Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #28, 9/7/16

What’s been going on!

Twenty years ago this week we were cleaning up from the worst natural disaster to ever hit the farm and the state, Hurricane Fran.  For anyone who lived through the storm and its aftermath just the memory of it gives one pause, almost chills.  We have been through numerous hurricane/tropical depressions, thunderstorm straight line winds and floods from torrential downpours and other than the Big Storm, all of them rolled together don’t match what Fran had all in one shot.

From the ferocity of the winds that went on for hours and eventually brought many trees down around the farm but amazingly not on any buildings, to the rain that brought the river up to the 500 year flood level and floated the transplant greenhouse which required us to move it out of the bottom field and up onto the hill, this storm had it all.

We were without power for a week and the mid 90 degree temperatures and high humidity made the days of chainsaw work and clean up really taxing.  No running water meant that we had to haul buckets of water from the pond to water 1000’s of transplants with a watering can.  At least it was warm enough to rinse off in the pond every evening and it was peacefully silent in the neighborhood until the generators all roared to life.

In the end we only missed one Saturday market (the market did go on the day after the storm but we skipped it while cleaning up) and we had good fall crops up to frost.  While we came out relatively unscathed monetarily, we never want to see such a storm again.

Pictures of the Week

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Big oak trees down all around the house

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The 500 year flood level of the Haw River in our bottom field

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #25, 8/5/16

What’s been going on!

Well August came in like a lion or a tidal wave.  Five inches of rain in two days destroyed all of our driveways, washed out the field we were preparing for fall and winter crops, blew the poblano trellis over.  Normally we celebrate July being past, hmmm.

Spent yesterday morning regrading all the drives, have never seen one storm move so much gravel.  We have mostly pulled the poblanos back up but half of one bed is still a mess and will be a pain to pick for the next 3 months.  Hopefully it will be dry enough this afternoon to re-till and re-establish the beds in the fall vegetable field, we have planting that has to be done!

Jennie and Trish have begun to tear out the sliding tunnel tomatoes to make way for fall and winter crops which marks the beginning of the end of tomato season.  Next Monday may be the last regular tomato pick as the plants are really beginning to suffer from all of this hot, wet weather.  Just in time for our summer break!

As you all know for years we have taken a break in early August to recharge the mental batteries and to prepare for fall.  25 weeks straight at market with hardly a day off since early April requires a pause.  We will all be at market tomorrow and Jennie and Trish will be at market next Wed. and possibly next Saturday the 13th if there are enough tomatoes left.  We will not be at market on the 20th but back will the pepper roaster and fall smiles on the 27th.

Pictures of the Week

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Tipsy Poblanos

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Blown out field

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #3, 2/26/16

What’s been going on!

Another 2.4 inches of rain but no wind damage from the storms on Wednesday, we hope that all of you also escaped with no issues.  Typical erratic move into spring- warm, cold, windy, dead calm, sunny, cloudy.  Last year on this date we had 7” of snow, at least that is not happening this year!

It did dry out just enough last week for us to get caught up with planting on Sunday, just before the rains came back in.  5 beds of lettuce, 4 beds of flowers seeded, 3 beds of Sugar Snap Peas and multiple beds of other vegetables put us back on schedule.  This coming week is one of the biggest planting periods of the spring with many beds of vegetables and flowers that need to get into the ground.  Once again we will be racing to get done before the next chance of rain on Wednesday.

The other thing we are working on getting finished is a major reworking of the deer fence before there are too many tempting things for them to nibble on.  Our electric 3 wire fence has worked well for fifteen years or so but in the last few years they have begun to figure it out and particularly in the winter have had their way getting in to eat our lush cover crops.  So we are resetting the posts to support 8’ tall plastic netting behind the two electric wires.  We have tested this the last two years with great success so now we are trying to get all the way around the main planting areas but we are talking about nearly 4000 feet of fencing!

Just to add to the spring madness we also had a backhoe in last week to pull out hundreds of feet of row of perennial flowering shrubs that we no longer need and were beginning to grow up in undesirable plants.  We will need to finish the clean-up in the next few weeks before things really start to grow.

Picture of the Week

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A lot of brush burning in our future

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #25, 9/11/15

What’s been going on!

Late newsletter, the second of two big storms in the last week strafed us yesterday afternoon, so I didn’t get to it last night.  Lots of sticks and debris blown around and a few small chainsaw sized limbs.  Some of the fall vegetables got knocked around and should mostly stand back up but it has been a hard start for that field for sure.  Betsy’s plume celosia took it the hardest as it was by itself out in the middle of the field with no windbreak.

Everything else looks OK but wet.  Another inch of rain, makes it three inches in the last week and a half.  One of those odd times of year when all of a sudden we are wet but the creek is dry and we have been starting to pull water from the upper pond which is our last surface water, after that we have to resort to using well water but I am sure that we won’t need to now that we are this far into the season.  If we hang on just a few more days then it looks like real fall weather will arrive.

