Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #22, 7/18/18

What’s been going on!

While we are in the middle of tomato season and all of the various festivals and tasting events focused on the fruit I thought it might be a good time to actually talk about tomato flavor and bust one of the big misconceptions about different flavor profiles.

To start, flavor is determined by the variety- how it was bred, including the size of the plant and how it is grown including the soil it is grown in.  The bigger the plant, the more photosynthetic area if has, the more sugars and other flavor components the plant will make and put into the fruit.  We grow only tall, indeterminate varieties that will have a lot of leaf area.  The breeders or choosers in the case of heirloom types, also pick texture and flavor attributes they want or like.  Big fruit/small fruit, color, firmer/softer, less juice/more juice, less sugar/more sugar.

The big photosynthetic array also has to have the right materials to work with to make the sugars and other compounds- that would be the soil they are grown in.  Greenhouse tomatoes are generally grown in bags or pots of inert, sterile material like coconut husk or peat moss or even rock wool and fed a solution of nutrients.  “Field grown” tomatoes are grown in real soil but every soil is different and will have more or less of some nutrients and the biology that makes those nutrients available for the plant roots to take up.  Tomatoes grown in sand are different than our tomatoes grown in a rich sandy loam with red clay underneath.  It is not even a contest to compare a short determinate commercial variety grown in South Florida in the winter to a tall, indeterminate, heirloom or hybrid variety grown in our upland soils in the full sun and heat of the summer.

One of the most common questions we get and the myth to be busted is “which of these tomatoes is low acid?”.  The answer is- none of them.  What???!!!  There is no such thing as a high acid tomato or a low acid tomato.  They are all high acid, as in low pH, the scale that acidity/alkalinity is measured by.  Neutral being 7.0, all tomatoes run between 4.3 and 4.9, pretty acid.  Less ripe fruit are more acid and become a bit less so as they become fully ripe.  So our perception of tomato flavor is more accurately high sugar versus low sugar.  The sugars mask the acidity and most good balanced tomatoes have enough sugar to taste some sweetness but also to let the acid be there too.

Because it is so ingrained in us to refer to tomatoes as high or low acid we will continue to describe them that way to most people but just between those of us in the who now know better we will point to the sweet varieties when asked for the low acid ones  J.

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Tall tomatoes, growing in soil enriched partly from lush cover crops like the cowpeas and millet in the foreground

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #21, 7/11/18

What’s been going on!

Two big weeks coming up all focused on tomatoes.  Technically starting tomorrow, but with a sneak preview today at the first wine dinner, is the 17th annual ACME Tomato Festival where the entire menu is taken over by tomatoes in every dish.  Runs through the weekend with nearly 1000 pounds of tomatoes being consumed.  We only supply part of that but we did take the first 80 plus pounds yesterday to get things started!

We are also doing our best to fill the menus of other restaurants around town too with delicious tomatoes.  Pizzeria Mercato who just re-opened after their summer break, Elaine’s On FranklinOakleaf  just back from their summer break too and the Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw.

Next Thursday, the 19th, will be our annual tomato class at A Southern Season- An Ode to the Tomato with our friend the NC Tomato man, Craig LeHoullier who introduced the Cherokee Purple tomato to the world.  Always fun with Caitlyn Burke cooking great dishes with our tomatoes and Craig and I bantering on about tomatoes from A to Z.

Finally on Saturday the 21st is the Carrboro Farmers’ Market’s Tomato Day a celebration of all the amazing varieties grown by the farmers at market.  A chance to taste as many as 60 varieties and find out which ones you like best.  The market will be brimming with lots of fruit and tomato centric activities, don’t miss it!

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The Crested Celosia are so tall that you can barely see Jennie amongst them

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #20, 7/6/18

What’s been going on!

 It is all about tomatoes right now and we have them coming out of our ears!  With the holiday landing in the middle of the week it has curtailed our normal tomato sales both from the Wednesday market being a day earlier, and a bit slower, and all of our restaurants closed, some for the whole week!  Combine that with probably the peak of our harvest and we are swimming in amazingly beautiful fruit!  Don’t miss out.

This Saturday is usually the Carrboro Farmers’ Market’s big Tomato Day but this year it has been pushed back until July 21st for a variety of reasons partly due to most of the  farmers crops being a bit later this year due to the cooler spring.  Not to worry, there will still be plenty of tomatoes at market.

We finally got some rain on Wednesday after nearly 3 weeks without a drop.  Didn’t exactly need 2 inches in a half an hour but we will take whatever we can get.  After the downpour I have been working on dragging all of the driveway gravel back up the hill to where it should be.  With nearly a half a mile of gravel drives around the farm this is a never ending job but some years are worse than others, just depends on how the rains come.

