6/12/09 Vol. 6 #12

Well today’s newsletter was going to be about the arrival of yet another seasons day old turkeys but the hatchery called yesterday and said they would not be able to ship them until next week.  Next week is too late.  I haven’t called them yet to cancel the order but most likely will today.  Now procrastination is part of the problem here as I waited until the very last minute to order them in the first place.

As some of you know, last years turkey behavior was so crazy that at one point, near the end,  I came stomping into the house telling Betsy to never let me order another bird.  It was the Bourbon Red heritage breed birds who were the bad actors, fighting with each other, picking on the Broad Breasted Bronzes, killing each other, making my life far from tranquil.  Over the winter I slowly weakened thinking about the benefits to the farm from manure and bug eating, and of course everyone’s interest in them.  I began to think “well if I just raise the mellow Broad Breasted Bronzes, it would be easier”.  It would not be helping to save the endangered heritage birds but it would still give us all the other benefits of having turkeys on the farm.

Through the spring I continued to go back and forth until finally one day I decided I had to give this new variation a try to see if, in fact, it would make our quality of life better.  Much too late (only two weeks ago) I called and they said that there were none available the first week of June, my preferred date, but yes the second week.  I breathed deep and said OK.  Now the problem is on the other end of the season.  If the birds come next week (the third week of June) it will put their processing date up into October when we are planning on being out of the country.  Last year was similar with processing happening two days before we left town and Cov had to pick them up from the processing plant and deal with them.  Too many added complications on top of the normal ones associated with going away for a long period of time.  I haven’t called yet but the stars are not lining up well.

Picture of the Week
Did I mention the profusion of Gloriosa Daisies?

6/17/09 Vol. 6 #13

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain.  Good thing we had a rain day yesterday as we are all just now recovering from the Farm to Fork picnic on Sunday.  It looked like a good time was had by all despite the heat.  Not so hot that you just stood there panting but definitely the sweat was running down my brow.  70 plus farmers and chefs cooked and served up an amazing array of small bites from every kind of vegetable pickle to collard green kimchi and barbecued shrimp with bloody Mary sauce to cabrito tacos with heritage corn tortillas.  A pre-event estimate of 650 people were signed up to attend, including the farmers and chefs, not sure if they all showed but a nice chunk of money was raised for the new farmer programs at the Breeze Farm and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.

We had fun, as always, working with Amy Tornquist and Glenn Lozuke from Watts Grocery and Sage and Swift Catering.  We presented a beautiful trifecta of Treviso radicchio leaves with a small piece of Glenn’s house made pancetta topped with some of the first tomatoes of the season; a colorful hand held bitter, salty, sweet salad.  Glenn had boned out an entire pig, stuffed it with herbs and hot roasted it, all night, in a traditional porchetta style and it was amazing.  The third part of the trifecta was a lemon ice cream with a blueberry swirl in tiny little corn meal cones, each with a blueberry in the bottom.

Back here in farm land the rain is holding us up from getting things done.  Blueberry picking was canceled for yesterday and I hope we can get a full morning in today.  We began the onion harvest on Monday but it is too wet to continue until maybe Thursday, it is bad to harvest them when wet and muddy, too much danger of ending up with rotting onions later.  We need to cover the last of the Big Tops this week so we can plant the late tomatoes, the transplants of which are really ready to get into the ground.  Looks like we will blast into summer on Friday when it goes straight to the high 90’s, that’ll dry it out for sure!

Picture of the Week
Pig with snout on the left, radicchio salads in the middle, tiny little ice cream cones on the right.

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

7/30/09 Vol. 6 #19

A late newsletter this week, too many extra curricular things going on and yesterday it was just too much more to pile onto the mornings agenda.  The Farm Dinner at Panzanella was very pleasant and well attended on Monday night and Jim Nixon and his crew turned our produce into some really great dishes.  We hope that everyone who came had a good time and it was great to see all of you.  Equally I had a good time working with Marilyn Markel at a lunch time cooking class at A Southern Season on Tuesday, good food and great questions from the participants, many now new to the newsletter.  I will be doing another class with Ricky Moore from GlassHalfFull in a week, on Thursday evening the 6th of August.

