Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #29, 11/21/10

What’s been going on?

Wow! Two months since the last newsletter and I can tell you we have not been standing still. Here we are slipping up on the greatest of all food holidays and there is a lot to do but a brief recap of the fall first. The six plus inches of rain in late September came at the ideal time to not only ease the drought but to moisten the soil to make fall soil preparations and cover crop seeding nearly perfect. As we drove out the drive way on the way to Italy, for the Terra Madre meeting, a perfect rain was falling on the newly seeded fields.

The nearly three weeks we were in Italy and Spain was the longest we have ever been away from the farm in 30 years. Look for full reports with lots of pictures on the website, we will get them up after Thanksgiving. The Slow Food Terra Madre meeting was overwhelming as always, with so many people from 162 countries and of course the Salone de Gusto specialty foods show was eye popping. We had a great visit with our Italian family who again showed us hospitality beyond belief.

After Terra Madre we spent a week in Spain with Ben and Karen Barker of Magnolia Grill, searching for great food and ingredients. Not hard to find the great food and we went to many markets to find the new vegetables were looking for. We have brought back five new peppers and a new tomato to try and grow here. The country side was beautiful and their food culture is very different from what we have seen in other parts of Europe.

As we turned into the driveway of the farm and the headlights moved across the fields we could see that the rains had indeed brought up one of the most beautiful sets of cover crops ever. It was a crazy, hectic week trying to re-enter regular life: hundreds of emails, crops to plant for next spring, Thanksgiving crops and turkey details to catch up on, etc. Betsy was home for six days before flying to Tulsa, OK for the Assoc. of Specialty Cut Flower Growers conference. Two days later I left for nine days in Utah, hiking the upper Paria river area.

Home for three days now and we are in a sprint towards the special Tuesday Thanksgiving market (see the details below). Tomorrow morning I go down to retrieve the turkeys from the freezer plant and then we start the harvest of all of the vegetables to go with the dinner. Betsy has been busy while I was gone planting more anemones, ranunculus and Dutch iris for next spring. We need a rest from all our time off!

Picture of the Week

Beautiful Brussels Sprouts plants (unfortunately no sprouts for Thanksgiving) and awesome Celery

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

11/20/04 Vol. 1 #29

Busy, busy, busy!  Both here at the farm and on the road.  Betsy was gone for a week to Florida for the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers convention.  She always comes back with a million new ideas and I have to try and sort through them with her.  She was also awarded the Distinguished Service Award, even though she tried not to accept it, no one has worked harder for the Association.  The last week and half has been a blur.  The turkeys went in for processing which is both a lot of work and somber at the same time.  It all went fairly smoothly and they are now in our walk-in cooler awaiting Tuesday’s market. Betsy had to turn around and drive up to Virginia to pick up 12,000 tulip bulbs that she jointly ordered with some fellow growers.  These are now planted in crates so that we can force them early for next spring, look for them in March!

The two of us passed each other as I drove up to Asheville for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Assoc. conference where I presented in three different workshops.  At the banquet the Carrboro Farmers’ Market was awarded the Sustainable Business/Entity Award for the work its done and the leadership the market has given both to local farmers and to other markets across the state.  It is markets like Carrboro and customers like you that give hope to small farmers and the ideas of viable local food systems.  Monday I jumped on a plane to Alabama to give two workshops.  One for the Alabama Sustainable Ag. Network and the other to a group from Auburn Univ. who are setting up an organic research station.  I was really glad to get home after giving five talks in five days!  I’d say the meeting season has started hard and fast.

The end of this week has been back to farm work.  The cold snap last week finally killed the foliage on the tuberoses and the dahlias so that we could dig them for the winter.  We have to dig these tubers because they cannot take the cold temperatures we experience over the winter, then we will replant them next spring.  They have been kind of in the way of getting the rest of the fields put to bed for the winter.  Now that they are out the last of the soil preparation is done and the cover crops are sown!  Yesterday we planted the first 4000 Dutch Iris and the backs of our legs are telling us about it!

Picture of the Month
Look close and see the Brussels Sprouts (left of center) and the Celery on the right

9/21/05 Vol. 2 #28

Congratulations to Sheila Neal, the Carrboro Farmers’ Market manager, for the birth of a big ol’ boy this Tuesday!  She and Matt and baby are all reportedly doing great.

