Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #24, 8/25/10

What’s been going on?

And just like that the magic of mid August occurs. New transplants to the area always ask “So how long does the heat last?” My standard answer is that it can be in the 90’s and bad from beginning of June until mid September but… in mid August the nights do begin to get cooler and the days get noticeably shorter. I think that it is just the little bit of optimism that is sparked when it is a few degrees cooler and heading in the right direction, towards fall.

The battle with the weeds, particularly the crab grass, wears on. Some years, when the rains come just at the right time, the crab grass gets a foot hold and really takes over. We have been through the peppers several times pulling it out of the rows and the paths get mowed every week to keep it at bay. Even under the Big Tops, where you would think a lack of water would slow it down, it will get up to knee height before you know it. It is like the kudzu of the grass world, seems to grow a foot overnight. In fact the grasses are by far the worst of all the weeds. The broad leaved weeds are much easier to control and manage, they grow from the top of the plant. Grasses are far more cunning. Their new growth comes from down in the stem and when small, from under the soil surface making them much harder to kill with an easy cultivation. Only a few weeks left in the battle for this season, the troops are getting weary.

Don’t forget the Terra Madre delegate Fish Fry fundraiser on Saturday at Johnny’s in Carrboro, starts at 6:00, runs until the fish runs out. Anna, Sarah and Sabrina have been working hard to prepare for this tasty event. Another event on the horizon is our first ever farm dinner with Bret Jennings at Elaine’s on Franklin on Wed. Sept. 8th. It will focus on peppers, especially chiles. Bret has spent a lot of time in Mexico over the years and does great things with peppers. The menu is looking really mouth watering.

Picture of the Week

The crab grass is trying to win and it has stunted the peppers some but looks like there are a few red bells

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #23, 8/18/10

What’s been going on?

I was reading somewhere the other day the thoughts of one of our fellow farmers talking about having SAD (Seasonally Affective Disorder) but in this case the summer variety. As you probably know SAD is a combination of too little daylight and I think melatonin production that leads to depression in the short days of winter. In our cases (I say collectively for other farmers as well) this long day version is from too much daylight resulting in too much melanin and heat! We are all dragging around waiting for this summer to be over, looking for signs of true cool weather to come. A little respite this week, only in the low 90’s! Shouldn’t complain, talked to some farming friends in Texas yesterday who have been running in the 100’s for weeks. They are thinking about a summer house in Minnesota for next August and just not growing anything during that time.

So we march on thinking about fall and other pursuits. One thing for us to look forward to is our return to Italy and the fourth Slow Food Terra Madre conference. We will be one of the few folks who will have been to all four meetings and we never expected that to happen. We are excited this year to be part of a small delegation from the Triangle that includes Sarah Blacklin, the Carrboro Farmers’ Market manager, Sabrina Lopez who is wrangling the market’s EBT and Truck Bucks token program and Anna Child who wears several hats including a coordinator for the Core Sound community supported fish project.

The Terra Madre meeting is a gathering of farmers, food artisans, chefs and educators from over 150 countries and is a unique opportunity to interact with other like minds from around the world. The organization pays for all of the participants housing, food and transportation costs in Italy. The expense is getting there. There are several fund raisers being held to help Sarah, Sabrina and Anna to pay for their plane tickets including a fish fry with Core Sound seafood on August 28th at Johnny’s store in Carrboro. If you are interested you can also donate online at the Triangle Slow Food website. Betsy and I feel that exposure to this world event can be an illuminating experience for anyone who attends, so we want to make sure these ladies are able to go. Betsy and I are paying our own way but they could really use some help to offset the cost.

Picture of the Week

The opening ceremonies from Terra Madre 2008, Carlo Petrini speaking

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #19, 7/14/10

What’s been going on?

Well we are extremely glad that the extreme heat wave has broken and for the rains we have gotten. Things were getting really crispy out there, plants and people. Our creek ran dry ten days ago and the pumping pond is down to the point that I will need to begin running water into it out of the upper pond (mostly recovered from the mysterious self drain) or the well. These rains will give me a few days respite and time to get the alternatives hooked up. 102 degrees last Wednesday at market was a bit much too!

