Welcome to the News of the Farm

Just to help you get the most out of these posts, here are a few tips.

All posts have been categorized by year, or crop or some other way.  If you want to look at all the posts that talk about tomatoes, for example, you can either click on that category in the right hand column or on the word tomatoes at the bottom of the post.

The posts all have some additional tags on them too, like “storms” for example.  You can also find those tags at the bottom of all posts and can click on them, you will be taken to a page of posts that include that topic.

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And of  course any of the words highlighted in orange are links to other information that will open in another page.

Have fun!

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #24, 9/3/15

What’s been going on!

Fall tugs at us, tempts us and then moves away.  Last week in the mid 80’s, this week back to the 90’s.  It is the hopefulness of cool weather and clear days, of a more relaxed pace and different kinds of work after the months of hot and humid summer.  It starts in early August with a few mornings when you walk out and it is not in the 70’s, as the month progresses you realize that the days are getting noticeably shorter and your morning routine is more rushed, compact, before we have to go out and start the work day.

We see the first poplar leaves turning yellow, the persimmons moving from green to orange, the deer beginning to form groups for the fall rut.  The lettuce we planted under shade cloth, just over a month ago, in an attempt to keep it a bit cooler now begins to stretch and twist looking for more light, do we take the shade off even though the days are still hot, yes but wait for a cloudy day to not stress it too much.

We know that hot days can last up into October but the nights will get cooler and cooler as the earth slowly gives up its summer heat.  The fall crops grow fast in the brilliant light of September, they have to get to size before the first frost comes or they will never make it.  Lots of planting going on these weeks at the same time we are tearing out the tomatoes and mowing down summer flowers and cover crops.  In a few short weeks it will be time to turn under almost all the fields and seed them down to the winter cover crops.  Until then fall will be wrestling itself from the grips of summer.

Picture of the Week

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Tomato destruction, vines off the trellis fence, trellis coming down, a dirty job

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #23, 8/27/15

What’s been going on!

Glorious almost fall like weather, at least a tease of what is to come.  Folks always ask why our peppers start so much later than other growers at market.  We purposely plant ours later in the spring for several reasons.  The first is if we try and push and put the seedlings into cold soil and night temperatures they will just sulk, we want them to hit the ground running and make big strong plants that will produce for a long time.  The other reason is, while we can have some green fruit in June and July what we are really after is sweet ripe colored fruit and the best conditions for ripening are in late August and September when we begin to have weather just like this, cool nights, bright warm days.

Green chilis and Poblanos are the same, the closest we can come to the high light desert environment of New Mexico and the Southwest is this time of year which is also our driest time of the whole growing season.  Cool, dry nights in particular give us nice thick meaty walls and average heat levels that we wouldn’t get in hotter wet weather when the fruit grow really fast.

Just in time for the peak of pepper season we have another class at A Southern Season Cooking School next Thursday Sept. 3rd, this one of course all about peppers!  Working again with our friend and tomato guru Craig Lehoullier who is also a pepper grower and cook and the wonderful Caitlin Burke of the Cooking School we will have a great time and meal.  If you haven’t ever taken a class at the Cooking School not only will you learn a lot but you will have a great meal including wine for a really reasonable price.

We will have the pepper roaster there to demonstrate how it is done in New Mexico and the menu looks delicious.  Arugula and Pepper Salad with Warm Olive Oil; Parmesan Polenta Squares with Romesco Sauce; Chili Relleno Casserole; Roasted Sweet Bell Pepper Crème Brûlée.  There is still room in the class so be sure to sign up to learn all about peppers and some ideas for how to use them.

Picture of the Week

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Standing in the Celosia Big Top looking out over fields getting ready for fall

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #22, 8/20/15

What’s been going on!

Students are back and so are we!  Despite the dampish week we have been back at it since Monday.  Good time off and we even got to the point where we couldn’t remember what day it was.  Lacey was the winner with a week in Maine, Jennie got in a trip up to D.C. and a few days camping in the mountains.  Betsy and I knocked around doing a variety of things including a scenic tour of Eastern North Carolina with stops in Wilson, Kinston, Pink Hill and Clinton!

Before heading off, Jennie and Lacey worked hard to get more fall crops in the ground and cultivate the established ones so they were in good shape for the week while they were gone.  Since their return the planting and cultivating has continued and we are right on schedule.  The tearing out of the tomato plantings has begun with the little tunnels completed but the Big Tops still to go.

As projected, pepper roasting will begin this Saturday with mostly Anaheims and Poblanos and a few Corno di Toros.  The sweet Red, Yellow and Orange Bells are running a bit behind but should give us some for next week.  Don’t worry we should be roasting through October.  The weather looks to be clearing and actually a fairly pleasant day to commence with the hot job of running the roaster.

Picture of the Week

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Another foggy morning, super tall Poblanos in the foreground.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #21, 7/29/15

What’s been going on!

Our 80 year old neighbor used to say about farming and living in the country “It’s nothing but a maintenance job!” and there are times that I think he was completely right.  We have so many buildings and machines and miles of fences and irrigation to keep up that it seems that I can just go from one repair to the next and never run out of things to work on.  Another farmer friend told me that he had 80 tires alone to keep air in and rolling (we only have about 40).

