Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #4, 3/3/17

What’s been going on!

Well our gut instincts were correct, be wary of a warm spell in early spring!  The forecast for tonight is 23 degrees here at the farm, followed by 26 Saturday night.  Colder than we really want to see but most things should be fine especially with some floating row covers.  Betsy is a bit concerned about the amazing tunnel full of Ranunculus that are just now sending up thousands of stems.

A fairly normal late winter week with both indoor and outdoor work.  My annual visit with the accountant, so they can do the end of year taxes, is always a bit like going to the psychologist.  I leave feeling like I have done a thorough job in record keeping but unsure how it will all end up.  I know we are an anomaly to him but he is fascinated by our small business and how it all goes together, especially now with the Jennies transition and its effect on the business.

Planting goes on, as well as cultivation.  The big project right now is to finish up the removal of two huge trees we had to take down.  We had both a big hickory die and a monster red oak starting to die that we needed to drop before they did damage dropping limbs.  The oak is the biggest tree we have ever had to deal with, 36” at chest height.  We have taken care of all the brush and I am just about done cutting up the rest into firewood.  Hey at least we have enough firewood for two winters now!

Picture of the Week

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Beautiful tunnel of ranunculus just hitting stride

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #39, 12/29/16

What’s been going on!

Just a quick New Year’s Eve like note.  We will be at market this Saturday (the real New Year’s Eve) with Betsy’s first beautiful anemones of the new season and just in time for the celebrations.

On a sad note, one of our long time market members and bright light Louise Parrish passed away over the Christmas holiday.  Louise made deadly pound cakes and always had a good word to say no matter how hot, or cold, or wet, or windy or what other crazy things may have been going on.  She will greatly be missed.  You will enjoy this oral history about her done by our friends at the Southern Foodways Alliance

Picture of the Week

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Warm days bring colorful Anemones for the New Year

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Peregrine Farm News, Vol. 13 #22, 7/13/16

What’s been going on!

Betsy says that I need to bring home a good bottle of Champagne tomorrow after I deliver.  We are generally not celebrators of things, you know birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and the like but this occasion seems worth marking.  Tomorrow will be Betsy’s and Peregrine Farm’s last delivery of wholesale flowers.

For 29 years, since they opened their doors, Betsy has grown flowers and made bouquets and growers bunches for Weaver Street Market.  In the early years we were the entire floral department and would deliver from late April up into the fall.  We also delivered to three Whole Food stores and various florists but gave them up years ago as we began to concentrate more of our efforts on the Farmers’ Market.  That was a lot of bouquet making for sure.

As part of our transition plan for the farm we are reducing Betsy’s workload and schedule.  That means no wholesale flowers and only growing flowers for the market.  Betsy has harvested every flower that has ever come off the farm for 31 years; that is a lot of wear and tear and time.  We think she deserves a break and someone else to pick some of those flowers.

Picture of the Week

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She is not quite done picking flowers yet though, Celosia and Lisianthus

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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 #12, 5/28/15

What’s been going on!

We hope that everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend and took full advantage of the amazing weather.  We missed the newsletter last week as we were pushing hard to get the peppers all planted before last Friday, almost.  Just 3 beds shy of finishing but the rest were tucked in the ground on Monday.  Perfect conditions for transplanting the 2800 plants, which got a big watering in with yesterday’s 1.5” of rain.

This week’s big push is blueberry picking!  Despite the cold spring they started right on time and with force this week and we are working hard to find enough people to get them harvested.  Five folks out there today and maybe as many as eight tomorrow.  They look good, lots of big fruit.

Only barely over a week left to get your tickets to any one of the three (or all of them) Farm to Fork Weekend events.  Expanded this year to three days to raise even more money for training programs for new farmers.  It starts on Friday (6/5) with a special five chef dinner at Duke Gardens.  Saturday evening is the very affordable CEFS Sustainable Ag. Lecture with fisheries expert Paul Greenberg and a tasty fish dinner.  Then Sunday of course is the Picnic itself, we are working with our friends at ACME this year and the food will be great!  If you can do all three there is a discounted price of $275, for an incredible selection of foods, farmers, chefs and discussion.

