Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #23, 9/4/14

What’s been going on!

It is all about peppers right now despite too many other projects, events and other distractions.  Peppers have a way of sneaking up on us.  They can hang on the plants for weeks and then all of a sudden they turn color.  Tomatoes we have to pick twice a week to keep up and if you don’t then they become stinky bags of water.  Peppers on the other hand we only pick once a week (except for the shishitos and padrons which we have to go through three times a week to keep the size just right) and then we just pull the ones that are ripe.

We knew the season was slightly behind due to the cooler weeks in July and August but with the hot weather the last few weeks things have moved along.  This morning I walked out and bam! the whole field looked red.  So today we will start the harvest to split up picking the bells from all the rest and help spread out the job.  We have to wait until the plants are dry so we don’t spread diseases up and down the row, that puts us in the limbo zone between late morning and too hot in the afternoon.  Harvesting peppers is also one of those jobs you can only do for so long because they are just at that difficult height; not low enough to fully bend down or tall enough to stand up, tough on the back, even good ones.

Just to add a level of difficulty to the week our nephew is getting married on Saturday up in the mountains.  All week Betsy has been calmly gathering up all the flowers needed including ordering some from as far away as California.  She will be driving up early tomorrow morning to get set up to do all the arrangements, bouquets, corsages, etc..  Don’t get any ideas, she only does wedding flowers for close relatives and extremely dear friends, too many dangers with unknown brides and mothers.  So she will not be at market on Saturday and I will have to leave market a little early to drive up in time for the ceremony.  This is the balance between family and being all about peppers.

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Lots of red bells

 

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #21, 8/20/14

What’s been going on!

Another foggy morning in this continuing coolish summer.  The old folk adage “for every fog in August there will be a snowfall” indicates that we should be ass deep in snow this winter.  With the days beginning to get noticeably shorter we can let ourselves think about fall.

Summer break was enjoyable, different in its pacing and how it rolled out but we all had a chance to reset and do non-farm things.  Jennie was able to go north for a while and Betsy and I lolled around the house, went out to eat a lot, I even managed to read two whole books!  We still had to do some seeding and planting and maintenance but all with a relaxed agenda.

But we are back and it is a packed week.  The hard rain on Monday slowed re-entry some as we had planned to get a lot of things planted, looks like tomorrow we can get it done.  That is OK because we still had a film crew here shooting some pieces for Farm Aid which will be in Raleigh September 13th and then a dinner for a UNC class we participate in.  Friday night is our annual Farm Dinner at Fosters Market in Chapel Hill, focusing on peppers, what else.

Saturday is the first day of pepper roasting at market.  It will be a “soft” start with mostly just chiles as this cool weather has delayed the ripening of the colored sweet bell peppers but the Anaheims and Poblanos look great and will be in abundance.  The weather won’t even be brutal with a high in the mid 80’s, never in my wildest dreams.

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Get the snow shovels ready

 

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #14, 6/13/14

What’s been going on!

A wet week with well over two inches of rain.  After the first few small rains the taller pepper plants were beginning to think about tipping over if we didn’t get some trellis on them.  I had a fitful sleep on Tuesday night as yet another storm slipped by to our north, worrying it would be the one to lay the plants down.  Wednesday morning after getting ready for market we jumped on the pepper trellis and got the first layer on the tallest eight beds, a few of which had fallen over.  None too soon as the big storms of that afternoon would have certainly flattened them with the big winds and 1.7” of rain, instead they are standing straight and tall.

It is good to see real tomatoes on our kitchen counter again.  We had to use the first ten pounds of the season for our dish at the Farm to Fork picnic so our only taste was the inaugural BLT last Friday.  Running about a week behind normal due to the cooler spring but they look really good.  Another round of BLT’s on Monday and then last night the first of the summers tomato and basil risottos, it is beginning to look a lot like tomato season!

The Farm to Fork picnic was great.  The weather was a miracle both for the rains that turned away from us at the last minute and the resulting pleasant low 80 degree temperatures.  Bret Jenning’s, of Elaine’s on Franklin, savory combination of our beets, carrots, fennel and leeks as a filling wrapped in our Summer Crip lettuce with a medium spice salsa of the tomatoes, cilantro and our smoked dried chipotles was amazing.  Think of it as a roll your own lettuce taco.  Chased by the blueberry, ginger and basil lemonade and it was a perfect combination.  Thank you Bret and all of the picnic goers for supporting local farms and the training of new farmers.

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Proud and straight peppers

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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 #17, 5/29/13

What’s been going on!

The glorious weather is gone but it was amazing to be in the high 30’s on Saturday morning this late in the spring.  We took great advantage of the last coolish days to give the blueberries a final weed eating and hand pruning, ready for the pickers.  The first small batch of berries were harvested on Monday, second pass through today, they look great!  With the impending heat it will be all hands on deck next week for sure.

Almost all the peppers are now in the ground, Jennie and Liz did a great job, helped by the soil moisture being just right for cutting the furrows in the no-till area which resulted in maybe the best planting conditions we have ever had.  There are many difficulties in working with small scale no-till most of which are equipment related.  In large scale no-till they have the advantage of bigger tractors, more horsepower and heavier steel to manage the cover crop and to put plants in the ground and of course in conventional farm systems, herbicides to kill the cover crop.

In our system we have a small, light, tractor and lighter cutting disks to cut through the thick cover crop and open the planting furrows.  The biggest problem we usually have is that the massive cover crop sucks all the water out of the soil making it so hard that the cutting implements can’t open the soil well.  Not this year, following last week’s 3 inches of rain, it had dried out just enough to work beautifully yesterday.  It makes the hand planting of the peppers twice as fast.

