8/13/08 Vol. 5 #21

Well the break is over and we managed as relaxing a time as we have ever had during “the summer break”.  There is usually a little too much farm work to do to really feel like we had time off.  This time though, while we did go out every morning and do some chores for a few hours, it was never a forced march.  Dan did come out on Wednesday to help me pick tomatoes so we could do a small delivery that day and because it had to be done.  Wednesday was really the only real work like day though.  We lounged around in the air conditioning and watched movies, went out to eat almost every night  (and many lunches too!), I even got to run up to the mountains for a night and just sit and look at the view.

The highlight though was definitely the 90 Indian civil servants who arrived on Tuesday afternoon in two buses when it was 98 degrees!  This group of officials from the Indian Administrative Service, which is the highest  tier of civil servants in that country, was here for two weeks hosted by the Duke Center for International Development.  While in North Carolina they were studying how government policy relates to service delivery and infrastructure development.  One of the things they specifically asked us for was to see some US farming techniques.  Now we have hosted a lot of tour groups over the years and many from foreign countries but this group was unlike any other!  They were like a fourth grade school field trip with their energy and questions.  As they rolled off the buses they immediately surrounded Betsy and me and started rifling questions as fast as we could answer.  No subject was passed over.  How long have you been farming, what is that crop, how do you irrigate, what is your income, how many taxes do you pay, where to you sell your crops, and on and on.  Betsy’s favorite question was do you sell to Walmart?  There was no organized guided tour as they were all over the place and then 45 minutes later they were on the bus and gone.  Wow, did that just happen?  It was so much fun that we told the Duke organizers to bring more!  Next up in a few weeks Chinese officials.

Now it’s back to the salt mines, but the end is in sight.  We even began the long dismantling process yesterday, taking out the first flower trellises and pulling up irrigation lines.  We are very glad to see some rain moving in today because thing were beginning to get crispy again.  One note, our Panzanella/Weaver Street Market farm dinner is this coming Monday the 18th from 5:30 to 9:00.  The menu will be pepper and tomato heavy, perfect!  I am hoping for a stuffed poblano and probably a fresh tomato sauce on pasta among others.  I believe that 10% of the proceeds go to the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.  Hope to see you there.

Picture of the Week
Cov and Dan working in the Brussels Sprouts on a rainy day

8/20/08 Vol. 5 #22

Wow, I almost forgot to write the newsletter this morning!  I woke up thinking about the turkeys and then just forgot that it was Wednesday.  We had one of those turkey events yesterday that makes one question why we raise them.  Most of the time the birds are well behaved and get along fine, but as they get older they become teenagers and lose all common sense occasionally.  Just like teenage boys the toms get full of themselves and can start picking on each other.  The problem with turkeys is once they draw blood they just keep at it until their victim is dead or disappears.  Such was the case as I went out yesterday evening to feed and water them.  I found two birds cowering under the roosts with the backs of their heads all bloodied, one seriously.  I separated them out to the hospital pen to heal and the others don’t even know that they are gone.  It is one of the things about raising any livestock; injuries, sickness and death occur more often than one likes.  It is something that you have to get used to, ready for and become somewhat hardened about.  It is just not the same kind of emotion as when a hail storm comes or a disease kills your tomatoes.  Fortunately these two should recover completely and will be reintegrated with the flock with no further troubles.  From now on though we have to keep a closer eye on them as you never know when they will get crazy.

We had a good evening on Monday at the Panzanella farm dinner.  Great turn out and the dishes they made with our produce were very nice.  It is hard to beat a good tomato and mozzarella salad or pasta with a fresh tomato sauce, just two of the dishes they offered up.  For us one of the best parts is seeing everyone who came out to eat food with our produce and to spend time with our own assembled group.  We always end up with a large table surrounded with our current staff, some former staff and other friends.  We carried on, told stories and hopefully weren’t too loud.  The next farm dinner features Chapel Hill Creamery and their great cheeses.

Picture of the Week
Dan and Cov cleaning up the lisianthus for the last time

8/27/08 Vol. 5 #23

Well that was the largest rain event we’ve had in maybe a year or more, 3.5 inches.  Just in time to help with the crops but it also helps to get the ground ready for fall planting of cover crops and next springs earliest flowers.  It has been so dry that it has been impossible to get the soil probe into the ground to take soil samples much less think about turning crop residues in.  The fall process here at the farm starts with taking soil tests of every planting area in August.  By the time we are ready to begin preparing the fields for next year, in September, the results will have come back.  We amend the fields only once every year as we are really feeding the soil microbes that in turn help release the nutrients that actually feed the crops.  We are just trying to make the soil environment ideal for all of the “livestock” that live in the soil and help us farm.

