What’s been going on?
Newsletter a day early as we have lots going on the end of the week. I first want to thank Bret Jennings and the Elaine’s on Franklin crew for a great farm dinner last Wednesday. For those that made it you know what I am talking about but the whole pepper inspired menu was right on the money!
Yesterday was turkey moving day, into a new area for a couple of weeks or so. I realized that the picture below is kind of a microcosm of the whole farm and shows many of the fundamental operating concepts we always try to apply. For those of you who have been here on a farm tour, this maybe familiar. What can be seen here is parts of the three, quarter acre, blocks that the Big Tops are set up over. The one the turkeys are in just has the rows of legs that support the hoops. It is in its “rest” year where we grow no cash crops but instead grow three sets of cover crops in a row to improve the soil and run the turkeys over it so they can add their goodness too. This cover crop is the summer sudangrass and cowpeas.
To the left of the turkey shelters is another Big Top block, this one had the flowers this year and if you blow the picture up you can see, through the turkey shelter, the red of the last of the crested celosias for the year. This block with be rested next year and it’s hoops moved over where the turkeys are. The far set of Big Tops was the tomato block this year and you can see two bays still covered with the last of the tomatoes and two bays uncovered for the winter. The flowers will move to here next year and the tomatoes will move to where the turkeys are now. Once uncovered (next week) we will plant winter cover crops in those fields too.
One of our key beliefs is that diversity leads to a balanced system which improves sustainability. So in just this one picture you see diverse cash crops (many varieties of flowers and tomatoes), cover crops (at least seven different kinds over the three year rotation), and breeds (Bourbon Reds and Broad Breasted Bronzes). What you can’t see is also a diversity in soil improvement/management practices like fertility from rock powders, cover crop and cash crop residues, and manure from the turkeys. Or disease and pest control by using the Big Tops to keep plants dry, trellises for better air flow and sunlight, turkeys to eat bugs, crop rotation, drip irrigation and many more techniques.
OK, professors hat off. And it’s a beautiful early fall day on the farm too!
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Turkeys happy in a new field.
What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading
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.
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Summer Crisp lettuce planted under shade cloth to keep it cool. It should be ready the last week of August.
We are still recovering from the Farm Tour. We love having folks out to show them what we are up to but Saturday sure does become a long day with Market, then the Tour and then after Tour chores like picking asparagus and dutch iris. Thank you to everyone who came out especially with such mixed and breezy weather, we feel it is important for the”city folks and the country folks” to get together (isn’t there a song in the musical Oklahoma like this?). Part of the sustainability equation of environmental-economic-social is that our neighbors and customers are accepting of and in many ways a part of what we do on the farm. We wouldn’t be successful without your support!
One of the questions we heard a lot over the weekend was why don’t you heat the greenhouses/tunnels? It is partly for the same reason that we don’t use black plastic for mulch, make as few trips over the field with the tractor as possible, drive efficient vehicles, use a passive solar greenhouse for transplants, use drip irrigation and reuse those drip lines as long as possible…. I guess it all started with the oil embargoes of the 70’s when we realized that this oil thing was a limited resource. From the beginning of the farm we have tried to use ways of producing crops (and living) that use the least amount of petroleum products as possible. We knew that eventually the availability and price of oil would become a limiting factor in farming systems and we wanted to not be as dependant on it when that time came. Sure there is still a lot of plastic on the farm, more that we like but much less than most commercial farms, unfortunately we have to use some of it to be competitive at this time. There are still more things that we can do. Hopefully greenhouse films will soon be made from something like corn starch, we can change the tractor over to bio-diesel, maybe we can run the irrigation pump off of solar panels.
