Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #13, 6/13/12

What’s been going on!

Early morning as the phone rang at 6:30, it was the Post Office in Graham notifying us that the, now two day old, turkey poults had arrived.  Hatched on Monday, immediately put into a ventilated box, taken the PO in Michigan and flown here.  It is always hard to believe it actually works but it does and there are now 88 little chirping Broad Breasted Bronze’s running around in the brooder.  Only ordered 74 and usually they put a few extras in but never this many.  There are about 8 or 9 little runts in the group but they are looking really healthy and active so we will see how they do, could be the reason we got so many extras.  For more turkey stories and pictures you can check it out here.  Here we go again!

Another nice rain for us but as usual not as much the rest of the world seems to get.  While parts of the Triangle got pounded with big rains and accidents on I-40 and such, we got a half an inch.  In our area we continue to be under this insidious prolonged stretch of below normal rainfall, going back several years now.  If you look at the US Drought Monitor map we are just listed in abnormally dry but are within a boundary that they label as “long term dominant impact e.g. hydrology, ecology”.  What that means to us is the ground water has still not been recharged enough for the springs to be running well.

As I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, the creek is just about dry already and while I know that there really are not any farms, or even houses, up stream that would be pulling out a lot of water, I just had to go check.  So Sunday I drove around the greater neighborhood to every place the creek crosses a road (5) to see if it was running any better at some point upstream, it wasn’t.  Now Big Branch or Reedy Creek, (it is called both) is not a long stream, four miles at best, and there is not a lot of watershed to feed it so when the springs are low it has a big impact on its flow.  I also checked on the stream flow gages, on line, and all of the gaging stations in the Haw River watershed were showing substantially below average flow rates, damn!  Here is the gage at Haw River which has jumped up over the last few days but is headed back down.  We just have to hope that we continue to get these nice weekly rains so we can stretch our captured pond water out across the season.

Pictures of the Week

A flurry of activity

A birds eye view

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

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #15, 6/29/11

What’s been going on?

Finally a good rain last night but only four tenths, nineteen days since the last real rain, sure a tenth here and there but with temperatures in the mid and upper 90’s, they don’t count. We have to pump water unless it is a quarter inch of rain or more and then that only buys us a day and we have to irrigate in the tunnels no matter what falls from the sky. So lets talk about drought. There are two kinds of drought, one is a long period without rain that can effect the soil surface water and things like crops and gardens. That is an agricultural drought and right now we are classed as being in a moderate agricultural drought. Places like Texas (where in some places it hasn’t rained in nearly 300 days) and New Mexico where they are literally burning up, are three more levels down the scale in the worst classification of “exceptional” and eastern North Carolina is one level down from us in the “severe” class.

So we all can feel and see an agricultural drought, no rain and we have to water our gardens and crops more and more as the soil dries out. The more difficult kind is a hydrologic drought, when it doesn’t rain enough for a long period of time. Sure it rains and things look green because the top soil has sufficient water but the water is not getting further down to recharge the aquifer, the underground pond. We are also in a hydrologic drought here too but it is harder to see and feel. At RDU (I can tell you we are much drier than RDU) there has only been 70% of normal rainfall since the first of the year and 9 inches below normal in the last year.

We can see the hydrologic drought here on the farm, first as our shallow springs dry up that feed our two ponds and then finally as the creek that borders our property runs slower and slower until it dries up altogether, as it did last Tuesday. This is a major creek, with at least two mill dams (one on our farm) built on it to harness the water power in years past. So it means that all the springs that feed the creek have dried up too. So now we are down to irrigating with the water we can see in the two ponds (of which we lose up to a quarter inch a day just in evaporation) and water we can’t see in the underground pond from a 500 foot deep well we drilled in the historic drought of 2002.

We had a number agricultural droughts in the 80’s, some of them historic for the time, but we would always have wet winters that kept the ground water recharged and our creek never ran dry. During the last decade we have seen the creek run dry at least a half a dozen times. So what we really need is some steady, regular precipitation particularly during the winter to recharge the underground pond. The good news is we will be OK for this summer as we have enough water between the ponds and well to make it through but many famers don’t have the infrastructure that we have invested in over 30 years. If we are lucky they are predicting slighty above average rainfall for July through September, let’s hope they are right.

Picture of the Week

Our creek, Big Branch, not so big right now. This is the other end of the 900′ long line from creek to pond

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #26, 9/8/10

What’s been going on?

