Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #29, 9/15/16

What’s been going on!

You might remember last year when we talked about our aging infrastructure and how we had three pieces of equipment in for repairs in one week.  Well last week was the ultimate equipment failure, our 34 year old tractor developed a hydraulic leak that cannot be fixed.  Gulp, did not plan on buying a new tractor anytime soon but the big fall soil preparation is coming up and we have to have a tractor.

Fortunately we had already prepared all the planting beds for fall crops so had at least a few weeks to figure it out.  We have used two different mechanics to work on the old tractor over the years and they both hemmed and hawed “not sure we can even get the parts”.  I called yet two more shops and they gave me the same story.  Our tractor, a Long brand, has not been made for 20 years so we knew that sooner or later we might run into this problem.

Research ensued, buying a tractor is like buying a car but only more expensive.  We also had to have a certain size tractor as everything on the farm is set up for planting beds four feet on center, all the implements, all the irrigation, all the mulches, all the tunnels, hell our brains are calibrated to that same four foot measurement.

The selection of compact tractors is much better than it was 30 years ago but we ended up with a Kubota (which we wanted but couldn’t afford in 1982).  Even though essentially the same size and horse power it is quite a step up with 4WD vs. 2WD, a front end loader which we have never had and other amenities that tractor engineers didn’t even think of three decades ago.  So it arrived two days ago and Jennie has already driven it more than I have!

Pictures of the Week

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Jennie approves

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The old versus the new, welcome to the 21st century

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #28, 9/7/16

What’s been going on!

Twenty years ago this week we were cleaning up from the worst natural disaster to ever hit the farm and the state, Hurricane Fran.  For anyone who lived through the storm and its aftermath just the memory of it gives one pause, almost chills.  We have been through numerous hurricane/tropical depressions, thunderstorm straight line winds and floods from torrential downpours and other than the Big Storm, all of them rolled together don’t match what Fran had all in one shot.

From the ferocity of the winds that went on for hours and eventually brought many trees down around the farm but amazingly not on any buildings, to the rain that brought the river up to the 500 year flood level and floated the transplant greenhouse which required us to move it out of the bottom field and up onto the hill, this storm had it all.

We were without power for a week and the mid 90 degree temperatures and high humidity made the days of chainsaw work and clean up really taxing.  No running water meant that we had to haul buckets of water from the pond to water 1000’s of transplants with a watering can.  At least it was warm enough to rinse off in the pond every evening and it was peacefully silent in the neighborhood until the generators all roared to life.

In the end we only missed one Saturday market (the market did go on the day after the storm but we skipped it while cleaning up) and we had good fall crops up to frost.  While we came out relatively unscathed monetarily, we never want to see such a storm again.

Pictures of the Week

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Big oak trees down all around the house

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The 500 year flood level of the Haw River in our bottom field

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #27, 9/1/16

What’s been going on!

Watching the weather closely, it is the crazy season when the swings can be wild.  Last Saturdays pepper roasting just about roasted me so we are happy to see much cooler temperatures for this weekend but not so happy about how tropical storm Hermine might affect us and market.  Right now (Thursday morning) she appears to be heading more eastward but we could still see a lot of rain and windy conditions.  The best guess is Saturday morning will be breezy but drying as the storm moves north.

Another busy week with many fall crops going in the ground while we are slowly taking out some of the summer crops like tomatoes and some flowers.  The weeks on either side of Labor Day are always the peak of fall planting by the end of September it is almost too late for most crops other than short season and cold hardy types like radishes, carrots and some greens.

Only two weeks until the Carrboro Farmers’ Market’s fall Harvest Dinner on September 15th.  A fun community event and fundraiser for the market.  Supported by over two dozen local restaurants who each prepare a dish for the potluck style dinner.  It is always enjoyable to visit with people not in the shopping scrum of Saturday morning over a meal.  Get your tickets while they last!

Picture of the Week

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Newly planted lettuces and root crops

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #26, 8/24/16

What’s been going on!

We are back!  With the steamy weather having finally broken for a few days and everyone having had a week or more off there is spring in peoples step and minds.  Good break with Jennie spending time in Indiana with her family and Trish going all the way to Montana!  Betsy and I kept as low a profile as possible short of the many dinners out.

Lots to do this week including the endless mowing, holy crap can the grass grow fast.  A cultivation pass through all the fall vegetables that we did manage to get planted after the big rains and before everyone left for a week.  But the big job has been working in the pepper field both trellising and picking.

