Well we have made it to June and now it gets cooler? This is about the time when I start dreading the heat and the whole summer of it to come. When Betsy and I moved back here from Utah (we went to college there) I thought being raised mostly in the South that I would get used to the heat and humidity again. Now 24 years later I still suffer but have learned to arrange my days to avoid it the best that I can. This week looks as if I won’t even have to practice my avoidance techniques!
We are still in the throws of massive blueberry picking and they look as good as any crop we have ever had, I expect this week to be the peak and then they will peter off over the next two weeks. Betsy and I are trying to get other work done around the place while the staff picks berries. This is truly the change of seasons from cool season crops to warm, so there are new crops to weed and trellis and old ones to take out to make room for something else. Yesterday I was cultivating some of the flowers including sunflowers, celosias and the second planting of zinnias while Betsy was doing a last hand weeding pass through the first zinnia planting which is showing color on the buds! I was also tying up tomatoes which look fabulous under the new roofs. Lots of fruit set and very healthy. Mowing, irrigating, turkey chores, deliveries to our wholesale accounts, general life, we can barely keep it all together until the blueberry season is over and we can focus the staff back onto regular farm work. My mother used to say “life is so daily”.
Back in April sometime I mentioned that I was on the Board of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) and the kind of work that this non-profit is involved in. As I was preparing to send in our annual donation check I was reminded by our executive director that we have a matching grant underway from the Lawson Valentine Fund. I would encourage you as a supporter of local food and farms to consider making a donation to help in the important work that SSAWG does. Our farm is the kind of operation that SSAWG is working to create all across the South, we have gotten lots of inspiration and ideas for our operation over the years from this group and we think that it is the best of the organizations that we work with. If you are interested in donating to SSAWG I would be more than happy to discuss it with you, I do have information packets that I will have at market and of course there is the website www.ssawg.org.
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A farewell to cool season flowers. Larkspur so incredible that Betsy couldn’t even begin to harvest it all
Posted in blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, flowers, newsletters '04
- Tagged blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, flowers, heat, newsletters '04, SSAWG
This is definitely the change of seasons going on. Mow down the larkspur and other flowers, take down the pea trellises, turn under the last of the lettuce; plant more sunflowers, the last tomatoes and seed the winter squash. Winter squash? That definitely is a sign of different things to come. Just as we will be treated by the first tomatoes and melons my schedule tells me it’s time to seed the Brussels Sprouts for Thanksgiving! Sometimes I am struck by how far in advance our schedule is determined. Things like when to seed and plant have been decided last year, by early December at the latest. Every fall we sit down with our notes and the seed catalogues and plan the entire coming year. Fortunately we can now do it on computer spread sheets which makes it easier to make changes. This year there are over 300 lines/entries that correspond to different varieties and planting dates. I always say that any plan is better than no plan especially, when in the heat of the fray, all I have to do is look at the list and say “Oh yeah, it’s time to seed Brussels Sprouts”. I then scratch my head in disbelief but know that this decision was made in calmer times with great deliberation, so off we go. Other decisions like where to plant those B. Sprouts may have been made years in advance by our crop rotation scheme, we now have an eight year rotation where the same crop will not be in the same piece of ground for eight whole years. Sometimes it is comforting to just follow the known path than to try and design a new trail!
The turkeys graduate today. They are now five weeks old, fully feathered and big enough to move out to the fields permanently. We have been letting them out daily and getting them acquainted with their new mother ship (a portable shelter for their nighttime rest) and the moveable electric fencing that will keep them in and the four legged predators out. First stop on the Tour de Peregrine will be in some of Betsy’s shrubs that she cuts for flowering branches (like the Pussy Willows), this gives them a little more cover from hawks etc. while they are still on the small side. Then every few weeks we will move them to “greener pastures” until they have made the entire loop around the farm.
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Fabulous Annabelle Hydrangeas and the new turkey stomping grounds.
