News From the Farm | September 27, 2021

It definitely seemed a little quieter in “downtown Full Belly Farm” this past week. But the slightly lower level of hustle and bustle compared to a month or so ago was deceptive. Plenty of work was still being done, just different work.

Some folks were clearing out summer fields (collecting tomato stakes and winding up drip tape) and others helped out the regular kitchen crew cooking winter squash and making our 2021 batch of hot sauce! The major focus of the week was getting transplants and seeds in the ground. Andrew and others zipped around on tractors with seeders or transplanters on the back. Putting seeds in the ground is a solo act but transplanting (this week, mostly cabbage and lettuce) requires a team of folks to help. Once the tractor work is done, the plants need some help to get going. The irrigators come in next. The transplants need water to keep from drying out and seeds won’t germinate without it; most of our fall and winter crops are irrigated with sprinklers, which can cover 6 rows at a time and then are moved to the next set of rows.

Then there’s weeding, which is where most people were last week when they’d finished harvesting for the day. The term “weed” is subjective. There are some plants, like purslane, that is considered a weed by some and a nutrient-dense green to seek out to others. Plants from a prior crop that come up (i.e. last year’s sunflowers in a cucumber field) are technically also weeds. And there are some species, like Johnsongrass and bindweed which are universally reviled. We don’t want weeds because they compete with our plants for nutrients and if left unchecked, they’ll make harvesting a slow and tedious process. We want to remove them before they cause problems for this year’s crop and before they go to flower and produce seed to cause issues in future years. We remove them three main ways:

  1. Before the plants go in: by pre-irrigating, meaning watering the beds to germinate weed seeds, then going through with a tractor to remove the young weeds and then planting the desired crop
  2. Mechanical weeding: using a tractor to weed. Unlike in a garden, or with your hands, this doesn’t mean complete removal, roots and all. Instead you’re smothering the weed with dirt or cutting at the surface to kill it
  3. Hand weeding: removing weeds with hoes or hands (depending on the crop). It’s not easy work but it’s the only way to get weeds from between the plants in a row, when plants are too delicate or sprawling, to use a tractor, or for certain weed species

There are other ways that we deal with weeds, like mulching (for example plastic mulch like on the strawberries), flame weeding (on carrots) and using drip tape to reduce the area that gets that precious water. Cold winter temperatures will eventually kill off summer weed species (and will bring return of the winter weeds), but until then we need to help the plants out using a combination of methods. Regardless of the method, it means lots of work! There’s always weeding to be done, but at certain times of the year, other tasks take priority. As crops and seasons shift, we find ourselves with the time, and need, to prioritize weeding. A big thanks to our many weeders this past week! We’ll see the results of their hard work over many months to come.

Elaine Swiedler, CSA Manager

News From the Farm | September 20, 2021

The last line of peaches, Autumn Flames — small but tasty  —  

It seemed to me that all of a sudden the gentler light, a cool breeze and a bluest of blue sky were announcing a change in the season. After another remarkably hot week, the nights are cooling down. As you walk through the walnut orchard, you have to make an effort to avoid stepping on the walnuts that have fallen from the branches and if you listen for a moment you will hear more of them falling to the ground.  Fig leaves are piling up in my garden and soon the peaches will be showing some fall color.  Persimmons and pomegranates are starting to look pretty ripe.  The heat of the sun doesn’t seem quite as intense.   [Read more…]

News From the Farm | September 13, 2021

Andrew recently declared September to be the April of the fall. He meant that like April, this month is a crucial time to prepare for the next season. In April, we’re always busy getting ready for the summer. Right now, seeds must be sown, transplants put in the ground, and new plants watered and weeded in order for us to have crops in the fall and winter. All of these are key tasks over the next few weeks while we also continue to harvest our late summer produce. But this week had had accents of April even in the hot (106 on Tuesday and Wednesday) and dusty weariness of September. Why? [Read more…]

News From the Farm | September 6, 2021

We’ve reached that time of the summer: Almost everything and everyone is pretty hot, tired, dusty, and ready for the end of summer, but we aren’t there yet. September is a very busy month that bridges summer and fall. We continue summer harvesting activities and get prepared for the cooler months by clearing old fields and planting new crops. Members of our summer crew who are students have headed back to the classroom, so our workforce has shrunk while the workload still is high. We had a bit of a reprieve from the heat and smoke last week, with blue skies and maximum temperatures in the upper 80s, and days are getting shorter and nights a little cooler, but it’s just a tease of what’s to come; we’re back in the 100s this week and have more summer ahead. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 30, 2021

At some point, every CSA member will open their box to find something that’s not what they were expecting. Perhaps they’ve never seen or eaten a kohlrabi, Paloma eggplant, or persimmon. Or it could be because the size or shape of the produce is not what they’re used to seeing.

