Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #23, 7/27/18

What’s been going on!

The monsoon rains have given us a few days of reprieve but it looks like a return is slated for the end of the weekend.  Late newsletter this week as I was in Louisiana most of the week training new and beginning farmers.  I would have to say it is more humid here today than it was any day this week down there.

A pretty exhausting two days there as I presented/talked for ten hours and then many more hours of answering questions and general farming discussion, fortunately I did not lose my voice.  This is the third time that LSU has brought me down over the past ten years to help them build their nascent sustainable/organic farm enterprises.  The first time there were maybe 15 attendees, then three years ago probably 60 and then this time around 90 both farmers and extension agents.

The trainings consist of one day of how to start an organic farm and all of the parts that one needs to consider- organic farming 101.  Then the second day the participants chose from a list of topics that I talked about the first day for an in depth dive into them.  Those talks are one to one and a half hours long so I can only do 3 or 4 the second day.  The group has the full range of experience from just gardeners to seasoned growers and extension agents so it becomes a little bit of stump the band but it felt like everyone came out of the room with some valuable information.

We forget sometimes how fortunate we are here in North Carolina with so many good sustainable farming operations and all the support and supply options we have developed over the years.

Picture of the Week

P1040379

Peppers looking really good, nearing the top of their trellises.

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

Advertisements

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #25, 9/15/11

What’s been going on?

This teaching class on Wednesday mornings is throwing more of a kink into the weekly schedule than I imagined it would, which is why these last few weeks of the newsletter are coming out on Thursdays instead. I spend my Wednesday early morning hours preparing for teaching and in some cases good parts of Tuesday afternoon.

I have taught all of the topics in this class many times but I am always looking for a new angle or piece of information that makes something like the importance of soil organic matter frighteningly clear. Or how to explain the subtle difference between the classic American/conventional agriculture mindset of maximum yield at all costs versus a balanced system approach where pushing for that extra pound of tomatoes is not worth the cost of the additional inputs or labor or their possible detrimental effects on the whole system.

One of the intriguing aspects of this class is both Glenn and Jennie (aka the “Staff) are sitting in as well. The rest of the students have had a lot of “book learning” but little practical experience while Glenn and Jennie have had substantial on farm experience but essentially no theoretical, science based, exposure to farming. It is great for me to be able to talk about a sustainable ag principle and have them there. I can say “You know it’s like this at the farm” and they immediately understand versus showing pictures of the same thing to the rest of the class. While the pictures are valuable they haven’t lived it like Glenn and Jennie have.

We are definitely in the short rows now. Only a few weeks left for us at market and we can see the end. Crops going out, new ones being planted but with far away harvest dates. The anemones and ranunculus went in this week and we won’t cut the first stem until February, next week the Sweet William gets planted and it will be May until it is ready for market! Patience my friend, patience.

Picture of the Week

The long view- picking the last tomatoes, some already gone and uncovered, crops mowed, turkeys enjoying the rest.

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #21, 8/17/11

What’s been going on?

A nice cool respite this morning and the rest of the week looks tolerable too. Even had some rain last week, enough to try and get some very late summer cover crops planted. It has been so dry, and the prospects of a rain we could count on to germinate the seed so low, that we had not gotten any of our soil improving cover crops in the ground this summer. Never have we waited so long. It only takes about eight weeks for the millet or sudangrass to reach maturity so we have almost enough time before the end of September, if we get more rain. If nothing else it will give the turkeys something to run around in when they get to those fields in a month or so.

Next week I come out of retirement, sort of, and will begin teaching a regular class down at Central Carolina Community College’s Sustainable Agriculture program. From 1998 or ’99 until 2003 I designed and co-taught the sixteen week Sustainable Vegetable Production class until it was just too much time in the spring growing season, so I retired. Since then I have gone down to do guest lectures but have avoided taking on the responsibilities of a full course.