Rain, rain, rain. We’ve had 3.5 inches in the last two weeks and it would be alright with us if they turn the tap off for a bit. Hallelujah for the “Big Tops”, the tomatoes still look great as well as Betsy’s lisianthus and the staff can still work even if it rains (of course if they are like us they are looking for a day off). The fairly continuous rain at market on Saturday once again made us think about how great our customers are, coming out and supporting us and the other vendors at market even in the rain. It also makes us think about how basing our business around outdoor Farmers’ Markets is at the whim of the weather and other factors beyond our control. We consciously have moved more of our business towards the markets over the past few years for several reasons, first we just love to be at market, to see everyone and hear what you all think about the products that we sell. Second it fits with our scale of production, when we were more in wholesale we had to keep growing more to meet their needs, it was never enough. Third it is better income than wholesale because we can sell for closer to a retail price. On the other hand the market life can be relentless with no way to overcome days with bad weather or other problems, we can’t just take the stuff home and bring it back next week, that’s why they are called perishables. I explain to the staff and others, including family members, that 75 percent of our business is done at the Farmers’ Markets and so Saturday, in particular, is not to be trifled with. No weddings, no family reunions, no extracurricular activities on Friday or Saturday morning during market season. We have about 100 hours a year to make our living, we don’t mess around with that. So when the forecast is for rain it makes us pause, then we are always pleasantly surprised when the customers come out. Thank you again.
Despite the rains we have a fairly busy week going on. Several groups touring the farm including the graduate students in floriculture from NC State and the student interns from the Center For Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro. We host them every summer during their intensive week on Soils. They come to see how we manage our soils sustainably and to see how a small farm can be profitable. These groups always ask good questions that make us think about why we do things the way we do, I think that its always good to look in the mirror from time to time.
The next 40 turkeys arrive this week as well. We get them in two batches because the Heritage birds take at least 26 weeks to get to size but the Broad Breasted birds grow so fast that they only need about 18 weeks to get huge. We are hoping that we won’t have any 30 pounders like last year by getting this group later. The Heritage birds are getting big and have moved to their next location, maybe a picture next week.
Tonight (Wednesday) is Panzanella’s Local Food dinner with part of the proceeds going to support the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Look for our tomatoes on the menu and the flowers that Betsy donated to spruce up the festivities. Go and eat great food made from local products and support our local sustainable farming non-profit!
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Despite the rains look at how beautiful the Lisianthus and Celosias look!
I’d like to report that there has been lots of laughter, gaiety and ha cha cha going on here at the farm but mostly we have been hiding out from the heat, OK some laughter. This is really the time of year we have been in training for, by having the crops all trellised, weeded and irrigation lines in place we can concentrate in the mornings on getting things harvested and then get the hell out of the field by noon. The staff only works in the mornings because I think that it is inefficient and too brutal to have them out in the field during the heat of the day, they do work Wednesday and Friday afternoons but that has to do with getting ready for markets. The afternoons we reserve for in the shade or indoors chores. Betsy is usually down at the packing shed (which is deep in the woods) under a ceiling fan stripping and bunching flowers and I am either delivering, at Wednesday market or trying to get some kind of paper work done. Very late in the day, actually early evening, we slink back out, taking advantage of the lengthening shadows and nick away at one thing or another, Betsy will cut flowers as they are dry now and I will get on the tractor or work on some other project. We have farming friends in Alabama who just give up and take July and August off and don’t even try to grow anything. Further south in Florida friends there have a reverse season where their peak production is February and March and their “winter” are the summer months. With global warming I am beginning to think about summers off!
The usual chores this week- the first lettuce for late August harvest went in the ground, a few more flowers for September, a little weeding, trellising, move the turkeys to their next location (the turkey with the bad leg took his stay in the poultry spa well and has been reintegrated with the rest of the flock). Lots of daily irrigation as we have missed all of the torrential rains that have been hitting all around us. Today we have a bus load of farmers from Virginia coming to see the show, about twice a month we have groups come through to see how we do it.