What we add to the soil are minerals that get used up in the process of growing the cash crops.  Every time we send a flower or head of lettuce home with you, you take some of our minerals with you so we have to replace them.  We add lime (calcium and magnesium) to make sure the soil is not too acid for the little critters.  We also add phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) which are major players in root, plant and fruit development.  With that all set for the coming year we then can turn under the remnants of this years crops and get the soil ready for the winter.  We will raise up beds or wide ridges so the soil will drain faster and warm up quicker in the late winter and early spring when we need to begin planting.  After that we will seed it all down with soil holding and improving cover crops of a grain and a legume.  It is hard to imagine that we need to be getting ready for next year already.

On the turkey front the two that were injured last week have been returned to general population.  One we slipped back in a few days later with the younger birds and then moved back with the older birds and they all are getting along fine.  Quee Queg (remember the tattooed native from Moby Dick), the more injured of the two stayed in the hospital for a week and now is in the same process of re-entry, first with the little guys and then the whole clan.  We moved them to a new field so there are new things to keep everyone entertained.  Did I say it was like teenagers?

Picture of the Week
some damp turkeys, Quee Queg on the far left

9/3/08 Vol. 5 #24

Well it looks like the rain isn’t over yet.  We ended up with seven inches last week from the remnants of Fay and with hurricane Hannah on the way there could be a whole lot more.  We had water moving debris in places we have never seen before.  Of course the driveways that I had just regraded are all now back down at the bottom of the hill.  The most interesting were the leaves and sticks that washed out of the small gullies that are across the heavily wooded hillside between the top fields and the bottom fields.  The river backed up on the bottom field for the first time in several years but only on the lower end.  It got within about a foot of the irrigation pump, which we are always prepared to pull out if need be.

It has dried out nicely now and the mowing has begun.  Nothing like a little water to make weeds and grass, pent up from the drought, go wild.  Betsy has been on the small mower for two days getting all the grassed areas and I have been on the tractor taking out the summer cover crops, old flower crops and areas we haven’t mowed for some time.  This will be the last mowing for the season on a lot of the farm so it is very satisfying.  Mechanical frost we like to call it.  After this next storm (assuming there is not another on its heels) I will begin turning soil over and getting ready for the winter cover crops.

No newsletter next week as we will be in Portland Oregon for the 20th Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers conference.  I think that Betsy has been to nearly every one and this organization has been very important to the growth of her/our cut flower business.  She has served on it’s board of directors as both regional director and treasurer.  She now is the executive director of their Research Foundation.  It is always a good time with interesting tours of farms and of course checking in with old friends.  We will be back in time for next Saturday’s market though.

Picture of the Week
Newly mown Zinnias with the old celosia going next

9/17/08 Vol. 5 #25

OK enough with the rain for a minute!  Thirteen inches over the last few weeks but at least the forecast for the next week looks sublime and maybe fall is really here.  We had a great time in Portland last week with the cut flower growers where they kept us on the move.  Up every morning at 5:00 to get on a bus for another tour.  The first day we went out to the misty coast and saw acres of colored calla lilies, hydrangeas and the largest artichoke producer in Oregon, beautiful huge purple chokes.  The second day we went to the Portland Wholesale Flower Market for a short visit but it is always good to see how the larger farmers send their product through the system.  In our only real free time Betsy and I made it downtown to a really great small farmers’ market (the size of the Carrboro Wednesday market) with some of the finest produce displays we have ever seen anywhere.  We took lots of pictures and brought home some new ideas for our set up at market.

The last day we headed south of Portland into the Willamette valley to see four farms including the largest dahlia grower in the US with an amazing 40 acres in full bloom!  We also visited maybe the largest producer of dried flowers in the US with something like 30 acres including their huge drying rooms and processing facilities.  Just when we thought the bus rides were over we got back on the bus that evening and went up the Columbia river gorge for a dinner cruise on an old paddle wheel boat.  Beautiful night on the decks with the moon rising over the river.  Friday we were up again at 5:00 to start the long flight back home.  Back to the farm with just enough daylight to cut some lettuce, feed the turkeys and finish loading the truck.  Dan and Cov did a great job taking care of the place and had us ready for market but by the time market was over on Saturday we were ready for a rest!

