Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #19, 7/27/11

What’s been going on?

I always say “If you are going to suffer, you might as well set a record”. Five consecutive days over 100 degrees, the previous was four in 1983 and 2008. What a summer and this week looks just as brutal. One must transcend this and keep pumping water.

To make it seem like fall, we are planting lettuce, turnips and radishes today! Brussels Sprouts for Thanksgiving are already in the ground and the Celery goes in today as well. If you think it is fall, then it will come, we just have to get through August. We are slowly turning the seasonal page as we mow down the first Zinnias and take out trellis for the early Celosia. Soon we will be taking out the early tomatoes, deconstructing the trellis and preparing for disking residues into the ground.

In preparation for fall we are taking our traditional August break next week. Looks like perfect timing again as the early tomatoes are on their precipitous decline just like our energy is. It has been 22 weeks non-stop with only Saturday after market as our part day off so it is time to breath deep for a week and recharge a bit before heading into the last of summer and fall. Glenn and Jennie get a week off with pay so they can chill out too. We may go to the mountains for a day or two but mostly we will hide out here in the AC and slip out to turn on irrigation and take care of the turkeys. So no newsletter next week and we will not be at market on the 3rd and the 6th. Look for us to return on Wednesday the 10th.

Jennie and Glenn planting Summer Crisp lettuce under shade cloth

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #22, 8/11/10

What’s been going on?

Can we have another week off and come back to cooler temperatures this time? “Week off” would be a misrepresentation of the facts, somehow it seemed we like we were over scheduled and just went from one thing we needed to do to the next. Sometimes that happens when what appears to be open time gets filled with all the things you haven’t gotten done the last few months, you know like getting the car tires rotated. We did have several enjoyable meals with friends and I did escape to the mountains for a few nights. In between there were tomatoes, peppers and flowers to pick; turkeys to move, water and feed; soil tests to pull, mowing, mowing, mowing. We’re back and ready to face the end of the season.

It does seem like with the heat and the rains that the grass and weeds are in overdrive. Some of it grew a foot in a week so the first job for the guys was to join in with us to try and beat the grass back so our collective quality of lives would be better. We are now in the early stages of taking things apart for the winter. I know it’s only August but when you spend most of the year building and installing things to support and grow plants, you have to pace yourself on taking it all down. Already we have taken out some flower trellises and lots of irrigation lines. Today the earliest tomatoes get pulled out of the little sliding tunnels to make way for Thanksgiving and winter vegetables and flowers. They gave us all they could over the last ten weeks but now look really sad.

The next few weeks we will continue planting vegetables for Thanksgiving and, believe it or not, flowers for next year. Leeks, Collards, Beets and Carrots next week and then in early September the first of the overwintered flowers like Larkspur and Bachelors Buttons. The cycle sometimes seems surprising in it’s timing but after years of doing it we’ve gotten used to it and know that it is what has to happen. Soon it will be time for winter cover crops and all the rest. What week off?

Picture of the Week

It was 51 degrees at 6100′ last Saturday, hmmm.

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

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

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

8/4/04 Vol. 1 #21

Whew!  We made it to August!  This is when we really begin to think about the end of the season, the coming winters plans and next seasons preparations.  This week marks the three quarter point in our personal marketing season, 21 down, 7 to go.  While the Farmers’ Market goes until Christmas we end our season around the first of October.  This allows us time to prepare and plant for next year and have some quality of life time in the fall.  We used to go all the way to Thanksgiving but beginning five seasons ago we looked hard at the numbers and the effort required to produce those numbers and its effect on us and the next season and decided to call it quits sooner.  It was considered a radical move at the time but now we are very glad that we made the change.  Now we will of course be back for the special pre-Thanksgiving market to distribute the birds and with some just-for-Thanksgiving produce.  In the intervening seven or eight weeks we will have put the farm to bed for the winter, planted most of Betsy’s spring flowers and already done a little traveling!  We wouldn’t have been able to get all of this done under the old system.

No newsletter next week because we will be on our August break.  When we used to go straight thru to Thanksgiving we used to take two weeks off in August to try and rest and regroup for the remainder of the season.  Now that we stop early we just take one week off.  This is timed to coincide with the end of the early tomatoes and before the peppers really get going.  No exotic destinations this time just a little rambling around the area and general lolling around.  The staff gets the week off with pay and we get a week off!

