California Honey Festival

Main Street Woodland was “buzzin” with activity and lots of people on Saturday as they attended the California Honey Festival. 

honey products sitting on a table

The Honey Festival is a free, family-friendly festival featuring honey of course, Honey Bee education, art, wine, beer, food, music, kids art, crafts, and other vendors.  Not only is the event fun but it educates the public on the role of bees in Sacramento Valley agriculture.  It celebrates and honors the hard-working bees that pollinate Sacramento Valley crops, including more than 140,000 acres of almonds and also hybrid sunflowers, vegetable seeds and other crops.

family taking a photo in front of California Honey Festival sign

Attendees got the opportunity to taste foods made with honey, visit with beekeepers, see bees, and of course take a selfie with the festival’s sign. 

Spring Snow Adventures Await You at Carson Pass

The spring showers that have blessed the valley have also yielded some much needed snow in the Sierra. An additional blessing for those of us who enjoy winter activities is that this welcome moisture has refreshed the surface of the snowpack and provided an opportunity to enjoy some wonderful spring skiing or snowshoeing.

One of my favorite places for backcountry skiing is Carson Pass. The scenery is breathtaking, with open meadows, alpine lakes, and majestic peaks. It also has offerings for outdoor adventurers of all levels of expertise.

My friend and I parked at the Meiss Meadow Sno-Park, crossed Highway 88, and started out through the small meadow. Heading due south by winding through open areas of untracked snow, we intersected the main trail after about 15 minutes and followed the tracks toward Lake Winnemucca. 

person snowshoeing in carson pass

After a short time, Round Top Peak was visible against an azure blue, cloudless sky. The temperature was so warm that we were in T-shirts, and the snow was perfect spring snow—about two inches of slush on a firm base.

person snowshoeing in carson pass

We reached our lunch spot at Lake Winnemucca in about an hour, chose a couple of flat-topped, warm rocks from the large selection, and enjoyed a leisurely picnic overlooking the lake, which is beginning to thaw after the winter season. It was awe-inspiring to watch the impressive downhill runs made by expert skiers descending from the peak. 

Then came time for the return trip, which is wonderfully downhill the entire way. There were some spots to practice our turns while skiing across the meadows or through the trees. By following the tracks we’d left on the way in, we were back at the parking lot in no time.

person snowshoeing in carson pass

Most people start their adventures at the nearby Carson Pass Sno-Park, which is a little over two hours from Sacramento on Highway 88. You will need a Sno-Park pass, available online by clicking here. At the beginning of the marked trail, there are some blue diamond markers, but don’t follow them; they take you to Woods Lake. Just follow the tracks until you can see the peaks, and then choose your own path, if you desire. Be prepared for winter travel with some extra clothes and food. Be aware that there is no cell reception, and the area is not patrolled.

I hope you get to enjoy this beautiful area before the snow melts. 

How Water Managers Deal with Dry Years

The tiny town of Grimes, population less than 400, may yield your next sushi roll. Or at least the premium medium grain rice that goes in your favorite roll. Grimes is home to not only rice fields, but also Reclamation District 108, that is tasked with managing and delivering water to nearly 48,000 acres of farmland within southern Colusa County and northern Yolo County. This is quite a feat in normal times, but when entering a third consecutive dry year, how is water managed for the benefit of all? I talked with Lewis Bair, General Manager of Reclamation District 108 to find out.

Lewis Bair

What is growing here?

Lewis Bair: RD 108 has a great range of crops made possible by our diversity of soil types as well as our traditionally reliable water supply.  Our primary crop is rice, but we also grow walnuts, tomatoes, onions, sunflowers, melons, alfalfa, vine seed, among others.

What exactly is Reclamation District 108?

Lewis Bair: RD 108 is an organization designed and funded by landowners to provide common services needed by that same group of landowners.  In RD 108, this includes irrigation, drainage and flood protection.  Our priorities include operations and maintenance of our 400 miles of irrigation/drainage canals and pumping systems and educating policymakers on important issues.

How is water traditionally managed and how has new technology helped?

Lewis Bair: In the Valley, we have what is called a flow through system. The Valley presents itself in a way that allows water to flow through one field onto the next, like a series of steps. This results in a very efficient use of water, meaning almost all of the water goes toward producing life whether its food, or wildlife.

We have invested a great deal in automation and data collection. This allows growers to irrigate at precisely the right time for their crop ensuring the maximum production out of every drop. Our growers know exactly how much water they are using and can see those totals for all their fields in real-time on their cell phones.

