What’s been going on!
Just amazing that the cool(ish) spring weather continues this late into June along with the rains. We are trying hard to catch up on weeding, tying up tomatoes and other chores held up by both the wet conditions and blueberry season. Blueberry season is over this week (we will cruise through the planting one more time tomorrow) so now we can concentrate on taking care of the summer crops. The main red onion harvest is finally over too, hard to pull onions when it is too wet but the urgency to get them out before the weeds took them was pressing. They will now cure for a week before we begin to bring them to market.
The past week is normally when the little turkey poults arrive in the mail but not this year. There are multiple red flags that have caused us to hold off raising turkeys this season. Feed is the number one cost in raising the birds despite the fact that they are pastured. Feed prices remain at record high levels and on top of that, the feed plant that we have used that past few years had a fire earlier this year and is still shut down, making it difficult to get the feed we want, two strikes. Last fall, the week we went to process the birds, we found out that the freezer plant that we had used for a decade would no longer allow us to store our turkeys there (they changed ownership) and we scrambled to find a substitute facility. We did but were underwhelmed at the options and the service we ended up with, third strike.
But there may be a silver lining to the story. There are two reasons we have processed our birds well before Thanksgiving- one is just the shear madness at the processing plant just before the holiday and the other is the Broad Breasted Bronze poults that we prefer were generally not available later than mid June making it necessary to process them in early October otherwise we would end up with 30 pound birds. We have now found a hatchery that can provide the little birds up into August. This would allow us to both avoid the freezer plant issue, with fresh birds, and we also may be able wait out the feed plant closing. We will let you know the outcome.
Picture of the Week
Beautiful Campanula and Dianthus after the rain
What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading
What a glorious week to live in central North Carolina! Not!!! A little bit of rain every day to keep the humidity up high and the temperatures in the mid to high nineties, the kind of weather that makes me think about moving back out west. The only thing worse was when we lived in Houston and it rained every day and then the steam would rise off of all the concrete just like a steam bath.
We have been plugging along despite the conditions and getting quite a bit done. We harvested all of the red onions and while we did not get as many this year the size is much larger which is nice. We have both the Stockton Sweet Reds and the Long Reds of Tropea which we grow for Ben Barker at Magnolia Grill (he says when cooked they make a great sauce). Years ago I was in Arkansas for a conference and was impressed by an onion breeder who spoke about the healthy attributes of Red Onions, very high in anti-oxidants, and he was trying to breed varieties high in these compounds. Red onions are harder to grow than white ones and you cannot store them very long either. The sweeter the onion the shorter its storage capabilities. We are limited here also by day length. Onions are classed as long, intermediate and short day length varieties. Most of the onions are grown either far south (Texas with short day lengths) or north (New York with long days). We are smack in the middle of the intermediate zone so are limited by the varieties we can choose. Fortunately the Stockton Sweet Red is a really good variety. Enjoy them for the next month or so.
The next batch of turkeys arrived on Thursday and we were able to get the Broad Breasted Bronzes that we wanted and have been trying to get the last several years and couldn’t. As these are large turkeys they grow much faster than the heritage birds so we want to get them later (closer to Thanksgiving) so they don’t get huge. The problem is that there is only really one breeder for these Bronzes and the later into the summer you go there are fewer available because the their fertility goes down and so the hatch rate is low. We have wanted to raise this type because although they are a broad breasted type which means they are prone to the sorts of inbreeding problems associated with large birds we think that they may be hardier than the white kinds and also be more adapted to our outdoor, pasture management system. We’ll see. They look great so far!
