Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #12, 6/6/12

What’s been going on!

Beautiful gentle rain this morning, just what we needed both for the flower crops we just seeded but for everything else as well.  With the relatively cool temperatures we have not had to irrigate much but we were getting to the point of having to get into a regular watering schedule.  I decided to pump some more water into the upper pond while the irrigation demands were low and the creek was still running well.  Should have looked at the creek first but didn’t.  After 24 hours of pumping the lower pond almost empty I went down to turn off the pump and the gravity feed line that keeps the pond full from the creek was barely trickling after having run strongly for weeks, Hmmm?  Using the irrigation pump I push water back up the gravity feed line, towards the creek to flush it out and to refill it to get a strong flow going again.  This entails walking the 900’ up to the creek end to make sure the intake is clear where I find the creek is barely flowing!  I am really surprised to see this as we have had OK rains and it has not been really hot so the trees should not be pulling as much water out of the ground but alas the ground water must still be really low so the springs are still not flowing much.  This rain will help give us time to get the lower pond refilled before it does get hot next week.

More general chores this week in anticipation of real tomato harvest.  The big project has been to get all of the red onions out of the ground and into the greenhouse to cure.  The staff got the last of them pulled yesterday, just in time.  Not as big a crop as last year but still enough to have until at least August.  We never grew storage onions in the early years because they are so cheap and abundant at the grocery store but some years ago I was at a conference in Arkansas where I heard an onion breeder talk about how red onions are much healthier due to higher levels of anti-oxidants than white or yellow onions and he was breeding red onions to have even higher levels but remain sweet (the anti-oxidants are also associated with “hot” onions).

So our red onion growing experiments began.  The problem here in North Carolina is we are in between the good onion growing regions.  Up North they have long days and lots of onions bred for that, more South they have short days and onions bred for those conditions.   We have what they call intermediate day length and there are only a few varieties of red onions we can choose from but fortunately we have found a couple of good ones.  In any case they are just in time for summer salads and salsas with the impending tomatoes and peppers!

Picture of the Week

Brilliant Zinnias even on a rainy day

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #11, 5/30/12

What’s been going on!

It is that time of year when we make multiple daily passes by the early tomato tunnels looking for the first ripe tomato.  For us, it is always the last week of May when we eat the first one.  Yesterday, during the morning inspection tour, I see a yellow tomato outside on the grass, and then inside I find several mostly ripe Cherokee Purples on the ground, partly eaten by some critter.  Damn them!  We annually have possums or coons eat the first ripe melons but never really the tomatoes now, for the first time ever, we will have to deploy the electric net turkey fencing around the tomato tunnel. Having the fence up is such a nuisance for us to deal with but after a few weeks it usually deters them enough that we can take it down.

Blueberry picking done for the season and as we thought we might do, we made a last pass through the field on Monday and picked about 12 pints which we will freeze for us.  With the peas gone as well, we are now freed up to get some other jobs done.  More planting of summer flowers, late cucumbers and lettuce.  Summer cover crops were seeded on the field the over wintered flowers were in and the now harvested and uncovered tunnel ends just before the rains came last night, perfect.  Cultivating young crops and getting the irrigation set up in them, lots of trellis built over tall flowers under the Big Tops.  Plenty to do but comfortably under control.

 Picture of the Week

On a gray day, the radiant Dianthus glow flanked by the first Celosia, Campanula and Carthamus

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #10, 5/23/12

What’s been going on!

One of those really busy weeks with lots of moving parts.  We did push hard and got all the peppers in the ground by Friday, 2600 plants, 26 varieties, 20 beds, hallelujah!  The change of seasons is upon us as we mowed down and turned under most of the spring vegetables, all of the over wintered flowers and the scary weeds that accompanied them.  The place looks so much better now.

We always get behind during blueberry season and this is when we have a tendency to lose some things to the weeds but the weather was just right the beginning of the week and with the extra help of some blueberry pickers we were able to get most everything weeded and cultivated.  The rain held off just long enough for us to get the next round of flowers planted too.  Six beds of celosia, more zinnias, asters and sunflowers.  With any luck we will plant the winter squash today.

