Monthly Archives: May 2021

News From the Farm | May 31, 2021

This crew is weeding in one of the fields. Notice their clothing protection from the sun and also a water jug is close at hand  —   

Have you seen the weather forecast for Guinda this week? 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 – we follow the 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.

Second – we plant things that do well in the heat. Bad news on this front – many of our heat-loving summer crops (tomatoes, basil, summer squash, eggplant, peppers, corn, etc.) are in the ground but aren’t producing yet. See photo below of one of our pepper fields that we’ve been busy transplanting! But even in the middle of summer when they are at their peak, even these plants don’t like the extreme heat and production can drop off following a heat wave. For example, when day temperatures exceed 85°F and night temperatures exceed 72°F, tomato flowers abort. This heat is definitely going to wipe out some of our late spring crops, so thanks in advance for your patience as we deal with this spring/summer transition.

Third – we DON’T break out the shorts and sandals. One of the more surprising things about our summer routine is how little our wardrobes change. People will wear lighter colors, and might switch to a broader brimmed hat, but other than that, you’d be hard pressed to notice a difference. Long sleeves and pants are important to provide protection from the sun as well as from plants. Many plants like eggplants can have sharp thorns and the dust on tomato leaves can irritate the skin – thus the crew will wear gloves when harvesting, even though that just makes the task of harvesting tomatoes (already the hottest thing to harvest at the farm) even warmer. What I’ve been surprised by is the number of people who wear sweatshirts in hotter weather. I’ve never done this and had (and still have) my doubts, but the answer I’ve gotten from several people (including Alfonso, who leads the tomato harvesting crew) is that having a sweaty shirt next to your skin under a thicker outer layer helps keep you cool.

Finally, we adapt as much as we can (for example, we start earlier, make more frequent trips from the field to the shop to bring in harvested produce and flowers, and people buddy up on field crews to monitor each other for heat stress), but at the end of the day, we keep farming and doing all that it involves – planting, weeding, harvesting, cleaning, packing, and more. If the temperatures are unsafe, we will end the day early, but you, and our other customers are expecting CSA boxes and produce orders so baring those conditions, we keep on keeping on and look forward to both the great produce that the summer heat provides and look forward to the cooler days at the end of the summer.

Elaine Swiedler

CSA Manager

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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.

This past month has marked a critical period for our summer and fall fruits (stone fruit like peaches and apricots; the pome fruits like apples and pears; and grapes). The fruit crew has been busy thinning these trees and vines. After harvest, it’s one of the most important fruit activities that we do, as well as one of the most labor-intensive. Thinning means removing a lot (in fact, most!) of the young fruit on a tree. It seems counterintuitive – why would we do this? Thinning improves the size and quality of fruit (higher leaf to fruit ratio – and the leaves are providing carbohydrates for the fruit to develop into sugars) and in very high yield years, it protects the tree limbs from breaking under the weight of the fruit. Additionally, when there are clusters of fruit, it can also help reduce the spread of diseases and mold caused by damp areas between those clusters.

Thinning is a time-sensitive task. If you wait too long, the benefits of thinning don’t materialize and the remaining fruits stay small. And it thinning too early isn’t a good idea either; it can be harmful for certain varieties and fruits might be too small. You’re aiming to remove small, deformed, diseased, or blemished fruit and have left the largest, best looking fruit so if they aren’t developed enough, you can’t tell! It ends up being a mid-April to mid-May activity, based on when the variety blooms. When you leave a tree after thinning, depending on the variety, peaches will be 5-7 inches apart and apricots and plums will be 3-5 inches apart. So there isn’t an exact percentage of fruit that should be left on the tree, but in years with a heavy load of fruit, our team might only leave 10%!

Thinning is a huge job and takes a lot of work, but it isn’t really an option to do it if there’s a decent amount of fruit on the trees. If we didn’t thin, we’d be left with orchards full of small, golf ball-sized peaches, which aren’t something our CSA members, farmers market customers, or other buyers want. We don’t have to thin pomegranate, persimmon, fig, citrus, or nut trees, but that still leaves us with plenty of others to take care of. It’s something that home gardeners with fruit trees can do too and there are several great guides released by University Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program that can provide advice.

