Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #22, 7/3/13

What’s been going on!

40 days and 40 nights, well not quite but over 9 inches of rain for us in June and another couple in the first days of July.  I know lots of folks have had more and certainly the historic rain (5 inches) and flash flood in Chapel Hill and Carrboro on Sunday are much worse than anything we have seen here at the farm this month, we understand the difficulty of post flood clean up.  We did have 15 plus inches in a month back in the late 90’s, seemed like it only rained on us, every day.  Our only real flash flood was after a dumping of more than 10 inches in just a few hours on a June day, the creek jumped its banks and ran down the side of the bottom field in white caps, carrying top soil and crops with it.  Seemed like it rained more back then, at least until this year.

The real danger with this kind of weather is not the amount of water but the constant wetness.  Most crops just aren’t happy with water logged soils and the diseases are happy in the petri dish like environment of hot and humid.  Sunlight is a great sanitizer.  So far most of our crops look good but we do badly need to get in and do more trellising in the peppers as they are getting really top heavy but working in wet plants is a sure recipe for spreading disease up and down the row so for now we wait, maybe Friday.

So what do farmers do when it is too wet to get into the fields?  Start more plants!  It is the time of year that we are all beginning to seed, in the greenhouse, all the fall and early winter crops.  Celery, Brussels sprouts and leeks are already up and looking good.  Yesterday was time for Kale, lettuce, fennel, cauliflower, dianthus, Rudbeckia and more.   If you can’t farm outside, go inside and play with plants instead.

Picture of the Week

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Tall, tall peppers and we really need to mow those paths too!

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #21, 6/28/13

What’s been going on!

A bit wet and steamy lately?  This is exactly the weather we used to have nearly every summer back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s which eventually lead us to import the Big Tops from England in 2004.  All organic tomato growers fear this kind of weather which leads to all kinds of leaf diseases (and other problems) that they really don’t have any tools to use to protect the plants.  Conventional growers have many sprays they use on a weekly basis to slow down the diseases.

We have told this story many times but it turns out we have a fungal disease that attacks our tomatoes that no one else has (just lucky that way).  We tried many techniques and materials to try and reduce its effect on our tomatoes including good mulching, raised beds, trellising, pruning, airflow, organic sprays and more, all to no avail.  We did know if we could just keep the plants dry it would greatly reduce the spread of the leaf blight.  Enter the Big Tops, just big plastic roofs to keep the rain off but with good air flow, as a friend of ours calls them “tomato umbrellas”.  It is seasons like this that we are glad we spent the money to build them to insure a luscious crop of fruit.

Besides non-stop mowing and weeding there were two big developments this week.  I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday turning under the remnants of the spring crops and seeding the summer cover crops on three quarters of an acre.  Followed by a big rain on Wednesday night they should fly up.  It has been several years since we have had conditions for great summer cover crops, this looks to be a good season.  The second is we passed all of our final inspections on the new building and they turned the power on!  Just a few things left to do and Jennie can move in this week, woohoo!

Picture of the Week

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Happy and dry tomatoes

What’s going to be at the market?

It is Lilypalooza, lots of long lasting fragrant pink Oriental Lilies and yellow and pink Asiatics too.  Nikko Blue Hydrangeas and maybe a few white Annabelles too.  Brilliant Zinnias and Gloriosa Daisies (Black eyed Susans), a sign of summer.  Plenty of Sunflowers.    Beautiful Bouquets of course.

Tomatoes!  A moderate supply this week in both the sweeter Ultra Sweet and more balanced Big Beefs in reds and Cherokee purples.  A small supply of the great flavored yellow Orange Blossom and Sungolds.  Cucumbers.  Sweet Red Onions.

Maybe the last week of Lacinato or Dinosaur Kale, is really beautiful, time for those raw Kale salads or Kale chips.  Last of the spring Leeks too.  Plenty of Basil for the tomatoes!

As a reminder if there is anything that you would like for us to hold for you at market just let us know by e-mail, by the evening before, and we will be glad to put it aside for you.

Hope to see you all at the market!

