Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #15, 5/30/18

What’s been going on!

Almost to June and the Farm to Fork Picnic is nearly here this Sunday.  A little different set up this year, back to just the actual picnic this weekend with the other events spread out across the year.  It makes it much easier on everyone involved- farmers, chefs and eaters.  The last two years, with three events all on one weekend, wore everyone down.  Still at the Fearrington Village for the shade and cover from rain in case that occurs.

The event is an important fundraiser for beginning farmer training programs at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and the W.C. Breeze Family Farm Agricultural Extension & Research Center.  Betsy and I serve on the Board of Advisors for CEFS and have been very involved with this event from the beginning.  We are again paired with our good friends at Pizzeria Mercato.  Tickets are still available and it is guaranteed to be tasty and fun.

May rains bring June tomatoes or something like that, it is for sure bringing lots of big blueberries which has been our main focus all week, we have been picking every day except Saturday trying to beat the rains and get them off the bushes in peak condition.  This is the peak week and so far the rains have held off every morning and we have just enough pickers to get the job done but we will be happier when we only have to pick tomatoes!

Picture of the Week

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Damp Blueberries

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #14, 5/25/18

What’s been going on!

Wow!  Memorial Day weekend already, how did that happen?  One of those weeks with lots going on and further complicated by all the rain, as we knew it would. Nearly 5 inches for us but we did manage to get all the peppers in the ground on Wednesday and Thursday so we are now ready for the next tropical depression coming our way for the weekend, at least Saturday doesn’t look too bad but Sunday and Monday wet.

Past the peppers the blueberries came on much faster than we had anticipated with this cool spring and we had to start picking on Wednesday.  The one good thing about the rain is that it came just at the right time to make the berries nice and big.  Beautiful crop and we will try and get as many picked for market as we can.

It didn’t help that months ago I had agreed to two events one on Wednesday and another on Thursday, the only dry day in the past seven.  Wednesday morning, very early, I was again in Raleigh speaking on behalf of farmers and other self-employed people who fall into the health insurance gap for the expansion of Medicaid.

Yesterday I was up early to do the required tractor work so we could plant the last of the peppers and then had to drive to the other side of Raleigh to talk about pastured turkey production at an Extension conference.  No we are not raising turkeys again but there are relatively few who do and I was an easy target.  Then I rushed home to get back on the tractor to cultivate the winter squash before we lose them to the sea of crab grass that has sprouted from the rains.  Glad all I have to do today is pick blueberries!

Picture of the Week

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Peppers happy to be in the ground, heavy mulch of rye and vetch

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #14, 5/19/17

What’s been going on!

Always something new or at least a new twist.  Birds are a common problem in blueberry fields but our losses have always been relatively small and we lived with them flitting in and out of the bushes.  Last year when we had a very tiny crop as a result of the late April freeze the birds got them all.

This spring’s hard March freezes took maybe half of the blooms but the remaining fruit looked good and with the crazy generally warm conditions they began ripening early, just like all the vegetables some of which have been weeks early.  We could have begun picking last Friday which is a least 10 days early but decided to wait until Monday and then we realized the berries that were turning blue were disappearing, damn the birds are back!

The gold standard for bird protection is netting but we don’t have any, didn’t want to buy any much less have to cover and uncover 100 foot long, seven foot tall rows of bushes.  Big growers sometimes have to build structures over their whole fields to support netting so the mowing and picking can happen underneath.  Not going there.  There are plastic owls and hawks, propane cannons that explode every so often to scare flocks away, not going there either.

Ours are a mix of birds, mostly small birds alone or in tiny groups.  Last year it was cedar waxwings moving through.  We had to move fast so we went with the fun house/disco look.  We ordered, with overnight delivery, scare eye balloons to mimic predators to hang in the field and shiny mylar holographic tape to tie onto the bushes, hasn’t chased all the birds away but enough that we are picking.

Picture of the Week

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Blueberries, scary balloons, flashy tape can you hear the music?

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #15, 5/26/16

What’s been going on!

So I am afraid to say that it looks like we may not get any blueberries this season.  We knew way back last winter that we would have a smaller crop when they started blooming in the unusually warm December weather.  When they started blooming again   in late March we felt like there was still a substantial number of blooms so maybe an OK crop.  26 degrees on April 6th reduced the number of berries even further.  Now with so few berries out there the birds are taking everyone just as they begin to show any color.

