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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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #7, 5/4/11

What’s been going on?

Weather alert- this years Blackberry winter will occur today and tomorrow. My father called this last cold snap in May “Blackberry winter” because it always happens when the wild blackberries are blooming. Looks like 40 degrees or even high 30’s here tonight and then another cold night Thursday. Our friends who farm in central Texas called last night in a panic because they have an acre and a half of zinnias and celosia planted and it was going to be in the high 30’s which, as farmers know, could mean frost if the forecast is slightly off. They were pulling out the covers to protect it all!

No such extreme actions here at Peregrine Farm as everything we have in the ground has seen cool temperatures and we know that after this we are into the steady sure warming of May. Next week is pepper planting week and they will be happy to have avoided yet another Blackberry winter. Peppers, second only to Eggplant, hate cold soil and air temperatures and will just sulk if planted too early in the season. Our belief is that a happy pepper is one that goes into warmer soil and continues the grow vigorously, sure they will grow and make peppers if you plant them early but probably not as well if one waited just a week or two.

Sometimes the frenzy of spring has nothing to do with crops and crop care. I told Jennie the other day, who has seen me wear a tool belt a lot this spring, that really my job is Maintenance Man. Sure farmers are supposed to spend the winter fixing things and preparing the tools for the busy season ahead but sometimes the problems are not apparent until you start using the equipment in the spring. The big one so far was the rebuilding of the big walk-in cooler (last week) but yesterday was a classic breakdown as I started to mow the last of the winter cover crops and tore up a universal joint on the mower, arghh!! Parts ordered and I will have it fixed next week, not too bad, sometimes these repairs can drag on for weeks waiting for parts. Now we will just hope that nothing else breaks down, soon.

Picture of the Week

Sweet Willam in the early morning light

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #16, 6/23/10

What’s been going on?

So what else is there to talk about other than the heat!!!! We are looking at the hottest June on record unless some wild cold front blows in next week. Luckily we are at that point in the season where there is not a lot to do as far as planting, or greenhouse covering or other hot jobs. It can really be strategic early morning harvesting or weeding and watering and then slip back into the shade or the house. It is a little hard on the staff because they are not getting as many hours in as they would like but then their quality of life is probably better for it. So far the heat has not affected any of the crops, just the attitude of the farmers. It might sunscald some tomatoes in the little tunnels if it keeps up but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Tourist season has begun at Peregrine Farm National Park. Last week we hosted the summer interns from the Center for Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro. Folks from all over the country and Uruguay here to learn about sustainable ag. Only one of them really thought they might want to be a farmer, the rest were interested in some kind of work in agriculture or “food systems”. I find it encouraging and interesting that they are now studying food systems in college as just a few years ago it was a new concept and phrase in the farming community. Maybe change is upon us.

Betsy also met and toured with an Afghani woman who was here to see small farms and marketing examples to take back to Afghanistan. She works with mostly women growing vegetables on small farms near Kandahar and selling to all the foreign workers there as well as the local population. Like politics, sometimes all marketing is local, you have to work with the situation at hand.

The new turkeys are, so far, the healthiest batch we have ever gotten. After a week they are all happy and growing like crazy, haven’t lost a one. The older Bourbon Reds, now ten weeks old, seem to have hit their stride and are now running around one of Betsy’s “recreational” flower beds, waiting for the first batch of Zinnias to be finished so we can move them into their first real production field to eat bugs and spread manure for us. As long as they have shade and water they handle the heat better than the humans.

Picture of the Week

Brilliant Celosias

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #14, 6/9/10

What’s been going on?

The other part of the change from spring crops to summer crops is the planting of the summer cover crops. The rains of the last few weeks has made the soil a dream to prepare as the disk cuts the ground easily. Sunday I disked under the spring crop residues in the areas getting a summer soil improving crop and yesterday I spun out the cowpeas and soybeans that will fix free nitrogen and then covered them lightly. Today I will spin out the millet and sundangrass seeds on the different blocks and the job will be done, hopefully we will get a little rain in the next week and they should come racing up.

