Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #32, 12/21/12 Winter Solstice edition

What’s been going on!

First day of winter and it roars in with authority.  We saw it coming and harvested some things yesterday while the weather was more amenable and then covered everything back up as best we could.  Most of the folks at market at this time of year have the majority of their crops under some kind of cover either a high tunnel (plastic) or floating row cover.  It is the “floating” part of row covers that make it a challenge in high winds like today.

Designed to be light enough to lay on top of the crops or slightly elevated with wire hoops it also billows in the wind easily.  There are no fool proof ways to weight it down but the best is either mesh bags filled with large gravel that you can almost throw into place or our favorite, bricks.  If you are careful with securing the windward edge then it only takes a brick every 20 feet or so.  These 30 foot wide sheets have a way of gathering the wind and we are not the only ones to have one become airborne and then land in the tops of the trees where they can hang for years.  Hopefully it will not happen to us today.

Last newsletter and market of 2012 and it has been quite an eventful year.  The crazy warm winter and the continuing drought punctuated with both the record number of 100 degree days in a row and the Big Storm that brought the Big Tops down would be enough.  We also had major changes in our routine with the closing of Magnolia Grill and then bringing Jennie on year round and a shift to year round production.  Through it all you have supported us at market and in many other ways and we cannot thank you enough, it is what keeps us excited and engaged in what we do.  If we don’t see you tomorrow at market have a great and enjoyable holiday season!

Pictures of the Week

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 A blustery first day of winter

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Anemones warm inside the little tunnels

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #31, 12/12/12

What’s been going on!

It is all about getting the workshop/apartment dried in before Christmas now.  I do these big construction projects so infrequently (every 5 or 6 years) that I have to re-learn all kinds of techniques and skills that I just don’t use every day.  Takes me what seems like an extraordinary amount of time to think through some steps that everyday carpenters just do automatically.

One of the great skills that I acquired early on and that every farmer has to have is carpentry.  Out of economic necessity it is the only way that we could have built the infrastructure that is needed on a farm, we could have never afforded to hire people to do all the work here.  Other farmer friends of ours always joke that farmers farm in the summer so they can be carpenters in the winter; sometimes I think they are correct.  We still have the same money constraints but, as a control freak, I also just have to be able to do it the way I want.

The unexpected rain this past week and too many meetings that I couldn’t skip has slowed us up by a few days but I have the bit in my mouth now and we are steaming forward.  All the framing is now done and the roofing tin arrives today.  With any luck the roof will be on tomorrow, windows and doors installed Friday and we can start siding this weekend.  I told Jennie that we had to have it done before she left for Christmas break next Tuesday.  Not sure that is possible but we will make a run at it.

Picture of the Week

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The bones waiting for tin.  The first thing I built on the farm on the right, the fifth on the left

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Peregrine Farm News Vol 9 #30, 12/7/12

What’s been going on!

A sad week.  As many of you may already know our friend, fellow market farmer and sometimes co-conspirator Bill Dow passed away unexpectedly.  We were travelers on the same road for so long that we had also become old rats in the big barn together.  Much will be said about Bill’s accomplishments and life as a pioneer in this area for markets and small scale farms, all true but in the end we also all see people from our own interesting angles.

Like many of us who came to small scale sustainable agriculture Bill’s route was unique and he marched to his own drummer the whole way.  Bill was typical of the early wave of organic growers who came from either an environmental background or a public health background.  I mean anyone who suffers through medical school and ends up not practicing medicine but growing produce instead has a calling.

That was just one of the ways that made him unusual.  When he saw that it was difficult for small producers to sell their products locally he worked with others to help set up local markets but then he decided that he would focus on selling to restaurants instead.  While he helped organize the farmers that would eventually become the Carrboro Farmers’ Market he didn’t actually start selling there until several years later and even then it was secondary to his restaurant business.

We were fortunate to work closely with Bill in the early days of the debates over organics and sustainable agriculture and his firm opinion was always expressed but he was also famous for saying “let’s not forget the culture part of agriculture”.  Through the years when we would see each other we would inevitably give the other that knowing smile or look that said “it has been quite a journey, glad you were there”.  Even with his passing we will still smile and think how glad we are that he was there.

Pictures of the Week

bill dow, debbie roos

Bill at work (photo by Debbie Roos)

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #29, 11/30/12

What’s been going on!

