Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #20, 6/30/17

What’s been going on!

Busy week trying to take advantage of the amazingly cool weather, 54 degrees here on Wednesday morning!  It is the mid-summer reset with all of the spring crops mowed and turned under and summer cover crops being seeded today before the next possible rains.  New this year we will be trying out a seed drill to exactly place the seeds at the right depth and in good contact with the soil for best germination.

We used to be able to just spin the seeds out and lightly, but erratically, cover the bigger seeds and hope that a good rain would do the rest and cover them a bit more.  Increasingly we have had poor stands, especially of summer cover crops because we would not get our usual thunderstorms, instead they would not get a good start with sometimes thin plant densities which allows the weeds to get a foothold underneath them.

We have known that if we could just use a precision drill to seed them it should be much better and more consistent, problem is a good seed drill is $7000 or more.  This spring we joined a new Farmer Tool Sharing group that was still buying tools with a grant they received.  We suggested that they get a small quality seed drill and they did!  So today is the first test run for us and hopefully it will be the ticket!

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Fancy new seed drill ready to go

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #19, 6/22/17

What’s been going on!

The second day of summer with a high in the low 80’s just doesn’t seem right but as Betsy is always fond of pointing out, the days now begin to get shorter and frost is not too far away!  Of course this sentiment carries more enjoyment after we have had weeks of increasingly hot weather.

So while we did not get the crazy storms here at the farm that the rest of the area received over the weekend and on Tuesday but all that water did run down the river to us.  Once again the creek backed up onto our bottom field and over the winter squash patch, immature spaghetti squash bobbing on the water, tethered by their vines.  The crest this time was just slightly higher than the April event at 23.8 feet.

The amazing thing, at least this morning 24 hours after the water receded, is the plants look vibrant and green and healthy.  You never can tell and full sun and some heat may show us some different signs but for now looks like there might be winter squash for this winter.

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P1030494 Look close you can see the pale yellow spaghetti squash floating

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #18, 6/15/17

What’s been going on!

This is the next in a series about our farm transition process.

Why Jennie, why now?

By our mid 50’s the summers were wearing on us more and the aches and pains of 30 years of farming didn’t go away as fast as they used to.  Part of our success has been in the amazing group of young folks who have come to us wanting to learn to be farmers and then would move on but that means finding new faces every year or two and a continuous training program that takes a lot of time and energy.  Jennie came to us as one of those people.

In 2012, midway through her second year with us, we were talking about what her future plans were and she said she thought she might move on to another farm where she would be a co-manager.  Very nearly the same time our friends and longtime professional colleagues, Ben and Karen Barker, had closed their successful restaurant and headed into retirement.  They closed the restaurant for many reasons but one that struck me was they were not sure how much more energy they had to train new chefs.  I didn’t realize it but I was actually in the same place.

When Jennie said she might move on I said “but what if we don’t want to lose Jennie?”  She replied “well I can’t work for wages for ever.”  Fair enough so I countered with “well let’s talk then”.  We didn’t know Jennie well but she was smart, organized, calm and stable beyond her then 26 years.  She is a hard worker but had barely four years of farming experience yet really wanted to farm.  Unlike many of the people who had worked for us and then went on to start their own places, she had no clear way to get started- no family land, no capital resources just a strong inner desire.  It sounded a lot like us 30 years ago.

In June of that year we set the record for the number of 100 degree days in a row and then in July we had The Big Storm.  While we took those extreme events in stride it made us think even harder about how we would continue to manage such hurdles in the years to come.

The three of us started meeting every week to see what we could figure out and began to come up with a plan that would enable Jennie to farm and help us bridge the time span until 65 and then further into the future.  More yet to come…

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The great dividing line between peppers on fabric and those in the no-till

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #17, 6/9/17

What’s been going on!

The June that never came or where is summer?  The short answer is that it comes back tomorrow but with a low of 53 degrees this morning it is hard to imagine.  What a glorious few days especially yesterday, we will be dreaming of such a day in a few months.

Despite the unusual weather the change of seasons is upon us, the crops always know.  The coolness of the last few weeks has allowed the greens to last longer in peak condition than normal but even they are running out of gas, so this week is probably the last of a number of things like beets and fennel.  Soon the mower will take it all out and the summer cover crops will be seeded.

