6/3/09 Vol. 6 #11

We finally made it to June, seemed like May lasted longer than usual for some reason.  I spent most of the morning yesterday on the tractor doing defensive mowing of the vigorously growing grasses around the edges of the field.  Defensive because the ticks are amazing this year if you have to venture into that tall grass and because the ground hogs are back and I makes it easier to see them if the grass is short.

Ground hogs are our most feared pest, more than deer.  They can and will eat entire plantings of stuff in a day, deer just nibble here and there, if they get past the electric deer fence.  We noticed last week that some lettuce had been eaten on the edges of the rows in the field and then some lettuce transplants in the flats in front of the greenhouse had been eaten too.  Finally Cov went down to trellis his own pole beans in the bottom field and some critter had wiped out the entire row and had helped themselves to the golden beets too.  Several days later we finally spied both the hilltop and the bottom culprits.  The ground hogs never seem to show up until it is warm enough in the spring, usually about now, and in the past few years we have not seen one here on the farm as they move around from den to den.  We can’t fence them out without huge logistical and maintenance headaches and they just laugh at the traps so I am now on afternoon rounds to see if I can get a shot at them.

In less than two weeks, June 14th,  we will be participating in the second Farm to Fork picnic,  put on by the Slow Food Triangle chapter and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.  The proceeds will benefit new and young farmer programs in Orange county and down at CEFS.  Last time it was great fun as chefs and farms are paired to come up with great food.  There are something like 26 restaurants participating and we are paired with Watts Grocery this time around, should be entertaining and delicious.

While the mower was on I mowed down the early spring flowers (larkspur, bachelors buttons, etc.) soon it will be summer cover crop time.  The blueberry picking rolls on with many hands on deck.  Monday we had possibly the largest crew ever with nine in the field, still didn’t put a dent in the massive crop.  The third planting of zinnias and celosia are going in the ground just as the first zinnia bloom has been spotted.  We ate our first BLT sandwiches on Monday so summer is officially here!

Picture of the Week
Beautiful Campanula and other flowers under the Big Tops

6/12/09 Vol. 6 #12

Well today’s newsletter was going to be about the arrival of yet another seasons day old turkeys but the hatchery called yesterday and said they would not be able to ship them until next week.  Next week is too late.  I haven’t called them yet to cancel the order but most likely will today.  Now procrastination is part of the problem here as I waited until the very last minute to order them in the first place.

As some of you know, last years turkey behavior was so crazy that at one point, near the end,  I came stomping into the house telling Betsy to never let me order another bird.  It was the Bourbon Red heritage breed birds who were the bad actors, fighting with each other, picking on the Broad Breasted Bronzes, killing each other, making my life far from tranquil.  Over the winter I slowly weakened thinking about the benefits to the farm from manure and bug eating, and of course everyone’s interest in them.  I began to think “well if I just raise the mellow Broad Breasted Bronzes, it would be easier”.  It would not be helping to save the endangered heritage birds but it would still give us all the other benefits of having turkeys on the farm.

Through the spring I continued to go back and forth until finally one day I decided I had to give this new variation a try to see if, in fact, it would make our quality of life better.  Much too late (only two weeks ago) I called and they said that there were none available the first week of June, my preferred date, but yes the second week.  I breathed deep and said OK.  Now the problem is on the other end of the season.  If the birds come next week (the third week of June) it will put their processing date up into October when we are planning on being out of the country.  Last year was similar with processing happening two days before we left town and Cov had to pick them up from the processing plant and deal with them.  Too many added complications on top of the normal ones associated with going away for a long period of time.  I haven’t called yet but the stars are not lining up well.

Picture of the Week
Did I mention the profusion of Gloriosa Daisies?

