Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #27, 9/14/10

What’s been going on?

Newsletter a day early as we have lots going on the end of the week. I first want to thank Bret Jennings and the Elaine’s on Franklin crew for a great farm dinner last Wednesday. For those that made it you know what I am talking about but the whole pepper inspired menu was right on the money!

Yesterday was turkey moving day, into a new area for a couple of weeks or so. I realized that the picture below is kind of a microcosm of the whole farm and shows many of the fundamental operating concepts we always try to apply. For those of you who have been here on a farm tour, this maybe familiar. What can be seen here is parts of the three, quarter acre, blocks that the Big Tops are set up over. The one the turkeys are in just has the rows of legs that support the hoops. It is in its “rest” year where we grow no cash crops but instead grow three sets of cover crops in a row to improve the soil and run the turkeys over it so they can add their goodness too. This cover crop is the summer sudangrass and cowpeas.

To the left of the turkey shelters is another Big Top block, this one had the flowers this year and if you blow the picture up you can see, through the turkey shelter, the red of the last of the crested celosias for the year. This block with be rested next year and it’s hoops moved over where the turkeys are. The far set of Big Tops was the tomato block this year and you can see two bays still covered with the last of the tomatoes and two bays uncovered for the winter. The flowers will move to here next year and the tomatoes will move to where the turkeys are now. Once uncovered (next week) we will plant winter cover crops in those fields too.

One of our key beliefs is that diversity leads to a balanced system which improves sustainability. So in just this one picture you see diverse cash crops (many varieties of flowers and tomatoes), cover crops (at least seven different kinds over the three year rotation), and breeds (Bourbon Reds and Broad Breasted Bronzes). What you can’t see is also a diversity in soil improvement/management practices like fertility from rock powders, cover crop and cash crop residues, and manure from the turkeys. Or disease and pest control by using the Big Tops to keep plants dry, trellises for better air flow and sunlight, turkeys to eat bugs, crop rotation, drip irrigation and many more techniques.

OK, professors hat off. And it’s a beautiful early fall day on the farm too!

Picture of the Week

Turkeys happy in a new field.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #25, 9/1/10, Turkey Reservations

What’s been going on?

Ah, September at last and a hurricane on the way, sort of. It was fourteen years ago this week that Fran roared across the Piedmont still carrying 80 mph winds with it as it’s eye passed just east of the farm. Those of us in the area will never forget that storm or the week that followed, cleaning up without power or water. Now our senses are on high alert anytime a big storm is on the track that Earl is on just in case. This time we don’t plan on taking all the plastic off the greenhouses but we are still watching all the storm reports carefully.

As promised early in the year, this week marks the start of Turkey reservations. We always wait until Labor Day when we have a better idea of how many birds will actually be available. By the time they get this old they are usually pretty hardy but even now we can lose some to one thing or another (like the two that died last week). There will only be about 85 birds available this fall with the majority being the larger Broad Breasted Bronzes (about 60). All the information about what kind we have, how much they will be and the order form is now on the Website for easier access.

Look for the order form near the bottom of the page under “How do I reserve one of the special birds?” You can easily download the Word document there. We will also have the order forms at Market on Saturdays through the end of the month. I can also tell you that already, with the “Frequent Flyer” reservations, nearly a third of them are spoken for. I will continue to update how many are available on the website. Don’t wait too long.

Typical end of the season chores going on. The guys are beginning the mulching the blueberries today, later in the week more of the early tomatoes will be taken out. The last of the huge pepper picks will happen the end of the week as this is the peak of the season and there will be much fewer fruit on the plants from here on in. Cleaning up, mowing, getting ready for winter cover crops.

Picture of the Week

What else, turkeys on the morning strut.

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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 #22, 8/11/10

What’s been going on?

