Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #20, 7/21/10

What’s been going on?

Big day on Monday, the cousins finally met each other. The Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys turned five weeks old and graduated to the field. Most turkey moving days are fairly quick as we just open the fence between them and the next field and they just head in there with a little herding. This one is always more complicated. It takes extra fences, multiple groups and shelters to be moved farther than just the next paddock.

In general the pattern is to move the flock from the bottom of the farm to the top, always trying to move up hill into clean ground. Hard to do sometimes when the cash crops are in the ground. The Bourbon Reds have been hanging out the last two weeks in the lowest production block with the first zinnias of the season (no longer being cut) for shade. They were going to meet in the Blueberry field. First we set up two net fences, in a U shape, around half the Blueberries to herd them into. Next open their existing fence and herd them past the basil, through the “Stand” and Betsy’s flower beds, across the driveway and into the new enclosure.

Next take down the net fences that have surrounded them and erect them around the rest of the Blueberries and the open end of the U now holding the Bourbon Reds. They are so happy rooting around under the bushes for new eats that they don’t even know the “door” is actually not there! Onto the Bronzes, we take the big truck with shell and back it up to their temporary paddock in front of the brooder and catch the 66 little fat birds one by one and put them in the bed of the truck. Slowly we drive across the farm and back up to the net fence surrounding their half of the Blueberry field and grab them again, one by one, and set them down into their new “big” home.

Finally we drag the shelters from their respective locations to the end of the berry block, move all the feeders and waterers up near the shelters, set up the water hose and fill waterers. The Bronzes, being totally wide eyed at the big world have just hunkered down under the first blueberry bushes, far from their shelter and waterers. It is quickly headed to the 90’s today so we slowly herd them up the field to their food and water so they can find it, “OK now we are home” they say. Done. For several weeks now, the country cousins and the city cousins will run up and down the blueberry field with a net fence between them, staring and talking to each other. At some point we will run them together and hope that it will be a happy family reunion and not a gang fight. We’ll see.

Don’t forget the next two Peregrine Farm tomato/food events this coming week. First up on Sunday afternoon is the A Southern Season Cooking class, Tomatoes From the Vine with Marilyn Markel and heirloom tomato guru Craig LeHoullier. Craig is the one who introduced Cherokee Purple to the world and is a wealth of tomato knowledge. These classes are always fun, relaxed and the menu looks great.

Monday night is our Panzanella Farm dinner, still working with Jim on the menu but it will feature both tomatoes and peppers in special dishes that will be in addition to the regular Panzanella menu. This is always a nice evening with lots of locals and market regulars coming into the restaurant. Maybe we’ll see you there.

Picture of the Week

Good fences make good neighbors

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #19, 7/14/10

What’s been going on?

Well we are extremely glad that the extreme heat wave has broken and for the rains we have gotten. Things were getting really crispy out there, plants and people. Our creek ran dry ten days ago and the pumping pond is down to the point that I will need to begin running water into it out of the upper pond (mostly recovered from the mysterious self drain) or the well. These rains will give me a few days respite and time to get the alternatives hooked up. 102 degrees last Wednesday at market was a bit much too!

Last Thursdays Farm Dinner at Foster’s Market went very well and the wide ranging group, including lots of kids, seemed amazed at all the different kinds of tomatoes. This week is the Carrboro Farmer’s Markets Annual Tomato Day, something like the 15th one. This years theme is about the origin of the tomato from South America with three dishes representing the tomato as it moved around the western hemisphere. There will also be a display of most of the different tomatoes available at market, many of the vendors will be sampling their fruits, music and kids stuff too. Dia del Tomate, be there!

Of course in classic Peregrine Farm style, we will have very few tomatoes to present beyond our wonderful reds as the peak of heirloom production has passed and is dropping precipitously. Most of the restaurants we supply will not be getting heirloom tomatoes this week, just not enough to fill their needs. Otherwise it has been a normal mid summer week, a little mowing, some work in the peppers and the first plantings for fall. This week we put in the Brussels Sprouts and Celery for Thanksgiving and the first of the late summer lettuce to be harvested in late August.

Picture of the Week

Just planted Brussels Sprouts and Celery for Thanksgiving

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #18, 7/7/10

What’s been going on?

