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 #15, 6/16/10

What’s been going on?

Late newsletter as the phone rang at 6:30 this morning just as I was sitting down to write and it was the post office with the next batch of turkeys. This group are the Broad Breasted Bronzes, the Fat Boys as I call them. This breed of bird was the first step, back in the 50’s, from the standard or heritage breeds like the Bourbon Reds that we already have out in the field, to the monster broad breasted white turkeys that are the standard of the industry now. The reason we raise this kind, as well as the heritage breeds, is because they will grow to more than 15 pounds, which is about as big as the Bourbon Reds ever get. Some folks just want a bigger bird for Thanksgiving. We think that the Bronzes are better adapted to being raised on pasture than the big whites too. 67 very energetic poults are now running around in the brooder, one forgets how much noise the little guys can make.

As soon as we got them installed we moved on to covering the last of the Big Tops so we can plant the late tomatoes under them. Perfect timing as we have had a nice inch plus of rain over the last few nights and so the soil will be moist to begin the new plants in. This last planting of tomatoes is smaller, only four rows of mostly Big Beef reds and Sungolds as that is what has done the best for us in the hot days of August. The rains have also brought up the freshly seeded cover crops, we haven’t had this kind of conditions for summer covers in many years now. We are trying to make the best of these beastly humid and hot days but it is hard to have a great attitude at times!

We were talking with Sarah Blacklin, the Farmers’ Market manager, last night about our new electronic benefits transfer (EBT) program at market. This is the program we got a grant for to implement the electronic food stamps system and it has gone so well we are now receiving more EBT sales than almost all the big markets in New York City! Part of this success is we modeled an incentive program that other markets have used which matches up to $20 of tokens with $20 of EBT tokens. This matching helps get EBT recipients used to coming to market and shopping in a way that is different than normally do.

It has been so successful that we have already gone through the $2000 allotted in the grant for it. We are now looking for donations to help continue to build this important food access program. If you are or know folks who might be interested in donating to this program you can speak with Sarah at market or contact our program coordinator, Sabrina López, at sabrilopez@gmail.com  or 561-901-0569. As a program sponsor, you will be listed on our website, facebook, ongoing media alerts and in our market materials at the market Information Booth. We hope to continue to be leaders in the area for food access and innovative farmers’ markets.

Picture of the Week

All singing all dancing broad breasted bronzes

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #14, 6/9/10

What’s been going on?

The other part of the change from spring crops to summer crops is the planting of the summer cover crops. The rains of the last few weeks has made the soil a dream to prepare as the disk cuts the ground easily. Sunday I disked under the spring crop residues in the areas getting a summer soil improving crop and yesterday I spun out the cowpeas and soybeans that will fix free nitrogen and then covered them lightly. Today I will spin out the millet and sundangrass seeds on the different blocks and the job will be done, hopefully we will get a little rain in the next week and they should come racing up.

Mow, mow, mow. Some parts of the farm only get one or two mowings a year, and with all the rain recently, the grass in those areas shot up shoulder high. I spent almost five hours yesterday cutting just the very top sections of the farm and the majority of the bottom field. Much of it I had to creep along in a low gear so the mower wouldn’t bog down. Some of this mowing is just defensive so we can keep the weeds and trees at bay. The less used areas are also the hiding areas for the crop eating varmits, especially the groundhogs. The groundhogs must have really had a good year last season because there are a lot of them and they are not afraid, yet. So far this spring we have dispensed with four and there are at least two more working. The mowing will make it much easier for me to spot them now.

Now that the record short blueberry season is over the staff is getting caught up on other projects. It is major trellising season as many crops have had that growth spurt they put on when their roots really get established. Tying up tomatoes every week, the lisianthus is now over a foot tall, the peppers have gotten tall and floppy. The guys got the first set of support arms on the peppers and today we will run the lower strings to help them stand up straight against storms and to better carry a big fruit load. Weeding and cultivating new zinnias and celosia, planting more late season flowers, lots to do.

