Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #28, 9/4/13

What’s been going on!

In the middle of fall planting or should I say replanting as that is how much of the last two weeks has been.  Fall planting is actually a wide window in time.  We actually start seeding some crops in the greenhouse as early as May (Brussels sprouts and Celery) so we can get them in the ground in July.  Many transplanted crops are seeded in July and August to be planted out a month later.  But starting the beginning of August we direct seed into the field a few beds of vegetables each week.  Multiple plantings of carrots, beets, spinach, turnips and more so we can have as continuous a harvest as possible through the fall and early winter.

Well August was so wet that we either had trouble getting into the field on time or the germination rate was not good or with the 3.5 inches of rain in an hour two weeks ago, just plain washed out.  So last week we just re-tilled most of the early planted carrots and beets and started over.  They are now up beautifully but will obviously be later than we had anticipated.  Such is the crap shoot of fall plantings, usually the challenge is that it is so hot things just don’t want to germinate or get cooked off the soil after they do.  If they survive that they then have to battle the onslaught of worms and grasshoppers and other pests until the weather cools down the end of September and everything seems to return to a happy state.

It seems a bit brutal to plant when it is so hot but if we don’t get crops established as early as July, August and early September then the days get so short and cool that they will never mature before the really cold weather arrives.  September is that great month when things do slow down a bit during the transition to true fall.  We are taking out lots of crops, preparing tunnels for the winter season, taking soil tests and getting ready for the big annual soil turning and cover crop planting.  Frost will be here before you know it, only eight or nine weeks away.

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The main fall veg field, established crops and many newly seeded beds

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #27, 8/29/13

What’s been going on!

Two popular questions we get at market this time of year.  Particularly with this summer’s much cooler than normal temperatures people are wondering what the winter will be like.  I used to think that if we had a cool winter we would have a cooler summer and vice versa summer into winter because the mass of the earth wasn’t as warm as it would otherwise be.  Now I realize that it really is all about the Jet Stream and how far north or south it tends to be and how amplified the waves in it are.  It is all about El Nino and the other steering factors.

If you go to the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center you can see their best estimates of what the winter will be like.  Right now it looks like a normal fall both in temperature and rainfall, that would be refreshing, but as we move into winter it will be a bit drier than normal and as we move into late winter/early spring becoming warmer than normal but with average rainfall, much like the last few winters.  This is the forecast map for the November/December/January period.  So according to them nothing too cold.

The other question is of course pepper related.  The pepper roaster was really invented in the southwest to roast green chile, the national vegetable of New Mexico.  The question we get many times a day is “Are these Hatch Chiles?”  The answer is no in two ways.  First Hatch is not a variety of the New Mexican pod type, also more commonly known as Anaheims, it is a small town in southern New Mexico in the heart of the chile growing region.  Of course the second no answer is because we have to grow everything we sell at the Carrboro market they certainly can’t be chiles grown in Hatch New Mexico.

That all being said, we have and do grow New Mexican bred varieties of green chile.  Many of the varieties grown in Hatch have been bred just down the road at New Mexico State Univ.  Over the years we have trialed and sold 8-10 NMSU varieties, most recently NuMex Joe Parker.  What we can’t reproduce here is the conditions of southern New Mexico, hot arid days with cool nights in the alluvial soils of the Rio Grande valley.  Those conditions lead to a more consistent pepper in flavor, heat and in meatiness.  Think of Hatch chiles as Vidalia onions, there is no Vidalia variety, just a soil and climate that leads to really sweet onions.  We think that the best peppers we produce, including green chile, are harvested in the next six weeks as we come closest to the warm, dry and cool night conditions of the southwest.

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The perennial question is how are the turkeys?  4 weeks old

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #26, 8/19/13

What’s been going on!

Yet another grey morning, just like most of the past week it seems.  Hard to get excited about trying to get much work done in the field, but we must none the less.  The time off seemed to be beneficial especially for Jennie and Liz who have come back with a bounce in their steps.  We had our usual mostly odds and ends break with some work and small projects and a few days away.  The workshop move-in has gone well, the bulk of all the tools and supplies have been brought from the various buildings around the farm and the preliminary sort has been done.  The shelves for all the nuts and bolts are nearly full with all of the matching peanut butter jars (picture of OCD to follow some day).  The workbench is built and more work surfaces are still to come but for now we can let it go.

A sad week too.  Our long time market neighbor Gary Murray of Sunset Farms finally lost his long battle with cancer.  A farmers’ market is like a neighborhood, you don’t get much choice on who moves in next door or down the street and some of those you like and some you don’t but you end up adjusting to their habits.  For 28 years, almost as long as we have been married, we have sold across from or next to Gary and family.  They have been the best neighbors possible: agreeable, cooperative, fun and respectful.

