Hallelujah the weather has broken! We needed some kind of positive sign to reassure us that we were not descending into some kind of special hell. After all the fun we had on “vacation” it continued into this week. Including both trucks breaking down and going into the shop. It is kind of hard to run a farm out of a small passenger car! We should have the big market truck back by tomorrow but it will mean no market today (Wednesday). Fortunately things on the farm itself appear to be growing well and most projects are occurring in a timely manner. The dismantling of the farm for the winter rolls on. First any trellising that was in place is taken down, rolled up and stored for next years use, then the “mechanical frost” arrives with the mower. The way the grass and weeds are growing, with all the rain, this is a huge psychological boost on its own. All of the buried irrigation lines are then pulled up, coiled, and sorted into save for next season, or not. Soil samples are taken to be sent to the State lab for testing so we will know what minerals we may need to add for the next years crops. Then it is back on the tractor to turn under all of the crop residue so that we can prepare the beds for the spring crops. Finally a winter cover crop is seeded to hold the soil over the winter, capture nutrients left over from this seasons crops, and grow some more organic matter/food for the soil microbes. Every week another section or two are taken out until by mid October it’s all finished and a green haze of newly sprouted cover crops covers the whole place.
There is still planting going on for this year as well. The celery, kale and more leeks went in for Thanksgiving. Lettuce and parsley was seeded to be planted out in few weeks, also for Thanksgiving. Soon we will begin to plant the over wintered flower crops that will sit there until next spring for the first blooms of the year. The older, heritage turkeys moved to the blueberry field, next door to the younger, broad breasted birds and their leader Buckwheat. Much eyeing of the neighbors and posturing going on until they all run together in a week or so. They too are glad the heat has broken, now they are happier to run about the place, chasing bugs and each other.
Picture of the Week
The Maginot Line, the older birds trying to impress the new kids.
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
Wow! has it really been two whole months since the last newsletter? We have been running hard and fast as well as having lots of fun! The trip to Holland and Italy was very informative and beautiful. The week we spent in Holland was mostly focused on cut flowers but we did manage to go to several markets looking for new and unusual things. We were able to visit with many farmers and plant breeders and I think that Betsy has found a few new things to try. The horticultural trade show was over the top! Dutch agriculture is so fastidious and high tech that I can’t even begin to approach that level of obsession! Italy was much more relaxed and we didn’t get on as many farms as we would have liked to but still saw many new things. Our Italian family, that we stayed with last year when we went to the Terra Madre Slow Food event, was great and Betsy’s hard work at learning Italian paid off in much better understanding of each other. We rented a car this time and spent many days driving through the countryside and going to markets. We found a few new ideas that we will try and incorporate here this year. One of our missions was to go to the Slow Food headquarters in Bra, Italy, and visit with the people who are organizing the next Terra Madre conference for next fall (2006). It appears as if we will be able to go back again, Betsy has even volunteered to help with whatever they need including some basic interpretation!
Alex amazed at the technology!
Peppers in Italy
Here are the farm we got all of the soil preparations for the winter finished with near perfect results, never has all of it worked up so beautifully with the exception of this on going dry spell. The cover crop seeds that I planted a month ago have just barely sprouted. We are running that fine line now of getting them established before the really cold weather sets in, which can kill them before they have enough roots underneath them. The turkeys went in for processing before we left for Europe and came out looking good. The Heritage birds were slightly smaller than last year and the Broad breasted Bronzes were also smaller which is great for those of us who don’t normally eat 26 pound birds! The flash freezing process went smoothly and they came home yesterday in fine condition. The processing plant project goes on and on. In general it is working about the way we had hoped for but every day there is something that breaks down or needs to be worked on.
