10/19/06 Vol. 3 #28

Wow, has it really been a month?  We have moved heaven and earth (literally) around here to get things mostly to bed for the winter.  We took the turkeys in for processing and it is always a long and exhausting day, up early catching them before daylight and then watching over things at the processing plant.  As a whole they looked really good, a bit lighter in weight than last years but the quality seems good.  They are now down at the freezer plant sleeping until Thanksgiving.  Our focus then turned to getting the soil and cover crops ready for the winter and next spring.  Miles of pepper trellis had to be deconstructed first and the landscape fabric that we use for mulch in the hot peppers had to come up.  Then the endless tractor driving.

I spend more time on the tractor during this time of year than all the rest of the year combined.  Days and days of going round and round.  First all the remaining crops have to be mowed down so they will more easily till into the soil.  Before the soil turning begins I have to spread what ever mineral amendments the soil tests (that I took last month) indicate we will need to grow next years crops.  Not too bad this fall, only a bit of lime and even less phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).   Then the heavy metal comes out in the shape of a heavy disk harrow that cuts the soil a few inches and throws some of it over the crop residue.  Then a pass with the spring tooth field cultivator which rips and lifts the soil about every foot and about a foot deep.  After this lifting another pass with the disk to really cut those crop residues into the top soil.  Now the heavy work is done, the soil is loose but the tractor driving is far from done.  Any crop that gets planted before late April next year goes onto a raised bed, this is primarily so the soil drains and warms up faster in the cool of spring.  Without a raised bed it is almost impossible to prepare the soil for planting when we need to in February, March and April.  So round and round I go again with a four disk hiller, throwing up the loose soil into rough ridges.  200 beds raised  (20,000 feet and two acres) and another three quarters of an acre in what I call flat fields,  thankfully we don’t have to plant and take care of that all at once!  As Betsy says “It would make it hard to get up in the morning to face it”.  Finally it is time to spread the cover crop seeds.  On the tractor once again to spin out the grain crops, rye and oats, depending what cash crop will follow it, 400 pounds total.  On foot now I follow the grains with the legumes, hairy vetch and crimson clover,  to fix the nitrogen to feed the cash crops, using a chest spreader to spin them over the rough ground.  The rains came beautifully the day after I finished and the cover crops look beautiful.

The last big project is to move one of the sets of “Big Tops”, the big four bay high tunnels that cover a quarter of an acre.  Need to get them out of the way so I can get that last bit of soil prepared for next spring.  We will reconstruct them in their new field sometime later this winter.  We did get all the parts down and moved out of the way, what remains is to unscrew the legs from the ground, today and tomorrow and it should all be done.  We have had a pretty good frost and the dahlias are blackened along with other scattered damage.  Betsy’s flowers for next year are going in, in small lots.  Larkspur, bachelors buttons, Gloriosa Daisy, the tulips are planted in their crates for the winter chill period.  The vegetables for Thanksgiving are really starting to grow, even the Brussels Sprouts that struggled in the late summer heat have come out of it and are putting on good new top growth.

My much anticipated hiking trip to Paria Canyon in southern Utah turned out radically different than we had expected to say the least.  Most of this walk is through very narrow slot canyons (some of the longest in the world).  It requires perfect weather because of the danger of flash flooding.  We new it had flooded two days before we headed in and that the forecast was for 50% chance of rain the next day but clear after that.  Eight of us started in down the muddy river bed only to be stopped after 4 miles by a rescue helicopter landing in front of us.  The forecast had changed and flash floods were a distinct possibility.  We were given no choice, we had to get out of the canyon.  At least several of us got a free helicopter ride over the incredible landscape.  That left us to come up with plan B for ten people.  We ended up in Zion National Park and had a great time in an equally incredible landscape, just not what we had planned so long for.  I guess I will just have to plan another trip!

So we are off Monday, to Italy, for the Slow Food Terra Madre conference.  We already have a full list of farmers’ markets we want to go see and people we want to talk to.  Our delegation will be blogging from Torino and Betsy and I are scheduled for Friday the 27th.  You can follow our groups experiences at the Slow Food Triangle website.  Also while we are gone you can eat some of our heritage turkeys and support our friends at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy in Pittsboro by having dinner at Panzanella restaurant.  For the fourth year they are having a Heritage Turkey Dinner (with our turkeys again this year) and 10% of the proceeds go to ALBC.  Unfortunately we will miss it but you all can enjoy it for us.  Look for another newsletter from us just before Thanksgiving with news from Italy and updates on the pre-Thanksgiving market.  Until then remember the Carrboro Market is open until Christmas, so keep on shopping with the rest of the market vendors.