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Sunset at the farm, the bright red Celosia is aptly named Forest Fire, Betsy is now cutting this second planting of Zinnias
Quick newsletter this week, I am working on it Tuesday night late because I have to leave before the crack of dawn tomorrow for an all day meeting. Crazy week so far with lots of small but endless details to deal with including a “twilight tour” that we hosted last night to show the “Big Tops” to interested souls. We have the first of these multi-bay high tunnels in the southeast so our friend, fellow flower grower and the US distributor for them (Haygrove Tunnels) asked us to have an open house for interested growers. He came down from Pennsylvania to talk about them and we just mowed the place up. Got done way after “twilight” then up early to usual chores and move the turkeys into the Blueberry field. Followed by another huge storm and power outage (when I had planned to do the newsletter), at least our phone service came back on after 5 days. Isn’t technology grand! Looks like we could have a wet week yet to come.
The meeting tomorrow is a full day on no-till soil management. You may remember way back on week #10 I mentioned that we are using this system more and more on peppers, tomatoes, and winter squash. We think that it is the way of the future and we are continuing to try and refine our techniques. This looks to be an excellent workshop with big name (at least in farm circles) speakers from around the country presenting. I will let you know if we learn something earth shattering.
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A riot of color. This is how Betsy grows those incredible Zinnias with long stems. This planting is over her head now so it will be gone soon and a new one has already started blooming.
First day of fall, how great is that news!? Twenty 28 weeks ago I sent out the first newsletter and it was just before the first day of spring. Since then we have been on that wild ride the growing season always gives us, most of it is a blur right now but will actually become clearer as the fall rolls on and we can step back and look at it. What a difference a week makes, last week we were preparing for Ivan and this week is quintessential clear fall weather. Soil preparations for the winter and next year are going smoothly and we will get most everything seeded down to cover crops before the next rains come early next week. Because cover crops are the backbone of our soil fertility program I get a very “focused” in getting them in just right. The perfect time to get them established is now thru the first of November and it is ideal to catch a rain just after seeding them.
Of course there are other things that we need to get done as well. The first of next years flowers went in the ground yesterday, yes the next season has already begun for us, from now until mid November we will plant a half an acre of flowers for spring harvest. There are other “putting the farm to bed for the winter” chores beyond the cover crops. Maintenance on the sliding tunnels, we move any dirt away from the rails, sweep them down and give all the wood parts a coat of linseed oil (it is all untreated wood because we don’t want the arsenic leaching into the soil where we are growing food). Taking out the rest of the trellising, pulling up the last drip lines and stowing it all away. The last big job is to move a quarter acre of “Big Tops” to it’s new field. That should take about a week in total and I want it done before we go to Italy in less than four weeks, yikes!
There is work to do on the house, work to do on the packing shed, the driveways to drag back up the hill after all the rains and people ask “what do you do in the off season?” Before we know it, it will be March again and time to start back to market! As Saturday is our last regular market for the season, this is the last weekly newsletter of the year. I plan to send one out monthly through the winter just to keep you updated on what we are up to, look for one just after we get back from Italy and then one just before the special Tuesday before Thanksgiving market. If we don’t get a chance to say it to you either this Saturday or before Thanksgiving, we do greatly appreciate your support of what we do here at the farm!
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The first 3000 flower plants for next year, Sweet William, Delphinium, Campanula and more!
Busy, busy, busy! Both here at the farm and on the road. Betsy was gone for a week to Florida for the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers convention. She always comes back with a million new ideas and I have to try and sort through them with her. She was also awarded the Distinguished Service Award, even though she tried not to accept it, no one has worked harder for the Association. The last week and half has been a blur. The turkeys went in for processing which is both a lot of work and somber at the same time. It all went fairly smoothly and they are now in our walk-in cooler awaiting Tuesday’s market. Betsy had to turn around and drive up to Virginia to pick up 12,000 tulip bulbs that she jointly ordered with some fellow growers. These are now planted in crates so that we can force them early for next spring, look for them in March!
