Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #16, 6/23/10

What’s been going on?

So what else is there to talk about other than the heat!!!! We are looking at the hottest June on record unless some wild cold front blows in next week. Luckily we are at that point in the season where there is not a lot to do as far as planting, or greenhouse covering or other hot jobs. It can really be strategic early morning harvesting or weeding and watering and then slip back into the shade or the house. It is a little hard on the staff because they are not getting as many hours in as they would like but then their quality of life is probably better for it. So far the heat has not affected any of the crops, just the attitude of the farmers. It might sunscald some tomatoes in the little tunnels if it keeps up but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Tourist season has begun at Peregrine Farm National Park. Last week we hosted the summer interns from the Center for Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro. Folks from all over the country and Uruguay here to learn about sustainable ag. Only one of them really thought they might want to be a farmer, the rest were interested in some kind of work in agriculture or “food systems”. I find it encouraging and interesting that they are now studying food systems in college as just a few years ago it was a new concept and phrase in the farming community. Maybe change is upon us.

Betsy also met and toured with an Afghani woman who was here to see small farms and marketing examples to take back to Afghanistan. She works with mostly women growing vegetables on small farms near Kandahar and selling to all the foreign workers there as well as the local population. Like politics, sometimes all marketing is local, you have to work with the situation at hand.

The new turkeys are, so far, the healthiest batch we have ever gotten. After a week they are all happy and growing like crazy, haven’t lost a one. The older Bourbon Reds, now ten weeks old, seem to have hit their stride and are now running around one of Betsy’s “recreational” flower beds, waiting for the first batch of Zinnias to be finished so we can move them into their first real production field to eat bugs and spread manure for us. As long as they have shade and water they handle the heat better than the humans.

Picture of the Week

Brilliant Celosias

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

4/23/04 Vol. 1 #6

It all just moves faster and faster now.  When I teach classes in sustainable farming I start with a pyramid diagram of the important parts of a farming system in the order of their importance and when they occur during the season.  On the same level I have Weed Control, Irrigation, and Trellising; all of equal importance but also they slap you in the face all at the same time during the year.  Well consider us slapped!  We have spent the week setting up irrigation all over the farm, and getting all of the trellis (1000 feet) up to support the main planting of tomatoes.  Today the tomatoes go in the ground, couldn’t imagine more perfect weather for planting them, they should just hit the ground running!  I got a little conservative this year with only ten varieties, still all of the favorites- Cherokee Purple, Striped German, Green Zebra…only seven weeks until the first Sungolds!

In our spare time we did manage to cover four more of the “big tops” (one of our neighbors drove by and yelled “it looks like the circus has come to town!”), we are getting much faster, only an hour per bay now.  We entertained our first Kindergarten class, wow I think I will stick with teaching college aged kids.  Two more meetings preparing for our new market at Southern Village, I will talk more about this in a week or two but our market association is opeing a third market there on May 6th.  Otherwise we just jumped around like chickens on a hot plate trying to get it all done.

Obviously lots of options for the picture of the week but we agreed that the most important is this one.  Joann Horner and her fiance Brian Gallagher launched their Castlemaine Farm at the Wednesday market.  Joann has worked for us for three years now and is Chief of Staff here at Peregrine Farm, she is days away from closing on her own piece of land.  This year she is growing on a piece of our farm and selling her produce at the Wednesday market and other locations.  Beautiful greens- Kales, turnips, mustard, bok choy and soon swiss chards, cabbages, kohlrabi and more.  We have had a number of our staff head off into their own operations over the years but none that we have been so involved with and encouraged about.  Look for and support them at Wednesday market and of course Joann will be keeping us organized on Saturday mornings through the season.