We are looking forward a visit from my brother Jon and family this week.  19 seasons ago Jon came and threw in with us and helped turn the farm towards the course it is on now.  Jon is the one in the family who got the natural “grower” gene from my father, I have had to work at becoming a decent grower all these years, Jon can just go out and grow beautiful crops.  He was here for our first season at the Farmers’ Market (1986) and got us started growing vegetables and cut flowers on the only piece of ground we had left that wasn’t planted to blackberries and raspberries.  Unfortunately for us but fortunately for his wife to be, he moved back to Tennessee the next year.  He will be helping on the farm this Friday and at market on Saturday morning.  Like most Saturdays if you watch our stand closely you can usually spot members of my family behind the table.

Picture of the Week
Summer Crisp lettuce planted under shade cloth to keep it cool.  It should be ready the last week of August.

8/3/05 Vol. 2 #22

After 21 Saturdays Peregrine Farm’s marketing season is three quarters of the way done!  Whoopee!  While the market itself continues on until Christmas we decided in 2000 to stop at the end of pepper season and not to grow the fall cool season crops.  With a sustainable view of  our world we know that the most limiting part of our system is labor, and especially for us is our quality of life.  We realize that if we cannot renew ourselves then eventually the whole thing will grind to a halt.  This also represents the social part of the sustainable triangle.  The economic part of this decision came by looking at the numbers it took to go until Thanksgiving, and the return, we decided that it wasn’t worth it for us.  Turns out we were right, we make more now that we don’t market for the additional seven weeks or so than we did before.  Part of that is we personally are in better shape to manage the main season (see part one) and the other is the third leg of sustainability, the environmental side.  We forgo the fall crops, let the soil rest, get our soil improving crops planted just right and put the farm to bed for the winter in better shape, ready to go for the spring.  Of course as you know, 27 or 28 weeks of marketing doesn’t mean we have the rest of the year off, we are just working on other parts of the system.

Also after 21 weeks straight it is time for a break.  We have always taken a break the beginning of August after the early tomatoes wind down and before the peppers kick into full speed.  After the ugly hot weather of July we give the staff a week off with pay and we slow down a bit so we can all pull on through to the end.  So to that end we will be at the markets this week and then take the week of August 7-14 off.  No markets next week and no newsletter.  Nothing exotic for us while we are off, maybe the the beach for a few days, and maybe a few other excursions close by.  There are still the turkeys to keep an eye on and plants to water but by and large we will be lounging with our feet up!

Good news of the farm front though, turnips, radishes, lettuce all for September are in the ground.  Brussels Sprouts are planted for Thanksgiving and the leeks go in this week too!  Good rains last week have made all of these crops very happy.  By the way tonight, Wednesday, Panzanella restaurant (another of Weaver Street Markets businesses) is having another of their “Featured Farm” dinners where they have a special menu built around what the featured farmer has in season.  Tonight it happens to be us!  We took them lots of tomatoes of all kinds, cucumbers and peppers.  I know for sure that one dish will be poblano peppers stuffed with their house made chorizo sausage!  It should be an enjoyable eating experience.  Betsy and I will be there after market to eat our way through the menu, come by and see us!

Picture of the Week
Rudbeckia Triloba in full glory

8/17/05 Vol. 2 #23

Betsy says never mention the word vacation to her in August again.  I actually downplay it and call it the August “break” because we never really can just walk away from the place at this time of year.  We still have to do enough work to “keep the lights on” so that there will be something to harvest and sell when we come back.  We still harvest a little (if you don’t cut those flowers they go into decline early) and of course have to water the greenhouse and irrigate and deal with the turkeys and, and, and…  The break concept is important though because we are so worn down after five straight months it helps for the mind and body to heal a bit before heading into the last stretch.  The complication this year was that I strained a muscle so badly in my back that I was out of commission for most of the week and so Betsy had to take care of my “vacation” chores and well as hers.  She says this one is going to cost me jewelry!  But we’re back! and the staff is back, well rested and ready to go.

This is another one of those transitional weeks during the year that signal seasonal change.  We begin pulling out the very first plantings of tomatoes today as they are essentially dead.  No more Early Picks or Orange Blossoms.  Tomorrow we will begin and maybe finish the winter squash harvest.  One normally thinks of these hard squash as being ready more up into the fall months but we have to plant them early so we can avoid their number one enemy, pickle worm, which bore into the fruit and destroy it if we plant them too late.  So they are ready to pick now and we will have them through September.  The “mechanical frost” as Betsy likes to call it rolls in too.  We really begin to mow down many crops that are spent especially flowers that Betsy has stopped cutting because there are newer better looking plantings coming on in another field.  Now our thoughts turn to late fall and cool nights and travel to foreign places.

