Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #21, 6/20/19

What’s been going on! 

The day between Juneteenth and the Summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  A lot to reflect on with these days but after nearly two weeks of uncommonly cool weather there is no question that summer has come back full force this week with the heat and wicked humidity.

A little over two weeks ago I seeded half of the summer cover crops of cowpeas and sudangrass on this seasons fallow field and the good rains have brought them up thick and beautiful.  Under the new Peregrine Farm management plan we have the luxury and space, for the first time ever, to alternate fields in production.  This is a more extensive versus intensive way of managing soil and producing crops but it allows us to really beef up our soils by adding a lot of diverse of organic matter sources (different cover crops and compost) and to be able to rest the soil with a whole year of cover crops and minimal tillage.

This has been the way that we have managed the sliding tunnels from the beginning with a year of intensive plantings followed by a summer and winter off to let the soil have time to recuperate.  Now with the outdoor plantings we have one quarter of an acre in production and one quarter acre just in cover crops, building healthier soil for the following season.

As soon as we harvest the last produce next week we will plant the rest of the summer cover crops in that field followed by a huge winter cover crop to be followed by another summer cover crop in 2020 after which we will raise up beds, spread compost on them, seed one more winter cover crop and they will be enriched and ready for production in early 2021.

Picture of the Week

P1050071A beautiful stand of cowpeas and sudangrass, getting ready for 2020.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #11, 5/2/18

What’s been going on!

We made it to May, a glorious week and things are beginning to move.  As director of maintenance and soil management I have been busy on both fronts.  We have had a backlog of building repairs that I have been slowly working on, partly waiting for conducive weather conditions.   A few weeks ago I replaced some weather beaten siding and replaced some decayed wood on the passive solar greenhouse and then rolled a coat of stain on the whole structure.

This week I have torn into the side of the packing shed to do the same resuscitation from too much water hitting the side of the building.  Once finished we will have gutters installed to correct the problem.  There are three or so other similar repair/replace projects on the list for some time this year and then I will have been around all the buildings and that should hold them for another 20 years.

On the soils front we have some beautiful cover crops at or near peak growth so it is time to mow them down and get ready for the cash crops that will follow or plant yet another soil improving cover crop for the summer.  In a perfect world we wait until the legumes are at least at half full bloom when they have pulled all the free nitrogen out of the air and it fixed into the plants themselves.  We are about a week past that point with the crimson clover and about two weeks away for the hairy vetch.  Happy soils.

Don’t forget to vote this week in the primary!

Pictures of the Week

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Packing shed surgery

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 Awesome crimson clover at full bloom

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #32, 10/7/16

What’s been going on!

Around and around and around on the tractor, for days, but all the cover crops are seeded on one and three quarters acres with another half an acre waiting until after the storm and the last few beds are out of the way.  The most tractor intense week of the year but it is finally done.

Monday when we were planning the week, the forecast for hurricane Matthew did not bode well for cutting open a lot of soil and leaving it exposed to big storms but by Tuesday when I actually started it seemed like a reasonably safe move.  Now two days later I feel like we will have gentle enough rains to actually bring the seeds up nicely.

Always a dance with the soil just barely dry enough after last week’s rains, most of the fields worked up well, not perfect but OK for next years production. Monday was the last of the mowing of remaining crops and spreading of 1300 pounds of minerals.  Tuesday cut all that in with the heavy disk harrow and then deep ripping with the field cultivator.  Wednesday hilling up 10,000 feet of beds and spinning out the grain cover crop seed.  Yesterday spin out the crimson clover and hairy vetch seeds and then lightly cover them in certain fields.  Around and around and around.

Picture of the Week

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The gray skies of Matthew roll in, only a few plots of green crops left

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #23, 7/21/16

What’s been going on!

Thanks to everyone for the many congratulations on Betsy’s steadfast dedication to producing beautiful cut flowers for Weaver Street Market all these years, they have been a great partner to work with and have helped Peregrine Farm become what it is today.  The champagne was savored!

Monday I was speaking at the Southern Cover Crop conference in Mount Olive.  Farmers and researchers from all 16 states and territories in the Southern region were there, nearly 500 folks.  Lots of incredible expertise on what we feel is one of the most important parts of a sustainable farming system, especially in the humid south.