We have almost made it to another summer break.  Twenty weeks ago the market season began for us.  Twenty straight weeks without a day off and while it has been the most pleasant of springs and summers weather wise there is still a fatigue that settles into the brain whether the body is completely worn out or not.  To that end, after market this Saturday the break begins and we will not be at market next week (the 5th and the 8th) while we and the staff do nonfarm related activities.  We give the staff a week off with pay so they can feel comfortable in taking sometime off and usually they do some traveling but this year they seem to be just staying close to home.  For us we usually just hide out and try to not answer the phone but this year Betsy is headed to Colombia (South America) to visit cut flower farms and a friend of ours who is down there on sabbatical.  I will get a day or two of hiking in and then be here keeping things growing.  So no newsletter next week as I will rest that part of the brain too.

In the last days running up to “The Break” we have been busy getting started on the falls crops and even some for next year.  More lettuce has been planted (under shade cloth to keep it cool) for late August and September harvest.  Turnips and Radish were seeded yesterday for early fall too.  Celery is in the ground for Thanksgiving and soon will be joined in the shade house by Brussels Sprouts and Collards.  Cov and Glenn started the seeds for the first of next years flowers Sweet William, Gloriosa Daisy and the small yellow flowered Triloba that Betsy just started cutting last week from last years seeding at this time!
Picture of the Week
Nothing like the colors of Zinnias

9/2/09 Vol. 6 #23

Whoopee!  We made it to September!  As you know we don’t usually, instantaneously, go right into fall when the calendar flips months but it sure feels that way this week.  Our farming friends in Texas are celebrating too as the temperature finally fell below 100 degrees after months above it, now if they can just get some rain, makes one realize that our summer has not been too bad.  The lowering angle of the sun and the darker mornings are the first signs that fall is really around the corner.
We have had shade cloth on the transplant greenhouse and some of the little sliding tunnels all summer to try and moderate the temperature a bit.  The lettuce we have had for the last few weeks is only possible with some shade cloth and consistent irrigation.  Likewise the celery and Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving, that have been in the ground since late July are only really possible with the help of shade cloth (in my opinion anyway).  But now the amount of daylight is so much different than just a few weeks ago that, today, we are taking all of the shade off for the rest of the season.  Too much shade and the lettuce, in particular, gets wacky and starts to twist as it grows.  We have learned this one the hard way when we first tried to grow lettuce in the late summer and had an entire hoop house cork screw up and didn’t harvest a single head.
Soon we will be mowing down what cover crops we have and the remains of the other summer crops and begin the preparation of the soil for next years crops.  It is a slow process this dismantling of the summer farm but one that feels good as it goes along.  Tomatoes and trellises out.  Lisianthus and Celosia trellises out.  Irrigation lines taken up bed by bed as they are no longer needed.  The Big Tops uncovered, rolled and stored for another winter.  Soil amendments spread to help feed next seasons crops.  Finally by mid October it is all seeded to cover crops for the winter and another market season comes to a close for us.  Breath deep, you can smell fall just around the bend!

Picture of the Week
The lengthening morning shadows of September, celery and Brussels sprouts under shade