Sandwiched in between was the Farm to Fork picnic on Sunday, which went beautifully.  We had a great time with Seth and Thomas from Pazzo restaurant and the torn Lacinato Kale salad with lemon, olive oil, parmesan cheese got rave reviews.  The weather was perfect and the nearly 700 guests and volunteers all appeared to really enjoying it.

Picture of the Week

Thomas and Seth dishing up the Lacinato Kale salad

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #9, 5/16/12

What’s been going on!

Rain, rain go away, comeback next Tuesday (or so).  Fortunately we have had most of our rain fall in non-work hours but it certainly has complicated the weeks scheduling because the, now nearly three inches of, water has made it impossible to get things planted, weeded or mowed.  This was supposed to be pepper planting week, one of the most important of the year.  We have managed to get the field ready with fabric and preparing the no-till section but not a single plant has gone in the ground.  Hopefully some will get planted tomorrow.

In any event it is the season for picking fussy little things.  When Sugar Snap Peas and Blueberries happen at the same time we seem to just go from one to the other trying to keep up with the rapid ripening of thousands of individual fruits.  Picking tomatoes and peppers is so much less tedious and the boxes fill so much faster.  There are good aspects to peas and berries though, they are both stand up jobs, of which there are few on the farm, and usually the weather is pleasant as you keep your hands moving as fast as possible to get as many of the tiny objects into the bucket as you can.  Of course there is the mandatory taste testing that happens too.

There are tomatoes to tie up, flowers to trellis, winter squash to plant but we did finally get the ginger planted indoors yesterday.  When it does dry out the weeds will be of biblical proportions and the mowing required will be Herculean.  So after getting the peppers in the ground we know what we will be doing next week.

 

Picture of the Week

Sweet, sweet peas by the thousands

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #8, 5/9/12

What’s been going on!

I was reading the other day that this spring and March in particular, was the warmest spring since 1910.  We all have been seeing the results in earlier blooming perennials, trees leafing out and some insects showing up sooner.  This effect should become less and less as we head into the summer months and more normal temperatures.  One of the most striking results so far is we began picking blueberries yesterday, a full two weeks earlier than last year and the earliest date ever.

With last week’s heat things are really jumping now.  The tomatoes took off and are growing by what seems like inches a day.  The staff has spent parts of the last two days suckering them and tying them up for the first time.  We are trying to get ready for pepper planting next week but the tomatoes and blueberries have to be seen to first.  I got the beds for the hot peppers tilled and the cover crop for the no-till sweet peppers rolled down, hopefully we can lay the landscape fabric on the beds tomorrow.

Big Mother’s Day and Graduation weekend to get ready for too but we are also quickly heading towards the Farm to Fork Picnic the following weekend, Sunday May 20th.  If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet for this important fundraising event for new farmer training programs there are still a few left.  Great food from an amazing number of local chefs and farmers, local beer and wine and local music!

Picture of the Week

Pepper beds ready for fabric, lettuce waiting to be cut, blueberries calling to us from on the hill

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #7, 5/4/12

What’s been going on!

There was a great disturbance in the Force this week.  It happened at 9:32 a.m. on Wednesday and it has taken us until now to begin to process its effect on us and Peregrine Farm.  The private email, to just a handful of people, landed in our inbox at that time, announcing that Magnolia Grill would close the end of the month.  We both were speechless and just said “Wow?!”  After a quick phone conversation with Ben just to confirm all was good (and to get Wednesdays order for lettuce and turnips) we spent the rest of the day with an unknown emotion.

Those of you out there who have worked at one single occupation with passion, focus and drive for 30 years stand up.  Now all of you who have done so alongside your spouse day in and day out, 24/7, for 30 years keep standing (looks like maybe a few couples).  Those of you who have operated a hands on business, with your spouse, alongside another couple run business, on parallel and connected tracks for 30 years?  OK everyone else sit down because that is the relationship we have with Ben and Karen and Magnolia Grill.