Pictures of the Week

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Two very happy pepper planters, Lacey and Jennie headed to the field

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Maybe the best Campanula we have ever grown

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #1, 2/13/15 A new year

What’s been going on!

They are baaack!!  Not like any kind of zombie apocalypse on Friday the 13th but the long winters nap is about over I guess.  We always feel that Groundhog Day is generally some kind of watershed date, after which the new season slowly begins to unfold.  Right now we are tending to agree with Punxsutawney Phil, more than his southern cousin Sir Walter Wally, that we are going to see six more weeks of winter.

The forecast for the coming week is really extreme, including the chance of snow next Tuesday on the heels of possible record breaking cold with high winds.  We are in batten down the hatches mode, covering and tightening every crop and structure we have.  We expect this kind of extended cold in December or January with crops that can generally take it but not mid-February when we usually do not see any more temperatures below 20 degrees, much less single digits (last night they had Monday morning at 9 degrees, they have since warmed it up to 14).

The greenhouse and coldframe is bulging with transplants waiting to get into the field.  We already waited a week to put out the first field lettuce to get past the last cold snap.  Sunday when it was 70 degrees we planted the first 1000+ lettuce, now we have it double covered as it really is not supposed to go below 20 degrees.  The place looks like a White Sale at Belks with so many crops covered with floating row covers.

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Lettuce covered in the foreground, more tender crops covered both inside and outside the little sliding tunnels

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The high winds make it especially difficult to keep covers on hoops over outdoor crops, Jennie resets the cinderblock weights for the billionth time

The real worry now is the anemone and ranunculus crops inside the sliding tunnels.  They look as good as they ever have but are also at very tender stages now that they are beginning to bloom.  So not only are they covered with row covers on hoops

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But for the first time ever we have run Christmas lights down the ranunculus beds, under the cover, to generate just a bit more heat right at the plant level.

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Every last trick in the book.  The result is there will be anemones for the Valentines Day market and it will be the warmest day of the coming week!

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #24, 7/24/13

What’s been going on!

Yep didn’t get a newsletter out last week, just one of those weeks when none of the stars aligned and maybe the effect of the first week of stifling summer weather was not helping either.  Writing happens early in the morning, before the normal work day begins and we were out early several days last week trying to beat the heat.  We did get plenty done but still we are running a bit behind from all of the rain delays.

We are pushing hard this week to get caught up and stay on schedule with the first of the fall planting.  I know, hard to think about celery and Brussels sprouts when it is still hot and July but now is the time we are all trying to slip the first cool season crops in the ground so they will be ready when the weather ameliorates.  And the mowing, the endless, deep and sometimes futile mowing but we have to keep cutting the grass and weeds back until they begin to run out of steam, if for psychological reasons if nothing else.

One more farm dinner this weekend, the second of Panzanella’s summer Farmers’ Market dinners featuring several farms at one time.  Special menu items on both Saturday and Sunday.  I know a yellow gazpacho from our tomatoes for sure and I suspect some fried green tomatoes too.  Not sure which night we will go to eat but we surely will not miss out.

Picture of the Week

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Celosia Fest, can you say dayglo?

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #12, 6/6/12

What’s been going on!

Beautiful gentle rain this morning, just what we needed both for the flower crops we just seeded but for everything else as well.  With the relatively cool temperatures we have not had to irrigate much but we were getting to the point of having to get into a regular watering schedule.  I decided to pump some more water into the upper pond while the irrigation demands were low and the creek was still running well.  Should have looked at the creek first but didn’t.  After 24 hours of pumping the lower pond almost empty I went down to turn off the pump and the gravity feed line that keeps the pond full from the creek was barely trickling after having run strongly for weeks, Hmmm?  Using the irrigation pump I push water back up the gravity feed line, towards the creek to flush it out and to refill it to get a strong flow going again.  This entails walking the 900’ up to the creek end to make sure the intake is clear where I find the creek is barely flowing!  I am really surprised to see this as we have had OK rains and it has not been really hot so the trees should not be pulling as much water out of the ground but alas the ground water must still be really low so the springs are still not flowing much.  This rain will help give us time to get the lower pond refilled before it does get hot next week.