The two of us passed each other as I drove up to Asheville for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Assoc. conference where I presented in three different workshops. At the banquet the Carrboro Farmers’ Market was awarded the Sustainable Business/Entity Award for the work its done and the leadership the market has given both to local farmers and to other markets across the state. It is markets like Carrboro and customers like you that give hope to small farmers and the ideas of viable local food systems. Monday I jumped on a plane to Alabama to give two workshops. One for the Alabama Sustainable Ag. Network and the other to a group from Auburn Univ. who are setting up an organic research station. I was really glad to get home after giving five talks in five days! I’d say the meeting season has started hard and fast.
The end of this week has been back to farm work. The cold snap last week finally killed the foliage on the tuberoses and the dahlias so that we could dig them for the winter. We have to dig these tubers because they cannot take the cold temperatures we experience over the winter, then we will replant them next spring. They have been kind of in the way of getting the rest of the fields put to bed for the winter. Now that they are out the last of the soil preparation is done and the cover crops are sown! Yesterday we planted the first 4000 Dutch Iris and the backs of our legs are telling us about it!
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Look close and see the Brussels Sprouts (left of center) and the Celery on the right
Wow what a difference a week makes! I noticed yesterday (as I drove out the driveway on the way to yet another meeting) that the wild onions have started growing and this morning, as I wandered around, lots of things are waking up for spring; blueberry buds swelling, the breath of spring and quince are beginning to bloom and more! Betsy is beginning to wonder if I actually farm anymore or just go to meetings about farming. This last five days has been non-stop. The first market was enjoyable even though it always seems like we are learning to walk again, even after 20 years at the Carrboro Market. We always view the first market as both a shakedown cruise to make sure we can find all of the market paraphernalia and to have time to visit with all of you before the season gets rolling so fast that we don’t have much time for conversation at market.
Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday I had a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) board meeting. Fortunately this time it was in Pittsboro so I didn’t have to travel. We worked hard and, as always, I came away mentally tired. 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 www.ssawg.org . I would encourage you as a supporter of local food and farms to consider making a donation to help in the important work that SSAWG does. Our farm is the kind of operation that SSAWG is working to create, we have gotten lots of inspiration and ideas for our operation over the years from this group and we think that it is the best of the organizations that we work with.
The board meeting ended at noon and I rushed home to help plant eight more beds of vegetables before the impending rains and then rushed off to the Community College to teach a class on tomato production. Yesterday I was gone again, very early, to drive to Goldsboro to give a workshop to a group of extension agents on crop rotation. This is a bit unusual as I am the one who is usually sitting in the audience learning from them. But this is the last one! Today starts the beginning of the non-stop farm season! Thankfully Joann started regular work Monday so at least something is getting done around here! We are running about a week behind on one of the major projects of the spring season which is moving the “sliding” greenhouses and getting the early tomatoes planted (more on this next week). Today we will begin the process by preparing all of the tomato beds for planting. So I am off to the field…
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Magnolia blossoms opening
Wow, what glorious weather! Summer must be right around the corner. This week as we were planting yet more Celosia flowers (this is an inside joke at the farm, Betsy always seems to have more Celosia to plant) Rett asked how many folks who had worked for us had gone on to start their own farms. I had to think about it for a bit and finally came up with at least six (mostly in this area) and another three or four who most likely will someday. That is out of the twenty plus people who have worked a full summer with us in the last ten years, that’s almost 50 percent! I always say that only about one percent of the folks that start out to farm actually make it past the first five years. Now some of my market gardener colleagues would view these new operations as competition but we view it as an indicator of sustainability. An indicator that we have developed a sustainable farming system that can thrive and hire quality people who can then go on, take parts of our system and create their own. An indicator that this kind of farming is truly being embraced and supported by consumers and communities all over the country. Remember that one of the three tenets of sustainability is the social component and we feel that in the long run it really is the glue that holds it all together. This is an example of why certified organic is really a narrow view of farming, it doesn’t take into account these sorts of social dimensions. Rett who is working on his own side market garden project had his first day at farmers’ market yesterday, so another one is launched!