We also have an “aging infrastructure” that makes it all the more likely that work will have to be done on it.  The thing that you have to hope for is that multiple things don’t break down all at the same time, not so lucky this week.  The main mower for the tractor has been at the tractor dealership for weeks now because I did not have the right tools to do the repair and because it is 20 years old it took some time to get the correct bearing for it.  That is OK because we have multiple mowing machines to work around it being missing, that was until the riding lawn mower deck needed to have some welding done on it, fortunately that repair only took a day.

The big issue right now is our big tractor drawn rototiller is out of commission until a part arrives from California (hopefully today).  We are busy planting for fall and cannot be without it for long.  A 25 year old Italian made tiller makes the availability of parts more difficult but the good thing is because we bought heavy steel and a well-built machine this is the first time we have ever had to work on it.  There is always a learning curve the first time you take something apart but after many hours it is all back together just waiting for Fedex to arrive with one last piece.  We should be back up and tilling by Friday!

The important maintenance job that needs to be looked after next is that of body and soul.  After 22 straight weeks at Market with only really Saturday afternoons off we will be taking our summer break after this Saturday’s market, you can see the fatigue in the eyes of most of the farmers at market now and we are no different.  We will not be at Saturday market on the 8th and the 15th.  Look for Jennie and Lacey at Wednesday market today and the 5th with the last of the tomatoes.  No newsletter until the 19th.  When we return on the 22nd, we surely will be full of vim and vigor and a booth loaded with peppers.

Pictures of the Week

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Foggy this morning, some of those pepper plants are already 5 feet tall

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Some serious Italian steel

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #20, 7/22/15

What’s been going on!

We had another interesting first time experience recently when I recorded an hour and a half podcast for Chris Blanchard’s Farmer to Farmer Podcast series.  Chris was a farmer and now is consulting with organic farmers and has started doing these interviews with mostly organic vegetable farmers from all across the country.  If you have great stamina you can listen to the whole thing which is wide ranging but the following is a breakdown of the major subjects if you want to skip around.

Starts with an intro; minute 5- where we market and how we got started; min. 10- how we financed the whole thing; min. 20- record keeping and crop planning; min. 30- high tunnels and tomatoes; min. 45 our transition plans with Jennie and retirement; min. 65 efficiency, labor, equipment and farm design.  We recorded it over the phone so the sound is a bit funny as I sound out of breath.

Friday we have another interview for a profile of Peregrine Farm to be in yet another book, this one about successful small farms under 5 acres in production.  This will be, I think, the seventh book we have been included in over the years, something we never imagined.

Planting of fall crops picks up over the next few weeks with many flats seeded at the greenhouse and celery, turnips and radishes all in the ground already.  In the next few weeks we will plant or seed leeks, carrots, beets and Romanesco broccoli.  We even harvested the first of the winter squash yesterday, I know it seems wrong when it is 90 degrees but that is how the timing works here in NC.

Picture of the Week

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Another steamy morning, summer cover crops with late flowers behind

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #19, 7/16/15

What’s been going on!

So while our tomato crop is slowly decreasing towards the eventual last pick and our summer break in early August, our weeks and markets still revolve around what tomatoes do we have, do we have enough for the various outlets and who is going to get what.  Sure there are other things going on like trellising peppers, and the first plantings of crops for fall harvest and mowing and mowing and mowing.

For 20 years tomatoes have been one of our obsessions when we discovered that there was a world of possibilities past just a red tomato.  Nothing against a good red tomato but the range of colors, flavors, textures and sizes available has lead us down a trail that at first was overwhelming and now that we have winnowed out many varieties leaves us with trying to describe the ones we grow to all of you who want to pair them with different foods and dishes.  What is best with mozzarella or for sandwiches or in a salsa?  Gives us plenty more to think about for years to come.

To that end, that last tomato event of the summer, for us, is our Southern Season cooking class with our friend and heirloom tomato expert and preserver Craig LeHoullier who has a great new book out Epic Tomatoes.  We have done this class many times in the past where Craig expounds on heirloom tomatoes, their history and stories and I talk about how we grow them and which ones we have found that work best for us.  Always great food prepared by Caitlin Burke from our fruit.  Next Thursday the 23rd, seats still available.

Picture of the Week

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Tomatoes are not the only red thing we grow, amazing crested celosia

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #18, 7/9/15

What’s been going on!

If you haven’t noticed yet, it is all about tomatoes right now.  Peak of the harvest in general (past peak a bit for us) and they are featured everywhere and in every dish, as it should be.  Twenty years ago we all used to think that if you picked a tomato before the 4th of July you were doing really good, now the 4th of July is the beginning of the flood and by August it is really mostly over.  Sure there are tomatoes at market in the fall but they never taste as good as they do in July.