So – a big thanks to our fruit crew (pictured above are José and Nefi) for all their thinning work now in service of great fruit later on this summer!

— Elaine Swiedler, CSA Manager

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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.

Chicks aren’t the only living creatures we get through the mail. We also order a few types of insect to assist our on-farm biocontrol team. Biocontrol means using natural enemies to manage pests. We deal with a lot of insect pests on the farm. These pests harm the plants by eating leaves and fruits, transmit diseases to our crops which kill or greatly reduce production of those plants, and/or cause severe cosmetic damage that makes produce unsellable. There are a number of ways to deal with them, but one way is to harness their natural enemies, be they predators, parasitoids, nematodes, orpathogens.

One example of a predator would be ladybugs, which are great at eating aphids. Some of you may have noticed a few stowaways in your boxes over the past few weeks, a sign that we’ve got a lot of bugs out there helping us out! We don’t order ladybugs through the mail, but this spring we have ordered lacewings because their larvae are active predators of soft-bodied insect pests like aphids, thrips, whiteflies, leafhoppers, spider mites, and mealybugs. In the summer we’ll order and release trichogramma, tiny parasitic wasps that lay their eggs in and feed on eggs of moths and butterflies, particularly corn earworm, which as its name suggests, is preys on our sweet corn. We also get a blend of three parasitic wasps that prey on flies near our animals. We’ve tried other insect helpers in the past, but this is the current mix.

This box, labeled “live animals” contains fly pupae, each one of which carries a secret.  Instead of hatching a fly, a tiny wasp will hatch out, ready to lay its egg in other fly pupae which it will seek out.

Buying insects for the farm is only one approach to biological control. Augmenting natural predators this way is fine, but our preferred method is to attract and support populations of existing or naturally occurring beneficial organisms by supplying them with appropriate habitat and alternative food sources. This way they’re already at the farm. Easier said than done though – it requires a bit of planning and intentionality to create a healthy habitat which will include hedgerows, cover crops, water sources, and insectary plants. Full Belly Farm was designed with these goals in mind. We’ve got four hedgerows (totaling about a half mile!), fields are laid out like a patchwork quilt to break up large blocks of crops, and we think about crop diversity within those fields. As a result, the predator insects that we want to deal with certain pests also have a home and source of food and shelter during other points in the year and at other points in their life cycle. For example, those lacewing larvae that love to snack on insects eventually turn into adult lacewings that live off of nectar and pollen, so we need to have adequate diversity and quantity of flowering plants in our hedgerows and fields to provide that kind of sustenance year-round.

But sometimes it makes sense to order in some reinforcements and when we do, it makes for a fun run to the post office when you get a box labeled “live animals” – though opening a bag of fly parasites is considerably less dramatic and much less cute, than a box of chicks!

— Elaine Sweidler

CSA Manager

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News From the Farm | May 10, 2021

Sheep Shearing  —  

Tuesday began as so many farm days have before. Myself and the other interns emerged onto the yard, fresh from our morning kitchen congregation, full to the brim with eggs, toast, and coffee. In that brief moment we’re one, a pod of aspiring young farmers, trading jokes and stories over breakfast. As quickly as we emerge, we separate, scattering in search of the day’s tasks, destined to reconvene and unpack at our next meal. Tuesdays are unique because we pack the truck for our only afternoon market. We don’t load the truck the day before, but rather the morning of. Once Judith’s market truck is ready, the interns who loaded truck are left with the strange sensation of an empty and quiet yard—a far cry from the morning’s chaos of people and vehicles. At this point, just shy of 9am, I was left with the undeniable feeling that I’d missed my ticket out of town.