What a gloriously beautiful day! It is these days that we live for, the reason we wanted to work outside for a living, the kinds of days that make farming easy. Emotions are high these days on both sides of the good/bad divide. It has been twenty eight weeks since we started market back in March and thirty four since we planted the first spring crops in the field, and more than a year since the first crops for this season were started. Twenty five years ago last week we signed the papers and closed on this piece of land intent on turning it into a small farm, just months before that Betsy and I got married, what an interesting trip its been! The night we closed on the farm we camped out here with some friends of ours and it was cool enough (like tonight will be) to have a small fire, plenty of toasting and talk of plans and dreams for the future. Twenty five seasons now under the belt, it is hard to imagine. It is almost done now for this year as this is our last week at market other than the special pre-Thanksgiving market. Only a few crops left in the field which will go under the mower in a few days. This week I will begin the process of turning under two and a half acres to seed to winter cover crops. Monday the turkeys go in for processing and into the freezer, in two weeks the farm will be ready for the long winter sleep.
We’re happy that the season is about over. It has been a fairly good year but challenging at the same time so we are ready for a rest and change of pace. At the same time we are a little sad that it is over. We do miss seeing everyone at market, visiting with our chefs and store buyers too. When the turkeys go away it is a serious day as we have worked with them all year to get to this point but still know that the reason we have them is for eating too. We will miss working with our staff and talking with them about farming and their futures. But at fifty years old we are also ready for some quiet time on the farm too, as well as traveling to new places. So this will be the last weekly newsletter of the season. We have a full schedule up to Christmas and beyond so look for a monthly report on our off season adventures. We will send one in October before we head to Italy for the Slow Food conference and traveling around to see Italian markets, farms and restaurants but after I come back from a much anticipated hiking trip to one of southern Utah’s amazing canyons. You will get a report before Thanksgiving on what we saw and learned in Italy and to prepare you for the Thanksgiving market. Then more after that including Betsy’s trip to Kenya to visit some of the largest cut flower farms in the world. We thank everyone for helping us to do what we do here on the farm, with out your support and business it would not be possible.
Picture of the Week
The long shadows of early fall on nearly empty fields
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.
Posted in newsletters '06, turkeys
- Tagged big tops, cover crops, dinners, fall prep, hiking, newsletters '06, Paria canyon, Slow Food, terra madre, turkeys
58 degrees this morning on the front porch, going to be near 100 this afternoon. It’s a dry heat though, a desert heat. We thought we had been clever and missed the hot week of the summer by going up to the mountains in the middle of the 100 degree days but it’s hot up there too and they don’t think they need air conditioning. We did have a good time being off last week except we tried to do too much, as usual, and so it was over in a flash. Back to reality and the desert of Peregrine Farm. What we are watering looks pretty good and we picked a surprising amount of tomatoes Monday off the old planting and the new, and last, planting is just starting to turn color. This week we are working to reclaim areas that we let slide for a bit just before and then were completely left alone during the break. The peppers are a case in point as the crab grass in the paths, between the rows of plants, has grown into the plants. If we don’t act now it will make picking hell for the rest of the season so we are going through and rolling the thick grass mats back and then pushing the mower down the paths to cut it back before it just flops back down into the plants. Row by row but it is a rewarding job as we can see how much better our lives will be when is comes to picking the beautiful peppers hanging on the plants just next to our efforts.
We are beginning to mow down those crops finished for the season and those that have perished in the drought without irrigation water. The last planting of sweet corn, which is unirrigated, is going under the mower along with plantings of Zinnias and sunflowers. This is the beginning of the clean up for the end of the year, soon I will take soil tests and begin the process of putting the planting areas to bed for the winter. Spreading mineral amendments and seeding winter cover crops, all assuming we get some rain to make it possible to even till the soil. The summer cover crops are ready to be mowed down too, not as robust as they usually are because of the drought they have done amazingly well in those fields away from the effects of tree roots. Where ever they are within 50 feet of a tree, the cover crop plants are maybe eight inches high and then they jump up to two and three feet high. It is not the direct effect of the tree roots actually being in that soil but the fact that the trees have pulled every bit of water out of the soil near them and then by capillary action sucked all the water up towards them for another 30 feet or so.
