Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #18, 5/30/19

What’s been going on! 

Yep, it’s hot but not completely unheard of at this time of year.  If you look at the climate history for this area we have had temperatures in the 90’s as early as March and in the 100’s the end of May and in early June.  It is not what it should be though as the average high right now should be the low 80’s putting us 10 to 15 degrees higher than normal and for this many days in a row is disconcerting.

I have written before about the effects of high temperatures on tomato pollination.  Days above 90 and nights above 75 degrees cause a number of problems with pollen viability and its ability to move to pollenate.  Tomatoes are self-pollenating so this is not an issue of bees or no bees, but the pollen itself has to be good and the flower parts have to be able to receive the pollen.

This is all bad enough for field tomatoes but you put them under a tunnel, even one wide open and the temperatures jump more.  We have been watching these hot spells get hotter, longer and earlier in the tomato season for a number of years now and its effect on fruit set and consequentially fruit to eat in July and later.  For the first time ever we have covered our tunnel tomatoes with a 30% shade cloth to help with both fruit set but also the quality of the final product in reduced heat stress problems like cracking, sunscald and yellow shoulders.  Old dogs, new tricks.  Part of adapting to climate change.

Picture of the Week

P1050060Looks cooler in there doesn’t it?

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #9, 3/28/19

What’s been going on! 

Second morning in a row at 30 degrees.  Last week we had four mornings below freezing but the long term forecast has nothing below 32 degrees!  Now we never trust long term forecasts and we know that our last frost date is usually around April 20 and we will for sure have a close call or two but things are looking up!

In working the new plan for a shorter marketing season I had boldly scheduled the earliest tomatoes to go in the tunnels two weeks ago but as I have written earlier, they got a slow start and so did we on getting the tunnels moved.  Finally today is tomato planting day and on looking back over a number of years we have almost always planted them on this date or certainly this week so it must just be the proper time.

If you remember from the Big Reveal this will be the only planting of tomatoes we are doing this year and because we only have 400 feet of row in the little tunnels, the selection has been narrowed as well.  There will be all of the our (and your) favorites though with Cherokee Purple, Cherokee Green, Sungold, Big Beef, our new yellow tomato and some Italian Oxhearts; really what more does a person need?  Now we just have to wait two months.

Picture of the Week

P1050015 Frost on the Romaine Lettuce

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #7, 3/14/19

What’s been going on!

 Every spring we set a date that we are going to slide the little tunnels to their summer position and every spring we are at least a week late in doing it.  Such is the case this year yesterday was moving day, a week late. The date revolves around when the very early tomatoes are supposed to be planted into the tunnels.  We want to move the structures far enough in advance to allow the cold soil to warm up as much as it can before we practice what is already a tough love regimen on the tender tomato plants. They will have a hard enough time early with cold temperatures and life threatening freezes the least we can do is give them warm toes.

This year’s tomato plants have had a slow start with both having to reseed some of them due to mouse depredations and too many cloudy days that impeded normal growth so it is OK that we are not right on schedule.  They should go in the ground in a week or 10 days but will mean not quite as early a harvest as we had hoped.

The other side of the moving coin is we are also uncovering from their protection all of the earliest planted vegetables which must now face the cruel winds and weather of March.  So the middle of March generally seems to be about right for both parties.

Pictures of the Week

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Alex ready to pull a tunnel off tender lettuces and over prepared beds

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Ranunculus anyone?

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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.

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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.

Picture of the Week

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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?

Picture of the Week

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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. 14 #22, 7/12/17

What’s been going on!

Tomato week #2, at least there is something refreshing as the true brunt of summer heat and humidity weigh down on us.  Tonight is our wine dinner with Glasshalfull in Carrboro.  A summer infused menu starting with tomatoes and ending with basil ice cream.  Come join us in the AC, tickets still available.

Starting Friday and going thru Monday is ACME’s 16th annual Tomato Festival where the entire menu is taken over by and bathed with tomatoes.  Kevin and company estimate they will go through 700 pounds of tomatoes.  While not all of them are from us, whew!, we did deliver the first 60 pounds yesterday and will probably take them another 100 pound plus this week.  The final event is their Tomato Festival Wine dinner on Monday night.

If you can’t make any of those our tomatoes are heavy on the menus at Pizzeria Mercato who just re-opened after their summer break, Elaine’s On Franklin and Pazzo in Southern Village.  Maybe a bit less prominent but in the mix at Oakleaf in Pittsboro, just back from their summer break too and the Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw.  Of course you can just come to market today or Saturday and take tomatoes home to hide out in your own AC and quietly enjoy them there.  Stay cool!

Picture of the Week

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Limelight Hydrangeas reaching for the sky

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