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When you enter the packing shed you see this

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Around the corner you find this

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #19, 6/28/18

What’s been going on!

“Are these field grown tomatoes already?”  We get some version of this question every year in June as they pick up a Big Beef and have that look like they just ate a stink bug.  We usually just say yes, or they were grown in the dirt or some other quick response but the answer to that question is actually a complicated one.

It used to be that there were greenhouse tomatoes, bred specifically for those indoor conditions of lower light and cool nights (as most are grown in the off season) to be pruned and tied up in ways that only can be done inside a structure.  They are also almost entirely grown in plastic bags filled with some sterile media and all the water and nutrients are pumped to them.  Some of the varieties taste OK but are never as good as a tomato grown in the dirt and with high light and warm days.

Then the other side of the coin are “field grown” tomatoes which is no guarantee of a decent tomato either.  Sure they are grown in the dirt but how has that soil been cared for and just because they are outside in high light and warmer temperatures doesn’t mean that we won’t have bad experiences with crappy Florida winter tomatoes or even North Carolina “field” tomatoes.

For good flavor and texture in a tomato it all starts with the variety and how it was bred.  To industrialize the production of tomatoes they started by making the plants short which makes for easier trellising, in fact they are working hard on even shorter and stockier plants that will need no plant support.  When you make a tomato plant small you reduce the amount of leaf surface that photosynthesizes all the sugars and other flavor compounds that go into the fruit.  The second thing they did was breed in thicker skins and firmer texture so they could be mechanically harvested and shipped long distances.

Now let’s add in a single layer of plastic suspended over the plants to warm up the soil and to protect them from cold nights in the early spring while the young plants are growing but they are tall “field” varieties chosen for the best flavor and texture and grown in beautiful soil.  Does that make them greenhouse tomatoes?  We say No!

It used to be easy to tell, pretty much any ripe tomato before the 4th of July was from a greenhouse but we all have gotten much better at pushing “field” tomatoes earlier and earlier with raised beds of rich soil, covered with soil warming mulches, planting big transplants with larger root systems, inside of protective structures, trellised and pruned in a way so that the plants get the maximum sunlight and voila- ripe, great tasting tomatoes in June!  And plenty for the 4th of July holiday, are we lucky or what?

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Jacob just at the start of the tomato harvest day

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #18, 6/21/18

What’s been going on!

The first day of summer, the longest day of the year, the stifling heat and humidity.  The only bright note is that the days now begin to get shorter which leads, eventually, to cooler days, something to dream about.  Life continues on the farm, morning work out in the field, regular irrigation and planting maintenance but it is at a measured pace with as little afternoon, in the sun, expenditure of energy as possible.

One thing we have no control over when it is this hot is how the tomatoes and peppers will set fruit.  When the day time temperatures are over 90 degrees and/or the night time above 70 degrees it makes the pollen less viable or sticky so that it won’t be able to fertilize the flower.  Fortunately we have been relatively cool until this week so should have a good tomato fruit set until the last week of July or the first of August when this week’s heat will become apparent as it takes six to seven weeks from pollination (or not) to a ripe fruit.

The pollination problem is a bit less severe in peppers but it will reduce the number of fruit in July and early August which is one reason we have our biggest pepper supply in the fall.  With climate change and the increasing frequency of heat waves it will affect when and for how long people will be able to grow tomatoes in this area.  Another reason to savor them while they are at their best!

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Shade cloth on the Big Tops to help keep the summer lettuce cool.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #17, 6/13/18

What’s been going on!

Wonderfully cool day yesterday and we took the opportunity to finish seeding an acre of summer cover crops of pearl millet and cowpeas.  I spent Monday getting everything mowed and getting the soil ready in various fields, the rains that came with the cold front fortunately missed us which allowed the seeding to go forward.  With good moisture in the soil they should sprout quickly and give us a good smothering stand.

The first real tomato harvest on Monday and Jennie spent a good amount of time carefully showing Lacee and Jacob exactly how we pick and sort tomatoes.  How much color is enough, how to separate the full ripe, part ripe and seconds from each other.  What to do with damaged fruit.  Which boxes to use and how to pack them to protect the tender orbs.  It is a long two months, with thousands of pounds of fruit, so it is best to get everyone on the same page from the beginning.

The sweet red onion harvest is happening today and tomorrow.  A bit tedious pulling each one, sniping the roots off and the neck making sure to leave an inch or so to dry.  Put into ventilated crates and stacked in the shade covered greenhouse to cure but not in the direct sun so they don’t get sunburned.  Look for them at market in a few weeks.  Tomatoes, onions, cukes, basil and peppers, seems like summer is finally here.

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Tomatoes coming to a plate near you!