Great class last week at A Southern Season, it was good to see so many familiar faces there and I thought Caitlin did some really great pepper dishes.  I spent a good part of several days this week pulling soil samples for soil testing, 25 in all.  We are really fortunate to have such a good soil testing lab run by the NCDA and if we have them done in the fall it is even free!  We try and do soil tests every year in the early fall so that we can amend our fields this coming month as we get ready for winter cover crops and all of next year’s plantings.

What we are monitoring and adding are the important minerals for plant growth and really just four of them Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Calcium and Magnesium.  All the rest are minor nutrients and are in sufficient quantities in our soils.  In our weathered soils we have to replace these more mobile nutrients mostly because every time we sell a tomato or a flower we are exporting nutrients off the farm.  What we use to replace them is crushed rock, it is heavy and expensive to mine and transport so we want to add just what we need so the soil tests are crucial to do a good job.  It is all just another part of the business.

Picture of the Week

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An Asian greens view of the storm damage

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Peregrine Farm News, Vol. 9 #19, 7/25/12, The Big Storm

What’s been going on!

Another late newsletter this one due to cleaning up from Tuesdays big storm and while some folks have seen pictures on Facebook, this is the official (long) version.  We know lots of folks had some kind of impact because of the storm from trees and limbs down to power out, some for 24 hours or more.  In the ranking of storms we have weathered over the last three decades this relatively small thunderstorm stands at number two in intensity and number one in monetary damage.  Of course hurricane Fran will (or hopefully will) hold the top spot forever in wind speed, flooding, trees down and length of power outage but we had no serious damage to any building or equipment from it and not too much crop loss.

We have had record rainfall events (10 inches in an hour and subsequent flooding), we have seen the record snowfall (20 plus inches), huge ice storms and hail storms but most of those just resulted in loss of power.  This storm was fast and hard.  The big straight line winds came screaming from the west and from our experiences in Fran (80 mph winds for hours) and other hurricanes like Isabel (60 mph winds for a long time) we estimate these winds at 65-75 mph but for only about 10 minutes, the rain lasted maybe 45 minutes then it was over.

As we stood in the living room looking out towards the field we could see debris flying through the air until three large oaks and one huge maple came down and blocked most of our view.

As soon as we could, we headed out on damage assessment and to check on our 90 year old neighbor (no damage there) which required us to drive around through the field because the driveway was blocked by some huge limbs.  The turkey fence was blown down and the turkeys dazed but we quickly got it back up.

Next check was on the rest of the buildings, all unscathed except the well house which was blown over and exploded with water flowing out of one pipe, a quick fix.

Of course we had immediately seen that the Big Tops had sustained tremendous damage but they were the last thing we got a close up look at.  Of the eight bays only two remained undamaged.  As they got further away from our neighbor’s western tree line the bent metal and torn plastic got worse.

These Haygrove tunnels are designed to take 70 mph winds and we have seen them through some big storms with winds in the 50’s and 60’s and have uncovered them when hurricanes are on their way but this was so sudden there was no way to anticipate or know that such winds were on the way.

With the huge sheets of plastic now draped all over we quickly, with the good help of a neighbor, got all the plastic off to both reduce further damage to the crops or what frame was left undamaged.

With the early triage done and no power, we went out to dinner and a few nerve easing beers.  First thing Wednesday morning we dismantled the worst of the mangled metal so we could pick tomatoes today.

We have had an amazing outpouring of support and offers of help and we cannot thank you all enough for your concerns but at this point we have everything cleaned up or stabilized enough that it can wait until we get to it either in a few days or this fall and winter.

Many have asked were they insured and the answer is no because we were under the impression that most companies won’t insure such structures because this is the kind of thing regularly happens to greenhouses but I have now talked to several farmers who have gotten theirs insured.  We will certainly pursue that after we rebuild these.  In the meantime our best estimate is $10,000 worth of damage.

So we were already worn down after this wicked hot summer and now more so.  After this Saturdays market we begin our annual summer break.  A bit different this year spanning two weeks instead of one.  Betsy and I will attempt to take most of the two weeks off while Jennie is here the first week to harvest a little and do the other chores to keep the place rolling while Liz takes the week off, then they will trade places the second week.  Not really sure how this will work but don’t be surprised to see at least Jennie or Liz at market selling for us, might be Wednesdays only or could be one of the two Saturdays.  Probably no newsletter the first two weeks of August either.  When we return on the third week of August it should be time for the first pepper roasting of the season, until then enjoy and thank you for your support.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #22, 8/25/11

What’s been going on?

