Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #27, 9/14/10

What’s been going on?

Newsletter a day early as we have lots going on the end of the week. I first want to thank Bret Jennings and the Elaine’s on Franklin crew for a great farm dinner last Wednesday. For those that made it you know what I am talking about but the whole pepper inspired menu was right on the money!

Yesterday was turkey moving day, into a new area for a couple of weeks or so. I realized that the picture below is kind of a microcosm of the whole farm and shows many of the fundamental operating concepts we always try to apply. For those of you who have been here on a farm tour, this maybe familiar. What can be seen here is parts of the three, quarter acre, blocks that the Big Tops are set up over. The one the turkeys are in just has the rows of legs that support the hoops. It is in its “rest” year where we grow no cash crops but instead grow three sets of cover crops in a row to improve the soil and run the turkeys over it so they can add their goodness too. This cover crop is the summer sudangrass and cowpeas.

To the left of the turkey shelters is another Big Top block, this one had the flowers this year and if you blow the picture up you can see, through the turkey shelter, the red of the last of the crested celosias for the year. This block with be rested next year and it’s hoops moved over where the turkeys are. The far set of Big Tops was the tomato block this year and you can see two bays still covered with the last of the tomatoes and two bays uncovered for the winter. The flowers will move to here next year and the tomatoes will move to where the turkeys are now. Once uncovered (next week) we will plant winter cover crops in those fields too.

One of our key beliefs is that diversity leads to a balanced system which improves sustainability. So in just this one picture you see diverse cash crops (many varieties of flowers and tomatoes), cover crops (at least seven different kinds over the three year rotation), and breeds (Bourbon Reds and Broad Breasted Bronzes). What you can’t see is also a diversity in soil improvement/management practices like fertility from rock powders, cover crop and cash crop residues, and manure from the turkeys. Or disease and pest control by using the Big Tops to keep plants dry, trellises for better air flow and sunlight, turkeys to eat bugs, crop rotation, drip irrigation and many more techniques.

OK, professors hat off. And it’s a beautiful early fall day on the farm too!

Picture of the Week

Turkeys happy in a new field.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #25, 9/1/10, Turkey Reservations

What’s been going on?

Ah, September at last and a hurricane on the way, sort of. It was fourteen years ago this week that Fran roared across the Piedmont still carrying 80 mph winds with it as it’s eye passed just east of the farm. Those of us in the area will never forget that storm or the week that followed, cleaning up without power or water. Now our senses are on high alert anytime a big storm is on the track that Earl is on just in case. This time we don’t plan on taking all the plastic off the greenhouses but we are still watching all the storm reports carefully.

As promised early in the year, this week marks the start of Turkey reservations. We always wait until Labor Day when we have a better idea of how many birds will actually be available. By the time they get this old they are usually pretty hardy but even now we can lose some to one thing or another (like the two that died last week). There will only be about 85 birds available this fall with the majority being the larger Broad Breasted Bronzes (about 60). All the information about what kind we have, how much they will be and the order form is now on the Website for easier access.

Look for the order form near the bottom of the page under “How do I reserve one of the special birds?” You can easily download the Word document there. We will also have the order forms at Market on Saturdays through the end of the month. I can also tell you that already, with the “Frequent Flyer” reservations, nearly a third of them are spoken for. I will continue to update how many are available on the website. Don’t wait too long.

Typical end of the season chores going on. The guys are beginning the mulching the blueberries today, later in the week more of the early tomatoes will be taken out. The last of the huge pepper picks will happen the end of the week as this is the peak of the season and there will be much fewer fruit on the plants from here on in. Cleaning up, mowing, getting ready for winter cover crops.

Picture of the Week

What else, turkeys on the morning strut.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #20, 7/21/10

What’s been going on?

Big day on Monday, the cousins finally met each other. The Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys turned five weeks old and graduated to the field. Most turkey moving days are fairly quick as we just open the fence between them and the next field and they just head in there with a little herding. This one is always more complicated. It takes extra fences, multiple groups and shelters to be moved farther than just the next paddock.

