Monthly Archives: September 2021

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

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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 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.  

I become accustomed to summer’s patterns of early mornings and massive harvests. Multiple trucks to load every afternoon and triple digit temperatures as common as the dry dust on the farm roads. But then one day Andrew has planted Fall greens and we are harvesting the last melon field of the year. This weekend, we had a couple of days that were so absolutely beautiful and the temperature so perfect and pleasant that no one around here could resist staying outside as long as possible, just to enjoy the blessed weather.  The beauty of it all was something. It made me think of my friend Doug Tompkins who once wrote in his book Laguna Blanca, published posthumously, “You have to start with the idea that a good farm is a beautiful farm.  That everything you do and you think about doing should add beauty to the farm. That does not mean for a moment that you neglect all the practical and functional qualities.”  Doug was part of a line of thinkers, following Theodore Roosevelt who once said, “There is nothing more practical in the end than the preservation of beauty.”

It’s always kind of wonderful to let Fall sneak up and surprise me this way, but of course it happens every year and isn’t all that surprising considering that Wednesday 9/22 is the Autumn equinox, the first day of Fall.  What this signals is that the darkness of night lasts longer and the light of the day is shorter going forward.  The plants, the trees — they all respond with slower growth.  On the farm we are preparing for the big annual harvests of winter squash and walnuts.  Almonds are already in the cooler or on the way to make more almond butter.  These are crops that we can store and draw from all year long.

The full moon that occurs closest to the Fall Equinox is called the Harvest Moon.  This full moon rises near sunset for several nights in a row and got its name because it provides farmers with just enough extra light after sunset for them to finish their harvests before the killing frosts of fall. It isn’t hard to imagine, on a dark cold winter night, the gratitude of people for the Harvest Moon, before electrical lights took over the night sky, who lived or starved depending on the amount of food stored over the winter.

Yet again, maybe it IS hard for those of us living in north America to imagine that. Wealth and resources aren’t distributed equally in our world and many people are already going hungry.  A chorus of researchers are reporting that food supplies could struggle to keep pace with the world’s growing population as climate change sends temperatures soaring and droughts intensify.  The United Nations sees the need to steer agricultural investments towards environmental and social goals: limit pollution, eliminate hunger, improve nutrition. Presently, global support to farmers is 15% of total agricultural production value and that money props up a system that has many negative effects.  In the United Sates, the USDA has launched a so-called “coalition for productivity growth” that in fact simply has the stated goal of promoting the use of high-tech tools and other gimmicks.  This effort stands in contrast to the European Union’s Farm to Fork Strategy that will try to reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

Lack of electricity or not, we all depend on the ability of ecosystems to continue producing food and the skills of farmers to figure out how to do that as conditions change. This year, the Harvest Moon starts two days before the Equinox, on 9/20.  Let it remind us of our gratitude for the farmer, for the crops and for the beautiful diversity that sustains us.  Let us also think on the words of another eco-activist, Julia Butterly Hill who said, “It is impossible not to make a difference.  Every choice we make leads either toward health or toward disease; there’s no other direction. The question is not, ‘How can I, one person, make a difference?’ The question is, ‘What kind of difference do I want to make?’

— Judith Redmond

Our 6 adolescent pigs, neighbors to the piglets born a couple of weeks ago.

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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?

First, there’s all the transplants and seeds going in the ground, just like in April. Equally as exciting is seeing all the subsequent growth. The potatoes have grown a lot, just in one week, all the transplants have also grown an impressive amount, and many of the seeds have germinated and the first leaves are visible. 


Pictures of the potatoes last week (L) and this week (R)

One of the most notable transplanting activities this week was the strawberries. Unlike the other transplants that we buy, our strawberries don’t come to the farm in trays with the roots in soil. Instead, they come packed tightly in boxes, without soil. These are bare root strawberries and planting them is very similar to buying a bare root tree; they don’t look like much, mostly roots, the stem (called the crown) and some desiccated, unhappy looking leaves. Hopefully, once in the ground and with some water they’ll grow leaves and eventually flowers and then fruit. Strawberries are notoriously finicky and are easily diseased, so each year that we grow strawberries, even though it is possible to save runners for the next season, we purchase a new set to make sure that they’re healthy. We also purchase new plants because, while strawberries can produce for multiple years, after the first year, the size and quantity of the berries declines. This year we’re growing two varieties, some in plastic mulch, some without. Last year was not a good strawberry year, which is  why they only made it into CSA boxes for two days, so we’re hoping this year is better.