Well this is the last weekly newsletter for the season.  Saturday is our last regular market (don’t forget the special Tuesday before Thanksgiving market!) and we are very ready to wrap it up for the year.  With all the extra curricular things going on around here as well as the heat and drought, that are lasting way too far into September for my comfort, we are glad that we can concentrate on putting the farm to bed for the winter.  After all tomorrow is the first day of fall and it’s going to be in the 90’s!  We are only a few days shy of the record for days over 90 in a year, I am sure we will not break it but it’s been painful all the same.

We are slowly catching up on things here at the farm.  I need to spend some quality time on the tractor over the next few days getting soil ready to seed the winter cover crops.  It is hard to work the soil the way I like to see it when it is this dry, partly because it doesn’t cut as well but also the remaining crop debris don’t decompose and incorporate well either.  Besides it is dusty work and we would prefer for our farm to stay on this side of the road!  We are also getting close to beginning the next season.  We plant almost a half and acre of flower crops between now and mid November.  These over wintered flowers need a cold period and time to develop a good root system so that in the spring they take off and make vigorous growth and fantastic blooms.  The staff knows that the end is near too and are already transitioning to their winter occupations.  A few more weeks and Betsy and I will be “empty nesters”!  Just us and the turkeys.

It appears that we have lost a few turkeys, either to dogs or coyotes or humans.  Last Friday we came out to find a bunch of birds out in the road and the fence suspiciously bent over.  We got them all back in and then found one of the Broad Breasted Bronzes a bit beaten up and moved it to the hospital pen.  Later I found another seriously injured and we had to kill it.  When they get all stirred up for some reason they just get crazy.  After all they are teenagers right now with lots of hormones raging around.   Finally they all calmed down and I was able to get a count.  36 Bronzes and 39 Bourbon Reds, just as it should be but only 16 Blue Slates, missing three.  No signs of a scuffle so we are suspicious of turkey napping.  So now there are 91 left.  I finally had time last night to bring the turkey order list up to date and half are reserved at this time.  While there is time left, those of you who have not yet sent in your reservation should do so to make sure you get the size and breed you prefer.

One change this year from last.  After all of the hassle of trying to keep the birds fresh/unfrozen and the fact that we are going away again for two weeks prior to Thanksgiving (and have to get Joann to manage the birds while we are away) we are planning on having them processed a few weeks early and freezing them.  Our understanding of the new regulations are that if they are not sold with in three days of processing then they are supposed to be frozen anyway.  Our plan is to pick them up from the freezing plant a few days before the Tuesday pick up day and put them in our cooler in the low 30’s and they will slowly begin the thawing process so that when you get them they will be well on the way to defrosted for cooking on Thursday.  For those of you who want to keep them frozen either for Christmas or later we can keep them frozen for you.

Look for newsletters from us prior to Thanksgiving and then monthly over the winter to let you know what is happening here on the farm.  If we don’t get a chance to say it to you either this Saturday or before Thanksgiving, we do greatly appreciate your support of what we do here at the farm!

Picture of the Week
The quickly disappearing upper pond

8/23/06 Vol. 3 #23

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.

Picture of the Week
The modern mushroom cave, white buttons in the front and Portabellos in the back

7/30/09 Vol. 6 #19

A late newsletter this week, too many extra curricular things going on and yesterday it was just too much more to pile onto the mornings agenda.  The Farm Dinner at Panzanella was very pleasant and well attended on Monday night and Jim Nixon and his crew turned our produce into some really great dishes.  We hope that everyone who came had a good time and it was great to see all of you.  Equally I had a good time working with Marilyn Markel at a lunch time cooking class at A Southern Season on Tuesday, good food and great questions from the participants, many now new to the newsletter.  I will be doing another class with Ricky Moore from GlassHalfFull in a week, on Thursday evening the 6th of August.

We have almost made it to another summer break.  Twenty weeks ago the market season began for us.  Twenty straight weeks without a day off and while it has been the most pleasant of springs and summers weather wise there is still a fatigue that settles into the brain whether the body is completely worn out or not.  To that end, after market this Saturday the break begins and we will not be at market next week (the 5th and the 8th) while we and the staff do nonfarm related activities.  We give the staff a week off with pay so they can feel comfortable in taking sometime off and usually they do some traveling but this year they seem to be just staying close to home.  For us we usually just hide out and try to not answer the phone but this year Betsy is headed to Colombia (South America) to visit cut flower farms and a friend of ours who is down there on sabbatical.  I will get a day or two of hiking in and then be here keeping things growing.  So no newsletter next week as I will rest that part of the brain too.

