Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #2, 2/5/16

What’s been going on!

Busy few weeks but home for the rest of the winter.  We made it through “winter storm Jonas” with just a few inches of sleet and thankfully no ice at all.  We did sweep off the tunnels twice just in case the ice did fall but would have been fine not cleaning them off had we known that would be all we would get.  By the way, I hate that the Weather Channel has decided to name these storms, while this one was historic further north, generally they are just another big snow event, no need for the hysteria.

The icy roads did make it a bit hard to get out of town for the big SSAWG (Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group) conference in Lexington, KY.  I was gone for a whole week because of another meeting beforehand about some organic tomato breeding work that they are trying to do at UK.  They worked me hard at the conference as I taught 3 sessions including a day and a half short course and a panel discussion. It was the 25th conference and they really did a good job on the program.  Jennie came up for the main conference and gained some new ideas and met a lot of other farmers too.

Back home on Sunday and we jumped right into it.  Finally dry enough to turn over some beds, getting ready for the first spring plantings, I was on the tractor Monday.  Tuesday the groundhog cartel said that spring is just around the corner, I hope they are right this time.  We seeded the first tomatoes in the greenhouse so that is a true sign of at least optimism, if not spring.  My main task now is getting the end of the year books finished so we can get them to the accountant and finally put last year behind us.

Picture of the Week

P1020210

Freshly turned soil next to very healthy cover crop covered beds.

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

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4/2/04 Vol. 1 #3

Typical spring week warm, pleasant and sunny the first half and then gray the second half.  Still lots to do though, both on and off the farm.  Betsy and I are still trying to get out from under some of these “extra curricular” activities that we become engaged in, slowly but surely!  We do sit on a number of Boards of organizations that do work that we feel is important to the small farm community.  Betsy is the Treasurer and seems like general counsel for the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCFG), “the” national body for growers of cut flowers other than roses and carnations.  I am in the third year on the board of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG), this is a great umbrella organization that does important work all across the South with family farms.  I encourage you to check out their website for all of the different areas that they work in www.ssawg.org .

How did I get onto this jag?  Oh yeah Monday nights long Farmers’ Market board meeting.  Most folks don’t realize that the Carrboro Farmers’ Market has the organized structure behind it that it does, they think that it “just happens”, you know organized chaos.  That is actually what we want people to think.  In reality the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Farmers’ Markets, Inc. is farmer run and controlled group.  It is directed by a seven member board elected by and from the vendor members.  We also currently have three paid staff that take care of the day to day market operations.  Betsy and I have been involved with the Board for sixteen years now in some capacity or another.  Why?  Because it is so important to our life and business.  The market accounts for 85% of our business and we also believe that it is one of the finest examples of how a local sustainable food system can work.  See you just thought you were buying fresh vegetables and flowers!

On the farm planting continues as we finish up the spring crops and start the warm season ones.  Dianthus (Sweet William), the first Sunflowers and a few other flowers went in and just about the last of the lettuce for the season.  Just before the rains came!  Good thing too because otherwise the end of the week would have been spent setting up irrigation.  Now it’s time to start cultivating/weeding, we got through the lettuces and a number of flowers before the rain.  Trellising peas and fertilizing the flowering shrubs like hydrangeas and viburnums.  Work in the greenhouse moving up the tomato transplants into bigger containers, 720 plants of ten varieties that will go into the field in three weeks.  More seeding in there too, the plants have to keep rolling out so we can stay on schedule.  In between a little construction work on the Packing shed, teaching a couple of classes at the Community college and…

Picture of the week

Look at all of those anemones!

6/2/04 Vol. 1 #12

Well we have made it to June and now it gets cooler?  This is about the time when I start dreading the heat and the whole summer of it to come.  When Betsy and I moved back here from Utah (we went to college there) I thought being raised mostly in the South that I would get used to the heat and humidity again.  Now 24 years later I still suffer but have learned to arrange my days to avoid it the best that I can.  This week looks as if I won’t even have to practice my avoidance techniques!

