4/19/06 Vol. 3 #6

Betsy has a saying for when things really start to get crazy busy.  “We feel like chickens on a hot plate”.   It comes from old county fair sideshows and of course I have never witnessed such a thing but the visual image is appropriate for how we feel at this point in the season.  Part of the problem is that we are short a few “chickens” right now as Joann and Rett are only working a few mornings a week so that they can work on their own farms.  Rachel is also here just a few mornings a week until school is out, then she comes on full time.  Our newest staff, Will, starts next Monday, I hope he is a fast dancing chicken!  That means we have less than half the help we normally have at this time of year.  I can tell you that these old chickens are dancing as fast as we can.

None the less we are keeping the big balls in the air (and occasionally letting the little balls hit the ground).  The inexorable march towards getting the main planting of tomatoes in the ground moves apace.  The beds are tilled and ready.  Yesterday we pulled the plastic covers over the Big Tops so that tomorrow we can put down irrigation line, lay the landscape fabric mulch and build the 1000′ feet of trellis that will support the plants.  Next Monday or Tuesday we will plant the crop, right on schedule.  So while we are we are out of control busy the Farm Tour is this weekend too! Saturday and Sunday is the Farm Tour 1:00-5:00 each day.  Our annual opening of the doors to the general public to come see the farm.  Many of you have been on the Farm Tour before and it is a great opportunity to see many of the folks who sell and the Carrboro Market.  Now in it’s eleventh year thousands of people go on the tour and it raises thousands of dollars for the work Carolina Farm Stewardship Association does.  Sponsored by Weaver Street Market, who does an incredible amount of work to promote the tour and local agriculture, it is easy to go on the tour.  Just pick up a map at market or Weaver St. or many other local businesses and go to first farm that you want.  The best deal is to buy a button which will be your pass for as many people as you can stuff into one vehicle, for as many farms as you want.  31 farms this year so you will have to choose, it is hard to do more than 3 maybe 4 farms in a day.  In the mean time we will be mowing and picking up around the place, nothing like have hundreds of house guests all at once to make you buff up the joint!

Picture of the Week
Just about the whole top of the farm, the little sliding tunnels on the left, lettuce in the middle and the Big Tops in the back, come and see it all on the tour.
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4/26/06 Vol. 3 #7

Well we anticipated waking up to a grey and damp morning.  Basically a rain day.  We had arranged for the staff to come on Thursday instead of today, to take advantage of the weather and to try and snatch a kind of day off.  The sun was out!  Now as I continue on the clouds have rolled in and I feel more secure in our partial sloth this morning.  This is not to say we don’t have plenty to do today with market this afternoon but at least it will start slower.  After the long Farm Tour weekend and the run up to tomato planting it is good to pause for just a moment, after all it may be the last rain day for a long time!

We did have great rain on Saturday, not great for market and it limited the crowd some for the Farm Tour on Saturday afternoon but it was the best rain we have had since maybe January or even December, 1.3″ and a little more last night.  With the rain forecast for today we will be able to finally get both ponds to full pool.  I have been sweating over this for a month or more as we have been trying to increase water flow out of the creek and into the lower pond.  I knew all we needed was a good rain to give us a break from irrigating the crops so we could move that water to the upper pond.  One more good day of pumping and we will have it done!  The race has been against the season, once the leaves are fully out on the trees the creek flow diminishes as it gets hotter because those trees really start sucking moisture out of the ground.  The hotter it gets the more we have to irrigate and then there is no way to get caught up unless it starts to rain.  The good news is that the USDA and National Weather Service has changed us from an “extreme” drought to just “severe” and the forecast for us, through July, is to be on the edge of “some improvement early in the period”.  I think I will still make sure the ponds are full!

