Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #1, 1/14/16

What’s been going on!

Betsy says that we are already behind for the season.  It is only the second week of January, how can we be behind?  OK there are a few pressing things that we do need to get done like cutting firewood so we don’t freeze next month.  We also need to finish up the seed orders so we can get the seeds here to be able to start them in the greenhouse on time but first we have to make a plan.

Jennie and I have spent that last two days putting the finishing touches on the crop plan for the entire year.  Lots of time staring at the computer, sorting columns in the spreadsheet, comparing notes from last season, adding crops, losing crops (yes Celtuce is probably history), fine tuning planting dates and how much of each to grow.  When we are done there will be nearly 400 entries, each representing a planting or seeding of a single crop.  15 seedings of red radishes, 16 plantings of Little Gem lettuce, 11 seedings of carrots and so on.

This is the master plan, our marching orders for the year.  How many transplants do we have to grow, how many beds do we have to prepare each week, what field will the crop be in, do we have room for it all?  Years of refining our best educated guesses at all of those questions.  It is fun and educational and can make you go blind all at the same time.  It is fundamental to a successful season.

We did have fun in the last month too.  Christmas was warm but relaxed.  Jennie went north to visit family.  I had another good hiking trip to Texas and Betsy and I enjoyed ourselves last week in Tennessee at the Southern Foodways Alliance gathering.  Not really behind but time to get some work done, the greenhouse is filling up and this 35th growing season is already rolling.

Picture of the Week

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On a brilliant cold day, Conestoga wagon like tunnels protecting crops

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #15, 6/20/14

What’s been going on!

Ah the heat, how I loathe you so and just in time for the first day of summer tomorrow.  We have slowly been taking out the last of the spring crops, mowing the remains and getting ready for seeding summer cover crops or replanting those beds to summer flowers.  At least there is time hiding in the AC to do some long range planning, warning– farmer geek talk coming!

Over the years our crop mix and intensity has become more complex, especially now with year round production it makes the crop rotation planning more difficult.  Heading into our third winter with Jennie and all winter growing it has become time to make some major changes in where we plant crops and in what order, a.k.a. the rotation.  In theory we have only added slightly more than one quarter of an acre of new crops but trying to pack that into an already full program has thrown off our carefully choreographed system.

Cover crops are the foundation of our soil management and it was already difficult to find adequate space and time to fit them into every field each year.  The addition of the new fall/winter crops has been made temporarily possible by knocking out a set of winter cover crops on one field and foregoing the fall bed preparation for spring vegetables that is critical to getting those crops properly planted on time.  The easy answer would be to expand and add more fields but we are already using all the best soil we have up on the hill.  We currently have 5 quarter acre blocks that we are now trying to fit nearly 9 quarter acres worth of crops into and another 4 of cover crops, not easily done.

There becomes two schools of practice in sustainable agriculture when it comes to annual crop production, extensive and intensive.  The “extensive” farmers we know basically have two farms, one in cover crops and one in cash crops flipping them each year or so.  This allows them to rest the soil and build organic matter but also means they have to have twice as much land, a luxury most farmers don’t have, like us.  The other end of the spectrum is no cover crops and to just rely on organic matter sources imported onto the farm- manure, leaves, hay, compost, etc..  Not only more expensive and labor intensive but in many ways not as biologically diverse which can lead to a less stable/sustainable system.

So I have spent a lot of time over the last months trying to rethink our rotation and this week put some hours into staring at the design on paper.  The result is we need more room.  We need to go from a 5 year rotation to 6 years but there is not enough field up on the hill to accommodate that.  The best soil on the farm is down in our bottom field but we stopped using that field in the regular rotation back around 2000 after too many floods back in the 90’s.  With climate change and the prospect of more intense storms that could bring more flooding we are not excited about using the bottom field but that is where we are heading.  It hasn’t flooded since 1996 and hurricane Fran so let’s cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Picture of the Week

crop rotation

The new, complex 6 year rotation sequence makes your eyes cross

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 This is the field we are going to put back into the regular rotation, it grows great winter squash!

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

1/25/10 Vol. 7 #1

What’s been going on?

A new year, a new decade and a mid winter newsletter. Betsy and I hope everyone has passed the long cold period and dark days comfortably. Quite an amazing cold snap, certainly not the coldest temperatures we have ever seen but we can’t remember so many days at or below freezing here on the farm. We do remember the last time it did happen back in 1977. We were in college in Utah and read, with amazement, as the reports came in that it was so cold in the East, that the Ohio river was frozen so hard it popped the coal barges out of the water and power plants were running out of coal! As folks who heat with wood, we burned an amazing amount of wood this January too.

The cold and wet weather that began in December has driven us into the house for most of the last two months but we have been productive while clanking away at the computer. All the seeds have been ordered and Betsy is beginning to fill up the greenhouse with transplants. Having taken most of the winter off from teaching/speaking engagements has given me time to finally work on and get http://www.peregrinefarm.net up and running. A combination of website and blog you can now find information about the farm all in one place. I will continue to send out the weekly newsletter during our market season and it will also now be on the website as well. The blog portion of the site will also allow us to post other items as they occur to us, it will allow people to comment on posts and it has archives of past newsletters too.