What is the process of water curtailments, where water supplies are limited and reduced for farmers and growers?

Lewis Bair: Curtailments apply to water rights managed by the State. Water is curtailed in the reverse order of when the water rights were issued; the most recent is curtailed first. RD 108 has a stored water contract for the period from April 1 through October 31 and much more junior rights in the non-contract months. This year there simply isn’t enough stored water to provide us with the water we would typically use to farm. This year we are anticipating a large reduction in our stored water available under our contract. We anticipate this will result in a majority of our land to be fallowed, which will significantly impact our communities and businesses that support farming. Curtailments can also limit RD 108 starting in November when we typically apply water to decompose rice straw as well as provide wetland habitat for the Pacific Flyway and salmon. We will have to wait until there is sufficient rain to occur so that the runoff allows those curtailments to be lifted allowing us to divert water under those more recent water rights. With such a short water supply, RD 108 is not anticipating participating in any transfers.

What are the cooperative approaches and creative partnerships that can be formed to mitigate the impact of dry years?

Lewis Bair: We will need to lean heavily on our partnership along the Pacific Flyway. Millions of birds migrate through the Central Valley and typically use our flooded rice fields to provide two-thirds of their food supply. With such limited rice planned in the valley, it will be critical to flood every acre that is able to be farmed as well as flooding of additional fields. Last year, the state provided funding for landowners to pump groundwater onto these fields.  If this is done early, it will also be critical to turn these fields into fish food factories for our stressed salmon juveniles that will be out-migrating through the worst river conditions that we have seen in a long time. These flooded fields turn the residual carbon in the fields into a feast of fish food that can be drained back to the Sacramento River. Finally, our Valley’s small communities are going to face unprecedented unemployment. State and federal support for these communities to mitigate unemployment and ensure they have healthy and reliable drinking water is critical.

Partnerships and collaboration is nothing new for RD 108, how have you been working together for the benefit of all?

Lewis Bair: We not only take our water stewardship seriously, we also consider improving environmental conditions as part of our mission.  Recent science has shown just how important floodplains are to the recovery of salmon in our valley. We were already active in the Sacramento Valley Salmon Recovery program working on spawning and side channel improvements, but the floodplains seemed to fit our expertise since we are located in the center of the natural floodplains in the Valley. We are currently leading a program called Floodplains Reimagined that looks at what in ongoing in the Yolo Bypass and looks to build a ground up proposal within the historic floodplains upstream of Yolo Bypass. The program is open to all but has a foundation of respecting existing uses and working on collaborative, voluntary solutions.

What, in your opinion is the hope in terms of water management moving forward?

Lewis Bair: While annual precipitation can be unpredictable, it is incumbent upon us to find ways to be productive for the environment and for agriculture under both conditions, wet and dry years. We are currently working to improve use of our groundwater resource. This includes improvements to monitoring, recharge capacity and pumping facilities. We also believe additional storage, including Sites Reservoir, can help by storing water during wet years to help during drought.

 

Spring Snow Adventures Await You in the Sierra

Sadly, we are too blessed by beautiful weather. I say sadly because we’re in dire need of more rain and snow during this drought. I also say sadly because I’m a winter enthusiast who loves the snow adventures. With that said, now’s the time to venture out and enjoy the remaining snow this season.

I recently visited one of my favorite places along Highway 88 for a day of cross-country skiing and was impressed with the fact that no one else was there. Because of the higher elevation, travelers can still choose from many places along the highway all the way up to the summit at Carson Pass, where there are still several feet of snow.

person cross country skiing across flat snow

On this day my friends and I chose Shot Rock which is about three-quarters of a mile east of where Mormon Emigrant Road (currently closed) intersects Highway 88. There’s parking for 5+ vehicles and no permits are needed. We chose this spot because it’s a south-facing slope where the snow is softened by the direct sunlight. It also provides wonderful views of the Tragedy Creek and Bear River drainage.

There was some concern about coverage, but we scouted the area from the still snow-covered summer parking area and were pleasantly surprised. We were greeted by an open slope with rocks poking up in places but mostly covered with plentiful spring snow, which is a backcountry skier or snowshoer’s dream.