The Farm Tour was entertaining as usual.  We always have about the same numbers of folks each year now.  Because we have been on the tour all eleven years and are not as sexy as those farms with lots of animals our visitors are more predictable.  We either have our great Farmers’ Market customers coming out to see what we are up to this year or we get people interested in going into farming and want to ask specific questions about how we do it.  Both groups are fun and we enjoyed seeing all of you!  The main planting of tomatoes were tucked into the ground yesterday!  A careful choreography as there were five of us planting twenty three varieties in ten different rows.  650 plants in all.  The staff want to know my rationale for what kind goes where.  With the Big Tops there is a lot of extra water on the outside rows coming off the plastic roofs, the same result for the down hill ends of the rows.  I carefully put those varieties that need extra water on the outside rows, things like the Green Zebras or Viva Italias who suffer first from too little water.  The interior rows get the kinds that always explode with too much water, like the very sensitive Striped Germans and Sun Golds.  The new test varieties go on the ends of the rows so we can keep an eye on them as we walk by everyday.  It was supposed to only be 18 varieties in this planting but Betsy snuck in five more that we brought back from Italy last fall so I had to find room for them somewhere.  In addition to those we have three new varieties that we are hopeful for, Mule Team (a red), Lillian’s Yellow, and Dorothy’s Green.  I can taste the sandwiches now!

Picture of the Week
Striped German and Green Zebra  tomatoes tucked into their warm raised beds, protected from the wind by the crimson clover cover crop and the rain by the roof of the Big Tops

4/19/07 Vol. 4 #5

This is one of the pivotal weeks of the year, tomato week.  The whole focus is on getting ready to plant the big main crop of tomatoes and there are a lot of steps in the process.  Tomatoes are a major part of our business and we pay special attention to making sure they very happy.  Of course like everything on the farm we premeditatedly began this dance last summer when we took soil tests to make sure the tomatoes would have just the right amounts of mineral nutrients, especially lime and potassium which they need more of than any other crops.  Then in September we work those minerals into the soil and raise up the beds we will plant the tomatoes into and seed a cover crop of clover and oats.  This cover crop will hold the soil in place all winter, take up any extra nitrogen that may still be in the ground from previous crops and grow more organic matter to further enrich the soil for the coming tomatoes.  A month ago we tilled the tops of those beds, turning that cover crop in so it could begin to decompose and release its good nutrients for the soon to be planted small tomato plants.  Saturday I tilled those beds again, revealing a beautiful rich soil but we are far from ready to plant.  Yesterday after patiently waiting for the incessant winds of Monday and Tuesday to stop we started early (hence the reason for a late newsletter) in calm conditions and pulled the huge 30′ by 100′ sheets of plastic over the Big Tops, under which the tomatoes will grow.  New crew this year as the only people who have ever helped us do this job in the previous three years were Rett and Joann, it went flawlessly.  Under the shelter of the big plastic roofs, the beds can now be covered with the woven landscape fabric we use to keep the weeds down and warm the soil a bit.  A drip irrigation line runs under the fabric because from here on we have to give the tomatoes all the water they will need.  Finally 90 metal posts are driven into the ten beds of this planting and 1000′ of fencing that we use for trellis to support the plants will be hung from them.  By the end of today all will be ready to plant.  The hundreds of little seedlings are waiting in the cold frames, getting toughened up by the breezes and full sun.  Monday they will all be tucked into that beautiful soil, ready to grow up those trellises and give us lots of tasty fruit!

Saturday and Sunday is the Farm Tour, 1:00-5:00 each day.  Our annual opening of the doors to the general public to come see the farm.  Many of you have been on the Farm Tour before and it is a great opportunity to see many of the folks who sell and the Carrboro Market.  Now in it’s twelfth year, thousands of people go on the tour and it raises thousands of dollars for the work Carolina Farm Stewardship Association does.  Sponsored by Weaver Street Market, who does an incredible amount of work to promote the tour and local agriculture, it is easy to go on the tour.  Just pick up a map at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market or Weaver St. Market or many other local businesses and go to first farm that you want to see.  The best deal is to buy a button ($30) which will be your pass for as many people as you can stuff into one vehicle, for as many farms as you want.  34 farms this year so you will have to choose, it is hard to do more than 3 maybe 4 farms in a day.  In the mean time we will be mowing and picking up around the place, nothing like have hundreds of house guests all at once to make you buff up the joint!  Come on out and see what we have been up to, the weather looks to be perfect!