Serious cold mornings.  Sure there had been a few nights in the high 20’s early in the month, cold enough to kill the peppers and warm season weeds but we are moving into sustained cold nights now.  Starting with 19 degrees last Sunday morning we have been down in the low to mid 20’s every morning this week.  We joke sometimes that we should have named the place Polar Cap Farm because we are always so much colder than most of our fellow market farmers south of I-85.  I was at a meeting this week and several of them had just had their first killing frost on Sunday and were shocked that we had gotten so cold.  Just part of living down in the Haw River valley I guess.

Not only does this kind of cold kill the last of the warm season crops but combined with the day length below 10 hours it also essentially stops the growth of even the hardiest of the cool season crops, kind of puts them in the refrigerator for cold storage.  From here until late January, when the day length again goes past 10 hours, crops grow imperceptibly and we are basically harvesting what was grown during the fall and taking them out of “cold storage”.

One of the good things that happens is these cold hardy crops get sweeter.  The higher sugars are their anti-freeze, it helps to keep their cell walls from bursting when the water in the plants freezes overnight.  So while stocks will be dwindling, each bite will be better and better.  The farmer’s main job now is protecting these crops to keep them from getting too stressed from cold and wind.  The floating row covers are out and the sliding tunnels are closed up.

The sustained dry spell has been good for progress on the workshop project.  The floor system for the second story is done and this weekend I will get the second story walls up.  We are headed for having the roof on by the end of next week.  Cross your fingers.

Pictures of the Week

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Weak sunshine tries to warm a cold morning

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #28, 11/16/12 Thanksgiving edition

What’s been going on!

We are closing in on the biggest food celebration of the year.  This newsletter will cover both this week and next, two markets in 4 days, lots to do!  This cool weather has really slowed the crops down but in a good way, they were getting too big too fast and we will have plenty of great produce for both Saturdays market and next Tuesdays special pre-Thanksgiving market.

We have been making good progress on the workshop/apartment building.  Betsy oversaw the pouring of the concrete slab while I was gone and we now have all of the downstairs wall up.  We have been waiting on some engineered materials so we can move on with the second floor but it will all need to wait until after Thanksgiving anyway.  We hope to have the roof on well before Christmas.

Besides tending and harvesting for market, the last big job in the fields has been to remove the pepper trellis and clean up the field.  It is a tedious job as the trellis system is quite extensive with lots of parts that have to be extracted, in a certain order, so we can then mow the plants down.  Made even harder this year with the plants laying part way down, despite the trellis, after the 70 mph winds hit them in the big July storm.

Thank you to everyone who has asked about the foot and the Utah trip.  The blister is now well healed and I have no excuses for getting work done!  If you are interested here is a link to my report about the walk.

Pictures of the Week

Plenty of beautiful vegetables for Thanksgiving

First floor of the workshop

What’s going to be at the market?

Remember that the Saturday market is now operating under winter hours 9:00-noon.

And the special pre-Thanksgiving market is this Tuesday from 3:00-6:00.

All the turkeys have been sold, hope you got one if you wanted one.

Just in time for Thanksgiving we have beautiful Celery.  Back for the season are Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes).  Nice Fennel for salads, goes well with the Celery.  Plenty of the incredible Baby Ginger to go with sweet potatoes or deserts.  We will have a small selection of winter squashes too.

Plenty of greens this week.  Lettuce- Green Boston, Red and Green Summer Crisp in full heads. In Mini-heads we have a few Green and Red Oak leafs and the new sweet Little Gem Bibb type. More Spinach, it looks great. Lacinato Kale, beautiful tender and sweet Collards.  New this week- Escarole.

It is root season with lots of Turnips, Easter Egg Radish and the storage Watermelon and Black Spanish Radishes.  A small supply of Red, Golden and the striped Chioggia Beets.  Plenty of sweet orange Carrots and Purple ones too.  In Herbs we have Cutting Celery, Cilantro, Dill and Italian Parsley.

Still a fair amount of peppers. In sweet peppers there is a small supply of red and yellow bells. A lot of Green Bells.  Still some Spanish Piquillos.  In hot peppers from, least to hottest, we have Passillas, a few of the very rare Basque Esplettes, still some Anaheims, Poblanos, Serranos and Jalapenos.

As a reminder if there is anything that you would like for us to hold for you at market just let us know by e-mail, by the evening before, and we will be glad to put it aside for you.

Hope to see you all at the market!

Alex and Betsy

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 sign up at the website.

