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From the Fields® - May 25, 2011

By Steve McShane, Monterey County nursery operator

It is a better year for the nursery business and the weather has turned better also. Business improves with leaps and bounds. The forecast that I have and the numbers I'm looking at show we are ahead of last year. We are not quite out of the doldrums, but 2011 looks like it is going to be an uptick season.

We had quite a bit of business from landscaping for newly constructed homes. Unfortunately, there isn't that much new home construction, but we are starting to see some of these houses on short sale and bank-owned property change hands. When that takes place, deferred maintenance on existing landscaping seems to be the rage. Also, home-grown fruit tree sales are up and veggie sales are up for the third year in a row.

Rain the last several weekends cut into our sales quite a bit. We saw as an industry certainly on the retail side a better than normal February. There were some abnormally warm weekends that I think pushed things a little bit. The rain definitely impacts things, but my expectation is that we will make up for it before things slow down into June.

California is home to beautiful perennials that will be showy and drought tolerant. I am always one to show those off before anything else. Watering is the No. 1 challenge for anyone with a landscape in California. They are either doing too much watering or too little. That's what kills plants.

We grow some plants indoors, but mostly outdoors. The rain didn't cause many problems for us but the product doesn't move as much when it is raining outside. It is springtime and there is something that gets into people's bloodstream about getting into the nursery and landscaping habit when it comes to spring.

I always want to remind folks that the California nursery business is one of our top agricultural commodities. We are doing more nursery business in California than any other place in the nation and we have the climate for it. Not only do we provide nursery products here in California, we are exporting to other states.

By Nick Short, Stanislaus County nut grower

Here in Stanislaus County, most of us almond farmers are on our second irrigation, while the walnut growers are just wrapping up their first. With our walnuts, we are getting a later start than normal on irrigating due to the greater moisture content in our ground. Another factor that has been in our favor is that the walnuts are just starting to really use the water. I have had to apply agricultural chemicals three times now on our Paynes for blight, along with one flight of codling moth.

With the warmer temperatures, we are really moving on the mowing and weed spraying right now. Things were slow for awhile, but are definitely picking up. We are all hopeful for a better almond crop this year as well as another bountiful walnut crop. We shall see as the season progresses.

The dairy producers have harvested their winter feed crops and are in the process of planting the summer crops. You can see some corn starting to pop up throughout the county. Also, the cherries are moving along, as we can see as we drive past the orchards. The peach growers in our area are in the process of thinning their peaches.

By Shannon Wooten, Shasta County beekeeper

Northern California beekeepers and bee breeders right now are producing queens. Our season will be a little longer than normal because of weather conditions. A lot of our customers have had to push their orders into the future a little bit so they can get away from bad weather. The recent rains have slowed us a little. But, the future looks better because the different floral sources now have received a good drink of water, so I think things will be better for bee nutrition.

Our queen bees are sent all over the United States and Canada. A shipment left day before yesterday and in 24 hours they were sitting in Calgary, Canada. We ship to Louisville, Ky., to Fargo, N.D., and then to Calgary via UPS.

I'll move my hives up along the Klamath River Valley for summer honey production. We don't do a lot of honey production because we try to get the bees healthy for the winter. If we can fill them up with honey that's good, and if we make a little extra money that's even better.

I also run beef cattle and it is looking pretty good. These rains are bringing on the cattle feed. The grass is just astronomical. We are starting to move out of winter locations into the summer locations. It is a little early, because it has been so cool. However, we have to move now to preserve the fall feed. The rains are going to help us and the prices are holding pretty well. We sell in the fall of the year, so I am hoping the prices will hold until then.

We run our cattle in the summer up near Lassen National Park. The ground has spring-fed irrigation, and it is pretty nice. The range is about 3,000 feet elevation.

By Steve Bontadelli, Santa Cruz County vegetable grower

We just got started planting this year's brussels sprouts crop. The late rains gave us a late start, and then we got knocked out again by more rain in May. I started planting about May 9 and got about one week's worth of planting and then had to stop because of rain. I started again about May 20.

This means our crop will be late in being ready for the market. There probably won't be much volume until August. Usually, we start harvesting in late July.

We will be planting so that we have a steady harvest of the vegetables. Originally, I was going to start planting at the end of April, but because of the rain, I ended up starting on the 9th of May. The whole thing gets pushed back 10 to 12 days.

The very early variety plants are different from the handpicked variety. It matures a little sooner. There is no difference in the taste of the two varieties. They all taste good.

We hope for a nice, foggy season starting in a couple weeks. Typically, we get that pretty soon. June is when we get our June gloom. That is ideal for our plants. We expect clear, dry weather for the next week or so. At least our soil is sandy loam, so it drains fast. We can get in soon after it stops raining.

By George Hollister, Mendocino County timber producer

I was falling some trees today for a neighbor of mine. On my own property I am still in the process of getting a spotted owl clearance, so I'm not able to start over here yet. It is pretty wet anyway to really do anything. It has dried out quite a bit, but that last little bit of rain sort of got things wet again. It won't take too much to get everything dried out. Our weather forecast is for some clearing this week. And it is also supposed to warm up. It sure has been cold.

I think the interesting thing for people in forestry right now is there is a pretty dynamic log market. This is a result of increases in export demand. There are a lot of buyers of logs for export in California right now. It is sort of a new thing. We don't know where it is going to go, and who the right people to deal with are at this point. We don't know what the prices are going to be. It has put another factor into the equation.

The domestic lumber demand has been weak. Hopefully, it is just weather related. That has translated to weak domestic log prices, including redwood. It's not nearly what it was last year. We are hoping things will pick up a little bit so that log prices will pick up.

This export market for logs could very well translate in the next couple years to an increase in the lumber prices in the United States, even in a weak lumber market. It will be an interesting thing to watch. It will be good for timber owners, particularly people who have Douglas fir and some other white wood species. This is going to make it a more competitive market and potentially a better market.

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