Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #10, 4/19/17

What’s been going on!

Thanks to all of you who sent kind words about last week’s newsletter. The pundits are giving HB662 a 50% chance of getting through the Legislature.

Jennie and company have been hard at work this week getting ready for and planting the Big Top tomatoes.  They pushed hard to get the landscape fabric down and half the trellis up by last Friday so the NC State folks could come out and plant their research plots.  For the second year, so they have good replication, all of the Cherokee Purple have been grafted to root stocks that have root systems that take up more water than normal.  Last year’s trials produced some interesting results so it will be good to see if they produce similarly again.

The beginning of this week the rest of the trellis has been erected and the other 12 rows and nearly 800 plants have gone in the ground.  Perfect weather to transplant the last two days with overcast and a bit cooler to better let them get past the shock.  A couple of new varieties this year including one that we brought back from Sicily last fall.  The early tomatoes in the little tunnels are flying along with lots of blooms and growth.  Tomato sandwiches soon!

We are not on the Piedmont Farm Tour again this year but Jennie is suggesting that we do it next year.  It is a great fundraiser for Carolina Farm Stewardship Assoc. and a good way for people to see the farms that they know from farmers markets.

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Some of the research tomatoes with special irrigation set up and soil moisture sensors

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #8, 4/7/17

What’s been going on!

Crazy blustery days and maybe the last cold snap?  I doubt it.  We are slowly working our way towards planting the big array of tomatoes under the Big Tops but even that is two weeks away because we know what can happen if we try and plant too early.

We did move the last of the Big Top hoops over the tomato field and ran the top webbing that ties all the hoops together and keeps them vertical.  This coming week we have to pull the plastic over the whole shebang, need a good still day!  Then the final soil preparation before we can cover the beds with landscape fabric and finally build the trellis.  By the end of the week we should be ready to plant.

A pretty normal spring week with some planting, some seeding in the greenhouse, lots of cultivation (partly so we can concentrate on tomato prep next week), building cucumber trellis and other chores and we are still trying to get all the firewood split.  We have so much wood cut that it will take at least another 2 days to finish it up but we will be warm for two winters to come!

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Even the airy pea trellis is billowing in the wind

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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!

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Walls of happy and dry tomato plants

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #8, 4/6/16

What’s been going on!

Trying to get the newsletter back on its regular Wednesday schedule and why not do it just in time for the first Wednesday afternoon Farmers’ Market.  Yes today from 3:00 to 6:00, it all starts again.  We will be there with the first lettuces of the season and Betsy’s beautiful flowers.

Cold this morning, 26 degrees, but all the tender crops are tucked under their protective blankets and look fine.  We are definitely getting our March winds and temperature swings only a bit late.  Looks like another serious shot on Saturday night too.

We are steadily working towards the main tomato planting under the Big Tops in two weeks.  The cover crop has been turned under and a layer of compost has been spread on each bed.  Next week we need to pull the plastic over the bows and get the final bed preparations done.  The plants look good in the greenhouse but as usual there is experimentation in the air.

We are once again working with a graduate student from NC State on a grafted tomato trial.  A decade ago, over several seasons, we grew some of the first grafted tomatoes in the US as NC State was beginning to work on the technique.  Just like it sounds and just like more commonly grafted fruit trees, the desirable variety is grafted to the top of a rootstock with the required trait, usually disease resistance but in this year’s trial, drought resistance.

The rootstocks we are looking at this year are capable of taking up more water than other tomatoes, could be important in either very dry areas or as climate change throws more droughts our way too.  All of the Cherokee Purples in the main planting will be in the experiment this year and you all will get to see and eat the results.

Pictures of the Week

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Frost on the lettuce

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Early tomatoes warm under their blankets

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #19, 7/16/15

What’s been going on!

So while our tomato crop is slowly decreasing towards the eventual last pick and our summer break in early August, our weeks and markets still revolve around what tomatoes do we have, do we have enough for the various outlets and who is going to get what.  Sure there are other things going on like trellising peppers, and the first plantings of crops for fall harvest and mowing and mowing and mowing.