Is the Grill our largest account or most important revenue stream that the loss of will create problems for Peregrine Farm?  No, but it has been an important source of ideas, guidance, inspiration and collaboration.  Why do we grow the white Japanese turnips, pick our beets just a certain size or grow certain tomato varieties?  Why do we harvest and pack in certain ways and at specific times?  Because the Grill was the level of quality we needed to jump to, to run our business successfully, if it was good enough for Ben and Karen then it was good enough for anyone.

Much has already been said and printed about Magnolia and its influence on the local restaurant scene and food system, all true and not really enough credit ever given.  We have talked with them for years about the end game, so are not surprised by their decision and are happy for them and proud of their ability go out at the top of their game.  We know that they have a backlog of things they want to do and we plan to do some of those things with them, until then Ben, Sam’s chair will be ready for you at market.

Picture of the Week

We plan to do lots of this in the future!

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #6, 4/25/12

What’s been going on?
OK, time for things to settle down weather wise, last weeks cold snap was to be expected but this weeks cold, along with the high winds is more like March than almost May. 31 degrees on Tuesday morning, luckily the gusty winds of Monday died just at dark and Betsy and I were able to pull the big floating row covers over the tomato trellises and the first 2000 celosia plants and all was good. As soon as the wind picked back up yesterday it promptly blew the covers off of the tomatoes, even weighted down with bricks and metal T-posts. High winds all day again Tuesday and they didn’t really die at dark. The forecast was for 39 degrees and light winds so we nervously left the covers off, woke up to rain at 5:00 a.m. and knew we were safe.
Farm Tour weekend coming up and some of you astute observers may have noticed we are not on the tour this year, what!!?? Well after founding the tour seventeen years ago and being on it every year since, we decided it was time to take a break and maybe do something different. Not yet exactly sure what something different might be but we are planning on an open farm event or two this year so look forward to announcements of that, you know old dogs and new tricks take sometime to develop. Otherwise we plan to have a relaxing weekend and hope that all of you going on tour find interesting things at the 40 farms that are open this time around.

What is coming up fast, that we are involved with is this years Farm to Fork picnic, billed by Bon Appetit magazine as the “Country’s best all-you-can-eat feast”, it is much more than that. All of the great chefs, farmers and artisans, the huge tents, music and kids events cover up the fact that this is an important fundraiser for new farmer programs in North Carolina. All of the proceeds go to the farm incubator program at the Breeze farm (where the picnic is held) and to the beginning farmer and apprentice programs at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro. Everyone involved in putting on this amazing event donate our time, products, and skills because it is so important to grow more local farmers to fill both the demand for local food but also to help stem the tide of an aging farm population ( I know I am one of them!). All you have to do is donate your palates and some money for a ticket, it is earlier this year, Sunday May 20th, so hurry because last year this event sold out in just a few days and tickets just went on sale a few days ago.

Picture of the Week
A frosty morning with the tomatoes under blankets and peas warming in the sun
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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #5, 4/18/12

What’s been going on?

We made it past the cold weather without any real damage other than some fig leaves being burned a bit. 26 degrees on Thursday morning and 31 on Friday. As soon as it warmed up on Friday we began to slip the tomato transplants into the ground. Perfect day, not too hot and no wind to stress them while they are getting used to their new home. A nice watering in with the hose and then a deep irrigation a few days later and they look fantastic. Today is the next step for the peppers, we seed them into small cells to maximize space in the germination box and then move up only the best looking seedlings into larger cells to grow larger until they too go into the field in just about a month. Nearly 3000 plants to move up of thirty plus varieties. Another perfect day for this job too, cloudy and cool which will make the greenhouse conditions less brutal on the tiny plants as they recover from being pulled out of one tray and poked into another.

Finally a bit of rain last night after a solid week of irrigating to try and catch up on the surprisingly dry conditions. Things look much better including the onions that have looked like hell for weeks. The now annual water watch has begun. Just like last winter and spring (2010-2011) when we got fairly regular small rain events but never really enough to recharge the ground water we are in the same pattern this year. The creek is running well but the upper pond only came up about a foot over the winter. A month ago we began the process of filling the upper pond by using the irrigation system pump to move water from the lower pond. Over 140 hours of pumping later and the upper pond is full and at least six feet deeper than it had been. Hopefully we will not have to use it this summer but it feels comforting to have it there.