Flowers too, finished are the campanula, snapdragons and poppies but here come the sunflowers, zinnias and gloriosa daisies.  And there are tomatoes!  Those of you who got to market very early last Saturday and this past Wednesday were fortunate enough to get some of the very first tomatoes of the season.  We didn’t have it in the newsletter as the ripening has been slower with the cool weather and we couldn’t gage how many we would have.  We now have enough to actually make it public.  Rest assured we have been quality testing for more than a week, nearly daily tomato sandwiches and last night the first tomato and basil risotto for the season!

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Zinnias reach for the blue sky on an amazingly beautiful June day

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #16, 6/1/17

What’s been going on!

We made it to June and the Farm to Fork weekend is upon us and it will be fun and delicious and lots of work especially for Betsy who has been busing with the planning committee and in pulling together flowers and flower donations so she can make the many arrangements that will grace all three events spread over three days.

The Farm to Fork weekend is the primary fundraiser for beginning farmer training programs at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and the W.C. Breeze Family Farm Agricultural Extension & Research Center.  This is our 10th year of the Picnic and we have managed to raise a lot of money to help new farmers get on the ground.

The first two events are already sold out but there are still tickets available for Sunday’s Picnic at Fearrington Village.  For Friday’s event at the Bridge Club in Raleigh we are paired with our friend Scott Howell of Nana’s Restaurant where he is making a golden beet borscht for one of the five courses.

Sunday we are really proud to be working with another long time friend, Gabe Barker and Pizzeria Mercato where he is putting together a calamari and chickpea salad with our spring vegetables. It might even include some of our first ever purple artichokes!  Hopefully we will see you on Sunday as we will all be there helping to serve food and talk sustainable food and farming.

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Artichokes and agrostemma on a beautiful day

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #15, 5/26/17

What’s been going on!

Rain, rain, rain.  We are somewhere north of 4 inches this week and things are just soaked but no flooding.  We did push really hard on Monday, seeing the potential for too much water, and got all the peppers in the ground!

It is always a big job but with four of us we were on a roll and the soil was not so wet from the half inch of rain the night before that we couldn’t easily plant.  Even the no-till section was friable enough to tuck them in.  At one point every time I stuck the trowel in the ground I turned up an earthworm, always a good sign!  In the end 2800 plants that are now well watered in and already greening up nicely.

For the most part we have been able to work at least every morning this week and pick berries.  The sad result of the really heavy rain on Wednesday night was that it knocked a huge number of blueberries off the bushes that we just couldn’t get picked earlier in the week.  I do think this is the last week of blueberries for this year, only two weeks.

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No-till peppers happy to be in the ground

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #14, 5/19/17

What’s been going on!

Always something new or at least a new twist.  Birds are a common problem in blueberry fields but our losses have always been relatively small and we lived with them flitting in and out of the bushes.  Last year when we had a very tiny crop as a result of the late April freeze the birds got them all.

This spring’s hard March freezes took maybe half of the blooms but the remaining fruit looked good and with the crazy generally warm conditions they began ripening early, just like all the vegetables some of which have been weeks early.  We could have begun picking last Friday which is a least 10 days early but decided to wait until Monday and then we realized the berries that were turning blue were disappearing, damn the birds are back!

The gold standard for bird protection is netting but we don’t have any, didn’t want to buy any much less have to cover and uncover 100 foot long, seven foot tall rows of bushes.  Big growers sometimes have to build structures over their whole fields to support netting so the mowing and picking can happen underneath.  Not going there.  There are plastic owls and hawks, propane cannons that explode every so often to scare flocks away, not going there either.

Ours are a mix of birds, mostly small birds alone or in tiny groups.  Last year it was cedar waxwings moving through.  We had to move fast so we went with the fun house/disco look.  We ordered, with overnight delivery, scare eye balloons to mimic predators to hang in the field and shiny mylar holographic tape to tie onto the bushes, hasn’t chased all the birds away but enough that we are picking.

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Blueberries, scary balloons, flashy tape can you hear the music?

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Peregrine Farm News Vo. 14 #13, 5/10/17

What’s been going on!

We had a good visit last Friday when Josh Volk the farmer/author of Compact Farms, his new book from Storey Publishing that we are honored to be included in, stopped by the farm.  Focusing on farms under 5 acres in production it is an interesting look at how these small operations are putting it all together in different parts of the country.  There is a mix of young farms and old established ones.