Picture of the Week

Campanula and almost dayglo Dianthus

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #13, 6/2/10

What’s been going on?

OK, enough with the wet weather, we need some drying time to get some soil turned over and to keep the diseases and weeds at bay! It is the change of seasons for sure around here. Sunday I mowed down all of the mixed spring vegetable crops except for the beets, lacinato kale and a few radishes. I followed that by mowing down the remaining larkspur, bachelors buttons and other overwintered flowers. Friday I mowed down the majority of the spring lettuce beds leaving only a few beds with the hot weather tolerant Summer Crisp varieties. In some ways it’s sad, but mostly it is relief and time to turn our efforts to summer crops. If we can get a few days dry, I will get all the summer cover crops planted on the freshly mowed areas and the cycle will start again.

The herky, jerky blueberry season continues on. Not a huge crop but very large berries due to lots of rain and fewer fruit on the plants. The birds and squirrels are having a field day, which is usually not noticeable when there are lots of berries but now we can really notice that there are fewer ripe fruit on the rows next to the woods. Betsy draped some fake rubber snakes in the bushes to try and slow them down but it mostly surprises the pickers as they reach into the bush to find a snake on the branch. With the generally cool and cloudy weather they are also ripening at a slower pace so scheduling the pickers has been irregular too. We are trying every other day this week and by the end of the week there will not be a lot of berries left on the bushes, as I suspected the season will be short and sweet.

The turkeys have been out in the hydrangea and viburnum field for a week now and seem to be getting the hang of outdoor life. Some groups of birds are just more flighty and difficult to wrangle. This group, maybe because there are only 30 of them, seem to get along well and self organize better than past flocks. Every morning at daylight we let them out and they come rolling out the door to explore the day, moving around the field in mass. Every evening near dark, with the feeder and waterer already returned to inside the shelter, we go to close them up and they are all inside on their roosts, ready for sleep. Some years it takes multiple chases around the shelter to scoot the last hold outs inside, not so this group, maybe a more intelligent batch?

Picture of the Week

Turkeys in the Hydrangeas on a gray morning

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #12, 5/26/10

What’s been going on?

Thankfully the sun is out today. We need a little drying time to be able to get some things weeded as they are growing before our eyes. Those little weeds and weed seeds had just been hangin’ out during the dry spell waiting. The soil temperature was warm enough, they just needed to have a little water to get going. Wow, here they come! I am afraid to tell the staff what is in store for them today, at least it won’t be too hot to be out hoeing and pulling weeds. Fortunately we have enough blueberry pickers right now so that the guys can work on the other farm chores.

Farm to Fork was big success. The skies dumped rain on Sunday morning but by the time we all got to the field it was puffy clouds and blue sky. The ground was a bit soggy to start but dried quickly as we finished setting up for the event. The event coordinator and the volunteer coordinator had done a meticulous job and everything was totally ready when we arrived at 12:30. Slowly the other farmers and chefs began arriving and what was just a hayfield bloomed into a farmers market/festival site in a hour or so.

Ben and Karen along with their skilled assistants (Amanda Orser and Shelley Collins) arrived and began assembling a beautiful and complicated dish. Much slicing and dicing and arranging on the plates. First a lettuce and spinach sauce/soup ladled on the bottom, then two sugar snap peas, an arrangement of wedges of three colors of beets, radishes and turnips. This was capped with a piece of Ben’s perfectly smoked trout and then a day-glo dollop of fresh ricotta cheese with beets to give it the wild color. We heard much oohing and awing as people ate. Of course Karen’s blueberry compote on cornmeal cake with sorghum buttermilk cream was the ace in the hole to finish them off!

Ben, Karen and staff assembling plates

The final dish

We all had a great time and I think the attendees did as well. It was too much food and it was hard to get around to all the tents. With the silent and live auctions we raised somewhere around $20,000 for the apprenticeship and new farmer programs at the Center for Evironmental Farming Systems and the Breeze Farm. Thanks to all who participated.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #11, 5/19/10

What’s been going on?