July is a tomatoey month. Sure there are other fruits and vegetables out there to eat but the real focus of the month is all things tomato. We have four tomato dinners and events on our schedule alone, plus our tomatoes are featured on the menus of at least five local restaurants. It is a lot of pressure to put on just one crop from the farm and I do have to give plenty of praise to Betsy’s lisianthus and celosias as they are a big part of our business this month too.

The first dinner is actually tomorrow at Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill. Foster’s Farm dinners are family style and the menu looks great, why not let someone else cook when it’s this damn hot? Betsy and I will be there to visit and talk tomatoes, we’ll see you there. Through out the month we will be carefully making sure we have enough fruit to cover all of these events and the restaurants. On top of all this we have to ship tomatoes to Alabama next week as part of a fundraising donation we did for the Southern Foodways Alliance! We have never tried to ship tomatoes before, somehow we need to make sure they don’t arrive as juice! Hopefully this continuing heat won’t cut production short.

It was turkey moving day yesterday and it seemed uneventful until this morning. We move the birds to new fields every two weeks or so depending on how big they are (how much manure they will drop) and when the next field they need to move to is ready. The past few weeks they have been down around one of Betsy’s recreational flower beds with shade under some ornamental trees. We moved them right next door to the field that had the onions and the first zinnia planting. The old zinnias provide them shade but not as much fun as hanging out in the trees.

This morning I could see from the office window that a couple of birds were outside of the fence. Not unusual in the morning as they first stretch their wings. Betsy comes in and says we have a mass escape, sure enough 26 birds decided to sleep in the trees last night instead of on the roosts in the shelter, should have shut them up last evening to make sure. Fortunately they were all happy to run through the woods and then be rounded up and herded back into the fence. I’ll make sure they stay in tonight!

Picture of the Week


Turkeys drifting through the woods, their white tarped shelter is in the background

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #17, 6/30/10

What’s been going on?

Who would have ever thought we would be looking forward to July in hopes of escaping a heat wave? With the current forecast, the 4th Of July will be cooler than just about any day we had in June! We did finally get a little rain last night so at least for a day or so I won’t have to irrigate. We had really gotten into that daily routine of go out early, turn on the irrigation, change zones every three hours, check for leaks, back wash the filters, etc, etc. Maybe July will give us another completely different picture, it would follow with how this season had unfolded so far.

Just in time for the holiday weekend we are in nearly full tomato splendor. It took the guys all morning on Monday to pick their way through the plantings. So far it looks like this will be a fair tomato season, better than last year but not as good as some years past. We do have some fusarium wilt in this years field too, which is mostly effecting the yellow varieties, but it is not as bad or wide spread as last year. With the arrival of true tomato season also comes the sometimes overwhelming demand for Americans favorite fruit, especially from the restaurants that want to have a fresh tomato plate on the menu.

Over the years we have arrived at a careful balance of varieties and how much of each to grow, it is never enough and people always say “why don’t you grow more?” There are a number of reasons we can’t and don’t produce more tomatoes. The obvious one these days is because we have a really devastating foliar disease that will prematurely kill the plants (different from the soil borne fusarium wilt disease), we grow all our tomatoes under cover (the Big Tops and the little tunnels) to keep the leaves dry and slow the disease down. We only have so much field space under cover and don’t want to or have space to put up more Big Tops.

The real reason in my mind is that we have developed a careful balance on the farm of crops, inputs and labor that make this operation sustainable and our quality of life better. If we planted many more tomatoes it would throw that balance off. Tomatoes not only take up a lot of room but they take a lot of labor. We would spend so much time in managing the tomato crop that we wouldn’t be able to properly take care of the rest of the place. Too many eggs in a basket you know. So now we will just have to do the careful dance of trying to make sure everyone gets the tomatoes they want and hopefully not leave anyone lusting after forbidden fruit.

Picture of the Week

The tractor headed to the shop with a broken steering arm

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

What’s been going on?

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

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

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

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

Picture of the Week


Brilliant Celosias

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #15, 6/16/10

What’s been going on?