In the last days running up to “The Break” we have been busy getting started on the falls crops and even some for next year.  More lettuce has been planted (under shade cloth to keep it cool) for late August and September harvest.  Turnips and Radish were seeded yesterday for early fall too.  Celery is in the ground for Thanksgiving and soon will be joined in the shade house by Brussels Sprouts and Collards.  Cov and Glenn started the seeds for the first of next years flowers Sweet William, Gloriosa Daisy and the small yellow flowered Triloba that Betsy just started cutting last week from last years seeding at this time!
Picture of the Week
Nothing like the colors of Zinnias

8/19/09 Vol. 6 #21

Betsy says that Colombia is not ready for tourism yet.  A beautiful place with beautiful, friendly people but it was hard to get around in.  She took every kind of transport around the country (they don’t have rental cars and she wouldn’t want to drive there anyway) short of a horse drawn cart even though there were plenty of them even in the big cities.  She declared that many of the roads were worse than any in Kenya, even when the Kenyans just took off and drove cross country, so travel was difficult.  Like her trip to Ecuador, the cut flower industry is a dichotomy between huge operations (like a 2200 acre mum farm) to small family places (like the two brothers who had 4 acres and grew many different crops) but all of it for export to the US and Europe.  She came back glad we grow and sell the way we do, with more pictures for our “carts of the world” collection and happy we don’t have to grow mums!
This must be a record fig year for everyone, even with minimal attention, our bushes have been loaded up with fruit.  We planted our ten bushes really just to have some for us and if there was an excess we would take them to market, which we do.  One of the reasons we got out of the blackberry business was they are the most perishable thing we could possibly grow, if they didn’t have a place to be sold when we picked them it was a loss.  At least with the blackberries we could hold them in the cooler for a day or two and they would be fine.  With the figs we have tried many ways to hold them and they just don’t like it.  So they may be the new “most perishable” champion.  Our current method is to pick them ripe, Wednesday morning just before market and Friday before the Saturday market.  Seems to be working but the soft, sugary fruit are noticeably different on Saturdays when they have been off the bush just three quarters of a day longer than Wednesdays figs.  Enjoy them while they are available.
Leeks for Thanksgiving went in the ground yesterday, another sign that fall really is coming.  Next week we will seed carrots, beets and more for Thanksgiving and later fall and over winter eating.  The first tomatoes in the little sliding tunnels were taken out this week, clearing the way for even later planted spinach, beets and carrots for early next spring.  We have rounded the corner and can see the end of the summer season, now we just need some more cool weather to show up.

Picture of the Week

My father told stories of sitting under the fig bushes and eating until you couldn’t, the perfect ripe figs

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

11/19/09 Vol. 6 #27

Just a week to go until that finest of American holidays, Thanksgiving.  I think it is really the anticipation of all the great food but the food does seem to mark the entry into the “in the house” months.  That time of year when it seems right and comfortable to be inside more than out.  Long cooking sessions, a constant fire in the woodstove, catching up on a years worth of reading.
We have been busy both here on the farm and off.  The cover crops look great and that nearly five inches of rain last week finally got the creek flowing again.  We have gotten almost all of Betsy’s overwintered flowers in the ground and they look fantastic, Dutch iris, anemones, ranunculus, gloriosa daisy, larkspur and others.  With our decision not to leave the country this fall, we have been invigorated and motivated towards projects around here.  I have finally had time to finish up the rest of the exterior trim on the house and will actually start painting tomorrow!  Betsy has been working in the recreational flower beds, pruning, planting and mulching.  The glorious fall weather has made it even more enjoyable.
Away from the place we have had the usual fall meetings to attend.  Betsy made a quick trip to New York for the Cut Flower growers national meeting and we both have had plenty of local meetings to attend including a couple of very pleasant dinners with Eliot Coleman and Will Allen (who was here to speak last week).  I have even managed a few early season hiking trips including a once in a lifetime trip down the Paria river canyon in Utah.  So no we are back for the holiday season before we head off after the New Year for more events.
I just came in from harvesting carrots and leeks for next Monday night’s Panzanella Local Thanksgiving Dinner.  This farm dinner is featuring multiple farms and the menu looks really good but no turkey, just to spare us before the big day.  Here is the menu, we will be there Monday night as well.
Pictures of the Week

Beautiful stuff for Thanksgiving, Boston lettuce, Collards, Lacinato Kale, Celery, Turnips, Spinach, Carrots, Beets