Since getting back to work over the last several weeks we have been playing a big game of catch up here at the PMC! Its been really crazy trying to get everything done and its meant some long hours, but we have been doing a pretty good job systematically catching up to where we need to be.
Last week we spent most of the week planting the National Soil Health Study area of the PMC. It was a lot of work and went much slower then anticipated due to some calibration issues we seem to have had with our No Till Drill and getting the right amount of seed out of it. We think that in the end it should be ok though, since we were able to work out most of the kinks. We had to pre-water the soil so it would have some moisture and be soft enough to even drill into. Since the soil was nice and moist the seeds have already germinated and are coming up! I always get excited when I see new life coming up out of the ground!
The end of the week involved getting a germination study of a National Park Service Grass started to try and boost the germination. We were getting rates like 2%, which when you only have about 100 grams of seeds, doesn’t bode well for planting an acre. They have been in for about 4 days now, and half of them will be cold stratifying for a few weeks, so we shall see how they turn out!
This week we have a whole host of things to do, the main one planting Bicolor Lupines for the National Park Service. Yesterday I spent most of the day on my hands and knees putting down weed mat and securing it into place for them, so hopefully we get really good, weed free results with them. I have found that I LOVE lupines. I can’t explain it, but they are such awesome plants with unique leaves and beautiful flowers. I would like to write a plant guide on the bicolor lupines like I did with California Fuschia, but I’m not sure if I will have time now. We shall see though!
Hopefully the rest of the week goes smoothly and we get everything planted and where it needs to be. That would make life much easier and a bit less hectic. Until next time!
I can hardly believe it is already half way through September! That means I am half done with my internship here in Lockeford. Its super sad to think about because I am really enjoying my time here. We have a very small staff at the PMC and so we work really closely together every day. I especially work with one other person, Shirley and so we have quickly become friends as well as coworkers. We share an office as well so we end up spending a lot of time together. So needless to say when my time here comes to an end I shall be very sad to leave this place. I also was super fortunate to find a great place to live while I’m here! I’m renting a room in a big house just 2 miles down the road from the PMC and it is super convenient! Plus I have a great landlord who loves me and said I should stay forever! LOL Its all good for me though and now I’m trying to stay in California for School or another job once I finish up my internship. I’m really happy here, and despite the long distance I am from home and my family I really have loved the experience and want to make a life out here.
As far as work goes we are trying to prep for the busy fall planting season. The fields need to be water and sprayed and plowed and prepped, while in the green house we are planting seeds to grow into plugs for spring planting, and we are working on several acquisitions we were able to make so I’m also doing some business dealings. I have really gained a great idea of how diverse a work place the Plant Materials Center can be, and appreciate the work NRCS and the USDA is doing. We also have several seed mixes that need to be made for our fall cover-crops. I am writing up a special Study Plan to propose and design an experimental study on a new technology for boosting the germination rate of some native seeds that currently are a big problem because they have such low germination rates. I’m really excited about it because I get to stretch my scientific legs as it were a little bit more then I have been lately. But I am now quite the expert at weed control (i.e. pulling, shoveling, and hoeing weeds). I enjoy all the sweaty work though. Its nice to work hard out in the California sunshine. I also did just finish a Plant Guide for the USDA PLANTS database, so if you want to know more about California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum) stay tuned and you will soon see my guide published by the USDA!! I also became a little bit more of an authority and was able to identify some of the herbarium specimens they had at UC Davis to subspecies when I went out there a couple weeks ago.
Otherwise right now its been mostly prepping fields, doing some tractor work, removing weeds and deciding what can be done before the main planting season goes into full swing.
Here my coworker Shirley was using one of our John Deer Tractors to roller crimp the Sudan Grass we used as a summer cover crop along with Cow Peas in our organic field. The grass was a lot of work to get established because of all the times we had to move the lateral lines to water it, but it was amazing to watch it reach 8 feet or more tall in about a month.
In about a month we have to put in the second year of our soil health plots as well, and before that there are a lot of soil health indicators we need to measure and get some initial 2nd year data prior to planting. Its gonna be a lot of work but should be interesting. We were doing a lot of soil coring the last week so we can see what fields are where for nutrient and moisture levels and decide if any soil amendments need to be added or any changes done otherwise.
Using this really large soil corer to pull out soil samples to get analyzed for nutrients. I know you all are especially amazed because of my awesome farmers tan there LOL rolled up the sleeves so we could even it out a bit.
We are also planning on recovering a few areas from Himalayan Blackberry that has taken over, which will be horrible painful work but needs to be done. Besides that there are a ton of other weed issues, but we are doing out best to get that under control and once all our fields have cover crops on them the weeds should be vastly diminished as they are outcompeted by the weeds. I also watched this amazing video by the NRCS called Under Cover Farmers (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWXCLVCJWTU) which has some really interesting information on the benefits of keeping soil covered and treating it like a living organism rather then just as what you plant in. It inspired me to use some of the techniques in my own garden! And I think as we apply more and more of them here we will see some amazing improvements in out soil health across the soils there are on the property.
Thats all for now! Talk to you all again soon!
Here I am posing as a comparison of height to the corn we grew as part of the National Soil Health Study we are doing. This is a few weeks prior to being fully mature so some of the corn ended up being over a foot taller by harvest!
My last post was not too colorful because of some technical issues, so I wanted to show you all some of what I’m doing out here, and some of the beautiful things I get to see! Enjoy!