It appears as if we missed the bullet again with the cold weather. It was 30 degrees here on Monday morning without frost but everything we had covered made it through just fine and the asparagus didn’t get frozen! Today the big round of tomatoes finally goes in the ground, it has taken some time to get ready for planting but we finished it all up yesterday. We need to get them in because next week is pepper week and it is an even bigger job than tomatoes! The first round of tomatoes in the sliding tunnels look great and they got pruned and tied up for the first time with lots of quarter sized fruit on them! Only 5 weeks until we eat the first one! We of course planted yet more flowers, the last of the spring vegetables and for the first time in a long time, sweet corn. We haven’t had the room for corn until this year and so I thought let’s see if we can grow a really good sweet corn. After much research I settled on both a white and a bicolor both with “excellent flavor, sweetness, and eating qualities”. Now we will see if they actually perform well, you will know if they make it to market!
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The tomato system- cover crops for good soil and good insects, drip irrigation, reusable fabric mulch, trellis fences and the Big Tops to keep them dry and reduce the dreaded foliage disease.
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!
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Rudbeckia Triloba in full glory
The first day of summer and now the days begin to get shorter. While we have been fortunate to have cool weather last far into June the days getting shorter are still a sign that it is all down hill to fall now. I know we still have lots of summer season to go but in our minds we are always anticipating the next season, seeding crops for it, making plans around it. etc. This long term view of the world is important for a farmer to have, partly to be prepared for what is to come so we are ready to take advantage of it (“have to make hay while the sun shines”) and partly to see past what might not be going well this season (“there’s always next year”). I find that having an understanding of the long cycle of the seasons allows us to better plan our crops and how they best fit into the agro-ecosystem. What summer cover crop works best before a fall planted flower crop that if planted at the right time and temperature will not have horrible weed problems next spring to fight. Those flowers need to come out in time for another summer cover crop (different this time) that will be mature enough in time to run the turkeys through and will build organic matter and nutrients for the following springs lettuce crop which needs lots of nutrients but never uses them all. When the lettuce is done we can plant late summer zinnias and sunflowers that can soak up all that excess nitrogen but will be done in time to plant a winter cover crop that will feed the next years early summer flowers and on and on. A farmer friend of ours says “I only have about twenty more times to try and get this right”. In some jobs you can try and get it right instantly, or the next day or the next week. In farming we only get one chance a year and we better see it coming!
It is summer cover crop time and as the spring crops come out we are preparing to turn the residue under and seed those soil improving crops. I wish I could have gotten it done before the big rains of last week but will all work out. We were lucky again to get good rains but not as heavy or as much as some our friends. Two inches on Sunday last and a steady 1.6″ from Alberto. Some of our fellow market farmers had as much as fourteen inches from the various storms last week! Blueberries are finished and because it was such a light crop we are not in too bad a shape coming out of the season on the rest of the farm. This weeks big job is the red onion harvest. We have to wait until the tops start to fall over which is the signal that they are finished growing. It is best to harvest when it is dry and warm so that he necks of the onions dry out well. If it is too wet then the chances are high of some kind of disease infecting the freshly cut off neck and causing the onion to rot. Perfect weather this week, but the staff always feel like I have staked them out on and ant hill when I say its time to harvest onions. We carefully pull each one of the 5000 plus plants, cut off the top leaving a inch of neck, cut off the roots, wipe off any excess dirt and place them in ventilated trays. The trays are then put into our passive solar greenhouse to cure and dry. Then over the next few months we will clean a few boxes each week and bring them to market. It is a lot of work but the quality and health benefits of these red onions are worth it.