It is getting crispy and brown again out in the fields, at least where it is not irrigated. A few notable weather statistics from this summer. Because we all had our eyes focused on Earl last week it slipped by most people that both Raleigh and Greensboro set the records for the hottest meteorological summers (June, July, August) ever. RDU by two degrees! Most of these records are broken by a tenth of a degree or two, not whole units! The other record is still in play. Today will be the 80th day over 90, the record is 83 from 2007. We are already seven days ahead of the pace set in 2007, I am sure that one is going down too. I always like to think if we are going to suffer at least we should have a record to show for it.

Two reminders. Tonight is our farm dinner at Elaine’s on Franklin with Bret Jennings. What they are doing is a special pepper infused menu in addition to their regular menu so you can run either way. It looks might tasty to us:

FARM TO FORK W/ PEREGRINE FARM

SEPTEMBER 8TH, 2010

$45 per person

.

fried shishito peppers w/ japanese sea salt

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chile relleno w/ local goat cheese, abels black beans, cotija, cilantro & salsa verde

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seed crusted n.c. tuna on olive oil mashed gold potatoes, spinach, cured lemon, fried parsley & sauce romesco

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spicy grilled marinated skirt steak w/ chilaquiles, corn & cactus salsa, cotija cheese & a chile-cerveza sauce

lemon verbena-jalapeno sherbet

Betsy and I will be there for sure, I will go just about anywhere for a good relleno!

The other thing to not forget about is reserving your turkey for the Holidays, as it will slip by faster than one thinks and the orders are rolling in.

No more Wednesday markets for us, just not enough produce to fill out two markets well. We are moving into the full dismantling phase of fall farm chores as well. Only four rows of tomatoes left, the first of the Big Top covers come off today, the little tunnels are getting cleaned up and the all the wood oiled for the winter. By the end of next week the only things left in the field will be the peppers and a few rows of flowers. If it would just rain a bit we could begin to get soil ready for cover crops.

Picture of the Week

The green irrigated peppers, the dry mowed fields, the big poplars turning yellow and dropping leaves

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #9, 5/5/10

What’s been going on?

Well we got screwed on that last “rain” for sure. Looked so promising and we planted and got other things done before it started on Monday morning, it spit for a while and then nothing. Even the rain gauge was dusty. Nothing in the forecast for the next week either. Wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t looking at temps near 90 and the upper pond hadn’t mysteriously drained itself.

Drained itself, what? Last Wednesday, Cov had taken his dog down to the pond for a swim and returned asking “what happened to the pond?” I looked blankly at him and he said “there’s no water in it”. Down we go and sure enough it was drained about two thirds of the way. Must be a hole in the old metal stand pipe I figured but as it had been 35 degrees that morning I wasn’t about to wade out there and find out. Finally on Sunday when it was near 90 degrees I waded out in the waist deep water and twelve inch deep mud to inspect. No hole that I can see or feel, hmmm? Could the gravity feed line to the lower pond somehow started running on all it’s own, I couldn’t see how. It is about the only answer I can think of. The dam is fine, no signs of critter burrows, no signs of any kind of leak. Maybe 1000 deer all came and had a big drink.

I put a stick in at the water line and it appears to be slowly refilling from the trickle oozing in from the old spring. Another blow against the hole in the stand pipe theory. What ever the cause we need to get it refilled quickly while there is still water running in the creek. The water that disappeared is about one and a half months worth. If it stays this dry we will need it in August for sure. It better start raining soon!

The pace just picked up this week, weeding in the lettuce, onions and spring veggies. Tying up the early tomatoes, thinning beets. Soon trellising the flowers in the Big Tops but after we get them covered later this week. Deliveries, preparations for Mothers Day and Graduation markets. Irrigation, getting the line from the creek running and now filling up the pond. And today the now three week old turkeys will begin to explore the outdoors to get used to grass and the big world. Hold on.

Picture of the Week

Amazing Anemones some over 24 inches tall

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

5/26/04 Vol. 1 #11

6:15 a.m. I’ve already been out to turn on the irrigation.  We are now into the same routine that we developed during the big drought of 2002, start the irrigation at 6:00 and rotate fields every two hours.  Right now we are pumping for eight hours a day, about 7000 gallons every day and the pond is down about two feet.  Fortunately (or unfortunately maybe) we have spent more money on irrigation than any other piece of infrastructure so we can water with the best.  We started by putting in $7000 worth of irrigation while we lived in a tent!  That Betsy is a real trooper!  The National Weather Service drought page says that we are normal in this area and that the forecast through July is for normal rainfall, lets hope they are right.  We have only had a few tenths of rain since the beginning of the month and the heat is pushing it further.  Evidently we are on the way to the warmest May on record with already 20 days over 80 degrees.  Hmmm…