After strapping on our skis, we immediately headed downhill around the outcrops, enjoying the view and sounds of water running over the boulders in places. There were no tracks from other skiers or snowshoers in evidence, and we had the entire area to ourselves.

cross country skis in the snow

We discovered waterfalls, easily found crossings for the two large streams we encountered, ran across what we took to be mountain lion tracks, and ended up at our lunch spot with a great view from the massive sun-warmed boulders serving as our picnic table. After snoozing in the sun for a bit, we started back to the car. Even though the return trip was uphill, we enjoyed the sun and fresh air while making plans for return trips this spring and next year.

This is a wonderful spot, but be aware that there are no marked trails. There are, however, opportunities to explore several square miles of mixed open and tree covered areas. In the depth of winter, ski and backcountry board tracks can be seen on some beautiful wide-open slopes in the distance.

people sitting on rocks taking a break from skiing

Shot Rock Vista Overlook is located 56 miles east of Jackson on Highway 88 on the right side of the road. Now would be the time to visit this location because the warm spring weather will melt the snow quickly. In the summer, this is a wonderful spot for hiking with large open granite fields with pronounced quartz veins in places.

I hope you get a chance to enjoy this great destination.

Finished with Lambing… and with Growing Grass?

Early on the morning of March 18, I arrived at our lambing paddock west of Auburn to check the sheep and prepare to move our flock to new grazing. I was greeted by Bodie and Elko, our livestock guardian dogs, and by the last lambs of the year – ewe 2423 had given birth to a pair of vigorous and healthy ewe lambs overnight. Both lambs were nursing when I arrived – always a good sign. Just 30 days after we started lambing, we were finished!

By nearly every measure, our short lambing season was a success. All but one of the ewes we put with our rams back in late September conceived. Despite our struggles with the bluetongue virus last fall (an insect-borne disease that we seem to see during drought years, and which can cause abortions in sheep), we didn’t experience any out-of-the-ordinary problems. With the lack of stormy weather over the last 30 days, our lamb survival exceeded our expectations. And our lambing rate of 1.6 lambs per ewe is the best we’ve ever experienced – the result of our efforts to prepare the ewes and rams for breeding last September.

sheep and lambs

Some of the advantages of a compressed lambing season are probably obvious. We check the flock three times a day during lambing; 30 days of this effort is far less labor than the typical 45-50 days! We’re back to twice-a-day checks for the next several weeks, and will go back to once-a-day in April. Since all of the lambs are reasonably close in age, they’ll be more uniform in size when we market them this summer (making them more valuable to our buyers).

However, some of the advantages are less obvious, especially as it relates to our ongoing drought. On the evening of March 14, we received just under an inch of rain – our first meaningful precipitation in 2022. While the rain was most welcome, it has not done much to alleviate the impacts of the dry, warm, and windy weather we experienced in February and much of March. Before the rain, we were seeing soil moisture levels that looked more like May than February. Just six days after the rain, soil moisture is again depleted. With even warmer temperatures forecast for the coming week, the forage plants where our sheep are grazing will be done growing (if they’re not done already).

Rangeland drought is different than drought on irrigated farmland. We can’t irrigate the pastures where our sheep are currently grazing – we rely entirely on rainfall to grow our grass. And when the rain doesn’t come, our grasses mature shorter and earlier. This early maturity means we have less total forage available, and what we do have is lower in nutritional value – a double whammy.

Because of these dry conditions, we’ve been grazing areas that we don’t typically use because they’re so steep they make building fence much more difficult. We’ve also been moving the flock more frequently, which is incredibly time consuming with young lambs. Up until the lambs are 3-4 weeks old, moving the flock is like herding cats (here’s a video of moving “pairs” from last year). As they get older, moving them becomes easier – so a more compressed lambing season means we’ll soon reach that point!

With lambing season behind us, we’re looking ahead to the start of our irrigation season in mid-April, and to shearing the sheep and moving back to irrigated pasture a week later. Last week’s rain has given us a bit of breathing room – we’re more confident that we won’t need to move sheep from our winter pastures earlier than planned. And with lambing completed, we can turn our attention to getting our irrigation system up and running. On to the next part of our year!

Every Lambing Season is Different

I had intended to write this a week ago, on the eve of our 2022 lambing season. I had thoughts about describing the anticipation and nervousness that seem to accompany each lambing season for me. But on Wednesday, February 16 – 142 days after we turned the rams in with the ewes, lambing season began. And what a season it’s been so far!