Mow, mow, mow. Some parts of the farm only get one or two mowings a year, and with all the rain recently, the grass in those areas shot up shoulder high. I spent almost five hours yesterday cutting just the very top sections of the farm and the majority of the bottom field. Much of it I had to creep along in a low gear so the mower wouldn’t bog down. Some of this mowing is just defensive so we can keep the weeds and trees at bay. The less used areas are also the hiding areas for the crop eating varmits, especially the groundhogs. The groundhogs must have really had a good year last season because there are a lot of them and they are not afraid, yet. So far this spring we have dispensed with four and there are at least two more working. The mowing will make it much easier for me to spot them now.

Now that the record short blueberry season is over the staff is getting caught up on other projects. It is major trellising season as many crops have had that growth spurt they put on when their roots really get established. Tying up tomatoes every week, the lisianthus is now over a foot tall, the peppers have gotten tall and floppy. The guys got the first set of support arms on the peppers and today we will run the lower strings to help them stand up straight against storms and to better carry a big fruit load. Weeding and cultivating new zinnias and celosia, planting more late season flowers, lots to do.

Picture of the Week

Campanula and almost dayglo Dianthus

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #9, 5/5/10

What’s been going on?

Well we got screwed on that last “rain” for sure. Looked so promising and we planted and got other things done before it started on Monday morning, it spit for a while and then nothing. Even the rain gauge was dusty. Nothing in the forecast for the next week either. Wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t looking at temps near 90 and the upper pond hadn’t mysteriously drained itself.

Drained itself, what? Last Wednesday, Cov had taken his dog down to the pond for a swim and returned asking “what happened to the pond?” I looked blankly at him and he said “there’s no water in it”. Down we go and sure enough it was drained about two thirds of the way. Must be a hole in the old metal stand pipe I figured but as it had been 35 degrees that morning I wasn’t about to wade out there and find out. Finally on Sunday when it was near 90 degrees I waded out in the waist deep water and twelve inch deep mud to inspect. No hole that I can see or feel, hmmm? Could the gravity feed line to the lower pond somehow started running on all it’s own, I couldn’t see how. It is about the only answer I can think of. The dam is fine, no signs of critter burrows, no signs of any kind of leak. Maybe 1000 deer all came and had a big drink.

I put a stick in at the water line and it appears to be slowly refilling from the trickle oozing in from the old spring. Another blow against the hole in the stand pipe theory. What ever the cause we need to get it refilled quickly while there is still water running in the creek. The water that disappeared is about one and a half months worth. If it stays this dry we will need it in August for sure. It better start raining soon!

The pace just picked up this week, weeding in the lettuce, onions and spring veggies. Tying up the early tomatoes, thinning beets. Soon trellising the flowers in the Big Tops but after we get them covered later this week. Deliveries, preparations for Mothers Day and Graduation markets. Irrigation, getting the line from the creek running and now filling up the pond. And today the now three week old turkeys will begin to explore the outdoors to get used to grass and the big world. Hold on.

Picture of the Week

Amazing Anemones some over 24 inches tall

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #6, 4/14/10

What’s been going on?

Green, green, green. Looking out the office window it is now impossible to see down to the lower field as the trees are almost all leafed out. The Hickories are still slowly sending out their new leaves but everything else is far along. Still the lime green of immature leaves, not full sized and still very tender and susceptible to strong winds and cold snaps. They are not the hard, glossy, dark green leaves that can stand up to summers heat, still the innocents of spring.

Lots going on this week, with plenty of extracurricular activities to boot. Too many meetings- Rural Advancement Foundation International board, Friends of the Carrboro Farmers Market, and Farm to Fork Picnic. Today I am teaching a class on sustainable soil management at the community college, Friday we have a class from Elon College coming here to learn about small farms. Next week a Farmers Market board meeting and another community college class on tomato and pepper production. Hard to get the farm work done.

This coming Sunday afternoon I am co-teaching a class with Marilyn Markel, the head of Southern Seasons CLASS cooking school, and Craig LeHoullier who is one of the nations leading authorities on heirloom tomatoes. Craig, who is from Raleigh, maintains a seed collection and has grown somewhere around 1400 different tomato varieties, he is the one who introduced our favorite tomato to the gardening world, Cherokee Purple. This class is a combo of general spring vegetable growing talk and then specifically tomatoes as it is nearing the perfect time for planting. Marilyn with be cooking up a number of dishes using our spring greens and other veggies. I think there are still seats left.