The heat is really pushing the crops as well, spring crops are just about burned up and the summer ones are growing fast.  The tail that wags the dog right now are the Blueberries.  Should have picked the first few the end of this week but with the heat we are in full picking mode which started last Friday.  As great as the berries are, they consume all labor around here like a black hole.  Everyone but Betsy does nothing but pick berries every morning for weeks consequently every thing else on the farm can suffer from neglect.  We hire four or five additional people to get them all picked and we only have 200 bushes!  It’s expensive to get these berries picked but well worth it in both the fruit but also in getting local folks involved in agriculture.  One of the three tenets of a sustainable system is the social/community part (the other two are economic and environmentally sound) and the idea of being socially responsible and fair.  We could hire migrant workers and get the berries picked for less but we feel it is better to hire locals and pay good wages to them.  Some of the other aspects of the social component are our relationships with you and our other customers, including our wholesale accounts, our neighbors, etc.  So when you buy those berries more than a third of the cost went into the labor to pick them and that money has stayed in the community too!

The tomatoes are growing a foot or more a week right now and we are working to keep them tied up, soon we will have to start trellising the peppers too.  Still looking for the first ripe tomato, we will savor it!  The turkeys were three weeks old yesterday and had their first foray outdoors, they are very funny as they learn something new for the first time, very cautious, but eventually they all made it outside for a tentative romp in the grass.

Picture of the week
Blueberries already!?

6/29/05 Vol. 2 #17

WooWee!  It’s raining!  I was starting to get a bit nervous and told Betsy that if we didn’t get rain early in the week that we would have to start pulling water from the upper pond, as the lower pumping pond was getting too low.  I hate to have to start using that water as it is a sign of serious drought.  The upper pond is two months worth of water and once we start using it there is no filling it back up until next winter.  The lower pond, while not very deep, is easily replenishable both by it’s slow running spring and the gravity feed line that we have into the creek (which is also slow running right now).  Last week I said that we were pumping about 10,000 gallons a day but the creek and spring are only giving us back about 5 – 6,000 gallons a day.  After two weeks of solid irrigation you can see the problem.  With this rain headed into it’s third day this will buy us the time we need for the water to fill back up.

Of course with the rain I am now kicking myself for not having gotten more ground ready for seeding of the summer cover crops (he is never happy).  The forecast has been for such dry weather, including headed into this bit of rain, that we didn’t want to put seed out there that would just sit there and maybe not come up at all.  We have only had a bit over a half an inch so it’s not so wet that I won’t be able to get out there and till the soil soon afterwards but it sure would have been nice to get them in with this gentle rain.  I did get the sliding tunnel ends seeded yesterday just as the rain started but still have another half acre waiting.

The second round of Turkeys did not arrive last week and we are hoping that they will make it this week.  We are working with our processor, who also raises his own birds, to buy the 35 broad breasted birds that we need to round out the flock.  It looks as if the bronze variety that we want to get may, once again, not be available and so we may have to get whites again.  Like I say, it is always something new with this turkey venture!  Otherwise things are settling back down to more normal pace now that the blueberry season is over.  We are back to our normal 70 hours a week of hired help down from a high of almost 200 hours two weeks ago!  Soon we will be in our mid summer routine of picking tomatoes twice a week, peppers once a week and general chores the rest of the time.  When it gets really hot we like to maintain a steady and not too frantic pace, better for the mind and the body!

Picture of the Week
Even on a dreary day the Zinnias are bright

7/27/05 Vol. 2 #21

What can I say, 102 degrees behind the greenhouse in the shade, 99 degrees on the porch, deep in the woods.  We are pumping lots of water to try and keep everything happy.  So far it seems to be working.  We are having some trouble with the tomatoes, especially the large ones like the Striped Germans and Kellogg’s Breakfast.  When ever it is this hot it seems they can’t get enough water and will have hollow areas inside them just beneath the outer layer.  It actually has an official name “Puffy Wall”.  Supposedly caused by a combination of high or low temperatures way back at pollination and a nitrogen:potassium ratio that is out of whack.  All I know is we see it when its extremely hot, it is almost like the tomatoes start to dehydrate from the inside.  They still taste fine but sometimes are not the perfect slicing tomato for the plate.

