Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #18, 7/11/14

What’s been going on!

What was that falling from the sky yesterday?  Four weeks since the last real rain and things were getting crunchy dry.  In a determined attempt to make sure that we were able to solarize next year’s tomato field, that has been waiting for a month for a rain so we could cover it with plastic, we ran sprinklers for 48 hours to wet the soil enough to be effective.  Must be what finally brought some rain.

For solarization to be most effective the soil needs to be good and moist before covering with clear plastic otherwise there is not enough transmission of heat deep into the soil to kill the fungus and weed seeds.  As we have whole rows of tomatoes now dying from the fusarium wilt in this year’s field, it is a stark reminder of why we go to the trouble of covering a quarter acre with plastic.  After this morning that job will be done.

Definitely peak of our tomato season though with the biggest harvest day this last Monday.  Just in time for Tomato Day at the market tomorrow and for ACME’s annual tomato festival with three days of a tomato centric menu.  You can also find our tomatoes on the menus of Elaine’s on Franklin, Pazzo, GlassHalfull, Oakleaf in Pittsboro and Nana’s in Durham.  Time to wade into big plates of tomatoes as they will all too soon be slowing down and then all of a sudden gone until next year.

Picture of the Week


Sprinkler goes around while half the field is already under plastic


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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #17, 7/2/14

What’s been going on!

Last Friday I woke up in the middle of the night with the realization that this coming Friday was the 4th of July.  It completely slipped up on us.  Not so much from the “Woohoo! It’s a holiday” kind of thing but more from a small business persons perspective of how do we manage the schedule with markets on Wednesday before and Saturday right after.  Everyone’s normal patterns will be upended, restaurants will be closed some days, people going to the beach or mountains, parties going on, oh and now a hurricane will be brushing the coast and bringing rain (hopefully) here on Thursday.

The potential of some real rain is actually much welcomed as the dry conditions are holding us back from both getting the remains of the spring crops turned under and cover crops planted but we also need a good soaking of next year’s tomato field so we can get it covered with the big sheets of clear plastic to cook the fusarium wilt disease out of the soil.  We did not have a chance to solarize this year’s field and we are already losing a lot of plants to the disease especially German Johnsons, Italian Oxhearts and Kellogg’s Breakfast.

Crops don’t know about holidays so we roll on their needs.  Fortunately after this week’s mow down of the last of the spring crops it is all about picking tomatoes and flowers and keeping the rest watered and growing well.  Tomato picking is a Monday and Thursday morning job and believe it or not this may well be the peak week, already.  There is already a thousand pounds in the packing shed from Mondays harvest and maybe as many coming Thursday.  We will act a bit like Friday is a holiday, at least the tomatoes will be in the house and we will take a relaxed approach to getting ready for Saturday market, see you there.

Picture of the Week


Beautiful Lisianthus flanked by soon to be ready Celosia

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #13, 6/15/11

What’s been going on?

So you all may remember our troubles with Fusarium Wilt in the heirloom tomatoes, it slowly kills the plants and severely reduces production. It is a problem we never experienced until about six years ago and then it didn’t become fully apparent how severe it was until about three years ago. Several solutions are possible and like most good sustainable ag approaches, it takes multiple tools to do it right, no silver bullets here.

The first tool is resistant varieties, easy enough with the hybrid tomatoes most of which are bred with resistance to the wilt but we don’t grow many. So we have been saving seed from our past crops, from the plants that seem to be fighting the disease the best, with the hope that we can slowly build resistance to it. Second tool is grafting the variety we want onto a rootstock that is resistant to the soil borne disease, just like fruit trees are done. Last year we attempted to do it but didn’t get our timing right, this year we contracted with someone to do it for us for the two most disease prone varieties and they failed too.

The third technique is to solarize the soil which will kill or greatly reduce the amount of the fungus in the soil and it has been shown to be very effective. Solarization is covering the moist soil with clear plastic and heating it up to as high as 140 degrees. It needs to be done in the 6-8 hottest weeks of the summer. We have designed the Big Top rotation to have a rest year (without cash crops) to really build up the soil with cover crops, so we do have a window in which we can solarize.

With that in mind, covering a quarter of an acre is a lot of plastic! We needed to put some new plastic on one set of the Big Tops so last fall we did just that and reserved the old plastic to use for the solarization. Yesterday I turned under the remains of the huge winter cover crop and the soil was nice and moist from the two inches of rain we received on Friday night, perfect! We pulled the plastic covers over and buried the edges. Now we just have to wait and hope it does the job. Next year will be the test as the tomatoes will be in that section again. Patience my friend, patience.