For 20 years tomatoes have been one of our obsessions when we discovered that there was a world of possibilities past just a red tomato.  Nothing against a good red tomato but the range of colors, flavors, textures and sizes available has lead us down a trail that at first was overwhelming and now that we have winnowed out many varieties leaves us with trying to describe the ones we grow to all of you who want to pair them with different foods and dishes.  What is best with mozzarella or for sandwiches or in a salsa?  Gives us plenty more to think about for years to come.

To that end, that last tomato event of the summer, for us, is our Southern Season cooking class with our friend and heirloom tomato expert and preserver Craig LeHoullier who has a great new book out Epic Tomatoes.  We have done this class many times in the past where Craig expounds on heirloom tomatoes, their history and stories and I talk about how we grow them and which ones we have found that work best for us.  Always great food prepared by Caitlin Burke from our fruit.  Next Thursday the 23rd, seats still available.

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Tomatoes are not the only red thing we grow, amazing crested celosia

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #18, 7/9/15

What’s been going on!

If you haven’t noticed yet, it is all about tomatoes right now.  Peak of the harvest in general (past peak a bit for us) and they are featured everywhere and in every dish, as it should be.  Twenty years ago we all used to think that if you picked a tomato before the 4th of July you were doing really good, now the 4th of July is the beginning of the flood and by August it is really mostly over.  Sure there are tomatoes at market in the fall but they never taste as good as they do in July.

What happened?  Mostly I think we all became much better at growing and managing the crop that resulted in earlier maturing fruit.  Healthier soils, improved irrigation and trellising techniques, better transplants and pruning, high tunnels for protection and more.  Some of it is new varieties that ripen faster and some is certainly climate change with warmer weather in May and June that makes the plants grow vigorously and huge.

Whatever the reason there is an abundance of tomatoes to eat this time of year.  So let’s celebrate while we can!  Our tomatoes are on the menus at Elaine’s on Franklin, Pazzo, Glasshalfull, Oakleaf and ACME.  The folks at ACME are having their 14th annual Tomato Festival Friday to Sunday with the menu all about the summer fruit.  The biggest event is the Carrboro Farmers’ Market’s Tomato Day on Saturday with over 75 varieties to try and buy.  Pick and choose your location but eat up while the eating is good!

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After yet another big rain last night, the Big Beefs are still lush and heavy with fruit

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #7, 4/17/15

What’s been going on!

A week of rain, at least that is what it feels like, really just two days this week and just over an inch of precipitation but the psychological effect is the same.  The laser focus this week has been to get the big planting of tomatoes in the ground, by the end of today the job will be done.

Sunday we got the last of the structural components on the Big Tops so that Monday we could get the plastic pulled on before the forecasted rain arrived on Tuesday.  The covering went beautifully with hardly any wind and our crack four person crew worked together like we had done it for years.  Late on Monday I tilled the beds for the final time, ready to be covered with fabric.

Tuesday morning we tested the irrigation, put down the landscape fabric and laid out the 144 metal T-posts for the trellis.  Wednesday Jennie and Lacey did the yeowoman’s task of driving all those T-posts and hanging the 1600 feet of field fence we use for tomato trellis.  Done, ready to plant.  Thursday was so wet and cool that we decided to pause a day and plant this afternoon.

Interwoven into the week we had two classes to teach, Wednesday farmers’ market and two board meetings.  One of the meetings was the Farm to Fork Picnic planning group where the pairings of farms and chefs was done.  This year we are working with our friends from ACME for the first time, it will be a fun time for sure!  Check out the Farm to Fork website for all the details on the expanded 3 day event.  The Picnic itself is still on Sunday June 7th but this year we have added a special dinner on Friday night and the CEFS Sustainable Ag. Lecture on Saturday night with fisheries expert Paul Greenberg and a fish dinner.  You can buy tickets for the whole weekend or pick and choose which event you want to attend.  All for the good cause of raising money to train new farmers.

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Another grey day but everything is ready for tomato planting

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #4, 3/20/15

What’s been going on!

Ah the first day of Spring!  Feels like a long time coming and that the season is still behind despite the 80 degree temperatures this week.  Very little movement so far in the perennials, a few forsythia blooming, some green buds on the poplars and the blueberries are sending out flowers.