Picture of the Week
Grand Opening of Castlemaine Farm- Joann Horner and Brian Gallagher

6/30/04 Vol. 1 #16

Rain, rain, rain.  We’ve had 3.5 inches in the last two weeks and it would be alright with us if they turn the tap off for a bit.  Hallelujah for  the “Big Tops”, the tomatoes still look great as well as Betsy’s lisianthus and the staff can still work even if it rains (of course if they are like us they are looking for a day off).  The fairly continuous rain at market on Saturday once again made us think about how great our customers are, coming out and supporting us and the other vendors at market even in the rain.  It also makes us think about how basing our business around outdoor Farmers’ Markets is at the whim of the weather and other factors beyond our control.  We consciously have moved more of our business towards the markets over the past few years for several reasons, first we just love to be at market, to see everyone and hear what you all think about the products that we sell.  Second it fits with our scale of production, when we were more in wholesale we had to keep growing more to meet their needs, it was never enough.  Third it is better income than wholesale because we can sell for closer to a retail price.  On the other hand the market life can be relentless with no way to overcome days with bad weather or other problems, we can’t just take the stuff home and bring it back next week, that’s why they are called perishables.  I explain to the staff and others, including family members, that 75 percent of our business is done at the Farmers’ Markets and so Saturday, in particular, is not to be trifled with.  No weddings, no family reunions, no extracurricular activities on Friday or Saturday morning during market season.  We have about 100 hours a year to make our living, we don’t mess around with that.  So when the forecast is for rain it makes us pause, then we are always pleasantly surprised when the customers come out.  Thank you again.

Despite the rains we have a fairly busy week going on.  Several groups touring the farm including the graduate students in floriculture from NC State and the student interns from the Center For Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro.  We host them every summer during their intensive week on Soils.  They come to see how we manage our soils sustainably and to see how a small farm can be profitable.  These groups always ask good questions that make us think about why we do things the way we do, I think that its always good to look in the mirror from time to time.

The next 40 turkeys arrive this week as well.  We get them in two batches because the Heritage birds take at least 26 weeks to get to size but the Broad Breasted birds grow so fast that they only need about 18 weeks to get huge.  We are hoping that we won’t have any 30 pounders like last year by getting this group later.  The Heritage birds are getting big and have moved to their next location, maybe a picture next week.

Tonight (Wednesday) is Panzanella’s Local Food dinner with part of the proceeds going to support the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.  Look for our tomatoes on the menu and the flowers that Betsy donated to spruce up the festivities.  Go and eat great food made from local products and support our local sustainable farming non-profit!

Picture of the Week
Despite the rains look at how beautiful the Lisianthus and Celosias look!

7/14/04 Vol. 1 #18

I’d like to report that there has been lots of laughter, gaiety and ha cha cha going on here at the farm but mostly we have been hiding out from the heat, OK some laughter.  This is really the time of year we have been in training for, by having the crops all trellised, weeded and irrigation lines in place we can concentrate in the mornings on getting things harvested and then get the hell out of the field by noon.  The staff only works in the mornings because I think that it is inefficient and too brutal to have them out in the field during the heat of the day, they do work Wednesday and Friday afternoons but that has to do with getting ready for markets.  The afternoons we reserve for in the shade or indoors chores.  Betsy is usually down at the packing shed (which is deep in the woods) under a ceiling fan stripping and bunching flowers and I am either delivering, at Wednesday market or trying to get some kind of paper work done.  Very late in the day, actually early evening, we slink back out, taking advantage of the lengthening shadows and nick away at one thing or another, Betsy will cut flowers as they are dry now and I will get on the tractor or work on some other project.  We have farming friends in Alabama who just give up and take July and August off and don’t even try to grow anything.  Further south in Florida friends there have a reverse season where their peak production is February and March and their “winter” are the summer months.  With global warming I am beginning to think about summers off!

The usual chores this week- the first lettuce for late August harvest went in the ground, a few more flowers for September, a little weeding, trellising, move the turkeys to their next location (the turkey with the bad leg took his stay in the poultry spa well and has been reintegrated with the rest of the flock).  Lots of daily irrigation as we have missed all of the torrential rains that have been hitting all around us.  Today we have a bus load of farmers from Virginia coming to see the show, about twice a month we have groups come through to see how we do it.

