Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #4, 3/16/18

What’s been going on!

Good trip to New Orleans the beginning of the week and the focused meeting of experienced cut flower growers was an interesting look at where people are in their operations and in planning for the future.  For the most part we are much farther down the road in that planning than anyone else who was in the room and our talk about what we are doing with Jennie was well received.

Back at the farm the staff has started working more each week with this past week really the true beginning of their season. We almost always start them with getting ready for planting the early tomatoes in the sliding tunnels.  While they have helped plant onions and early lettuce, some pruning and mulching of blueberries it is the bed preparation and building tomato trellis that really marks the full emersion into the Peregrine Farm style of production.

Starting with two new people takes a bit more time but Lacee and Jacob are jumping in with enthusiasm and picking it all up quickly.  Both have worked on some other farms but come from two different back grounds, Lacee more from the restaurant world and Jacob from academia having just graduated from NCSU with a masters in Agroecology.  Together we should once again have a great team this year!

Picture of the Week

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Jacob and Lacee putting down landscape fabric

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #15, 5/17/13

What’s been going on!

Glorious weather the last few days but we knew it had to end and so it does, going from the 30’s Tuesday morning (even found some ice on raised exposed surfaces) to the high 80’s the next day, ugh.  We did take advantage of the enjoyable conditions to get a lot done.  Planting is caught up and nearly so with cultivation and weeding.  The mowing is relentless this time of year but the incessant growth should slow down with the heat.

We have been working on the pre blueberry picking clean-up of the patch with hard mowing and then cutting out the bird volunteered small trees, honey suckle and other vining things including poison ivy.  The problem with perennial plantings is sooner or later all kinds of weed seeds are deposited by wind and birds that perch in the plants.  Unlike an annual planting which you can turn under and kill any sprouted plants, here the unwanted can get a foot hold and hide from mowers, weed eaters and pruners.  After 23 years in the ground we have some crafty invaders.

After nearly two inches of rain last week we are now racing around getting the last of the irrigation set up to try and reduce the shock to the crops that have been luxuriating in the cool spring weather.  Add to that covering two more Big Tops, whole sale deliveries of lettuce to Weaver Street Market and snatching spare time to try and finish up the building project we have officially hit the busy season.

Despite that we did have two “family” moments this week.  First we did race up to Burnsville to help Rett clean up his fields after last week’s flood, picking river rocks out of the planting areas, pulling up sand covered row covers and debris filled pea trellis.  Eight hours of driving for four hours work but we just had to go help.  Monday Elizabeth, worked for us six years ago and is getting married in two weeks, came out to have her wedding dress photos taken out in the fields.  Always non-traditional the shots in the onion field certainly will be different from your normal bride pictures.

On a final note, Dalton Zachary one of the long time vendors at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, a neighbor of ours and a continuing inspiration is turning 90 tomorrow and will be at his market stall, as always, with his family.  We are always amazed at how he does it all.

Picture of the Week

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Jennie and Liz harvesting radishes

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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. 10 #13, 5/3/13

What’s been going on!

What is the bright orb in the sky?  Nearly a week without sun, bad for the psyche and some of the crops.  Unfortunately it looks like it will not last long, maybe through the first part of Sunday.  We will have to move fast to get more things planted, especially the big planting of winter squash.  We have had an erratic history with winter squash but this year we are screwing ourselves to the task of doing an excellent job so we can have plenty to sell through next winter if possible.

We have had many kind words about the article this week in the N&O about our former staff who have gone on to run their own farms.  Many great people have passed through the farm from our first real employee Greg Dusenberry to Liz and Jennie now on staff.  We never set out to train new farmers, we just want to equip them with the information they need to do a good job for us and to treat them as well as we can.  This business has so many moving parts that for them to understand why we do things the way we do and consequently want them to do them that exactly way, we have to teach them about the whole business not just how to pick turnips.