This has been a week or so of turkey high jinks.  This morning topped it off.  Last night they did not go into their shelters at dark like they always do, so when I went out to close them up they were all down in one corner of the field sleeping in the grass.  I figured it was the heat and just let them stay out for the night.  This morning when Betsy went out at 5:30 for her walk she came back in immediately and rousted me out because forty odd birds were outside the fence and wandering all over the farm!  With not too much herding we got them all back inside the fence, eating and drinking like it was all normal.  This was after a long week or two of “turkey issues”, that started with the big guys picking on one of their own so badly that we had to put the injured bird in the Turkey Hospital.  After a week the bird, now know as Buckwheat, was all healed up and eager to get back with his pals so I carried it down and put it in with the others.  Immediately they started after him again so I took him back to the hospital.  The next night I slipped him in the shelter with the others thinking that they would wake up the next morning not notice another bird amongst the crowd (turkeys seem to have no short term memory).  All went well and when I let them out the next morning they started back in on him.  Puzzled I took him out again and set him up in his own outdoor area, under the figs, as he couldn’t continue to stay in the 4′ X 4′ hospital room.  Maybe when I moved the rest of the group in a day or two they would be so distracted by new turf that I could put him in then and no one would notice.

He was so lonely that he would just sit there and call to his buddies.  At one point he even flew out and ran down to the others pacing up and down the fence wanting to get in, but the bullies were trying to get at him through the fence!  So we put him back under the figs and grabbed one of the others and put it in with him so he would have company.  That bird just sat and called to his friends and eventually flew out and went back to the others.  Nothing was working.  As the “little boys” were now three weeks old and ready to start going outside we decided to put Buckwheat in with them until they graduated out to the field in a few weeks.  When everyone gets integrated after awhile all will be back to normal.  Kind of a Trojan horse trick.  So off we went with Buckwheat under armand put him in with the little guys.  Love at first sight!  He was walking around like the big man on campus and they were all huddled around his legs.  Now almost a week later it is Buckwheat and his posse!

Picture of the Week
Buckwheat and the little boys

9/7/05 Vol. 2 #26

What a glorious morning; clear, coolish, dry air.  As the weather has improved this past week so have our fortunes, we are rising like the Phoenix!  All vehicles are back on the road, the refrigeration is all repaired and the poultry plant problem is looking brighter.  I have spent quite a bit of time this week fact finding about the plant and all of it’s very complicated relationships with other businesses and producers.  While we have not yet signed any papers I would now say that we are 85% sure that we can take over the processing plant.   We have a small group that is helping to steer this ship but quickly will need to expand it.  Joe Moize of the Shady Grove Farm (they also sell at market) has really been the main force behind all of this and is doing a great job in working with all of the financial details.  Weaver Street Market has signed on both financially and with expertise in Cooperative development.  It is in their interests to see this happen both in meeting their mission to support local agriculture but to also have good local poultry in the stores.  In the wings (no pun intended) also offering expertise, are other allied organizations, Rural Advancement Foundation International, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, Carolina Farm Stewardship Assoc., NC Cooperative Extension Service and others.  All of these groups see this small independent plant as vital to the local farm economy and the local food system.  In the next week we will be putting a call out to producers and others to raise money for, and to belong to, the eventual cooperative organization that will own and operate the plant.  I have heard from several of you who have expressed interest in investing and we will let you know as we have more details.  We immediately need to find someone to actually manage the plant day to day.  Someone who has knowledge of processing and the regulatory details.  That list does not include either me or Betsy!

At home the farm rolls on.  All of the early tomatoes have now been taken out, quite an ugly job pulling the vines off the trellis and taking it all down.  Mowing goes on and on in preparation for fall and winter crops.  The chiggers we have stirred up are voracious!  It is amazingly dry and we are back to pumping water everyday.   The turkeys have finally graduated and are now one large group, a little confused at first as to who all these new bodies are but now they are wandering around together as if its been that way all along.  The staff is on reduced hours now as we head for the end of the season in a few weeks.  I think they are just as relieved to see the end as we are, they have really helped us keep it all together this year, especially this past few wild weeks.

Picture of the Week
Summer Crisp Lettuce, fall is here again!