Last Thursdays Farm Dinner at Foster’s Market went very well and the wide ranging group, including lots of kids, seemed amazed at all the different kinds of tomatoes. This week is the Carrboro Farmer’s Markets Annual Tomato Day, something like the 15th one. This years theme is about the origin of the tomato from South America with three dishes representing the tomato as it moved around the western hemisphere. There will also be a display of most of the different tomatoes available at market, many of the vendors will be sampling their fruits, music and kids stuff too. Dia del Tomate, be there!

Of course in classic Peregrine Farm style, we will have very few tomatoes to present beyond our wonderful reds as the peak of heirloom production has passed and is dropping precipitously. Most of the restaurants we supply will not be getting heirloom tomatoes this week, just not enough to fill their needs. Otherwise it has been a normal mid summer week, a little mowing, some work in the peppers and the first plantings for fall. This week we put in the Brussels Sprouts and Celery for Thanksgiving and the first of the late summer lettuce to be harvested in late August.

Picture of the Week

Just planted Brussels Sprouts and Celery for Thanksgiving

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #17, 6/30/10

What’s been going on?

Who would have ever thought we would be looking forward to July in hopes of escaping a heat wave? With the current forecast, the 4th Of July will be cooler than just about any day we had in June! We did finally get a little rain last night so at least for a day or so I won’t have to irrigate. We had really gotten into that daily routine of go out early, turn on the irrigation, change zones every three hours, check for leaks, back wash the filters, etc, etc. Maybe July will give us another completely different picture, it would follow with how this season had unfolded so far.

Just in time for the holiday weekend we are in nearly full tomato splendor. It took the guys all morning on Monday to pick their way through the plantings. So far it looks like this will be a fair tomato season, better than last year but not as good as some years past. We do have some fusarium wilt in this years field too, which is mostly effecting the yellow varieties, but it is not as bad or wide spread as last year. With the arrival of true tomato season also comes the sometimes overwhelming demand for Americans favorite fruit, especially from the restaurants that want to have a fresh tomato plate on the menu.

Over the years we have arrived at a careful balance of varieties and how much of each to grow, it is never enough and people always say “why don’t you grow more?” There are a number of reasons we can’t and don’t produce more tomatoes. The obvious one these days is because we have a really devastating foliar disease that will prematurely kill the plants (different from the soil borne fusarium wilt disease), we grow all our tomatoes under cover (the Big Tops and the little tunnels) to keep the leaves dry and slow the disease down. We only have so much field space under cover and don’t want to or have space to put up more Big Tops.

The real reason in my mind is that we have developed a careful balance on the farm of crops, inputs and labor that make this operation sustainable and our quality of life better. If we planted many more tomatoes it would throw that balance off. Tomatoes not only take up a lot of room but they take a lot of labor. We would spend so much time in managing the tomato crop that we wouldn’t be able to properly take care of the rest of the place. Too many eggs in a basket you know. So now we will just have to do the careful dance of trying to make sure everyone gets the tomatoes they want and hopefully not leave anyone lusting after forbidden fruit.

Picture of the Week

The tractor headed to the shop with a broken steering arm

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #16, 6/23/10

What’s been going on?

So what else is there to talk about other than the heat!!!! We are looking at the hottest June on record unless some wild cold front blows in next week. Luckily we are at that point in the season where there is not a lot to do as far as planting, or greenhouse covering or other hot jobs. It can really be strategic early morning harvesting or weeding and watering and then slip back into the shade or the house. It is a little hard on the staff because they are not getting as many hours in as they would like but then their quality of life is probably better for it. So far the heat has not affected any of the crops, just the attitude of the farmers. It might sunscald some tomatoes in the little tunnels if it keeps up but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Tourist season has begun at Peregrine Farm National Park. Last week we hosted the summer interns from the Center for Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro. Folks from all over the country and Uruguay here to learn about sustainable ag. Only one of them really thought they might want to be a farmer, the rest were interested in some kind of work in agriculture or “food systems”. I find it encouraging and interesting that they are now studying food systems in college as just a few years ago it was a new concept and phrase in the farming community. Maybe change is upon us.

Betsy also met and toured with an Afghani woman who was here to see small farms and marketing examples to take back to Afghanistan. She works with mostly women growing vegetables on small farms near Kandahar and selling to all the foreign workers there as well as the local population. Like politics, sometimes all marketing is local, you have to work with the situation at hand.