More general chores this week in anticipation of real tomato harvest.  The big project has been to get all of the red onions out of the ground and into the greenhouse to cure.  The staff got the last of them pulled yesterday, just in time.  Not as big a crop as last year but still enough to have until at least August.  We never grew storage onions in the early years because they are so cheap and abundant at the grocery store but some years ago I was at a conference in Arkansas where I heard an onion breeder talk about how red onions are much healthier due to higher levels of anti-oxidants than white or yellow onions and he was breeding red onions to have even higher levels but remain sweet (the anti-oxidants are also associated with “hot” onions).

So our red onion growing experiments began.  The problem here in North Carolina is we are in between the good onion growing regions.  Up North they have long days and lots of onions bred for that, more South they have short days and onions bred for those conditions.   We have what they call intermediate day length and there are only a few varieties of red onions we can choose from but fortunately we have found a couple of good ones.  In any case they are just in time for summer salads and salsas with the impending tomatoes and peppers!

Picture of the Week

Brilliant Zinnias even on a rainy day

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #11, 5/30/12

What’s been going on!

It is that time of year when we make multiple daily passes by the early tomato tunnels looking for the first ripe tomato.  For us, it is always the last week of May when we eat the first one.  Yesterday, during the morning inspection tour, I see a yellow tomato outside on the grass, and then inside I find several mostly ripe Cherokee Purples on the ground, partly eaten by some critter.  Damn them!  We annually have possums or coons eat the first ripe melons but never really the tomatoes now, for the first time ever, we will have to deploy the electric net turkey fencing around the tomato tunnel. Having the fence up is such a nuisance for us to deal with but after a few weeks it usually deters them enough that we can take it down.

Blueberry picking done for the season and as we thought we might do, we made a last pass through the field on Monday and picked about 12 pints which we will freeze for us.  With the peas gone as well, we are now freed up to get some other jobs done.  More planting of summer flowers, late cucumbers and lettuce.  Summer cover crops were seeded on the field the over wintered flowers were in and the now harvested and uncovered tunnel ends just before the rains came last night, perfect.  Cultivating young crops and getting the irrigation set up in them, lots of trellis built over tall flowers under the Big Tops.  Plenty to do but comfortably under control.

 Picture of the Week

On a gray day, the radiant Dianthus glow flanked by the first Celosia, Campanula and Carthamus

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #12, 6/8/11

What’s been going on?

For farmers the search for new and better crops is a constant thing, or should be. Sure there are varieties that are tried and true and we wouldn’t dream of not growing, like Cherokee Purple tomato, but it is necessary to continue to try new things. Variety trials are a way of life. There are many reasons to try new things like better flavor, a different color, more disease resistance, more production, better plant structure, replacing a variety no longer available and more. Each year we have dozens of new varieties we test, many that you many never see. This year alone there are 20 new vegetable varieties that we discovered in catalogs, travels or talking with other growers.

It is in the flower fields that we have done the most research for new crops and in the most structured way. Betsy was one of the first members of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, founded back in the late 80’s. Since that time we have attended most of their national conferences and Betsy has served as regional director, treasurer, conference chair and founder of the Research Foundation. Early on they instituted a variety trials program where the seed companies would provide seed for their newest cultivars and a select group of farmers and universities from around the country would plant them out and report back on how they did. Number of stems, stem length, disease problems, vase life, etc.

Some years these new varieties are just ho-hum or total failures in our climate but the data is useful anyway. Betsy is really enthusiastic about the some of the new sunflowers starting to bloom this week and after probably a thousand varieties over the years, I can tell you when she wakes me up in the morning talking about how incredible some of the new dark sunflowers are it gets my attention. So after three decades you would think that we have seen and tried them all but we know that is not true and while it is rarely as exciting as a whole new kind of crop, like the first year we had turkeys, there are still some gems to be discovered and we continue to explore!

Picture of the Week

Staring at the sun

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