Seeking my fortune elsewhere, I was led towards the impossibly busy figure of Jan, half power-walking, half sprinting across the yard. Jan is the Farm Manager at Full Belly. Like all of the farm’s leaders she possesses an unmatched work ethic and an unyielding knowledge of the day’s tasks and how to complete them. So, she was able to rattle off a rapid fire of possible answers to my question of what to do next. “Well, Celso’s in the lettuce. You could help Alfonso in the carrots. I know Paulino’s bunching onions. Or you could see if Rye needs help with the shearing.” As she added the final option, I could have sworn I saw a twinkle in her eye. Jan is unique for so many reasons but within the intern community her past experiences are a point of profound empathy and respect. Jan first came to Full Belly Farm as an intern in 2001. She is an extension of our intern community in a prominent leadership position, allowing her the unique chance to delineate tasks with an intimate knowledge of our experience. Thus, with all this in mind, I couldn’t help but feel she might be throwing me a bone for one of those truly momentous farm experiences. 

Needless to say, I took option D. As I pulled up to the sheep barn, Lauren and Elsa, a former intern and the daughter of a past Full Belly intern respectively, greeted me with quizzical faces. At their feet lay stacks of enormous cardboard boxes. Like many of the packaging products at Full Belly the boxes arrive flat and require a series of intuitive folds to build them out into their final “3D” container form. Evidently these boxes were proving to be anything but intuitive. And as we huffed and puffed to no avail, Rye Muller pulled up and stepped out of his truck, calmly sauntered over, and promptly put together the first box in 30 seconds flat, an all too familiar occurrence. Soon enough we had four enormous cardboard boxes ready and waiting in the lambing barn complete with the wool color labels “White,” “Light Brown,” “Brown,” and “Grey”. As Rye set up the shearing station (a mess of extension cords, gas generators, and shears), Lauren and I walked out to the east facing bluff where the sheep and their lambs were. The enclosure is roughly a half-acre and mainly utilized for moments like these so it remains largely temporary: little grass, a few sparse olive trees, water bins, salt licks, and feeding cubes. It didn’t take long for us to lure a quarter of the unsuspecting sheep toward the barn with nothing more than a little alfalfa. Lauren and I led the sheep through a series of gates and walkways within the barn to create a queue of animals for the shearers. I opened the gate for the day’s first sheep and after a gentle push from behind she galloped out of the walkway and into Rye’s waiting arms. 

Rye flipped her with one deft movement, hoisting her by her front hooves and gently resting her fluffy buttocks upon his dusty boots. As he began trimming her belly, Rye explained that footwork was the most important tool in a sheep shearers repertoire, “It’s really like a dance,” chimed in Elsa, who’s family farm in Alaska shears their flock annually. After shearing the sheep’s belly, butt, and tail, Rye moved to her leg, the goal of this movement was to open up the sheep coat on one side before moving to the head. Each “blow” as the shearing actions are called, is a calculated move; a good sheep shearer wastes no movements, and extra passes or “second blows” are the clearest sign of an amateur. With his topknot blows, Rye’s goal was to open up the sheep coat from the top, much like his leg blows had opened up the bottom. Next, he moved to the neck where his blow bisected the coat, allowing the final product to be laid perfectly uniform upon the nearby tarps. With the coat separated at the neck and belly, Rye laid the sheep on her side where she seemed most comfortable and pushed the humming shears up her shoulder and along her back and tailbone. For his final blows Rye hoisted her up once more to reveal her unshorn side, and after a few passes the wool-less sheep hopped to her feet and galloped out of the barn back into the original enclosure. 

As Lauren and I laid out the day’s first coat, Elsa demonstrated how to clean the coat and discard the dirty edge wool. Once the coat had been properly evaluated, we placed it in the aforementioned enormous cardboard boxes. The day marched on, Lauren and I released sheep after sheep to Rye and Elsa who stood ready and waiting to wrestle, body slam, and occasionally tackle the sheep to the ground before beginning the shearing. Now, I’m a self-professed visual learner and a year of farming has whipped me into pretty good shape so I must admit after watching a few sheep pass through Rye’s shears I grew to feel that I could easily step into his role. After all, I’d cut my friend’s hair before, how hard could it really be?