The new turkeys are, so far, the healthiest batch we have ever gotten. After a week they are all happy and growing like crazy, haven’t lost a one. The older Bourbon Reds, now ten weeks old, seem to have hit their stride and are now running around one of Betsy’s “recreational” flower beds, waiting for the first batch of Zinnias to be finished so we can move them into their first real production field to eat bugs and spread manure for us. As long as they have shade and water they handle the heat better than the humans.

Picture of the Week

Brilliant Celosias

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #5, 4/7/10

What’s been going on?

There is no other way to say it, this hot weather combined with the pollen storm of the century sucks! The pollen part is just amazing to us as we don’t suffer from allergies but we never can remember one as heavy as this or as early, we do feel for those who are suffering from it though. The heat is just too much, too early. We finally had to give in and set up irrigation in the lettuces and spring vegetables on Monday to try and reduce the stress on those tender crops.

Heat this early in the spring greens season is not too detrimental as they are small and with enough water will just grow faster. If we get this kind of heat in a month then that will be more devastating. When these crops near maturity and get stressed they turn tough and bitter and may even go to seed prematurely as a defense mechanism. That means no lettuce or other greens for everyone. Let’s hope this is an aberration and when we go back down to the 70’s this weekend, it will be for a nice extended period. After all April and May are possibly the two best months of the year here, I would hate to lose them.

There are a lot of important dates coming up but one issue that is time sensitive that we would like for you all to know about is the impending vote on food safety legislation in the Senate. As a member of the North Carolina Fresh Produce Safety Task Force organized by the NC Farm Bureau, we have been learning about and commenting on proposed legislation coming out of congress for several years now. The Senate is about to take up S510, sponsored by Senator Burr. Like many things is it is a complicated response to the contaminated food scares of the past few years.

While we all want healthy safe food, this legislation, written by the FDA with the help of the giant scale conventional California growers, will put many small scale, local producers out of business. The inspections, paperwork, and non-science based approaches to reducing animal pathogens will definitely hurt organic and sustainable growers. Our friends at Carolina Farm Stewardship Association have put together a good webpage with the information you need to act on this legislation. Please check it out and call your senators today!

Picture of the Week

micro sprinklers in the lettuce field trying to keep it all cool

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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!?

6/2/04 Vol. 1 #12

Well we have made it to June and now it gets cooler?  This is about the time when I start dreading the heat and the whole summer of it to come.  When Betsy and I moved back here from Utah (we went to college there) I thought being raised mostly in the South that I would get used to the heat and humidity again.  Now 24 years later I still suffer but have learned to arrange my days to avoid it the best that I can.  This week looks as if I won’t even have to practice my avoidance techniques!

We are still in the throws of massive blueberry picking and they look as good as any crop we have ever had, I expect this week to be the peak and then they will peter off over the next two weeks.  Betsy and I are trying to get other work done around the place while the staff picks berries.  This is truly the change of seasons from cool season crops to warm, so there are new crops to weed and trellis and old ones to take out to make room for something else.  Yesterday I was cultivating some of the flowers including sunflowers, celosias and the second planting of zinnias while Betsy was doing a last hand weeding pass through the first zinnia planting which is showing color on the buds!  I was also tying up tomatoes which look fabulous under the new roofs.  Lots of fruit set and very healthy.  Mowing, irrigating, turkey chores, deliveries to our wholesale accounts, general life, we can barely keep it all together until the blueberry season is over and we can focus the staff back onto regular farm work.  My mother used to say “life is so daily”.

Back in April sometime I mentioned that I was on the Board of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) and the kind of work that this non-profit is involved in.  As I was preparing to send in our annual donation check I was reminded by our executive director that we have a matching grant underway from the Lawson Valentine Fund.  I would encourage you as a supporter of local food and farms to consider making a donation to help in the important work that SSAWG does.  Our farm is the kind of operation that SSAWG is working to create all across the South, we have gotten lots of inspiration and ideas for our operation over the years from this group and we think that it is the best of the organizations that we work with.  If you are interested in donating to SSAWG I would be more than happy to discuss it with you,  I do have information packets that I will have at market and of course there is the website