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Fabulous Annabelle Hydrageas at their peak
Well it was a whirlwind trip to Wisconsin but we survived. We attended some interesting workshops and went on a great tour through the beautiful countryside to an excellent small meat processing plant and retail store (had to see where all those sausages are made), then to a mushroom farm and store. Betsy was pleased to have finally toured a mushroom operation as her mother tried for years to get them on one in Pennsylvania and never succeeded. Betsy’s mother was a great adventurer and wanted to show her kids where stuff came from. Instead of just going to museums and zoos they went to factories and farms and out of the way places, you can begin to see where Betsy gets her interest in all things cultural. As we accepted the award I told the crowd about the survey I had just heard about where more Americans know the names of the Three Stooges than the three branches of government. My reason for doing this was to point out how hard it was going to be to make Americans aware of the three tenets of sustainability. Now I am a basics kind of person, just keep reinforcing the major points and the rest will fall in place. Of course those of you who have received this newsletter for any time already know those three tenets; environmentally sound, economically sound and socially responsible. Those along with Slow Foods three guidelines; food that is good, clean and fair are how Betsy and I have tried to organize our lives. It is hard at times to meet them all but if we try to at least keep them in mind when we make decisions here at the farm then generally we make a better decision than we might otherwise. We want to thank everyone who called or e-mailed to congratulate us on the Patrick Madden Award, it is a little overwhelming. A friend of ours, who was on NPR this spring, warned us that we would get messages from people we hadn’t seen in years, she was right!
Back to real world. The staff did a great job while we were away. The celery (for Thanksgiving) and lettuce (for September) were transplanted and the turnips, radishes, and carrots are seeded and up now. We are headed towards getting all the rest of the Thanksgiving crops in over the next few weeks, the lettuce and collards have been seeded in flats for later transplanting, soon the spinach, radishes, turnips and carrots will be seeded in the sliding tunnels so we can keep them growing actively up to Thanksgiving as the nights begin to get cooler. They got the last layers of trellising on the peppers as the plants are becoming heavy with fruit, high up on the branches, without support those branches will break off. The early, early tomatoes in the sliding tunnels were taken down yesterday, a dirty job as the old vines have to be ripped off the trellis fences as you try to not splat yourself with an old oozy tomato still hanging on. No more Early Picks or Orange Blossoms. It is getting so dry now that everything that is not irrigated is getting really crispy. We had to pull the first water out of the upper pond as the creek is still not running. Good thing that we made sure to refill that pond this spring! So now the end game begins, as one by one the crops finish up and are taken out. Over the next few months we will begin to plant the whole farm in winter cover crops like a blanket, putting the farm to bed for the winter.
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The modern mushroom cave, white buttons in the front and Portabellos in the back
It is amazingly dark these mornings and it makes it hard to get going. We pulled all the shade cloth off the little tunnels this week because the days are getting so short that the crops that were under the shade get too leggy trying to stretch for the diminishing light. In August those same crops (lettuce, Brussels sprouts, celery, etc.) can’t take the heat so we give them the extra shade to get them going but with a snap of the fingers it becomes too much shade. We now know that Labor Day is the changing point and by then the heat has begun to break as well. Ernesto brought very nice rain without much wind, we had 2.5 inches that came down gently. Then we had a monsoon type down pour on Monday with 2.5 inches more in about thirty minutes. The river didn’t rise much and the creek is barely running again but things look much better around the farm, now the ground will not be so dry and I can begin to get soil ready for the fall and winter. The early tomatoes get taken down today as we have to make way for planting campanula and other flowers for next year and so the preparations for the next season begin in earnest.
This is sometimes a difficult time of year for us as we have one foot still in this growing season, trying to make sure we get everything we can out of the crops that are left, and one foot in the next growing season. We know that a big part of next year’s success is rooted in what we do over the next few months and so we become a little schizophrenic this time of year as we look way ahead while trying to keep a focus on the last few weeks of market. This is one of those “sustainability” things that we realized a few years back. In a conventional farming system the plans for the next growing season or crop only need to be made just before planting happens. A conventional farmer may make the decision on how much corn to plant based on the commodity market in the spring and then just has to use fertilizer in a bag and plant. For us the crop rotation dictates what crops go where and how much we will plant is based on what, you, our customers tell us you want. Most of our “fertilizer” is from the organic matter in the soil that we resupply by growing cover crops in that same soil and then turning them under. It is a much longer term view of farming. That is why we stopped raising the fall cool season crops so that we could instead concentrate of getting the farm ready for next year. Of course being able to go on vacation in October is not a bad side benefit either!
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Lettuce started under shade, it will be ready in a week or two