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!

Picture of the Week

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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.

Picture of the Week

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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!

Picture of the Week

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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.

Picture of the Week

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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.

Picture of the Week

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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!

Picture of the Week

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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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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #23, 7/10/13

What’s been going on!

It’s Tomato Week!  Three big tomato centric events this week and near the peak of our harvest.  First up Thursday is our farm dinner at Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill, this year with Flo and Portia from Chapel Hill Creamery, the menu looks great (can you say caprese salad?) and there may still be some spots left but you better call today.

Second on Saturday is the big annual Tomato Day at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market with over 70 varieties to try, a raffle and several dishes to sample including an heirloom tomato gazpacho made by Seth Kingsbury from Pazzo Restaurant from our tomatoes.  Betsy usually dreams up something for us to sample too, maybe a Green Cherokee tomato juice?

Lastly on Sunday is a fun, tasty and educational afternoon at our Heirloom Tomato cooking class at A Southern Season.  This is the fifth year we have worked with Craig LeHoullier, known as NC Tomato Man and the person who introduced Cherokee Purple to the world and personally keeps over 1400 varieties of tomatoes in his collection.  We talk about the different kinds of tomatoes, growing them and of course cooking and eating them.  Still spaces left but hurry.

The rains seem to not want to stop and our thoughts go out to all of our farmer friends who are having increasing problems from too much water.  More flooding for farms in the mountains to diseases and fruit splitting getting worse with every damp day.  This is one of those seasons that you just grit your teeth and work through.  You should savor every tomato that you can this summer and be glad that you don’t grow them for a living.

Picture of the Week

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Beautiful Lisianthus

What’s going to be at the market?

The lack of sun is the limiting factor in the flower department but this is what we should have.  It is the peak of the queen of cut flowers, Lisianthus, maybe one of the best looking crops we have had in years, tall with thick stems and lots of colors.  It is still Lilypalooza, lots of long lasting fragrant pink Oriental Lilies and yellow and pink Asiatics too.  Brilliant Zinnias.  Beautiful Bouquets of course.

Maybe the peak of our season?  Plenty of reds with both the sweeter Ultra Sweet and more balanced Big Beefs.  A good amount of Cherokee Purples.  Smaller but fair quantities of of most of the other colors- yellow with Orange Blossom and Kellogg’s Breakfast and the higher acid Azoychka, German Johnson pinks, bi-color Striped Germans, Green Cherokee too.   A good mix of sauce tomatoes with both the Italian Oxhearts and beautiful Romas.  Fair amount of Sungolds, Blushes and SunMix cherries.

Cucumbers.  Sweet Red Onions and the Long Red of Tropea Italian cooking onion.  Basil for the tomatoes!  The first of the pepper crop with Shishitos, Padrons and Serranos this week.

As a reminder if there is anything that you would like for us to hold for you at market just let us know by e-mail, by the evening before, and we will be glad to put it aside for you.

Hope to see you all at the market!

Alex and Betsy

If you know folks who you think would be interested in news of the farm then please feel free to forward this to them and encourage them to sign up at the website.

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #21, 6/28/13

What’s been going on!

A bit wet and steamy lately?  This is exactly the weather we used to have nearly every summer back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s which eventually lead us to import the Big Tops from England in 2004.  All organic tomato growers fear this kind of weather which leads to all kinds of leaf diseases (and other problems) that they really don’t have any tools to use to protect the plants.  Conventional growers have many sprays they use on a weekly basis to slow down the diseases.

We have told this story many times but it turns out we have a fungal disease that attacks our tomatoes that no one else has (just lucky that way).  We tried many techniques and materials to try and reduce its effect on our tomatoes including good mulching, raised beds, trellising, pruning, airflow, organic sprays and more, all to no avail.  We did know if we could just keep the plants dry it would greatly reduce the spread of the leaf blight.  Enter the Big Tops, just big plastic roofs to keep the rain off but with good air flow, as a friend of ours calls them “tomato umbrellas”.  It is seasons like this that we are glad we spent the money to build them to insure a luscious crop of fruit.

Besides non-stop mowing and weeding there were two big developments this week.  I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday turning under the remnants of the spring crops and seeding the summer cover crops on three quarters of an acre.  Followed by a big rain on Wednesday night they should fly up.  It has been several years since we have had conditions for great summer cover crops, this looks to be a good season.  The second is we passed all of our final inspections on the new building and they turned the power on!  Just a few things left to do and Jennie can move in this week, woohoo!

Picture of the Week

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Happy and dry tomatoes

What’s going to be at the market?

It is Lilypalooza, lots of long lasting fragrant pink Oriental Lilies and yellow and pink Asiatics too.  Nikko Blue Hydrangeas and maybe a few white Annabelles too.  Brilliant Zinnias and Gloriosa Daisies (Black eyed Susans), a sign of summer.  Plenty of Sunflowers.    Beautiful Bouquets of course.

Tomatoes!  A moderate supply this week in both the sweeter Ultra Sweet and more balanced Big Beefs in reds and Cherokee purples.  A small supply of the great flavored yellow Orange Blossom and Sungolds.  Cucumbers.  Sweet Red Onions.

Maybe the last week of Lacinato or Dinosaur Kale, is really beautiful, time for those raw Kale salads or Kale chips.  Last of the spring Leeks too.  Plenty of Basil for the tomatoes!

As a reminder if there is anything that you would like for us to hold for you at market just let us know by e-mail, by the evening before, and we will be glad to put it aside for you.

Hope to see you all at the market!

Alex and Betsy

If you know folks who you think would be interested in news of the farm then please feel free to forward this to them and encourage them to sign up at the website.