Picture of the Week
Putting the final touches on the tomato trellis under the roof on a gray day.

4/26/07 Vol. 4 #6

Farm tour weekend, wow, always enjoyable and always long days.  We had our usual modest sized crowds which makes it much easier for us to visit with everyone and answer their specific questions.  Some of the farms, especially those with animals, have told me that they had more than 1000 visitors!  There is no way we could deal with numbers like that and enjoy it as much as we do.  It was great to see everybody especially our customers from market, we also get quite a few people who are farming or are seriously looking into it and they ask really good questions about why we do things in certain ways.  One of the highlights was the three van loads of farmers and extension agents who drove all the way up form Louisiana for the tour!

With the hubbub of the farm tour behind us we now turn to the next big projects on the list.  Yesterday we covered the four bays of the Big Tops, over the flowers, moving quickly before the winds came up.  We can now begin the last cultivation and weeding in those crops before we have to start trellising them in the next few weeks.  There are only a few big “hurdles” we must clear each year so we can move on with certain crops and this is one of them.  They punctuate the season which is dominated by little steps each day on the way to the end of the year.  Sliding the tunnels, preparing for planting tomatoes, covering the Big Tops, preparing for planting peppers; those are the ones that always loom large in my mind, three down, one to go.  The big planting of tomatoes went in Monday and they are very happy with this warm weather.  “Only” seventeen varieties in this planting including some new large sauce types from Italy and a cherry from Italy which is one of the Slow Food Presidia, special crops or foods that have been designated as such to help save them.  Here is a link to more information about Slow Food’s efforts to save endangered foods.  Pea trellis went up yesterday, the sugar snap peas have grown out of the freeze damage of a few weeks ago and are wanting to climb.  More flowers and vegetables have been planted and now we settle in on the chores of cultivating, trellising and keeping them watered.

Well many of you have been asking about the turkeys and if we will be raising them this year.  We normally would have the little poults here by now but have been waiting to receive word about the status of the new processing plant.  I finally talked with them on Tuesday and while they are making good progress on building it they could not assure me that it would be ready for Thanksgiving.  So the decision has been made for us.  No turkeys this year.  After two years of the stress of not knowing if there would be a place to have them processed we feel it is best to wait until we know for sure there will be a facility.  This is one of the big differences with turkeys as the heritage types, like the Bourbon Reds that we raise, take a full six months to grow so we need to be assured of the outcome far in advance.  With chickens they only take a little over two months to raise and are easier to get the chicks for, so those farmers producing them can still wait and have several flocks this year when the plant is ready to go.  Sadly no excellent turkey for Thanksgiving or stories of Mr. Tasty as the season unfolds.

Picture of the Week
Just covered Big Tops and newly trellised Sugar Snap Peas

5/17/07 Vol. 4 #9

Some weeks are all nose to the grindstone and then there are periods when we raise our heads up and let the outside world in.  This next week is one of those times.  Yesterday day we are hosted 21 agricultural extension agents from Florida.  Florida is a huge agricultural state but in the “old school”, large scale, let’s ship it around the world way.  This group is up here for four days to see, feel and touch our thriving local food system.  While all parts of the country are improving as to the numbers of small farms, farmers markets and the infrastructure that supports them, ours here in central North Carolina is really bustling.  Not that we don’t have holes in the system that need to be addressed like the poultry processing problem, easier supply of some inputs, and other things; we do have large numbers of viable farms, great markets and strong groups working on making it all happen.  This is the second group this spring to come to the area to see how we do it, you might remember the three van loads of agents and farmers from Louisiana that came for the Farm Tour.  So if you see a large group moving through market on Saturday you all will know who it is and be proud of all the work we all have done and are doing for local food here in North Carolina.

