The weather may keep toying with us but there's plenty of evidence at our farms that fall is indeed in full swing, despite late rains last spring. Winter squash starts in late summer and tomatoes and peppers last well into fall, but certain crops -- persimmons, for example, and chestnuts -- have a precise and brief season.
"The chestnuts were a little late this year," says Jim McCrumb of Sonoma Coast Organic Produce, explaining that the burs -- those nearly-impossible-to-crack cupules, each of which can hold up to seven chestnuts that protect the nuts from squirrels and other critters -- need rain to pop open.
McCrumb and his partner Dave Passmore show up with their harvest of chestnuts sometime in October; this year, they came for the first time on the last weekend of the month. You'll find them through Thanksgiving, unless enough chestnuts remain after the holiday, in which case they'll be around for a few more weeks.
The chestnuts are sorted and priced by size; smaller ones are, obviously, more work and cost less than the larger, meatier nuts.
McCrumb and Passmore have been farming on Creighton Ridge, about 10 miles northwest of Cazadero, for 34 years. Retired now from forestry work, they farm chestnuts, Concord grapes and three types of figs, and gather the golden chanterelles that they'll bring to the market sometime in November. Currently, they have just chestnuts and quince, but figs will be ready any time, provided the rain doesn't split them open, as will grapes and the chanterelles.
McCrumb does some general maintenance and they also raise lambs and sell them directly from the farm. Their 18 ewes produced just 15 lambs this year, only six of which survived.
"We have two llamas,"
McCrumb explains, "but they are not as good at protecting the sheep from mountain lions and coyotes as Piper was." Piper, also a llama, passed away a while ago.
They keep the female lambs and sell the males. They are sold out for the year.
McCrumb and Passmore are popular with both customers and vendors at the two farmers markets they attend. They are quite colorful in their own way, looking as much like roadies for, say, ZZ Top, as farmers. They have a charming, rustic warmth that is evident the moment you engage them in conversation. If there is something you don't understand about chestnuts, don't just walk away -- ask!