Picture of the Week
The tree root effect 50 or more feet from the tree trunks
Glorious fall like weather these past few days and we have been reveling in it and getting a lot done. Mornings have started kind of brisk at least in comparison with the past month, long pants and shirts, Elizabeth has even started the days with a wool hat on! Slowly the unraveling of the farm proceeds. The little sliding tunnels have been cleaned out of their long finished tomatoes and melons, the first ten rows of tomatoes in the Big Tops are now gone too. All of the trellises, landscape fabric mulch and irrigation line out too. Lisianthus trellis pulled out and drip lines in the old Zinnias pulled up. Tomorrow we will take the plastic off the Big Tops and cinch the long rolls up like sausages to rest the winter in the valleys between the bows. One week to go now until we are finished marketing for the year and then the final clean up will begin, taking down the last of the tomatoes and the major roll up of the pepper field. If it will rain a little more and I can get soil worked for next year we will seed it all down to a beautiful winter cover crop to hold it until we pull their starter rope again early next year. Soon the staff will head off for their winter occupations and Betsy and I will be here all by ourselves enjoying the heart of the fall.
Too much to do the think about all that now and the forecast for the weekend is to be back into the low 90’s, so the reality will come rushing back. All of the summer cover crops and as many of the finished cash crops as possible have been mowed in anticipation of the fall soil preparation fiesta. Today I need to go and take soil tests as I am bit late in getting them done. It has been so dry that it is hard to get the soil probe in the ground which makes taking a hundred or so samples a real pain. But I can’t wait any longer because I will need the results soon so I can add any amendments they may indicate before I seed all the winter cover crops. We also need to begin planting flowers for Betsy and leeks for me for next spring. And all too soon the ranunculus corms from Italy will be here and they will need to go into the ground too. Guess I better get out there and get to work.
Picture of the Week
The Upper pond completely drained, you can also see the logging clear cut in the background
So once again the end is here, one more Saturday market. Just as the finish line is in sight, the starting line appears. Yesterday we planted the first seven beds of flowers for next spring- Sweet William, delphinium, scabiosa and more. Today leeks go in for next spring too. This is one of the main reasons we stop selling at this time of year so we can concentrate on growing for next year. Sure it’s also about the improved quality of life that comes with a reduced schedule and enjoying the fall weather especially after this brutal summer but it is equally about getting ready for next year. The coming year is really made the preceding fall as we prepare the soil with mineral amendments and raise up the beds we will plant next spring then seed them down with nourishing cover crops that will protect and improve them over the winter. We will slowly plant flowers and vegetables to overwinter too so they will be ready for those early markets next March. Finally we are planning and ordering seeds and plants and dreaming of new things to entice you and interest us.
Then there are the projects we can only do in the off season and the meeting season begins all too soon as well. The big project has already started, the final addition to the house, a living room. The mason will finish the foundation today so that it will be standing there waiting for me to strap on the tool belt in two weeks to frame it up so it can be dried in before it gets cold. This means the rest of the winter will be filled with interior and exterior finishes, I promised Betsy that I would have the construction done by the time we were 50, I figure a year late is not too bad. The meeting and speaking calendar is already full too, beginning next week when the national cut flower meeting is in Raleigh where Betsy is an integral player and I will be giving a presentation. Two more conferences in North Carolina in November including the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s meeting in Durham, where I am giving multiple talks. December takes me to South Carolina to speak at the Vegetable Growers conference. January is too full, with trips to Tennessee, Missouri (where I am the keynote at a vegetable growers conference there) and Kentucky. Late February I am off to speak at the Georgia Organics conference and March might take me back to Missouri. Betsy is thinking about heading to Italy in February for a cut flower conference there and then to see our friends while I am hopefully hiking out west. In between all of this will be sheetrock and trim and painting and flooring; I wonder when I am going to get to read those books on my side table? We will keep you updated on all of the off season activities will a monthly newsletter.