6/17/09 Vol. 6 #13

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain.  Good thing we had a rain day yesterday as we are all just now recovering from the Farm to Fork picnic on Sunday.  It looked like a good time was had by all despite the heat.  Not so hot that you just stood there panting but definitely the sweat was running down my brow.  70 plus farmers and chefs cooked and served up an amazing array of small bites from every kind of vegetable pickle to collard green kimchi and barbecued shrimp with bloody Mary sauce to cabrito tacos with heritage corn tortillas.  A pre-event estimate of 650 people were signed up to attend, including the farmers and chefs, not sure if they all showed but a nice chunk of money was raised for the new farmer programs at the Breeze Farm and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.

We had fun, as always, working with Amy Tornquist and Glenn Lozuke from Watts Grocery and Sage and Swift Catering.  We presented a beautiful trifecta of Treviso radicchio leaves with a small piece of Glenn’s house made pancetta topped with some of the first tomatoes of the season; a colorful hand held bitter, salty, sweet salad.  Glenn had boned out an entire pig, stuffed it with herbs and hot roasted it, all night, in a traditional porchetta style and it was amazing.  The third part of the trifecta was a lemon ice cream with a blueberry swirl in tiny little corn meal cones, each with a blueberry in the bottom.

Back here in farm land the rain is holding us up from getting things done.  Blueberry picking was canceled for yesterday and I hope we can get a full morning in today.  We began the onion harvest on Monday but it is too wet to continue until maybe Thursday, it is bad to harvest them when wet and muddy, too much danger of ending up with rotting onions later.  We need to cover the last of the Big Tops this week so we can plant the late tomatoes, the transplants of which are really ready to get into the ground.  Looks like we will blast into summer on Friday when it goes straight to the high 90’s, that’ll dry it out for sure!

Picture of the Week
Pig with snout on the left, radicchio salads in the middle, tiny little ice cream cones on the right.

6/24/09 Vol. 6 #14

We are beginning to get caught up around here but the record setting blueberry crop continues on.  Into a fifth week, we have never picked for more than four weeks and that has only happened a few times.  Today is the last official pick as there are very few berries left and the birds sense it, every time I walk by there is great fluttering away of all kinds of winged thieves.  We always get behind during the blueberry picking fiesta and that combined with the rains compounded the amount of projects needed to be done.  Thankfully this week has been dry and reasonable for getting stuff done.

Two fun things going on this coming week and in the near future that you can help with, both will benefit the Carrboro Farmers’ Market.  First up is 3 CUPS, the wine, coffee and tea store on S. Elliott Rd. is donating 5% of its sales next Monday through Thursday (June 28-July 2) to the market.  It was kicked off last night with a social at the store with a number of vendors from the market and a few customers, very kind of them to host us and do this benefit.  For more information you can see it here

The second is you can go to and vote for the Carrboro Farmers’ Market as your favorite market.  We have a really good chance to win $5000.  This money would allow the market to do some really important projects that we have on our list of things to do to improve the market.  Voting continues until September 17th.  We are currently in fifth place and moving up rapidly, please vote and help us win!

The onion harvest was completed yesterday and we have never had better red onions.  They are now curing in the greenhouse and will be at market from here until Labor Day.  The last of the Big Tops was covered last Wednesday and the late planting of tomatoes went in the ground on Friday.  The change of seasons continues as most of the spring crops are mowed down now and I have begun to prepare soil for the seeding of the summer cover crops.  From here on in we get into more measured summer pace, no frenzied days trying to get things done before the next rain or spring cold front, just calm management of the summer crops.

Picture of the Week
The Spring flower block disked up ready for cover crop seed

7/1/09 Vol. 6 #15

We have made it to July and the heart of tomato season is upon us.  We pick tomatoes twice a week, slowly going up and down the rows hunched over coaxing the now knee height fruit from the vines that are currently nearing six feet tall.  Both the very early rows in the little sliding tunnels and the main planting in the Big Tops are all giving us fruit from the nineteen varieties we have this year.  But not all is well in tomato land, we have a silent thief which will ultimately steal many of the heirloom varieties we all love.  It has been four years since we had tomatoes in this Big Top location and we had forgotten that the same thief visited us then as well, but that year we thought it was an aberration, never having had this kind of problem before.