Can we have another week off and come back to cooler temperatures this time? “Week off” would be a misrepresentation of the facts, somehow it seemed we like we were over scheduled and just went from one thing we needed to do to the next. Sometimes that happens when what appears to be open time gets filled with all the things you haven’t gotten done the last few months, you know like getting the car tires rotated. We did have several enjoyable meals with friends and I did escape to the mountains for a few nights. In between there were tomatoes, peppers and flowers to pick; turkeys to move, water and feed; soil tests to pull, mowing, mowing, mowing. We’re back and ready to face the end of the season.

It does seem like with the heat and the rains that the grass and weeds are in overdrive. Some of it grew a foot in a week so the first job for the guys was to join in with us to try and beat the grass back so our collective quality of lives would be better. We are now in the early stages of taking things apart for the winter. I know it’s only August but when you spend most of the year building and installing things to support and grow plants, you have to pace yourself on taking it all down. Already we have taken out some flower trellises and lots of irrigation lines. Today the earliest tomatoes get pulled out of the little sliding tunnels to make way for Thanksgiving and winter vegetables and flowers. They gave us all they could over the last ten weeks but now look really sad.

The next few weeks we will continue planting vegetables for Thanksgiving and, believe it or not, flowers for next year. Leeks, Collards, Beets and Carrots next week and then in early September the first of the overwintered flowers like Larkspur and Bachelors Buttons. The cycle sometimes seems surprising in it’s timing but after years of doing it we’ve gotten used to it and know that it is what has to happen. Soon it will be time for winter cover crops and all the rest. What week off?

Picture of the Week

It was 51 degrees at 6100′ last Saturday, hmmm.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #21, 7/28/10

What’s been going on?

And the skies opened. Wish I had carried my camera with me yesterday afternoon as I drove into town, I have never seen flooding on the Old Greensboro Hwy. like that, several places where you had to slow to a crawl to get through the water. Of course I started the day irrigating as I have gotten to the point where I just don’t believe the forecast unless it is for 70 percent chance or better and then I need to see it on the radar. When it is really hot, it is hard to catch up on soil moisture with drip irrigation if you skip a day. It started to rain lightly around 11:00 and I turned the pump off, 3.2 inches later and I can rest for a few days, irrigation wise.

This heat and extreme swings in rainfall have many of us farmers beginning to think about how are we going to change our operations to meet the challenges of climate change, both practically (how do I continue to grow the crops I am used to) and quality of life (do I really have to grow crops in the summer?). Yeah I know, some think climate change is not happening, what ever. I can tell you after thirty years of wrestling with what nature throws at us, the climate is changing and the extremes are getting more extreme. It is those extreme events that determine the success or failure of a crop year, not if the average temperature has gone up .1 degree. We all know there is no such thing as normal or average weather anyway. Betsy and I do have a firm rule, make no big decisions in July!

The good news is we have almost made it to our summer break. As many of you know we take the first week of August off, a tradition we started many years ago. It has been 22 straight weeks without a break or hardly a day off, a long time to run. So after market this Saturday we will change gears for a few days including not going to market on the 4th or the 7th. Always timed for when the early tomatoes have finished up and before the peppers really hit full stride. The staff gets a week off with pay so they will actually rest up too. We have no real plans other than hiding out here and going out to eat. There are still turkeys to feed and crops to water but that doesn’t take too much out of a day. So no newsletter next week and look for us back on Wednesday the 11th.

Picture of the Week

A wet morning, at least the cover crops are happy

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #20, 7/21/10

What’s been going on?

Big day on Monday, the cousins finally met each other. The Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys turned five weeks old and graduated to the field. Most turkey moving days are fairly quick as we just open the fence between them and the next field and they just head in there with a little herding. This one is always more complicated. It takes extra fences, multiple groups and shelters to be moved farther than just the next paddock.

In general the pattern is to move the flock from the bottom of the farm to the top, always trying to move up hill into clean ground. Hard to do sometimes when the cash crops are in the ground. The Bourbon Reds have been hanging out the last two weeks in the lowest production block with the first zinnias of the season (no longer being cut) for shade. They were going to meet in the Blueberry field. First we set up two net fences, in a U shape, around half the Blueberries to herd them into. Next open their existing fence and herd them past the basil, through the “Stand” and Betsy’s flower beds, across the driveway and into the new enclosure.