In general the pattern is to move the flock from the bottom of the farm to the top, always trying to move up hill into clean ground. Hard to do sometimes when the cash crops are in the ground. The Bourbon Reds have been hanging out the last two weeks in the lowest production block with the first zinnias of the season (no longer being cut) for shade. They were going to meet in the Blueberry field. First we set up two net fences, in a U shape, around half the Blueberries to herd them into. Next open their existing fence and herd them past the basil, through the “Stand” and Betsy’s flower beds, across the driveway and into the new enclosure.

Next take down the net fences that have surrounded them and erect them around the rest of the Blueberries and the open end of the U now holding the Bourbon Reds. They are so happy rooting around under the bushes for new eats that they don’t even know the “door” is actually not there! Onto the Bronzes, we take the big truck with shell and back it up to their temporary paddock in front of the brooder and catch the 66 little fat birds one by one and put them in the bed of the truck. Slowly we drive across the farm and back up to the net fence surrounding their half of the Blueberry field and grab them again, one by one, and set them down into their new “big” home.

Finally we drag the shelters from their respective locations to the end of the berry block, move all the feeders and waterers up near the shelters, set up the water hose and fill waterers. The Bronzes, being totally wide eyed at the big world have just hunkered down under the first blueberry bushes, far from their shelter and waterers. It is quickly headed to the 90’s today so we slowly herd them up the field to their food and water so they can find it, “OK now we are home” they say. Done. For several weeks now, the country cousins and the city cousins will run up and down the blueberry field with a net fence between them, staring and talking to each other. At some point we will run them together and hope that it will be a happy family reunion and not a gang fight. We’ll see.

Don’t forget the next two Peregrine Farm tomato/food events this coming week. First up on Sunday afternoon is the A Southern Season Cooking class, Tomatoes From the Vine with Marilyn Markel and heirloom tomato guru Craig LeHoullier. Craig is the one who introduced Cherokee Purple to the world and is a wealth of tomato knowledge. These classes are always fun, relaxed and the menu looks great.

Monday night is our Panzanella Farm dinner, still working with Jim on the menu but it will feature both tomatoes and peppers in special dishes that will be in addition to the regular Panzanella menu. This is always a nice evening with lots of locals and market regulars coming into the restaurant. Maybe we’ll see you there.

Picture of the Week

Good fences make good neighbors

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #18, 7/7/10

What’s been going on?

July is a tomatoey month. Sure there are other fruits and vegetables out there to eat but the real focus of the month is all things tomato. We have four tomato dinners and events on our schedule alone, plus our tomatoes are featured on the menus of at least five local restaurants. It is a lot of pressure to put on just one crop from the farm and I do have to give plenty of praise to Betsy’s lisianthus and celosias as they are a big part of our business this month too.

The first dinner is actually tomorrow at Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill. Foster’s Farm dinners are family style and the menu looks great, why not let someone else cook when it’s this damn hot? Betsy and I will be there to visit and talk tomatoes, we’ll see you there. Through out the month we will be carefully making sure we have enough fruit to cover all of these events and the restaurants. On top of all this we have to ship tomatoes to Alabama next week as part of a fundraising donation we did for the Southern Foodways Alliance! We have never tried to ship tomatoes before, somehow we need to make sure they don’t arrive as juice! Hopefully this continuing heat won’t cut production short.

It was turkey moving day yesterday and it seemed uneventful until this morning. We move the birds to new fields every two weeks or so depending on how big they are (how much manure they will drop) and when the next field they need to move to is ready. The past few weeks they have been down around one of Betsy’s recreational flower beds with shade under some ornamental trees. We moved them right next door to the field that had the onions and the first zinnia planting. The old zinnias provide them shade but not as much fun as hanging out in the trees.

This morning I could see from the office window that a couple of birds were outside of the fence. Not unusual in the morning as they first stretch their wings. Betsy comes in and says we have a mass escape, sure enough 26 birds decided to sleep in the trees last night instead of on the roosts in the shelter, should have shut them up last evening to make sure. Fortunately they were all happy to run through the woods and then be rounded up and herded back into the fence. I’ll make sure they stay in tonight!

