Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #14, 6/9/10

What’s been going on?

The other part of the change from spring crops to summer crops is the planting of the summer cover crops. The rains of the last few weeks has made the soil a dream to prepare as the disk cuts the ground easily. Sunday I disked under the spring crop residues in the areas getting a summer soil improving crop and yesterday I spun out the cowpeas and soybeans that will fix free nitrogen and then covered them lightly. Today I will spin out the millet and sundangrass seeds on the different blocks and the job will be done, hopefully we will get a little rain in the next week and they should come racing up.

Mow, mow, mow. Some parts of the farm only get one or two mowings a year, and with all the rain recently, the grass in those areas shot up shoulder high. I spent almost five hours yesterday cutting just the very top sections of the farm and the majority of the bottom field. Much of it I had to creep along in a low gear so the mower wouldn’t bog down. Some of this mowing is just defensive so we can keep the weeds and trees at bay. The less used areas are also the hiding areas for the crop eating varmits, especially the groundhogs. The groundhogs must have really had a good year last season because there are a lot of them and they are not afraid, yet. So far this spring we have dispensed with four and there are at least two more working. The mowing will make it much easier for me to spot them now.

Now that the record short blueberry season is over the staff is getting caught up on other projects. It is major trellising season as many crops have had that growth spurt they put on when their roots really get established. Tying up tomatoes every week, the lisianthus is now over a foot tall, the peppers have gotten tall and floppy. The guys got the first set of support arms on the peppers and today we will run the lower strings to help them stand up straight against storms and to better carry a big fruit load. Weeding and cultivating new zinnias and celosia, planting more late season flowers, lots to do.

Picture of the Week

Campanula and almost dayglo Dianthus

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

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Groundhog Day

Of all the holidays, real or not, observed or not, given-a-day-off-with-pay or not; there are only two that we view as agricultural based celebrations.  Thanksgiving of course is the grand, end of the harvest season celebration.  Hopefully we have had a good growing season and the larder is full of food to carry us through the winter.  The animals are fat with summer and fall feeding either on pastures or in the woods and are ready for winter too.

Groundhog Day is the celebration of the awakening of spring.  No it’s not true spring but it is halfway through winter.  Originating among many cultures around the world, they all started getting antsy halfway through the long cold dark period and began to look for signs of when it would end.  They looked for natural signs that the earth was warming up and hibernating animals were chosen as the best predictors.  Depending where they were it was bears or badgers, in the New World it was groundhogs.

For us it does coincide with when we begin to plant the first crops out into the field.  In most winters we put out the first lettuces, fava beans and onions the first weeks of February.  Soon to follow are peas, radishes and turnips but it is not until early and mid March until it is really warm enough for serious planting.  Groundhog Day does mark the tentative beginning of spring/end of winter but you better hedge your bets.

The prognosticators are mixed in their forecasts this day.  Punxsutawney Phil says six more weeks of winter.  Sir Walter Wally (I’m sorry I’d be embarrassed to come out and look for my shadow too with that name) says it’s an early spring.  Dunkirk Dave from Dunkirk, NY did see his shadow but the forecast for six more weeks of winter was invalidated due to artificial lighting.

The National Weather Service gives both the 30 day and the 90 day forecast as below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation.  This says six more weeks of winter to me.  They also say the groundhogs are only right 39% of the time.

We don’t even begin to see groundhogs around here until April or later so as forecasters of the weather for this farm they aren’t very useful.  Looking out the window at the light rain coming down on top of the 3 inches of snow and ice left from the weekend it looks like spring is still some ways off.

So my recommendation this Groundhog Day is to celebrate making it most of the way through this cold winter with the knowledge that spring is truly on its way.  Because we have an ongoing battle with non-weather predicting groundhogs we usually mark the day in North Carolina fashion with some sort of smoked pork dish!

6/3/09 Vol. 6 #11

We finally made it to June, seemed like May lasted longer than usual for some reason.  I spent most of the morning yesterday on the tractor doing defensive mowing of the vigorously growing grasses around the edges of the field.  Defensive because the ticks are amazing this year if you have to venture into that tall grass and because the ground hogs are back and I makes it easier to see them if the grass is short.

Ground hogs are our most feared pest, more than deer.  They can and will eat entire plantings of stuff in a day, deer just nibble here and there, if they get past the electric deer fence.  We noticed last week that some lettuce had been eaten on the edges of the rows in the field and then some lettuce transplants in the flats in front of the greenhouse had been eaten too.  Finally Cov went down to trellis his own pole beans in the bottom field and some critter had wiped out the entire row and had helped themselves to the golden beets too.  Several days later we finally spied both the hilltop and the bottom culprits.  The ground hogs never seem to show up until it is warm enough in the spring, usually about now, and in the past few years we have not seen one here on the farm as they move around from den to den.  We can’t fence them out without huge logistical and maintenance headaches and they just laugh at the traps so I am now on afternoon rounds to see if I can get a shot at them.

In less than two weeks, June 14th,  we will be participating in the second Farm to Fork picnic,  put on by the Slow Food Triangle chapter and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.  The proceeds will benefit new and young farmer programs in Orange county and down at CEFS.  Last time it was great fun as chefs and farms are paired to come up with great food.  There are something like 26 restaurants participating and we are paired with Watts Grocery this time around, should be entertaining and delicious.

While the mower was on I mowed down the early spring flowers (larkspur, bachelors buttons, etc.) soon it will be summer cover crop time.  The blueberry picking rolls on with many hands on deck.  Monday we had possibly the largest crew ever with nine in the field, still didn’t put a dent in the massive crop.  The third planting of zinnias and celosia are going in the ground just as the first zinnia bloom has been spotted.  We ate our first BLT sandwiches on Monday so summer is officially here!

Picture of the Week
Beautiful Campanula and other flowers under the Big Tops

7/15/09 Vol. 6 #17

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

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

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

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

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