We have seen this twice before.  In 2001 when we had what everyone now refers to as “the Easter Freeze” with 24 degrees on April 18th and again in 2007 with five nights in the 20’s the first week of April.  Both years we had a tiny fruit set which the birds and squirrels took either all or most of.  What happens when we have late freezes like that it not only kills domesticated fruit buds but wild fruiting plants too, leaving not much for the wildlife who in turn eat where the pickin’s are good, our bushes!

Could we net the bushes and save what we have, sure if we had netting here and when weighing the cost of netting and the labor to put it on and take it off to pick it is hard to say if it is worth it with a small crop.  So now we will wait and see if this flock of birds will move on or not.

The good news is we have gotten all the peppers in the ground and they look great.  The big planting of tomatoes we finally got pruned and tied up for the first time and they look happy too.  Every day we look for a ripe tomato in the little tunnels knowing that sometime in the next week we should be able to eat one!  Take that you birds!

Picture of the Week

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Even the fake rubber snakes don’t slow the birds down

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #12, 5/28/15

What’s been going on!

We hope that everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend and took full advantage of the amazing weather.  We missed the newsletter last week as we were pushing hard to get the peppers all planted before last Friday, almost.  Just 3 beds shy of finishing but the rest were tucked in the ground on Monday.  Perfect conditions for transplanting the 2800 plants, which got a big watering in with yesterday’s 1.5” of rain.

This week’s big push is blueberry picking!  Despite the cold spring they started right on time and with force this week and we are working hard to find enough people to get them harvested.  Five folks out there today and maybe as many as eight tomorrow.  They look good, lots of big fruit.

Only barely over a week left to get your tickets to any one of the three (or all of them) Farm to Fork Weekend events.  Expanded this year to three days to raise even more money for training programs for new farmers.  It starts on Friday (6/5) with a special five chef dinner at Duke Gardens.  Saturday evening is the very affordable CEFS Sustainable Ag. Lecture with fisheries expert Paul Greenberg and a tasty fish dinner.  Then Sunday of course is the Picnic itself, we are working with our friends at ACME this year and the food will be great!  If you can do all three there is a discounted price of $275, for an incredible selection of foods, farmers, chefs and discussion.

Pictures of the Week

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Two very happy pepper planters, Lacey and Jennie headed to the field

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Maybe the best Campanula we have ever grown

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #12, 5/30/14

What’s been going on!

A huge weekStarting with getting all the peppers in the ground, ending with the start of blueberry picking.  We have moved our pepper planting date back to the third week of May for numerous reasons.  Most people plant their peppers too early when the soil is still cool and the weather unsettled, by the end of May those conditions have improved and the plants can really take off, growing a strong plant that doesn’t have to struggle to get established.  We have two other reasons to plant later; one- we want to let the hairy vetch cover crop get to bloom stage for maximum nitrogen and it is easier to kill, two- because we are in the colored bell business we want the peak of our harvest to be in the somewhat dryer and cooler nights of early September when the fruit quality is higher.  If we were in the green bell business, it wouldn’t matter as much, those things are tough as nails.

Conditions were perfect the end of last week go get the soil ready and Friday was not too hot so that the plants went in without too much stress.  The soil moisture and texture for the no till planting of bell peppers was a good as we have ever had and we rolled quickly through the planting.  A good watering in with the hose and then a long irrigation a few days later and the whole field looks as beautiful as can be possible.

While we could have picked some blueberries last Friday, we always feel we rush it a bit and the first ones aren’t as full ripe as if we wait a few days so Monday was the first official day and we had a small crew make the first pass through the field.  Now they are really rolling, fortunately other than a few days it has not been really hot so we are able to keep up, barely.  Next week should be the peak and we will need more pickers, if you know of any able bodies who might want to come out and pick any weekday morning have them contact us.  We pay cash, $8 an hour for the most enjoyable job anyone has ever had.

Just one week out from the Farm to Fork Picnic.  This year we are paired with our friend and good customer Bret Jennings from Elaine’s on Franklin.  We are still working on our menu items but for sure a blueberry desert and something savory.  Get your tickets now while they are still available and help raise money for new and beginning farmer programs at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and the Breeze Farm in Orange County

Picture of the Week

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A lot of beautiful berries to pick

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #18, 6/5/13

What’s been going on!

OMG the Blueberries!  We saw this train coming and haven’t been able to get enough folks to push the car off the tracks fast enough.  Now I will admit that the organizing of the blueberry picking crew is free form but has always worked out with enough hands.  It is hard to both accurately predict when and how many berries there will be and with only a three week season, it is equally hard to get people who will organize their whole lives around a part time, mornings only job.  But for years we would have a few key folks who would then bring their friends and others would show up for a day or so and it has worked.