Picture of the Week

Turkeys drifting through the woods, their white tarped shelter is in the background

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #15, 6/16/10

What’s been going on?

Late newsletter as the phone rang at 6:30 this morning just as I was sitting down to write and it was the post office with the next batch of turkeys. This group are the Broad Breasted Bronzes, the Fat Boys as I call them. This breed of bird was the first step, back in the 50’s, from the standard or heritage breeds like the Bourbon Reds that we already have out in the field, to the monster broad breasted white turkeys that are the standard of the industry now. The reason we raise this kind, as well as the heritage breeds, is because they will grow to more than 15 pounds, which is about as big as the Bourbon Reds ever get. Some folks just want a bigger bird for Thanksgiving. We think that the Bronzes are better adapted to being raised on pasture than the big whites too. 67 very energetic poults are now running around in the brooder, one forgets how much noise the little guys can make.

As soon as we got them installed we moved on to covering the last of the Big Tops so we can plant the late tomatoes under them. Perfect timing as we have had a nice inch plus of rain over the last few nights and so the soil will be moist to begin the new plants in. This last planting of tomatoes is smaller, only four rows of mostly Big Beef reds and Sungolds as that is what has done the best for us in the hot days of August. The rains have also brought up the freshly seeded cover crops, we haven’t had this kind of conditions for summer covers in many years now. We are trying to make the best of these beastly humid and hot days but it is hard to have a great attitude at times!

We were talking with Sarah Blacklin, the Farmers’ Market manager, last night about our new electronic benefits transfer (EBT) program at market. This is the program we got a grant for to implement the electronic food stamps system and it has gone so well we are now receiving more EBT sales than almost all the big markets in New York City! Part of this success is we modeled an incentive program that other markets have used which matches up to $20 of tokens with $20 of EBT tokens. This matching helps get EBT recipients used to coming to market and shopping in a way that is different than normally do.

It has been so successful that we have already gone through the $2000 allotted in the grant for it. We are now looking for donations to help continue to build this important food access program. If you are or know folks who might be interested in donating to this program you can speak with Sarah at market or contact our program coordinator, Sabrina López, at  or 561-901-0569. As a program sponsor, you will be listed on our website, facebook, ongoing media alerts and in our market materials at the market Information Booth. We hope to continue to be leaders in the area for food access and innovative farmers’ markets.

Picture of the Week

All singing all dancing broad breasted bronzes

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #13, 6/2/10

What’s been going on?

OK, enough with the wet weather, we need some drying time to get some soil turned over and to keep the diseases and weeds at bay! It is the change of seasons for sure around here. Sunday I mowed down all of the mixed spring vegetable crops except for the beets, lacinato kale and a few radishes. I followed that by mowing down the remaining larkspur, bachelors buttons and other overwintered flowers. Friday I mowed down the majority of the spring lettuce beds leaving only a few beds with the hot weather tolerant Summer Crisp varieties. In some ways it’s sad, but mostly it is relief and time to turn our efforts to summer crops. If we can get a few days dry, I will get all the summer cover crops planted on the freshly mowed areas and the cycle will start again.

The herky, jerky blueberry season continues on. Not a huge crop but very large berries due to lots of rain and fewer fruit on the plants. The birds and squirrels are having a field day, which is usually not noticeable when there are lots of berries but now we can really notice that there are fewer ripe fruit on the rows next to the woods. Betsy draped some fake rubber snakes in the bushes to try and slow them down but it mostly surprises the pickers as they reach into the bush to find a snake on the branch. With the generally cool and cloudy weather they are also ripening at a slower pace so scheduling the pickers has been irregular too. We are trying every other day this week and by the end of the week there will not be a lot of berries left on the bushes, as I suspected the season will be short and sweet.

The turkeys have been out in the hydrangea and viburnum field for a week now and seem to be getting the hang of outdoor life. Some groups of birds are just more flighty and difficult to wrangle. This group, maybe because there are only 30 of them, seem to get along well and self organize better than past flocks. Every morning at daylight we let them out and they come rolling out the door to explore the day, moving around the field in mass. Every evening near dark, with the feeder and waterer already returned to inside the shelter, we go to close them up and they are all inside on their roosts, ready for sleep. Some years it takes multiple chases around the shelter to scoot the last hold outs inside, not so this group, maybe a more intelligent batch?