In many ways Gary and Sunset Farms is a typical example of the changing face of North Carolina agriculture over the past 30 years from a tobacco dominated one to a very diverse industry.  While I am not sure if they ever grew tobacco I am sure he grew up around it.  For some years he worked in the “new” poultry industry as a field man, working with growers of chicken and turkeys.  He finished his “public work” with the Natural Resources Conservation Service again working with farmers on all sorts of soil conservation and farm improvement projects.  Through all this he worked the family farm alongside his father and later his son Chris.  He saw the changes in farming up close as he worked with other farmers around the county and he brought many new ideas back to his own operation.

They have grown just about everything from traditional grain crops, through vegetables to livestock.  Gary slowly moved away from conventional farming techniques and pesticides to the use of cover crops, crop rotations and other more sustainable practices, never with a preaching or I told you so attitude but he just did it because he thought it was a better way.  Their son Chris grew up wanting to farm, ended up with a masters in Soil Science and eventually came back to the farm full time.  He carries on Gary’s search for new crops and environmentally sound ways to grow them.  They will continue to be our great market neighbors for many years to come.  Our thoughts go out to Wanda, Chris and Jamie and the rest of the family.

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Beautiful orange Corno di Toros

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #25, 8/1/13

What’s been going on!

5:38 this morning the phone rings, jolting us out of the last stages of sleep.  I say “just pick it up and then hang up” as Betsy reaches for the phone “No wait!  It might be the Post Office calling to tell us the turkeys are here!”.  Indeed the case and we are off and running, Betsy driving to Graham to pick up the box filled with little chirpers and me across the field to finish up the brooder preparations.  By 7:00 they are all installed, eating, drinking and running around.

You may remember this newsletter from June when I was debating if we would raise turkeys this year and the specific hurdles to doing so.  Well those hurdles have mostly been cleared.  The feed plant problems have been solved, the availability of poults later than normal worked out and a processing date has been secured the week before Thanksgiving allowing us to have fresh birds and avoid the freezer plant issues.  One more time around the block.

A fun event coming up a week from today The Crop Hop at the Barn in Fearrington Village is a fundraiser for the Farm Sustainability Programs at the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI).  Live music, square dancing if you are so inclined, microbrews and some deserts all for just $10-20.  We will be there as I am on the Board of RAFI, one of the oldest and most important of all the sustainable agriculture organizations in the country.  They do great work in many areas of agriculture but this night we will be focusing on the work they do to help save family farms from going out of business.  Come on out for an enjoyable evening and support sustainable farms.

Once again we have made it through July and it is time for our annual August break so no newsletter for the next two weeks.  After market this Saturday, Betsy and I will be laying low for two weeks, taking short road trips, going out to eat and just taking it easy.  The exciting party (really) is we are going to focus on moving into the new workshop, building a work bench, putting up shelves, sorting and organizing all the tools and supplies that are strewn across five buildings; Betsy has been waiting for this for years!  Jennie and Liz will be working next week and expect to see them at market, maybe both Wednesday and Saturday.  They will both then have a week off and we will not be at Market at all on the 17th.  When we come back it will be full pepper season and roasting should begin on the 24th.

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This little turkey is saying “here we go again”

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #24, 7/24/13

What’s been going on!

Yep didn’t get a newsletter out last week, just one of those weeks when none of the stars aligned and maybe the effect of the first week of stifling summer weather was not helping either.  Writing happens early in the morning, before the normal work day begins and we were out early several days last week trying to beat the heat.  We did get plenty done but still we are running a bit behind from all of the rain delays.

We are pushing hard this week to get caught up and stay on schedule with the first of the fall planting.  I know, hard to think about celery and Brussels sprouts when it is still hot and July but now is the time we are all trying to slip the first cool season crops in the ground so they will be ready when the weather ameliorates.  And the mowing, the endless, deep and sometimes futile mowing but we have to keep cutting the grass and weeds back until they begin to run out of steam, if for psychological reasons if nothing else.

One more farm dinner this weekend, the second of Panzanella’s summer Farmers’ Market dinners featuring several farms at one time.  Special menu items on both Saturday and Sunday.  I know a yellow gazpacho from our tomatoes for sure and I suspect some fried green tomatoes too.  Not sure which night we will go to eat but we surely will not miss out.

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Celosia Fest, can you say dayglo?

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #23, 7/10/13

What’s been going on!

It’s Tomato Week!  Three big tomato centric events this week and near the peak of our harvest.  First up Thursday is our farm dinner at Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill, this year with Flo and Portia from Chapel Hill Creamery, the menu looks great (can you say caprese salad?) and there may still be some spots left but you better call today.