Picture of the Week
Sunset at the farm, the bright red Celosia is aptly named Forest Fire, Betsy is now cutting this second planting of Zinnias

7/28/04 Vol. 1 #20

Quick newsletter this week, I am working on it Tuesday night late because I have to leave before the crack of dawn tomorrow for an all day meeting.  Crazy week so far with lots of small but endless details to deal with including a “twilight tour” that we hosted last night to show the “Big Tops” to interested souls.  We have the first of these multi-bay high tunnels in the southeast so our friend, fellow flower grower and the US distributor for them (Haygrove Tunnels)  asked us to have an open house for interested growers.  He came down from Pennsylvania to talk about them and we just mowed the place up.  Got done way after “twilight” then up early to usual chores and move the turkeys into the Blueberry field.  Followed by another huge storm and power outage (when I had planned to do the newsletter), at least our phone service came back on after 5 days.  Isn’t technology grand!  Looks like we could have a wet week yet to come.

The meeting tomorrow is a full day on no-till soil management.  You may remember way back on week #10 I mentioned that we are using this system more and more on peppers, tomatoes, and winter squash.  We think that it is the way of the future and we are continuing to try and refine our techniques.  This looks to be an excellent workshop with big name (at least in farm circles) speakers from around the country presenting.  I will let you know if we learn something earth shattering.

Picture of the Week
A riot of color.  This is how Betsy grows those incredible Zinnias with long stems.  This planting is over her head now so it will be gone soon and a new one has already started blooming.

4/13/05 Vol. 2 #6

You know some days are more glamorous on the farm than others.  Like the Carolina Farm Stewardship Farm Tour days (weekend after next, April 23 and 24) when the place is all buffed up and lots of interested folks come out to see what we are up to, or when the NC State Agroecology program comes out to shoot a video of our operation for students to be able to access online.  These would qualify under the heading of “farmers as rock stars” as one friend of ours likes to say.  Yesterday on the other hand was more along the lines of drudgery, running a jack hammer to be precise.  The “Big Tops”, technically referred to as field scale mutli-bay high tunnels, that we grow our tomatoes and some flowers under have legs that screw into the ground 30 inches deep.  Each of the two units we have cover a quarter acre each and has one hundred plus legs that have to be screwed in.  Sometimes you hit part of the planet.  Last year when we put them up we had to rent a jack hammer and chip out 32 holes.  It might have been one of the longest and exhausting days of my life!  This year we only hit big rock once but yesterday, after I had put if off as long as I could (we have to plant tomatoes next week), up to the rental place I went.  One hole was not too bad but I am still scarred by last year and am rethinking the wisdom of moving these things every year!

It always feels like warm weather is coming when the first Zinnias are seeded.  Last week we planted the first 10 beds and they are up already.  We also planted lots of other warm season crops- sunflowers, tuberoses, calla lilies, lisianthus, cucumbers and artichokes.  In general though we worked between the rains on lots of maintenance tasks, part spring cleaning and part crop management.  We finished most of the big round of weeding which always stirs up lots of rocks which we pick up and have to haul away along with other detritus like branches, pieces of irrigation line and other items laying around before the grass grows over them and they become mower bait.  Pea trellises went up, some irrigation began to be set up (I know it’s raining but we will need it when it starts to get hot), and hydrangeas were cut back.  Not a bad week in all and the new asparagus are up!

Picture of the Week

The happy jack hammer operator

5/31/06 Vol. 3 #12

The heat has arrived and with it the big flush of blueberries.  We started out with plenty of picking help last Thursday and then spiraled out of control at the beginning of this week.  I always try and line up enough extra help so we can pick and get other chores done on the farm.  We need to have six to eight people every day for the next two weeks to keep the berries picked on time.  With fewer than this we fall behind on all the other things on the farm.  Tying the tomatoes up to the trellis, cultivating and weeding, building trellis in the peppers and flowers and more.  Every year it is the same, so I don’t know why I am surprised and it always works out.  I try to get out and help pick too but end up spending most of my mornings taking care of the other duties, irrigating, picking the other vegetables for market the rest of the show must go on too.  Blueberry picking is really the most enjoyable job on the farm and the staff has fun doing it as there gets to be quite a banter out in the field.  At least the wholesale lettuce season is over, I cut the last of Weaver Street’s lettuce on Monday so now I can have my mornings free to chase the other items around.