Picture of the Week

Turkeys in the Hydrangeas on a gray morning

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #11, 5/19/10

What’s been going on?

Oh what beautiful rain! We didn’t get quite a much as others, somewhere around an inch and half initially, but then last nights additional shot probably brought us up to two inches. Of course I irrigated everything on Sunday, not going to be fooled again by the forecast, Oh well those beets will just size up quicker. Everywhere I went on Monday people were smiling and commenting on what a great rain, even our mechanic was ecstatic.

Of course working in the rain can be a challenge but we have enough stuff under cover now that, for at least a day or two, we can keep folks busy. The one thing that I can’t avoid is cutting lettuce in the rain. We cut Weaver Street’s lettuce to order, the day of delivery, so Monday morning I carefully watched the radar and went out when it looked like there would be a lull in the action. Worked pretty well and I only had to cut the last two cases in a strong shower. I have had times when it was full rain gear and the rain was just pouring down, this was not so bad. I did get the guys to come out from under cover to pick the broccoli raab during the lull and they managed to get pretty wet too.

This strange spring continues to surprise us. This time it is the extreme earliness of the blueberries. The earliest we have ever begun picking is the 22nd of May, with the average first picking being the 25th. We could have easily picked on Monday, the 17th, this year! From this early ripening and general look of the crop, my guess is it is going to be a fast and short season with fewer berries than normal. The first pick through will be today and we have a couple of additional hands coming to help, hold on it will be a fast ride, maybe three weeks.

Farm to Fork picnic this weekend and today we are harvesting the produce that Ben and Karen at Magnolia Grill will be using for their dishes. Beets (all three colors), Sugar Snap Peas, Turnips, Easter Egg Radishes, lettuce and Spinach. Their dishes are going to be Cornmeal Cake with Blueberries & Sorghum Buttermilk Cream and Spring Vegetables with Hickory-Smoked Rainbow Trout & Beet Ricotta! For those who got tickets to the now sold out event, we look forward to seeing you on Sunday. We are sorry for those who couldn’t or can’t make it but we will give you a full recount next week.

Picture of the Week

Turkeys just out after a day of rain, brooder on the left and the new mothership on the right

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Peregrine Farm News Vol 7 #7, 4/21/10

What’s been going on?

Wow! Too many things to write about this week but I’ll try and focus. I would be remiss though not to mark tomorrows 40th anniversary of Earth Day. While there are many reasons that Betsy and I ended up farming and in a sustainable manner, this one event in April of 1970 certainly stands out as an important influence. We were thirteen then and the stirrings of the environmental movement were all around us and our minds were moldable. Of course we didn’t know each other back then but we both ended up pursuing educations in the environmental sciences. We wanted to be able to work outdoors, in the country side and in the end leave our surroundings in better condition than when we started. 40 years later we are still trying, where is that original Earth Day button I had?

The Piedmont Farm Tour is this weekend and is always held on the weekend closest to Earth Day. Originally started as a change of events for Weaver Street Market’s Earth Day celebration, they came to us and we got together with Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) to put on a tour to showcase the farmers at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market. Now 15 years later there are 40 farms from all over the NW Triangle area and it is the single largest fundraising event CFSA has. It is a self guiding tour, pick up a map at lots of locations (like the farmers markets) and head to the first farm you want to see and buy your all access button there. You can buy your buttons in advance and save $5 at places like Weaver St. Market. Saturday and Sunday afternoons, 1:00-5:00, come see what we are up to this year. Let the mowing begin.

Busy week on the farm. Last Thursday the first of the turkeys arrived. After a year hiatus raising birds we are back at it and you can read more here. They are happy and growing well. We are lurching towards tomato planting next week and yesterday pulled the plastic over the first three bays of the Big Tops that will protect the big planting from diseases. The rest of this week will include installing the irrigation, mulch and trellises. Today the guys are moving up the 2500 or so pepper seedlings into their larger containers to grow on until planting time in about three weeks. Also yesterday I finally finished the rebuilding of the Stand that collapsed under the snow in January, just in time for the Farm Tour as promised. The big issue right now is it would be nice to get some real rain, this pitiful spitting this morning doesn’t count.