Alex and Betsy

If you know folks who you think would be interested in news of the farm then please feel free to forward this to them and encourage them to sign up at the website.

Peregrine Farm News, Vol. 10 #16, 5/24/13

What’s been going on!

Last wholesale delivery of lettuce yesterday, after another three inches of rain this week I told the produce managers that if this was a prize fight I would stop it now, so I did.  A record short season for lettuce deliveries to Weaver Street, only three weeks but when it starts late and then it rains two or three times the average something has to give.  It was the lettuce.  That doesn’t mean we are done with lettuce for market, just not enough good looking heads to fill the large orders.  Oh well, time to move on, blueberries are calling.

Farm to Fork Picnic coming up in two weeks, June 9th.  Apparently a lot of folks think that it is already sold out, which it always does but not quite yet, still time to get your tickets.  Not only is this a great food event pairing some of the area’s best chefs with the best farmers to create amazing fresh flavors and food but it also more importantly supports new farmer training programs at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and the Breeze Farm in Orange county where the event is held.

34 pairings this year plus the artisans tent, bigger than last year.  We are excited to be working with Scott Howell from Nana’s in Durham, his first time participating but not his first time at the rodeo as one of the finest restaurants in North Carolina.  We are working on something with turkey (a turkey salami) and of course a vegetable dish hopefully with the first tomatoes of the season.  Don’t let this opportunity pass.

So the rain has held us up on the big job this week, second only to tomato planting week is pepper week.  The beds for the specialty hot and sweet peppers have been prepared with irrigation line and landscape fabric and the cover crop on the no-till beds have been rolled and crimped.  Hopefully it will dry out enough today to plant the fabric beds this afternoon and the forecast looks as if we can get the rest tucked into the no-till area on Monday or Tuesday.  The plants look awesome, at the perfect stage of growth to hit the soil running, let’s hope we can get it done soon.

Picture of the Week

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Thousands of pepper plants raring to go

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #14, 5/8/13

What’s been going on!

So I was talking to a dairy farmer the other day and he was asking if we have had too much rain because he couldn’t get a number of chores done until it dried out some.  I said not too much yet but we sure could use some sun.  It has been a long time since we have had a really wet spring, the kind where you have water standing in the fields and you wait for weeks to get anything done.

Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s we had a number of years when it rained like hell, particularly in early spring, and we many times wondered if we were ever going to get anything planted or weeded.  This is when we developed our system of raising our beds up the fall before so they would drain and warm up fast come spring and heavy rains.  We even had a number of floods in our creek bottom field that finally made us stop using those fields (even though it is the best soil on the farm) in the regular rotation because we couldn’t afford to lose crops, then after Hurricane Fran in 1996 the tap turned off.

We can’t remember a flood in the bottom since Fran and have slowly begun using that field on a more regular basis but still not for our major crops: lettuce, peppers and tomatoes.  They are way up on the hill, safe from high water but certainly not immune to multiple other kinds of plagues that could hit them.  As I always point out to new farmers, bad things will happen but you can learn a lot from those situations.

One of our graduates, who is now farming a beautiful farm on the banks of the Cane river north of Asheville, had a huge flood this week which carried off not only much of what he had planted for this spring but a lot of his topsoil as well, replacing it with river rocks.  He will lose the use of that area for some time to come but is planning on picking up all the rocks he can to start the process.  The reason that creek bottom fields have rich soil is the same reason they flood, sometimes there is too much water and the stream deposits it there.  So the answer to the dairy farmer is no we haven’t hand too much rain here but lots of other folks have, wish we could go help pick rocks.  Come on sun!

Picture of the Week

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A June flood in 1993 which took our whole tomato crop

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #17, 7/11/12

What’s been going on!

A glorious, cool, cloudy, rainy morning!  Still not a lot of rain yet (1.2 inches over the last two days plus an inch last Friday) but what we have gotten has been steady and slow, almost no runoff, just a good soaking.  We have been so dry that even with last Fridays and Mondays contributions we were able to till soil yesterday and seed more flowers and another round of summer cover crops.  We now hope that the rains forecast for the rest of the week will actually come and bring those seeds up.  I would love to see another two inches!