The second round of events starts next Tuesday when Carlo Petrini the founder of the Slow Food movement arrives in the area for two days of farm tours, dinners and speeches.  You all know of our involvement in Slow Food, having twice gone to Italy for the Terra Madre conference and subsequently working with the local chapter on various projects.  Touring the country to promote his new book Slow Food Nation ,  Carlo is coming to launch the lecture series for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS).  CEFS is the largest research farm in the country doing work on sustainable and organic farming systems and it is here in North Carolina!  Betsy and I sit on the Friends of CEFS Board of Advisors and during a meeting last winter we suggested having Carlo Petrini come and speak, never thinking it would happen this quickly.  Carlo Petrini is one of the most influential people in Italy and in the world of artisanal food production and local food systems their is no larger figure.  Information about his visit can be viewed here .  There are three public events that we are involved in.  The first is a huge (sold out) picnic being held at Chapel Hill Creamery on Tuesday night where farmers and chefs have been paired to showcase local foods that are in season.   We are working with our friend Sara Foster of Foster’s Market in Durham.  Betsy is donating all the flowers for this event as well and for the second event on Wednesday evening in Raleigh.  A reception for members of Friends of CEFS with Carlo Petrini will be held just before his lecture at 7:00 p.m. which is free and open to the public, this will culminate his visit to the area.  Tuesday and Wednesday before these events Carlo and others from the national Slow Food office will be touring farms in the central NC, possibly including ours, just be assured that Betsy has been out on the mower!

Picture of the Week
Tender Baby Swiss Chard

4/16/08 Vol. 5 #5

Welcome to last frost/freeze day!  28 degrees this morning and by the look of the forecast this should be the last night below freezing this spring (don’t borrow money based on this prediction).  In Chapel Hill most folks use April 15th (April 11th is the official date at the RDU airport) as the average last frost date but out here along the Haw river we are always three to five degrees colder and I use April 21st as our safe date. We’ve had too many close calls in the early years, sleepless nights worrying about tender plants.  Polar Cap Farms we call it in the spring, our staff always complains about how much colder it is out here in the mornings as compared to their houses in town.  Now it’s safe to plant the tomatoes outdoors.  It’s not that we are risk averse, hell we’re farmers after all, but we just don’t roll the dice the way we used to in the past.  I guess it’s the benefit of having weathered so many growing seasons, might as well not fight it and just wait until it’s right for the tomatoes needs, not our calendars.

The construction of the Big Tops is going well.  We did get all the legs screwed into the ground last week except a dozen.  Monday we rented the BIG jackhammer and busted up the parts of the planet that stood in the way.  Having done this before, I was not looking forward to it but it actually went well and only took a morning to do.  This years staff, Cov and Dan, had never had the pleasure of running such a beast so after I worked the first six holes I turned the last six over to them.  They started the morning in their early 30’s and ended it in their late 30’s.  So now the legs and anchors are all in and most of the attendant braces.  By the end of today the frame should all be finished and maybe we can pull the plastic over by the end of the week.  Right on schedule to get the tomatoes planted early next week, whew!  Late last week we turned our attentions to getting caught up on planting and managed to get almost all the backed up plants into the ground.  We even got a little rain to help water them in but I am afraid I will have to get the irrigation set up this week too.  Why does it happen all at the same time?