The average gestation for sheep is 150 days, although this can range from 145 days to 155 days in my experience. We usually see a gradual increase in the lambs born each day for the first three weeks of lambing; 75-80 percent of our ewes give birth in the first four weeks of lambing (between the third week of February and the third week of March). This pattern has become so predictable that we usually schedule our annual pasture lambing school for the first Saturday of March – a time when we know we’ll have plenty of new lambs for our students to learn from.

As we usually do before lambing begins, my partner Roger Ingram and I made a small wager (the winner gets a beer) over how many ewes would give birth by February 25, and how many lambs we’d have on the ground. I said we’d have 10 ewes and 17 lambs (which seemed overly optimistic – a 170 percent lamb crop is better than we’ve ever done). Roger said 11 ewes and 18 lambs.

mother sheep and lambs

As I write this, on February 23, two days before our wager ends, we’ve had 34 ewes give birth to 59 live lambs! We’ve never experienced a lambing season like this! We made a few changes on the margins of our operation in the last year – we’ve changed the way we supplement protein for the ewes during the summer; we’ve slightly increased the amount of feed the ewes get prior to breeding. We kept the rams at our home place all spring and summer for the first time, ensuring that their nutritional intake was optimized. Whatever the cause, we’re excited by this first week!

There are several advantages to getting more lambs on the ground earlier in the year – and all at once. Since this is our most labor-intense time of year, concentrating our work shortens the timeframe when we need to check the flock three times a day. More lambs in February means bigger lambs in June, when we wean and sell them – and more size uniformity, too.

lambs laying in the grass

Despite these positives, we remain concerned about the dry conditions we’ve experienced since early January. Since the first of the year, we’ve measured less than three-quarters of an inch of rain. The lack of moisture is exacerbated by the trees and shrubs that are coming out of dormancy – they are drawing more water out of the soil. As a consequence, our grass growth has slowed significantly – so much so that we’re concerned about having enough grass to make it to irrigation season (which starts April 15). Our lack of grass means we’re moving sheep more frequently – and to more difficult-to-reach pastures – which is much more difficult now that many of the ewes have lambs at their sides.

That said, lambing season remains my favorite time of our sheep year. Every morning brings new life; every evening, I watch the lambs chase each other through the pasture. Nothing says springtime is coming like a bunch of lambs bouncing through the green grass!

Yolo Arts Visits Rominger Brothers Farms

The Yolo Arts “Ag and Art Program” makes opportunities for local artists, photographers and writers to visit farms in Yolo County.  They recently held a couple of visits to Rominger Brothers Farms in Winters and almost 100 people attended during the two days that were available to visit the farm.

woman painting on an easel at a farm

They were hosted by Rick and Bruce Rominger who made their farm available to the Yolo County Art Community.  Their sprawling property along the base of the coast range has been in the family for five generations.  Bruce and Rick are committed to continue their late father, Richard Rominger, legacy by continuing to use agricultural practices that enhance and protect the environment.

two people walking along a dirt road on farmland

More information on Yolo Arts can be found on their Facebook page or website.

The Sacramento History Museum: A Hidden Historic Gem

Having visited Old Sacramento many times during the nearly thirty years we’ve lived in the area, I was surprised to learn about a hidden historic gem tucked away in a corner of that popular destination. The Sacramento History Museum, located just 300 hundred feet west of the California Railroad Museum at 101 I Street, is a reproduction of the City Hall and Waterworks building that occupied the site until it was demolished in 1913 due to damage caused by the vibrations of the nearby trains.

The museum hosts many elementary school children on field trips as well as out-of-town visitors, but I was told relatively few locals have yet to discover this wonderful place. I’m glad I did, thanks to my husband who’s training to be a docent. While Carl attended a class, I set off on my solo exploration.

printing press exhibit at the Sacramento History Museum

As a retired novelist, I was drawn to the print shop near the entrance and gift shop, where I got to meet a docent who’s become a TikTok sensation. “Flat Howard,” as he’s known by his over two million followers, shares short videos about printing history. However, I got Howard all to myself. A wealth of knowledge, he taught me things I never knew, such as how upper and lowercase letters came to be called by those names due to placement of the letters in the typesetters’ uppercase and lowercase trays.

