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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.

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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. 11 #19, 7/16/14

What’s been going on!

So I am always amazed by the speed at which some crops can grow and change.  Last week it was all we could do to get all the tomatoes picked and this week a precipitous drop off (partly due to some varieties completely dying due to the wilt).  Two weeks ago the winter squash looked vibrant, today the butternuts are beginning to die back and we will have to begin harvest of them in the next few days (I know “winter” squash in July but that is the reality in a non-New England climate).

Yesterday we were doing a bit of trellising in the peppers to make sure they were ready for any crazy weather that might come in with the cool front and they look really fabulous and then I looked that the newsletter picture from just five weeks ago when they were barely a foot tall and now they are big bushy rows with some four feet tall!  Not too many peppers to pick yet but most of the varieties have a lot of fruit set which should come in just in time for pepper roasting to begin in late August.

We had some new farmers out yesterday and as we walked around the farm we talked about how our brains always seem to be working on the next season.  We hardly have a chance to savor the crops we are harvesting at the time because we are beginning to focus on getting the next ones in the ground or keeping them happy until they start producing, like planting leeks and Brussels sprouts this week for fall or another layer of pepper trellis.  While we eat tomatoes every day right now, mentally we are already moving on but wait I haven’t even made fresh salsa yet!  That’s OK because just now I finally have all the ingredients as the first serrano peppers and a new planting of cilantro is ready to go with the red onions and select tomatoes, maybe we are not done with tomato season yet.

Picture of the Week

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Those are five foot tall posts holding the Poblanos up.

 

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #18, 7/11/14

What’s been going on!

What was that falling from the sky yesterday?  Four weeks since the last real rain and things were getting crunchy dry.  In a determined attempt to make sure that we were able to solarize next year’s tomato field, that has been waiting for a month for a rain so we could cover it with plastic, we ran sprinklers for 48 hours to wet the soil enough to be effective.  Must be what finally brought some rain.

For solarization to be most effective the soil needs to be good and moist before covering with clear plastic otherwise there is not enough transmission of heat deep into the soil to kill the fungus and weed seeds.  As we have whole rows of tomatoes now dying from the fusarium wilt in this year’s field, it is a stark reminder of why we go to the trouble of covering a quarter acre with plastic.  After this morning that job will be done.

Definitely peak of our tomato season though with the biggest harvest day this last Monday.  Just in time for Tomato Day at the market tomorrow and for ACME’s annual tomato festival with three days of a tomato centric menu.  You can also find our tomatoes on the menus of Elaine’s on Franklin, Pazzo, GlassHalfull, Oakleaf in Pittsboro and Nana’s in Durham.  Time to wade into big plates of tomatoes as they will all too soon be slowing down and then all of a sudden gone until next year.

Picture of the Week

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Sprinkler goes around while half the field is already under plastic

 

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #17, 7/2/14

What’s been going on!

Last Friday I woke up in the middle of the night with the realization that this coming Friday was the 4th of July.  It completely slipped up on us.  Not so much from the “Woohoo! It’s a holiday” kind of thing but more from a small business persons perspective of how do we manage the schedule with markets on Wednesday before and Saturday right after.  Everyone’s normal patterns will be upended, restaurants will be closed some days, people going to the beach or mountains, parties going on, oh and now a hurricane will be brushing the coast and bringing rain (hopefully) here on Thursday.

The potential of some real rain is actually much welcomed as the dry conditions are holding us back from both getting the remains of the spring crops turned under and cover crops planted but we also need a good soaking of next year’s tomato field so we can get it covered with the big sheets of clear plastic to cook the fusarium wilt disease out of the soil.  We did not have a chance to solarize this year’s field and we are already losing a lot of plants to the disease especially German Johnsons, Italian Oxhearts and Kellogg’s Breakfast.

Crops don’t know about holidays so we roll on their needs.  Fortunately after this week’s mow down of the last of the spring crops it is all about picking tomatoes and flowers and keeping the rest watered and growing well.  Tomato picking is a Monday and Thursday morning job and believe it or not this may well be the peak week, already.  There is already a thousand pounds in the packing shed from Mondays harvest and maybe as many coming Thursday.  We will act a bit like Friday is a holiday, at least the tomatoes will be in the house and we will take a relaxed approach to getting ready for Saturday market, see you there.

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Beautiful Lisianthus flanked by soon to be ready Celosia

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #16, 6/27/14

What’s been going on!