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #27, 11/2/12

What’s been going on!
Just a quick note this evening before tomorrows market. As many of you already know, I had to cut my Utah hiking trip short due to a minor foot problem. It was an amazing two weeks that we did manage to complete and I will have more details to come. The foot is all fine now and so I will be back at market tomorrow with Betsy and Jennie who have done a great job while I was gone and had lots of fun. We have enough peppers left that we have decided to bring out the pepper roaster one last time for the season, make sure not to miss it.

If you made it to the Market Chefs Potluck fundraiser last night it was a great success and the food was fabulous, thank you to all who participated.

Don’t forget the market begins it’s winter hours tomorrow, doesn’t start until 9:00 and we can’t sell until the bell rings. See you there!

Picture of the Week

Heading back to the road after deciding we couldn’t go on

What’s going to be at the market?
Still a few turkeys left for Thanksgiving and Christmas, only birds less than 13 pounds are available. All the information can be found here.

Plenty of lettuces this week, Green Boston, Romaine, Red Leaf and Red and Green Summer Crisp in full heads. In Mini-heads we have Green and Red Oak leafs and the new sweet Bambi Bibb type. More Spinach, it looks great. New plantings of Turnips and Easter Egg Radish. Plenty of the incredible Baby Ginger. In Herbs we have Cutting Celery, Cilantro, Dill and Italian Parsley. Red Beets, Purple and sweet Orange Carrots. Fennel, Lacinato Kale, Collards and more!

This will be the last week for pepper roasting, so don’t miss it. Still a fair amount of peppers. In sweet peppers there is a fair supply of red and yellow bells and just a few orange. Still some nice red, yellow and orange Italian Corno di Toros this week. Fewer light green Cubanelles great for salads and sautéing, and Purple Bells.

In the usually-not-hot-but-on-occasion varieties a great supply of the Aji Dulces, the habanero without the heat.

In hot peppers from, least to hottest, we have Passillas, a few of the very rare Basque Esplettes, plenty but fewer of Anaheims, lots of Poblanos, our own signature Picante Pimiento. All kinds of Serranos and Jalapenos, Cayenne and red and orange Habaneros.

As a reminder if there is anything that you would like for us to hold for you at market just let us know by e-mail, by the evening before, and we will be glad to put it aside for you.
Hope to see you all at the market!

Alex and Betsy
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 sign up at the website.

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #26, 10/10/12

What’s been going on!

Lots of news, big and little, but first this rain is good but beginning to get on my nerves as I really need to get the soil preparations and cover crops done by Friday!  Hopefully with the forecast high winds on Wednesday the soil will dry enough for tractor work on Thursday and Friday.  It takes a long time for soil to dry when the days are short and cool.  It had just barely dried enough by last Saturday when along came the rains again on Sunday.

Why Friday?  I should know as a farmer to never work on a tight schedule but as many of you already know I am leaving town for a month, on Sunday, so certain things just have to be finished.  Betsy has encouraged me to join a friend for a 25 day walk across southeastern Utah.  This is a trip I have thought about for some years but came up fairly suddenly in the last few months.  I have never been gone from the farm that long and so the logistics of getting ready to leave and the actual trip have been demanding.  Look for stories of the trip when I get back in November.

As most astute readers of the newsletter know, since 2000 we have stopped going to market about now and many of you have commented on it in the past few weeks.  New this year we are planning to be at market through most of the winter.  Several reasons behind this major change of our pattern.  First- last winter we sold almost every week from November on because of the bountiful Baby Ginger and Jerusalem Artichoke crops followed by Betsy’s amazing and early Anemones and we got a feel for how it might fit into our future plans.  Second- as we have talked about before, climate change and the increasingly hot summers have many of us thinking about moving more of our production into the cooler months.

Third- we are trying to keep Jennie on year round and to do that she has to have something to do to make it viable.  To that end we have planted a full array of fall and winter vegetables and some flowers to bring to market.  Some are out in the fields and some in the little sliding tunnels to help stagger the harvest.  So while I am gone Betsy and Jennie will be holding down the market stand with beautiful greens and root crops along with the Baby Ginger and the last of the peppers.  It’s an exciting new direction for us and we know that you all will be there to support us as always.  So no sad farewell newsletter this fall but this will be the last one until I return in mid-November.

Pictures of the Week

A beautiful field of fall vegetables

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #25, 9/26/12

What’s been going on!

Oops, missed a newsletter last week, way too much going on including an overnight trip to the beach to spend some time with family that happened on newsletter day.  It was too wet to stay home anyway after the awesome four inches of rain at the beginning of last week; we haven’t had a rain here on the farm like that for years.

