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
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3/26/04 Vol. 1 #2

This is that time of year when we seem to go around the clock but we sure packed a lot of living into this week!  One of those seemingly endless meetings that I alluded to last week started off this week.  I went down to Robeson county to participate in a panel discussion to help kick-off Small Farms week.  A lot of activities surround NC A&T State Univ. Small Farms week including the naming of the Small Farmer of the Year, this year it is our very own Stanley Hughes who sells with us at the Saturday market!  Betsy and I were chosen in 1995, a long and dusty time ago.  Got home in time to help Betsy cover a wide variety of crops with floating row cover in anticipation of the cold.  18 degrees here on Tuesday morning, everything looks fine tho’.

There are a few critical weeks in every season (tomato and pepper planting weeks being two) this week happened to be one of those as it is the week that we “slide” our sliding tunnels/greenhouses.  For those of you who have been to the farm before you have seen our six 16’X48′ tunnels on rails that we move to cover sensitive crops.  I takes the better part of two days to complete that move which includes taking the end walls off, unbolting endless bolts, the actual slide and then putting it all back together again.  We got smart this year and actually split it into two days (Tuesday and Thursday).

Picture of the week

They hate it when I make them stop half way for pictures!  Sliding off of early planted flowers and over the tomato beds with trellis installed

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 www.ssawg.org .

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!

4/9/04 Vol. 1 #4

Another huge week on the farm.  So much happened that it is hard to remember it all!  The cold weather early in the week (29 degrees out here on Tuesday morning) passed without too much apparent damage, still hard to say how the blueberries faired as they where blooming up a storm.  We took advantage of the cool temperatures by finishing up getting in all of next years firewood.  We have been heating with wood  for 23 years now and the task always looms large and important (it’s the only heat source we have), we over achieved this winter and cut enough for a year and a half!  I can already see more leisure time coming next winter.  It is great security knowing that we won’t have to break up the furniture next winter to keep warm!

This dry weather has been perfect for getting all of the cultivation/weeding done, the staff has done a great job of cleaning everything up, now we just need some water to keep it growing.  Even though the forecast is for a good wet period early next week I will still be setting up irrigation today, that will bring the rains for sure!  We also got more things planted both in the greenhouse (more tomatoes, tomatillos, sunflowers) and in the field with the first of Betsy’s fabulous Zinnia’s being seeded.  Last year we planted the first Zinnias three times (does that make each planting the first?) because the first two were flooded from all of last springs rains.  Won’t happen this time, they are high up on the hill.

The big project this week is the subject of the picture of the week.  You will get lots of news on this as the season progresses but we began the final step of a process we started last fall.

Picture of the Week
This is the worlds largest roll of plastic!

4/16/04 Vol. 1 #5

Kind of a mixed bag this week.  Beautiful rains early in the week allowed us to catch up on rainy day chores.  The Staff moved up 2400 pepper plants into larger containers to grow on for a few more weeks when they will go out into the field the first week of May.  21 varieties this year, a few new ones for you to try out, the pepper roaster will make it’s appearance in only 18 or 19 weeks!  Wednesday was a raw day and we used it to do some cleaning up of the edges of the field and burn some brush.  The Wednesday afternoon market also opened this week (kind of slipped up on us and I forgot to let you know last week that it was opening, sorry).  More clean up on Thursday after trying to cover one more of the “big tops” with those 30′ X 100′ pieces of plastic, we are lucky we all didn’t get blown into the next county.  Today is the day!  Calm winds and perfect weather, we are going for at least 4 bays, find out next week!  Cold weather scare the last two mornings, Thursday was right at 32 degrees with some scattered frost and we fully expected this morning to be colder but it looks as if 36 degrees might be a cold as it got.  We protected everything as if the worst was coming and it all looks good.  I did pick some short asparagus in anticipation of a freeze so they will look a bit odd at market tomorrow.

A bit of news from last week.  We had one of our best cheerleaders/supporters here last week helping us on the farm.  A bit of history, Betsy and I started Peregrine Farm by incorporating and then selling shares of stock to people who knew us and wanted to support this kind of endeavor, several who receive this newsletter.  We had many great shareholders who were very patient with us in the lean years as we figured out how to make this place profitable.  The best was Dottie Eakin who not only helped us with investment money but has come almost every year, from far distant places,  to spend a few days to a week working on the farm.  The reason I say was is that we now own all of Peregrine Farm, Inc. so we no longer have outside owners but Dottie still comes and helps.  Without her and others like her we would not be here today, thank you all!

Picture of the week
Look at the what’s to come!  Peas, spinach, broccoli raab, turnips…

4/23/04 Vol. 1 #6

It all just moves faster and faster now.  When I teach classes in sustainable farming I start with a pyramid diagram of the important parts of a farming system in the order of their importance and when they occur during the season.  On the same level I have Weed Control, Irrigation, and Trellising; all of equal importance but also they slap you in the face all at the same time during the year.  Well consider us slapped!  We have spent the week setting up irrigation all over the farm, and getting all of the trellis (1000 feet) up to support the main planting of tomatoes.  Today the tomatoes go in the ground, couldn’t imagine more perfect weather for planting them, they should just hit the ground running!  I got a little conservative this year with only ten varieties, still all of the favorites- Cherokee Purple, Striped German, Green Zebra…only seven weeks until the first Sungolds!