Second on Saturday is the big annual Tomato Day at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market with over 70 varieties to try, a raffle and several dishes to sample including an heirloom tomato gazpacho made by Seth Kingsbury from Pazzo Restaurant from our tomatoes.  Betsy usually dreams up something for us to sample too, maybe a Green Cherokee tomato juice?

Lastly on Sunday is a fun, tasty and educational afternoon at our Heirloom Tomato cooking class at A Southern Season.  This is the fifth year we have worked with Craig LeHoullier, known as NC Tomato Man and the person who introduced Cherokee Purple to the world and personally keeps over 1400 varieties of tomatoes in his collection.  We talk about the different kinds of tomatoes, growing them and of course cooking and eating them.  Still spaces left but hurry.

The rains seem to not want to stop and our thoughts go out to all of our farmer friends who are having increasing problems from too much water.  More flooding for farms in the mountains to diseases and fruit splitting getting worse with every damp day.  This is one of those seasons that you just grit your teeth and work through.  You should savor every tomato that you can this summer and be glad that you don’t grow them for a living.

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Beautiful Lisianthus

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The lack of sun is the limiting factor in the flower department but this is what we should have.  It is the peak of the queen of cut flowers, Lisianthus, maybe one of the best looking crops we have had in years, tall with thick stems and lots of colors.  It is still Lilypalooza, lots of long lasting fragrant pink Oriental Lilies and yellow and pink Asiatics too.  Brilliant Zinnias.  Beautiful Bouquets of course.

Maybe the peak of our season?  Plenty of reds with both the sweeter Ultra Sweet and more balanced Big Beefs.  A good amount of Cherokee Purples.  Smaller but fair quantities of of most of the other colors- yellow with Orange Blossom and Kellogg’s Breakfast and the higher acid Azoychka, German Johnson pinks, bi-color Striped Germans, Green Cherokee too.   A good mix of sauce tomatoes with both the Italian Oxhearts and beautiful Romas.  Fair amount of Sungolds, Blushes and SunMix cherries.

Cucumbers.  Sweet Red Onions and the Long Red of Tropea Italian cooking onion.  Basil for the tomatoes!  The first of the pepper crop with Shishitos, Padrons and Serranos this week.

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. 10 #22, 7/3/13

What’s been going on!

40 days and 40 nights, well not quite but over 9 inches of rain for us in June and another couple in the first days of July.  I know lots of folks have had more and certainly the historic rain (5 inches) and flash flood in Chapel Hill and Carrboro on Sunday are much worse than anything we have seen here at the farm this month, we understand the difficulty of post flood clean up.  We did have 15 plus inches in a month back in the late 90’s, seemed like it only rained on us, every day.  Our only real flash flood was after a dumping of more than 10 inches in just a few hours on a June day, the creek jumped its banks and ran down the side of the bottom field in white caps, carrying top soil and crops with it.  Seemed like it rained more back then, at least until this year.

The real danger with this kind of weather is not the amount of water but the constant wetness.  Most crops just aren’t happy with water logged soils and the diseases are happy in the petri dish like environment of hot and humid.  Sunlight is a great sanitizer.  So far most of our crops look good but we do badly need to get in and do more trellising in the peppers as they are getting really top heavy but working in wet plants is a sure recipe for spreading disease up and down the row so for now we wait, maybe Friday.

So what do farmers do when it is too wet to get into the fields?  Start more plants!  It is the time of year that we are all beginning to seed, in the greenhouse, all the fall and early winter crops.  Celery, Brussels sprouts and leeks are already up and looking good.  Yesterday was time for Kale, lettuce, fennel, cauliflower, dianthus, Rudbeckia and more.   If you can’t farm outside, go inside and play with plants instead.

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Tall, tall peppers and we really need to mow those paths too!

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #21, 6/28/13

What’s been going on!

A bit wet and steamy lately?  This is exactly the weather we used to have nearly every summer back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s which eventually lead us to import the Big Tops from England in 2004.  All organic tomato growers fear this kind of weather which leads to all kinds of leaf diseases (and other problems) that they really don’t have any tools to use to protect the plants.  Conventional growers have many sprays they use on a weekly basis to slow down the diseases.

We have told this story many times but it turns out we have a fungal disease that attacks our tomatoes that no one else has (just lucky that way).  We tried many techniques and materials to try and reduce its effect on our tomatoes including good mulching, raised beds, trellising, pruning, airflow, organic sprays and more, all to no avail.  We did know if we could just keep the plants dry it would greatly reduce the spread of the leaf blight.  Enter the Big Tops, just big plastic roofs to keep the rain off but with good air flow, as a friend of ours calls them “tomato umbrellas”.  It is seasons like this that we are glad we spent the money to build them to insure a luscious crop of fruit.