Speaking of events, the Farm to Fork Picnic is just over a month away on May 23rd. Tickets are going fast with over half of the 600 sold already. This is a great food event pairing the areas best chefs and farmers together to raise money for new farmer programs. This year we are paired with our friends Ben and Karen Barker from Magnolia Grill. The annual Piedmont Farm Tour is also coming up, April 24 and 25. Get your buttons the ticket to the tour.

The Viburnums are at their peak, ahead of schedule, what a crazy spring

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3/19/04 Vol. 1 #1

Happy Spring to all!

Betsy and I hope that the winter has been good to you all and that you have been enjoying the first vestiges of Spring.  Tomorrow (Saturday) is the first Farmers’ Market of the year and the first day of Spring.  To mark that occasion we are also launching our e-newsletter.  We hope to send out one each week during the season to let you all know what is going on here at the farm, what crops are coming along, and other farm related items that we think that you maybe interested in.  They will be brief and not take up too much of your time.  We get so many questions from folks about what’s going on out here that we felt that this would be a good way to keep people up to date.  If you wish to not receive this newsletter just reply so to this message or just let us know at market.  On the other hand if you know folks who you think would be interested in news of the farm then please feel free to forward this to them and encourage them to e-mail us to be added to the list.

What’s been going on?

For us it has been a fast and furious winter with lots of projects being started and completed, entirely too many meetings and lots of fun and educational travel.  Betsy has taken on the mantle of the most traveled this off season with trips to Vancouver (she let me tag along for this one), Florida, Missouri/Oklahoma, Virginia, and most recently Ecuador!  All flower related and she saw and learned a lot of great things.  We have always felt that it is very important for our business to continue our education and research into new things, in fact we still spend up to 5% of our gross income on this continuing education and we hope that you all reap the benefits of it!

Things here on the farm are lurching into spring.  We have been planting indoors in our unheated high tunnels since late last year and outdoors since the beginning of February.  Generally the crops look good and we have been able to stay right on schedule until this last week when the rains have made it too wet to work the soil.  I imagine that we will be right back on track by the end of this coming week.  As a bit of insight into what it takes for us to schedule and produce the almost 200 varieties of vegetables and flowers that we grow we plan the entire season usually in early December and then order seeds.  It turns out that we are planting something into the field 47 out of the 52 weeks of the year!
Picture of  the Week
Sliding tunnel with anemones, collards and lettuce

4/2/04 Vol. 1 #3

Typical spring week warm, pleasant and sunny the first half and then gray the second half.  Still lots to do though, both on and off the farm.  Betsy and I are still trying to get out from under some of these “extra curricular” activities that we become engaged in, slowly but surely!  We do sit on a number of Boards of organizations that do work that we feel is important to the small farm community.  Betsy is the Treasurer and seems like general counsel for the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCFG), “the” national body for growers of cut flowers other than roses and carnations.  I am in the third year on the board of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG), this is a great umbrella organization that does important work all across the South with family farms.  I encourage you to check out their website for all of the different areas that they work in .

How did I get onto this jag?  Oh yeah Monday nights long Farmers’ Market board meeting.  Most folks don’t realize that the Carrboro Farmers’ Market has the organized structure behind it that it does, they think that it “just happens”, you know organized chaos.  That is actually what we want people to think.  In reality the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Farmers’ Markets, Inc. is farmer run and controlled group.  It is directed by a seven member board elected by and from the vendor members.  We also currently have three paid staff that take care of the day to day market operations.  Betsy and I have been involved with the Board for sixteen years now in some capacity or another.  Why?  Because it is so important to our life and business.  The market accounts for 85% of our business and we also believe that it is one of the finest examples of how a local sustainable food system can work.  See you just thought you were buying fresh vegetables and flowers!

On the farm planting continues as we finish up the spring crops and start the warm season ones.  Dianthus (Sweet William), the first Sunflowers and a few other flowers went in and just about the last of the lettuce for the season.  Just before the rains came!  Good thing too because otherwise the end of the week would have been spent setting up irrigation.  Now it’s time to start cultivating/weeding, we got through the lettuces and a number of flowers before the rain.  Trellising peas and fertilizing the flowering shrubs like hydrangeas and viburnums.  Work in the greenhouse moving up the tomato transplants into bigger containers, 720 plants of ten varieties that will go into the field in three weeks.  More seeding in there too, the plants have to keep rolling out so we can stay on schedule.  In between a little construction work on the Packing shed, teaching a couple of classes at the Community college and…

Picture of the week

Look at all of those anemones!

