Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #28, 12/20/11

What’s been going on?

Just a quick note to remind everyone about the Thursday pre-Christmas market and to wish everyone a happy Holiday season.

We have returned from yet more travels and are settling in to the cold weather mode of keeping the woodstove going, starting seeds in the greenhouse and catching up on reading. Soon we will need to begin cutting firewood for next year and other maintenance chores when the weather is decent. Until then we will just watch the cover crops grow and fiddle around in the little tunnels.

Picture of the Week

Lush cover crops and bare Big Top frames

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #27, 11/21/11 Thanksgiving!

What’s been going on?

Well the early fall adventures are behind us and now we are home for a bit to get some farm work done, visit with family and start ordering seeds and supplies for next year. What sublime fall weather we have had too! One of the finest runs of fall days I can remember to go with one of the best springs we have ever experienced and it has made for a really good year (I am just trying to forget those ugly hot weeks in the middle).

Betsy had a great trip to Italy to do an immersion study of the language followed by a nice visit with our Italian farm friends. She also attended the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers annual conference to do her regular wrangling of the Research Foundation. The class I have been teaching at the community college has gone by fast and I have one last day to teach. I had a good trip to Louisiana to give two full day workshops on the needs of beginning farmers, tiring but a good time. Early this month I spent a week in Utah and Arizona with an old friend and supporter of the farm. We did some backpacking in Canyonlands National Park and then visited lots of great sites around the Four Corners area.

The first several weeks of October were filled with the major farm work of soil preparation for next year and the seeding of winter cover crops that now look great with the timely rains we’ve had over the last month or so. It is a solid week on the tractor mowing crops down, spreading lime and other mineral amendments, turning all that under and then raising up over 17,000 feet of beds which are finally seeded with the cover crops. The turkeys went in for processing the first week of October too and it all went beautifully.

That leads us to Thanksgiving and a reminder of the special pre-Thanksgiving Carrboro market tomorrow, Tuesday, from 2:00-6:00. We will be there passing out the turkeys to those of you who reserved one and with lots of great produce to go with the big meal (see below). Right now the forecast looks to be one of the warmest and nicest days the special Thanksgiving market has ever had. We are not sure where we will be set up at the market, as vendors will be parked as they arrive. Look for our large white refrigerated truck and Betsys bright red pickup.

Picture of the Week

Some of the most beautiful and tender Collards and Kale ever grown!

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #26, 9/22/11

What’s been going on?

A gray and somber way to end our season but the rains are once again perfectly timed for winter soil preparation. We got the last big pepper harvest done yesterday before the downpours and all that remains to be picked are poblanos and eggplant. Next week we will make one last pass through the field to glean the last of the peppers, primarily green bells that we will sell wholesale. This morning the last of the tomatoes are coming off the vines and then the remaining five rows of plants and trellis will be torn down.

By the end of next week it will all be gone. The last Big Tops uncovered and the hoops moved from one field to another. All the trellises will be deconstructed and neatly stacked for the winter. The few sweet potatoes that we grew will be dug and curing in the greenhouse. Turkeys will have moved to their last pasture. All the fields will be mowed and probably even disked for the first pass in the process of getting ready for winter cover crops. Even Betsy will fly out on Saturday for three weeks in Italy, leaving me home to finish up the last of the farm winterization.

And so ends another season, the 30th season, at Peregrine Farm. Of course we are not ever really finished, just a temporary lull in the action. We will be back for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving market to pass out the turkeys along with lots of great vegetables for the holiday meal and there may even be some guest appearances in December if there are crops available and then it all starts again in February with Betsy’s anemones and ranunculus.

In general it has been a great season, one of the best in memory. Sure a little tough out there in July and the ongoing drought has made some things more challenging but overall the crops have been happy, the staff has been happy and hopefully all of you have been pleased with the bounty we have been able to coax from the fields. Betsy and I are always grateful and amazed at your support of what we do and for local food and farming, thank you!