This season we have the key people and they have tried to shake their networks but it has resulted in just a few extra pickers.  Combined with one of, if not the biggest, crops we have ever had and it is now all hands on deck to try and get the berries off the plants before they hit the ground.  When all of us, including Betsy, are picking berries every morning you know we are in trouble.  Fortunately the weather is also not blistering hot and ripening the berries even faster.  This too we will survive but the resulting lack of attention to the other chores on the farm means there will be repercussions we will have to deal with in the weeks and months to come.  Oh well there will be good eating in the meantime.

Farm to Fork Picnic coming up this Sunday, still time to get your tickets as it is not quite sold out, yet.  Delivered the turkeys to Nana’s last week so they could get on with making the Smoked Turkey Sausage.  Tomorrow we will take them the vegetables for the Early Summer Vegetable Crostini and the Quick Fennel pickle that will top the sausage.  The weather looks really good for early June and it should be a great afternoon as always.

Picture of the Week

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More berries than leaves and Liz picking as fast as she can

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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.

Picture of the Week

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

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #15, 5/17/13

What’s been going on!

Glorious weather the last few days but we knew it had to end and so it does, going from the 30’s Tuesday morning (even found some ice on raised exposed surfaces) to the high 80’s the next day, ugh.  We did take advantage of the enjoyable conditions to get a lot done.  Planting is caught up and nearly so with cultivation and weeding.  The mowing is relentless this time of year but the incessant growth should slow down with the heat.

We have been working on the pre blueberry picking clean-up of the patch with hard mowing and then cutting out the bird volunteered small trees, honey suckle and other vining things including poison ivy.  The problem with perennial plantings is sooner or later all kinds of weed seeds are deposited by wind and birds that perch in the plants.  Unlike an annual planting which you can turn under and kill any sprouted plants, here the unwanted can get a foot hold and hide from mowers, weed eaters and pruners.  After 23 years in the ground we have some crafty invaders.

After nearly two inches of rain last week we are now racing around getting the last of the irrigation set up to try and reduce the shock to the crops that have been luxuriating in the cool spring weather.  Add to that covering two more Big Tops, whole sale deliveries of lettuce to Weaver Street Market and snatching spare time to try and finish up the building project we have officially hit the busy season.

Despite that we did have two “family” moments this week.  First we did race up to Burnsville to help Rett clean up his fields after last week’s flood, picking river rocks out of the planting areas, pulling up sand covered row covers and debris filled pea trellis.  Eight hours of driving for four hours work but we just had to go help.  Monday Elizabeth, worked for us six years ago and is getting married in two weeks, came out to have her wedding dress photos taken out in the fields.  Always non-traditional the shots in the onion field certainly will be different from your normal bride pictures.

On a final note, Dalton Zachary one of the long time vendors at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, a neighbor of ours and a continuing inspiration is turning 90 tomorrow and will be at his market stall, as always, with his family.  We are always amazed at how he does it all.

Picture of the Week

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Jennie and Liz harvesting radishes

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #9, 5/16/12

What’s been going on!

Rain, rain go away, comeback next Tuesday (or so).  Fortunately we have had most of our rain fall in non-work hours but it certainly has complicated the weeks scheduling because the, now nearly three inches of, water has made it impossible to get things planted, weeded or mowed.  This was supposed to be pepper planting week, one of the most important of the year.  We have managed to get the field ready with fabric and preparing the no-till section but not a single plant has gone in the ground.  Hopefully some will get planted tomorrow.

In any event it is the season for picking fussy little things.  When Sugar Snap Peas and Blueberries happen at the same time we seem to just go from one to the other trying to keep up with the rapid ripening of thousands of individual fruits.  Picking tomatoes and peppers is so much less tedious and the boxes fill so much faster.  There are good aspects to peas and berries though, they are both stand up jobs, of which there are few on the farm, and usually the weather is pleasant as you keep your hands moving as fast as possible to get as many of the tiny objects into the bucket as you can.  Of course there is the mandatory taste testing that happens too.

There are tomatoes to tie up, flowers to trellis, winter squash to plant but we did finally get the ginger planted indoors yesterday.  When it does dry out the weeds will be of biblical proportions and the mowing required will be Herculean.  So after getting the peppers in the ground we know what we will be doing next week.

 

Picture of the Week

Sweet, sweet peas by the thousands

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