Things here on the farm are winding up smoothly despite the rain.  Most of the irrigation is up and put away (don’t seem to really need it anymore) and the Big Tops are uncovered except the last bay with the last tomatoes.  Soon we will be ready to begin to turn under all the fields.  The little sliding tunnels are all cleaned out and several already planted with crops for Thanksgiving.  The Brussels Sprouts are maybe the best looking we have ever grown, at least at this point.  If the grass would just stop growing so fast from all the rain, the end would even be closer.

Pictures of the Week
Acres of Calla lilies and Dahlias

9/25/08 Vol. 5 #26

A day late for a number of reasons.  Anticipating this current impending storm we worked a full day yesterday getting things picked and soil turned over.  Friday was to be the last pepper harvest of the season but we moved it up to yesterday to get it all done while it was dry.  Just as we thought, there were still so many fruits left on the plants that is took all day to clean them off.  So many peppers in fact that we will be coming to Saturday market one more week than usual.  For nearly ten years now we have finished up our selling season the last Saturday of September as the peppers have waned along with everything else (including us!).  So this year we have a bonus week.

As I have mentioned before, one of the reasons we close down earlier than many other area farms it because we feel it is vitally important to help us properly get the farm put to bed for the winter.  Because our soil maintenance and fertility is based on growing lush cover crops we need to have the time and the fields empty so we can get the soil ready to plant them.  The optimum time to seed these winter soil improving crops is September and October.  If we had crops in the ground until November, or later, we would be able to maybe get some winter rye to come up but that would be about it.

So for weeks now we have been clearing the fields of trellises, irrigation and mowing down crops as they have finished up.  All that remains is the pepper field and a few rows of flowers, at least until next week.  Finally, yesterday, I spent the day on the tractor making the first pass over two acres of now empty fields cutting in the residues of the summers growth.  This first disking, followed by the rain over the next few days will allow the residues to begin to breakdown.  In a week or so I will follow with more soil preparation until in the entire farm is in raised beds and seeded to various combinations of winter grains and legumes.  We only have three weeks until we leave for the Slow Food event in Italy and there is still much to do.

Speaking of Terra Madre in Italy, not only are we going but two of our favorite fellow farms are also going.  Joann and Brian Gallagher of Castlemaine Farm (336-376-1025) and Ristin Cooks and Patrick Walsh of Castle Rock Gardens (919-636-0832)  are also going with us.  The deal with Slow Food is if you get yourself there they pay for everything else, housing, food etc.  That leaves a large plane ticket bill for these still new and small farms to cover.  To that end they are having a fundraising Chicken dinner at Castle Rock Gardens in Chatham county on Oct. 12th.  Chicken from their farms along with vegetables too for only $25.  Check with them at market for further details and tickets or call them at the above phone numbers.  Let’s help get them to Italy!

Picture of the Week
Just disked fields, a few rows of flowers and the green of the pepper field all the way down at the trees.

10/3/08 Vol. 5 #27

Last Saturday market of the season (for us). For six months each year our daily life is ruled by the anticipation of Saturday market. We may have lots of things going on here at the farm during the week but in the back of our heads it is always there, the inevitable weight that the Saturday market carries. Betsy says it always feels like Friday-Saturday, Friday-Saturday. Somewhere over sixty percent of our business is done in those five hours on twenty seven Saturdays. 135 hours a year to make most of our living. Most retail businesses are open something on the order of 3000 plus hours a year. At times I realize what a miracle it is that we can make a living, outdoors, in such an intensified way. Of course with out all of your support it would not be possible at all, thank you.

The winterizing of the farm goes apace. Yesterday the last of the pepper trellis was pulled out. We build quite an elaborate trellis system using metal t-posts, wooden cross arms, wire and baling twine to hold up the 1800 feet of row. Sometimes when you design these support systems you find out it takes longer to take it down than it took to put up. So over the years we have come up with a system that is not only fast to put up but also to take down. It is designed so, if done well, all the wires and strings are easily wound up on spools as they are pulled out of the plants. The spools are stored for the winter and next year will be reused and just rolled back out over next years pepper plants. Finally all the metal posts are pulled up and stacked next to the mountain of wooden cross arms, ready for another season.