Late newsletter as the phone rang at 6:30 this morning just as I was sitting down to write and it was the post office with the next batch of turkeys. This group are the Broad Breasted Bronzes, the Fat Boys as I call them. This breed of bird was the first step, back in the 50’s, from the standard or heritage breeds like the Bourbon Reds that we already have out in the field, to the monster broad breasted white turkeys that are the standard of the industry now. The reason we raise this kind, as well as the heritage breeds, is because they will grow to more than 15 pounds, which is about as big as the Bourbon Reds ever get. Some folks just want a bigger bird for Thanksgiving. We think that the Bronzes are better adapted to being raised on pasture than the big whites too. 67 very energetic poults are now running around in the brooder, one forgets how much noise the little guys can make.

As soon as we got them installed we moved on to covering the last of the Big Tops so we can plant the late tomatoes under them. Perfect timing as we have had a nice inch plus of rain over the last few nights and so the soil will be moist to begin the new plants in. This last planting of tomatoes is smaller, only four rows of mostly Big Beef reds and Sungolds as that is what has done the best for us in the hot days of August. The rains have also brought up the freshly seeded cover crops, we haven’t had this kind of conditions for summer covers in many years now. We are trying to make the best of these beastly humid and hot days but it is hard to have a great attitude at times!

We were talking with Sarah Blacklin, the Farmers’ Market manager, last night about our new electronic benefits transfer (EBT) program at market. This is the program we got a grant for to implement the electronic food stamps system and it has gone so well we are now receiving more EBT sales than almost all the big markets in New York City! Part of this success is we modeled an incentive program that other markets have used which matches up to $20 of tokens with $20 of EBT tokens. This matching helps get EBT recipients used to coming to market and shopping in a way that is different than normally do.

It has been so successful that we have already gone through the $2000 allotted in the grant for it. We are now looking for donations to help continue to build this important food access program. If you are or know folks who might be interested in donating to this program you can speak with Sarah at market or contact our program coordinator, Sabrina López, at sabrilopez@gmail.com  or 561-901-0569. As a program sponsor, you will be listed on our website, facebook, ongoing media alerts and in our market materials at the market Information Booth. We hope to continue to be leaders in the area for food access and innovative farmers’ markets.

Picture of the Week

All singing all dancing broad breasted bronzes

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

What’s been going on?

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

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

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

Picture of the Week

Campanula and almost dayglo Dianthus

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #13, 6/2/10

What’s been going on?

OK, enough with the wet weather, we need some drying time to get some soil turned over and to keep the diseases and weeds at bay! It is the change of seasons for sure around here. Sunday I mowed down all of the mixed spring vegetable crops except for the beets, lacinato kale and a few radishes. I followed that by mowing down the remaining larkspur, bachelors buttons and other overwintered flowers. Friday I mowed down the majority of the spring lettuce beds leaving only a few beds with the hot weather tolerant Summer Crisp varieties. In some ways it’s sad, but mostly it is relief and time to turn our efforts to summer crops. If we can get a few days dry, I will get all the summer cover crops planted on the freshly mowed areas and the cycle will start again.

The herky, jerky blueberry season continues on. Not a huge crop but very large berries due to lots of rain and fewer fruit on the plants. The birds and squirrels are having a field day, which is usually not noticeable when there are lots of berries but now we can really notice that there are fewer ripe fruit on the rows next to the woods. Betsy draped some fake rubber snakes in the bushes to try and slow them down but it mostly surprises the pickers as they reach into the bush to find a snake on the branch. With the generally cool and cloudy weather they are also ripening at a slower pace so scheduling the pickers has been irregular too. We are trying every other day this week and by the end of the week there will not be a lot of berries left on the bushes, as I suspected the season will be short and sweet.

The turkeys have been out in the hydrangea and viburnum field for a week now and seem to be getting the hang of outdoor life. Some groups of birds are just more flighty and difficult to wrangle. This group, maybe because there are only 30 of them, seem to get along well and self organize better than past flocks. Every morning at daylight we let them out and they come rolling out the door to explore the day, moving around the field in mass. Every evening near dark, with the feeder and waterer already returned to inside the shelter, we go to close them up and they are all inside on their roosts, ready for sleep. Some years it takes multiple chases around the shelter to scoot the last hold outs inside, not so this group, maybe a more intelligent batch?