Picture of the Week
A peek at good things to come, Big Beefs
The first day of summer and now the days begin to get shorter. While we have been fortunate to have cool weather last far into June the days getting shorter are still a sign that it is all down hill to fall now. I know we still have lots of summer season to go but in our minds we are always anticipating the next season, seeding crops for it, making plans around it. etc. This long term view of the world is important for a farmer to have, partly to be prepared for what is to come so we are ready to take advantage of it (“have to make hay while the sun shines”) and partly to see past what might not be going well this season (“there’s always next year”). I find that having an understanding of the long cycle of the seasons allows us to better plan our crops and how they best fit into the agro-ecosystem. What summer cover crop works best before a fall planted flower crop that if planted at the right time and temperature will not have horrible weed problems next spring to fight. Those flowers need to come out in time for another summer cover crop (different this time) that will be mature enough in time to run the turkeys through and will build organic matter and nutrients for the following springs lettuce crop which needs lots of nutrients but never uses them all. When the lettuce is done we can plant late summer zinnias and sunflowers that can soak up all that excess nitrogen but will be done in time to plant a winter cover crop that will feed the next years early summer flowers and on and on. A farmer friend of ours says “I only have about twenty more times to try and get this right”. In some jobs you can try and get it right instantly, or the next day or the next week. In farming we only get one chance a year and we better see it coming!
It is summer cover crop time and as the spring crops come out we are preparing to turn the residue under and seed those soil improving crops. I wish I could have gotten it done before the big rains of last week but will all work out. We were lucky again to get good rains but not as heavy or as much as some our friends. Two inches on Sunday last and a steady 1.6″ from Alberto. Some of our fellow market farmers had as much as fourteen inches from the various storms last week! Blueberries are finished and because it was such a light crop we are not in too bad a shape coming out of the season on the rest of the farm. This weeks big job is the red onion harvest. We have to wait until the tops start to fall over which is the signal that they are finished growing. It is best to harvest when it is dry and warm so that he necks of the onions dry out well. If it is too wet then the chances are high of some kind of disease infecting the freshly cut off neck and causing the onion to rot. Perfect weather this week, but the staff always feel like I have staked them out on and ant hill when I say its time to harvest onions. We carefully pull each one of the 5000 plus plants, cut off the top leaving a inch of neck, cut off the roots, wipe off any excess dirt and place them in ventilated trays. The trays are then put into our passive solar greenhouse to cure and dry. Then over the next few months we will clean a few boxes each week and bring them to market. It is a lot of work but the quality and health benefits of these red onions are worth it.
Picture of the Week
Fabulous Annabelle Hydrageas at their peak
We are beginning to get caught up around here but the record setting blueberry crop continues on. Into a fifth week, we have never picked for more than four weeks and that has only happened a few times. Today is the last official pick as there are very few berries left and the birds sense it, every time I walk by there is great fluttering away of all kinds of winged thieves. We always get behind during the blueberry picking fiesta and that combined with the rains compounded the amount of projects needed to be done. Thankfully this week has been dry and reasonable for getting stuff done.
Two fun things going on this coming week and in the near future that you can help with, both will benefit the Carrboro Farmers’ Market. First up is 3 CUPS, the wine, coffee and tea store on S. Elliott Rd. is donating 5% of its sales next Monday through Thursday (June 28-July 2) to the market. It was kicked off last night with a social at the store with a number of vendors from the market and a few customers, very kind of them to host us and do this benefit. For more information you can see it here
The second is you can go to and vote for the Carrboro Farmers’ Market as your favorite market. We have a really good chance to win $5000. This money would allow the market to do some really important projects that we have on our list of things to do to improve the market. Voting continues until September 17th. We are currently in fifth place and moving up rapidly, please vote and help us win!
The onion harvest was completed yesterday and we have never had better red onions. They are now curing in the greenhouse and will be at market from here until Labor Day. The last of the Big Tops was covered last Wednesday and the late planting of tomatoes went in the ground on Friday. The change of seasons continues as most of the spring crops are mowed down now and I have begun to prepare soil for the seeding of the summer cover crops. From here on in we get into more measured summer pace, no frenzied days trying to get things done before the next rain or spring cold front, just calm management of the summer crops.
Picture of the Week
The Spring flower block disked up ready for cover crop seed