One of yesterdays tasks was to clean out the turkey brooder to get ready for the next batch of birds, which come tomorrow.  The shavings and droppings are shoveled out and spread on the beds of one of the sliding tunnels, great stuff for that soil that we use so intensively.  A thorough cleaning including spraying down the walls and floor with chlorine to disinfect a bit.  After it dries out well we put in a new batch of shavings about three inches deep.  Over that goes a layer of newspaper that they will be on for the first three days while they learn to eat (and read I’m sure) the right food instead of the wood chips.  Finally a draft ring goes in and the newly disinfected feeders and waterers.  Now we are ready for that early morning call from the post office.  Forty broad breasted Bronzes to eventually join the Bourbon Reds out in the field.  We get this group later because they grow so fast, they would be forty pounds if we got them at the same time as the others.  This way everyone runs together and finishes up at the same time.

We had an interesting group of visitors last week from the EPA.  These are some of the folks who are responsible for registering pesticides for farmers to use.  Now we don’t use many pesticides (remember that a pesticide is anything that kills a pest, even organically approved materials) seeing as how we are committed to sustainability and organic practices, so we wondered why they would want to come see us.  Turns out that while they have pretty good data and an idea of how soybeans and corn grow they don’t have a clue as to how an intensive horticultural operation works, how the crops actually grow and how one could grow them without pesticides.  There were entomologists, biologists, pathologists and the much maligned agricultural economist.  We described how we maintain soil fertility, rotate crops and what strategies we use to deal with pest problems.  They seemed genuinely interested and as a sign of how things are changing in the world of big Ag and regulation they actually are trying to measure the costs and risks of using a pesticide over using other techniques such as we us.

Picture of the Week
Dark and threatening rain this morning, but the Campanula brightens up the day

9/13/06 Vol. 3 #26

Yesterday was one of the those interesting days, which occur from time to time, that are a condensed version of our life in one shot.  Up early when it is just barely light to go for a walk because there is a lot to do.  Back for just enough time to have a cup of coffee and check some emails.  This was turkey moving day so I headed out to do that but first started the irrigation in the little tunnels to keep all the Thanksgiving vegetables happy and to take soil samples in the field the birds are about to go into.  Put the fences up around the new area and open the fence that was keeping them in the current field as they watched me intently get the new field ready.  I think they really do know when it’s time to move.  Immediately they move into the lush green cover crop, heads down, making what we call the “happy turkey sound”.  Drag their shelters, feeders and waters into the new field and it is done.  Jump on the tractor to mow down the rest of the six foot tall sudangrass cover crop in the field they had been in so that I can be ready take soil samples there prior to preparing the soil for the winter.  While on the tractor I mow the grass field the turkeys will be in next so the tender regrowth will be just the right height when they move in there in a week or so.  It is 11:00, enough time to shower and change clothes and drive to Pittsboro several meetings.

Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) is one of the hardworking non profits that we work with in multiple capacities, their headquarters is in Pittsboro.  First I met to discuss a new crop insurance program for diversified farmers to see if it would work for us.  We have never had crop insurance because one: it hasn’t been available and two: we are so diversified that if some crop fails some other crop or crops always makes up for it.  We decide we are not a good test case but come up with some other farmers who might be.  The bulk of the afternoon is spent meeting with a group of representatives of organizations who fund non profits like RAFI.  They are learning about sustainable agriculture and where they could fund projects, they are particularly interested in what is happening with our Growers’ Choice poultry cooperative.  I speak, our former plant manager talks about his experience and one of the Latino employees talks (with an interpreter) about the difference between working for us and the large chicken plants (he liked us better).  They are then all loaded on a bus and drive up for a quick tour of our farm, to see more examples of sustainable farming.  It is 4:00 by the time they leave, just enough time to feed and water the turkeys and head into town with Betsy.  We stop at the hardware store for a few supplies and then she goes to Italian class while I walk down the street to have dinner with a class of UNC students studying food.  We talk about farming (why are colored peppers so expensive), and politics (why we are going to Italy for the Slow Food conference), chefs, travel, local food, farming…. this same class will be coming to the farm in a few weeks.  I have to leave early (8:00) to meet Betsy and go to a Farmers’ Market Board meeting.  We are no longer on the board but try to go to as many meetings as we can to keep up and help answer questions that may come up.  10:30 we get home, what a day.