Farm Tour this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, 1:00-6:00 each day (who added an additional hour?).  Our annual opening of the doors to the general public to come see the farm.  Many of you have been on the Farm Tour before and it is a great opportunity to see many of the folks who sell at the Carrboro Market.  Now in it’s thirteenth year, thousands of people go on the tour and it raises thousands of dollars for the work Carolina Farm Stewardship Association does.  Sponsored by Weaver Street Market, who does an incredible amount of work to promote the tour and local agriculture, it is easy to go on the tour.  Just pick up a map at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market or Weaver St. Market or many other local businesses and go to first farm that you want to see.  The best deal is to buy a button ($30) which will be your pass for as many people as you can stuff into one vehicle, for as many farms as you want.  35 farms this year so you will have to choose, it is hard to do more than 3 maybe 4 farms in a day.  In the mean time we will be mowing and picking up around the place, nothing like have hundreds of house guests all at once to make you buff up the joint!  Come on out and see what we have been up to, the weather looks to be a bit mixed but it goes on rain or shine!

Picture of the Week
As they say, this is a “file” photo from the last time but you get the idea

4/23/08 Vol. 5 #6

The Farm Tour weekend went beautifully but not without some excitement!  Saturday was it’s usual long day, up before 5:00 a.m. to go to market and then rushing home to throw the gates open for the visitors.  The afternoon was warm but pleasant and it was great to have time to visit with everyone.  Sunday was cooler and overcast to start but the folks came on anyway.  About 4:00 p.m. the sky looked very threatening and Betsy reported the radar showed a nasty line of storms coming at us.  Sure enough it pounded down for about a half an hour and then continued to rain for another half an hour or so.  Betsy and I were pinned down in the transplant greenhouse with some folks and our worst nightmare began, HAIL.  For about five minutes pea sized hail and larger came down.  I scampered out, as the lightning flashed, and rolled down the cold frame cover over the hundreds of tomato transplants and protected them.  Now we waited helplessly as we knew the potential damage that could be happening, a quarter acre of lettuce flashed through my mind, all of Betsy’s early season flowers.  In the end all looked not too worse for wear.  The lettuce does have some holes in the leaves from the hail stones but everything else looks fine.  Produce with a story Betsy says.

In our early years, 1984 or ’85, we had a tremendous storm come through in May.  All of our neighbors crops were hit hard.  Corn was blown down, tomatoes stripped of all their leaves, greens turned to paste by the hail.  We were in the blackberry business then and the new canes were growing vigorously at that time of year.  Even though they were up to five feet tall, they were still tender like an asparagus stalk.  The hail stones were big and hit with such force that many canes were broken off and others looked like we had beaten them with sticks.  Every one that was broken then sent out side shoots to compensate and those side shoots could grow up to 30 feet in a season!  All summer we worked to prune and manage those two acres of blackberries onto the trellises, trying to make a frame work that would make the next years harvest as easy as possible.  In the end it all turned out fine but the memory of that hail still haunts us to this day.

Busy week as we are still trying to catch up from Big Top construction.  The tomato Big Tops are done and covered!  This morning we have to cover two more bays, one for Betsy’s lisianthus and the other where NC State is planting their research tomatoes, tomorrow!  This afternoon the staff will be building the 1200 feet of trellis to hold up all the tomatoes.  Hopefully by tomorrow we can begin to tuck all the tomato plants into there respective beds.  The rains and warm temperatures really made things jump this week.  We did set up irrigation in the spring vegetables and the lettuce last week as they really needed it but the rains have really brought everything else around.  We moved up the thousands of pepper seedlings yesterday, a perfect overcast day to do it as it reduces the stress to the little plants as they work to send out roots into the new soil surrounding them.

Picture of the Week
Just covered Big Tops with the ladder still in place

4/22/09 Vol. 6 #5

It must be tour season as we have had 3 different college classes over the last two weeks.  Now we get a lot of tourists over the course of the season but this many is unusual even for us.  The first group was the greenhouse vegetable production class from NC State.  We were the last stop for the day and they had seen traditional heated greenhouses, and unheated tunnels but as usual when they got here they had to rewire the brain because we look like nothing they have ever seen before.  First we have the sliding unheated tunnels with a 12 year crop rotation to make sure we maintain excellent soil health.  Then we walk by the passive solar transplant greenhouse with no additional fossil fuel generated heat, certainly not the standard as taught at the university.  Finally we talk about the Big Tops with no side or end walls just the roofs to keep things dry, looks like a greenhouse structure but?…