5/12/04 Vol. 1 #9

For weeks now I have been telling myself that if we can just get to next week things will slow down a little, hmmm how many weeks have gone by now?  The problem with May is that we are keeping all the balls in the air at once.  We are still planting a lot of stuff, keeping it cultivated, trellised and watered and then the volume of harvesting really kicks in with wholesale deliveries and big markets.  You throw in something extra like building a turkey brooder or a new market and it just tips the cart over.  Soon the planting will slow down and some of the cultivating and we can get into a steady rhythm of harvesting and markets.

Good progress last week even in the unusual warmth.  We put in Betsy’s main planting of Lisianthus, very important for market in July as well as the first big group of Celosias.  The new Southern Village market started smoothly and looked good, we know it may take some time to get rolling but the customers seemed to be pleased to have a market out there.

We tied up and “suckered” (pruned off the lower shoots) the tomatoes under the “Big Tops”, they really look great and are growing before your eyes!  I can just taste the tomatoes now!  Peppers start going in today and should be finished up by tomorrow at noon, phew!

Of course the big event was the arrival of the turkeys last Thursday morning!  As hard as it is believe they come to us in the mail.  They hatch them in Texas, put them into a box and send them to us Priority Mail, two days later the Post Office calls.  Betsy ran up to the Post Office in Graham, after they called early, while I went out and began cutting 28 cases of lettuce.  By 9:00 we had dipped each one of their beaks in the waterer and then set them into the feed trays and they were off running around in the newly furnished Poultry Villa.  They are just little fuzz balls when they arrive but grow really fast.  Their wing feathers are really developing now and the first signs of tail feathers showed yesterday.

Picture of the Week
A Blue Slate on the left and a Bourbon Red on the right.

5/19/04 Vol. 1 #10

OK I think that we have rounded the corner.  The peppers are all in and we have gotten caught up on flower planting as well- more zinnias, sunflowers, celosia as well as salvia, cosmos and dahlias.  Betsy is excited about the new dahlias partly because they are a new crop for us and this is a new kind of dahlia as well.  We even managed to finally get the basil in the ground and the celeriac too!  Part of the reason that the peppers are such a job (beyond the fact that there are 17 one hundred foot long beds with 2200 plants) is that almost two thirds of them we plant using system called “no-till”.  The less we turn the soil over the less organic matter we lose and the better the soil micro life likes it.  Every time we till the soil it’s like opening the draft on a woodstove and causes the organic matter in the soil to decompose faster.  Some crops we have to till for a good seed bed but others we can just plant directly into the remnants of the huge cover crops that we have grown over the winter.  In effect we grow our fertilizer and mulch right in place instead of hauling it in.  We have been using this technique for nine years now and have expanded it to include the late tomatoes, winter squash and are experimenting with some of the flowers.  It is a tried and true method used by corn and soybean farmers but it is very new to vegetables.  The slow part for us it that we have to plant by hand into a slit that the tractor makes in the cover crop residues, sometimes the slit is better than others and it takes at least twice a long to plant as the ones that we do on landscape fabric.  In the long run though not only is it better for the soil but we have found that our sweet bell peppers perform better.

This week we also began a research project with some NC State grad students on beneficial insects.  They are planting some tomatoes and certain cover crops down in our bottom field and will be seeing what good and bad bugs are attracted by the different crops.  This is one of many projects that we have hosted over the years with NC State.  It’s good for us because we are exposed to all kinds of new ideas and good for them because they get out onto real farms, which is different than doing projects on research stations.  It is hard to create  the kinds of crop mix and interactions that we have here back at the research station.

More weeding, trellising, and lots of irrigating going on.  It is really beginning to feel like a drought year at least in the way we are having to water crops, but that can change quickly.  The turkeys are doing great, trying to fly around now and we have put roosting bars into the Poultry Villa now so that they have a place to fly up to and sleep on.

Picture of the Week
The pepper field, hot peppers on the landscape fabric and the sweet bells in the greenish looking cover crop residue at the top of the field.  In a couple of months it will look like the picture on page 62 of Magnolia Grill’s Not Afraid of Flavor