We are proud of all the “full season” employees we have had even the ones who decided that farming wasn’t for them, as that is a more important a thing to learn than how to trellis a tomato.  We have been very lucky to mostly hire people who already had worked on other small farms and had a real desire to have their own farm someday, not just something to do for the summer.  Mostly we were just fine tuning their skills, in many ways we have been their last stop before they actually jumped off the dock and swam to their own operations or went on to graduate school.  Farming is not an easy business and you have to really be committed to doing it, there are many reasons why we are less than one percent of the population.

One good thing about the drizzly weather, it made it easy to go inside the building project and work on the sheetrock.  Great strides in that direction, another few days and we can roll on some paint and call the electrician in to finish it out.  Whoopee!

 Pictures of the Week

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Our awesome staff harvesting Broccoli Raab, Jennie in front, Liz in the distance

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Almost there

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #1, 3/16/12

What’s been going on?

The start of the season but what does that mean anymore? There used to be one date that our entire spring schedule and life revolved around. For nearly 20 years the Carrboro Saturday market opened the second to last week of March and our focus was on having things to sell by then. It coincidentally was the same week as the equinox and the first week of astronomical spring, a nice farmer like punctuation mark. Now with the year round Saturday market, the changing climate, and the earlier and earlier daylight savings time (it is still barely light at 7:00, again!) our internal clocks are way off kilter.

The year round market has all of us farmers trying to figure out how it fits into our particular farms crops and marketing mix. Because of our members ingenuity, stubbornness and changing technologies the winter market is much more robust than any of us could have anticipated just a few years ago. But for us old dogs, it is harder to adapt. In our 31st year farming and the 27th at market we remember when the Saturday market didn’t even open until the first or second week of April and even then there was not much on the tables of the vendors.

Betsy and I are continually testing the waters and as many of you know we have been at market almost every week this winter. Partly because of new crops (Ginger and Jerusalem artichokes) and timing of crops (Anemones since Christmas) that we needed to sell, partly because of the extremely warm winter but partly because we are trying to adjust our schedules to the changing climate. Are we going to become year round vendors? No, but we are moving some production earlier and later in the season in an attempt to avoid the brutal heat of summer. We still want our winters off but they might be shorter than they used to be. Old dogs, new tricks.

For those of you we have not caught up with at market we did have a great winter season. Lots of travel and teaching including Betsy to Italy for further study of the language and Alex with two trips west to go hiking (Utah and Texas). Conferences and teaching events in Louisiana, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia, whew! It is all over now and the staff started yesterday with Jennie back for her second year and Liz in her first, a great beginning for a new season even it we don’t really know when that is anymore.

Picture of the Week

A coldframe full of plants waiting to go into the field

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #2, 3/11/10

What’s been going on?

Well some of you caught us at Farmers’ Market last week, on our inaugural outing. Really more of a shakedown cruise to make sure we could find everything and remember how to do it. After six months of not going to market it takes some re-adjustments to find the right tables and the cash box and signs, etc. It was great to see everyone we talked to and the market seemed alive with souls who are more than ready for this endless winter to cease, farmers and customers both.

When I sent the last newsletter out in January, at that time starting to be amazed at the duration of the cold weather, little could we have imagined how long it would really last. Certainly now, standing at the brink of our 29th growing season, we can say that never have we experienced such a winter in North Carolina! It has not been so much about the amount of snow or threats of snow we’ve had but the string of days below fifty degrees. In years past we would be out occasionally working in thirty and forty degree temperatures but usually there are enough days in the winter when it warms up past the fifty degree mark that we would just save up the outdoor chores for those days. This winter has seen only a dozen or so days when it got above the average high temperature (which most of the time hovers just above that fifty degree mark).

What does this all mean besides we are really out of shape and can barely move after some of these first warm work days? It means that most crops are going to be running very late this spring. Some people I have talked to are saying things look three weeks behind right now. If it warms up in some reasonable fashion those delays will shrink. I can say we have been up to three weeks delayed in getting some things in the ground and I have officially moved back the seeding dates for most of the spring vegetable crops by a week over last year. Cold soil means really poor germination rates for things like spinach, beets and carrots. The transplanted crops, like lettuce, will go in on schedule and usually catch up with the arrival of warmer days but I would say that they too will be off by at least a week this spring.