Picture of the Week

This giant volunteer plume celosia, at the end of one of the pepper rows, greets us as we walk out every morning

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #25, 9/15/11

What’s been going on?

This teaching class on Wednesday mornings is throwing more of a kink into the weekly schedule than I imagined it would, which is why these last few weeks of the newsletter are coming out on Thursdays instead. I spend my Wednesday early morning hours preparing for teaching and in some cases good parts of Tuesday afternoon.

I have taught all of the topics in this class many times but I am always looking for a new angle or piece of information that makes something like the importance of soil organic matter frighteningly clear. Or how to explain the subtle difference between the classic American/conventional agriculture mindset of maximum yield at all costs versus a balanced system approach where pushing for that extra pound of tomatoes is not worth the cost of the additional inputs or labor or their possible detrimental effects on the whole system.

One of the intriguing aspects of this class is both Glenn and Jennie (aka the “Staff) are sitting in as well. The rest of the students have had a lot of “book learning” but little practical experience while Glenn and Jennie have had substantial on farm experience but essentially no theoretical, science based, exposure to farming. It is great for me to be able to talk about a sustainable ag principle and have them there. I can say “You know it’s like this at the farm” and they immediately understand versus showing pictures of the same thing to the rest of the class. While the pictures are valuable they haven’t lived it like Glenn and Jennie have.

We are definitely in the short rows now. Only a few weeks left for us at market and we can see the end. Crops going out, new ones being planted but with far away harvest dates. The anemones and ranunculus went in this week and we won’t cut the first stem until February, next week the Sweet William gets planted and it will be May until it is ready for market! Patience my friend, patience.

Picture of the Week

The long view- picking the last tomatoes, some already gone and uncovered, crops mowed, turkeys enjoying the rest.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #24, 9/8/11

What’s been going on?

Finally a good rain from the remnants of Lee, 2.5 inches and while a great deal of it ran off because it came down so hard, it will make things a lot easier over the next week or so. Of course our driveways got hammered so I spent part of yesterday dragging them back up the hill and will finish the re-grading today, just part of the regular farm maintenance.

It is beginning to seem like fall now. The days are getting noticeably shorter, the sunrise later, the temperatures consistently cooler and the dews heavier. We pulled the shade cloth off the little tunnels this week as it is no longer needed to keep the crops a bit cooler and some things, like the lettuce, will actually start to get leggy trying to stretch for some more light. Our main focus now is planting for Thanksgiving and getting the fields ready for winter cover crops.

To that end the collards and kale went in yesterday to join the carrots, beets, celery and Brussels sprouts already in the little tunnels for Thanksgiving. Soon we will finish the plantings for the big food day with some Green Boston lettuce, turnips and radishes. We plant all of this in the little tunnels so we can control (as much as possible) the temperatures and growth. To try and hit one day with vegetables is like throwing a dart at the bull’s-eye, sometimes you miss. With the tunnels we can at least adjust a bit, if it turns out to be a cool fall we can close them up, particularly at night, and keep things growing more vigorously than if we just had everything out in the field.

Turkey reservations are rolling in and over half are now reserved. If you haven’t thought about it yet all the turkey information is on the webiste. Look for the order form either at the top of the page or near the bottom under “How do I reserve one of the special birds?” You can easily download the Word document there. We will also have the order forms at Market on Saturdays through the end of the month. As the fall goes on I will continue to update the website with how many are available.

Picture of the Week

Brussels Sprouts and Celery on a cool morning

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #23, 8/31/11 Turkey reservations

What’s been going on?

Well it was a blustery market Saturday but not too bad really. Other than a bunch of leaves and sticks blown down we had no damage here at the farm and even had four tenths of and inch of rain and then another four tenths on Monday, so we are feeling pretty good about how the storm went. Most of the farmers that I have talked to had similar experiences with most having even less rain than we got.

