6/7/06 Vol. 3 #13

One more shot of beautiful cool weather with occasional rain.  I always feel like we are cheating or escaping from something when the weather is like this in June.  I know full well that the relentless heat of summer is hiding just around the corner and then we have to settle into a more measured pace just to make it through until September.  Having been born and raised mostly in the South you would think that I would be used to the heat and humidity but that gene never got passed to me.  When we moved here twenty six years ago from Utah, we lived in a tiny duplex in the middle of a field in Bynum while we crafted the plan for Peregrine Farm.  That first summer, in that non-air conditioned box, was hot as hell and we thought we were going to die!  We would lie awake at night with the tiny window high on the wall above, a box fan feebly trying to move hot air around us.  Thoughts of cool nights in the mountain west would somehow coax us to sleep.  I always assumed that I would acclimate and get used to the heat and while it did happen, somewhat, I still cower when the forecast reads in the 90’s.

The blueberries roll on.  After last years record crop it is hard to judge just how this years will end up.  My best estimate is that we have about a third of last years harvest, maybe half a normal year.  It is hard to say exactly why.  My best theory is that it was so warm this late winter it caused the bushes to bloom very early.  They started in late February and consequently many blooms and fruit were lost to frosts that came afterward.  It makes the fruit that is left a bit larger and maybe more flavorful because they get all the good stuff they don’t have to share when there are too many berries on the plant.  I was told yesterday that our berries were served last week to the former White House pastry chef, of twenty five years, and he said they were some of the best he had ever had!  With not so many berries to pick we are actually able to get other things done on the farm like critical weeding and tying up the tomatoes.  We are also beginning the process of taking out the spring crops to be replaced by summer cover crops or more summer flowers.  Out come the irrigation lines, mow down the weeds and what is left of the spring crop, turn under the residue.  If we are planting another crop then a little feather meal is spread for nitrogen, the bed is tilled again, then a drip irrigation line is buried right down the middle of the bed.  Planting follows quickly behind.  Last week more sunflowers and seven more beds of zinnias (the third planting of the year).  Soon those fields that don’t go on to summer crops will be turned under and sown to big summer soil improving crops.  The next batch of turkeys arrived on cue last Thursday morning.  Forty broad breasted bronzes, all happy and running around in the brooder.

Picture of the Week
Purple Bouquet Dianthus flanked by Campanula and Safflower

6/28/06 Vol. 3 #16

Rain, that is what has been going on.  7.3 inches this month.  Not as much as many other folks have had but wet just the same.  When we first moved to the farm in 1982 we lived in a tent for eight months while we began to develop the farm and build the first part of the house.  We had planted 5,000 berry plants in March and struggled through a very dry April to keep them alive.  We would fill five gallon buckets, by hand, out of the pond put them on a trailer behind the tractor and slowly drive up the hill to the field and hope that all the water wouldn’t splash out on the way.  We would then carry those buckets up and down the 20,000 feet of row and pour a little bit of life giving water onto each one.  Finally in late April the irrigation company we had contracted with to install our system arrived and we spent three very long days running thousands of feet of two inch PVC pipe up to the field to carry the water to the drip lines that we buried down each row next to the plants.  I always joke with folks that we lived in a tent while we put in $6000 worth of irrigation and I am still married to the same wonderful woman!  Now we could water all those new berry plants and our future.  In May it began to rain.  Every day we would stand under our little twenty by twenty tin roofed tractor shed/kitchen/world headquarters and watch as the rain dumped down on us.  The dirt track that ran past the tent and shed would run like a river and the lightening would shake everything around us.  The month ended with seventeen inches of rain!

Out in the field the plants were now happy but so were the weeds that we had unleashed by turning over soil that had held the weed seeds for years just waiting for someone to come along and bring them to the sun.  The May rains gave them extra vigor and we saw our berry plants disappearing into the jungle.  I carefully worked my way up and down the four miles of rows and hand weeded a cylinder around each plant after I found them first.  It was a race as the weeds: lambsquarter, pig weed and ox-eye daisy grew to head high.  I finally got on the tractor and stood on the seat so I could look down and find the cylinders I had created around each plant as I carefully mowed the aisles between the rows.  The battle with the weeds carried on through out that first summer (and still continues today) but we had saved the crop.

Fortunately we are going to have a dry spell coming the next five days or so and we will be able to get in and start to fight the weeds back.  We now have more equipment and tools and more help to do it with.  After years of cultivating, hand weeding and rotating crops our weed seed bank is not what it used to be but just letting a few big ones make seed will set a portion of a field back five years, so we are ever vigilant.  There is a section in the new Zinnias where it looks like we spread grass seed with a butter knife, or spray painted the ground green.  Last year we had Dahlias there and couldn’t till or mow the grass in them and couldn’t keep up by hand so some grass went to seed anyway.  We may end up mowing those Zinnias down early so that grass can’t make more seed, better that than making the problem even worse.  When organic farmers are surveyed about what is their number one problem it always comes back weeds.  It has been that way since man first started farming.

Picture of the Week
From the archives.  The early camp with tent as bedroom wing, ah the good old days!