After tearing myself away from the print shop, I moved on to the informative agricultural display. The historic farm equipment, a reproduction of a 1928 kitchen, and a display showcasing the state’s agricultural history from “Acorn to Avocado” are impressive. What captured my attention, as a blogger for the California Rice Commission, were the many bags of rice, one of the Sacramento Valley’s important crops.

maps exhibit at the Sacramento History Museum

More interesting displays awaited me on the museum’s top floor. First to greet me were the historic maps offering evidence of an ever-expanding knowledge of the area. One of the early maps, circa 1650, shows California as an island!

From there, I perused the California in Print exhibit, which features a sampling of the expansive Eleanor McClatchy collection. Like her grandfather before her who served as editor of the Sacramento Bee from 1857 until 1883, Eleanor held the position from 1936 to 1978. Her extensive book collection includes many first editions, dime novels, and more, including a Gutenberg Bible, the first book ever printed. I stood in awe before the case containing a page of that groundbreaking piece of literary history.

historical objects exhibit at the Sacramento History Museum

I spent the rest of my time touring the other displays that highlight gold rush history and more. There’s so much to see including a governor’s elegant carriage, a unique time capsule in the form of a young girl’s trunk, and a favorite of the schoolchildren who visit—a huge grasshopper from the Panama Canal. I’d love to tell you more, but what would be even better is to visit this magnificent museum yourself. It’s well worth the cost of admission.

Birds, Bats and Beauty – The Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area is a must see!

It happens every time. Ten minutes into my trek to Sacramento, I smile. That’s when I hit the causeway, the elevated stretch of concrete that links Davis, where I live, to our state’s capitol city. This is the location of the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. I’ve driven this route thousands of times, but the beauty, birds and bounty of the bypass always surprise me. “I’ve got spend more time exploring this special spot,” I whisper to myself as I whiz by. You should too. Here’s why.

hand holding a brown bat

Wildlife

Birds (nearly 200 different species), beavers, muskrats, river otters, turtles, toads, snakes and plants call this wetland area home. Also, bats! You’ll only find those in the summer when Mexican free-tailed bats arrive in droves (to the tune of a quarter of a million!) and use the warmth of that causeway concrete as a space to stay and have their babies. One of the largest bat colonies in the state, the fly into the sly nightly at dusk, and it’s a sight to see.

person watching flock of birds at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area

A Step Back in Time

Located in the historic Yolo Basin floodplain and along the Pacific Flyway, this was once an 80,000-acre wetland marsh teeming with the herds of tule elk! Today, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area is managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The area serves several purposes. Flood control is paramount, as during heavy storms and high-water events water from the Sacramento River system is released into the bypass to protect Sacramento and neighboring cities from flooding. The area is also managed for wildlife and habitat preservation and for recreational and education uses. 

birds taking flight at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area

It’s Free!

The Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area is open from sunrise to sunset, every day, except December 25, and in times of flooding. There is no fee to visit, and you can do so from the comfort of your vehicle as you drive along the region’s gravel paths. There are parking areas and walking trails for those who want to explore on foot. Monthly tours, given by the Yolo Basin Foundation, are an excellent way to get a more in-depth understanding of the flora and fauna of this region.

It’s Close!

Just west of the city of Sacramento and within earshot of Highway 80, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area exists in the shadow of its urban neighbor. You don’t have to go far to discover nature at its finest in the Sacramento Valley. 

A Noble Cause

I took a drive up the hill to Paradise to see how my friends, Jim and Laurie Noble of Noble Orchards were doing.  It was no surprise to find them doing what they do best, “Selling Apples”.

Noble Orchard entrance sign

So far, they have survived the horrific Camp Fire of 2018, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history that set the Paradise area back on its heels. Now COVID restrictions have impact the way they operate.  At their operation, all buildings were destroyed, but the orchard, 1941 Jeep, and a Ford Tractor survived, along with Jim and Laurie’s determination to continue the operation.   

But no way was the Camp Fire going to knock them and other businesses in the area out.  Currently they are operating a roadside stand at their farm featuring their apples and also navel oranges, Meyer lemons, ruby red grapefruit from their Oroville friends who produce sweet, delicious fruits.  At certain times of the year you can also find them at the Saturday Chico Farmers’ Market. 

 

clean up after Camp Fire

As I drove through Paradise after visiting with them, the signs of recovery are all around.  Though there are also still reminders of the deadly fire throughout the area.

I would recommend if you are available to take a ride to the Paradise area, to do so.  You will see a shining example of the resilience as the community continues its comeback.  Don’t forget to stop by 7050 Penz Road to pick up some apples and other produce.  More information on available produce, hours, and the farm are on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/NobleOrchards.