7/11/07 Vol. 4 #17

While not what some would call a million dollar rain, last nights rain was worth a lot to us.  1.3 inches of much needed water on those crops that are not irrigated (cover crops, winter squash, corn, hydrangeas and the like) and a mental boost for the irrigator.  The creek had dropped to a trickle and the line from the creek to the pumping pond was likewise down to a trickle.  Yesterday after nearly two straight weeks of daily irrigation the pumping pond was getting seriously low, I was even beginning to eye the water stored in the upper pond.  Once we start taking water out of the upper pond there is no recourse, no resupply for that reservoir other than winter rains.  So at least for this morning the wolf has backed away from the door.  A rain like last nights will last us for four or five days and then we will have to fire up the pump again and if we are lucky the creek will show a little more life and help fill the pumping pond back up before we have to start major irrigating again.  Of course everything under the Big Tops and the little tunnels still needs water but that is less than a third of the normal daily irrigation needs.  Every little bit helps!

Major dog days of summer now.  Highs in the 90’s everyday and the air (especially after last nights rain) if getting thick.  We are in that lets- not-get-too-physical mode, a steady even out put of energy to get us through the mornings and then go and hide in the shade for the rest of the day.  Harvest first thing in the morning while it is sort of cool, a little weeding, a little trellising, change the irrigation, watch the sun get higher and the temperature spike just before noon (or it seems to).  It is summer after all.

Something to look forward to next week though.  Tuesday evening at Panzanella restaurant (in Carr Mill next to Weaver Street Market) is our “Farm Dinner”.  This is the third year we have worked with them on a dinner centered around what is at the peak of the season.  So obviously this one will be tomato heavy but also with cucumber and sweet corn undertones.  Come on out and enjoy their air conditioning.  The restaurant is open as usual and their regular menu is also available.  They will have specials (usually several appetizers and entrees) using our produce.  Tomorrow I will be going in to visit with Chris (the head chef) to get an idea what dishes he is thinking about and how much produce and what kinds he has in mind.  It is always fun, and we will look for you there!

Picture of the Week
Three foot tall Lisianthus brightening a grey day

7/18/07 Vol. 4 #18

An extremely pleasant meal last evening at Panzanella.  What a huge turn out, I don’t think I have ever seen the place so full.  The dishes Chris made from our produce were simple yet full of great flavors, the risotto with the sweet corn was my favorite but the pasta was also outstanding with just the right amount of Italian parsley coming through the tomato sauce.  It was good to see all of you who came out.  We drove home through a good rain so I won’t have to irrigate this morning either, what a bonus!

I was thinking about the sweet corn experiment and continue to be amazed at those farmers who consistently grow sweet corn.  We have not grown it in the past for several reasons.  First corn takes a lot of room and we just didn’t have any spare ground to put it in.  The second major reason is that you just don’t make the money per foot of row that we feel you need to make on a farm as intensive as ours, even at 50 cents an ear much less the old days when it was two dollars a dozen.  We use a rough rule of thumb that we need to gross $200 a bed (that is a planting strip 4′ X 100′) or the crop probably isn’t carrying it’s weight here on the farm.  In theory you have a corn plant every eight inches in the row, with two rows per bed, that is 300 plants per bed and, usually, you get one ear per plant so at 50 cents an ear that is $150 a bed.  That is in theory though, before the ones that don’t pollinate well, the corn ear worms, the Japanese beetles, and finally the raccoons that seem to be able to levitate over the electric fence and help themselves to all of the perfect ears that are just now full and ripe.  With this last planting we pulled about 80 ears a bed, $40 hmmm…  But corn at least is fairly easy to grow in some aspects as it is a large vigorous plant once you get it germinated and past the crows who love to pull up the tiny seedlings.  One good cultivation and as long it rains, it takes care of itself until picking time, no transplanting, no pruning, or trellising.  The good corn growers of course do it on a large scale, with tractors, so their labor is minimal until picking time.  Then to have a consistent supply requires planting every ten days or so.  So my hat’s off to those corn growers at market who have corn for weeks at a time.  We will continue to mess around with the corn experiment, for a while anyway, it is so good when it does behave, and it gives me something else to tinker with.