Picture of the week
New beautiful Zinnias

8/2/06 Vol. 3 #21

Just when you are at your weakest they always pour it on!  Last weeks weather was bad but this week is just grinding it in.  Good thing we are going on break next week to recover.  After 21 straight weeks at market we are crawling into the mid summer break, and this heat just reinforces why we take it.  We have taken the second week in August off for years now, as a way to get some recharge for the end of the harvest and marketing season.  It is planned for when the first tomatoes crash and before the colored bell peppers really get going.  Now I always refer to it as a “break” and not a vacation because Betsy and I don’t really get to check out.  We give the staff the week off with pay and they usually leave town.  That leaves us here to water, and irrigate, keep and eye on the turkeys, pick a little bit of stuff that has to be harvested, etc.  The break is in not going to markets and doing regular deliveries.  We usually do a few hours of chores in the cool of the morning and then find some kind of diversion in the afternoons, eat a lot, take naps, read and other general sloth.  To that end there will be no newsletter next week and we will not be at market Wednesday 8/9 and Saturday 8/12.

In preparation for all of this we have been mowing old crops down and generally tidying up the place.  Earlier in the year, when I wasn’t thinking clearly, we agreed to have an open house for the company who manufactures the Big Tops (Haygrove).  Well it is today!  Hottest day of the year!  We have tried to gussie up the joint as much as we can but what they really want to see is how well crops do growing under the covers.  Well on top of it being time for the tomatoes to expire we also have those unusual diseases in them as well so it is not exactly a beauty pageant in the tomatoes.  We are so tired and it is so hot that it is hard to muster enthusiasm for having a group of folks here this afternoon, maybe the 100 degree forecast will limit the crowd, only the truly insane will come out to look at the tunnels and with the sweat running down into their eyes maybe they will think it all looks great!  Now the stuff that they don’t want to look at does look good.  The late flowers are doing really well in this heat and the peppers look respectable along with the limelight hydrangeas.  It is so hot that the turnips, radishes and other crops that we need to plant this week will have to wait until early next week to go in so that they don’t just vaporize in the hot soil.

Picture of the Week
Celosias and Asclepias and the proper distance for viewing the quality of the crops in the Big Tops

8/14/06 Vol. 3 #22

Back from the summer “break” and already we are running around like crazy so this will be a quick newsletter.  The time off was too short and we worked far too much, we did have some nice dinners out and slower afternoons but we are going to have to rethink how to actually make it even slower.  Now we are back at it trying to get caught up and into the swing.  The staff is back too and are ready to go, after a good long week off.  Today was tomato picking and turkey moving.  The rest of the week there are more fall crops to plant, peppers to pick and plenty of regular maintenance chores to take care of.  The dry spell is really getting noticeable as the cover crops are not growing as they should and some near the tree lines are really stunted.  The creek stopped running last week and we will have to start pulling water out of the upper pond soon.  Perfect weather for peppers as long as we keep them irrigated.

What’s up with the early newsletter?  Betsy and I have to leave for the airport at 4:30 in the morning to fly to Wisconsin.  Not exactly the week we would have planned to be gone again but we are receiving the Patrick Madden Award for Sustainable Agriculture and thought we might ought to be there to accept it.  We are very surprised and honored to have been even nominated for such an award and nearly speechless (well almost, you know Alex).  The award is presented by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, the USDA’s effort at helping to make agriculture more sustainable.  “This award recognizes producers who have explored ways to make farming more profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities, and have served as effective educators”.  We are always amazed when anyone recognizes us for what we consider everyday farm work and the outreach we do to anyone who has questions.  On top of it there will be an embarrassing amount of publicity about it including an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered with Melissa Block on Wednesday afternoon.  We won’t be back until Thursday late so Rachel and Will will be taking care of Wednesday market and the farm along with Joann.

Picture of the Week

It is colored bell and pepper roaster time!

