Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #11, 4/27/16

What’s been going on!

And so it starts again.  Tomorrow I will cut and deliver the first lettuce to Weaver Street Market for this season.  This year marks a quarter of a century we have been growing lettuce for Weaver Street, every spring the dance is the same.  A short dance as it only lasts 4 weeks, the prime growing conditions for standard lettuce varieties here in the Piedmont.

The perfect growth conditions for all of the spring vegetables, if you could hold them in a climate controlled place, is an average air temperature of 60-65 degrees, we have that here for about 20 days from mid-April to mid-May.  Once that average temperature goes over 75 it is too hot for quality lettuce except for a few hot weather varieties.  So by the end of May, all of the cool season crops are on the way out.  Every market day, at this time of year, folks always comment on how beautiful and lush the lettuces look and it is because we are in the heart of the best conditions.

Leaf lettuces are the sixth most consumed vegetable per person and rising which makes it an important crop for us and for the grocery store.  So for that reason you will find me in the lettuce field cutting lettuce four mornings a week, Mondays and Thursdays for afternoon delivery to Weaver Street Market and Wednesdays and Fridays for Farmers’ Market and the restaurants.  I expect everyone to be eating a lot of salads over the next month!

Picture of the Week

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Not lettuce, Jennie and Tricia harvesting turnips and more for Wednesday market

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #6, 3/1/13

What’s been going on!

I know, I know, where have we been?  Fair weather farmers etc.  Even we are ready for it to warm up and dry out so we can get some more things in the ground.  Don’t get me wrong, we need all the precipitation we can get right now but we also have to get spring crops planted like the 11,000 onion plants that came last week and are patiently waiting for their date with some soil.

My usual great trip down to the Georgia Organics conference last weekend.  I have been going down to work with and do workshops for this group almost every year since the mid 90’s.  It is exciting to see the growth of small farms in Georgia and the organization, nearly 1300 attendees at this years conference.  This year I co-presented with a friend of mine from South Carolina in a half day session on Crop Planning.  I know yawn, but maybe the real core to a successful farm business.  Full room and not too many confused looks throughout the afternoon.

The greenhouse is definitely full now including the first tomato seedlings.  We did manage to get the first lettuces in the ground and seeded Sugar Snap Peas, Turnips and Radishes before the last rounds of rain and snow.  Even though it will remain cool through next week it looks like it will dry out enough to get caught up with planting- onions, lettuces, beets, carrots and the first spring planted flowers.

The building project creeps on due to the cold and wet weather.  The electrician starts tomorrow and I have begun the plumbing, hopefully to complete in the next week.  Soon thereafter insulation, sheetrock and the push to the finish.  We really need to be done by the end of the month otherwise time to work on things not involved in growing things gets very short.

Picture of the Week

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At least these lettuces are warm and growing

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #23, 9/5/12

What’s been going on!

Crazy weekend.  You may have noticed Betsy and I left market early on Saturday because we had to scamper to the airport and fly out to a wedding in Missouri!  We have told friends and family over the years not to schedule events on Saturday during market season as that is when we make the bulk of our living but sometimes you just have to make it work.  It all went well and it was good to see both an old friend from the cut flower growers association get hitched on her farm and to spend quality time with my brother and sister in law.

Back very late last night and looks like it rained a bit.  The staff said it rained like hell all around the area but our gauge only showed 1.3 inches but that is still great and kept them from worrying about irrigating while we were gone.  Still in the process of tearing out the tomato trellis and cleaning up that mess so we can both get in to prepare for winter cover crops but more importantly finally get a good estimate of how many legs we will have to replace on the mangled Big Tops.  With all the tomato trellis in the way we have not been able to really take things apart and see if a leg is just pushed over in softer soil and can be pulled back up straight or if it is crimped and kinked and will have to be replaced.

Fall crops look great with many more to get in the ground this week.  Turnips, radishes, spinach all coming soon.  Kale, collards, lettuce and more to go in this week as soon as it dries out.  Maybe because we were racing around the country but time really seems to be flying by right now, scary.

Picture of the Week

Summer Crisp lettuce happy with this cooler weather

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #8, 4/29/10

What’s been going on?

