Farming the Patchwork

Farming the Patchwork

Have you ever looked at a patchwork quilt? The shapes are all different, and they’re pulled together over time to create something new. Frog Hollow Farm is a little bit like a patchwork quilt. There are peaches in one orchard, nectarines in another, and apricots, cherries, pluots and more spread across nearly 280 acres. 

Many farmers plant one crop. But Farmer Al has never been your typical farmer. His goal for Frog Hollow Farm has always been to build a community, provide farmworker housing, and to harvest sweet, delicious fruit year-round. To make all these puzzle pieces fit together, Farmer Al had to farm like he was sewing a patchwork quilt – a little at a time, and with many different shapes and textures. There are many benefits to this approach, and there are also many challenges. 

Lucky 13

Farmer Al started farming in Brentwood in 1976 on 13 acres of land. He planted 5 acres of peaches (17 different varieties!), and he also planted row crops, like corn and cabbage. The following year, he planted Cal Red peaches. After a few years, he built a simple packing shed and moved a trailer to the farm so he could live there. Then he heard about land for sale at an adjacent farm, so he bought 10 acres. A few years later, he bought 10 more acres. And then 20 more. He kept adding acreage, and while he knew he had to plant more Cal Red peaches (demand was through the roof), he continued to diversify his stone fruit orchards to include varieties that ripen throughout the spring and summer. Then he planted fruit that he harvested in the fall, like Warren pears and pomegranates. 

His patchwork quilt is always growing – Frog Hollow Farm harvests luscious varieties that ripen through the year that we sell online, through our CSA program, and in groceries stores. And Farmer Al can keep our valued farmworker community working from January to December, with workers living nearby.  

Beneficial insects love a patchwork

Frog Hollow Farm is a patchwork in every sense of the word! We have different types of fruit trees planted next to each other, instead of in large consecutive blocks. For example, peaches are planted next to pluots, which are planted next to nectarines, which are planted next to cherries, which are planted next to pears and so on. Diversifying the orchard in this way provides excellent biodiversity benefits. 

  • When farmers grow only one crop (called a monoculture), they have to control pests using one kind of remedy, whether it’s organic or synthetic. They wipe out the target pest, but they also wipe out all the beneficial insects (ladybugs, lacewings, praying mantises and a host of others). It takes time for those beneficial insects to come back. 
  • Farmers who grow crops in a patchwork attract a diversity of beneficial insects. Every type of fruit tree needs a different pest remedy at a different time, so the farmer knocks out the pest in one area. Some beneficial insects are swept up in the remedy. But there are many other acres nearby where they are thriving. Beneficial insects are constantly moving and thriving in a patchwork, Farmer Al says.

Focus on logistics

This approach to farming requires extreme organization and planning, Farmer Al says. 

“Everything – whether it’s peaches, nectarines, or something else – has its own set of needs,” he says. “Everything requires a different management approach.”

For example, crews use a different pest remedy on peaches than they do on nectarines. Irrigation schedules may be different for one variety than another. And harvesting happens at different times throughout the year.

Which is exactly what Farmer Al wanted to do when he started pulling his orchards together decades ago – year-round harvests and fruit to enjoy. It’s a patchwork quilt that is diverse, delicious, and sustainable. 

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