As promised early in the year, this week marks the start of Turkey reservations. We always wait until Labor Day when we have a better idea of how many birds will actually be available. By the time they get this old they are usually pretty hardy but even now we can lose some to one thing or another. There will only be about 65 birds available this fall and they are all the larger Broad Breasted Bronzes. All the information about what kind we have, how much they will be and the order form is now on the Website for easier access.

Look for the order form either at the top of the page or near the bottom under “How do I reserve one of the special birds?” You can easily download the Word document there. We will also have the order forms at Market on Saturdays through the end of the month. I can also tell you that with the “Frequent Flyer” reservations, nearly a quarter of them are already spoken for. I will continue to update how many are available on the website. Don’t wait too long.

Standard late summer projects going on. Most of the big tomato planting has been taken out with just a few rows of Big Beefs and Cherokees left to “milk” the last fruit from. The crab grass in the peppers is trying to take over so today we will try to beat it back with the mower one last time which should hold us until the end of the season. Soil samples need to be pulled and sent in so we can be ready the end of September for the big annual soil preparation.

Picture of the Week

They are getting big!

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #22, 8/25/11

What’s been going on?

Newsletter a day late again, this is one of those weeks where it is all running fast and the early week uncertainty of the hurricane Irene’s track just adds to the level of complexity. We are always aware and on alert for these late summer hurricanes because if we are really going to get significant wind and rain then we have to take action days in advance. The biggest potential job is uncovering all the greenhouses which is best done in calm winds and dry conditions if we want to reuse the plastic after the storm. Sure we could go out heroically and cut the plastic off and let it fly, while maybe exciting and will save the metal frame, it is not the most ideal scenario.

Our threshold is about 60 mph winds. Up to that and all of our structures can handle it, the Big Tops are the ones we worry about the most and it can take half a day just to uncover those. We have had to do it once before Charlie in 2004 and then ended up not getting any winds even though the forecast potential was for 60 -70 mph winds. In 2003, before the Big Tops, we uncovered the smaller sliding tunnels before Isabel when we did get slammed by 60 mph winds. The little tunnels were just fine but we did loose part of a shed roof. Of course all of this is colored by the memories of Fran but that was before we had any tunnel structures, thankfully!

With the move of Irene further to the east our concern now is whatever rain we might get so the focus has been to make sure we get critical things harvested before any potential downpours and flooding. The winter squash is in the bottom field and ready for harvest. Nice and dry now and easy to collect, not so after a big storm so the last two days have been partly occupied by bringing in the 2000 plus pounds. This afternoon and tomorrow will be the usual major pepper picking even if Saturday could be a rain out.

All of this in the middle of a ten day period which includes four tour groups including 40 Burmese refugees, teaching two classes, two dinners for various groups we are involved with, conference calls and a board meeting. Can’t wait for September to get here!

Picture of the Week

The Big Tops present quite a big sail in high winds

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #21, 8/17/11

What’s been going on?

A nice cool respite this morning and the rest of the week looks tolerable too. Even had some rain last week, enough to try and get some very late summer cover crops planted. It has been so dry, and the prospects of a rain we could count on to germinate the seed so low, that we had not gotten any of our soil improving cover crops in the ground this summer. Never have we waited so long. It only takes about eight weeks for the millet or sudangrass to reach maturity so we have almost enough time before the end of September, if we get more rain. If nothing else it will give the turkeys something to run around in when they get to those fields in a month or so.

Next week I come out of retirement, sort of, and will begin teaching a regular class down at Central Carolina Community College’s Sustainable Agriculture program. From 1998 or ’99 until 2003 I designed and co-taught the sixteen week Sustainable Vegetable Production class until it was just too much time in the spring growing season, so I retired. Since then I have gone down to do guest lectures but have avoided taking on the responsibilities of a full course.