Produce in a CSA box can be larger, smaller, or differently shaped because CSAs are not governed by all of the strict rules and expectations of the wholesale produce world about size and appearance. It makes sense for the industry to have a set of norms and accompanying vocabulary to help farmers, wholesalers, and customers communicate what we (the farms) have and make sure that buyers are getting what they expect. Some of that language describes size or appearance and you’ve probably seen some of this: Size A, Extra Fancy, No 1, etc. Most produce also has an expected pack size, usually a combination of weight and count that is expected in each box. There is a recognition of variation, but each order is expected to be fairly uniform and having to follow certain grades and pack sizes leaves out a lot of what we, and other farms, produce. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 23, 2021

Recently transplanted broccoli for the fall, grown in soil like we’ve always done  —  

We wear many different hats here at the farm. Each partner tries to embody their ideal and spirit of being activist farmers on top of our day-to-day work. There is an underlying sensibility that comes from the simple act of growing food and making a farm into a living, breathing, productive whole. We have been active in the Organic Food movement for over 40 years as our effort to solve for a pattern of health: in rural communities, in order to eliminate toxic pesticides from farms, in order to make safer workplaces for farmers and farm workers, and in order to supply better, safer food for those consuming what we produce. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 16, 2021

   

The 11 scarecrows of Full Belly are working hard to scare away birds from our table grapes.  —  

Sometimes at the farmers market people ask if our tomatoes are dry farmed.  No, they aren’t.  Dry farming is a method of growing crops so that they develop deep roots that can access subsurface water instead of relying on irrigation. This summer, temperatures well over 100º have been fairly common and nighttime temperatures have lingered on the hot side as well.  Sometimes when it feels like an oven outside,  I imagine that the plants are basically baking out in the field, a situation not conducive to dry farming techniques. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 9, 2021

How to eat a Full Belly Watermelon  —  

Grateful Harvest Gala  —  

The fall at Full Belly Farm for more than 30 seasons has been a time when more of our attention reaches outward, as planning for various events, including our Hoes Down Harvest Festival, reaches a crescendo.  We have cancelled the Hoes Down for the last two years because hosting thousands of people at the farm during the pandemic seemed like a bad idea.  Nevertheless, the work of the Ecological Farming Association one of the beneficiaries of the Hoes Down Harvest Festival, continued.  EcoFarm, as it says on their home page, “nurtures just and ecologically sustainable farms and food systems through education, alliance building, celebration and advocacy.” [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 2, 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As always, too many options for News from the Farm for this week. Here’re just a few things to note from the past week: [Read more…]

News From the Farm | July 26, 2021

Last week was a big one for harvesting eggplants and melons, just like the week before. It’s been a great year so far for both, in terms of yield and taste, especially the melons, and you’ve probably tasted. If you missed it, here’s the scoop on how we harvest both. And it was a big week for the flower crew too, but it’s always a big week for the flower crew. The everyone in the field is almost exclusively focused on harvesting crops, with some weeding and tractor work mixed in, and the irrigation team has plenty to do, setting up and maintaining drip tape, and moving sprinklers. The winter squash are up and some are starting to set fruit. Before we know it, well be focusing on getting other fall crops in the ground, whether by direct seed or transplant, but we arent to that point yet.

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | July 19, 2021

The news from the farm from the past week is: eggplants and melons. And more eggplant and more melons. While our tomatoes are growing frustratingly slowly (we hope to have them in the boxes soon) these two crops are thriving right now and thus are worth diving into, accompanied by some photos of our crew at work.

Eggplant:

How do you harvest eggplants? With clippers, and ideally with long sleeves and gloves too since they can have thorns. Each picker has a 5-gallon bucket that they fill up and empty into the macro bins on the back of the tractor, separated by type. Right now, the eggplant plants are small enough for our tall harvest tractor to drive over them, but soon enough, they’ll be too tall to fit under, eventually growing up to four feet. Soon, the tractor will move over to one of the rows of basil we intercrop between every few eggplant rows. The rows of basil leave plenty of clearance for the tractor and attract pollinators because we leave sections to go to flower.

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | July 12, 2021

We are having some very hot days here at the farm, an experience that we share with other inland Californians. The heat is bringing on the produce. Trucks and trailers full of melons, eggplants, peppers, beans and other delicious summer treats are driving along the farm’s dirt roads, from the fields and to the packing shed, in a parade that reaches a crescendo at the end of the day as the harvest is completed. It is ‘all hands on deck’ in the packing shed then, when several dozen people finish the last packaging, put produce in the coolers and load trucks.  Each day is incredibly detail laden, full of troubleshooting, decision making and continuous attempts to balance multiple needs.

