Farm Apprenticeship Week 1

Woah, an entire week of the UC Santa Cruz Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture has already come and gone! It was a full week of meeting new people (40 apprentices plus the staff!), learning all of their names, getting used to group meals three times a day, enduring the cold of my tent cabin, and enjoying the beautiful view. Since last week was the first week and here in Santa Cruz we had rainy skies and saturated soils almost every day, we spent a lot of time inside the Village A3 building meeting everyone, learning about the program and policies, and getting trained on food safety and how to avoid ticks, mosquitos, bee stings, and black widow bites. Oh my!

One of the many perks of living on a farm--abundant flowers to decorate your tent cabin!

Early in the week, we prepared our spade and fork. They come with a plasticky shellac on the wood, which we removed and sanded down so that we could apply linseed oil instead. This should make the wood last longer than the shellac would have. We also sharpened our spades. Some of us also used a wood burner to carve into our handles to make them identifiable and unique.

Fortunately, they didn't keep us indoors the whole week! Half of the group spent some time in the Farm Garden (the hand cultivated garden at the main farm), and the rest of us spent some mornings up in the magical Chadwick Garden, where the first UCSC student garden began fifty years ago. Up at the Chadwick Garden--or the Up Garden as its called by people who apprentice, intern, and work here--I planted cabbage seeds in the greenhouse, learned from Orin Martin about the parts and yearly growth cycles of fruit trees, heard some history of the Chadwick Garden, and learned a little about cover crops. You can read about the history of this garden and the apprenticeship program on the CASFS website here.

A small glimpse of the Chadwick Garden, with the chalet in the distance where we eat lunch when we're working up there, as well as experience stories and educational talks with Orin Martin and other Chadwick Garden staff

One afternoon, we also spent some time with Rick Flores and Julisa Lopez learning about the Amah Mutsun Relearning Program at the Arboretum, traditional ecological knowledge, and the California landscape management and care provided by indigenous people for thousands of years before European contact. Learn more at the Arboretum website here.

Friday was Compost Friday, which meant we spent all day focused on the wonderful world of compost, microbes, macro-organisms, carbon and nitrogen ratios, and more. We had readings due that morning (some of which are available online here), spent time with Christof Bernau in A3 learning about compost, and then watched a pile-building demo in "compost row" in the Farm Garden. After lunch, we split into the two garden groups and built our own piles. My group's pile was a "vegan" pile, meaning it had no animal manure in it. It consisted of some straw, lots of "greens" or recently chopped cover crop, coffee grounds and filters, and soil. We used machetes and spades to chop up the cover crop into smaller pieces to increase surface area and thus decomposition rate, so we named the pile Caffeinated Chopped Salad. It was quite an accomplishment!

I really appreciate that we had multiple opportunities to learn the key concepts and details through the readings, lecture, demo, and hands-on opportunity to build our own pile. We will continue to learn about compost throughout the program, and this morning we actually measured the temperature in the piles and uncovered some of them to take a peek. We also spent some time today removing cover crop from underneath some fruit trees and then transplanted peppers, leeks, flowers, and more for the annual Farm & Garden Spring Plant Sale coming up the weekend of April 29-30. If you're local, you should come by to say hi and buy some plants for your garden!

If you come by, you might just see one of the very friendly farm cats, too! Here are two of them. There's also a black one named Millet and two up at Chadwick named Buster and Posey.

 Spencer AKA Beans AKA Frijoles

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Green Gal


  1. What a wonderful recap of what sounds like an amazing week! I have been thinking about you and hoping you've been able to adapt to the tent cabin and to getting a good night's sleep. Sounds like you're doing just fine, though it's been chilly. As summer comes along, the temps should rise a bit. The picture of your team and the compost pile is great! Love the cats, too! See you soon!

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  3. The picture of your team and the compost pile is great! Love the cats, too! See you soon

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