After Rye and Elsa had completed their tenth sheep, Rye called me over for my chance. He spared me the more advanced belly, tail, and groin blows then he handed me the mother’s front hooves and allowed me to pull her into position until I felt her tailbone pressed against my feet. First, he instructed me to plant my right knee firmly into her side and then he handed me the electric hand shears, which upon closer inspection more closely resembled a police flashlight in size and weight than the barbershop clippers I’d imagined. My first blow was the topknot and much like when one shaves their own face or legs, you angle the skin so as to ensure a smooth, taut surface. With the mother’s snout held down I pushed my whirring shears from the crown of her head down to the base of her neck. By the time I’d finished my head blows the less than enthused mother looked as though she was wearing an oversized wool hoodie. I followed these movements with neck blows and by the time I had completed these and moved the mother to her side, I was completely drained. 

What I couldn’t have gleaned from the previous visual cues was the sheer strength and finesse utilized by Rye and Elsa for each and every animal. Even if the sheep are calm (a big “if”) the sheer weight of the animal resting upon your body and the awkward angles a shearer must occupy are a surefire way to break a sweat. After what felt like an eternity and likely a dozen too many second blows, I clipped the last bit of wool from the sheep’s leg and sunk to my knees. Unlike Rye’s sheep, she remained on her side and peered up at me as if to say “You done yet, kid?” Our collective physical struggle had left the both of us exhausted. Eventually with some cajoling, I got her up and back out to the enclosure. Upon my return, I stared down at the gray tarp, on it lay the sheep’s patchy coat, surrounded by small tufts of wool, it barely resembled the beautiful contiguous coats produced by Rye and Elsa. 

Not to be deterred, Lauren and I tried our hands at a few more sheep with varying results (Lauren was a natural, I was humbled). By the time we finished the workday, I reflected on the fact that Rye and Elsa had collectively shorn upwards of thirty sheep in comparison to my two. As if I’d needed another reminder that farming is hard work! 

It’s days like this that drive home the magic of Full Belly Farm. During my farm internship, there have certainly ups and downs, but it’s the special experiences like sheep shearing that shake up the workflow and provide one with a reminder of the immense diversity of learning opportunities contained within this space. Granted, I may not go on to become god’s gift to the wool industry, but as a young adult sifting through agricultural opportunities and career options, this day, along with so many others at the farm, left an indelible mark upon both my internship and my life. 

— Rowan O’Connell-Gates, Fully Belly Farm Intern

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News From the Farm | May 3, 2021

Baboo  —  

Full Belly Farm lost a cherished friend on Saturday. Our beloved golden retriever, Baboo, passed suddenly at the young age of 8.

Perhaps the friendliest dog to have ever roamed these acres, you may have seen him sleeping on the Hoes Down dance floor, sniffing at your slice during a pizza night, or letting your children pet and climb all over him at an Open Farm Day. Raised at Full Belly from 8 weeks old, Baboo knew all the best places on the farm to find the best treats and the coldest air conditioning. He was a lover of all creatures big and small, wild and domestic, human and beast. You could find him napping almost anywhere – in the middle of the yard, on the cool concrete of the packing shed, or just right outside the egg washing room where his family spends a lot of time. He helped raise three beautiful farm children gently, lovingly, and patiently. He belonged to Rye and Becca Muller, but gave freely his heart and soul to all the farmers at Full Belly. He is buried deep in rich soil along a line of old black walnut trees on the creek road and will be forever missed by all at the farm, and everyone who ever had the fortune of spending time with this truly legendary dog. We love you, Babs, and will carry you in our hearts and memories for all of our days.

   

The family held a ceremony for Baboo on May 2nd. Rye Muller welded together a beautiful headstone for Baboo from the “resource pile” north of the packing shed.  The amazing sculpture turns in the wind.

— Becca Muller

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