7/12/06 Vol. 3 #18

Now the weather is returning to more normal summers conditions this week but in general we are all looking at each other and saying “I don’t ever remember a summer like this”.  This, this… not so hot.  No complaining here mind you but it does sort of throw one off balance.  Just as you have your brain programmed to expect one thing and act in a certain way it doesn’t happen.  The only comparison is back in 1991, which we always refer to as the Mt. Pinatubo summer.  That summer that volcano in the Philippines erupted and sent huge amounts of ash into the stratosphere which circulated the globe for months.  The result was a very cool summer in North Carolina,  we barely got into the 90’s.  Back then we were in the midst of the long and expensive “Raspberry Experiment”.  The most noticeable result from that cool summer was that the raspberry canes grew almost twice a tall as normal and the following year we had the best harvest we had ever had.  It turns out that it is too hot here for raspberries to grow vigorously, but that summer it was more like the conditions further north where they produce them in abundance.  Soon there after the raspberries came out of the ground never to be planted here again (under threat of certain penalties from Betsy!).  So while we are not experiencing as dramatic conditions as that year it is still affecting crops here on there farm.  Most noticeably the tomatoes are still not producing at the level we are accustomed to.  Every Monday and Thursday we go out and pick and while we are getting some of all the varieties we are not bringing back the number of boxes that we should be.  Normally this would be the peak week of tomato harvest but it will be at least next week if not later.  Yesterday we were up working in the peppers and the rows that are on black landscape fabric are moving along well but the rows planted no-till are way behind.  The soil is cooler under all that mulch which in hot weather a good thing but this season it is holding those plants back.  Just when your brain is programmed one way…

We did manage to get the cover crops all seeded before the big rains last week and they are up already and looking great, little soybean plants raising there fat heads out of the soil and the millet with one blade pointed straight up towards the sky.  The turkeys have all been rotated around the farm.  The little guys as we call the Broad Breasted Bronzes right now (they will eventually weigh twice a much as the Bourbon Reds) graduated out to the blueberries from the brooder and are extremely happy lazing the days away in the shade of the blueberry bushes and taking group walks around their new grassy enclosure.  The Bourbon Reds have moved into Betsy’s first and now abandoned Zinnia patch (we plant Zinnias five times and she is now cutting off the second batch).  This is the same field that had the leeks, radicchio and the last lettuce among other crops so they are now eating the crab grass and other weeds while hiding out in the four foot tall Zinnia rows like outlaws only to come creeping out when someone walks by the fence.  The last Zinnias get planted this week and the Brussels Sprouts for Thanksgiving went into the ground this week too.  Despite the different weather we still march on with the calendar assuming that normalcy will return.

Picture of the Week
The effects of cool weather.  The same varieties next to each other but the plants on the warmer black fabric are much larger and have large peppers on them.

5/6/09 Vol. 6 #7

This is the kind of weather that berry and lettuce growers fear.  In the winter and early spring we hope for plenty of wet days to keep things cool and help the little plants grow.  During harvest season we prefer to have widely spaced rains with brilliant sun in between so the berries and lettuce can dry before the dreaded molds get a foot hold.  When we were in the wholesale blackberry business this kind of weather would give us sleepless nights.  We just knew that the beautiful glossy black berries we sent to the grocery stores would all be turning white with mold in the produce coolers and we would have to give them credit for many dollars worth of hard earned/picked fruit.  Because we were not going to spray fungicides it is one of the reasons we got out of the blackberry business.

On the lettuce side there is a soil borne fungus that is commonly called bottom rot and the lettuce heads just melt down.  Not all heads and just in places here and there in the field.  When the lettuce is at harvest stage and densely packed together on the beds the soil underneath them never sees the sun and stays moist, perfect for molds to grow.  We compounded the situation with this rainy period by irrigating Monday afternoon because we had to and weren’t sure if the storms would come, water on water.  Our only defense now is when we harvest, to try and cut the middle row out of the three on each bed to give them better airflow and hope the sun comes out.  Looks like we have a few more days to wait for the sun to appear.  Just when we are in the early weeks of delivering lettuce to Weaver Street Market, classic.

On the rest of the farm this is clearly a changing of the seasons.  The last of the lettuces are being planted while the first tomatoes and zinnias are in the ground and the peppers are going in next week.  In preparation for the peppers and other warm season crops the last of the huge winter cover crops went under the mower or the roller this week.  Some of the rye and vetch combos were mowed to turn under for the following crops but most were rolled down to provide mulch and slow release fertility for the sweet peppers, late tomatoes and winter squash all to be planted in the next few weeks.  The last pass through weeding the onions and other late spring crops, have to get all of these chores rounded up before the end of the month and the beginning of blueberry season.

Picture of the Week
Bright Poppies on a dreary day

It only took 30 years

30 years ago this week I rolled into North Carolina in my old Chevy pickup.  I had left Betsy in Utah to finish up her degree and I came to help finish up my parents house and to begin researching this farm scheme had been dreaming up.

Betsy joined me in the spring and we moved into a tiny duplex in Bynum while we began to look for land.  Finally in the Sept. of 1981 we bought what is today Peregrine Farm.  The rest is what blog stories are written about.

The old chevy the day we moved to the farm