9/9/09 Vol. 6 #24

Look it’s 09, 09, 09 not sure what that all means but some folks think it is significant, to us it means we are in the short rows at the side of the field at the end of the season.  These last few weeks for us, as far as crops go, is all about peppers.  It is the final major crop of the season and one we have been tending for a long, long time.  There are some crops that occupy your attention during planting and growth and not really during the picking, tomatoes are that way, there is so much work in preparing to plant, planting, trellising, suckering, weekly tying up, etc. before you pick the first fruit.  Lettuce and greens on the other hand, you plant, then cultivate for weeds once maybe and then it’s all about, sometimes daily, harvesting and washing and worrying about how perishable they are.
Peppers on the other hand give you some of both, they are more leisurely.  They go in the after the crush of spring planting and are slow growers and while they do require some support they are not reckless floppers like tomatoes.  They are in the ground for so long that advance mulching is the only real weed control option and the trellis is simpler and only needs two layers, usually.  So for three months there is just the occasional foray into the pepper field until picking begins and then it starts in fits.  First a few Jalapenos, then the always eager Cubanelles and Purple bells, finally the rest join in.
Again unlike tomatoes that have to be picked twice a week just to keep them from getting too ripe, peppers have a more relaxed ripening pace and just need a once a week going through, the hot varieties every other week.  Wednesday is hot pepper day, twenty two varieties in just five one hundred foot long rows.  Takes organization and patience to keep them all separated, don’t want to mistake the incendiary Habaneros for the mild Aji Dulces.  The hot types mature so slowly that we only pick one side of the row each week, leaving the other side to get big enough to pick next week.
Colored bells are the bulk of the crop and we save those twelve, hundred foot long rows for Fridays.  Hunched over moving between the rows with five gallon buckets, we look for fully ripe bells in the dark green canopy, pulling up on the fruit to get it to let go.  When the bucket is full it’s back to the tailgate of the truck to sort.  Inevitably there are some that look ripe but when picked the back side still has some green on it.  Sorting entails four containers; full ripe, part ripe, freaks (might have a dry scar but it is sound), got-to-be-dealt-with-in-the-next-few-days (they have a wet spot that will melt down in the box if left with the others) these are the ones we freeze, for us, for the winter.  A calmer, less hurried crop, perfect to end the season with.
Picture of the Week
The hall of Poblanos, four layers of trellis this year as some of these plants are seven feet tall

9/16/09 Vol. 6 #25

Just returned yesterday afternoon from a teaching event in Virginia.  This was a training for “Agricultural Professionals” in organic vegetable production and marketing.  Now I have done a lot of workshops for extension agents and as my father would say “university types” but these Ag professionals were mostly Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Services Agency and others related to the USDA farm bill programs.  Most of my audiences are farmers growing vegetables or those Ag professionals who work directly with those growing vegetables.  These folks manage money or work with farmers to get federal program money, a carrot and stick approach to helping farmers improve their farming operations.
A very pleasant group but a difficult crowd to figure out how to talk about organic vegetable production from their point of view.  I think we were successful but the post training survey will tell the tale.  Two observations that always tickle me.  The first is if they are “ag professionals” then what do I call myself as their teacher and the one who actually makes his living from agriculture?  The second is essentially every vegetable farm in the US has never gotten any of the classic federal farm program payments as they don’t apply to vegetables.  Sure they may have gotten some money to help build a pond or something like that but not the kind of monies that most folks associate with the farm bill.  So it is hard to relate to what their jobs entail.
The reason for all of this training is just another sign of the changing of the times in agriculture.  As we as a nation and as farmers move towards a more sustainable existence then the ways we reward people for doing good things or give them incentive to do so is different than just giving them payments to make sure they can continue to make a living from farming.  Green payments based, not on how many bushels of corn you produced (or didn’t) but on how well you manage your soil or forests.  As I always say, it is an interesting time to be in agriculture, even if I am not a “professional”.
OK, on a practical note, you may remember three months ago I was agonizing over whether to get the turkeys or not, mostly because they would be arriving too late for us the get them up to size before we had planned to leave the farm for an extended period.  Since then I have talked to many of you at market about the decision.  I realized, mostly due to a recent increase in inquiries, that I have never officially announced that we will not have any turkeys this year.  I know, it is sad and will change folks Thanksgiving plans some but it just was not to be this year.  We are planting (and it all looks great) all kinds of vegetables to go with the Thanksgiving meal so you will at least have a little Peregrine Farm on the plate if not the table centerpiece.
Picture of the Week
Thanksgiving fare, collards, Brussels sprouts, celery, lacinato kale