          

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | July 5, 2021

We keep reaching various milestones that make me think “well now it’s officially summer.” The first sungold cherry tomato, the first slice of watermelon, the first okra, the list goes on and on. In addition to all the great produce, summer for us means there’s even more to do. More to water, sell, harvest, sort, wash, pack, load, transport, and deliver. And we still need to plant and maintain fall crops so that we’ll have things to harvest when the summer crops (eventually) wind down.

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | June 28, 2021

There’s a farmer who specializes in Asian vegetables and sells at the Berkeley Farmers Market. Since Full Belly has no greens at this time of year I brought home a large bunch of his Water Spinach, a steaming green that has thin long leaves and hollow tender stems.  I had never cooked it before so I was following my own maxim, something I find myself saying quite often when I’m behind the Full Belly market stand, “Every time you try something new, you live a day longer!”

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | June 21, 2021

News from the farm this week is that it’s been scorching hot! The summer’s first big heat wave sent us scrambling to keep our summer crops happy. Our irrigation crew has pulled miles of drip tape out to quench those thirsty plants that have grown with only a few overhead irrigations. We are working hard to dig the spring’s last potatoes and get them into our coolers. Sheep graze cabbage fields ensuring that no more will be put into your weekly boxes! We are trying to get all our weeding and cultivating done before our impending summer crop harvest of tomatoes, melons, peppers, and more, consumes every last set of able hands on the farm.

   

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | June 14, 2021

Interview of a Farm Kid  —  

When I was asked to write this week’s Beet article, I thought it would be fun and fresh to hear about the farm from a 3-foot perspective. So I interviewed my oldest son who is one of the six grandchildren that were born and raised at Full Belly Farm. Waylon Rain Muller will turn 5 in September, and aside from a handful of hours spent at the local preschool every week, he spends his days being a farm kid. “What’s a farm kid?” you might ask. Well, the job description varies depending on the day and the season, but here’s a sample of a day in the life of Waylon. He didn’t ask for this life, but so far he loves it and sure lives it to its fullest… [Read more…]

News From the Farm | June 7, 2021

This past week was an important one for Full Belly Farm garlic. You’ve been receiving garlic in your boxes since February and have gotten to see its growth and evolution from thin stalks of green garlic that look almost like leeks, to the dried bulbs in the boxes last week that look like “normal” garlic. Our garlic has finally reached the point when it is mature and is ready to be harvested and dried!

So there was a lot of activity happening up in the garlic field last week. I made a few trips up to the field and sat down with Andrew to get some details.

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | May 31, 2021

This crew is weeding flowers – they’ve got long sleeves and pants for sun protection and water containers close at hand.

Have you seen the weather forecast for Guinda this week? At the time of writing this (Sunday) the National Weather Service is forecasting 107 Monday, 102 on Tuesday and then “cooling down” after that to 99, 96, and a cool 95 on Friday. Last week we were in the high 80s, so this is quite the jump. 
 
What does this kind of heat mean for us?
 
First – as always, we follow California laws. The US Department of Labor does not set heat laws for agriculture or any other industry. Absent Federal leadership, several states have created laws addressing heat. California passed the nations most stringent heat laws in 2005 after four farmworkers died from heat exposure. California farms must (1) allow time for workers to acclimate to high temperatures (2) provide at least one quart of cool water per hour per worker (3) provide rest and shade whenever temperatures exceed 80°F with mandatory breaks every 2 hours when temperatures exceed 95°F and (4) respond promptly to symptoms of possible heat illness and take immediate action to protect workers, including obtaining emergency medical care. The California regulations also require heat training for all workers and the farm must prepare a Heat Illness Prevention Plan. At Full Belly all supervisors have insulated water dispensers and disposable cups on their trucks and each employee is offered a half gallon personal insulated water container and a reusable water bottle.

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | May 24, 2021

It’s really exciting to be able to include some spring fruit in your boxes this week! Who doesn’t like fruit?

There’s a fair amount of work that has to happen before we get to harvesting the fruit, as with most of our crops. Strawberry transplants go in the ground in the beginning of September and then must be weeded and tended until they start bearing a crop the next spring. So they take up valuable real estate in the field long before they start paying “rent”. Strawberry plants bear fruit for multiple years but their productivity drops dramatically after the first year, so for us, they’re a one year crop. Note: strawberry jam is back and is available on the web store! [Read more…]

News From the Farm | May 17, 2021

Last week I picked up a phone call from the post office letting us know that we had a special package to pick up. This was a little more exciting than the average box of seeds or office supplies – it was a shipment of baby chickens! Sending chicks through the mail is nothing new, it’s been standard for over 100 years, but I always find it a little mind-boggling that you can get chicks in the mail just like you do a pair of shoes.

[Read more…]