We are getting painfully close to finishing up the building project with the septic system finally going in this week (held up by too much rain) and the bathroom floor and fixtures being finished up by the end of the week too.  All that leaves is trenching in the water line and the electrician finishing up the plugs and lights, we can then call for a final inspection and get the power turned on.  Can’t happen soon enough, we have no business working on a building project during the busy spring season.

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Happy pepper plants in no-till left and landscape fabric right

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Peregrine Farm News, Vol. 10 #16, 5/24/13

What’s been going on!

Last wholesale delivery of lettuce yesterday, after another three inches of rain this week I told the produce managers that if this was a prize fight I would stop it now, so I did.  A record short season for lettuce deliveries to Weaver Street, only three weeks but when it starts late and then it rains two or three times the average something has to give.  It was the lettuce.  That doesn’t mean we are done with lettuce for market, just not enough good looking heads to fill the large orders.  Oh well, time to move on, blueberries are calling.

Farm to Fork Picnic coming up in two weeks, June 9th.  Apparently a lot of folks think that it is already sold out, which it always does but not quite yet, still time to get your tickets.  Not only is this a great food event pairing some of the area’s best chefs with the best farmers to create amazing fresh flavors and food but it also more importantly supports new farmer training programs at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and the Breeze Farm in Orange county where the event is held.

34 pairings this year plus the artisans tent, bigger than last year.  We are excited to be working with Scott Howell from Nana’s in Durham, his first time participating but not his first time at the rodeo as one of the finest restaurants in North Carolina.  We are working on something with turkey (a turkey salami) and of course a vegetable dish hopefully with the first tomatoes of the season.  Don’t let this opportunity pass.

So the rain has held us up on the big job this week, second only to tomato planting week is pepper week.  The beds for the specialty hot and sweet peppers have been prepared with irrigation line and landscape fabric and the cover crop on the no-till beds have been rolled and crimped.  Hopefully it will dry out enough today to plant the fabric beds this afternoon and the forecast looks as if we can get the rest tucked into the no-till area on Monday or Tuesday.  The plants look awesome, at the perfect stage of growth to hit the soil running, let’s hope we can get it done soon.

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Thousands of pepper plants raring to go

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #20, 8/16/12

What’s been going on!

Summer break?  Sort of, depends on how you view such things.  The important part is that Jennie and Liz had full weeks away and are now back ready to roll fast and rested into the fall.  We managed a few afternoons off and couple of side trips and dinners out but there was just too much to do to completely close the blinds and not look out towards the fields.  Let’s call it the summer reset.

Anyway there are too many good things coming up that we have to be prepared for.  Somehow August has become Peregrine Farm Dinner month.  Three opportunities in the next week and a half to taste our products at three different restaurants and being the start of full blown pepper season all menus will be very pepper centric.  Beginning tonight at Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill we are the featured farm for their monthly farm dinner, the menu looks very southwestern.

Next on Thursday, we will be working with Bret at Elaine’s on Franklin where he will have a series of special dishes using our produce that will be available along with his regular menu.  He makes an awesome chile relleno and you probably will see some shishitos amongst other great dishes.

Lastly, Saturday the 25th, we are going to have a fun dinner at Panzanella in Carrboro where we are co-farmers for their monthly farm dinner along with our friend and graduate of Peregrine Farm, Joann Gallagher of Castlemaine Farm.  This menu will be wider ranging because they have the bounty of both farms to choose from.

We are trying to catch up with things around the farm that did kind of sit for two weeks, especially the mowing as the rains have made the grass out of control, of course both mowers decided to break down simultaneously so that makes it kind of difficult.  Planting for fall, final pepper trellising, the last of the tomato harvests are the main objectives, here we go again.

Picture of the Week

Beautiful Orange Corno di Toro peppers

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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!

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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. 8 #8, 5/11/11

What’s been going on?

Betsy walks outside yesterday morning and says the cicadas are so loud it sounds like Police sirens. I head out to work a bit later and they are completely silent, crazy. In general the din builds through the day until it is an eerie alien roar. Interestingly we don’t really see a lot around except for all the holes in the ground where they have emerged and then of course the cats have to bring them in the house. They say they will be around a month and then it will be 13 years until the next explosion.

Busy week, peppers begin to go in the ground today. The fabric and irrigation lines went down on Monday over the prepared beds. These raised beds will hold all the fussy hot and exotic peppers because we feel they need the extra warmth and better drained soil of a raised bed. The staff will start planting those beds this morning while I am finishing getting the rest of the field ready. The majority of the sweet peppers we will plant, no-till, into the rolled cover crop that grew their last winter. We had a monster cover crop of rye and hairy vetch to roll down and now I need to cut the slits into the mulch so they can tuck the plants in. Hopefully by the end of the tomorrow all the plants will be in the ground. Perfect conditions for transplanting, the soil has warmed nicely (which the peppers need), it will be overcast and not too hot and those plants will just take off.

Another big project was checked off the list this week which give us much relief. Despite what has been nearly perfect weekly rains this spring we are still over four inches behind on rainfall for the year and finished last year eight inches down. So while the annual crops are happy the ground water is not. Our upper pond never filled over the winter and so we are in the process of filling it from the lower pond. The crux has been we have to fill the lower pond from the creek.

Years ago we installed a gravity feed line that runs 900 feet down the field and into the pond. It worked OK but never enough flow and it would stop running from time to time. So a month ago we rented a trencher and cut a new line in, using a transit to make sure the fall was right and then buried new two inch PVC pipe. Finally last Friday we finished up the connections and started it running. It now runs with great flow and we feel comfortable that we can easily refill the lower pond. Water is the second most limiting resource on the farm after labor and so we are feeling more secure than we have in some years. Let’s hope it keeps raining each week.

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The trench runs 700′ to the far tree line and then 200 more feet to the creek

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