Picture of the Week
The guys strutting for the girls who are paying no attention, typical.

9/12/07 Vol. 4 #25

We are in the middle of an interesting week beginning with getting the place ready for multiple groups of visitors.  It is hard to make the Kalahari desert look vibrant when everything is brown except for the small patches we are irrigating.  But we mowed what needed it and picked up and tidied around the buildings making mental notes that we should never have tours in September when we are just about to close for the season, oh well.  The best looking thing we have are the cowpeas we planted as a cover crop and which, in a normal year, should have been mowed down by now but have struggled to get this far, at least they are a rich green.  Saturday was a long but fun day.  The Southern Foodways Alliance was in town for what they call one of their field camps.  A group dedicated to the preservation of southern culture(s), from arts and crafts to music and writing but all sort of surrounded by the foods of the south.  People from all over the country were here, you may have noticed them touring the market on Saturday.  We hosted them here at the farm Saturday afternoon where we talked about small scale farming, the market in this area and tasted tomatoes.  They didn’t realize what a miracle it was for us to have the wealth of tomatoes we have had this late in the season, this season in particular!  We then headed into town for a large dinner with the whole group, having been awake since 1:00 a.m. we decided to head home at 10:30 instead of following the group down the road to sample the local taco truck, it was a sound idea.

Yesterday we had a group out from NC State which included two Uruguayans who are doing research in their country on organic farming.  Through an excellent interpreter we walked all around and showed them how we did it here.  Discussions about soil fertility, rotations, cover crops, etc.  They were also very interested in how we used the turkeys, integrated with the crop production, too bad we didn’t have any turkeys to show them this time around.  This coming Saturday after market, again, there will be a film crew here from Gourmet Magazine shooting some of our crops (up close I hope) for their TV show “The Diary of a Foodie” which is on PBS, here on Saturday afternoons.  They are working on a piece with Andrea Ruesing at Lantern Restaurant, who knew when we all agreed to do this that we would be in the middle of an historic drought.  At least it will be cooler and they always tell me they can do miracles with the camera and editing!

Picture of the Week
This is our creek, a good sized stream, dry for two months now, our house is 100′ to the left

7/16/08 Vol. 5 #18

Well we seem to be in the tourist season now.  Last week the National Academy of Sciences, today a bus load of extension agents here in North Carolina for the National Association of County Agricultural Agents meeting.  Next week we have an all day turkey production workshop for 50, put on by our friends at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.  They were going to hold it down at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro but all their turkeys got eaten by coyotes and they needed a new location that had heritage turkeys on pasture!  In two weeks we might be hosting a big press conference to announce two new endowed chairs in Sustainable Food Systems at NC A&T and NC State.  In three weeks we have 90 civil servants from India coming to see what farming techniques we use.  In four weeks we will be taking our summer break to rest up from all of this activity!  So we have been mowing and cleaning up the place.  Not that we don’t constantly do this kind of maintenance but usually not all at once.  All of the rain has made the mowing more critical as stuff is growing like wildfire.

The rest of our days are as usual, a steady pace of harvesting, planting and crop control.  I had predicted this week to be the peak week of tomato harvest but it appears as if last week actually was.  That week of 100 degree temperatures in early June is probably part of the reason.  When it’s that hot tomatoes don’t pollinate well.  That combined with not a lot of sun last week to help ripen the fruit and we seem to have a drop in production this week over last.  Still we have tomato plants to tie up, peppers and lisianthus to trellis, zinnias to be weeded and lots of flowers to be seeded for next years early crops (already?).  The last planting of zinnias and sunflowers went in the ground this week and the first of the fall lettuce too.  The little turkeys graduated yesterday, their first time out of doors.  It is always surprising how fast these broad breasted turkeys grow compared to the heritage birds and these guys are looking good.  In two weeks they will join the older birds out in the field.

Picture of the Week
Limelight Hydrangeas