Cover crops or green manure crops grown primarily to increase the vitally important organic matter in soils that the soil life feeds on and in turn feeds plants growing in that soil.  Their use is on the rise across the country especially on large conventional farms that have converted to no-till farming and who realized they needed to do a better job of fostering their soils.

We have always believed that cover crops are integral to a well designed agro-ecosystem for many more reasons than just organic matter.  They are important as beneficial insect habitat, in reducing soil erosion and water infiltration, they help with weed suppression and many other services.

Sadly one of the trends in small farms is to move away from the use cover crops to maximize production and income during the growing season that might otherwise be occupied by nonrevenue generating cover crops.  These farms are importing all of their organic matter either in the form of manure or compost which we think is short sighted, expensive and a potential source of problems brought in with those imports.  They might have a higher gross income but in the long run it may well cost them in other ways.

Picture of the Week

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A lush summer cover crop of sorghum-sudan grass and cowpeas in front of peppers raised on free cover crop nitrogen

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #30, 10/30/15

What’s been going on!

Trick or Treat, the entire growing season has felt that way at times but particularly this fall with the torrential rains an early freeze along with critters and equipment issues.  It has been a particularly difficult fall to get crops established especially the direct seeded ones like spinach and carrots.

Jennie has done a patient job of seeding (and in some cases re-seeding) and weeding only to have erratic germination or the grasshoppers eat down the new seedlings or the rains wash sections of beds out or the final insult of the deer or ground hogs getting past the deer fence and feasting on the mature crops.  It makes one question why you would want to farm or at least grow fall crops.  Despite all of it, we are managing to harvest some beautiful vegetables for market.

Similarly on the winter soil preparation side we got weeks behind with the rains and when it finally dried out the tractor turned on me which is why there was no newsletter last week as I raced to get it fixed before the next rains arrived.  As some of you know, I left market early last week to jump on the tractor to finish up the soil work.

It took all day Saturday and Sunday but I finally finished the tilling and raising up 15,000 feet of beds for next spring and spinning out the cover crop seeds over the top that will hold down that beautiful soil and help increase its fertility.  A few final touches on Monday just in time for the gentle rains to start.  Nearly a month late but with any luck (and no tricks) we will soon see a vibrant green hue to all of those fields.

Picture of the Week

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A few bright spots such as this radiant celery grown inside the little tunnels

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #9, 5/1/15

What’s been going on!

I keep trying to get the newsletter out on Wednesday but is has been a busy, busy week and still a bit hung over from the Farm Tour.  The Farm Tour weekend is always long and the wet weather, especially on Saturday, made it even more tiring.  It was good to see all the people interested in what is happening on small farms and we hope that it was an informative visit to Peregrine Farm.

Between rainy periods we got the last of the Big Tops covered, it is the final big spring hurdle that always takes just the right combination of people and weather conditions to get it done smoothly.  Now Betsy’s most tender flowers will be protected from excess rain as they begin to bloom.  One more big spring chore to do, pepper planting, but that one can be stretched out over a few days and multiple sections to the work.

It also dried out just enough to turn under the beautiful crimson clover and oat cover crop that will feed the winter squash.  The last few years we have gone back to clean cultivated winter squash production instead of the no-till system we had used for many years, mostly in an effort to reduce some weed populations that had become too high.  This now allows us to use crimson clover as the nitrogen source for the squash as it matures earlier than the hairy vetch that we use in the no-till mix and should provide plenty of nitrogen to grow a good crop.

Picture of the Week

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A beautiful spring day and crimson clover cover crop

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #28, 10/15/14

What’s been going on!

Arghhh!!!!  Damn this rain.  Some of you may know that I am somewhat of a perfectionist, really more of “elegantist”, I know not a real word.  I always want to see beautifully crafted activities on the farm, a smooth flow of operations from one to the next, no matter how small or trivial I want things to feel like an efficient dance, elegant.  It is all about timing.