Despite the weather, the staff started back to work this week, for at least a few days, because we do have a lot of maintenance work to get done. The first job was dismantling the shed roof that collapsed in the January snow. It took all day to carefully take it apart so we can, fairly easily, reconstruct it before the Farm Tour in April. Cov and Glenn are both back for this season and it is really nice to know we have skilled help when it comes to getting these kinds of jobs done as well as the inevitable catch up work we will need to do when it warms up for good.

Picture of the Week

Nothing left of the Stand but the posts and the de-tinned roof structure.

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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

5/18/05 Vol. 2 #11

Wow, what glorious weather!  Summer must be right around the corner.  This week as we were planting yet more Celosia flowers (this is an inside joke at the farm, Betsy always seems to have more Celosia to plant) Rett asked how many folks who had worked for us had gone on to start their own farms.  I had to think about it for a bit and finally came up with at least six (mostly in this area) and another three or four who most likely will someday.  That is out of the twenty plus people who have worked a full summer with us in the last ten years, that’s almost 50 percent!  I always say that only about one percent of the folks that start out to farm actually make it past the first five years.   Now some of my market gardener colleagues would view these new operations as competition but we view it as an indicator of sustainability.  An indicator that we have developed a sustainable farming system that can thrive and hire quality people who can then go on,  take parts of our system and create their own.  An indicator that this kind of farming is truly being embraced and supported by consumers and communities all over the country.  Remember that one of the three tenets of sustainability is the social component and we feel that in the long run it really is the glue that holds it all together.  This is an example of why certified organic is really a narrow view of farming, it doesn’t take into account these sorts of social dimensions.  Rett who is working on his own side market garden project had his first day at farmers’ market yesterday, so another one is launched!

You know that summer must be close when we start planting the winter squash!  We planted 2500 feet of row to six different varieties including acorns, butternut, and my favorite  Sweet Dumpling.  We got the second planting of corn in and cultivated the first planting (not a great stand due to the cold soil temperatures)  More sunflowers and other warm season flowers too.  Finally the late spring cover crops began to bloom and so we have started to plant the no-till peppers and late tomatoes.  We roll down these huge cover crops, which kills them, and then we cut a slit into them and the soil then plant the transplants right into the mulch.  By the end of today all of the peppers will be in the ground and we put the last planting of Cherokee Purple tomatoes in last Friday.  The irrigation rolls out behind all of these new plantings as we are beginning to get dry and these little quarter inch rains just don’t do much, when the hot days come it will become critical quickly!

On a literary note, I knew last week that I had mangled Twain’s quote about cold weather in San Francisco.  The quote actually goes “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”.  Well I had several corrective e-mails and further conversations at market, including one that said he had used that statement about Portland or Seattle.  This all peaked my interest and so I did a little research and it turns out that it is all an urban legend, there has never been any documentation that Twain ever said or wrote this quote.  So I guess we where all wrong!  None the less, the comparison to the generally cool temperatures in that part of California allowing ideal conditions to grow lettuce still holds.

Picture of the Week
Tough love, peppers planted directly into the rolled cover crops.  Better for the soil and the sweet bell peppers

6/8/05 Vol. 2 #14

Wow!   Zero to Sixty in record time!  End last week with cool 70’s and gentle rains begin this week with 95 degrees and heavy thunderstorms.  I would say that summer has come.  It is all about blueberries now.  We have a crew of up to eight trying to keep up with the fast ripening fruit, to no avail.  I tell them don’t look back at where you just picked as it could be depressing.  We put flags, in the row, to mark where we stopped picking so we will know where to start the next morning because you absolutely cannot tell otherwise.  It is always enjoyable and interesting in the blueberry field.  First it is the most comfortable job on the farm, standing up, usually a breeze across the hill and the birds just singing away in the trees (happy with all of the blueberries they have eaten).  Secondly the crew is always an eclectic group.  My usual staff which includes Joann and Rett, farmers on their own places, Rachel a college student in geography, Julia who recently graduated college from Nova Scotia, plays hockey and directs Shakespearean plays.  We always have a few returning pickers like Brenda who is taking a hiatus from farming in Illinois this year.  Then we round it out with a few new faces like Max from Texas who is searching for the right place to start his own farm and then a couple of high school students.  The conversation is always wide ranging and I am never quite sure who is more scandalized, the older ones or the younger ones!