Newsletter a day late again, this is one of those weeks where it is all running fast and the early week uncertainty of the hurricane Irene’s track just adds to the level of complexity. We are always aware and on alert for these late summer hurricanes because if we are really going to get significant wind and rain then we have to take action days in advance. The biggest potential job is uncovering all the greenhouses which is best done in calm winds and dry conditions if we want to reuse the plastic after the storm. Sure we could go out heroically and cut the plastic off and let it fly, while maybe exciting and will save the metal frame, it is not the most ideal scenario.

Our threshold is about 60 mph winds. Up to that and all of our structures can handle it, the Big Tops are the ones we worry about the most and it can take half a day just to uncover those. We have had to do it once before Charlie in 2004 and then ended up not getting any winds even though the forecast potential was for 60 -70 mph winds. In 2003, before the Big Tops, we uncovered the smaller sliding tunnels before Isabel when we did get slammed by 60 mph winds. The little tunnels were just fine but we did loose part of a shed roof. Of course all of this is colored by the memories of Fran but that was before we had any tunnel structures, thankfully!

With the move of Irene further to the east our concern now is whatever rain we might get so the focus has been to make sure we get critical things harvested before any potential downpours and flooding. The winter squash is in the bottom field and ready for harvest. Nice and dry now and easy to collect, not so after a big storm so the last two days have been partly occupied by bringing in the 2000 plus pounds. This afternoon and tomorrow will be the usual major pepper picking even if Saturday could be a rain out.

All of this in the middle of a ten day period which includes four tour groups including 40 Burmese refugees, teaching two classes, two dinners for various groups we are involved with, conference calls and a board meeting. Can’t wait for September to get here!

Picture of the Week

The Big Tops present quite a big sail in high winds

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Welcome to the News of the Farm

Just to help you get the most out of these posts, here are a few tips.

All posts have been categorized by year, or crop or some other way.  If you want to look at all the posts that talk about tomatoes, for example, you can either click on that category in the right hand column or on the word tomatoes at the bottom of the post.

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Have fun!

6/16/04 Vol. 1 #14

Gray, damp, humid, snippets of rain, not much sun.  Nothing grows or blooms fast but the diseases.  Now don’t get me wrong, a little natural water is a welcome thing (our ponds are full again) but a bit of sun in between the showers would be great.  This is exactly the kind of weather that we put the “Big Tops” up for.  In weather like this the tomatoes would go from looking green and lush and in a week start showing brown dying leaves on the bottom and in several more weeks black to the top.  Not so this year!  They are high and dry under the roofs and look fabulous.  There is a little foliage disease here and there but nothing like we have had in years past.  Betsy is also struggling to find enough flowers to cut, with no sun there is are not many buds opening.

Most of the week we have been dealing with the repercussions of what seemed to initially be a short 15 minute thunderstorm on Friday night.  In the daylight after Saturday market we saw the results.  We had a burst of wind over 40 miles per hour and maybe over 50.  Buckets and other things blown all over, limbs up to 4 inches broken off, sunflowers, dahlias, and peppers laid down and the front corner of one of the “Big Tops” leaning to one side.  Every year we have some kind of weather event that makes its mark on the season, some in big ways like Hurricane Fran, some in small ways like this one.  The job on the schedule for this past Monday was to begin trellising the peppers, 48 hours too late for this storm.  Once peppers fall over they are predisposed to lay down the rest of the season, so we put in a string support when they are 12-18 inches high to keep them straight.  As they grow through the season we put additional layers of support in to carry the weight of the fruit and branches.   All of the hot peppers and some of the sweet ones where blown over and then they started to grow upright again giving them a bend in the trunk and branches.  We have them all strung up now but this S curve in the plants and their predisposition to lay down will haunt us all season as we try and manage them.  It is a lot easier to pick peppers if they are standing up and not laying down in the rows or the aisles.

Not all things moved sideways on the farm this week, we did get a lot more planted before the big rain on Friday.  More flowers including the third planting of zinnias and a specialty melon trial we are doing to see if we can have some exotic melons for you in September!  The soil moisture is perfect for pulling weeds in some of the beds we haven’t been able to take care of while picking blueberries and the staff trellised quite a few of Betsy’s flowers (so they won’t get blown over!).  The turkeys are having a grand time out in the big world, running around under the hydrangeas and viburnums and eating all kinds of weed seeds and bugs!