Next take down the net fences that have surrounded them and erect them around the rest of the Blueberries and the open end of the U now holding the Bourbon Reds. They are so happy rooting around under the bushes for new eats that they don’t even know the “door” is actually not there! Onto the Bronzes, we take the big truck with shell and back it up to their temporary paddock in front of the brooder and catch the 66 little fat birds one by one and put them in the bed of the truck. Slowly we drive across the farm and back up to the net fence surrounding their half of the Blueberry field and grab them again, one by one, and set them down into their new “big” home.

Finally we drag the shelters from their respective locations to the end of the berry block, move all the feeders and waterers up near the shelters, set up the water hose and fill waterers. The Bronzes, being totally wide eyed at the big world have just hunkered down under the first blueberry bushes, far from their shelter and waterers. It is quickly headed to the 90’s today so we slowly herd them up the field to their food and water so they can find it, “OK now we are home” they say. Done. For several weeks now, the country cousins and the city cousins will run up and down the blueberry field with a net fence between them, staring and talking to each other. At some point we will run them together and hope that it will be a happy family reunion and not a gang fight. We’ll see.

Don’t forget the next two Peregrine Farm tomato/food events this coming week. First up on Sunday afternoon is the A Southern Season Cooking class, Tomatoes From the Vine with Marilyn Markel and heirloom tomato guru Craig LeHoullier. Craig is the one who introduced Cherokee Purple to the world and is a wealth of tomato knowledge. These classes are always fun, relaxed and the menu looks great.

Monday night is our Panzanella Farm dinner, still working with Jim on the menu but it will feature both tomatoes and peppers in special dishes that will be in addition to the regular Panzanella menu. This is always a nice evening with lots of locals and market regulars coming into the restaurant. Maybe we’ll see you there.

Picture of the Week

Good fences make good neighbors

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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 #18, 7/7/10

What’s been going on?

July is a tomatoey month. Sure there are other fruits and vegetables out there to eat but the real focus of the month is all things tomato. We have four tomato dinners and events on our schedule alone, plus our tomatoes are featured on the menus of at least five local restaurants. It is a lot of pressure to put on just one crop from the farm and I do have to give plenty of praise to Betsy’s lisianthus and celosias as they are a big part of our business this month too.

The first dinner is actually tomorrow at Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill. Foster’s Farm dinners are family style and the menu looks great, why not let someone else cook when it’s this damn hot? Betsy and I will be there to visit and talk tomatoes, we’ll see you there. Through out the month we will be carefully making sure we have enough fruit to cover all of these events and the restaurants. On top of all this we have to ship tomatoes to Alabama next week as part of a fundraising donation we did for the Southern Foodways Alliance! We have never tried to ship tomatoes before, somehow we need to make sure they don’t arrive as juice! Hopefully this continuing heat won’t cut production short.

It was turkey moving day yesterday and it seemed uneventful until this morning. We move the birds to new fields every two weeks or so depending on how big they are (how much manure they will drop) and when the next field they need to move to is ready. The past few weeks they have been down around one of Betsy’s recreational flower beds with shade under some ornamental trees. We moved them right next door to the field that had the onions and the first zinnia planting. The old zinnias provide them shade but not as much fun as hanging out in the trees.

This morning I could see from the office window that a couple of birds were outside of the fence. Not unusual in the morning as they first stretch their wings. Betsy comes in and says we have a mass escape, sure enough 26 birds decided to sleep in the trees last night instead of on the roosts in the shelter, should have shut them up last evening to make sure. Fortunately they were all happy to run through the woods and then be rounded up and herded back into the fence. I’ll make sure they stay in tonight!

Picture of the Week


Turkeys drifting through the woods, their white tarped shelter is in the background

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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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