8/1/07 Vol. 4 #20

We made it to August!  To me August always signals fall and the end of the season.  Yes it is still hot and sometimes it is a very wet month with thunderstorms but the lushness of early summer is gone and the farm begins to look tired after months of full production.  The tomatoes have given us their best and Betsy is into the third planting of zinnias as the first two look shabby as the diseases and insects gain the upper hand.  Even the weeds begin to mark the end of their run with big old seed heads and yellowing leaves, if we have let them get to that stage.  After 20 straight weeks at market, we are feeling shabby too so it is time for the summer break.  We will be at the markets this week and then will miss the markets on the 8th and 11th.  No newsletter either as we will be hiding somewhere cool with minimal human contact!  I know many of you will be taking a last bit of time off too before school and other fall things start the end of the month.

I have been thinking a lot this week about last Wednesdays radio show “The State of Things” on WUNC.  If you heard it you know they came to the market and recorded a piece on the Tomato Tasting event that the market held on the 21st of July.  It was a fairly interesting piece and they did a pretty good job of getting the feel of what the Tomato Tasting is like but there was one thing that got many of us market members hackles up and that was the comments about how food at Farmers’ Markets is expensive.  Excuse me, but IT’S NOT!  It used to be that prices at markets were ridiculously cheap and as I speak around the country to farmers I always say “Who ever started the concept that Farmers’ Markets are the place to buy cheap produce I want to grab them by the neck!”  Why would fresher, better tasting food, grown in better way, many varieties which you can’t find anywhere else be priced low?  Now the misunderstanding has swung the other way and I hear these “experts” say shopping at Farmers’ Market is expensive.  I want to grab them by the neck too.  Now I know there are exceptions to everything and some markets around the country are more expensive but by and large they are retail affairs with prices generally the same or cheaper than the grocery store.  I know for us at Peregrine Farm our vegetable prices are right in line with the local groceries because I check on a weekly basis.  The cheapest red tomato at Food Lion has not been below $2.29 this year and almost all of their tomatoes are $3.00 and up.  Food Lion!  Don’t even get me started on what they taste like.  Makes our delicious red tomatoes at $2.50 seem like a bargain not to mention all of our different heirlooms.  Same with lettuce and on and on.  With Betsy’s incredible flowers, that you can’t even get unless you work with a really good florist, it is even worse, our prices are wholesale- what the florist would pay before they charge the public at least twice as much.  Of course you all know that the Farmers’ Market is much more than just a place to buy and sell things, it is the town square where we all slow down and get to see and visit each other, let the kids run around and get some really beautiful food and flowers to enrich our lives even further.  That is worth a lot too and makes those incredibly flavorful sungold tomatoes seem really inexpensive!

Picture of the Week
Limelight Hydrangeas

8/15/07 Vol. 4 #21

58 degrees this morning on the front porch, going to be near 100 this afternoon.  It’s a dry heat though, a desert heat.  We thought we had been clever and missed the hot week of the summer by going up to the mountains in the middle of the 100 degree days but it’s hot up there too and they don’t think they need air conditioning.  We did have a good time being off last week except we tried to do too much, as usual, and so it was over in a flash.  Back to reality and the desert of Peregrine Farm.  What we are watering looks pretty good and we picked a surprising amount of tomatoes Monday off the old planting and the new, and last, planting is just starting to turn color.  This week we are working to reclaim areas that we let slide for a bit just before and then were completely left alone during the break.  The peppers are a case in point as the crab grass in the paths, between the rows of plants, has grown into the plants.  If we don’t act now it will make picking hell for the rest of the season so we are going through and rolling the thick grass mats back and then pushing the mower down the paths to cut it back before it just flops back down into the plants.  Row by row but it is a rewarding job as we can see how much better our lives will be when is comes to picking the beautiful peppers hanging on the plants just next to our efforts.

We are beginning to mow down those crops finished for the season and those that have perished in the drought without irrigation water.  The last planting of sweet corn, which is unirrigated, is going under the mower along with plantings of Zinnias and sunflowers.  This is the beginning of the clean up for the end of the year, soon I will take soil tests and begin the process of putting the planting areas to bed for the winter.  Spreading mineral amendments and seeding winter cover crops, all assuming we get some rain to make it possible to even till the soil.  The summer cover crops are ready to be mowed down too, not as robust as they usually are because of the drought they have done amazingly well in those fields away from the effects of tree roots.  Where ever they are within 50 feet of a tree, the cover crop plants are maybe eight inches high and then they jump up to two and three feet high.  It is not the direct effect of the tree roots actually being in that soil but the fact that the trees have pulled every bit of water out of the soil near them and then by capillary action sucked all the water up towards them for another 30 feet or so.

Picture of the Week
The tree root effect 50 or more feet from the tree trunks