Picture of the Week
Modern art pepper plants

8/18/04 Vol. 1 #22

Betsy says if that was a vacation then don’t ask her to go again!  Mostly due to the potential of the incoming storms we worked our tails off!  Normally on August break we do a little farm work and then take it easy but between crops that had to be harvested and battening down the hatches we only really felt like we had one slack day.  Oh well only six weeks to go until the Big break.  Until Hurricane Fran in 1996 we didn’t even think about big storms.  It’s the wind that really has us jumping, with all of these greenhouses that are like big sails we have to be conservative when it comes to the forecasts for wind.  Now every two years or so we have a fire drill taking plastic off greenhouses and tying down all of the equipment that normally is just strewn around the farm like five gallon buckets and other light items.  This time the wind didn’t come but as you all know, as of early Saturday morning they were calling for up to 60 miles per hour winds.  Our “Big Tops” are supposed to take up to 70 mph but who wants to try it? So we uncovered them knowing that  the rain would then do such damage to the crops under them (the tomatoes for sure) that we would have a loss there.  This is not a drive the car into the garage kind of job, it takes hours and it can’t be windy so we have to make these calls a day or more in advance.  So we spent the better parts of Thursday and Friday securing things and then parts of Saturday and Sunday untying things.  Now believe me we are glad the storms did not come but it sure didn’t make for a relaxing break!

Other exciting news is that we are headed to Turin, Italy in late October for a first ever international small farmer congress being put on by the Slow Food organization.  We are honored to have been nominated by the local Slow Food group and then to have been accepted to attend along with 500 other producers from the US and a total of 5000 worldwide!  Slow Food is a group that originated in Italy, about 20 years ago, which is dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment of local, handcrafted foods like you find at market.  Every two years they have a huge exposition in Turin displaying and tasting artisanal foods from around the world called the Salone de Gusto.  For the first time ever they are overlapping that event with this congress of small producers called Terra Madre where we will participate in workshops and discussions on sustainable ways of producing great foods.  Incredibly they are paying for all of our expenses except for our plane tickets!   We have asked that they pay for half of our airfare so the local group is having a fund raiser next Wednesday the 25th at Pop’s restaurant in Durham.

Pop’s will donate a portion of the evening’s profits to Slow Food, and the donations will be used to offset the travel costs of two local farmers so that they can attend the Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy in October. (For more info on Terra Madre, please go to http://slowfoodusa.org/events/terramadre )


We are excited about the possibilities of this trip and hope that we come back with lots of new ideas, maybe the next pepper roaster or something equally fabulous.  We will have more details in future newsletters.

Picture of the Week
Tomatoes, now uncovered, succumbing to foliar disease from too much damp weather.

9/1/04 Vol. 1 #24

Yahoo! we finally made it to September!  I thought August would never end, now we just have to get past this damned hurricane season!  I comment often on how, in the 23 years that we have been farming, we have seen every extreme weather record broken- the coldest ever, the hottest ever, the deepest snow, etc.  I have not researched the records but I don’t remember ever having four of the first seven storms come across North Carolina and now Frances will probably impact us in one way or another, it has to be some kind of record.  The 3.2 inches of rain we got from Gaston has things pretty well soaked.  We went down to harvest winter squash yesterday and just about got the tractor stuck in the field and what was left of the tomatoes is pretty ugly now.

We want to thank everyone who came out to (or tried to, as it was sold out) the Slow Food Dinner at Pop’s restaurant last Wednesday to raise money to help cover our part of our airfare to Italy in October.  It was good food even if it was louder than a rock concert in that room!  I have had several people ask how they can make direct donations and it can be done to the local Slow Food chapter.   Betsy and I are a little taken aback by this fund raising stuff, maybe farmer pride, as we are just so used to making our own way.  Thank you all again.

The turkeys have been totally integrated this week, moved to yet another field and now allowed to roam together.  Everyone is getting along fine and the heritage birds don’t seem to notice the new white intruders sidling up next to them on the roosts at night.  The reservation forms and deposits are beginning to come in and about a third have been reserved already.  Those of you who had birds last year I do need to have your information (that is if you want a turkey this year) so that I don’t screw up and not hold the right size turkey for you (my memory is not what it used to be).  I do have a record of what kind and size you had last year if that helps you any.  I also realized that those of you who have never had a locally produced pastured turkey might want a little more info on how they compare to each other to help in making the decision on which bird is the one for you.  Last years experience taught us that all of them were excellent and far superior tasting to any other turkey we had ever eaten.  That being said there are three major differences between the heritage birds and the whites.  First is size, the heritage turkeys will not be any larger than about 15 pounds and the whites will not be any smaller than 15 pounds.  Second, the heritage birds have a higher ratio of dark meat to white meat for those of you dark meat lovers, this is not to say there is not a lot of white meat just not the huge breasts of the whites.  Third, the meat is firmer and more full flavored on both types that what you may have had in the past, with the heritage birds having the chewier (not tough) dark meat and more flavor overall.  I hope this helps, in addition here is a link to three New York Times articles about the heritage birds with the third one a taste comparison of eight birds. http://www.slowfoodusa.org/nytarticle.html

Picture of the Week

Even on a drab day the celosia are incredibly vivid.