We are still in the throws of massive blueberry picking and they look as good as any crop we have ever had, I expect this week to be the peak and then they will peter off over the next two weeks.  Betsy and I are trying to get other work done around the place while the staff picks berries.  This is truly the change of seasons from cool season crops to warm, so there are new crops to weed and trellis and old ones to take out to make room for something else.  Yesterday I was cultivating some of the flowers including sunflowers, celosias and the second planting of zinnias while Betsy was doing a last hand weeding pass through the first zinnia planting which is showing color on the buds!  I was also tying up tomatoes which look fabulous under the new roofs.  Lots of fruit set and very healthy.  Mowing, irrigating, turkey chores, deliveries to our wholesale accounts, general life, we can barely keep it all together until the blueberry season is over and we can focus the staff back onto regular farm work.  My mother used to say “life is so daily”.

Back in April sometime I mentioned that I was on the Board of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) and the kind of work that this non-profit is involved in.  As I was preparing to send in our annual donation check I was reminded by our executive director that we have a matching grant underway from the Lawson Valentine Fund.  I would encourage you as a supporter of local food and farms to consider making a donation to help in the important work that SSAWG does.  Our farm is the kind of operation that SSAWG is working to create all across the South, we have gotten lots of inspiration and ideas for our operation over the years from this group and we think that it is the best of the organizations that we work with.  If you are interested in donating to SSAWG I would be more than happy to discuss it with you,  I do have information packets that I will have at market and of course there is the website www.ssawg.org.

Picture of the Week
A farewell to cool season flowers.  Larkspur so incredible that Betsy couldn’t even begin to harvest it all

3/2/05 Vol. 2 #1

They live!  I have been trying to sit down and send out an update for months!  Just an indication of how our winter has been going, way too busy for a couple of folks who are supposed to be “taking it easy”!  I would like to think that I have gotten caught up on all of the things that we need to do but I know that would just be a bold faced lie!  As a friend of ours once said “our recreation is getting in the way of our recreation”!

Let’s see, since our last newsletter we have both had several major excursions and many minor ones.  In December Betsy and I both flew to Texas where I gave an all day workshop for the Austin Farmers’ Market.  We have good friends there who are large cut flower growers and we held the workshop at their farm.  After five days with them, including a quick side trip down to Mexico, Betsy flew home and I headed on west to Big Bend National Park.  I have been going out there, to hike, for over 30 years (starting when I was in high school in Houston).  We had a great 60 plus mile walk across the desert and up into the mountains.

In January I went to New Orleans for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) conference.  I didn’t have to give any workshops this time around but as a board member we are always busy.  The end of the month Betsy flew back to Italy!  A professor friend of ours is doing a sabbatical in the main cutflower growing region there and as we weren’t very successful in October in seeing much flower production this gave Betsy a great chance to get on some farms.  After several days in and around San Remo she took the train up to see our Italian family, the ones we stayed with in October.  I am not sure that I may not lose her to the Italians!  We have had lots of other extracurricular distractions sandwiched in as well, workshops to give, grants to review, etc.

On the farm we have been trying to pay attention to business but quite frankly have been having a hard time as we have been having too much fun!  We have managed to get quite a bit of work done on both the house and the packing shed.  The weather has made it difficult to get any planting done in a timely manner and we are running a bit behind with some crops.  Betsy has the greenhouse full of transplants and we have managed to get the first 3000 or so lettuce plants in the ground as well as seeding some other flower and vegetable crops.  If it doesn’t warm up soon I am not sure what we will have to sell the first few markets.  We are using all of the tricks that we have to get things to grow faster but really we just need some normal March weather.  The high tunnels are protecting flowers and vegetables (spinach, lettuce, turnips and more), in the field we are covering the lettuce with huge floating row covers of spun bonded polyester.  These 30’X100′ sheets are very effective but also can try a marriage!  Imagine trying to put these out in the kinds of winds we have had the last few days!