They have a two year program for an associates degree and starting this year, in the students last year, they are offering Advanced Organic Crop Production. The concept is to tie together all of the various subjects that they have taken and put it into a crop management system. This is really the core of being a farmer, you learn about soils and rotations and weeds, etc. but it is how you fuse it all together into an agro-ecosystem that makes it work, or not.

So it is a nice challenge for me to design yet another course with this bigger picture in mind, we’ll see how it comes out. The good part is I get to attempt it with a small group of students the first time and I don’t have to teach the entire sixteen weeks, just the first eight or nine and the parts I am most interested in. Who knows it could be a quick re-entry into retirement.

Picture of the Week

Ginger looking really good, flanked by ornamental peppers

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

4/2/04 Vol. 1 #3

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

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

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

Picture of the week

Look at all of those anemones!

9/15/04 Vol. 1 #26

I am gulping down the coffee and typing fast as there is a lot to do this morning.  The impending rain has us picking peppers this morning so we don’t have to do it in Ivan’s rain on Friday.  Of course it drizzled all night so it won’t exactly be a dry experience out in the field.  This is what we have been training for all season.  Early in the year when it’s wet and you look at the staff and say we need to go out and get soaked they can look at you in great disbelief, now they are trained professionals and know that it has to happen and now is better than later in a driving rain.  The other reason that I have a lot to do is that I have to get on a plane this afternoon and fly down to Georgia (I know right into the path of the hurricane) to give a full day workshop to a group of farmers tomorrow.  I usually don’t do this type of engagement in the production season but they were extra persuasive.  I have been having a hard time wrapping my head around the subject (whole farm planning) and that combined with the weather forecast I am less than excited about the whole event.  Let’s hope that the forecast is correct and that they don’t close the Atlanta airport tomorrow night before I get on the plane back home.  If I am not at market on Saturday you will know what happened!

We have managed to get something done this week, the dismantling of the farm for the winter is moving along.  If we had one more dry day we would have had cover crops seeded on one and a quarter acres but it will now have to wait until we dry out from Ivan and maybe get them in before Jean.  It is a many step process to get all of the soil ready for the winter and next year.  We first mow off the remnants of the crop (what the turkeys haven’t eaten), next we have to pull up and coil all of the irrigation lines that may be left.  One pass with the tractor and disk to chop up and incorporate the debris so it can begin to decompose.  A second pass if needed to spread any lime, phosphorus, and potassium mineral amendments (based on soil tests that we previously took and sent to the State labs for analysis).  A third pass with the tractor and the chisel plow to loosen the soil deeper.  A fourth pass with the disk again to incorporate those amendments and finish the job of breaking up the soil.  A fifth pass with the tractor and hilling disks to raise up beds so that in the spring when it is cold and wet the soil will dry out fast so that we can till and get crops planted.  Finally we spread the cover crop seeds, some with the tractor but many by walking the rows with a chest mounted spinner so we can place them exactly where we want them.  Oats and crimson clover where the lettuce will go, rye and hairy vetch where the peppers will go, triticale and clover before the early tomatoes and so on.  This is the only time all year we work soil like this and it takes days to do it right and dry weather to make sure we get the soil just the way it needs to be without doing any damage to it’s structure.  We are about half way done.

Picture of the Week
All of the Zinnias and Tomatoes gone, soil almost ready and turkeys living it up in the Asparagus patch

3/24/05 Vol. 2 #3

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

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

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

Picture of the Week
Magnolia blossoms opening

3/16/06 Vol. 3 #1

Well here we go again!  That statement can be applied to a lot of aspects of this late winter?, early spring season.  Market in two days?  It just seems brutally early but  with the weather we have been having it almost seems too late.  Saint Patrick’s day tomorrow and the first day of Spring on Monday.  Last year on this date it actually snowed on us.  Not this year, I just came in from running the irrigation on the lettuce field.  We are beginning to get really worried about the potential of the drought for this coming season.  You may remember the picture of one of our ponds near the end of last year, pumped down to almost empty, well after an entire winter it essentially hasn’t comeback up an inch.  We have only had it not refill one other time in 25 years!  We are now in the process of refilling it from the other pond and the creek to try and have some water on hand for what is shaping up to be a worse drought than 2002, which is the worst of all time since we have been farming.