For some reason the Farm Tour wore us out more than usual, maybe it was because the weather was so nice instead of the record highs of last year. Great to see everyone here at the farm, both new and old faces, they are still crunching the numbers but it looks like it will be near the record number of visitors of last year for the whole tour. We had a few dignitaries and some distant travelers too including two groups from Maryland, one each from Tennessee, Virginia and South Carolina. Welcome to those of you newly signed up to the newsletter.

A very nice four tenths of an inch of rain on Saturday night was the perfect gentle rain to make everything happy. Monday was one of those milestone days that happen every season, one of those days that marks the end of the somewhat more casual early spring and heralds the coming of late spring and summer. The guys occupied their whole day in the tomato field. First they had to build the eleven hundred feet of trellis for the plants to grow on. 99 six foot metal T-posts later and wire fencing hung they began to slip the eighteen different varieties into the beautifully prepared soil. Yesterday I finished the last three rows, all happy and watered in. More variety information to come but there are several new things we are trying this year including new paste, cherry and green-when-ripe tomatoes. Can’t wait!

The other milestone passed for the season was the first delivery of lettuce to Weaver Street Market. For 19 years now we have supplied all the spring lettuce to Weaver Street Market in Carrboro. That is one marker, the other for the season it that now every Monday and Thursday through August we will be delivering either vegetables or flowers to them. Add that to now twice weekly Farmers’ Markets and the season is in full swing, no turning back. Today, on one of the last cool mornings and with a nod to the passing of spring, we are going to finish up the splitting and hauling of the firewood for next winter. A little past official Chainsaw season but at least it will be done.

Picture of the Week

The first rays of sun on a beautiful spring day

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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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4/28/04 Vol. 1 #7

New delivery day for the newsletter in an attempt to reduce the workload on Fridays and to give everyone a little more heads up on what’s going on at the markets.  We raced around and got a number of things planted before Mondays rains (not as much as we would have liked, only a quarter of and inch).  The last of the spring lettuce, more sunflowers (we plant sunflowers every week for a continuous supply), tuberoses and more.  We are at that point in the season where we are out of room in the fields and need for something to finish up so we can plant more!  This week we have two deadlines rapidly approaching that we are rushing to meet.  The first is the building of a new brooder house for the turkeys which are arriving next Thursday.  Last year being a test year we just threw together a small room behind the greenhouse to raise them for the first 6 weeks until they were big enough to go out into the field.  It was adequate for 20 birds but not great.  We have 60 birds coming next week and no place to put the little guys hence the urgency!  Started building a 8′ X 12′ shed yesterday, got the floor and half the walls up tick, tick, tick…

If we had nothing else to do this would be OK but Saturday and Sunday is the Farm Tour!  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.  Few folks know that the tour was actually Betsy’s brainchild.  Ten years ago she thought it would be great for customers to be able to go see the market vendors farms.  In the end Weaver Street Market sponsored the Tour as a benefit for Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.  Betsy designed the first tour and worked closely with Weaver Street and CFSA on timelines, etc.  Now in it’s ninth year thousands of people go on the tour and it raises thousands of dollars for the work CFSA does.  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.  29 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
Look at all of that lettuce!  Those are the “Big Tops” in the background

5/5/04 Vol. 1 #8

Happy Cinco de Mayo, too bad there aren’t any peppers to celebrate with!  Crazy week this one, way too much going on.  We barely missed the bullet last Wednesday morning as I last wrote.  I went out to find a heavy frost, the place was white!  All looked good and the tomatoes under the “Big Tops”, that we didn’t cover, looked unfazed; that would pay for those structures alone!  Whew!  It was great to see everyone out on the Farm Tour, a little damp but still a great turn out.  I may be getting old but it is a long weekend for us, especially Saturday following market, but we love to show folks were it all comes from and how we do it.  Lots of rain, 2.6 inches through Monday and things are good and wet now.  The new Poultry Villa is complete and ready for the 60 Heritage turkeys that are due tomorrow morning, it took some focused work to get there, hard to do when we have so many things going on.  Lots of folks have asked about ordering turkeys for Thanksgiving.  I will send out more info as we get a little closer to fall, don’t want to count those turkeys until they are hatched!  We are supposed to be planting peppers this week, one of the last Herculean tasks of the spring, I am thinking that due to the wet soil and hectic schedule that we will wait until early next week, I know, I know don’t worry the pepper roaster will make its debut on schedule.