So I am torn.  Every year during June, when we have some of the first tomatoes of the season we have customers ask “are these greenhouse tomatoes?” or “are these from the field?”.  I understand the intent of the question, true greenhouse tomatoes are specific varieties bred for indoor generally lower light conditions, grown in bags of sterile potting soil, fertilized through the drip irrigation line, in an artificially heated structure.  The result is beautiful looking tomatoes that taste OK, better than the standard grocery store tomato, but not great.

While ours are grown under a single layer of plastic that is the only similarity with a “greenhouse”.  In our minds they are field grown tomatoes because they are “grown in the dirt” as my brother always used to say when asked that same question.  Flavor and texture in a tomato is mostly due to variety, how they are managed and the soil they grow in.  After years of variety trails (we have grown nearly 200 different ones) we have arrived at the ones that taste the best and produce well in our conditions.  We manage the soil and the plants the same way we always have for field production only we now have covered that field with clear plastic roofs for two reasons.  Disease control is the primary reason, so the plants will live and produce for a longer period of time.  The other reason is we can control the water to them just right both for best fruit quality and intensity of flavor.  Like any fruit, too much water and it dilutes the flavor.  Yes the plastic also allows us to have tomatoes a few weeks earlier than what we normally could do in the open field.

So like many such farming questions that blend many things into one we choose our replies carefully, if we have the time we will explain our system and how it is we have tomatoes so early, if not we just say “yes they are field grown”.  However folks take it, the result is in the fruit and it is starting to ripen fast now, don’t miss out!

Picture of the Week

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The cover crop that will feed next seasons tomatoes, next to this years under a layer of plastic but grown in great dirt.

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #15, 6/20/14

What’s been going on!

Ah the heat, how I loathe you so and just in time for the first day of summer tomorrow.  We have slowly been taking out the last of the spring crops, mowing the remains and getting ready for seeding summer cover crops or replanting those beds to summer flowers.  At least there is time hiding in the AC to do some long range planning, warning- farmer geek talk coming!

Over the years our crop mix and intensity has become more complex, especially now with year round production it makes the crop rotation planning more difficult.  Heading into our third winter with Jennie and all winter growing it has become time to make some major changes in where we plant crops and in what order, a.k.a. the rotation.  In theory we have only added slightly more than one quarter of an acre of new crops but trying to pack that into an already full program has thrown off our carefully choreographed system.

Cover crops are the foundation of our soil management and it was already difficult to find adequate space and time to fit them into every field each year.  The addition of the new fall/winter crops has been made temporarily possible by knocking out a set of winter cover crops on one field and foregoing the fall bed preparation for spring vegetables that is critical to getting those crops properly planted on time.  The easy answer would be to expand and add more fields but we are already using all the best soil we have up on the hill.  We currently have 5 quarter acre blocks that we are now trying to fit nearly 9 quarter acres worth of crops into and another 4 of cover crops, not easily done.

There becomes two schools of practice in sustainable agriculture when it comes to annual crop production, extensive and intensive.  The “extensive” farmers we know basically have two farms, one in cover crops and one in cash crops flipping them each year or so.  This allows them to rest the soil and build organic matter but also means they have to have twice as much land, a luxury most farmers don’t have, like us.  The other end of the spectrum is no cover crops and to just rely on organic matter sources imported onto the farm- manure, leaves, hay, compost, etc..  Not only more expensive and labor intensive but in many ways not as biologically diverse which can lead to a less stable/sustainable system.

So I have spent a lot of time over the last months trying to rethink our rotation and this week put some hours into staring at the design on paper.  The result is we need more room.  We need to go from a 5 year rotation to 6 years but there is not enough field up on the hill to accommodate that.  The best soil on the farm is down in our bottom field but we stopped using that field in the regular rotation back around 2000 after too many floods back in the 90’s.  With climate change and the prospect of more intense storms that could bring more flooding we are not excited about using the bottom field but that is where we are heading.  It hasn’t flooded since 1996 and hurricane Fran so let’s cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Picture of the Week

crop rotation

The new, complex 6 year rotation sequence makes your eyes cross

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 This is the field we are going to put back into the regular rotation, it grows great winter squash!

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #14, 6/13/14

What’s been going on!