You know that summer must be close when we start planting the winter squash! We planted 2500 feet of row to six different varieties including acorns, butternut, and my favorite Sweet Dumpling. We got the second planting of corn in and cultivated the first planting (not a great stand due to the cold soil temperatures) More sunflowers and other warm season flowers too. Finally the late spring cover crops began to bloom and so we have started to plant the no-till peppers and late tomatoes. We roll down these huge cover crops, which kills them, and then we cut a slit into them and the soil then plant the transplants right into the mulch. By the end of today all of the peppers will be in the ground and we put the last planting of Cherokee Purple tomatoes in last Friday. The irrigation rolls out behind all of these new plantings as we are beginning to get dry and these little quarter inch rains just don’t do much, when the hot days come it will become critical quickly!
On a literary note, I knew last week that I had mangled Twain’s quote about cold weather in San Francisco. The quote actually goes “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”. Well I had several corrective e-mails and further conversations at market, including one that said he had used that statement about Portland or Seattle. This all peaked my interest and so I did a little research and it turns out that it is all an urban legend, there has never been any documentation that Twain ever said or wrote this quote. So I guess we where all wrong! None the less, the comparison to the generally cool temperatures in that part of California allowing ideal conditions to grow lettuce still holds.
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Tough love, peppers planted directly into the rolled cover crops. Better for the soil and the sweet bell peppers
We started the annual clean up/rescue of the Blueberry rows yesterday. Now that they have been in for fifteen or sixteen years they tend to mostly be forgotten and just a another part of the landscape until it is time to pick them. We mow the grass between the rows a few times a year but the birds love to sit on the branches and “deposit” weed seeds under the bushes in places that make it hard to get at. We do mulch the rows heavily every few years but this hardly stops the well fertilized weed seed. It would be OK if they were just harmless annual weeds but as time goes on it is things like small trees, and the vines that like to cover the plants like trumpet creeper, morning glory and our favorite, poison ivy. So every May, just prior to the berries ripening, we go out armed with gloves and pruners and cut out these woody invaders, mow as close as we can and maybe do a little selective weed eating. In the end it is much cleaner and pleasant for the endless hours of picking to come. Everybody has been asking when will the blueberries be at market. I went back into the records and found that the average first picking has been May 25th (Friday) but as cold as this spring has been and from what I saw yesterday I don’t think we will make it. The earliest ever was last year on the 22nd and the latest ever has been the 31st, with the exception of 1997 when we didn’t have any blueberries at all because of a very late freeze in April. That was the same year that we had frost on Mothers Day, set the lowest high temperature record for June on the 6th at 59 degrees and the record June low of 48 degrees on the 10th! I guess there can be stranger seasons than this one has been!
The last of the wholesale lettuce goes out tomorrow and in general it has been a good lettuce season, we will still have lettuce for market for weeks to come but the selection becomes narrower each week. Behind the lettuce we immediately turn under the residue and have been planting more warm season flowers, the third planing of Zinnias awaits tomorrows lettuce harvest so that they can get in the ground, a week late! The field tomatoes have finally decided to hell with the cool weather it is time to grow so we had to go through and prune and tie them up to the trellis for the first time this season. Many more passes will be made over the next several months to keep them climbing up the fences. The Turkeys are three weeks old now and will get to go outside, for the day, for the first time tomorrow, always very amusing to watch. Betsy is now cutting flowers everyday and the walk in coolers are filling up and are a riot of color, it finally feels more like our normal routine.
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Incredible Sweet William, what a great long lasting flower!