Picture of the Week

Let’s hope this works

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7/1/09 Vol. 6 #15

We have made it to July and the heart of tomato season is upon us.  We pick tomatoes twice a week, slowly going up and down the rows hunched over coaxing the now knee height fruit from the vines that are currently nearing six feet tall.  Both the very early rows in the little sliding tunnels and the main planting in the Big Tops are all giving us fruit from the nineteen varieties we have this year.  But not all is well in tomato land, we have a silent thief which will ultimately steal many of the heirloom varieties we all love.  It has been four years since we had tomatoes in this Big Top location and we had forgotten that the same thief visited us then as well, but that year we thought it was an aberration, never having had this kind of problem before.

Fusarium Wilt is the culprit and there is nothing we can do about it, at least for this year.  It is a soil borne fungus that can live in the soil for years and attacks only tomatoes.  Most of the hybrid tomatoes are bred for resistance to it and if you have looked for tomatoes in a seed catalog and seen abbreviations next to a variety description like V, F, N the F is for fusarium resistance.  The heirlooms are generally not resistant to it but some are or partly are and that is what we are seeing in the field this year.  The yellowing and wilting doesn’t become apparent until hot weather arrives so if there is a silver lining, it is that the plants grew large and set some fruit before it showed up.  The bad news is we will have a very short season for some varieties.

The most affected are the high acid yellow Azoychka and the huge, fruity, red and yellow Striped Germans.  Next are the green when ripe Aunt Ruby’s German Green and the Green Zebras, they won’t give us much fruit at all.  Showing signs but still producing fine are the pink German Johnsons and the beautiful yellow Kellogg’s Breakfast.  Fortunately our favorite, the Cherokee Purple, appears to be resistant.  All of the red varieties are hybrids and mostly look great except for the Italian Oxhearts that we introduced here three years ago.  So enjoy them while we can, there will be tomatoes all season long but less variety as time goes on as the different kinds succumb to the thief.

Picture of the Week
Resistant healthy hybrids on either side of the yellowing German Johnsons

7/8/09 Vol. 6 #16

What glorious weather for July (except that lack of rain thing), can’t remember summer weather so delightful for such an extended period of time.  I am sure we will return to the normal steamy hot days before it’s over but we are really enjoying it for the time being.  We are into the “easy” days of summer where we have designed the program to have everything in the field done by noon and then hide out in the shade (or air conditioning) the rest of the day.

Some of this means fewer crops to manage and less planting going on but what ever is in the field now needs to be established and/or tough enough to handle the conditions.  Betsy is in the thick of Lisianthus harvest, it is a daily process of cutting truck loads of stems, taking them back to the packing shed (in the shade) and then processing them for later use.  The big job for the staff is the Monday and Thursday tomato harvest which takes all morning to complete.  The rest of the week is filled with a little harvesting of other crops, a little planting, a little trellising, a little mowing, a little weeding, a little irrigating.

Fusarium Wilt (chapter two).  I want to thank everyone who has expressed on their sorrow for our problem with this disease in the heirloom tomatoes.  It is a damn shame but it is just the kind of thing that happens in farming that you become used to and learn to adapt.  The good news is we have several things we can do about it for the future and it appears to only really be in this one area in the Big Tops field.  I have already taken the first steps this week by saving seed from plants that showed no signs of the wilt or at least a strong resistance.  The seed for the Cherokee Purples we are growing is some we saved two years ago, from plants grown in the same field.  They are showing no signs of the wilt and producing lots of great fruit.

The other two things we can do are to solarize the soil in that area by covering the bare, moist soil with clear plastic in the hottest part of the summer and basically cooking the fungus spores out of the top few inches of the soil.  That process will have to wait until year after next when we have a rest year planned for that spot.  The last thing we can do is to take advantage of the research we have done with NC State over the last few years and use grafted tomato plants.  I have mentioned this in the past and didn’t really think we needed to use this technique until now.  It is just like fruit trees where you graft what ever tomato variety you want onto a wilt resistant rootstock.  So next year we may actually have to graft some of our own plants.  There’s always something when farming.
Picture of the Week
Beautiful Lisianthus beds flanked by brilliant Celosia