News From the Farm | February 15, 2016

It may be time for your seasonal check-in here at Full Belly. It is always fun to inform you of the day-to-day processes of farming. As you open your box each week to see what the farm is providing, the produce reflects work done and decisions made 90 to 120 days ago. We are busy this week transplanting and planting for spring boxes. The break from a wet January has us in all of the fields, tilling in weeds and some of our cover crops while we set up our work and harvest schedule for the spring.

This past week we were watering flowers, onions, and our new lettuce and broccoli transplants.  We are starting to water things like our strawberries, carrots, garlic, peas, broccoli, greens and lettuces planted last November. The produce that you are receiving in your boxes was generally planted as seed last November. Growing slowly in the late fall and cold winter it gathers strength as the days lengthen and average temperatures warm up. We do gamble a bit as we plant in the fall. There have been colder years in the past when December temperatures have all but freeze-killed even our hardiest crops and the months of January and February have ended up being pretty bleak. Valentines day is our target for planting our spring potatoes—we hit that pretty dead-on by planting a 7-acre block of potatoes on Friday. At the same time we are harvesting the end of last fall’s potato crop. We like to store these potatoes in the ground during the coldest months where they are kept completely cold and at full moisture. We essentially have two planting windows for spuds: February for spring potatoes and early September for fall and winter harvested potatoes.

Andrew, Dru and Jan are busy planting flowers. Besides the transplants that will be available for harvest in 60 days or so, the seeds that we are planting now will be harvested at the end of March and into June. The first sunflowers were planted this past week as the soil has warmed sufficiently to germinate them. Everything that is being planted is cold hardy and able to tolerate a frost should we get one. Asparagus beds have been tilled lightly to clean up the more aggressive weeds. Harvest of the first asparagus should start in the next few weeks.

We are thinking about tomatoes and melons, but those plants are being carefully nurtured in the greenhouse where the temperature and moisture can be managed. Chica is planting flats of heirloom tomato seeds that we selected last fall. This seed was squeezed from the nicest fruits, allowed to ferment a bit and then washed and dried. About 80% of our tomato seed is from saved seed- a project that Andrew manages each year. Melon, peppers and eggplants are also seeded in the greenhouse for end of March transplanting. We also purchase some organic transplants from a nursery in Gilroy. These plants provide security should something go wrong in either of our greenhouses.

We also planted 800 trees last week. New varieties of peach, some aprium, pears, mulberries, quince and pomegranates were all added to fill out some of the spots in the season where we need a bit more fruit. We planted into a complex cover crop of grasses, legumes and flowering plants.  We will allow this cover crop to grow and mature as it provides shelter for the soil, harvests carbon to feed the soil microbes, takes nitrogen from the air for the trees, and blooms for the pollinating insects. Our later spring planted fields are green with cover crops that we will slowly mow, graze or incorporate to feed the melons, tomatoes, peppers, or greens in a cycle of annual harvest.

orchard planting 2

We have been pruning the orchards furiously, trying to keep ahead of the blooms and buds that are pushing their white, pink or red flowers as trees open for ‘beesniss.’ The year has been better for trees thus far. Unlike the last couple of years, we have had the cold weather to support a healthy bloom while previous winters did not provide adequate ‘chilling hours’. We have also had some gentle soaking rain to feed roots and the early bloom. Apricots are in full bloom; many almond varieties are a fragrant and fluffy white; the first peaches and plums are out; pears are swelling and soon to be out; and apples and walnuts are slowly waking.

The 800,000 acres of almonds in California are all in need of bees and these small creatures are being trucked in from all over the country to pollinate the 4.3 billion dollar almond crop. Some growers are reporting an inability to find bees for hire. The pollination business is a mess. This winter, local beekeepers flooded our valley with thousands of hives to take advantage of our native plants that produce some pollen and nectar. I am seeing fewer native pollinators because they facing stiffer competition for available food. It is a bit of a race to mine natural forage with far too many bees imported into the area—a system way out of balance and showing signs of deep stress with collapsing colonies and now natives that may be starving…

We are letting our fall crops that are finished, bloom out to provide some food for hungry pollinators. Arugula, many weed species and mustards provide food for pollinators. These fields look a bit unkempt and messy – the impulse to keep them clean and tidy is something that requires restraint – the weeds would not be tolerated by landlords and farmers who see bare ground as a reflection of good management. We see our job as moving/managing the complexity of life forms on the farm to hum in their particular note in order to create a symphony energy and vitality. Many of these ‘hum-babies’ are not appreciated in the potential ‘harvest’ of a farm. It will become absolutely essential for the survival of healthy agriculture that we design for the edges and the under-appreciated life forms that are at the very foundation of our food system.

The list of spring projects is a long one. Add to the list that our pregnant ewes are ready to bring new lambs to the farm, our chickens need to be moved and protected from the itinerant bobcat or coyote; our crops need to be picked washed and packed up; our trees need to be sprayed to keep fungal pathogens in check; and all of the repairs are lined up when the wheels are in danger of falling off. Then you have a pretty complete February day.

–Paul Muller