It is all about peppers for the next month or so as we work our way through the peak of the season and do we ever have the peppers to start roasting this Saturday!  All varieties, colors and heat levels.  Unfortunately the beautiful weather is not going to last that long so we will roast as far into the morning as we can bear it.  Remember to come to the stand first to get your peppers into the cue and then when you are finished shopping your roasted peppers will be waiting for you.  If you want a large amount roasted let us know and we will make sure to have them ready for you, they freeze great!

If you don’t make it to market this week, not to worry we will be roasting for months but the selection wanes over time.  You might also want to attend our next cooking class at A Southern Season Cooking School next Monday August 29th, this one of course all about peppers!  Working again with our friend and tomato guru Craig Lehoullier who is also a pepper grower and cook and the wonderful Caitlin Burke of the Cooking School we will have a great time and meal.  If you haven’t ever taken a class at the Cooking School not only will you learn a lot but you will have a great meal including wine for a really reasonable price.

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Super sweet orange Corno di Toro peppers, did I say we have a lot?

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #25, 8/5/16

What’s been going on!

Well August came in like a lion or a tidal wave.  Five inches of rain in two days destroyed all of our driveways, washed out the field we were preparing for fall and winter crops, blew the poblano trellis over.  Normally we celebrate July being past, hmmm.

Spent yesterday morning regrading all the drives, have never seen one storm move so much gravel.  We have mostly pulled the poblanos back up but half of one bed is still a mess and will be a pain to pick for the next 3 months.  Hopefully it will be dry enough this afternoon to re-till and re-establish the beds in the fall vegetable field, we have planting that has to be done!

Jennie and Trish have begun to tear out the sliding tunnel tomatoes to make way for fall and winter crops which marks the beginning of the end of tomato season.  Next Monday may be the last regular tomato pick as the plants are really beginning to suffer from all of this hot, wet weather.  Just in time for our summer break!

As you all know for years we have taken a break in early August to recharge the mental batteries and to prepare for fall.  25 weeks straight at market with hardly a day off since early April requires a pause.  We will all be at market tomorrow and Jennie and Trish will be at market next Wed. and possibly next Saturday the 13th if there are enough tomatoes left.  We will not be at market on the 20th but back will the pepper roaster and fall smiles on the 27th.

Pictures of the Week

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Tipsy Poblanos

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Blown out field

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #24, 7/29/16

What’s been going on!

Ah the Dog Days of summer how grizzly can you be?  It has actually been a few years since the hottest period of the year was during the end of July when, statistically, it has always been.  Recently the hottest stretches have been in June with days of 100 degree temperatures.  But as we know in the South, it’s the humidity that is crippling.

With all the rain in the last months it gives the atmosphere plenty of water to work with.  I noticed one day this week the dew point (the point at which air is saturated and the water starts to condense) was 77 degrees in Carrboro, quick research showed that the dew point has only reached 80 degrees eight times since records have been kept at RDU and the highest ever was 82.  So while not the Amazon, it has been plenty hot and humid the last few weeks.

Here at the farm we are actually getting quite dry, it has been two weeks since we have seen any water falling from the skies.  All of the intense storm cells have passed just north or south of us.  Last evening when I was walking across the farm there was a hot dry sirocco type wind.

Jennie has been doing a great job of managing the irrigation and keeping everything moist and growing.  Together with Trish they have worked through these hot days harvesting tomatoes, planting flowers, the first fall vegetables and other maintenance that has to be done.  These are the days that make you know you want to be a farmer!

Picture of the Week

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Hot sun glaring off the tunnels

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #23, 7/21/16

What’s been going on!

Thanks to everyone for the many congratulations on Betsy’s steadfast dedication to producing beautiful cut flowers for Weaver Street Market all these years, they have been a great partner to work with and have helped Peregrine Farm become what it is today.  The champagne was savored!

Monday I was speaking at the Southern Cover Crop conference in Mount Olive.  Farmers and researchers from all 16 states and territories in the Southern region were there, nearly 500 folks.  Lots of incredible expertise on what we feel is one of the most important parts of a sustainable farming system, especially in the humid south.

Cover crops or green manure crops grown primarily to increase the vitally important organic matter in soils that the soil life feeds on and in turn feeds plants growing in that soil.  Their use is on the rise across the country especially on large conventional farms that have converted to no-till farming and who realized they needed to do a better job of fostering their soils.

We have always believed that cover crops are integral to a well designed agro-ecosystem for many more reasons than just organic matter.  They are important as beneficial insect habitat, in reducing soil erosion and water infiltration, they help with weed suppression and many other services.