In our spare time we did manage to cover four more of the “big tops” (one of our neighbors drove by and yelled “it looks like the circus has come to town!”), we are getting much faster, only an hour per bay now.  We entertained our first Kindergarten class, wow I think I will stick with teaching college aged kids.  Two more meetings preparing for our new market at Southern Village, I will talk more about this in a week or two but our market association is opeing a third market there on May 6th.  Otherwise we just jumped around like chickens on a hot plate trying to get it all done.

Obviously lots of options for the picture of the week but we agreed that the most important is this one.  Joann Horner and her fiance Brian Gallagher launched their Castlemaine Farm at the Wednesday market.  Joann has worked for us for three years now and is Chief of Staff here at Peregrine Farm, she is days away from closing on her own piece of land.  This year she is growing on a piece of our farm and selling her produce at the Wednesday market and other locations.  Beautiful greens- Kales, turnips, mustard, bok choy and soon swiss chards, cabbages, kohlrabi and more.  We have had a number of our staff head off into their own operations over the years but none that we have been so involved with and encouraged about.  Look for and support them at Wednesday market and of course Joann will be keeping us organized on Saturday mornings through the season.

Picture of the Week
Grand Opening of Castlemaine Farm- Joann Horner and Brian Gallagher

4/28/04 Vol. 1 #7

New delivery day for the newsletter in an attempt to reduce the workload on Fridays and to give everyone a little more heads up on what’s going on at the markets.  We raced around and got a number of things planted before Mondays rains (not as much as we would have liked, only a quarter of and inch).  The last of the spring lettuce, more sunflowers (we plant sunflowers every week for a continuous supply), tuberoses and more.  We are at that point in the season where we are out of room in the fields and need for something to finish up so we can plant more!  This week we have two deadlines rapidly approaching that we are rushing to meet.  The first is the building of a new brooder house for the turkeys which are arriving next Thursday.  Last year being a test year we just threw together a small room behind the greenhouse to raise them for the first 6 weeks until they were big enough to go out into the field.  It was adequate for 20 birds but not great.  We have 60 birds coming next week and no place to put the little guys hence the urgency!  Started building a 8′ X 12′ shed yesterday, got the floor and half the walls up tick, tick, tick…

If we had nothing else to do this would be OK but Saturday and Sunday is the Farm Tour!  Our annual opening of the doors to the general public to come see the farm.  Many of you have been on the Farm Tour before and it is a great opportunity to see many of the folks who sell and the Carrboro Market.  Few folks know that the tour was actually Betsy’s brainchild.  Ten years ago she thought it would be great for customers to be able to go see the market vendors farms.  In the end Weaver Street Market sponsored the Tour as a benefit for Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.  Betsy designed the first tour and worked closely with Weaver Street and CFSA on timelines, etc.  Now in it’s ninth year thousands of people go on the tour and it raises thousands of dollars for the work CFSA does.  It is easy to go on the tour.  Just pick up a map at market or Weaver St. or many other local businesses and go to first farm that you want.  The best deal is to buy a button which will be your pass for as many people as you can stuff into one vehicle, for as many farms as you want.  29 farms this year so you will have to choose, it is hard to do more than 3 maybe 4 farms in a day.  In the mean time we will be mowing and picking up around the place, nothing like have hundreds of house guests all at once to make you buff up the joint!

Picture of the Week
Look at all of that lettuce!  Those are the “Big Tops” in the background

5/5/04 Vol. 1 #8

Happy Cinco de Mayo, too bad there aren’t any peppers to celebrate with!  Crazy week this one, way too much going on.  We barely missed the bullet last Wednesday morning as I last wrote.  I went out to find a heavy frost, the place was white!  All looked good and the tomatoes under the “Big Tops”, that we didn’t cover, looked unfazed; that would pay for those structures alone!  Whew!  It was great to see everyone out on the Farm Tour, a little damp but still a great turn out.  I may be getting old but it is a long weekend for us, especially Saturday following market, but we love to show folks were it all comes from and how we do it.  Lots of rain, 2.6 inches through Monday and things are good and wet now.  The new Poultry Villa is complete and ready for the 60 Heritage turkeys that are due tomorrow morning, it took some focused work to get there, hard to do when we have so many things going on.  Lots of folks have asked about ordering turkeys for Thanksgiving.  I will send out more info as we get a little closer to fall, don’t want to count those turkeys until they are hatched!  We are supposed to be planting peppers this week, one of the last Herculean tasks of the spring, I am thinking that due to the wet soil and hectic schedule that we will wait until early next week, I know, I know don’t worry the pepper roaster will make its debut on schedule.

Tomorrow is the launch of the first really new market in the family of markets that the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Farmers’ Markets operates in maybe 20 years.  While we have moved the original midweek market around town several times we have never operated more than two markets.  This new Thursday afternoon market (3:30-6:30) in Southern Village will be an great new addition.  It is being held on the green across from the Lumina theater where they show the outdoor movies in the summer.  The folks who run Southern Village have been great to work with and are excited to have us there.  Betsy and I are going to attempt to sell there as well, it will be a stretch as we have honed our production to meet our current market demand.  We plan to have most of the vegetables and a large flower selection.  Betsy even plans on being there to sell!

Picture of the Week
Green Boston Lettuce, this is the peak of the season

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