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From the Fields® - February 2, 2022

By Endeavour Shen, San Diego County hydroponic vegetable farmer

We grow all kinds of leafy greens, from butter lettuces, romaine to Asian varieties like bok choy, tong ho, tatsoi. We have production every week because we're inside a greenhouse, and wintertime is the best time to grow leafy greens.

We were trying to expand delivery of our produce boxes outside our territory, but we had problems with the deliveries not getting there on time, so we decided to shrink our territory to deliver in the San Diego County area only. We try to purchase from local farmers. We also deal with a distributor because we want variety in the box, but (the produce) must be organic and (grown in the) United States. We do 300 to 400 deliveries a week.

Greenhouse-wise, hydroponic growing is really like a lab. You pay attention to the plant, to all your machines, making sure it's done properly. It's not a lot of hard labor. It's just attention to very minute details like the mineral content, the electrical conductivity, making sure the monitoring probes are clean, making sure there's actual fertilizer and water in the tank. If it's really hot and muggy, you've got to make sure to turn on the fan.

We just did our first planting of strawberries a couple weeks ago. We'll see how well the strawberries grow. We want to make an entertainment area, like a farm experience in the greenhouse. It's very small scale, like only 1,500 square feet. We're just testing how to grow it first. If it works, I'm going to find a different piece of property and buy it using USDA support. Hopefully, I can go from there and try to build our own greenhouses. It took me five years to really understand lettuce. Who knows how long to understand strawberries. There's a whole bunch of methods you've got to figure out, from fertilizing to watering cycle. That's what we're working on now.

By Mikayla Gnoss, Yolo County olive farmer

At the moment everything is looking nice and green, but of course that also includes the weeds. We're staying on top of them and are strip spraying. We have also been working on some cleanup from harvest. We started harvest mid-October and ended up going into December this year because of those early rains. It was great to get the water, but it definitely slowed things in the field. Overall harvest was delayed about 10 days because it was too wet to get in. Thankfully, we were able to get the entire crop in and produce some really good oil this year.

As for the trees themselves, they're not doing much growing this time of year. Olives are evergreen trees, but they do still go through a period of reduced growth and activity during the winter. While they have their rest, we are working on preparing for the upcoming season. Lord knows it will be here soon enough. We get the fertilizer plans ready, develop our pruning strategies and order trees to replace any we lost during the last year, things like that. We also applied for the Healthy Soils Program through the California Department of Food and Agriculture recently, so we're waiting to hear on that. Hopefully, we will be able to secure some funding to plant a cover crop and establish a hedgerow on one of our younger ranches.

We are also working on developing some new acres over the next two years, so there's a lot to do in preparation for that. We have some ground work to do, and irrigation needs to be installed. Labor is always a concern—and water, of course. But we're confident we'll make it work.

As for the market, it's great to have all the new-season oil ready to go. We secured some pretty big contracts in the last year, so our bottling team has been working nonstop to get orders filled and out to the retailers. We've seen outstanding demand for California-produced extra-virgin olive oil, so we're always on the lookout for new potential growers.

By Janet Kister, San Diego County nursery producer

It has been a roller coaster weather year for our plants the last few months, but we are certainly grateful for the rain we did get.

Late last year we had warmer-than-normal temperatures that pushed our plants to become ready earlier than needed. Now, with cooler-than-average temperatures, the plants are ready later than planned. It's always an adventure for us and our customers!

On a positive note, demand for flowers and plants remains strong. As more offices reopen, they are busy having their interiors and exteriors replanted. And the work-from-home employees continue to add plants to enhance their workspace.

What started as increased interest in indoor plants in 2018, to bring the natural world indoors, went crazy in 2019 as young people opted to become "plant parents" instead of having children or pets. That exploded during the pandemic as family activities and a lifestyle of "greenifying" the home was embraced. It appears this trend is continuing into 2022.

By Paul Sanguinetti, San Joaquin County farmer

This cold weather has been good for the permanent crops. I've got a crew pruning walnuts. With the almonds, they aren't pushed yet, so there's probably not any bees being put out yet. The ground is dry enough that some guys are out planting onions for the early market.

Guys are working on equipment and are probably not spending any money any more than they have to, because costs have really gone up. Fertilizer has more than doubled. Because of the cost of fertilizer and chemicals, I can see farmers doing a lot more mowing instead of spraying weeds to try and cut costs. I think everybody is going to be really careful on how much they put on.

We're trying to get away from labor and use more mechanization because the cost of wages went up. To save money, many farmers are using hedgers to do as much mechanically as they can. We're going to try some here, but the ground is still too wet to get the heavy machines in.

There's enough water for Stockton East (Water District) this year. We don't have any restrictions, so everybody's planning on being able to irrigate. Our district is a dual district. You have to have the pumps when we get dry years, when we use groundwater and surface water.

We've had a lot of problems out here with guys stealing stuff. I've got three pumps that I'm going to have to run new (copper) wires to. It puts us in a bind because we have to fix all this stuff.

We might grow garbanzos, and we are going to plant some silage corn. Field corn is another option too. We're going to plant some canning tomatoes. In February, we've got to start making these decisions.

I've been trying to get all my year-end stuff done and get all of the books in shape for the accountant. This is the book work that has to be turned in by the end of this month for employees and all of the information that has to be sent to the government. A lot of farmers are working on their books.

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