Sadly one of the trends in small farms is to move away from the use cover crops to maximize production and income during the growing season that might otherwise be occupied by nonrevenue generating cover crops.  These farms are importing all of their organic matter either in the form of manure or compost which we think is short sighted, expensive and a potential source of problems brought in with those imports.  They might have a higher gross income but in the long run it may well cost them in other ways.

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A lush summer cover crop of sorghum-sudan grass and cowpeas in front of peppers raised on free cover crop nitrogen

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Peregrine Farm News, Vol. 13 #22, 7/13/16

What’s been going on!

Betsy says that I need to bring home a good bottle of Champagne tomorrow after I deliver.  We are generally not celebrators of things, you know birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and the like but this occasion seems worth marking.  Tomorrow will be Betsy’s and Peregrine Farm’s last delivery of wholesale flowers.

For 29 years, since they opened their doors, Betsy has grown flowers and made bouquets and growers bunches for Weaver Street Market.  In the early years we were the entire floral department and would deliver from late April up into the fall.  We also delivered to three Whole Food stores and various florists but gave them up years ago as we began to concentrate more of our efforts on the Farmers’ Market.  That was a lot of bouquet making for sure.

As part of our transition plan for the farm we are reducing Betsy’s workload and schedule.  That means no wholesale flowers and only growing flowers for the market.  Betsy has harvested every flower that has ever come off the farm for 31 years; that is a lot of wear and tear and time.  We think she deserves a break and someone else to pick some of those flowers.

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She is not quite done picking flowers yet though, Celosia and Lisianthus

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Peregrine Farm News vol. 13 #21, 7/6/16

What’s been going on!

Holy cow, its tomato week!  Good thing we are near peak supply.  Some of our restaurants are closed until the end of the week (Pizzaria Mercato, Elaine’s, Oakleaf) so that give us some breathing room but some of the others are putting on their tomato plates (Glasshalfull, Pazzo) and ACME is having its Tomato Festival which means hundreds of pounds of tomatoes are needed.  Finally Saturday is the Carrboro Market’s famous Tomato Day!

Tomorrow night is a tomato and wine dinner at ACME with our friend and tomato guru Craig LeHoullier.  Craig gave us plants of some of his 1400 varieties (that we don’t already grow) for this dinner but unfortunately they went in weeks later than the rest of our main planting so only a couple will be ready for the dinner.  We still have plenty of tomatoes to contribute to the evening though!

Enough with the rain already, nearly every day for over a week.  This kind of weather is really hard on everything especially tomato plants and fruit which is why we have the Big Tops to help keep them dry.  The crops most affected right now (always hard to know all the ramifications until later) are the lettuce and basil.  Looks like a really short basil season due to the rapid spread of the basil downy mildew, damn!

Picture of the Week

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Walls of happy and dry tomato plants

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #20, 6/29/16

What’s been going on!

Emergency trip to Wilson yesterday morning for tomato boxes, we all forget about one of the hidden parts of producing food, how does it get from the plant to the market table or the back of the restaurant or grocery store?  For all growers but especially small ones with limited resources, containers are a serious cost and hassle.

We all start out scrounging boxes from produce departments but you have to be careful that they are clean and not too torn up.  With the new food safety rules you not supposed to re-use cardboard boxes unless they have a liner.  New waxed boxes can cost up to $2.50 each and un-waxed boxes a dollar and a half or more. So every time you send a box off you will probably never see it again, especially wholesale.  Some of the restaurants will bring them back but mostly they go in the trash.  Even worse, the waxed boxes used for wet items like greens cannot be recycled or composted and have to go to the landfill.

Way back in 2004 we decided that the box chase and cost was too much and invested in food grade plastic returnable containers for all of our greens and other items that normally would go into a waxed box.  We knew that in Europe there were essentially no cardboard boxes, all we would see is plastic or wood.  After lots of research we ended up with our now familiar white crates with lids.  They were not cheap at $11.00 each but all it would take was to reuse them four or five times and they would be paid for in waxed boxes we would never see again.

Now twelve years later it has been fantastic, Weaver Street Market holds them for us to pick up at the next delivery just like they do milk crates or other similar boxes.  The restaurants hold them or bring them back to the next market.  It works great.  We do have to wash them between uses but that is far cheaper than buying new boxes.

We would love to find a plastic container for tomatoes that we like and stop using card board boxes but just haven’t found one than meets our requirements.  Because most of the tomatoes go to market or restaurants we almost always get them back and can reuse them many times before having to buy new ones so it is less of an issue and they can be recycled or composted too.

Picture of the Week

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Lettuce in crates with removable lids

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