Fusarium Wilt is the culprit and there is nothing we can do about it, at least for this year.  It is a soil borne fungus that can live in the soil for years and attacks only tomatoes.  Most of the hybrid tomatoes are bred for resistance to it and if you have looked for tomatoes in a seed catalog and seen abbreviations next to a variety description like V, F, N the F is for fusarium resistance.  The heirlooms are generally not resistant to it but some are or partly are and that is what we are seeing in the field this year.  The yellowing and wilting doesn’t become apparent until hot weather arrives so if there is a silver lining, it is that the plants grew large and set some fruit before it showed up.  The bad news is we will have a very short season for some varieties.

The most affected are the high acid yellow Azoychka and the huge, fruity, red and yellow Striped Germans.  Next are the green when ripe Aunt Ruby’s German Green and the Green Zebras, they won’t give us much fruit at all.  Showing signs but still producing fine are the pink German Johnsons and the beautiful yellow Kellogg’s Breakfast.  Fortunately our favorite, the Cherokee Purple, appears to be resistant.  All of the red varieties are hybrids and mostly look great except for the Italian Oxhearts that we introduced here three years ago.  So enjoy them while we can, there will be tomatoes all season long but less variety as time goes on as the different kinds succumb to the thief.

Picture of the Week
Resistant healthy hybrids on either side of the yellowing German Johnsons

7/8/09 Vol. 6 #16

What glorious weather for July (except that lack of rain thing), can’t remember summer weather so delightful for such an extended period of time.  I am sure we will return to the normal steamy hot days before it’s over but we are really enjoying it for the time being.  We are into the “easy” days of summer where we have designed the program to have everything in the field done by noon and then hide out in the shade (or air conditioning) the rest of the day.

Some of this means fewer crops to manage and less planting going on but what ever is in the field now needs to be established and/or tough enough to handle the conditions.  Betsy is in the thick of Lisianthus harvest, it is a daily process of cutting truck loads of stems, taking them back to the packing shed (in the shade) and then processing them for later use.  The big job for the staff is the Monday and Thursday tomato harvest which takes all morning to complete.  The rest of the week is filled with a little harvesting of other crops, a little planting, a little trellising, a little mowing, a little weeding, a little irrigating.

Fusarium Wilt (chapter two).  I want to thank everyone who has expressed on their sorrow for our problem with this disease in the heirloom tomatoes.  It is a damn shame but it is just the kind of thing that happens in farming that you become used to and learn to adapt.  The good news is we have several things we can do about it for the future and it appears to only really be in this one area in the Big Tops field.  I have already taken the first steps this week by saving seed from plants that showed no signs of the wilt or at least a strong resistance.  The seed for the Cherokee Purples we are growing is some we saved two years ago, from plants grown in the same field.  They are showing no signs of the wilt and producing lots of great fruit.

The other two things we can do are to solarize the soil in that area by covering the bare, moist soil with clear plastic in the hottest part of the summer and basically cooking the fungus spores out of the top few inches of the soil.  That process will have to wait until year after next when we have a rest year planned for that spot.  The last thing we can do is to take advantage of the research we have done with NC State over the last few years and use grafted tomato plants.  I have mentioned this in the past and didn’t really think we needed to use this technique until now.  It is just like fruit trees where you graft what ever tomato variety you want onto a wilt resistant rootstock.  So next year we may actually have to graft some of our own plants.  There’s always something when farming.
Picture of the Week
Beautiful Lisianthus beds flanked by brilliant Celosia

7/15/09 Vol. 6 #17

Still reveling in yet another cool July morning, temperatures in the high 50’s and low humidity, what a treat!  We did get a bit of rain on Monday, and I raced around to finish the summer cover crop planting.  A week and a half ago (July 4th weekend) in anticipation of the best chance of rain in weeks I rushed around and seeded an acre of summer covers, as a light rain was falling.  It turned out to be all the rain we would get that day, Arghh!!  Just enough water to get some of them to come up but not all.  Mondays half an inch of rain was hopefully enough to bring the rest up, looks like another chance of rain tomorrow too.