We know that it will all move fast soon and we must stay on schedule to keep up.  This week was time to slide the little tunnels and get ready to plant the very early tomatoes.  It is a two day process with the first day spent preparing the beds for tomatoes, cucumbers and other early warm season crops, including final tilling, irrigation lines, landscape fabric and building the trellis to support them later.

The second day we first have to unbolt the sliding tops from the rails, take off the end walls and other preparations so they will move easier.  Back in the day we used to slide them with just four of us but we must be getting weaker or they are getting heavier.  We now do it with at least six folks which means coaxing extra friends out to the farm for literally 10 minutes of work.  We only move two of the six tunnels by hand, the rest with the tractor.  This year I was able to get four students from my Advanced Organic Crop Production class to come out.

After the intense 10 minutes and after the additional helpers head off, we have an afternoon of rebolting, re-installing the end walls and general tidying the area but it is done and despite the yearly work of moving them we still think it is a superior system to stationary tunnels as far as soil health and production are concerned.

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Newly uncovered lettuces, almost ready for market and covered tunnels ready for tomatoes next week.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #18, 7/11/14

What’s been going on!

What was that falling from the sky yesterday?  Four weeks since the last real rain and things were getting crunchy dry.  In a determined attempt to make sure that we were able to solarize next year’s tomato field, that has been waiting for a month for a rain so we could cover it with plastic, we ran sprinklers for 48 hours to wet the soil enough to be effective.  Must be what finally brought some rain.

For solarization to be most effective the soil needs to be good and moist before covering with clear plastic otherwise there is not enough transmission of heat deep into the soil to kill the fungus and weed seeds.  As we have whole rows of tomatoes now dying from the fusarium wilt in this year’s field, it is a stark reminder of why we go to the trouble of covering a quarter acre with plastic.  After this morning that job will be done.

Definitely peak of our tomato season though with the biggest harvest day this last Monday.  Just in time for Tomato Day at the market tomorrow and for ACME’s annual tomato festival with three days of a tomato centric menu.  You can also find our tomatoes on the menus of Elaine’s on Franklin, Pazzo, GlassHalfull, Oakleaf in Pittsboro and Nana’s in Durham.  Time to wade into big plates of tomatoes as they will all too soon be slowing down and then all of a sudden gone until next year.

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Sprinkler goes around while half the field is already under plastic

 

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #16, 6/27/14

What’s been going on!

So I am torn.  Every year during June, when we have some of the first tomatoes of the season we have customers ask “are these greenhouse tomatoes?” or “are these from the field?”.  I understand the intent of the question, true greenhouse tomatoes are specific varieties bred for indoor generally lower light conditions, grown in bags of sterile potting soil, fertilized through the drip irrigation line, in an artificially heated structure.  The result is beautiful looking tomatoes that taste OK, better than the standard grocery store tomato, but not great.

While ours are grown under a single layer of plastic that is the only similarity with a “greenhouse”.  In our minds they are field grown tomatoes because they are “grown in the dirt” as my brother always used to say when asked that same question.  Flavor and texture in a tomato is mostly due to variety, how they are managed and the soil they grow in.  After years of variety trails (we have grown nearly 200 different ones) we have arrived at the ones that taste the best and produce well in our conditions.  We manage the soil and the plants the same way we always have for field production only we now have covered that field with clear plastic roofs for two reasons.  Disease control is the primary reason, so the plants will live and produce for a longer period of time.  The other reason is we can control the water to them just right both for best fruit quality and intensity of flavor.  Like any fruit, too much water and it dilutes the flavor.  Yes the plastic also allows us to have tomatoes a few weeks earlier than what we normally could do in the open field.

So like many such farming questions that blend many things into one we choose our replies carefully, if we have the time we will explain our system and how it is we have tomatoes so early, if not we just say “yes they are field grown”.  However folks take it, the result is in the fruit and it is starting to ripen fast now, don’t miss out!

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The cover crop that will feed next seasons tomatoes, next to this years under a layer of plastic but grown in great dirt.

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