Picture of the Week
A farewell to cool season flowers.  Larkspur so incredible that Betsy couldn’t even begin to harvest it all

7/7/04 Vol. 1 #17

Whew!  The heat’s on now, it’s usually either feast or famine, we could live in a climate like California where the weather is constant and predictable but where would the challenge be?  I am sometimes surprised by the folks who comment to me about how we seem to have one problem after another or as my sister described the newsletter “the first part is about how hard they work and the second is about the market”.  The newsletter is a stream of consciousness (or unconscious as I do it way too early in the morning) about our life here on the farm.  Our intent is for you to get a snapshot of how a small farm works and why we choose to do this as a living.  With less than one percent of the population being farmers these days it makes it harder for those of you who are not on the land to get a feel for what it takes to produce crops week in and week out.  We don’t want you to think that what we do is all work and no joy, there is nothing else we would rather do for a living (besides the fact that we are unemployable in the outside world at this point!).  In fact there are many times when we look at each other as it simultaneously occurs to us that this is what we actually do for a living!

It is different for farmers because we live where we work and our work is part of everything we see and do.  We could be cabinet makers and have a shop at home but at night you would close the doors and go to the house.  We can’t close the doors because our shop is all around us.  The challenge is what makes it interesting for us, my obsession is in managing the whole system in an elegant way so that, with the least effort possible, we mimic the ecosystem around us, as much as we can, while producing great stuff.  Betsy’s is in the beauty of the plants themselves, she is a plant junky, she wants to see how they grow and what they will produce.  Our real goal is the highest quality of life possible.  Sure at this time of year the work is brutally constant but there are still many rewards like the sunrise this morning, or the sight of the turkeys jogging over to see us or the fun we have with the people who work for us.  Six months off isn’t too bad either!

The second batch of turkeys is looking good and growing fast, and the “big boys” are now nine weeks old.  We did find one this week that had hurt its leg somehow and is in the “hospital ward” eating all of the melon and cull peaches it wants, this is our version of “peel me a grape”.  We may put him back in with the rest today.  The summer cover crops went in this week as well.  When the spring crops come out we follow them with summer soil improving crops like soybeans and millet.  Just like the winter “green manure” crops that we grow we prefer to grow our organic matter and fertilizer in place than spend all of that time and energy hauling it in.  We are planting the last flowers for this year and actually seeding, in the greenhouse, flowers for next spring!

Picture of the Week
The turkeys grazing in Betsy’s recreational gardens

7/14/04 Vol. 1 #18

I’d like to report that there has been lots of laughter, gaiety and ha cha cha going on here at the farm but mostly we have been hiding out from the heat, OK some laughter.  This is really the time of year we have been in training for, by having the crops all trellised, weeded and irrigation lines in place we can concentrate in the mornings on getting things harvested and then get the hell out of the field by noon.  The staff only works in the mornings because I think that it is inefficient and too brutal to have them out in the field during the heat of the day, they do work Wednesday and Friday afternoons but that has to do with getting ready for markets.  The afternoons we reserve for in the shade or indoors chores.  Betsy is usually down at the packing shed (which is deep in the woods) under a ceiling fan stripping and bunching flowers and I am either delivering, at Wednesday market or trying to get some kind of paper work done.  Very late in the day, actually early evening, we slink back out, taking advantage of the lengthening shadows and nick away at one thing or another, Betsy will cut flowers as they are dry now and I will get on the tractor or work on some other project.  We have farming friends in Alabama who just give up and take July and August off and don’t even try to grow anything.  Further south in Florida friends there have a reverse season where their peak production is February and March and their “winter” are the summer months.  With global warming I am beginning to think about summers off!

The usual chores this week- the first lettuce for late August harvest went in the ground, a few more flowers for September, a little weeding, trellising, move the turkeys to their next location (the turkey with the bad leg took his stay in the poultry spa well and has been reintegrated with the rest of the flock).  Lots of daily irrigation as we have missed all of the torrential rains that have been hitting all around us.  Today we have a bus load of farmers from Virginia coming to see the show, about twice a month we have groups come through to see how we do it.

Picture of the Week
Sunset at the farm, the bright red Celosia is aptly named Forest Fire, Betsy is now cutting this second planting of Zinnias