Low snow

Those who live in California or have followed news about our weather recently will know that we have had an epic rain and snow season–quite unexpected. One of the storms brought shockingly low snow levels in the Bay Area and surroundings on the night of 23-24 Feb. I took some photos from the finca and nearby.

The first picture, above, is taken from the back of the property with my telephoto. This is looking roughly due east. The next two are views slightly to the south of the first one. Wherever you looked, you saw low snow!

(Click any photo to load a larger version.) Next we shift the view from the back to the road side of the property, looking southwest in the general direction of the Berryessa Gap.

Then I went and took a short drive, finding a location where two roads meet near an overpass on the I-505 freeway, affording a view from a relatively high point. The view from here is especially striking because the almond trees were near their full bloom at the time.

We have lived at this current location for ten years now, and have never seen the slightest dusting of snow even at the top of these hills, which form the first range of hills separating the Sacramento Valley from the Capay, Napa, and other valleys farther west. Locals say there was maybe one other time about twenty years ago when there was snow on these hills, but not nearly this much. And about thirty years ago there was snowfall actually at the Valley floor where we are. That would be extremely unlikely to happen again. These synoptic conditions were probably similar to that storm, but in a significantly warmed climate. I believe I saw some snow flurries here right around sunrise, and some very nearby weather stations were reporting rain/snow mix at the time. The snow on the hills stuck for a couple of days, but was all gone before long as conditions warmed and more rain fell.

(Note: the blog’s banner photo is towards the northeast, looking at the Sierra, much farther away. Seeing snow in that direction is obviously not rare in the winter. That picture is from several years ago.)

The view


The scene out back on the morning of Dec. 11, a little after 9:00 a.m. A good cover of frost around the vineyard, with our weather station and solar panels visible. Our property still mostly in the shade, but the goat dairy beyond in full morning daylight.

A week later, the sunset was not too shabby, either.


Even the Eucs have damage

The recent cold snap was more intense than expected. We dropped to 20 degrees (F) one morning for about an hour and a half, and over an eleven day period we accumulated about 95 hours below freezing and 14 hours of 25F or below.

Much to my surprise, even some mature Red Ironbark Eucalyptus has sustained damage. Not all the trees, but several. In fact, sometimes a damaged tree and a relatively unscathed one are side by side. Probably more a case of seedling variation than of micro-climates.



I am sure these will recover fully. What about my young citrus and other fruit trees? The jury is still out. The cold frames (and brooding lights) might have spared some of them, but we will wait for spring to be sure.

Cold snap

At sundown today the temperature already was only 44F. Expecting a hard freeze the next two, maybe three, nights.

Here in the Sacramento Valley, I no longer have near-tropical fruit trees, but I have some tender trees that may be damaged. Such as the citrus trees underneath these cold frames (plastic sheeting supported by wood structure) or the (presumably less at-risk) potted plants under the cloth sheets.


I hope the cold is not as bad as the Freeze of 2007, when I lost a lot of tender items, such as mangoes and sapotes and a couple of young citrus trees, in San Diego County.

That’s our now-defoliated vineyard beyond the fence.

Apologies for shooting the photo through the window. It’s too cold to go back outside!

Birds of prey


Just after lunch today, I saw the unmistakeable shadow of a large bird arriving at one of the trees just outside the house. I went outside and noticed two birds in the tree: an owl and what I believe to be a golden eagle that we have been seeing around lately.

The owl (a barn owl, I think) is peeking over the branch that heads off towards the right of the picture. The eagle is in the upper left.

We have an owl nesting box on the finca that has been in use since April, and we hear screeching every night. But I have not seen one in daylight before.

I am no bird expert, but the other one does not look like the hawks that frequent the place, and is much bigger than the hawks, in any case. It is quite likely a golden eagle. A couple of days ago I saw it feasting on a squirrel, so it is most welcome around here (as are the owls and hawks and anyone else hungry-for-squirrels).

Given that camera I had immediately available, and the need to shoot from some distance, the picture is not the clearest. But what a thrill to see these two in the tree!

Update: It might be a Ferruginous hawk (a type I did not previously know), rather than an eagle.

Late spring, long shadows

There is nothing quite like a late spring, unseasonably warm day, as the sun sinks low to the west. The neighbor’s grape vines (lower right) are fully leafed out, and the canyon’s duck pond still holds water from the winter rains.