Betsy and I almost never get into the berries as we scamper around trying to put our fingers in all of the other holes in the dike of Peregrine Farm.  This is the true change of seasons as we begin to take out irrigation and mow down the finished cool season crops.  There is only one bed of lettuce left in the field, which is now almost entirely changed over to flowers- sunflowers, zinnias, celosia, asters and more.  The rest of the cool season vegetables will soon go under the mower to be followed with more flowers, what will eventually be the last of the year.  The larkspur, first sunflowers, bachelors buttons, etc. will turn into lush cover crops of sorghum and soybeans to improve the soil and feed and shade the turkeys when they get in there in two months or so.  It all happens this few weeks in mid June.  I also managed to get the first layer of trellising in the first eight beds of peppers including all of the hots.  Last year we waited 48 hours too long to get this job done and they were all blown over by a huge storm, never to fully recover for the rest of the season.  Last night as the thunder was rumbling just over the hill I put the last strings on.  With in an hour the heavy rains came and they stand straight and proud now.  Joann seeded the Brussels Sprouts and Celery for Thanksgiving, that is a true sign of seasonal change!  I swing through the berry field every so often to check on the progress and quality, partake briefly in the conversation and grab a hand full of fruit and head back off to what ever chore I am in the middle of.

Picture of the Week
A wall of blue fruit

4/19/06 Vol. 3 #6

Betsy has a saying for when things really start to get crazy busy.  “We feel like chickens on a hot plate”.   It comes from old county fair sideshows and of course I have never witnessed such a thing but the visual image is appropriate for how we feel at this point in the season.  Part of the problem is that we are short a few “chickens” right now as Joann and Rett are only working a few mornings a week so that they can work on their own farms.  Rachel is also here just a few mornings a week until school is out, then she comes on full time.  Our newest staff, Will, starts next Monday, I hope he is a fast dancing chicken!  That means we have less than half the help we normally have at this time of year.  I can tell you that these old chickens are dancing as fast as we can.

None the less we are keeping the big balls in the air (and occasionally letting the little balls hit the ground).  The inexorable march towards getting the main planting of tomatoes in the ground moves apace.  The beds are tilled and ready.  Yesterday we pulled the plastic covers over the Big Tops so that tomorrow we can put down irrigation line, lay the landscape fabric mulch and build the 1000′ feet of trellis that will support the plants.  Next Monday or Tuesday we will plant the crop, right on schedule.  So while we are we are out of control busy the Farm Tour is this weekend too! Saturday and Sunday is the Farm Tour 1:00-5:00 each day.  Our annual opening of the doors to the general public to come see the farm.  Many of you have been on the Farm Tour before and it is a great opportunity to see many of the folks who sell and the Carrboro Market.  Now in it’s eleventh year thousands of people go on the tour and it raises thousands of dollars for the work Carolina Farm Stewardship Association does.  Sponsored by Weaver Street Market, who does an incredible amount of work to promote the tour and local agriculture, it is easy to go on the tour.  Just pick up a map at market or Weaver St. or many other local businesses and go to first farm that you want.  The best deal is to buy a button which will be your pass for as many people as you can stuff into one vehicle, for as many farms as you want.  31 farms this year so you will have to choose, it is hard to do more than 3 maybe 4 farms in a day.  In the mean time we will be mowing and picking up around the place, nothing like have hundreds of house guests all at once to make you buff up the joint!

Picture of the Week
Just about the whole top of the farm, the little sliding tunnels on the left, lettuce in the middle and the Big Tops in the back, come and see it all on the tour.