News from the Farm | May 16, 2022

It’s time for a tomato update!

Stakes have gone up in the first tomato field that we transplanted and the plants have been tied. They aren’t directly attached to the stakes; the plants are sandwiched between two strands of twine woven between the stakes. The tomatoes can grow up to a foot a week and the vines need support, so over the next month we’ll be going through about once a week to add additional levels of twine every 12-15 inches. We don’t stake the determinante tomatoes (these are bush-like varieties that stay short, like paste/canning tomatoes) but all indeterminate tomatoes (cherries, heirlooms, etc.) that continue to grow get this treatment.

Last summer was not a good tomato year for us. Here’s a longer explanation, but the short version is that a combination of viruses and a fungi (fusarium wilt) greatly impacted what usually is one of our biggest crops, which is not ideal from a business perspective or for any of us who enjoy eating tomatoes. Fusarium always exists in the soil and different varieties impact different crops; Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. lycopersici harms tomatoes while Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense is what’s threatening the Cavendish banana. If you want to learn more about fusarium, there are many resources out there, but you can start with this one or this one. No one is exactly clear what combination of factors made last year so bad, but it impacted us and other farms in the area.

We don’t want a repeat of last year, so this is what we’re doing as a response:

First, crop rotation, which is one recommendation for dealing with fusarium. Crop rotation is standard for us, but this year we took it to the extreme; all of our tomatoes are on ground where we haven’t grown tomatoes for at least 10 years. Despite this, we’re already seeing plants infected with fusarium, specifically the open-pollinated heirlooms. It’s disappointing and distressing, and we’ve been removing infected plants. However, this “super rotation” did come with some unexpected benefits: the first tomatoes are always planted in Rumsey where it’s usually slightly warmer than Guinda but in the recent frosts, it actually got colder in Rumsey! There are no tomatoes in Rumsey this year, so we avoided that damage.

The main method to manage fusarium’s impact is to grow resistant varieties. There are many hybrids (cherry tomatoes, red slicers, and more) that have resistance to the “race” of fusarium that we’re dealing with and these plants currently appear to be doing well.

And, we’re growing about an acre of grafted tomatoes! We purchased most from a nursery but Andrew, Chica, and Theresa grafted some here (in late March)! The grafted tomatoes combine the top part of an open-pollinated heirloom (the scion) and the bottom part of a hybrid tomato that has fusarium resistance (the rootstock). Both are cut at a deep angle, held together with a grafting clip, then put in a warm, humid environment to heal before moving to the greenhouse and then being transplanted in the field. You’ll never know the difference between eating a tomato from a grafted versus non-grafted plant; the fruit has the characteristics of the scion and doesn’t take on the characteristics of the rootstock, just like all the grafted nut and fruit trees in our area. Why not plant all grafted plants for our open-pollinated varieties? Grafted transplants are expensive (buying a grafted transplant from a nursery costs $1.40 each compared to $0.05 each) and are difficult to do on your own, and they’re more work to get into the field. They needed to be transplanted by hand so that the planting depth is shallow enough that the scion doesn’t make contact with the soil.

The tomato plants have some flowers but we’re still a ways off from harvesting fruit. And we’ve still got more tomatoes to transplant. Stay tuned for future updates!

– Elaine Swiedler, CSA Manager

News from the Farm | May 9, 2022

Hi Full Belly Family,

My name is Alexa and I’m a part of the current crop of interns at the farm. I am writing to you on a week that feels oddly ceremonious for me; one year ago, I laced up my boots, put on a new pair of Carhartt pants, and started my first official farm internship at a small organic farm outside of D.C. After 5 years spent working in the healthcare and software industry in Chicago, I had decided I wanted something different for myself. While the decision about what exactly I wanted didn’t come quick or easy, you could say that peppers are the reason I decided to take a leap of faith to leave one life and start another. Let me explain…

[Read more…]

News from the Farm | May 2, 2022

This past week our sheep got their annual shearing. Midday on Thursday I headed up to the sheep barn to survey the scene. Rye graciously answered my (many) questions while ably shearing our flock and I’m condensing and passing along that information here. [Read more…]

News from the Farm | April 25, 2022

The old saying goes “April showers brings May flowers.” We did get some rain in April: half an inch on Saturday the 16th and then some scattered trace amounts last week, despite some very dramatic skies that suggested the potential for more. Given our Mediterranean climate, we likely won’t get more until fall and we’ll be using our irrigation system to get flowers for May, and through the summer till it rains again. But given how little we got during this year’s rainy season, we’ll take what we can get. [Read more…]

News from the Farm | April 18, 2022

This week’s Easter celebration involved Sunday brunch and farm walks, then an afternoon family dinner featuring my 97-year-old father, Joe Muller (in the picture above) and lots of stories of life in Switzerland in the 1930’s and 40’s, and of the journey to the states after the war to a life of farming in a wildly open and abundant California.