One of my major projects at the PMC is gathering and cleaning seeds for the National Park Service and the BLM. Here I am putting seeds from Nassella pulchra (Purple Needle Grass, and let me tell you its seeds are every bit as sharp as a needle! They can go right through leather gloves!!!) through a Hammer Mill to remove the awns before we used another machine that uses blowing air and different size screens to sort the good seed from the bad and the chaff.
One of our UC Davis Plots studying different mixes of plants and what pollintors they attract through out the year
So far everything out here in Lockeford has been wonderful! I am really falling in love with the area and I really am enjoying what I do out here! I never would have thought about agricultural jobs before but that is such a big part of what the PMC does, and its fascinating and fun and a lot of hard work but I Love it! I’m now thinking about grad school for agronomy and I would love to stay here in the central valley to do it 🙂 hopefully that works out, because I have always been passionate about food and where it comes from and connecting people back to their food and this seems like a perfect way to fuse that interest with a career. I’m so thankful that I got this position!
The last several weeks here have been all about…you guessed it! CORN! We are part of a national soil health study and here in Lockeford we chose to grow sweet corn as a commodity crop to follow different blends of cover crops. It’s been really interesting and we have some cool data that has turned up already, but we will know even more in a few years as the study is repeated over the next 3 years. Its a big push to get people and farmers to start considering the soil in all of their actions because it is so critical to healthy ecosystems and a thriving agricultural industry! I am really hoping this can be an aid to farmers across the country. Until then we have aided a lot of the less fortunate in the surrounding community with all the corn we grew. We have spent hours and hours in the field picking the corn by hand since we don’t have a harvester. All that hard work went to help remove the grain and send it to several local food banks and nonprofit organizations who were in need and willing to use the corn. It was beautiful corn though, grow totally pesticide and herbicide free so it was healthy as well! In the end we donated over 2500lbs of corn and unfortunately we had more but didn’t have the man power to pick it all. Next year we are hoping to get people lined up a bit earlier to help harvest so we can get all of the corn harvested and sent out to people who need it most. I’m really happy all that hard work went to such good causes and I feel really fortunate to be a part of it.
Besides corn we have been planning out our fields and planting strategy for the fall planting coming up which will be super busy, so wish me luck! And the week after next I am going to Yosemite to collect seeds! I’m super stoked! It will be amazing!!!
Until the next time!
Here I am standing in front of one of our soil health study plots to test and see how cover crops affect the soil nutrient composition in areas used for crops like corn which is now being grown where the cover crop was at before.
So much has happened already in my first couple weeks at the the PMC as we call it here! I have never had an opportunity to work in an agricultural environment before, and this one is so interesting because we are working on growing native plants for all sorts of projects. So far, I have baled hay, learned about setting up and maintaining drip lines, setting up flood irrigation, moved pipes, helped set up a combine for harvesting, and cleaned more seeds then I have ever seen in my life, worked on a soil health study, monitored pollinator plots, learned native plant ID, pulled weeds and trained on all the safety needed around the farm! Its great to get my hands dirty and work outside in the Cali sun…well at least some time in the sun! It gets hot fast out here, and my first week was spent working outside in the longest heatwave anyone around here has seen in a while! It was 102-112 every day for about 12 days in a row! Hot Hot HOT!!! But we worked smart in the heat getting here early in the morning and getting the sweaty work out of the way before the really hot stuff set in for the day. It isn’t too bad in the shade or inside but its hard to keep yourself cool when its that hot. I was drinking at least a gallon of water a day to stay hydrated and productive. Thankfully I am working with a great team here who are super supportive and helped me through that rough weather.
This week is shaping up to be much cooler, only in the 90s for the highs. But the best part of the day is definitely later in the evening around 8pm when the Delta Breeze starts to blow in and cool everything down. From 90s or 100s during the day it will drop into the middle 50s or 60s over night! Its like living in the summer during the day and the spring or fall in the evening. The cool weather at night is so refreshing though, and makes for a good nights sleep after a long hot day working outside.
The family I am renting a room from is really cool as well. The one sister Nellie volunteers at the PMC and another guy, Matt, who is also staying there volunteers and they are both great and such hard workers. The days they come in to help we can get so much more done in the fields, especially since Matt is great at helping out with heavy lifting and grew up on a farm. Yesterday, he and I were able to apply some of our newly acquired PMC knowledge to set up a flood system to water a newly set up vegetable garden which should help provide us with some great fresh veggies! I’m definitely getting into this farming business I guess! 🙂
This week looks like it will be another busy one especially with all the seed cleaning we need to get done. Our resident farmer, Dennis, just harvested another section of of fields so there is plenty to do! Plus, we have more of the seeds we grew for the National Park Service to clean and send out to them! I’m gonna be busy, that’s for SURE! But I’m having a great time and really am enjoying it so far! Looking forward to finding out what tomorrow will bring!
It has been a whirlwind making my way from back home in Illinois all the way out to California. The drive took 5 days but it was worth it! The sun keeps on shining out here except for the day we arrived which brought some unseasonal rain, but otherwise it has been clear and HOT! 105 +/- has been the norm for the last week and won’t end until next week it seems. But the heat is easy to beat when you are having fun at work! The team here at the Plant Materials Center in Lockeford is really fantastic! My first day they all were extremely friendly but put me to work on all kinds of projects! I never realized the kinds of farming activites that need to go on to produce seeds for all sorts of projects for the other government agencies like the BLM and the National Park Service. So far I’ve helped move irrigation pipe, set up a flood system to water native grasses, cleaned seeds and collected and stacked hay and straw bales and its only day two! Once I finish safety training I will learn how to use more of the machinery like driving the tractor and operating the seed cleaning machines. I’m really excited to be here and so far its great! Hard work but really good experience and good people to work with. Until next time!