News From the Farm | August 19, 2013

In past columns, I have written about old timers that come to visit Full Belly Farm to see how things are going. One of the visitors used to be Richard Gladney who ostensibly came to visit his barn, now and forever called “Richard’s Barn” which, when we moved here, was full of vintage cars and tractor implements, not to mention tins of chemicals and junk.  Over the years, we moved Richard’s stuff, the accumulation of years of farming, out of the barn, but his visits still linger in our memories, and continued for many years despite his lacking the excuse that he was checking up on his things. 

Another time, in May of last year, it was an imaginary old timer who visited, the possible driver of an old Allis Chalmers behemoth tractor that has been sitting idle under a Full Belly walnut tree since I moved to the farm 25-years ago (and for who knows how long before that.) The visitor met up with one of the farm kids and had a tour of the farm, with news of how things had changed since he parked the tractor after its last big job.

This time, I imagined the same old guy coming back to visit. I imagine that he finds himself ambling through our heirloom tomato fields one hot Sunday afternoon. The fields look a bit ragged. Crews have been walking through them day after day, picking tomatoes. They lacked for care and attention during early July when the farm was short handed and the weather was brutally hot. There are weeds, and the margins of the leaves are brown. All of that is par for the course.  What is truly unusual though, is that there is not fruit set, and in fact, no fruit to be seen at all – no green fruit, no ripe fruit, nothing!

The visitor knows from previous summers that there are several different tomato fields, perhaps 8 or 9 all-told.  And each of the fields is comprised of many long, long rows… So in his short visit – he’s quite an old guy who used to live here many years ago — he is certainly not going to be able to walk through all of the heirloom tomatoes. And there are other varieties – cherry tomatoes, slicers and romas – that seem to have set fruit like normal.  Just the fussy heirlooms are bare.

The old guy runs into Arturo who is driving around on his four-wheeler, even though it is Sunday. Arturo has his young son with him to keep him company as he does his Sunday irrigating. He is balancing a long aluminum irrigation pipe on his shoulder as he drives. He explains to the old-timer that none of the farms in the Capay Valley harvested much in the way of heirloom tomatoes last week and it may be a few days or more before the heirlooms are back. The theory is that the heat wave in early July was the cause of the problem. A tomato takes 40 days for its journey from flower to fruit, and maybe that heat back in July caused the tomato plants some pain that we are only now seeing, about 40-days later.

The old guys takes off his hat and scratches his head. So many tomato plants without any tomatoes in August is very strange. The tomatoes should be dripping off the plants, begging for action! Arturo shrugs and assures him that the melons are peaking, not to mention Asian Pears and lots of different sweet and hot peppers. Arturo offers him a slice of watermelon and drives off on his way. There’s plenty of work to be done, and the heirlooms will be back soon. Not to worry.

Judith Redmond