The Wine Country Online

An Interview with Steve Munroe

Dry Creek Peach and Produce
Steve and Johana Munroe
2179 Yoakim Bridge Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Note: This article was written in 1999. Dry Creek Peach and Produce continues in operation by a new owner.

     There are a dozen brown eggs in a many-times used paper carton waiting for us in the produce barn. Janette and I have an egg account, and when there are eggs a-plenty, Steve or Johana gives us a call to come out and pick them up at the farm. They keep a tally of how many dozen we get and when the mood strikes, they let us know what we owe. It's a nice arrangement!

     We also have one other nice arrangement with Steve and Johana. There happens to be an old olive tree on the farm. It is down by the tractor shed, and they let us pick the fruit each winter to cure for the summer's picnics.

     This fine day in October reveals that this winter we will have to look elsewhere for our olives because even though we are still eating last year's olives, the tree is nearly devoid of fruit. It's the habit of olive trees to produce well in alternate years, so this lean crop is not unexpected.

Photos: Munroe family album
     As the winter comes on, the farmer turns to the work of putting the gardens and orchards to bed for their seasonal rest. Steve took a little time to chat with me about the work of growing stonefruit in Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley.
"The leaves are falling and it looks like you are mowing the groundcover under the fruit trees. Where are you now in the process of raising your peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries and apricots?"
"I'm mowing one last time for the season in preparation for all the traffic the orchard gets as we look to winter composting and pruning. I prefer a no till management of the groundcover for a number of reasons. One of the main reasons is to have a good firm turf for winter access to our trees with the tractor."
Jack:"In spring your orchard is beautiful with the trees freshly green and a few wildflowers between the rows. What do you plant to keep it lush and healthy?"
Steve:"Well, I look at our ground cover as an evolving thing. It has been planted mainly with fescue grasses and some wildflowers, yarrow and poppies, plus some clover. The goal for the orchard is to encourage the harmony of a full range, a balance, of organic content in the soil, all the beneficial minerals and organisms."
Jack:"What about composting and feeding the orchard?"
Steve:"Yes, that's all part of it. We spread three or four inches of organic mulch between the trees with a dusting of oyster shell flour on top. This method is called cold sheet composting and the winter rains pass through this layer to slowly release nutrients to the soil. The goal is to reproduce the layered effect of a natural forest floor with each year's accumulation of organic materials building up one atop the other."
Jack:"Kind of like depositing money in the bank?"
Steve:"Yes, this year's deposit really pays off if left relatively undisturbed to become a home years down the line to all the living organisms. They do the actual work of breaking these materials down so the trees can use the nutrients released by the whole process."
Jack:"The other work of fall and winter is pruning. What are your thoughts on this important aspect of your relationship with the trees?"
Steve:(Laughing:) "How much time do you have?"
"Pruning begins after leaf fall, about mid-November here. We use an open vase method to produce an inverted pyramid shape with open centers. Pruning is basically all about directing vigor of growth and shaping the trees for sun exposure plus ease of harvest."
Jack:"Steve, thank you for sharing this time and this little window into what is happening on the farm while we wait for the next peach season!"

Dry Creek Peach and Produce Seasonal List:
June-SeptemberPeaches and Nectarines
July-SeptemberWalla Walla Onions

Where to Find These Fine Products:
At Dry Creek Farm:Peaches by the box are available to be picked up at the farm if you call and order ahead:
Farmers' Markets:
   HealdsburgTuesdays, 4:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Saturdays, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon
Santa RosaWednesdays, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon
Saturdays, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon
SebastopolSundays, 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Commercial Wholesale Accounts:
Food for Thought in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Petaluma
Oakville Grocery in Healdsburg
Pacific Market in Santa Rosa
Fiesta Market in Sebastopol
Oliver's Market in Cotati
In Local Restaurants and Bakeries:
HealdsburgAcre, Bistro Ralph, Ravenous, Zin, and Downtown Bakery & Creamery
Santa RosaJohn Ash at the Vintner's Inn