We are planting several new things this year and are excited to see how they work out.  I have a new planting of asparagus going in, new blackberries, rhubarb, and artichokes as well as new varieties of peppers and tomatoes to try.  Betsy has thousands and thousands of tulips and lilies planted along with other new flower cultivars.
Believe it or not the first market is only two weeks away, March 19th!  Yikes!  I will send out another newsletter just before then to let you know if we will be there and what we might have.

3/24/05 Vol. 2 #3

Wow what a difference a week makes!  I noticed yesterday (as I drove out the driveway on the way to yet another meeting) that the wild onions have started growing and this morning, as I wandered around, lots of things are waking up for spring;  blueberry buds swelling, the breath of spring and quince are beginning to bloom and more!  Betsy is beginning to wonder if I actually farm anymore or just go to meetings about farming.  This last five days has been non-stop.  The first market was enjoyable even though it always seems like we are learning to walk again, even after 20 years at the Carrboro Market.  We always view the first market as both a shakedown cruise to make sure we can find all of the market paraphernalia and to have time to visit with all of you before the season gets rolling so fast that we don’t have much time for conversation at market.

Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday I had a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) board meeting.  Fortunately this time it was in Pittsboro so I didn’t have to travel.  We worked hard and, as always, I came away mentally tired.   This is a great umbrella organization that does important work all across the South with family farms.  I encourage you to check out their website for all of the different areas that they work in www.ssawg.org .  I would encourage you as a supporter of local food and farms to consider making a donation to help in the important work that SSAWG does.  Our farm is the kind of operation that SSAWG is working to create, we have gotten lots of inspiration and ideas for our operation over the years from this group and we think that it is the best of the organizations that we work with.

The board meeting ended at noon and I rushed home to help plant eight more beds of vegetables before the impending rains and then rushed off to the Community College to teach a class on tomato production.  Yesterday I was gone again, very early, to drive to Goldsboro to give a workshop to a group of extension agents on crop rotation.  This is a bit unusual as I am the one who is usually sitting in the audience learning from them.  But this is the last one!  Today starts the beginning of the non-stop farm season!  Thankfully Joann started regular work Monday so at least something is getting done around here!  We are running about a week behind on one of the major projects of the spring season which is moving the “sliding” greenhouses and getting the early tomatoes planted (more on this next week).  Today we will begin the process by preparing all of the tomato beds for planting.  So I am off to the field…

Picture of the Week
Magnolia blossoms opening

3/23/07 Vol. 4 #1

Oh my!  The first market is tomorrow!  Every fall I say I will put out a newsletter once a month to keep you all up to date on our off season antics and somewhere in December I get distracted and drop the ball.  That usually means we are so busy doing off-farm things, that when we are here, it is difficult to find time to get a newsletter out.  This winter has been just such a time.

Betsy’s trip to Kenya, in December, to look at the cut flower industry there was thought provoking.  Some of the largest cut flower farms in the world, including the largest rose farm, are clustered around Lake Naivasha, northwest of Nairobi.  Primarily run by Europeans they were big, but not with the infrastructure or the diversity we have found on farms in Europe.  Primarily for export, they concentrate on a few crops and use a lot of hand labor in sometimes very rudimentary facilities.
Kenyan post harvest facility

The fact that they paid their help $1.50 a day was appalling to Betsy.  When she was in Ecuador a few years ago they also used a lot of local labor but treated them very well.  At the end of their trip they toured the Rift Valley and the Central Highlands around Mt. Kenya, with a guide, and saw many amazing natural things.

The unusual warmth of January threw us off our usual deep winter pattern of time in the house reading and doing desk related tasks.  We knew it was too early to plant in the fields even though it was very tempting.  Between meetings we puttered around on various small projects including, of course, getting seedlings started in the greenhouse.  Early in the month I was the keynote speaker at a sustainable ag conference in Maryland, a good group that I had not experienced before.  The end of January Betsy and I both went to Louisville, KY for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) conference.  This is one of the best farming conferences in the country and the best in the south.  Over 1200 attendees made for a very active time.  I presented at several workshops including giving a day long short course on organic vegetable production.