A wet week with well over two inches of rain.  After the first few small rains the taller pepper plants were beginning to think about tipping over if we didn’t get some trellis on them.  I had a fitful sleep on Tuesday night as yet another storm slipped by to our north, worrying it would be the one to lay the plants down.  Wednesday morning after getting ready for market we jumped on the pepper trellis and got the first layer on the tallest eight beds, a few of which had fallen over.  None too soon as the big storms of that afternoon would have certainly flattened them with the big winds and 1.7” of rain, instead they are standing straight and tall.

It is good to see real tomatoes on our kitchen counter again.  We had to use the first ten pounds of the season for our dish at the Farm to Fork picnic so our only taste was the inaugural BLT last Friday.  Running about a week behind normal due to the cooler spring but they look really good.  Another round of BLT’s on Monday and then last night the first of the summers tomato and basil risottos, it is beginning to look a lot like tomato season!

The Farm to Fork picnic was great.  The weather was a miracle both for the rains that turned away from us at the last minute and the resulting pleasant low 80 degree temperatures.  Bret Jenning’s, of Elaine’s on Franklin, savory combination of our beets, carrots, fennel and leeks as a filling wrapped in our Summer Crip lettuce with a medium spice salsa of the tomatoes, cilantro and our smoked dried chipotles was amazing.  Think of it as a roll your own lettuce taco.  Chased by the blueberry, ginger and basil lemonade and it was a perfect combination.  Thank you Bret and all of the picnic goers for supporting local farms and the training of new farmers.

Picture of the Week

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Proud and straight peppers

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Peregrine Farm News Vol.11 #13, 6/5/14

What’s been going on!

Thankfully June is here.  Not for the heat or the first tomatoes, even though that is a great incentive, but that May is over.  May is always the most frantic of months and depending on the weather, the crush can be spread out over a longer period of time or compacted as it was this year.

April fools us into a sense of control, crops are growing much better than their laggardly pace of late March and while the weeds are coming up too it seems an easy chore to knock them back.  The weather is not too hot so irrigation is not too pressing even if the rains are thin.  Planting goes apace and is only disturbed by too much rain.  There is more and more to harvest each week but it is never an overwhelming task.

Then comes May and Bam! all those crops we planted in March are ready to harvest and with warmer temperatures can’t wait.  Warmer temperatures means they need more water, which means more weeds and more plant growth so we need to tie up tomatoes more often and trellis flowers and mow and plant more and, and, and…

In about a week we will be able to slide into summer mode.  Blueberries will be done, all of the spring greens will essentially be overheated and finished, the massive onion crop will be drying in the greenhouse and other than a few succession plantings of flowers all of the summer crops are in the ground and rolling along.  There will be nearly an acre less to irrigate.  Harvest melts into steady pace of a daily cutting of flowers, two mornings a week of tomatoes and a few hours each on Wed. and Friday gathering in the remaining vegetables.  The increasingly hot afternoons will be spent in the shade either productively or not.  As much as I don’t like the heat of summer, the arrival of June is a welcome change.

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More signs of June, Campanula and Delphinium

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #12, 5/30/14

What’s been going on!

A huge weekStarting with getting all the peppers in the ground, ending with the start of blueberry picking.  We have moved our pepper planting date back to the third week of May for numerous reasons.  Most people plant their peppers too early when the soil is still cool and the weather unsettled, by the end of May those conditions have improved and the plants can really take off, growing a strong plant that doesn’t have to struggle to get established.  We have two other reasons to plant later; one- we want to let the hairy vetch cover crop get to bloom stage for maximum nitrogen and it is easier to kill, two- because we are in the colored bell business we want the peak of our harvest to be in the somewhat dryer and cooler nights of early September when the fruit quality is higher.  If we were in the green bell business, it wouldn’t matter as much, those things are tough as nails.

Conditions were perfect the end of last week go get the soil ready and Friday was not too hot so that the plants went in without too much stress.  The soil moisture and texture for the no till planting of bell peppers was a good as we have ever had and we rolled quickly through the planting.  A good watering in with the hose and then a long irrigation a few days later and the whole field looks as beautiful as can be possible.

While we could have picked some blueberries last Friday, we always feel we rush it a bit and the first ones aren’t as full ripe as if we wait a few days so Monday was the first official day and we had a small crew make the first pass through the field.  Now they are really rolling, fortunately other than a few days it has not been really hot so we are able to keep up, barely.  Next week should be the peak and we will need more pickers, if you know of any able bodies who might want to come out and pick any weekday morning have them contact us.  We pay cash, $8 an hour for the most enjoyable job anyone has ever had.