The second class was from the Sustainable Farming Program at Central Carolina Community College where many of the things we do here have been replicated like the passive solar greenhouse and another take on the sliding tunnel.  This days subject was tomato and pepper production and as we have two tunnels with beautiful tomato plants growing and a greenhouse full of tomato and pepper transplants they are able to see the whole show, short of fruit to eat.  The final group was the Organic Crop production class also from NCSU, the idea that they have such a class is somewhat amazing and an indicator of how far we have come.  Again we are the last stop but this time they have been to several similar operations and it is harder to get their attention with talk of cover crops, rotations and beneficial insect habitats but I try.

Which leads to this weekend, the 14th annual Spring Farm Tour.  Saturday and Sunday, 1:00-6:00 each day.  Our annual opening of the doors to the general public to come see the farm.  Many of you have been on the Farm Tour before and it is a great opportunity to see many of the folks who sell at the Carrboro Market.  Thousands of people go on the tour and it raises thousands of dollars for the work Carolina Farm Stewardship Association does.  Sponsored by Weaver Street Market, who does an incredible amount of work to promote the tour and local agriculture, it is easy to go on the tour.  Just pick up a map at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market or Weaver St. Market or many other local businesses and go to first farm that you want to see (we are #33 on this years map).  The best deal is to buy a button ($25) which will be your pass for as many people as you can stuff into one vehicle, for as many farms as you want.  40 farms this year so you will have to choose, it is hard to do more than 3 maybe 4 farms in a day.  In the mean time we have been mowing and picking up around the place and it’s looking pretty shiny around here, nothing like having hundreds of house guests all at once to make you buff up the joint!  Come on out and see what we have been up to, the weather looks to be warm and beautiful!

Picture of the Week
A beautiful spring morning, the Lettuce field and the Big Tops all covered

4/29/09 Vol. 6 #6

We survived the Farm Tour but just barely, it was damn hot!  We had good and interesting tourees as always and despite the heat they seemed to enjoy them themselves and the farm.  We spent so much time late last week getting irrigation set up that we didn’t get tomatoes planted until Monday of this week but the big planting is now in the ground.  “Only” fifteen varieties this year, sometimes you just have to go back to your base and do what you do best, plus it gives us a few more plants of all the kinds we all love best.  Plenty of Cherokee Purples, Kellogg’s Breakfast, Aunt Ruby’s German Green and more, can’t wait.  With this dive straight into summer we are now running hard to get things planted and keep up with what has been in the ground and waiting for some heat to really start to grow, weeds included.

Just wanted to let you all know about a meeting you might be interested in next Monday the 4th.  For some years now we, at the Carrboro Farmers’ market, have been talking about forming our own “Friends” organization like many markets around the country, to help support the market and work on community issues around sustainable agriculture. The Friends of The Carrboro Farmer’s Market is being developed as a tax exempt organization to undertake charitable and educational activities related to agricultural issues.  We want to hear your ideas of what you would like to see from a Friends organization and explore opportunities for you to be involved in its formative stages and future projects. Come join us for fun evening and help build greater support for sustainable agriculture!  The meeting is going to be held at the Carrboro Town Hall (where market is held) at 7:30 p.m.  This meeting is open to all, so if you have some ideas you’d like to share, please come and bring a friend. If you’re interested in attending , please email info@carrborofarmersmarket.com

On another farm front, as you know we are very proud of the people who have worked for us and especially the ones who have gone on to start their own farms.  You may also know that we have helped several get started by letting them use part of our land to grow their first crops.  We are pleased to announce yet another farm start up with Cov’s debut at the Wednesday Farmers’ Market last week.  He is using a half an acre in our bottom field and is producing some beautiful stuff down there.  Look for him in the other shelter on Wednesdays.

Picture of the Week
Cov at his first market, farm name yet to be determined