We came home, ready to get to work in the fields and the weather decided to change to winter.  That threw us off balance again as we held back on planting some crops out into the fields until it warmed up a bit.  The extended cold weather and dry conditions also made it hard to get soil prepared in a timely manner as the cover crops that we depend on so much for soil improvement grew larger than normal in the warm early winter and then wouldn’t decompose when turned into the dry cool soil.  We would turn them under a month in advance, as usual, and then a month later on planting day till the bed again to prepare for seeding and they looked like we had just turned them under the day before.  In the end all the early crops look pretty good just behind where they were at this time last year.  The rest of the leviathan rolls forward as always.  The sliding tunnels are all moved as of yesterday and the first tomatoes go in the ground on Monday.  The huge array of tomatoes and peppers have been seeded in the greenhouse and are beginning to come up, 22 varieties of toms and 25 of pepper this year!

On a sad note we lost a dear friend last week just as market is ready to start again.  Faye Pickard passed away unexpectedly.  Miss Faye as we called her (and that was her email address too) has been one of our diehard regulars since our first market in 1986.  One of the early shoppers (you know who you are, there before 8:30) on Saturdays she always was there unless she was off to be with her grand kids.  She loved Cherokee Purple tomatoes the most and we always saved the first ones for her, sometimes even before we had a chance to eat one!  As a true southern lady she grew up eating out of the garden and was determined to introduce her kids and grand kids to the pleasures of eating good fresh food.  She had succeeded as she would tell us stories of her kids asking her to bring tomatoes from the market or the grand kids eating cucumbers right out of the bag as she would come in the door!  I try to impress upon audiences when I speak about markets that it is more than just selling your products, it is really about the relationships you build with your customers, they become a part of your farm too.  Miss Faye was certainly a part of ours.

Picture of the Week
Italian Ranunculus inside one of the sliding tunnels with Lettuce outside

4/11/07 Vol. 4 #4

Wow, that was cold!  Five mornings in the twenties with the nadir Sunday morning at 20 degrees!  Everyone wants to know what the damage has been to the crops but it is really too early to really tell about most of them.  The tomatoes survived with some severe freeze damage on the outside rows but they all should grow out of it.  The cucumbers look unscathed, amazing.  The dutch iris actually look great, Betsy has begun to cut a few. and we haven’t had any open completely yet but so far they appear to have no injury.  The big question is the blueberries.  That will take a week or more for the damage to be really apparent.  This freeze is very similar to the April freeze in 2001, when it was 24 degrees on the 18th with high winds.   That season we lost all the blueberries.  Most of the rest of the crops look fine, the sugar snap peas are burned a bit along with other odds and ends of crops.  Time will tell.

Monday I gave my last big presentation of the speaking season in Spartanburg, SC.  While I have traveled around the country quite a bit giving talks on all kinds of farming subjects it is these full day workshops that I seem to becoming known for.  This one, for 60 farmers and other ag related folks, is at least the fifth or sixth where I hold forth for an entire day, attempting to cover the entire subject of organic/sustainable vegetable production.  Can’t be done really.  The best part, is that after an entire day of examples and pictures I think they go away with the most important lesson: this kind of farming is an interrelated system where each action the farmer takes affects other things up and down the line.  Sure they go away with a big notebook full of information, and lots of details on soil management, how to control weeds and more but it is the big picture that I hope has become clearer to them.  It is hard to get a grasp on this complex system when you only hear someone speak for and hour or so.  I am currently working with the Southern Sustainable Agricultural Working Group (SSAWG) on a CD-Rom on Organic Vegetable Production and Marketing that is modeled after my full day workshops.  Now all of this is really just the Readers Digest version of the Sustainable Vegetable Production course that I designed and taught for five or six years at the Sustainable Farming Program at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro.  There I carried on for three hours a night for sixteen weeks!  Full immersion for sure.  Now the real benefit for Betsy and me to all of this is that the more times I have to explain to people how we farm, the closer I scrutinize why we do things in certain ways and, hopefully, we refine the system even more.

Picture of the Week
The perfect rainy day activity, moving up the 2500 plus pepper plants