With the drought, the varmits are moving in to take advantage of the juicy plants and fruit.  The squirrels are really out of control in the tomatoes and in some of the transplants for late summer production.  Something, squirrels we think, got up onto the benches where we had lettuce and Brussels sprouts transplants in the seed flats and ate the tops off of all the Brussels sprout plants and much of the lettuce too.  So the hunt continues with daily afternoon rounds, so far the tally is four groundhogs and five squirrels.

Everybody is beginning to ask when we will have peppers and begin roasting at market.  Well the easy answer is the roasting will begin, as usual, the end of August when we have an abundance of colored bell peppers.  The answer to when we will have a good supply of peppers at market is harder.  We have been working in the pepper field this week and the plants look amazing, maybe a good as any crop we have ever grown, but for some reason almost all of the early blossoms made no fruit.  Some times it is a result of high temperatures and resulting bad pollination but we have just not been that hot, my best guess is the heavy pounding rains a month ago actually knocked the blooms off the plants.  That being the case it will be late this month before we have many green bells and the same for anaheims and poblanos.  The good news is that with such vigorous plants we should have more, better quality, fruit later in the summer than usual.

There are a number of Peregrine Farm related dinners coming up in the next month that you might be interested in.  The first is next Tuesday, the 21st, at 18 Seaboard in Raleigh.  A tomato focused event, Jason is coming up with dishes around each of the varieties we grow.  The second is our annual Panzanella farm dinner on the 27th, it looks to be equally divided between tomato dishes and pepper dishes, it is always fun.

The last two are cooking classes at A Southern Season the first is a lunch class on the 28th with Marilyn Markel who runs the cooking school and the second is an evening class on August 6th with Ricky Moore of Glass Half Full, again focused on tomatoes.
Picture of the Week
A beautiful field of peppers, some plants shoulder high

7/22/09 Vol. 6 #18

Seemed like a good idea at the time and it will be in the long run but getting there might kill me.  We usually don’t embark on large projects in the middle of the season because there is too much danger in having to stop and take care of the growing stuff and then not getting back to the project for some time.  Faced with a rare situation of being caught up with the daily chores and really not having anything for the staff to do for several days we decided to finally tackle the installation of a bunch of new water lines around the farm.

The background here is that the water for the packing shed and the greenhouse runs over 600 feet, across the field, from our house well on the “other side” of the farm.  We had always talked about maybe drilling another well over near the “working” buildings and finally in the historic drought of 2002 we had to drill a new well just to have enough water to irrigate with.  All of a sudden there was water pressure we could only dream of from that new well.  The little three quarter inch line we had run from the house just couldn’t produce that kind of volume and pressure.  So for seven years we have run hoses from the well head to water the greenhouse, the turkeys and to water in new transplants in the field.  Time to permanently bury some water lines to freeze proof hydrants and eliminate the endless hoses.

Now burying things around here is no simple task because we have stuff buried all over the place, irrigation head lines, phone lines, power lines, water lines, electric fence lines.  It is going to take master map reader, a gps, a Geiger counter and a truffle sniffing dog to find everything here once I die!  So first we had the utilities located and I essentially new were all the water and irrigation lines are buried but we had to do some careful exploratory digs to find them.  First thing yesterday I went and rented a walk behind trencher and was waiting when Cov and Glenn arrived to get started.  While they gently dug around all obstacles (seven in all) and did other shovel work I ran the beast.  Six solid hours and 800 feet of trench later I was whipped!