A beautiful gray day, old Zinnias turned under and seeded to a cover crop

We are all in full blown tomato mania.  While we have passed the peak of our harvest most everyone is getting ready for theirs.  Last Sundays tomato cooking class at A Southern Season was a full house, went really well, and folks went away with a new enthusiasm for a spectrum of tomato possibilities.  For the last several weeks we have been supplying tomatoes to every outlet possible.  For the next week or so you can find ours at both the Carrboro and Southern Village Weaver Street Markets; on the menus at Elaine’s on Franklin, Pazzo, IL Palio and GlassHalfull in Chapel Hill/Carrboro and at Nanas and Watts Grocery in Durham.  You can find links to all of the above here.  The Carrboro Farmers’ Market’s Tomato Day is this Saturday (more info below).

Of course we are all breathing a sigh of relief to be past the record setting heat wave of the last two weeks which culminated in the all-time record of six 100 degree days in a row at RDU.  There will be very few tomatoes at market the third and fourth weeks of August due to no fruit set these last two weeks.  When day temperatures exceed 85°F and night temperatures exceed 72°F, tomato flowers will abort.  July is definitely all about tomatoes, don’t miss enjoying them as much as you can.

The packing shed bulging with tomatoes

What’s going to be at the market?

The Carrboro Farmers’ Markets annual Tomato Day is this Saturday and we have expanded it to the entire town with restaurants and other businesses participating with specials.  Over 70 varieties to try and other samplings including tomato juice from us.

Tomatoes are still in full swing with good supply.   In reds we have an abundance of full flavored Big Beefs.  The flood of Cherokee Purples is here along with its cousins the Cherokee Green and a few Cherokee Chocolates.  A small supply of pink, low acid German Johnson.  Plenty of the fruity bi-color Striped Germans.  In orange/yellows there are Orange Blossoms and the beautiful Kellogg’s Breakfast.  In cherry types we have a better supply of Sungolds and the mixed Sungold cousins Sun Lemon (orange), Sun Peach (pink) and Sun Chocula (I did not make these names up) and the bi-colored elongated Blush.  The best supply we have ever had of the Italian Oxheart sauce tomatoes and beautiful Romas, if you want to make sauce, now’s the time.

The peppers are starting with Shishitos and Padrons for appetizers and a few Serranos and Jalapenos.  Sweet Red Onions and Basil to go with tomatoes!  Flat Leaf Italian Parsley.

Betsy and the flower department are still producing an amazing amount of beautiful stems.  The Crested Celosia wave is beginning to roll.  More long lasting Lisianthus, queen of cut flowers, mostly in purple with some pink and white.  The second cutting of Delphinium has started.  Lots of fragrant Oriental lilies in pink and white.  The Zinnia flood rolls on with the Sunflowers.  The airy and elegant Trachelium.  Annabelle Hydrangeas for drying.  Beautiful Bouquets!

As a reminder if there is anything that you would like for us to hold for you at market just let us know by e-mail, by the evening before, and we will be glad to put it aside for you.

Hope to see you all at the market!

Alex and Betsy

If you know folks who you think would be interested in news of the farm then please feel free to forward this to them and encourage them to sign up at the website.

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #12, 6/6/12

What’s been going on!

Beautiful gentle rain this morning, just what we needed both for the flower crops we just seeded but for everything else as well.  With the relatively cool temperatures we have not had to irrigate much but we were getting to the point of having to get into a regular watering schedule.  I decided to pump some more water into the upper pond while the irrigation demands were low and the creek was still running well.  Should have looked at the creek first but didn’t.  After 24 hours of pumping the lower pond almost empty I went down to turn off the pump and the gravity feed line that keeps the pond full from the creek was barely trickling after having run strongly for weeks, Hmmm?  Using the irrigation pump I push water back up the gravity feed line, towards the creek to flush it out and to refill it to get a strong flow going again.  This entails walking the 900’ up to the creek end to make sure the intake is clear where I find the creek is barely flowing!  I am really surprised to see this as we have had OK rains and it has not been really hot so the trees should not be pulling as much water out of the ground but alas the ground water must still be really low so the springs are still not flowing much.  This rain will help give us time to get the lower pond refilled before it does get hot next week.