I have been pacing around for a week frustrated knowing that if I could have had one more dry day last week I would have had all the cover crops seeded and with this long rainy period they would be flying up in no time, perfect.  Normally we are lamenting that it is too dry to get soil worked or to germinate seeds uniformly but not so this fall.

Slowed down by a few too many off farm activities and a pulled back muscle I ran out of time.  The yearly soil preparation cannot be rushed, it takes a certain amount of time and passes over the fields to do it right.  Now it will take at least a week for things to dry out enough to finish up.  The later up into October we go the harder it is to insure good establishment of the all important cover crops.  Betsy says to get over it and I will but it will not be elegant, more like a foxtrot than a tango.

Picture of the Week

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After 6 days and over 2” of rain, hope on the horizon

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #25, 9/26/12

What’s been going on!

Oops, missed a newsletter last week, way too much going on including an overnight trip to the beach to spend some time with family that happened on newsletter day.  It was too wet to stay home anyway after the awesome four inches of rain at the beginning of last week; we haven’t had a rain here on the farm like that for years.

Dry enough now to get going on fall soil preparations for the 2013 growing season.  Everything that can be has been mowed (only three fields left- peppers, fall vegetables and over wintered flowers), yesterday I spread the phosphorus and potassium rock powders that the crops will need for the next year.  Today I will begin turning soil, should be perfect after last week’s rains.  Disk, subsoil with a field cultivator, maybe disk some fields again.  Once nice and loose and with all of the crop residues incorporated I will hill up the beds for next spring’s early planted crops.  Finally the cover crop seeds will be spun out over the waiting rough but soft soil to be brought up by the next rains and to be the protective blanket for the winter.  Lots of time on the tractor.

We are in mid Big Top hoop moving, from one field to another, to be finished today.  This year of course is the additional complication of sorting hoops that are OK, from those that we can re-bend, from those that will go to the steel salvage lot.  Good news is that we did a test re-bend yesterday and it looks like we will be able to save quite a few, if we are careful.

On top of all of the above, Monday is the one bad day in the turkey’s lives, we take them to processing.  A before dark start to catch them while they are sleepy and then most of the day spent down at the processing plant.  It is a long, tiring and somber day but an important one.  There are still birds available if you haven’t gotten your reservation in yet, all the information can be found here.

Pictures of the Week

Half of the hoops moved, tomatoes will be in this field next year

The sorting piles- maybe re-bend, off to salvage, top rails and parts

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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 #21, 7/28/10

What’s been going on?

And the skies opened. Wish I had carried my camera with me yesterday afternoon as I drove into town, I have never seen flooding on the Old Greensboro Hwy. like that, several places where you had to slow to a crawl to get through the water. Of course I started the day irrigating as I have gotten to the point where I just don’t believe the forecast unless it is for 70 percent chance or better and then I need to see it on the radar. When it is really hot, it is hard to catch up on soil moisture with drip irrigation if you skip a day. It started to rain lightly around 11:00 and I turned the pump off, 3.2 inches later and I can rest for a few days, irrigation wise.

This heat and extreme swings in rainfall have many of us farmers beginning to think about how are we going to change our operations to meet the challenges of climate change, both practically (how do I continue to grow the crops I am used to) and quality of life (do I really have to grow crops in the summer?). Yeah I know, some think climate change is not happening, what ever. I can tell you after thirty years of wrestling with what nature throws at us, the climate is changing and the extremes are getting more extreme. It is those extreme events that determine the success or failure of a crop year, not if the average temperature has gone up .1 degree. We all know there is no such thing as normal or average weather anyway. Betsy and I do have a firm rule, make no big decisions in July!

The good news is we have almost made it to our summer break. As many of you know we take the first week of August off, a tradition we started many years ago. It has been 22 straight weeks without a break or hardly a day off, a long time to run. So after market this Saturday we will change gears for a few days including not going to market on the 4th or the 7th. Always timed for when the early tomatoes have finished up and before the peppers really hit full stride. The staff gets a week off with pay so they will actually rest up too. We have no real plans other than hiding out here and going out to eat. There are still turkeys to feed and crops to water but that doesn’t take too much out of a day. So no newsletter next week and look for us back on Wednesday the 11th.

Picture of the Week

A wet morning, at least the cover crops are happy

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