Ask him a question and the memories and stories are clearly recalled: walking cows into the Alps from his home in Altdorf, a journey of more than 20 miles made each spring when snow cleared and the grass turned verdant and lush, his first potato crop as a teenager, and great tales of the mischievous pranks that he and his brothers were well known for in their small Swiss town. [Read more…]

News from the Farm | April 11, 2022

A farmer, regardless of what they grow, wears many hats: agronomist, soil scientist, hydrologist, entomologist, pathologist, meteorologist, mechanic, salesperson, driver, regulatory specialist, and more, in addition to participating in agriculture-related advocacy and social groups. Plus being a parent, spouse, sibling, and friend, and roles in religious institutions, political groups, sports teams, and community groups, time for hobbies, and some have off-farm jobs. [Read more…]

News from the Farm | April 4, 2022

Cache Creek – photo credit Ben Lindheim

Now that it’s April, we can officially say that we didn’t have a “Miracle March” to provide the precipitation that we needed after the historically dry January and February. We got about half an inch on Monday, which is certainly better than nothing. It was refreshing and was enough to pause some of our tractor work for a few days, but by the end of the week, the farm was once again humming with the sound of tractors – transplanting, mowing, cultivating, prepping beds. [Read more…]

News from the Farm | March 28, 2022

It’s Monday morning and it’s raining! Not the “Miracle March” that we would’ve liked, but some rain is better than none. With all the dry weather, we’ve been able to get a lot of transplants in the ground. By the end of the workday on Saturday, our first field of tomatoes was planted, as well as our first summer squash! All the planting requires bed preparation, which means a flurry of tractor activities: mowing the cover crops, some tillage, adding compost, and then forming and shaping the beds to form a nice surface for seeds or transplants. [Read more…]

News from the Farm | March 22, 2022

There is no shortage of ways to tell that it’s spring on a farm, but my favorite is probably when we start harvesting asparagus. It’s delicious, here for a relatively short period of time, is the only perennial vegetable we grow, and is fascinating for more reasons than that, thus worth taking a deep dive. [Read more…]

News from the Farm | March 14, 2022

Last week we got a box in the mail with a bright green “LIVE ANIMALS” sticker on the side.

And what was inside this box? Beneficial insects to help us combat aphids! In this box, we had lacewings and Aphidius colemani, aphid predators and aphid parasites, respectively. Unfortunately, during certain times of the year, and especially on certain vegetables and flowers, aphids become a problem. We don’t want aphids on our plants at any point in time (they can damage or kill young plants, they can spread viruses between established plants, and our consumers won’t want aphids on their produce) but they’re inevitable. The best strategy for reducing damage from aphids is to grow strong, healthy, resilient plants, but even when we do this, the spring-like weather we’ve had recently is perfect for an explosion of aphids and demands further action. [Read more…]

News from the Farm | March 7, 2022

As we tucked flowers and seeds into the ground in the fall of 2019, we had no inkling of what was in store for us in 2020. We had planned and planted, as many farmers do, with wishful thoughts of selling out at Farmers Markets, growing our flower CSA, and continuing our long relationships with stores and wholesalers in California. I had close to 20 weddings lined up for 2020 that I was preparing for as well, each requiring many consultations with couples, phone calls, vision boards, and countless emails. As all of our flowers began to bloom in March, the first lockdown began. Within a week, all but two of my weddings were canceled for the year. Farmers Markets shut down then reopened with strict protocols around social distancing and rules about customers not handling produce. Stores and restaurants closed and wholesalers were nervous buyers, especially in the case of flowers. As far as they could tell, flowers were an unessential item and the likelihood that customers would buy flowers in the midst of a pandemic seemed low. [Read more…]

News from the Farm | February 28, 2022

What has been going on for the last week or so?