Oh what beautiful rain! We didn’t get quite a much as others, somewhere around an inch and half initially, but then last nights additional shot probably brought us up to two inches. Of course I irrigated everything on Sunday, not going to be fooled again by the forecast, Oh well those beets will just size up quicker. Everywhere I went on Monday people were smiling and commenting on what a great rain, even our mechanic was ecstatic.

Of course working in the rain can be a challenge but we have enough stuff under cover now that, for at least a day or two, we can keep folks busy. The one thing that I can’t avoid is cutting lettuce in the rain. We cut Weaver Street’s lettuce to order, the day of delivery, so Monday morning I carefully watched the radar and went out when it looked like there would be a lull in the action. Worked pretty well and I only had to cut the last two cases in a strong shower. I have had times when it was full rain gear and the rain was just pouring down, this was not so bad. I did get the guys to come out from under cover to pick the broccoli raab during the lull and they managed to get pretty wet too.

This strange spring continues to surprise us. This time it is the extreme earliness of the blueberries. The earliest we have ever begun picking is the 22nd of May, with the average first picking being the 25th. We could have easily picked on Monday, the 17th, this year! From this early ripening and general look of the crop, my guess is it is going to be a fast and short season with fewer berries than normal. The first pick through will be today and we have a couple of additional hands coming to help, hold on it will be a fast ride, maybe three weeks.

Farm to Fork picnic this weekend and today we are harvesting the produce that Ben and Karen at Magnolia Grill will be using for their dishes. Beets (all three colors), Sugar Snap Peas, Turnips, Easter Egg Radishes, lettuce and Spinach. Their dishes are going to be Cornmeal Cake with Blueberries & Sorghum Buttermilk Cream and Spring Vegetables with Hickory-Smoked Rainbow Trout & Beet Ricotta! For those who got tickets to the now sold out event, we look forward to seeing you on Sunday. We are sorry for those who couldn’t or can’t make it but we will give you a full recount next week.

Picture of the Week

Turkeys just out after a day of rain, brooder on the left and the new mothership on the right

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #10, 5/12/10

What’s been going on?

Pepper week, well mostly anyway. Seems like I need to look at the master schedule and move a few things out of this week for next year, way too much going on, in theory. It could be that things have just run together in such a way due to the late spring, who knows. Monday we had our usual harvest for deliveries and then covered the four Big Tops over the flowers as they are beginning to stretch and need trellising and protection. In between we did the final soil preparation for the hot pepper beds. Long day.

Yesterday I rolled and crimped the cover crop of rye and hairy vetch where the no-till sweet peppers will go. As opposed to the last few springs, the hairy vetch was blooming vigorously which will aid in it’s death. The ground is so hard, from the driest April on record, that I ran the sprinkler on the flattened cover crop for six hours to try and moisten the soil underneath so we have a chance to get the slits cut in it that will receive the plants. Today the guys will get the rest of the landscape fabric mulch on the hot pepper beds and get all of them and the eggplants in the ground. Perfect weather for transplanting peppers onto a synthetic mulch, over cast, warmish, light winds.

Tomorrow we will slit the no-till rows and begin poking the sweet pepper plants down into the thick cover crop residue/mulch. Twenty seven varieties this year, seven sweet types and the rest in hots and near hots. Can’t wait! Only 50 days until the first fresh peppers are at market and about 100 days until roasting begins! If you are interested here is an article on growing sweet peppers I wrote some years ago for Kitchen Garden Magazine, the techniques are the same, the varieties have mostly changed.

The turkeys have spent an enjoyable and dry week running in and out of the brooder and into the portable shelter that will become their new mothership when they move out to the field for good, next week. Sometimes these transition weeks from brooder to shelter are wet and cold and it is hard to let them out too much as their immune systems are not fully developed yet and the fear is they will get set back. Not so this week, plenty of sunshine and green grass to eat and play in, they are growing like the weeds in the garden.