Picture of the Week
Brilliant Zinnias in front of the Big Tops

6/26/08 Vol. 5 #15

Newsletter a day late, this week has been like a fire drill since Monday.  One of those weeks where its nothing unusual or a major type event, just too many small “extra-curricular” items that tip the cart.  Monday had an extra trip to Burlington for supplies, I had to help our 84 year old neighbor fix his mower, we did deliveries and took the big truck to the mechanic and then topped it all off with a lovely evening at Watts Grocery in Durham for their wine dinner which featured our products.  Tuesday (after arriving home late the previous night) we hit the road at 7:00 a.m. for an all day meeting in Goldsboro, we are on the Board of Advisors for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.  Back to the house about 5:30 in time to turn around to head into Carrboro for another board meeting for the Growers’ Choice poultry cooperative.  Wednesday up at the crack of dawn for the unusual chores and to prepare the brooder for the second round of turkeys that normally arrive at the Post Office early in the morning.  No call by 8:30 so I begin calling around to see where they are.  “Yes they were shipped on Monday”, she says at the hatchery.  Now we’re worried that they are sitting on some hot tarmac somewhere cooking (we hear these horror stories from other growers).  Second call to the Post Office, “no not here yet but there is one more plane that comes in at 10:30”.  Finally the call comes in at 11:30 they are here.  Betsy rushes up to Graham to collect them while I continue to work with the staff on the days projects.  By 1:00 the birds are here and installed in the brooder, all healthy and running around.  A quick bite of lunch and then we have to load and head off to market in the 95 degree heat.  By the time I get home and in the house at 8:00 last evening we are both fried.  Dinner and to bed by 9:00.

As my sister in law says, who is a nurse who works a crazy schedule of something like six twelve hour days straight, “I am headed into the tunnel”.  This is how she refers to going back to work after her days off.  We are headed into the tunnel now too, all of the growers at market are in the same place.  The early season excitement is past, the rush to get cool season crops in and out, the beautiful spring days, the planting and tending of the summer crops.  Now the heat is here and it is a careful balancing act to keep it all going while not burning the body out.  You can begin to see it in their faces now, that look of too many nights without enough sleep.  Now don’t misunderstand me, we still love this work and life, but all jobs have parts that take more effort or patience to get through to the next step.  How many days is it until the first frost?

Great news, we recently heard that we have been accepted as delegates, once again, to the Slow Food Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy this October.  As you may remember, we have been extremely fortunate to have been able to attend the previous two Terra Madre’s in 2004 and 2006.  We have another strong group going from the Triangle area including eight of us from the Carrboro Farmers’ Market.  This world meeting of farmers, chefs and others in the food system has been an inspiration to us and we hope to be able to expose others to some of what we have been able to experience there.  Slow Food pays for all of the delegates expenses once they get to Italy but they have to get themselves there.  Look for various fund raisers this summer and fall, sponsored by Slow Food Triangle, to help send our local people.  The first of these is this coming Tuesday, July 1st, at the Lantern Restaurant.  A Greek wine dinner, featuring a Slow Food Presidia wine (Presidia are projects aimed at helping to preserve a food or food making tradition).  Andrea at Lantern says there are still seats available.  It will also feature some of our products on the menu.

Picture of the Week
Happy three day old Broad Breasted Bronzes

8/13/08 Vol. 5 #21

Well the break is over and we managed as relaxing a time as we have ever had during “the summer break”.  There is usually a little too much farm work to do to really feel like we had time off.  This time though, while we did go out every morning and do some chores for a few hours, it was never a forced march.  Dan did come out on Wednesday to help me pick tomatoes so we could do a small delivery that day and because it had to be done.  Wednesday was really the only real work like day though.  We lounged around in the air conditioning and watched movies, went out to eat almost every night  (and many lunches too!), I even got to run up to the mountains for a night and just sit and look at the view.

The highlight though was definitely the 90 Indian civil servants who arrived on Tuesday afternoon in two buses when it was 98 degrees!  This group of officials from the Indian Administrative Service, which is the highest  tier of civil servants in that country, was here for two weeks hosted by the Duke Center for International Development.  While in North Carolina they were studying how government policy relates to service delivery and infrastructure development.  One of the things they specifically asked us for was to see some US farming techniques.  Now we have hosted a lot of tour groups over the years and many from foreign countries but this group was unlike any other!  They were like a fourth grade school field trip with their energy and questions.  As they rolled off the buses they immediately surrounded Betsy and me and started rifling questions as fast as we could answer.  No subject was passed over.  How long have you been farming, what is that crop, how do you irrigate, what is your income, how many taxes do you pay, where to you sell your crops, and on and on.  Betsy’s favorite question was do you sell to Walmart?  There was no organized guided tour as they were all over the place and then 45 minutes later they were on the bus and gone.  Wow, did that just happen?  It was so much fun that we told the Duke organizers to bring more!  Next up in a few weeks Chinese officials.

Now it’s back to the salt mines, but the end is in sight.  We even began the long dismantling process yesterday, taking out the first flower trellises and pulling up irrigation lines.  We are very glad to see some rain moving in today because thing were beginning to get crispy again.  One note, our Panzanella/Weaver Street Market farm dinner is this coming Monday the 18th from 5:30 to 9:00.  The menu will be pepper and tomato heavy, perfect!  I am hoping for a stuffed poblano and probably a fresh tomato sauce on pasta among others.  I believe that 10% of the proceeds go to the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.  Hope to see you there.