They have a two year program for an associates degree and starting this year, in the students last year, they are offering Advanced Organic Crop Production. The concept is to tie together all of the various subjects that they have taken and put it into a crop management system. This is really the core of being a farmer, you learn about soils and rotations and weeds, etc. but it is how you fuse it all together into an agro-ecosystem that makes it work, or not.

So it is a nice challenge for me to design yet another course with this bigger picture in mind, we’ll see how it comes out. The good part is I get to attempt it with a small group of students the first time and I don’t have to teach the entire sixteen weeks, just the first eight or nine and the parts I am most interested in. Who knows it could be a quick re-entry into retirement.

Picture of the Week

Ginger looking really good, flanked by ornamental peppers

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #20, 8/10/11

What’s been going on?

So once again the August break is not long enough, not sure if it is because it is still really hot when we start back or if we had so much to do during the week that we need time to rest up? One thing that was discussed a great deal was the concept of a much longer break in the summer. I am increasingly convinced that these record breaking hot summers are not an aberration but a sign of what the new “normal” weather pattern is going to be. Our farming friends further south, in places like Alabama and Texas, have planned significant holes in their summer schedules to avoid the heat and folks in Florida don’t grow anything in the summer, just the winter.

One of the main reasons for these planting schedules is because the crops just don’t do well in the intense heat, even tomatoes and peppers produce poorly when it is incessantly hot. The other reasons revolve around the quality of life for the farmers and farm workers, sure you can make yourself go out and get something done but is the pain worth it? So we are toying with a modified schedule that moves the main tomato planting up a bit and the peppers back a bit to allow for a longer period in the summer with not a lot going on. We can not stop growing tomatoes and peppers, it is too much what we are but maybe we can move them into better conditions for them and us.

Now a longer break doesn’t mean we shut the place down, there is just too much that has to be kept rolling for that. There are fall crops to seed and care for, summer crops that need to be irrigated and maintained, turkeys to move and manage. It would look more like a rolling break. Betsy and I might go away for a week or two, while the staff keeps it all under control and then they could each take a week off and get away to someplace cool while we do the maintenance. It would also mean we would probably go to market further into October than in the recent past. Hmmm…lots to think about?

We did have fun last week, we got to the mountains to some slightly cooler weather and finally got to visit one of our former staff Rett. Rett worked for us from 2004-2006 before he moved to a farm in the mountains. He now has a new farm that we had not yet seen, so we had to go inspect, a beautiful place on the banks of the Cane river with soil to be envious of. We also had a couple of great dinners out with friends and some quality time in the air conditioning. Back to regular duty now.

Picture of the Week

Early in the morning, the last summer flowers, limelight hydrangeas in the distance

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #19, 7/27/11

What’s been going on?

I always say “If you are going to suffer, you might as well set a record”. Five consecutive days over 100 degrees, the previous was four in 1983 and 2008. What a summer and this week looks just as brutal. One must transcend this and keep pumping water.

To make it seem like fall, we are planting lettuce, turnips and radishes today! Brussels Sprouts for Thanksgiving are already in the ground and the Celery goes in today as well. If you think it is fall, then it will come, we just have to get through August. We are slowly turning the seasonal page as we mow down the first Zinnias and take out trellis for the early Celosia. Soon we will be taking out the early tomatoes, deconstructing the trellis and preparing for disking residues into the ground.

In preparation for fall we are taking our traditional August break next week. Looks like perfect timing again as the early tomatoes are on their precipitous decline just like our energy is. It has been 22 weeks non-stop with only Saturday after market as our part day off so it is time to breath deep for a week and recharge a bit before heading into the last of summer and fall. Glenn and Jennie get a week off with pay so they can chill out too. We may go to the mountains for a day or two but mostly we will hide out here in the AC and slip out to turn on irrigation and take care of the turkeys. So no newsletter next week and we will not be at market on the 3rd and the 6th. Look for us to return on Wednesday the 10th.

Jennie and Glenn planting Summer Crisp lettuce under shade cloth

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