Just one week out from the Farm to Fork Picnic.  This year we are paired with our friend and good customer Bret Jennings from Elaine’s on Franklin.  We are still working on our menu items but for sure a blueberry desert and something savory.  Get your tickets now while they are still available and help raise money for new and beginning farmer programs at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and the Breeze Farm in Orange County

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A lot of beautiful berries to pick

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #11, 5/22/14

What’s been going on!

The end of an era and a sad day.  A quiet collapse of part of our local food system rippled through the area last week.  Chaudhry’s Halal Meats in Siler City, who has run the only local independent poultry processing plant since 2008, announced he was throwing in the towel and closing.  He will keep his profitable red meat plant open but despite building a state of the art poultry plant there were not enough birds going through it to keep it open.  This will probably be the last time we will see an independent poultry processing plant operating in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

What happened?  You may remember that when we first began raising turkeys in 2003 there was a small poultry processing plant between Pittsboro and Siler City who had been in business for a few years, struggling to make a go of it.  In the fall of 2005 they announced they were going to close just as the Thanksgiving season was approaching.  We quickly formed a group to take over the plant to at least run it through the end of the year.  In the end we formed a cooperative, Growers Choice, and we fought a losing battle for nearly two years to keep the plant running and get enough birds on the ground to make it profitable.  Between the condition of the plant, the USDA, and not enough birds we closed down operations as Chaudhry announced he was going to build a new plant.

We thought “great you run the plant and Growers Choice will work on increasing the number of local birds being raised”.  In the long run two things happened.  Farmers are independent sorts and really don’t work together well, we could not get them to cooperate to even buy feed in bulk, which would dramatically reduce their production costs.  The other change was loosening of the self-processing rules that allowed people to process more birds on their own farms without USDA inspection; most of the new growers of chickens now process their own.  Only those growers who raised a lot of chickens or turkeys would take them to Chaudhry’s, it was not enough.  I will say that Abdul Chaudhry and his folks did a good job and he kept the plant open longer than was economically feasible made only possible by having his other plant next door to absorb some of the costs and employees.

What will happen next?  The next closest plant is now in 3 hours away in Marion, no one I know will drive their birds that far; so for many, including us, it is the end of their pastured poultry operations, especially turkeys.  Some may begin self-processing their own chickens because they are relatively faster and easier to do than other birds but will do them in smaller numbers than they did before.  All of the turkey producers I have talked to have indicated that they will not be raising turkeys.  Few people self-process more than a few turkeys because they are heavy and much more work than chickens.  So savor that rare local pasture raised chicken you see at the Farmers’ Market and be prepared to go back to a Butterball turkey or have one shipped in from someplace else.  For us it is certainly the end of a long experiment but we will not be raising turkeys this year and probably never again.

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We finally got the last of the Big Tops covered on Monday, now the top of the hill looks more normal

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #10, 5/16/14

What’s been going on!

Well that was quite a bit of rain, 4.5 inches!  We actually needed a good rain, maybe not that much but because we have somehow missed all of the big rains in the last month and have been pumping lots of water it was good to get, might be a bit muddy harvesting for market today.  Cool the next few days, blackberry winter for sure and then probably right into summer conditions for the duration.  Must be time to plant peppers.

Running behind this week after my two day Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) board meeting.  There are a lot of good sustainable agriculture organizations across the country doing great work in all areas of farming to make the lives of farmers and agriculture in general better and we have worked with a number of them over the years.  RAFI is one of the keystone organizations in the movement and has been working on the issues of fairness and farm sustainability since the 1930’s, tracing their roots back to the National Sharecroppers Fund.

Few organizations have the history or the experience to do the work that RAFI does both in North Carolina and around the world.  It is one of those groups that you probably have never heard about because they work either far out in front of emerging issues or quietly in the halls of the USDA, UN-FAO or the North Carolina General Assembly.  Their headquarters are right here in Pittsboro!

This small group has had far reaching impacts on fairness in contracts for farmers, literally writing the legislation for the National Organic Program and other farm bill provisions, saving hundreds of family farms from foreclosure, issues of rural poverty and hunger, preserving the rights of farmers to save seed and develop new varieties, farm worker’s rights and more.  The work is so important that anyone who eats should donate to RAFI.  Betsy and I have worked with them for nearly 20 years and continue to be amazed at what they do; I am honored to be the current Board President.

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All washed clean by the rain, beautiful spinach, baby fennel and other spring greens

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