Tomorrow is the launch of the first really new market in the family of markets that the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Farmers’ Markets operates in maybe 20 years.  While we have moved the original midweek market around town several times we have never operated more than two markets.  This new Thursday afternoon market (3:30-6:30) in Southern Village will be an great new addition.  It is being held on the green across from the Lumina theater where they show the outdoor movies in the summer.  The folks who run Southern Village have been great to work with and are excited to have us there.  Betsy and I are going to attempt to sell there as well, it will be a stretch as we have honed our production to meet our current market demand.  We plan to have most of the vegetables and a large flower selection.  Betsy even plans on being there to sell!

Picture of the Week
Green Boston Lettuce, this is the peak of the season

8/4/04 Vol. 1 #21

Whew!  We made it to August!  This is when we really begin to think about the end of the season, the coming winters plans and next seasons preparations.  This week marks the three quarter point in our personal marketing season, 21 down, 7 to go.  While the Farmers’ Market goes until Christmas we end our season around the first of October.  This allows us time to prepare and plant for next year and have some quality of life time in the fall.  We used to go all the way to Thanksgiving but beginning five seasons ago we looked hard at the numbers and the effort required to produce those numbers and its effect on us and the next season and decided to call it quits sooner.  It was considered a radical move at the time but now we are very glad that we made the change.  Now we will of course be back for the special pre-Thanksgiving market to distribute the birds and with some just-for-Thanksgiving produce.  In the intervening seven or eight weeks we will have put the farm to bed for the winter, planted most of Betsy’s spring flowers and already done a little traveling!  We wouldn’t have been able to get all of this done under the old system.

No newsletter next week because we will be on our August break.  When we used to go straight thru to Thanksgiving we used to take two weeks off in August to try and rest and regroup for the remainder of the season.  Now that we stop early we just take one week off.  This is timed to coincide with the end of the early tomatoes and before the peppers really get going.  No exotic destinations this time just a little rambling around the area and general lolling around.  The staff gets the week off with pay and we get a week off!

We are looking forward a visit from my brother Jon and family this week.  19 seasons ago Jon came and threw in with us and helped turn the farm towards the course it is on now.  Jon is the one in the family who got the natural “grower” gene from my father, I have had to work at becoming a decent grower all these years, Jon can just go out and grow beautiful crops.  He was here for our first season at the Farmers’ Market (1986) and got us started growing vegetables and cut flowers on the only piece of ground we had left that wasn’t planted to blackberries and raspberries.  Unfortunately for us but fortunately for his wife to be, he moved back to Tennessee the next year.  He will be helping on the farm this Friday and at market on Saturday morning.  Like most Saturdays if you watch our stand closely you can usually spot members of my family behind the table.

Picture of the Week
Summer Crisp lettuce planted under shade cloth to keep it cool.  It should be ready the last week of August.

4/7/05 Vol. 2 #5

I’ve been trying to get back to sending out the newsletter on Wednesdays but that day keeps being very wild around here.  Gray and green.  The weekly rains are coming in today and we have been going like crazy to get things done before they get here.  Green because the leaves are really flying out now and the grass and weeds are growing fast.  The beautiful weather early this week has finally given us the ideal conditions for weeding and cultivation which has been the main goal.  We have cleaned up at least three quarters of an acre in both the flowers and the vegetables, just in the nick of time as some of the lettuces were beginning to succumb the chickweed.  When repeatedly surveyed by researchers, organic farmers always rank weed control as the number one problem that they deal with and would like to have some “miracle” research come up with easy ways to overcome these pests.  I am not holding out for a miracle, just the hope of a few dry days at the right time so we can do some timely cultivation, that with a few cultural tricks thrown in will keep the weeds at bay.  Of course we are thankful for the young backs that work for us and do most of this weeding!  Some things have not changed much in agriculture over the centuries, my brother has a book on market gardening from the 1800’s and we always got a chuckle when they would repeatedly refer to some tedious task as “usually being done by young boys”.