At sundown it will have been 27 days since the full moon of Aviv, in case anyone is counting.

Equinox and the full moon thereafter

So, it’s the full moon.


And just yesterday morning it was the vernal equinox.


In honor of its now being “officially” spring, according to the solar calendar, here’s looking at one of the first fruit trees to bloom every spring (the Kuban Burgundy plum, foreground), and one of the last of the peach/nectarine varieties to reach full bloom (the Panamint).

If I did not know any better, I might think it was Pesach; …the full moon after the vernal equinox…

But, wait, it’s a leap year. Still a month to go. That’s good, because it seems like the perfect evening to raise a toast to spring. It is, after all, a religious obligation on this night.

Merry Purim!

From the top of the finca

The snowfall got pretty low overnight. I can’t remember the last time I saw snow this low.


This view is from the highest point of the finca, just past the final stop on the Ladera Frutal Incline Railway. The view is to the northeast, towards the Palomar Divide. In the foreground are the massive avocado groves on the other side a narrow canyon, and just west of Interstate 15.

These mountains are about 15 miles away, though on a clear day like today, the sure look closer. Parts of the lower elevations on this snow-dusted ridge burned in the Poomacha Fire during the wildfires of late October.

Update: Next time the ridge was visible, on 15 December, the snow appeared to be gone already. That did not take long.

Cypress update

For whatever reason, the photo I posted back in March, 2006, of these Tecate cypresses days after I planted them is one of the most viewed images in the Ladera Frutal flickr photo set. (Folks can’t resist those baby pictures!) So, it’s time for an update.

Here are the trees at about a year and a half in the ground. Pretty impressive. The tallest ones are about four feet tall, compared to six-to-eight inches when planted.

The first three trees closest to the camera are in little fence enclosures. This is to protect them from marauding pests. Why just those few trees? Because the “pests” in question are the garbage-collection workers, who can’t resist throwing barrels after they have dumped their contents. One day, one of the trees was crushed under a barrel, though it came through the ordeal OK. (Last week, the largest one almost got run over by a forklift being used by the pickers of our grapefruits, but it, too, came through just fine. But it is a dangerous world for little trees!)

The first few are also notably shorter than all the others, except for the very most distant one (not visible here). The end from which I took the camera is a bit more shaded by the eucalyptus trees across the street. I can’t really complain about those trees, though. Notice all the free mulch!

Never a pleasant sight

This fire did not burn for long, and only briefly threatened a few homes a short distance away from the finca. But it is never a pleasant sight. Or smell. As can be seen in the photo, the smoke began to settle in the canyon. It still could be smelled later that evening, even though the fire was almost fully out by 1:00 p.m.

This canyon is an almost perfect “smoke sink.” When we had those catastrophic fires all around San Diego County in October, 2003, the day the winds died down, the smoke was like a dense fog in the canyon.

This was nothing like October, 2003, fortunately. (See NASA’s striking photo of those fires.) And this fire was farther away than the small fire directly across the canyon in February, 2006. This is fire country. Keep that brush cut.

Ladera Frutal’s rail system

At one time, avocados from high up the steep fruited slope of Mt. Ararat were brought down to trucks via this rail car, which ran on a single track.


In our shed there is an old motor, and around the grove there are several old bins that would have been placed on this car.


The second photo shows the line from farther up, above LF HQ, the house, and the valley so low (note the banana grove, before the freeze, just above HQ). Alas, the line is not functional. I have always fancied the idea of making it work and planting the highest part of the slope and using this line to get me and materials up the hill. However, it would be costly–and probably not very safe.

I have had a few people come by the finca who have been associated with the avocado business for many years and they usually say they have heard of these devices being used in the area, but are not aware of any other tracks still in place, let alone working systems.

Of course, in some other parts of the world, one can find working systems similar to this–for instance in some Italian vineyards.

Birds of Ladera Frutal

We regularly see a road runner around the rocky parts of the finca (and sometimes even running along the road). One morning it was sitting on a rock just below the house, making a call that can best be described as resembling a whimpering dog. (The other sound I hear a road runner make might sound sort of like “beep beep” if you have a good enough imagination.)


We also have egrets. (I am not bird expert, but I think this is an egret.) I have seen them in the area frequently, as we do have wetlands below us. However, recently for the first time I saw one up high at the edge of the Hass grove and just a few steps from the back door of LF HQ.


As I approached it, the bird took flight.