9/23/09 Vol. 6 #26

It has been one of those weeks where you just have to go with the flow, hence the newsletter a day late.  Betsy and I live a pretty quiet, paced life, really.  People would not believe it with this past weeks schedule.  As I was returning home from Virginia last week, Betsy tells me a group of Uruquayan agricultural researchers was coming the next day (Wednesday), OK fine.  In the end they went to see another farm as they had been here two years ago, also fine.  Thursday was a group of 25 Chinese civil servants, with interpreter, in the light rain, all in suits and smoking like chimneys.  They were very interested in how the government affected our lives.  How much tax do you pay?  How much does the land cost?  Can you cut down all the trees if you want too?  This is a common question from foreign visitors amazed we have all these huge trees and don’t really plan to cut them down and use them.

Friday was a film crew from UNC Public TV.  We had been having erratic conversations about them coming out to shoot for a piece to be on North Carolina Now (it is supposed to air in early December) but hadn’t heard from them in the last few days and thought maybe with the chance of rain they might not show.  As we went out to start the harvest for market there was a van and two cars, cameras at work.  All day and at market on Saturday morning they were omnipresent including when I went to cut lettuce and found the ground hog had helped himself to what was left, under the breath swearing was involved but not caught on camera.

Saturday my brother Jon, from Missouri, rolled into town on the way to the beach.  We had a family meal and then the next day they headed to the beach for a week.  We were going to go down for Monday and Tuesday but I had forgotten I was supposed to do a round table book review for the Independent on Monday afternoon.  Just Food by James McWilliams subtitled “Where Locavores get it wrong and how we can truly eat responsibly”.  He has lots of interesting points and references but in many ways missed the point on sustainable agriculture and how it works.  The review is supposed to be in the first week of Octobers issue.

Tuesday and Wednesday we just gave it up and went to the beach, sure it rained but we got to visit with family, eat a lot and take a few quality naps.  Now we are back in the saddle, with the end of the season in our sights.  This is our last Saturday market for the season.  There are tears of joy and sadness.  We are always ready to change into our off season personas but at the same time we miss seeing everyone at market.  We cannot thank all of you enough for supporting us, the market and local agriculture.  Without you we would not be able to farm the way we do, thank you.

Picture of the Week

This sums up the week, a little blurry with lots of cameras looking at us

11/19/09 Vol. 6 #27

Just a week to go until that finest of American holidays, Thanksgiving.  I think it is really the anticipation of all the great food but the food does seem to mark the entry into the “in the house” months.  That time of year when it seems right and comfortable to be inside more than out.  Long cooking sessions, a constant fire in the woodstove, catching up on a years worth of reading.
We have been busy both here on the farm and off.  The cover crops look great and that nearly five inches of rain last week finally got the creek flowing again.  We have gotten almost all of Betsy’s overwintered flowers in the ground and they look fantastic, Dutch iris, anemones, ranunculus, gloriosa daisy, larkspur and others.  With our decision not to leave the country this fall, we have been invigorated and motivated towards projects around here.  I have finally had time to finish up the rest of the exterior trim on the house and will actually start painting tomorrow!  Betsy has been working in the recreational flower beds, pruning, planting and mulching.  The glorious fall weather has made it even more enjoyable.
Away from the place we have had the usual fall meetings to attend.  Betsy made a quick trip to New York for the Cut Flower growers national meeting and we both have had plenty of local meetings to attend including a couple of very pleasant dinners with Eliot Coleman and Will Allen (who was here to speak last week).  I have even managed a few early season hiking trips including a once in a lifetime trip down the Paria river canyon in Utah.  So no we are back for the holiday season before we head off after the New Year for more events.
I just came in from harvesting carrots and leeks for next Monday night’s Panzanella Local Thanksgiving Dinner.  This farm dinner is featuring multiple farms and the menu looks really good but no turkey, just to spare us before the big day.  Here is the menu, we will be there Monday night as well.
Pictures of the Week

Beautiful stuff for Thanksgiving, Boston lettuce, Collards, Lacinato Kale, Celery, Turnips, Spinach, Carrots, Beets