Every road and field on the top part of the farm is now blocked, so today we have to get all the piping in and buried so we can return to normal duties tomorrow and before it might rain and make the whole thing a mess.  It won’t mean running water quite yet but the heavy lifting will be done and in my leisure I can finish up all the connections to the well, that is if I can still lift my arms over my head!

Picture of the Week
Trenches radiating everywhere

7/30/09 Vol. 6 #19

A late newsletter this week, too many extra curricular things going on and yesterday it was just too much more to pile onto the mornings agenda.  The Farm Dinner at Panzanella was very pleasant and well attended on Monday night and Jim Nixon and his crew turned our produce into some really great dishes.  We hope that everyone who came had a good time and it was great to see all of you.  Equally I had a good time working with Marilyn Markel at a lunch time cooking class at A Southern Season on Tuesday, good food and great questions from the participants, many now new to the newsletter.  I will be doing another class with Ricky Moore from GlassHalfFull in a week, on Thursday evening the 6th of August.

We have almost made it to another summer break.  Twenty weeks ago the market season began for us.  Twenty straight weeks without a day off and while it has been the most pleasant of springs and summers weather wise there is still a fatigue that settles into the brain whether the body is completely worn out or not.  To that end, after market this Saturday the break begins and we will not be at market next week (the 5th and the 8th) while we and the staff do nonfarm related activities.  We give the staff a week off with pay so they can feel comfortable in taking sometime off and usually they do some traveling but this year they seem to be just staying close to home.  For us we usually just hide out and try to not answer the phone but this year Betsy is headed to Colombia (South America) to visit cut flower farms and a friend of ours who is down there on sabbatical.  I will get a day or two of hiking in and then be here keeping things growing.  So no newsletter next week as I will rest that part of the brain too.

In the last days running up to “The Break” we have been busy getting started on the falls crops and even some for next year.  More lettuce has been planted (under shade cloth to keep it cool) for late August and September harvest.  Turnips and Radish were seeded yesterday for early fall too.  Celery is in the ground for Thanksgiving and soon will be joined in the shade house by Brussels Sprouts and Collards.  Cov and Glenn started the seeds for the first of next years flowers Sweet William, Gloriosa Daisy and the small yellow flowered Triloba that Betsy just started cutting last week from last years seeding at this time!
Picture of the Week
Nothing like the colors of Zinnias

8/12/09 Vol. 6 #20

We’re back!  Almost all of us anyway, Betsy is still in Colombia (South America, everyone looks at me and says “South Carolina?”) until tomorrow and hopefully will be rested as she will have to hit the ground running on Friday to prepare for Saturday market.  A fairly typical break for the rest of us think.  I did get in a few days of hiking and camping up in the mountains before Betsy flew away.  Since then I have been puttering around the farm doing some small projects, reading, sleeping, eating and trying to keep things watered.

This drought is getting serious now.  The forecast for the end of the week is for several days with a chance of rain above 50 percent but I am not holding out much hope.  In the last two months we have had a scant two inches of rain.  All of the rains have gone either north or south of us.  The big creek is dry and we have been pulling water out of the upper, back up, pond for some weeks now.  The last few days of near 100 degree temperatures have applied a brush stroke across the farm of brown crinkly grass and weeds, the true colors of a drought that has been masked until now by the cooler temperatures of this unusual summer.

Fortunately we do have enough water to get us through the end of this season, mostly because we only have about seven weeks left and there are only so many crops left to water.  The little bit of fall planting we do has been going in on schedule, has been watered up with irrigation, and generally looks good.  More radishes seeded yesterday and some Swiss chard too.  The biggest potential loss is our summer cover crops, seeded six weeks ago they should be waist high by now but are at best ankle high, as our main source of organic matter to improve our soils this is never a good situation.  Hey it could rain a lot this week and things will take off, lets hope!

Picture of the Week
Cowpea and Sudangrass cover crop, looks good where there is small irrigation leak