Picture of the Week

Turkeys in the Hydrangeas on a gray morning

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #12, 5/26/10

What’s been going on?

Thankfully the sun is out today. We need a little drying time to be able to get some things weeded as they are growing before our eyes. Those little weeds and weed seeds had just been hangin’ out during the dry spell waiting. The soil temperature was warm enough, they just needed to have a little water to get going. Wow, here they come! I am afraid to tell the staff what is in store for them today, at least it won’t be too hot to be out hoeing and pulling weeds. Fortunately we have enough blueberry pickers right now so that the guys can work on the other farm chores.

Farm to Fork was big success. The skies dumped rain on Sunday morning but by the time we all got to the field it was puffy clouds and blue sky. The ground was a bit soggy to start but dried quickly as we finished setting up for the event. The event coordinator and the volunteer coordinator had done a meticulous job and everything was totally ready when we arrived at 12:30. Slowly the other farmers and chefs began arriving and what was just a hayfield bloomed into a farmers market/festival site in a hour or so.

Ben and Karen along with their skilled assistants (Amanda Orser and Shelley Collins) arrived and began assembling a beautiful and complicated dish. Much slicing and dicing and arranging on the plates. First a lettuce and spinach sauce/soup ladled on the bottom, then two sugar snap peas, an arrangement of wedges of three colors of beets, radishes and turnips. This was capped with a piece of Ben’s perfectly smoked trout and then a day-glo dollop of fresh ricotta cheese with beets to give it the wild color. We heard much oohing and awing as people ate. Of course Karen’s blueberry compote on cornmeal cake with sorghum buttermilk cream was the ace in the hole to finish them off!

Ben, Karen and staff assembling plates

The final dish

We all had a great time and I think the attendees did as well. It was too much food and it was hard to get around to all the tents. With the silent and live auctions we raised somewhere around $20,000 for the apprenticeship and new farmer programs at the Center for Evironmental Farming Systems and the Breeze Farm. Thanks to all who participated.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #11, 5/19/10

What’s been going on?

Oh what beautiful rain! We didn’t get quite a much as others, somewhere around an inch and half initially, but then last nights additional shot probably brought us up to two inches. Of course I irrigated everything on Sunday, not going to be fooled again by the forecast, Oh well those beets will just size up quicker. Everywhere I went on Monday people were smiling and commenting on what a great rain, even our mechanic was ecstatic.

Of course working in the rain can be a challenge but we have enough stuff under cover now that, for at least a day or two, we can keep folks busy. The one thing that I can’t avoid is cutting lettuce in the rain. We cut Weaver Street’s lettuce to order, the day of delivery, so Monday morning I carefully watched the radar and went out when it looked like there would be a lull in the action. Worked pretty well and I only had to cut the last two cases in a strong shower. I have had times when it was full rain gear and the rain was just pouring down, this was not so bad. I did get the guys to come out from under cover to pick the broccoli raab during the lull and they managed to get pretty wet too.

This strange spring continues to surprise us. This time it is the extreme earliness of the blueberries. The earliest we have ever begun picking is the 22nd of May, with the average first picking being the 25th. We could have easily picked on Monday, the 17th, this year! From this early ripening and general look of the crop, my guess is it is going to be a fast and short season with fewer berries than normal. The first pick through will be today and we have a couple of additional hands coming to help, hold on it will be a fast ride, maybe three weeks.

Farm to Fork picnic this weekend and today we are harvesting the produce that Ben and Karen at Magnolia Grill will be using for their dishes. Beets (all three colors), Sugar Snap Peas, Turnips, Easter Egg Radishes, lettuce and Spinach. Their dishes are going to be Cornmeal Cake with Blueberries & Sorghum Buttermilk Cream and Spring Vegetables with Hickory-Smoked Rainbow Trout & Beet Ricotta! For those who got tickets to the now sold out event, we look forward to seeing you on Sunday. We are sorry for those who couldn’t or can’t make it but we will give you a full recount next week.

Picture of the Week

Turkeys just out after a day of rain, brooder on the left and the new mothership on the right

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