Please go to the site and check it out, there are many links to our favorite groups, places that buy our produce and to pieces about the farm on the web. We will be adding more information pages as time goes along. If you would like to subscribe to the website and blog you can do that too, look for the subscription box on the lower left of the website. If you do subscribe and would prefer to get the weekly market newsletter that way instead, just let me know and I can take you off this email list so you don’t get double newsletters. Who would have thought we could be drug into the 21st century!

We haven’t spent all of our time by the fire or in front of the computer. We did manage to get the house painted, a well house built over the well at the greenhouse and the firewood cutting season has begun. We had a great turn out again for the Triangle Slow Food New Years day meal and gathering. 200 folks enjoyed a relaxing time and great southern traditional New Years food including collard greens from us. Betsy and I also had another fun weekend at the Southern Foodways Alliance weekend for the Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans and Chefs several weeks ago in Tennessee. Now that it might stay warm for a few days in a row we are beginning to plant a few things in the sliding tunnels and generally getting mentally ready for spring. We will see what Punxsutawney Phil and the rest of the groundhogs say next week.

Picture of the Week


It’s not all hard at work! Seed catalogs on the left, cats holding Alex down, and a glass of wine on the right.

Hope to see you all at the market soon!

Alex and Betsy

3/19/04 Vol. 1 #1

Happy Spring to all!

Betsy and I hope that the winter has been good to you all and that you have been enjoying the first vestiges of Spring.  Tomorrow (Saturday) is the first Farmers’ Market of the year and the first day of Spring.  To mark that occasion we are also launching our e-newsletter.  We hope to send out one each week during the season to let you all know what is going on here at the farm, what crops are coming along, and other farm related items that we think that you maybe interested in.  They will be brief and not take up too much of your time.  We get so many questions from folks about what’s going on out here that we felt that this would be a good way to keep people up to date.  If you wish to not receive this newsletter just reply so to this message or just let us know at market.  On the other hand 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 e-mail us to be added to the list.

What’s been going on?

For us it has been a fast and furious winter with lots of projects being started and completed, entirely too many meetings and lots of fun and educational travel.  Betsy has taken on the mantle of the most traveled this off season with trips to Vancouver (she let me tag along for this one), Florida, Missouri/Oklahoma, Virginia, and most recently Ecuador!  All flower related and she saw and learned a lot of great things.  We have always felt that it is very important for our business to continue our education and research into new things, in fact we still spend up to 5% of our gross income on this continuing education and we hope that you all reap the benefits of it!

Things here on the farm are lurching into spring.  We have been planting indoors in our unheated high tunnels since late last year and outdoors since the beginning of February.  Generally the crops look good and we have been able to stay right on schedule until this last week when the rains have made it too wet to work the soil.  I imagine that we will be right back on track by the end of this coming week.  As a bit of insight into what it takes for us to schedule and produce the almost 200 varieties of vegetables and flowers that we grow we plan the entire season usually in early December and then order seeds.  It turns out that we are planting something into the field 47 out of the 52 weeks of the year!
Picture of  the Week
Sliding tunnel with anemones, collards and lettuce

6/9/04 Vol. 1 #13

This is definitely the change of seasons going on.  Mow down the larkspur and other flowers, take down the pea trellises, turn under the last of the lettuce;  plant more sunflowers, the last tomatoes and seed the winter squash.  Winter squash?  That definitely is a sign of different things to come.  Just as we will be treated by the first tomatoes and melons my schedule tells me it’s time to seed the Brussels Sprouts for Thanksgiving!  Sometimes I am struck by how far in advance our schedule is determined.  Things like when to seed and plant have been decided last year, by early December at the latest.  Every fall we sit down with our notes and the seed catalogues and plan the entire coming year.  Fortunately we can now do it on computer spread sheets which makes it easier to make changes.  This year there are over 300 lines/entries that correspond to different varieties and planting dates.  I always say that any plan is better than no plan especially, when in the heat of the fray, all I have to do is look at the list and say “Oh yeah, it’s time to seed Brussels Sprouts”.  I then scratch my head in disbelief but know that this decision was made in calmer times with great deliberation, so off we go.  Other decisions like where to plant those B. Sprouts may have been made years in advance by our crop rotation scheme, we now have an eight year rotation where the same crop will not be in the same piece of ground for eight whole years.  Sometimes it is comforting to just follow the known path than to try and design a new trail!

The turkeys graduate today.  They are now five weeks old, fully feathered and big enough to move out to the fields permanently.  We have been letting them out daily and getting them acquainted with their new mother ship (a portable shelter for their nighttime rest) and the moveable electric fencing that will keep them in and the four legged predators out.  First stop on the Tour de Peregrine will be in some of Betsy’s shrubs that she cuts for flowering branches (like the Pussy Willows), this gives them a little more cover from hawks etc. while they are still on the small side.  Then every few weeks we will move them to “greener pastures” until they have made the entire loop around the farm.

Picture of the Week
Fabulous Annabelle Hydrangeas and the new turkey stomping grounds.