More general chores this week in anticipation of real tomato harvest.  The big project has been to get all of the red onions out of the ground and into the greenhouse to cure.  The staff got the last of them pulled yesterday, just in time.  Not as big a crop as last year but still enough to have until at least August.  We never grew storage onions in the early years because they are so cheap and abundant at the grocery store but some years ago I was at a conference in Arkansas where I heard an onion breeder talk about how red onions are much healthier due to higher levels of anti-oxidants than white or yellow onions and he was breeding red onions to have even higher levels but remain sweet (the anti-oxidants are also associated with “hot” onions).

So our red onion growing experiments began.  The problem here in North Carolina is we are in between the good onion growing regions.  Up North they have long days and lots of onions bred for that, more South they have short days and onions bred for those conditions.   We have what they call intermediate day length and there are only a few varieties of red onions we can choose from but fortunately we have found a couple of good ones.  In any case they are just in time for summer salads and salsas with the impending tomatoes and peppers!

Picture of the Week

Brilliant Zinnias even on a rainy day

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #9, 5/16/12

What’s been going on!

Rain, rain go away, comeback next Tuesday (or so).  Fortunately we have had most of our rain fall in non-work hours but it certainly has complicated the weeks scheduling because the, now nearly three inches of, water has made it impossible to get things planted, weeded or mowed.  This was supposed to be pepper planting week, one of the most important of the year.  We have managed to get the field ready with fabric and preparing the no-till section but not a single plant has gone in the ground.  Hopefully some will get planted tomorrow.

In any event it is the season for picking fussy little things.  When Sugar Snap Peas and Blueberries happen at the same time we seem to just go from one to the other trying to keep up with the rapid ripening of thousands of individual fruits.  Picking tomatoes and peppers is so much less tedious and the boxes fill so much faster.  There are good aspects to peas and berries though, they are both stand up jobs, of which there are few on the farm, and usually the weather is pleasant as you keep your hands moving as fast as possible to get as many of the tiny objects into the bucket as you can.  Of course there is the mandatory taste testing that happens too.

There are tomatoes to tie up, flowers to trellis, winter squash to plant but we did finally get the ginger planted indoors yesterday.  When it does dry out the weeds will be of biblical proportions and the mowing required will be Herculean.  So after getting the peppers in the ground we know what we will be doing next week.

 

Picture of the Week

Sweet, sweet peas by the thousands

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #2, 4/1/11

What’s been going on?

April fools day, well we’ve been fooled all week by the weather that’s for sure. 26 degrees on Tuesday morning, to be expected in late spring. We covered the early tunnel tomatoes and everybody was fine, the blueberries will let us know how they did, we could be fooled. What really fooled us this week was the rain. Looked like a rain day on Monday and we only got a tenth of an inch. Looked like a rain day on Wednesday and we got a great rain of just over an inch. Looked like rain for sure yesterday afternoon so had the staff only work a half a day and we barely got any water from the sky. Hard to call sometimes and we just don’t have much inside work right now.

It’s like that in spring. You try and have a plan for the week and the extremes of weather really decide what you will do. Fortunately the staff understands, they would rather work and make some money but they know if it is too wet there are only so many things we can do. Can’t till soil, can’t cultivate, etc. So it’s late spring chainsaw season. There is always a field edge to clean up/fight back and when it’s a cold morning a little brush fire is a welcome thing. So Tuesday we worked over the edge of the woods at the very top of the farm, it has probably been 15 years since we did it last. This morning it will be some firewood cutting until it warms up and then we can harvest a bit for market. So it goes.

Great staff this year, like all years it seems. Glenn is back for his third season and has taken the reins of responsibility in hand. Jennie is new to us this year but has been working on farms in the area for several years. They are doing an excellent job and everything really is in order. I just wish we had more to do right now. Now that really is an April fools joke because in a few weeks we will be overwhelmed with work and begging for a break.

Picture of the Week

A wet day but the peas and the beets really like it.

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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 #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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