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #16, 6/6/18

What’s been going on!

Let the mowing begin!  Change of seasons at the farm and we have mowed down a half an acre of spring crops so far and all the grass that is going wild all around the fields.  Finally a beautiful and dry week, just in time as we were getting backed up on planting and cultivating.

The staff has already cultivated the most urgent beds and planted another 6 or 7 with summer flowers and late lettuce.  We covered the last two Big Tops that will protect the middle planting of crested celosia and some summer lettuce.  Soon it will be time for the big red onion harvest and then the spring crops really will be finished.  Once we pick the last blueberry this week life will settle down into our regular summer schedule.

The Farm to Fork picnic was a great success and it was good to see many of you there and to run into other farmer friends who were also there representing their goods and pairing with local restaurants.  Too much food to possibly sample it all.  As always we had an enjoyable time with our friends at Pizzeria Mercato and their cold cucumber and octopus salad with crispy, spicy chickpeas was a huge hit.

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Amazing Annabelle Hydrangeas

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #15, 5/30/18

What’s been going on!

Almost to June and the Farm to Fork Picnic is nearly here this Sunday.  A little different set up this year, back to just the actual picnic this weekend with the other events spread out across the year.  It makes it much easier on everyone involved- farmers, chefs and eaters.  The last two years, with three events all on one weekend, wore everyone down.  Still at the Fearrington Village for the shade and cover from rain in case that occurs.

The event is an important fundraiser for beginning farmer training programs at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and the W.C. Breeze Family Farm Agricultural Extension & Research Center.  Betsy and I serve on the Board of Advisors for CEFS and have been very involved with this event from the beginning.  We are again paired with our good friends at Pizzeria Mercato.  Tickets are still available and it is guaranteed to be tasty and fun.

May rains bring June tomatoes or something like that, it is for sure bringing lots of big blueberries which has been our main focus all week, we have been picking every day except Saturday trying to beat the rains and get them off the bushes in peak condition.  This is the peak week and so far the rains have held off every morning and we have just enough pickers to get the job done but we will be happier when we only have to pick tomatoes!

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Damp Blueberries

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #14, 5/25/18

What’s been going on!

Wow!  Memorial Day weekend already, how did that happen?  One of those weeks with lots going on and further complicated by all the rain, as we knew it would. Nearly 5 inches for us but we did manage to get all the peppers in the ground on Wednesday and Thursday so we are now ready for the next tropical depression coming our way for the weekend, at least Saturday doesn’t look too bad but Sunday and Monday wet.

Past the peppers the blueberries came on much faster than we had anticipated with this cool spring and we had to start picking on Wednesday.  The one good thing about the rain is that it came just at the right time to make the berries nice and big.  Beautiful crop and we will try and get as many picked for market as we can.

It didn’t help that months ago I had agreed to two events one on Wednesday and another on Thursday, the only dry day in the past seven.  Wednesday morning, very early, I was again in Raleigh speaking on behalf of farmers and other self-employed people who fall into the health insurance gap for the expansion of Medicaid.

Yesterday I was up early to do the required tractor work so we could plant the last of the peppers and then had to drive to the other side of Raleigh to talk about pastured turkey production at an Extension conference.  No we are not raising turkeys again but there are relatively few who do and I was an easy target.  Then I rushed home to get back on the tractor to cultivate the winter squash before we lose them to the sea of crab grass that has sprouted from the rains.  Glad all I have to do today is pick blueberries!

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Peppers happy to be in the ground, heavy mulch of rye and vetch

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #13, 5/16/18

What’s been going on!

Looks like a long gray week, hard to tell how much rain we will actually get but we have to at least plan like we might only be able to do certain jobs on the farm.  Jennie and crew hit it hard Monday and Tuesday trying to get as many dry jobs done as possible.  Cultivating while the soil is dry and ideal for weed killing, planting before the rains, pruning tomatoes, a job not to be done on wet days for disease purposes and more.  At least it will not be as hot as it has been.

The last big planting project of spring happens this coming week, pepper time.  In another nod to the impending wet weather we did the final tillage on the beds that we cover with landscape fabric and then laid that fabric so we will be ready to plant next week.  Those beds are only half of the pepper field as we the plant the rest into untilled soil covered with a huge cover crop mulch of rye and hairy vetch.  That half we will prepare next week after the rains which will make the soil much easier to plant into.

While the season has been delayed with all the cool weather, the heat of the last week has gone a long way towards playing catch up and this week’s harvest will be a big one that will have to be done around the rains and hopefully not in the rain.  Cool weather makes for beautiful cool season vegetables so we have to hope for a few more weeks of moderate temperatures to pick the best out of the field.

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Maybe the best Sugar Snap Pea crop we have ever grown

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