What happened?  Mostly I think we all became much better at growing and managing the crop that resulted in earlier maturing fruit.  Healthier soils, improved irrigation and trellising techniques, better transplants and pruning, high tunnels for protection and more.  Some of it is new varieties that ripen faster and some is certainly climate change with warmer weather in May and June that makes the plants grow vigorously and huge.

Whatever the reason there is an abundance of tomatoes to eat this time of year.  So let’s celebrate while we can!  Our tomatoes are on the menus at Elaine’s on Franklin, Pazzo, Glasshalfull, Oakleaf and ACME.  The folks at ACME are having their 14th annual Tomato Festival Friday to Sunday with the menu all about the summer fruit.  The biggest event is the Carrboro Farmers’ Market’s Tomato Day on Saturday with over 75 varieties to try and buy.  Pick and choose your location but eat up while the eating is good!

Picture of the Week

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After yet another big rain last night, the Big Beefs are still lush and heavy with fruit

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #17, 7/1/15

What’s been going on!

5” of rain in the last 5 days, that’s enough for now thank you, at least the wicked heat wave has broken.  Unfortunately it looks like a good chance of rain every day for the next week.  Mostly it makes it hard to get any kind of outdoor planting done.  The really sad thing is most people’s tomato crops are out in the field and if they get this much rain not only does it make the foliar diseases start to run up the plants but the ripening fruit will split open making them unsellable.  The beauty of the Big Tops is we can avoid most of those problems or at least slow them down, good thing as we are nearing the peak of our tomato harvest.

Let’s talk 4th of July market.  This will be the third time in the 20 years since the market moved to Town Hall that the Saturday market has been on July 4th.  When that happens the market is moved out onto Main Street in front of Town Hall so they can set up for the afternoons holiday celebrations on the Town Commons.  It is quite a festive atmosphere out on Main Street with all the vendors jumbled up in random sequence.  The hours are shortened to 10:30 so we can get out of the way before the parade arrives at the Town Commons.

Make sure you come down to market early and enjoy the shady cool of the morning under the trees along Main Street and get all the good food for your afternoon festivities.  Here is information about parking and the hours, it is all very easy.  Make sure to look for us, probably somewhere in the middle of the pack!

Pictures of the Week

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A gray, wet morning but happy tomatoes under the Big Tops

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2009 4th of July market on Main Street

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #16, 6/25/15

What’s been going on!

So let’s talk about something that actually likes the heat, Lisianthus.  Originally native to the prairies of Oklahoma and Texas, the Prairie Gentian knows something about hot conditions.  Then the Japanese flower breeders have taken it and worked their magic with stem length and many color and petal variations but this is not an easy crop to grow.  As one of the first to grow it in this area, since 1987, we have learned a thing or two about it.

Not all flower crops are created equal.  Some are easy to grow like zinnias and sunflowers, either from seed or transplant they grow like weeds, don’t need to be trellised and give consistent results.  Lisianthus in many ways is difficult.  The single hardest thing is producing good transplants which are started from almost invisible seeds and then can take up to 20 weeks to grow big enough to move out to the field and then you can hold them too long and it will stunt the whole crop, so many people just by expensive plugs but we grow our own.

Once moved to the field they initially grow slowly with only a tiny rosette of leaves until they begin to send up long slender stems with all the flower buds at the top, creating a very top heavy plant that has to have support.  So we work hard to keep the beds very clean and weed free with leaf mulch and many hand weedings and then build a trellis, with lots of posts to hold the netting that will keep them from falling over.  Of course you can imagine how cutting flowers out of the netting can only be a bit frustrating and slow.

If all is done right not only can we get multiple stems from each plant but it will regrow and give us a second smaller crop in the fall.  Besides the beauty of Lisianthus, they have about the longest vase life of any cut flower.  All of the above combined should lead to stems worth $3 a stem or more but because there are a fair number of producers of it in the market it remains a bargain but not all do as good a job as Betsy does.  Enjoy it over the next month while it is available.

Picture of the Week

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A near perfect crop of Lisianthus

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #15, 6/17/15

What’s been going on!

Ugh!  100 degrees.  It could have slipped up gradually but instead it had to go straight up from the low 80’s to near the century mark.  It is all about early mornings, shade and lots of water, both for the plants and the farmers.

At least the hot and dry waited until most of the spring crops were finished.  It reduces both the amount of water we need to irrigate with and the amount of time it takes to get the whole place watered.  We can only irrigate a half an acre at a time due to the distance we have to pump water and the size of our pump.  Right now it takes us nine hours to water everything, every other day.  If it had hit a month earlier it would have taken 12 hours or more.  We try to irrigate as early in the day as we can so the water will be more effective except for the remaining greens which we water last so that the evaporative cooling effect is the greatest in the heat of the day.

Even with very efficient drip irrigation we are still pumping about 10,000 gallons of water every other day just for our acre and a half or so.  You can imagine what those farms in California have to pump for thousands of acres of crops where they get almost no rainfall!  At least we might get a little cooling and rain from the remnants of Tropical storm Bill, this weekend before it heads back towards 100 next week.  Stay cool out there!

Picture of the Week

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Weeding in the peppers, chasing the shade across the field

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading