3/2/05 Vol. 2 #1

They live!  I have been trying to sit down and send out an update for months!  Just an indication of how our winter has been going, way too busy for a couple of folks who are supposed to be “taking it easy”!  I would like to think that I have gotten caught up on all of the things that we need to do but I know that would just be a bold faced lie!  As a friend of ours once said “our recreation is getting in the way of our recreation”!

Let’s see, since our last newsletter we have both had several major excursions and many minor ones.  In December Betsy and I both flew to Texas where I gave an all day workshop for the Austin Farmers’ Market.  We have good friends there who are large cut flower growers and we held the workshop at their farm.  After five days with them, including a quick side trip down to Mexico, Betsy flew home and I headed on west to Big Bend National Park.  I have been going out there, to hike, for over 30 years (starting when I was in high school in Houston).  We had a great 60 plus mile walk across the desert and up into the mountains.

In January I went to New Orleans for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) conference.  I didn’t have to give any workshops this time around but as a board member we are always busy.  The end of the month Betsy flew back to Italy!  A professor friend of ours is doing a sabbatical in the main cutflower growing region there and as we weren’t very successful in October in seeing much flower production this gave Betsy a great chance to get on some farms.  After several days in and around San Remo she took the train up to see our Italian family, the ones we stayed with in October.  I am not sure that I may not lose her to the Italians!  We have had lots of other extracurricular distractions sandwiched in as well, workshops to give, grants to review, etc.

On the farm we have been trying to pay attention to business but quite frankly have been having a hard time as we have been having too much fun!  We have managed to get quite a bit of work done on both the house and the packing shed.  The weather has made it difficult to get any planting done in a timely manner and we are running a bit behind with some crops.  Betsy has the greenhouse full of transplants and we have managed to get the first 3000 or so lettuce plants in the ground as well as seeding some other flower and vegetable crops.  If it doesn’t warm up soon I am not sure what we will have to sell the first few markets.  We are using all of the tricks that we have to get things to grow faster but really we just need some normal March weather.  The high tunnels are protecting flowers and vegetables (spinach, lettuce, turnips and more), in the field we are covering the lettuce with huge floating row covers of spun bonded polyester.  These 30’X100′ sheets are very effective but also can try a marriage!  Imagine trying to put these out in the kinds of winds we have had the last few days!

We are planting several new things this year and are excited to see how they work out.  I have a new planting of asparagus going in, new blackberries, rhubarb, and artichokes as well as new varieties of peppers and tomatoes to try.  Betsy has thousands and thousands of tulips and lilies planted along with other new flower cultivars.
Believe it or not the first market is only two weeks away, March 19th!  Yikes!  I will send out another newsletter just before then to let you know if we will be there and what we might have.
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10/19/06 Vol. 3 #28

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.