Picture of the Week

Moving pepper plants up to larger containers, a good rainy day activity

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Turkeys Again

After passing on raising turkeys in 2009 for a number of reasons including not being able to get the little poults when we needed them, there are now 40 little Bourbon Reds running around in the brooder!

All singing, all dancing Bourbon Reds

The Graham Post office called at 6:15 yesterday morning telling us that the birds had arrived.  We always let them know a day or two in advance that we are expecting them and to call us as soon as they come in.  We don’t want them sitting on some loading dock or in the postwoman’s car all day,  after all they already have been in transit from Texas for almost two days.

Off I go to retrieve the little chirpers and have them installed in the freshly cleaned and prepared brooder by 7:30.  All “working” birds, that are bought mail order, are hatched and immediately put in a box and shipped.  These guys (and girls) were hatched at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, left Lubbock Texas at 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday, arrived in Greensboro at 7:00 p.m. and then trucked to Graham on Thursday morning.  The reason this can happen is they have enough nutrients inside them from the yolk of their own egg to last them a few days.

One by one, we immediately dip each ones beak in water and then drop them into a feed tray so they know where the good stuff is.  The learning process for these birds, without mothers to guide them, is to introduce them to all things new, slowly, so they get the hang of it and then once they have been exposed the first time they are off and running.  We are their mothers in essence.

Now they will stay in the warm, secure brooder for 3 weeks while they grow stronger and become fully feathered.  The 4th week we will begin to let them out during the day to get used to eating grass and bugs and what will be their new home.  Sometime during their 5th week they will graduate out to the field for the rest of the season.  Look for more stories to come and a dedicated Turkey info page for everything you ever wanted to know about the Peregrine Farm Turkey program.

warm under the heat lamp, with eyes watching the human

4/28/04 Vol. 1 #7

New delivery day for the newsletter in an attempt to reduce the workload on Fridays and to give everyone a little more heads up on what’s going on at the markets.  We raced around and got a number of things planted before Mondays rains (not as much as we would have liked, only a quarter of and inch).  The last of the spring lettuce, more sunflowers (we plant sunflowers every week for a continuous supply), tuberoses and more.  We are at that point in the season where we are out of room in the fields and need for something to finish up so we can plant more!  This week we have two deadlines rapidly approaching that we are rushing to meet.  The first is the building of a new brooder house for the turkeys which are arriving next Thursday.  Last year being a test year we just threw together a small room behind the greenhouse to raise them for the first 6 weeks until they were big enough to go out into the field.  It was adequate for 20 birds but not great.  We have 60 birds coming next week and no place to put the little guys hence the urgency!  Started building a 8′ X 12′ shed yesterday, got the floor and half the walls up tick, tick, tick…

If we had nothing else to do this would be OK but Saturday and Sunday is the Farm Tour!  Our annual opening of the doors to the general public to come see the farm.  Many of you have been on the Farm Tour before and it is a great opportunity to see many of the folks who sell and the Carrboro Market.  Few folks know that the tour was actually Betsy’s brainchild.  Ten years ago she thought it would be great for customers to be able to go see the market vendors farms.  In the end Weaver Street Market sponsored the Tour as a benefit for Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.  Betsy designed the first tour and worked closely with Weaver Street and CFSA on timelines, etc.  Now in it’s ninth year thousands of people go on the tour and it raises thousands of dollars for the work CFSA does.  It is easy to go on the tour.  Just pick up a map at market or Weaver St. or many other local businesses and go to first farm that you want.  The best deal is to buy a button which will be your pass for as many people as you can stuff into one vehicle, for as many farms as you want.  29 farms this year so you will have to choose, it is hard to do more than 3 maybe 4 farms in a day.  In the mean time we will be mowing and picking up around the place, nothing like have hundreds of house guests all at once to make you buff up the joint!

Picture of the Week
Look at all of that lettuce!  Those are the “Big Tops” in the background