Then, after the first day of planting strawberries wrapped up on Thursday, it started to sprinkle. After a cloudier than usual day, the rain began early in the evening and continued on and off into the early hours of Friday. It wasn’t much, not nearly enough to offset the dire water situation we’re facing, but it was refreshing and much appreciated, and managed to get some of the dust off the plants and equipment. Friday morning felt crisp and clean, albeit a little humid, and almost like it could’ve been a spring morning in late April, with clouds in the sky and all the rows of new transplants and sprouting seeds. And it only got up to 90 degrees! Most importantly, the warnings about dry lightning igniting fires (as happened last year) didn’t come true, at least in our area. We heard some thunder but there were no fires. Is rain on newly planted strawberries an omen of a good year ahead? Only time will tell!

One last element of spring in September: last week saw the arrival of several baby animals to the farm. There are seven newly born piglets, and our most recent group of chicks arrived in the mail and is currently getting situated in the brooder. 

This definitely isn’t April, but the signs of new life (plant and animal), precipitation, and fast-paced preparation for the season ahead certainly illustrated for me why this month is our April of the fall.

– Elaine Swiedler, CSA Manager


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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.

To prepare for those cooler days, when crops are done, the sheep often graze down the plant residue, then we remove the drip tape, and then the tractor team prepares the soil for the next crop. Transplanting teams have already put kale, chard, fennel, broccoli, potatoes, and more into the ground. Turnips, carrots, and beets have been direct seeded. The greens on the potatoes have just started poking up from the soil, the turnips have germinated, and the carrots are just about there. All of these new crops need water as soon as they’re transplanted, so we have to lay out drip tape or move sprinkler pipes around, keeping the irrigators busy. The water brings up lots of weeds, in addition to the new plants, so plenty of weeding is just around the corner, by hand (or hoe), by tractor, or by flame weeder.  

Potato plants peeking through the soil.

We’ve started cutting winter squash! Despite the name, they grow during the summer, and when they’re ready, we cut off the water and let the plants dry down. Then we cut the squash from the plants and let them cure in the field for a few days to help preserve them. Then we’ll collect them and put them into big bins for storage and then draw from our supply.

All but one variety of almonds has been harvested, hulled, and shelled and are back at the farm to be hand sorted (below) to remove damaged nuts. Soon enough we’ll have a new batch of almond butter! Walnut harvest hasn’t happened yet, that’s next month.

We are still harvesting loads of melons and eggplants, plenty of peppers, and lots of flowers. The melons are going to taper off soon but eggplants show no indication of slowing down. We’re leaving eggplants out of the CSA boxes this week, but they’ll be back.

One thing we’d normally be doing is harvesting, sorting, and packing tomatoes. But not this year. Instead, we’re already taking out the last of our three plantings, much earlier than we normally would. This has been a horrible year for our tomatoes, and for many of our neighbors and other peer farmers in the area.

What happened? First, our tomatoes were hit with curly top virus. It’s spread between plants by the beet leafhopper and plants with this virus are small and stunted, then leaves turn yellow or bronze and brittle, then the plants die. Or they might survive but produce dull, small fruits. The tomatoes that didn’t succumb to this virus, or weren’t infected, were impacted by Fusarium, a fungus that first wilts and then kills the plants. There are three different “races” of Fusarium and various tomato varieties are resistant to one or more races, either naturally or as a result of plant breeding, but not every variety is resistant and there is nothing we can do to save an infected plant within that season, aside from cleaning our equipment to avoid spreading it between fields. Going forward, we shouldn’t plan to use the field for tomatoes for a few years, but that’s our normal crop rotation practice anyways.

The end result of these two factors was a supremely small and disappointing tomato crop, which is usually our biggest source of revenue. But just as it’s no use crying over spilt milk, there’s no use dwelling too much on the tomato crop that wasn’t, especially when there’s so much other work to do. We’ve got more of each of the described tasks above to do this week and more. So on this Labor Day when we’re hard at work, lots of appreciation for our all the folks that make up Full Belly Farm who get all these things done.

— Elaine Swiedler, CSA Manager

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