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News from the Farm | February 21, 2022

Farming can be difficult, in addition to awe-inspiring and rewarding. Last week was pretty tame but we still dealt with fierce north winds, equipment issues, pest pressure, COVID-19, a delivery truck with a flat tire, and internet and email issues, just to name a few things. Worry about the short-term and long-term implications of the drought and climate change are never far off. [Read more…]

News from the Farm | February 14, 2022

Oakley, Becca, Roxy, and Waylon, photobombed by a sheep

Hey there Beetniks,

It’s been quite a while since I wrote to you last. [Read more…]

News from the Farm | February 7, 2022

In addition to lambing season, and growing and harvesting what’s in the fields, this is a time of year when we’re making a lot of decisions about what to grow the rest of the year, along with ordering and receiving a lot of seeds. There are so many crops and varieties – how to choose? [Read more…]

News from the Farm | January 31, 2022

Each week has a rhythm to it, with a fair amount of repetition, but there are new and different things happening each day. Last week was no exception. Here’re a few of the highlights: [Read more…]

News from the Farm | January 24, 2022

As you’ve realized by now, we grow great carrots. Perhaps the greatest carrots. They’ve long been one of my favorite things that we grow, ever since my first Full Belly carrot in my family’s CSA box, and I eagerly await when they’re ready to harvest each year. If you’ve ever wondered the process of growing our amazing carrots, read on! [Read more…]

News from the Farm | January 17, 2022

The Capay Valley, looking southeast from just north of Rumsey

This week on the farm, talk is once again turning to planning: what varieties of tomatoes, onions, and melons to be dropped as seed in greenhouses. Green bean, corn, and potato varieties are being evaluated. Okra? Eggplant? How many pepper varieties? We begin our annual cycle once again. This week we try to hone quantities to plant, project market changes that include CSA numbers, and determine the balance between sales to wholesalers, restaurant and local stores and direct to customers.

[Read more…]

News from the Farm | January 10, 2022

And we’re back! 2021 is wrapped up and done and hopefully we’re all are rested up from our break and ready to dive in to 2022 full speed. [Read more…]

News from the Farm | December 6, 2021

LAST CSA BOX OF 2021 – We are drawing to the end of another wildly rambunctious, fecund, fertile, fruitful and vegetableful, edge of dryin’ and dying circle of winterspringsummerfall that became 2021, now fading into the dazed look of where did that year go-ish bewilderment wrought more serious by dust-coughing stretches of cloudless, rainless skies marred only by fuzzy recollections of smoky over-burden where a cough may have meant covid or suspicious glances or the clearing of a throat to finally say that this year has set a new high water mark for all of everything that could complicate and/or celebrate and/or confuse well intentioned good citizen or simple minded farmer or distinguished CSA member or general follower of our travails, who might say to us “well, wait till you hear what happened to me this year!” Phew, here is my echo of that sentiment.

Recalling a little of the past 365 or so since the last year-end wrap up was written, the Full Belly Story this year involved mountain lions venturing close in, enjoying a ewe or two; coyotes who love a lamb; skunks who are merciless when it comes to chickens and bobcats that breech best defenses.  Rock ‘n Brock two Italian Maremmano sheep-guard dogs (who have been know to even guard penguins – not ours) came to the defense.  Rockinbrock, who have little fear, work as a team, sleep with the sheep, and as new additions to our dog fleet here at the farm, provide the rest of the rather affectionate but largely useless doglot a good example of purpose and single mindedness to their task. They work for their kibble.

Rock ‘n Brock on duty

Recall last January when the unseasonably warm fall turned into an unseasonably warm winter and then to an unseasonably warm spring. We were able to farm like crazy. Soils were dry, seeds popped and prospered, and fruit and nut trees were unencumbered with the regular fungal symphony that we play in wetter springs.  Our fruit and nut trees set better than average to abundant crops.

Our four-person fruit crew pruned, snipped, thinned and then picked everything from spring peaches to fall pears. All the plantings of the many types of fruit trees and vines of the past 38 years bore sweet treats. Nut trees made best-in- show almond butters, shelled nuts or candied walnuts; figs and apricots were soft and delectable; peaches were corner of the mouth slurping-dripping good; open pomegranates revealed caches of precious jewels.

These crops were part of the legacy of a warm dry January and February when fragile blooms are vulnerable to a hostile spore hitchhiking to open flower on a drop of moisture, settling there and exploding when moisture and warmth trigger their biological clock. Little moisture (no rain) reduced the number of spore busses leaving the station for Bloomington.

While dry days reward a fruit grower with beautiful treasures, those same dry days mean that there is no break from work. When the soil is dry, tractors are running.  When warm days render the spore world dormant, they trigger in farmers all the bee like impulses and buzz-like itches to hustle.  Our farmer sap starts to run. We planted up. There was little time to breathe deep. This farm, like an insistent child or lover, continually tugged at our collective sleeve for attention.

Moon setting over the western Capay Valley hills

This year has seemed particularly intense. We are generally exhausted here as this last Beet is written. We started our running earlier this past January and it was briefly slowed by rain in November.  I have never, in my many years of farming, seen soil so dry in February. Our hay and grain crops withered unless we had the ability to irrigate them, thus more than 1/5th of our fields produced no crops.

