into short sections for soil enhancement and erosion control. February and March are traditionally the “wettest” months in Southern California where the annual average rainfall is no more than eight inches, while recent drought years have produced no more than three inches of annual precipitation.
The spring days grow warm toward the end of March and all gardeners and ranchers have difficulty being patient and waiting for the soil to warm sufficiently for optimum plant growth. On the McFadden Ranch we typically plant the first vegetable seeds at the end of March, but new corn planted a month later in April often grows much faster and quickly matches the March-planted vegetables in size. New boysenberry vines also begin to emerge in spring and the old dead canes must be removed to provide space for the new growth. It is always amazing to watch new vines emerge in March and then rapidly grow, flower and produce succulent bucketfuls of mature fruit in May and June.
The rains of winter and spring also give life to every wind-borne annual grass and plant seed transported from the adjacent fields. These seeds quickly germinate and start to grow on our thick topsoil. All such weeds are regularly cut by hand and only with a wood-handled hoe. A rancher’s hands were made to hold and work with wood-handled tools, and the hoe and shovel are used on a daily basis at the McFadden Ranch, whether cutting weeds, digging in the garden, or excavating gopher holes. Never forget that a rancher keeps in mind four primary reasons for cutting weeds. These include a reduction in fire danger, a reduction in lost irrigation water, a reduction of rodent populations, and a desire for his land to be neat and orderly.
Fruit and vegetable harvesting begins in earnest in late spring and early summer. At McFadden Ranch we typically plant new corn every four to six weeks, as well as planting other vegetables on a staggered cycle in order to harvest fresh “summer” vegetables as late as November. Winter broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuces also grace our dinner table. McFadden Ranch fruit tree selections were also made to provide year-round crops. Valencia oranges provide juice and sweet fruit in the summer and fall, followed by bursting naval oranges in the winter and spring. Peaches, mulberries, nectarines and apricots are favorite early summer treats, followed by luscious apples, pears and then late summer black figs. Plums, mandarins and limes also provide seasonal flavor, while our lemons are available year-round for homemade lemonade or specialty seasoning. Rich red pomegranates and aromatic pink guavas give us special winter treats.
In this manner the continuous annual cycle of work at the McFadden Ranch is ongoing throughout the year. This is an extremely favorable manner to concurrently enjoy the cycle of migratory and resident bird species found at our property (52 species counted so far in 2009), as well as the cycle of bird nesting and the raising of young. The unstoppable urgency of life in March, April, and May is particularly phenomenal, with all species of flora and fauna growing, singing, expanding, and full of life, just as our jams, jellies, chutneys, and relishes will provide that full taste of country life in your own home. We invite you to taste the bounty of our harvest at any time of the year. You will not be disappointed.