Dry enough now to get going on fall soil preparations for the 2013 growing season.  Everything that can be has been mowed (only three fields left- peppers, fall vegetables and over wintered flowers), yesterday I spread the phosphorus and potassium rock powders that the crops will need for the next year.  Today I will begin turning soil, should be perfect after last week’s rains.  Disk, subsoil with a field cultivator, maybe disk some fields again.  Once nice and loose and with all of the crop residues incorporated I will hill up the beds for next spring’s early planted crops.  Finally the cover crop seeds will be spun out over the waiting rough but soft soil to be brought up by the next rains and to be the protective blanket for the winter.  Lots of time on the tractor.

We are in mid Big Top hoop moving, from one field to another, to be finished today.  This year of course is the additional complication of sorting hoops that are OK, from those that we can re-bend, from those that will go to the steel salvage lot.  Good news is that we did a test re-bend yesterday and it looks like we will be able to save quite a few, if we are careful.

On top of all of the above, Monday is the one bad day in the turkey’s lives, we take them to processing.  A before dark start to catch them while they are sleepy and then most of the day spent down at the processing plant.  It is a long, tiring and somber day but an important one.  There are still birds available if you haven’t gotten your reservation in yet, all the information can be found here.

Pictures of the Week

Half of the hoops moved, tomatoes will be in this field next year

The sorting piles- maybe re-bend, off to salvage, top rails and parts

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Peregrine Farm News, Vol. 9 #24, 9/13/12

What’s been going on!

Glorious weather!  This is why we suffer the summers to revel in these kinds of days.  Of course now we work non-stop because we can and it is so enjoyable.  This is the beginning of the big project season when we have the time, energy and it is time to do some of these things too.  The general end of summer clean up and organization of the farm for winter is underway but we have even more shuffling to do as we have had to move years of gathered materials like cedar posts and old pallets to make way for the winters big project, building a new workshop and living space.

The only infrastructure item that we have never had is real workshop space.  We have had the open air tractor shed with an outdoor workbench from the beginning but I am getting tired of working on things in the gravel driveway.  We have also accumulated quite a number of wood working tools over the years and they are tucked away here and there in various buildings which doesn’t lend its self to actually using them in a timely manner when one needs to.  So this winter we are building a 24’X28’ space with an apartment upstairs for current staff or to rent in the future.  Hopefully we will be pouring concrete within the month.

The other looming project, now that all crops are out of the Big Tops, is to finish the dismantling of the bent metal parts and actually get a count on how many we will have to replace.  We also have the annual move of hoops from one field to another so quite a bit of time has been spent this week in handling greenhouse parts, either dragging them out of the field for salvage or taking them apart and carrying them to next year’s position.

With fall soil preparations and cover crop planting on the schedule in the next few weeks, more fall crop planting and the continuing harvest there are a lot of balls in the air each with its own set of details.  Maybe that hiding out in the air conditioning all summer wasn’t so bad after all.

Picture of the Week

A beautiful morning, turkeys feeding and empty Big Tops awaiting dismantling

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #23, 9/5/12

What’s been going on!

Crazy weekend.  You may have noticed Betsy and I left market early on Saturday because we had to scamper to the airport and fly out to a wedding in Missouri!  We have told friends and family over the years not to schedule events on Saturday during market season as that is when we make the bulk of our living but sometimes you just have to make it work.  It all went well and it was good to see both an old friend from the cut flower growers association get hitched on her farm and to spend quality time with my brother and sister in law.

Back very late last night and looks like it rained a bit.  The staff said it rained like hell all around the area but our gauge only showed 1.3 inches but that is still great and kept them from worrying about irrigating while we were gone.  Still in the process of tearing out the tomato trellis and cleaning up that mess so we can both get in to prepare for winter cover crops but more importantly finally get a good estimate of how many legs we will have to replace on the mangled Big Tops.  With all the tomato trellis in the way we have not been able to really take things apart and see if a leg is just pushed over in softer soil and can be pulled back up straight or if it is crimped and kinked and will have to be replaced.

Fall crops look great with many more to get in the ground this week.  Turnips, radishes, spinach all coming soon.  Kale, collards, lettuce and more to go in this week as soon as it dries out.  Maybe because we were racing around the country but time really seems to be flying by right now, scary.

Picture of the Week

Summer Crisp lettuce happy with this cooler weather

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