Picture of the Week
Cov and Dan working in the Brussels Sprouts on a rainy day

7/15/09 Vol. 6 #17

Still reveling in yet another cool July morning, temperatures in the high 50’s and low humidity, what a treat!  We did get a bit of rain on Monday, and I raced around to finish the summer cover crop planting.  A week and a half ago (July 4th weekend) in anticipation of the best chance of rain in weeks I rushed around and seeded an acre of summer covers, as a light rain was falling.  It turned out to be all the rain we would get that day, Arghh!!  Just enough water to get some of them to come up but not all.  Mondays half an inch of rain was hopefully enough to bring the rest up, looks like another chance of rain tomorrow too.

With the drought, the varmits are moving in to take advantage of the juicy plants and fruit.  The squirrels are really out of control in the tomatoes and in some of the transplants for late summer production.  Something, squirrels we think, got up onto the benches where we had lettuce and Brussels sprouts transplants in the seed flats and ate the tops off of all the Brussels sprout plants and much of the lettuce too.  So the hunt continues with daily afternoon rounds, so far the tally is four groundhogs and five squirrels.

Everybody is beginning to ask when we will have peppers and begin roasting at market.  Well the easy answer is the roasting will begin, as usual, the end of August when we have an abundance of colored bell peppers.  The answer to when we will have a good supply of peppers at market is harder.  We have been working in the pepper field this week and the plants look amazing, maybe a good as any crop we have ever grown, but for some reason almost all of the early blossoms made no fruit.  Some times it is a result of high temperatures and resulting bad pollination but we have just not been that hot, my best guess is the heavy pounding rains a month ago actually knocked the blooms off the plants.  That being the case it will be late this month before we have many green bells and the same for anaheims and poblanos.  The good news is that with such vigorous plants we should have more, better quality, fruit later in the summer than usual.

There are a number of Peregrine Farm related dinners coming up in the next month that you might be interested in.  The first is next Tuesday, the 21st, at 18 Seaboard in Raleigh.  A tomato focused event, Jason is coming up with dishes around each of the varieties we grow.  The second is our annual Panzanella farm dinner on the 27th, it looks to be equally divided between tomato dishes and pepper dishes, it is always fun.

The last two are cooking classes at A Southern Season the first is a lunch class on the 28th with Marilyn Markel who runs the cooking school and the second is an evening class on August 6th with Ricky Moore of Glass Half Full, again focused on tomatoes.
Picture of the Week
A beautiful field of peppers, some plants shoulder high

7/30/09 Vol. 6 #19

A late newsletter this week, too many extra curricular things going on and yesterday it was just too much more to pile onto the mornings agenda.  The Farm Dinner at Panzanella was very pleasant and well attended on Monday night and Jim Nixon and his crew turned our produce into some really great dishes.  We hope that everyone who came had a good time and it was great to see all of you.  Equally I had a good time working with Marilyn Markel at a lunch time cooking class at A Southern Season on Tuesday, good food and great questions from the participants, many now new to the newsletter.  I will be doing another class with Ricky Moore from GlassHalfFull in a week, on Thursday evening the 6th of August.

We have almost made it to another summer break.  Twenty weeks ago the market season began for us.  Twenty straight weeks without a day off and while it has been the most pleasant of springs and summers weather wise there is still a fatigue that settles into the brain whether the body is completely worn out or not.  To that end, after market this Saturday the break begins and we will not be at market next week (the 5th and the 8th) while we and the staff do nonfarm related activities.  We give the staff a week off with pay so they can feel comfortable in taking sometime off and usually they do some traveling but this year they seem to be just staying close to home.  For us we usually just hide out and try to not answer the phone but this year Betsy is headed to Colombia (South America) to visit cut flower farms and a friend of ours who is down there on sabbatical.  I will get a day or two of hiking in and then be here keeping things growing.  So no newsletter next week as I will rest that part of the brain too.

In the last days running up to “The Break” we have been busy getting started on the falls crops and even some for next year.  More lettuce has been planted (under shade cloth to keep it cool) for late August and September harvest.  Turnips and Radish were seeded yesterday for early fall too.  Celery is in the ground for Thanksgiving and soon will be joined in the shade house by Brussels Sprouts and Collards.  Cov and Glenn started the seeds for the first of next years flowers Sweet William, Gloriosa Daisy and the small yellow flowered Triloba that Betsy just started cutting last week from last years seeding at this time!
Picture of the Week
Nothing like the colors of Zinnias