Picture of the Week

Four covered Big Tops, three mulched hot pepper beds, one beautiful cover crop for no-till

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #9, 5/5/10

What’s been going on?

Well we got screwed on that last “rain” for sure. Looked so promising and we planted and got other things done before it started on Monday morning, it spit for a while and then nothing. Even the rain gauge was dusty. Nothing in the forecast for the next week either. Wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t looking at temps near 90 and the upper pond hadn’t mysteriously drained itself.

Drained itself, what? Last Wednesday, Cov had taken his dog down to the pond for a swim and returned asking “what happened to the pond?” I looked blankly at him and he said “there’s no water in it”. Down we go and sure enough it was drained about two thirds of the way. Must be a hole in the old metal stand pipe I figured but as it had been 35 degrees that morning I wasn’t about to wade out there and find out. Finally on Sunday when it was near 90 degrees I waded out in the waist deep water and twelve inch deep mud to inspect. No hole that I can see or feel, hmmm? Could the gravity feed line to the lower pond somehow started running on all it’s own, I couldn’t see how. It is about the only answer I can think of. The dam is fine, no signs of critter burrows, no signs of any kind of leak. Maybe 1000 deer all came and had a big drink.

I put a stick in at the water line and it appears to be slowly refilling from the trickle oozing in from the old spring. Another blow against the hole in the stand pipe theory. What ever the cause we need to get it refilled quickly while there is still water running in the creek. The water that disappeared is about one and a half months worth. If it stays this dry we will need it in August for sure. It better start raining soon!

The pace just picked up this week, weeding in the lettuce, onions and spring veggies. Tying up the early tomatoes, thinning beets. Soon trellising the flowers in the Big Tops but after we get them covered later this week. Deliveries, preparations for Mothers Day and Graduation markets. Irrigation, getting the line from the creek running and now filling up the pond. And today the now three week old turkeys will begin to explore the outdoors to get used to grass and the big world. Hold on.

Picture of the Week

Amazing Anemones some over 24 inches tall

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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 #7, 4/21/10

What’s been going on?

Wow! Too many things to write about this week but I’ll try and focus. I would be remiss though not to mark tomorrows 40th anniversary of Earth Day. While there are many reasons that Betsy and I ended up farming and in a sustainable manner, this one event in April of 1970 certainly stands out as an important influence. We were thirteen then and the stirrings of the environmental movement were all around us and our minds were moldable. Of course we didn’t know each other back then but we both ended up pursuing educations in the environmental sciences. We wanted to be able to work outdoors, in the country side and in the end leave our surroundings in better condition than when we started. 40 years later we are still trying, where is that original Earth Day button I had?

The Piedmont Farm Tour is this weekend and is always held on the weekend closest to Earth Day. Originally started as a change of events for Weaver Street Market’s Earth Day celebration, they came to us and we got together with Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) to put on a tour to showcase the farmers at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market. Now 15 years later there are 40 farms from all over the NW Triangle area and it is the single largest fundraising event CFSA has. It is a self guiding tour, pick up a map at lots of locations (like the farmers markets) and head to the first farm you want to see and buy your all access button there. You can buy your buttons in advance and save $5 at places like Weaver St. Market. Saturday and Sunday afternoons, 1:00-5:00, come see what we are up to this year. Let the mowing begin.

Busy week on the farm. Last Thursday the first of the turkeys arrived. After a year hiatus raising birds we are back at it and you can read more here. They are happy and growing well. We are lurching towards tomato planting next week and yesterday pulled the plastic over the first three bays of the Big Tops that will protect the big planting from diseases. The rest of this week will include installing the irrigation, mulch and trellises. Today the guys are moving up the 2500 or so pepper seedlings into their larger containers to grow on until planting time in about three weeks. Also yesterday I finally finished the rebuilding of the Stand that collapsed under the snow in January, just in time for the Farm Tour as promised. The big issue right now is it would be nice to get some real rain, this pitiful spitting this morning doesn’t count.

Picture of the Week

Moving pepper plants up to larger containers, a good rainy day activity

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