The big theme that goes with “here we go again” is that this is a big year for us!  You will probably hear references to this all year but this is what we are calling our 25-25-50 year.  This year we will have been married for 25 years, farming for 25 seasons and we both will turn 50 this year!  The numerologists will go wild with this I am sure!!  Twenty five springs of wondering what it will be like, new beginnings, new crops, new ideas to try.  It is still exciting and scary after all these years.

Despite how wildly busy and un-winter like this past few months have been the farm is actually right on schedule as for as planting goes.  Betsy has taken time out of studying all things Italian to make sure that I focused enough so that we got things done in a timely manner.  The poultry plant saga rolls on and has used up more time than we could have ever imagined possible.  I would like to say it is all running smoothly but can’t.  I do feel as if we have turned some major corners and things look better in recent days.  So good in fact that I have ordered turkeys for this season, six more months of good bird stories!  The first 6000 heads of lettuce are in the ground, the peas are up as is the spinach, turnips, radishes and more.  Lots of flowers in the field too, we just now need to get some water to them to make them grow.

The winter speaking season ended last week with two presentations in Asheville at the Organic Growers’ School.  I also traveled to speak at conferences in Virginia, Kentucky and Georgia.  Good folks at all these meetings and we feel that the small farm-local food message is really growing by leaps and bounds.  One more big meeting this weekend (the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group board meeting) and I can finally stay home and farm!  Betsy is still taking Italian class two nights a week and I am taking a pastured pork production class one night a week, think prosciutto and pancetta!

Picture of the Week
Fantastic Anemones

3/23/07 Vol. 4 #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/11/07 Vol. 4 #4

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

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

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

9/16/09 Vol. 6 #25

Just returned yesterday afternoon from a teaching event in Virginia.  This was a training for “Agricultural Professionals” in organic vegetable production and marketing.  Now I have done a lot of workshops for extension agents and as my father would say “university types” but these Ag professionals were mostly Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Services Agency and others related to the USDA farm bill programs.  Most of my audiences are farmers growing vegetables or those Ag professionals who work directly with those growing vegetables.  These folks manage money or work with farmers to get federal program money, a carrot and stick approach to helping farmers improve their farming operations.
A very pleasant group but a difficult crowd to figure out how to talk about organic vegetable production from their point of view.  I think we were successful but the post training survey will tell the tale.  Two observations that always tickle me.  The first is if they are “ag professionals” then what do I call myself as their teacher and the one who actually makes his living from agriculture?  The second is essentially every vegetable farm in the US has never gotten any of the classic federal farm program payments as they don’t apply to vegetables.  Sure they may have gotten some money to help build a pond or something like that but not the kind of monies that most folks associate with the farm bill.  So it is hard to relate to what their jobs entail.
The reason for all of this training is just another sign of the changing of the times in agriculture.  As we as a nation and as farmers move towards a more sustainable existence then the ways we reward people for doing good things or give them incentive to do so is different than just giving them payments to make sure they can continue to make a living from farming.  Green payments based, not on how many bushels of corn you produced (or didn’t) but on how well you manage your soil or forests.  As I always say, it is an interesting time to be in agriculture, even if I am not a “professional”.
OK, on a practical note, you may remember three months ago I was agonizing over whether to get the turkeys or not, mostly because they would be arriving too late for us the get them up to size before we had planned to leave the farm for an extended period.  Since then I have talked to many of you at market about the decision.  I realized, mostly due to a recent increase in inquiries, that I have never officially announced that we will not have any turkeys this year.  I know, it is sad and will change folks Thanksgiving plans some but it just was not to be this year.  We are planting (and it all looks great) all kinds of vegetables to go with the Thanksgiving meal so you will at least have a little Peregrine Farm on the plate if not the table centerpiece.
Picture of the Week
Thanksgiving fare, collards, Brussels sprouts, celery, lacinato kale