All plantings this year required that we soak the soil with a deep irrigation prior to adding seed.  We started the year in moisture deficit and didn’t recover until the wonderful rain in November.  In response, our crew changed many miles of pipes, and unrolled miles of drip tape only to retrieve it again in the fall.  We tried many ideas like covering soils with mulches to slow evaporation.  We scrambled for water, watching Cache creek run low and then dry for some of the fields we were farming. Uncertainty was met with adaption.

That being said, our little farm enterprise produced wild abundance. Full Belly farms about 500 acres in total. Not all this land grows flowers, vegetables or fruit. The system is curated by a team of nearly 100, that grows soil, harvests sunlight, stewards livestock, and inadvertently feeds an occasional mountain lion, deer, skunk, possum, bobcat or wild pig.  Our Avian life here is remarkable – so many migratory flights each year of starlings, hawks, robins, geese, bluebirds, bats, orioles, monarch butterflies, ladybugs, finches, swallows, and rufus-sided towhees, to name but a few. They all use this place as a touchstone in their migrations.  They are part of a near timeless relationship with this land. We are the interlopers who can understand this association or choose to be blind to it. It is a remarkably beautiful annual delight – they came again!  They choose this as a place to rest and renew and maybe eat a few grapes, moths, aphids or fat caterpillars. Thank you for coming again, hope you had a good rest and restaurant – bon voyage!

The food we grow is less a product than the result of an ongoing process of adaptation, adjustment and renewal. We spend our time balancing observations and new ideas with the need to stay in business. The ‘Stay in Business’ part is a practical mandate that could be a singular focus, but we are trying to balance delight, creativity and curiosity with the way we farm. We do see marked differences in soil texture for example – a big deal to a farmer intuiting that that soft, sweet-smelling soil is better when we stop tilling.  There are more homes for earthworms, or for the actinomyces bacteria, or families of fungi who add the rich smell to soil or help hands to release serotonins to the body as soil is run through one’s fingers. (Yes, to touch the soil is healing and can adjust mood. A remarkable inexpensive therapy for a harried farmer is simply to feel soil and smell it a bit. It can elevate mood and create a sense of well…. relaxation. Try it yourself.)

Sustainability is only possible if there are new generations to replace the old and atrophying. We now have a next gen movement here. There are new energetic replacements for the ‘old and in the way’.  Andrew’s sons, Ellis and Jonas are hip deep in the work each day and are taking a good look at the farm as a place to settle. Ellis as an agronomist and Jonas as the steady good humored trouble shooter.

Jenna, Amon and family are defining and imprinting the farm with delicious treats from the farm kitchen, at farm dinners or at community Pizza Nights and are growing their crop of children who see the work and hear the vibrations of a working organism. They are ingesting the inoculation of romance and serotonins.

Rye and Becca design rotations of animals who graze and remediate the farm while giving eggs, meat, milk and wool.  Their vision is integration of these animals who live a protected life as grazers.  These creatures live their character – scratch, cluck, moo, munch, baa chew, spew – probing with their relentlessly foraging beaks, tongues or supple upper lips. R and B’s children are part of the semi-feral here where survival means hustling a burrito from crew members while mom and dad are washing eggs – grazers in their own right.

And of course, Hannah who can make art from flowers, sees texture in the landscape and gleans plant sprays, stems, seed pods, fruits, and wisps of grass, and converts them into remarkably beautiful arrangements. Her eye catches association and things that another might not see, making new creative combinations and then sharing the work with the Instagram world. Her newly honed skills of driving tractors and planting seeds makes her a versatile designer- calloused but creative, imagination up while throttling down.

We have youth at work: Shannon doing selling, Elaine in the CSA, Ben in trucking and logistics. We are grateful to have their skills here. They are working with our great farm crew – wives, husbands, cousins and friends who have chosen to build this farm with us. They are part of the farm’s renewal and new energy.

2021 is nearing a full year and we have spent the last two years adjusting to the masked menace in our midst, while we keep things as safe and creative as possible. Covid has taken a toll in our social connections, we have seen less of you all in person. But rest assured, we will begin the cycle again. We are interdependent with you all. There are many of our CSA customers and farmers market customers who have been partners in our journey now for more than 30 years. Each choice about sustainability and sanity starts in heading off of this chair and out the door to put my hands in the soil, feel its texture and let timeless connections give me perspective.

Thanks to you all for sharing our journey. We look forward to being your farmers again for another round. With affection and thanks from all at Full Belly Farm.

— Paul Muller


From a foggy morning to an amazing sunset here on the Farm