Finally we want to thank all of you who have sent kind messages through out the year in response to one grousing or report of yet another obstacle we have encountered and reported to you. It is our hope that through the newsletter that you get a feel of what everyday life is like on a small farm like ours. Sure there are hard things that happen but majority of our work is calm and rewarding. The good news is that after all that has happened this season (late freeze, drought, no blueberries or turkeys, poor and late spring crops) we have roared back and have had the best season we have ever had (as far as gross income). That is a tribute to a resilient, sustainable farming system we have developed over the years, of which all of you are no small part, thank you again for your support!
Picture of the Week
Depending on how we look at it, it has been either 20 or 24 weeks since we started going to market. Twenty occupying our regular Saturday spot with two spaces but with the market going year round now Betsy started going four weeks earlier with the first few anemones and ranunculus. Either way it’s a long time without a break. Twenty weeks for the staff as well, hot, cold, wet, dry, steamy, arid, seeding, planting, weeding, cultivating, harvesting. Twenty weeks of dealing with each other and us, time for a pause. As most of you all know we take a week off, every summer, in early August timed to hit just as the early tomatoes wane and before the peppers really kick in. Now I always refer to it as the “break” and not a vacation because Betsy and I don’t really get to check out. We give the staff the week off with pay and they usually leave town. That leaves us here to water, and irrigate, keep and eye on the turkeys, pick a little bit of stuff that has to be harvested, etc. The break is in not going to markets and doing regular deliveries. We usually do a few hours of chores in the cool of the morning and then find some kind of diversion in the afternoons, eat a lot, take naps, read and other general sloth. To that end there will be no newsletter next week and we will not be at market Wednesday 8/6 and Saturday 8/9.
This break marks the transition into fall and gives us the bit of rest needed to head into this most important time of year for the farm. The ten weeks that follow the break are not only the end of our harvest season with peppers, tomatoes and the last of the summer flowers but it is the start of the next year. We are busy dismantling all of the infrastructure we put in place all season to grow and support the crops; irrigation, trellises and more. At the same time we are busy seeding and transplanting flowers for next spring, improving the soil with mineral amendments and seeding cover crops. By mid October it will all be put to bed for the winter save a few hundred feet of row for the vegetables for Thanksgiving and the turkeys wandering around in their pasture. In many ways the next growing season is decided and set in place during this period, we take it very seriously and when it’s done we then can take a “vacation” and rest assured that next year will be another good one!
Picture of the Week
Crazy Celosia heads
Well that was the largest rain event we’ve had in maybe a year or more, 3.5 inches. Just in time to help with the crops but it also helps to get the ground ready for fall planting of cover crops and next springs earliest flowers. It has been so dry that it has been impossible to get the soil probe into the ground to take soil samples much less think about turning crop residues in. The fall process here at the farm starts with taking soil tests of every planting area in August. By the time we are ready to begin preparing the fields for next year, in September, the results will have come back. We amend the fields only once every year as we are really feeding the soil microbes that in turn help release the nutrients that actually feed the crops. We are just trying to make the soil environment ideal for all of the “livestock” that live in the soil and help us farm.
What we add to the soil are minerals that get used up in the process of growing the cash crops. Every time we send a flower or head of lettuce home with you, you take some of our minerals with you so we have to replace them. We add lime (calcium and magnesium) to make sure the soil is not too acid for the little critters. We also add phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) which are major players in root, plant and fruit development. With that all set for the coming year we then can turn under the remnants of this years crops and get the soil ready for the winter. We will raise up beds or wide ridges so the soil will drain faster and warm up quicker in the late winter and early spring when we need to begin planting. After that we will seed it all down with soil holding and improving cover crops of a grain and a legume. It is hard to imagine that we need to be getting ready for next year already.
On the turkey front the two that were injured last week have been returned to general population. One we slipped back in a few days later with the younger birds and then moved back with the older birds and they all are getting along fine. Quee Queg (remember the tattooed native from Moby Dick), the more injured of the two stayed in the hospital for a week and now is in the same process of re-entry, first with the little guys and then the whole clan. We moved them to a new field so there are new things to keep everyone entertained. Did I say it was like teenagers?
Picture of the Week
some damp turkeys, Quee Queg on the far left