Besides non-stop mowing and weeding there were two big developments this week.  I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday turning under the remnants of the spring crops and seeding the summer cover crops on three quarters of an acre.  Followed by a big rain on Wednesday night they should fly up.  It has been several years since we have had conditions for great summer cover crops, this looks to be a good season.  The second is we passed all of our final inspections on the new building and they turned the power on!  Just a few things left to do and Jennie can move in this week, woohoo!

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Happy and dry tomatoes

What’s going to be at the market?

It is Lilypalooza, lots of long lasting fragrant pink Oriental Lilies and yellow and pink Asiatics too.  Nikko Blue Hydrangeas and maybe a few white Annabelles too.  Brilliant Zinnias and Gloriosa Daisies (Black eyed Susans), a sign of summer.  Plenty of Sunflowers.    Beautiful Bouquets of course.

Tomatoes!  A moderate supply this week in both the sweeter Ultra Sweet and more balanced Big Beefs in reds and Cherokee purples.  A small supply of the great flavored yellow Orange Blossom and Sungolds.  Cucumbers.  Sweet Red Onions.

Maybe the last week of Lacinato or Dinosaur Kale, is really beautiful, time for those raw Kale salads or Kale chips.  Last of the spring Leeks too.  Plenty of Basil for the tomatoes!

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. 10 #20, 6/19/13

What’s been going on!

Just amazing that the cool(ish) spring weather continues this late into June along with the rains.  We are trying hard to catch up on weeding, tying up tomatoes and other chores held up by both the wet conditions and blueberry season.  Blueberry season is over this week (we will cruise through the planting one more time tomorrow) so now we can concentrate on taking care of the summer crops.  The main red onion harvest is finally over too, hard to pull onions when it is too wet but the urgency to get them out before the weeds took them was pressing.  They will now cure for a week before we begin to bring them to market.

The past week is normally when the little turkey poults arrive in the mail but not this year.  There are multiple red flags that have caused us to hold off raising turkeys this season.  Feed is the number one cost in raising the birds despite the fact that they are pastured.  Feed prices remain at record high levels and on top of that, the feed plant that we have used that past few years had a fire earlier this year and is still shut down, making it difficult to get the feed we want, two strikes.  Last fall, the week we went to process the birds, we found out that the freezer plant that we had used for a decade would no longer allow us to store our turkeys there (they changed ownership) and we scrambled to find a substitute facility.  We did but were underwhelmed at the options and the service we ended up with, third strike.

But there may be a silver lining to the story.  There are two reasons we have processed our birds well before Thanksgiving- one is just the shear madness at the processing plant just before the holiday and the other is the Broad Breasted Bronze poults that we prefer were generally not available later than mid June making it necessary to process them in early October otherwise we would end up with 30 pound birds.  We have now found a hatchery that can provide the little birds up into August.  This would allow us to both avoid the freezer plant issue, with fresh birds, and we also may be able wait out the feed plant closing.  We will let you know the outcome.

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Beautiful Campanula and Dianthus after the rain

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #19, 6/12/13

What’s been going on!

While officially summer starts a week from Friday there are a few signals that always indicate to me that summer is really here.  Hot temperatures, shorts all day every day, multiple T-shirt days, light until 9:00, fireflies and most important to us real tomatoes!  The first day over 90 today, someone said the latest that has ever occurred, check, all the rest has been happening for some time but tomatoes until this week.

We have had a few ripe tomatoes over the last week or so but we waited until last night to have the first tomato sandwich dinner.  We each have our own versions but mine is BOT- bacon, our red onions and tomatoes.  Toasted bread, mayo, slices from the heart of the tomato, salt and pepper.  The rest of the tomato I cut into large chunks and have as a side to the sandwich with just a bit of salt so I can taste just the pure fruit and judge where we are in the season.  As to be expected the earliest fruit are not quite as juicy or full flavored as they will be later in the season when the heat really hits but are still so much better than any tomato we have had since our last ones nearly nine long months ago.  Let the debauchery begin.

The Farm to Fork picnic went off smoothly last Sunday, the monsoons moved out and the day was beautiful.  Some really great dishes were served up and the crowd was happy and spread out with lots of room to roam.  Our Smoked Turkey sausage crostini and Early Summer borscht was well received with many folks saying that it was their favorite dish.  We had a great time with Scott and Aubrey from Nana’s and thank them and everyone who participated to make it a great event and raise needed funds for new farmer training.

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Rob from Chicken Bridge Bakery was indicative of the enthusiasm and skills displayed at F2F

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