We did get the new asparagus planted, finishing just as the rains started, now we wait to see the new ferns coming up.  The earliest tomatoes were planted into the sliding tunnels and look to be taking off well.  We are running about a week behind last year on all of the tomatoes, we can’t make them grow any faster in the greenhouse than they are want to.  The big planting (20 varieties) were moved up from the small cells to the 4 inch pots and are due to go out to the field in 10 days but again I feel that they may be a few days late.  Our goal is to have the plants growing vigorously in the pots and then plant them at the right time so they just continue that strong growth.  If we put them out too young they can get shocked and delay their growth and if we wait too long they will become too large for the pots and stop their growth and set the first harvest back as well.  The other problem that we are having this year in both the tomatoes and the peppers is erratic seed germination in some varieties.  We had to re seed some things which is going to put those varieties several weeks behind the others, this is a first for us as we have never had to completely restart a variety.  Oh well always a new twist out here on the farm!

Picture of the Week
Green and gray, and happy cultivated lettuce

5/11/05 Vol. 2 #10

The first warmish morning when you can see the air outside.  We are torn.  On one hand we would really like to see some warmer weather so that the newly planted warm season crops would not sit there and stare at us with those how-about-another-blanket eyes.  These crops like tomatoes and peppers and zinnias get established best and in the long run produce better if they go into warming soil and grow fast.  They end up producing earlier and have less stress so they can fight off insects and diseases better.  You set their roots down into cool soil and they just sulk.  It is kind of like putting your toe into really cold water and recoiling, you could go for a swim but won’t enjoy if much and might die of hypothermia later!  On the other hand we don’t want to see it run up to the nineties either.  All of these beautiful cool season crops that we have been coaxing along because of the extremely cool conditions the last month or so will look at us with those someone-turn-on-the-air eyes.  One of the reasons that California is the salad bowl of the nation is because they grow in the cooler coastal valleys where the conditions are ideal (except for this year with the rains, good for us in the east coast lettuce business) it rarely gets above ninety and the nights are cool.  Remember Mark Twain’s quote that goes something like “the coldest summer I ever spent was a week in San Francisco”.  We have those kinds of conditions here for about 15 minutes in late April or early May the rest of the time we are just hoping for the best.

Wholesale lettuce deliveries kicked in this week.  If you came out on the Farm Tour you saw the 10,000 heads of lettuce just about ready to begin harvest.  We have done all of the spring lettuce for Weaver Street Market for fourteen years now.  In a perfect season it comes down to five weeks worth of supply for them from late April through the end of May.  Any earlier it is too cold to put plants out and any later it is too hot and they get bitter.  We seed different varieties of lettuce in the greenhouse every week for twelve weeks beginning in December and then transplant those plants to the field every week for about ten weeks beginning in early February.  Different varieties mature at different rates, Boston is faster to grow than Romaine.  In the end if we have staggered them correctly they come off in an orderly fashion.  I tell folks that growing lettuce for the stores is like running towards a cliff as fast as you can, if you stop short the heads are not big enough, if you go too far you go over the cliff edge and the heads are past their prime maybe bitter and beginning to go to seed.  This window for prime lettuce is only usually four or five days.  So we are cutting fast these days.  Monday and Thursday mornings we cut for delivery to the stores those afternoons and Wednesday and Friday mornings we cut for the markets and the restaurants.  In total we will cut 50-60 twenty four head cases a week.  When it is all over I am ready to stand upright and pick blueberries and tomatoes!

As usual more planting, weeding, trellising, irrigating, and finally more picking.  Need to get that lettuce out of the way because Betsy needs to get more flowers planted there.  The peas are blooming up a storm and the flowers are responding to the warmer temperatures.  The Turkeys seem to have finally settled in.  The first few days can be a little rocky until they all get the hang of eating and drinking.  We lost seven Bourbon Reds the first five days but have had no losses since Sunday.  This is one of the difficult realities of raising animals, sometimes they get sick and die no matter what you do.  At $7.00 a bird it can add up quickly.  Now that we are over that hump they usually are extremely hardy, last year we only lost two out of sixty heritage turkeys and none after the first three weeks.  Cross your fingers!

Picture of the Week
Look at those peas!  Can’t wait until we can eat all we want.