As you walk around the Farmers’ Market, with many of the booths filled with the same kinds of produce, it is hard to know how things are done on each farm and how it looks out there.  That is part of the reason we have written this newsletter for 14 years is to give you a peek at what daily/weekly farm life is like.

There is always change in the farm community and it is particularly evident in the newer small farms coming along.  When we developed our systems we had to invent the wheel in some ways as small scale tools were not really available, similarly there was little information on how to farm sustainably.  Now there is a plethora of information, sources and inputs that we could only dream about.

In all businesses there is a tension between sustainability and profits, especially so on a farm where we are managing a natural resource.  We have always tended toward the former to ensure some of the latter.  Newer farms, under pressure to generate dollars to pay for loans and improvements, tend to use more disposable plastics and rely on convenient bagged fertility sources or commercial compost that really were not available to us decades ago.

While we tweak our systems all the time we are happy with how we have put our pieces together and have been successful in building a sustainable operation which, we think, is why we are still in business after all these years and have been able to bring Jennie on as a partner to carry those ideals forward.  As my good southern Mother used to say “there is more than one way to skin a cat(fish)”, we like to think our way is best.

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Spring flowers in a nutshell, delphinium and campanula on the way, poppies on the wane

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #12, 5/5/17

What’s been going on!

“May is always the worst” I reminded Jennie the other day as she looked worriedly out across the field.  Everything hits at once.  Not only is there the most diversity of crops to harvest and process but all the other farm tasks ramp up too.

The weeds grow with extra vigor, it gets hotter and (usually) dryer so the attention to irrigation becomes more critical and like the weeds the crops that need support are getting so tall that trellis must be built for them before they fall over.  Mowing, weed eating and more crops to plant.

While we plant something almost every week of the year the last big planting projects happen in May too.  This week the winter squash, believe it or not, went into the bottom field that was underwater just 8 days ago!  A quarter of an acre plus and we are doing a tillage/weed control experiment so it adds yet another permutation to think about instead of just putting the plants in.

Now we are headed to pepper planting, in the next two weeks we will prep half the beds with the final tilling, irrigation lines and landscape fabric mulch.  The no-till half will be rolled and crimped to kill the cover crop and then planting slots cut to receive the 2600 transplants waiting patiently in front of the greenhouse.  Never a break in the action and Jennie is doing a great job keeping it all under control.

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Rising like the Phoenix, final tilling of the winter squash field on Wednesday

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #11, 4/28/17

What’s been going on!

River up river down.  Another big rain event in the books.  Seems like so many over the years that it is hard to keep track anymore.  When we cleared the bottom field in the early 80’s it was in the middle of an historic drought and we never thought about it flooding.  In April 1987, right after we had the bulldozer in to take the stumps out, came one of the highest crests of the river ever recorded at 27 feet.  At the time we did not realize how high it really was.

We always watch the river gauge at Haw River, about 18 miles upstream from the farm, to get a feel for how high the water might back the half mile up our creek and into the field and possibly over the irrigation pump.  Flood stage in Haw River is 18 feet, if it gets to 20 we start paying attention, if it gets to 22 we probably will need to pull the irrigation pump out.  Tuesday it got to 23.4, the 15th highest since records began in 1929.  The pump came up the hill at 7:00 a.m.

After that first big flood in 1987 we then had a few more years of dry conditions and no high water.  In early 90’s that all changed and we had water up into the fields every year from 1991 until 1998 but mostly in very early spring before much was planted, it worried us but we always managed to have good summer crops.  That all changed in June 1995 when the remnants of a tropical storm sent the Haw to its 3rd highest ever over 28 feet.  It took our entire tomato crop.  The next year was Hurricane Fran at the highest ever recorded at nearly 33 feet!  In the 36 years we have been here there have been at least 13 times the river has backed up on us.

After that we stopped growing our major crops in the bottom and moved them all 60 feet higher, up on the hill, even though the most fertile soil we have is down there.  This week’s flood is a fairly minor one in our books and we will still be able to plant the winter squash down there in a week or so.

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Tuesday evening high point, the pump would have been under 2 feet of water

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Hurricane Fran, 1996, the 500 year flood level

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