9/15/05 Vol. 2 #27

Newsletter a day late as I spent the whole day down at the processing plant watching how it all works, talking to the USDA inspectors and the folks who actually do the work.  We have agreed to taking over the operation the first of the month, with a lease until the first of the year.  This gives us time to get a feel for how it will go and what the true numbers look like.  It will also get all of us, both turkey producers and chicken producers, through Thanksgiving before things slow down a little during the winter months.  Quite honestly I am way out of my comfort zone both in knowledge, time and money but fortunately have people working with us and at the plant who know what they are about.  I keep saying to Betsy “I wonder what the next thing will be that will steer my interests?”  I guess maybe we know now, at least for awhile!  This doesn’t mean we plan on producing more poultry, in fact if Betsy has her way we may never have another bird on the farm; it is just that we see this one tiny plant as one friend of ours says “as the eye of the needle we are trying to pass the camel through”.  If we lose this one operation then many many poultry and rabbit producers will have to get out of the business.  The future looks very bright, we just have to get over these first hurdles.

On the farm it is very dry and Ophelia doesn’t appear to want to give us anything but a few drops.  I have been pulling water out of the upper pond as both the creek and the lower pond have dried up.  Good thing we don’t have much longer to go.  The last of the tomatoes get pulled out today.  All of the big tops are now uncovered for the season, it was time to pull the plastic off the last tomatoes anyway but we did it Monday just to be safe in case the hurricane decided to come a little closer to us.  Soon we’ll be down to just the peppers and a few rows of flowers to finish up the season with.

Picture of the Week

Not much left, big tops uncovered, turkeys running around, crops mowed down.

9/21/05 Vol. 2 #28

Congratulations to Sheila Neal, the Carrboro Farmers’ Market manager, for the birth of a big ol’ boy this Tuesday!  She and Matt and baby are all reportedly doing great.

Well this is the last weekly newsletter for the season.  Saturday is our last regular market (don’t forget the special Tuesday before Thanksgiving market!) and we are very ready to wrap it up for the year.  With all the extra curricular things going on around here as well as the heat and drought, that are lasting way too far into September for my comfort, we are glad that we can concentrate on putting the farm to bed for the winter.  After all tomorrow is the first day of fall and it’s going to be in the 90’s!  We are only a few days shy of the record for days over 90 in a year, I am sure we will not break it but it’s been painful all the same.

We are slowly catching up on things here at the farm.  I need to spend some quality time on the tractor over the next few days getting soil ready to seed the winter cover crops.  It is hard to work the soil the way I like to see it when it is this dry, partly because it doesn’t cut as well but also the remaining crop debris don’t decompose and incorporate well either.  Besides it is dusty work and we would prefer for our farm to stay on this side of the road!  We are also getting close to beginning the next season.  We plant almost a half and acre of flower crops between now and mid November.  These over wintered flowers need a cold period and time to develop a good root system so that in the spring they take off and make vigorous growth and fantastic blooms.  The staff knows that the end is near too and are already transitioning to their winter occupations.  A few more weeks and Betsy and I will be “empty nesters”!  Just us and the turkeys.

It appears that we have lost a few turkeys, either to dogs or coyotes or humans.  Last Friday we came out to find a bunch of birds out in the road and the fence suspiciously bent over.  We got them all back in and then found one of the Broad Breasted Bronzes a bit beaten up and moved it to the hospital pen.  Later I found another seriously injured and we had to kill it.  When they get all stirred up for some reason they just get crazy.  After all they are teenagers right now with lots of hormones raging around.   Finally they all calmed down and I was able to get a count.  36 Bronzes and 39 Bourbon Reds, just as it should be but only 16 Blue Slates, missing three.  No signs of a scuffle so we are suspicious of turkey napping.  So now there are 91 left.  I finally had time last night to bring the turkey order list up to date and half are reserved at this time.  While there is time left, those of you who have not yet sent in your reservation should do so to make sure you get the size and breed you prefer.

One change this year from last.  After all of the hassle of trying to keep the birds fresh/unfrozen and the fact that we are going away again for two weeks prior to Thanksgiving (and have to get Joann to manage the birds while we are away) we are planning on having them processed a few weeks early and freezing them.  Our understanding of the new regulations are that if they are not sold with in three days of processing then they are supposed to be frozen anyway.  Our plan is to pick them up from the freezing plant a few days before the Tuesday pick up day and put them in our cooler in the low 30’s and they will slowly begin the thawing process so that when you get them they will be well on the way to defrosted for cooking on Thursday.  For those of you who want to keep them frozen either for Christmas or later we can keep them frozen for you.

Look for newsletters from us prior to Thanksgiving and then monthly over the winter to let you know what is happening here on the farm.  If we don’t get a chance to say it to you either this Saturday or before Thanksgiving, we do greatly appreciate your support of what we do here at the farm!

Picture of the Week
The quickly disappearing upper pond