The last of the tomatoes are gone too, trellises out and the last of the Big Top covers pulled down and wrapped up for the winter. The guys even got a fresh layer of mulch on the blueberries last week. All last winter the power company had crews trimming the trees along the power lines all around the area. We told them they could dump all the brush chips they wanted here. Now after half a year of composting it is beautiful mulch for the berry bushes. The turkeys have been moved to their last stop in the tour of the farm, a field with lush green grass to eat and rest on. In less than two weeks they will go away.

Two weeks from today we will have just landed in Italy, fighting jet lag and driving our way up into the Alps to see a part of the country we have never been in. Next week I will give you a run down of what our two weeks in Italy will be like. Don’t forget the fundraising Chicken dinner at Castle Rock Gardens in Chatham county on Sunday Oct. 12th. Chicken from their farms along with vegetables too for only $25. Check with them at market for further details and tickets or call them at 336-376-1025 for Joann and Brian Gallagher of Castlemaine Farm or 919-636-0832 for Ristin Cooks and Patrick Walsh of Castle Rock Gardens. Picture of the Week With the trellis gone, the guys are picking (and throwing some) the last peppers before mowing

11/25/08 Vo. 5 #28

Hmmm… what happened to that pre and post Italy report?  Well the race down hill towards leaving for Italy, including getting the farm shut down and taking the turkeys to processing, sucked all the air out of the room.  Since we’ve been back, between catching up on all we missed and fighting the head cold that seems to be going around we now find ourselves on the morning of the special Tuesday before Thanksgiving market from 3:00-6:00 this afternoon, more on that later.

Like all big trips and conferences, Italy was exciting and exhausting, too short a stay and too long, too much to see and not enough.  We arrived in Milan a week before the Terra Madre conference was to begin.  This would give us time to recover and acclimate before we encountered both our Italian family and the nearly 8000 delegates at the conference, it is hard to say sometimes which takes more stamina.  Off we went in our rental car (Betsy driving and me navigating, which is quite humorous to our Italian friends) east up into the Alps and the Dolomites.  Past lake Como and then up a the long Valtellina valley whose specialties are pastas with buckwheat, a cheese called bitto, what seemed like a lot of apples and lovely red wines.  Just over the northern mountain is Switzerland.  The second day we drove over the Stelvio Pass the second highest in Europe at 9000′.

Once we cleared the pass we were in the Alto Adige or Sud Tirol as this area is really a part of Austria under the Italian flag.  All places have two names the Italian and the German and German is the dominant language.  For two nights we stayed at an apple farm up on the slopes of the Dolomites, over looking Bolzano, and were definitely the only non American tourists in the area.  The food here is Germanic with lots of sausages, kraut and dumplings, more beer than wine and a lot of apples.  We drove for parts of three days, maybe 150 kilometers, through non-stop apple orchards covering the entire valley floors.  The disappointing thing was they were all the standard commercial varieties we have here in the stores; Red and Golden Delicious, Fuji and Gala, no old European varieties!

On the fifth day after leaving home we finally arrived in Torino and at our dear Italian friends who housed us and went too far out of their ways to take care of us.  We had a few days to visit with them before the Slow Food events started and it was just right.  The combination of the Terra Madre conference with nearly 8000 delegates from 150 countries and Slow Foods’ specialty food show, The Salone del Gusto, next door with 180,000 attendees over five days is in many ways too much.  Your senses are overwhelmed by the sights of everyone in their native dress and the taste and smell of the foods that it sustains you for a while, then you realize the crush and madness of it all and you have to walk outside for a while to reorient your self.  We do always come away with the reaffirmation that the local food and small farm movement is doing some amazing things around the world and in the US, and maybe that is enough of a reason to throw yourself into such a maelstrom.

The highlight, for us, was on the last day of the conference when our Italian friends hosted most of our Triangle delegation at their farm for a cookout and farm tour.  Amazing food and for most of them the only time they were on a farm since they left North Carolina.  I think that it allowed them to tie together some of what they had seen and heard for the previous four days about community and food that is “good, clean and fair”.

The last three days we retreated to the Ligurian coast and the beautiful area of Cinque Terra.  Five fishing villages clinging to and strung along a steep coastline.  We walked the trails between the towns, ate way too much, and slept.  Finally the long road home with many train, bus, and plane changes.