Picture of the Week

A tomatoes view of the world, “You want me to climb up to the top of that fence?”

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #4, 4/11/12

What’s been going on?

You knew that it was coming, couldn’t go all the way through this warm spring without one last blast of cold weather, are you ready? Lots of people blinked and planted their tomatoes and other warm season crops, now they will be running around today trying to cover them or are just going to take the hit and replant, if they can. The if they can part is the one thing we can’t do. With over twenty varieties of tomatoes, some the only seeds we had, waiting to go in the ground, we just can’t gamble that way. Last week we had moved them all outside to harden off before they went to the field but this would be a little too hard. As it was they went through 29 degrees on Sunday morning and a few got a bit burned even with row cover over them but it was only supposed to be a low of 35 degrees. So with tonight’s low forecast to be 30 degrees here and knowing it can swing 5 degrees or more, we moved them all back into the greenhouse for safe keeping until Friday morning when we hope to finally put them into the ground.

The super early tomatoes in the little sliding tunnels will be just fine and we will protect them with an additional layer of row cover and clamp the plastic down to make them as warm as possible. We have been able to protect them down to as low as 20 degrees, which we had some years ago with the historic Easter freeze in April 2007. Hopefully this will not be as drastic a situation as that was but we are going into it with very similar conditions. So make sure you cover what you can tonight and be wary about tomorrow night too as sometimes we get fooled and the second night is the worst.

All at the same time we are now getting too dry and we need to spend the day setting up irrigation. We wait as long as possible in the spring to install the irrigation because it makes planting and cultivation more difficult once it’s in the way. We spent the last few days doing some final cultivation and now we can start running lines. Drip irrigation lines down every bed, sometimes two on crops like onions. Micro sprinkler lines down every third bed on the greens. Flush the main lines and then attach the headlines that run across the top of every field and flush those, to which we then attach either the drip or sprinkler lines and finally fill them up and make sure they are all working. There has never been a year we didn’t have to irrigate at some point in the season but we always wait until we have to.

First Wednesday afternoon market today (3:30-6:30), it will be cool and breezy but there are good reasons to come out besides the fresh produce. Bill Smith from Crooks Corner will be doing a cooking demonstration during market and then immediately after market there will be a Food Truck Rodeo fundraiser for the Farmer Food Share which is the group that collects extra produce from the Farmers’ market and then distributes it to the food banks and kitchens. Come on out for both the market and the fundraiser, see you there.

Picture of the Week

Warm tomato plants as far as the eye can see

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #3, 4/5/12

What’s been going on?

One of those weeks when the whole body is sore after days of tugging and lifting and putting things together for the spring. One of the big jobs of the year is underway, preparation for planting the main field of tomatoes. Of course there are lots of steps involved in growing tomatoes that happen through the year beginning with soil preparation the fall before with mineral amendments, raising up beds and seeding the right cover crops that will mature at just the right time.

The week before planting would be enough work if we grew the tomatoes out in the open like most of the rest of the world with soil prep, drip irrigation lines, landscape fabric mulch and trellis construction having to be done first. For us there is one more job that has to be done before any of the above can proceed, covering “The Big Tops” with plastic. The Big Tops are our field scale multi-bay high tunnels that we brought in from England in 2004 to answer the foliar disease issues that were making it nearly impossible for us to grow tomatoes in the open. Named by our neighbor the first time we covered them because he said it looked like the Circus had come to town, not sure if he meant they looked like circus tents or we looked like a bunch of clowns covering them.

Every spring, a week before tomato planting day, we have to hope for a still morning to drag the 30′ X 100′ sheets of plastic over the top of the thirteen foot high bows and get them secured before the wind picks up. No easy task but with four patient people and lots of scrambling up and down ladders and tugging on ropes we can cover the four bays that are over the quarter acre in which the tomatoes will be planted. A perfect morning on Tuesday had us done with the job in just over 3 hours. By the end of the day tomorrow, all of the beds will be prepared and the trellises built, waiting for the tomato plants to be tucked in early next week.

Picture of the Week

The plastic “roofs” floating over the tomato beds

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