Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #18, 7/7/10

What’s been going on?

July is a tomatoey month. Sure there are other fruits and vegetables out there to eat but the real focus of the month is all things tomato. We have four tomato dinners and events on our schedule alone, plus our tomatoes are featured on the menus of at least five local restaurants. It is a lot of pressure to put on just one crop from the farm and I do have to give plenty of praise to Betsy’s lisianthus and celosias as they are a big part of our business this month too.

The first dinner is actually tomorrow at Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill. Foster’s Farm dinners are family style and the menu looks great, why not let someone else cook when it’s this damn hot? Betsy and I will be there to visit and talk tomatoes, we’ll see you there. Through out the month we will be carefully making sure we have enough fruit to cover all of these events and the restaurants. On top of all this we have to ship tomatoes to Alabama next week as part of a fundraising donation we did for the Southern Foodways Alliance! We have never tried to ship tomatoes before, somehow we need to make sure they don’t arrive as juice! Hopefully this continuing heat won’t cut production short.

It was turkey moving day yesterday and it seemed uneventful until this morning. We move the birds to new fields every two weeks or so depending on how big they are (how much manure they will drop) and when the next field they need to move to is ready. The past few weeks they have been down around one of Betsy’s recreational flower beds with shade under some ornamental trees. We moved them right next door to the field that had the onions and the first zinnia planting. The old zinnias provide them shade but not as much fun as hanging out in the trees.

This morning I could see from the office window that a couple of birds were outside of the fence. Not unusual in the morning as they first stretch their wings. Betsy comes in and says we have a mass escape, sure enough 26 birds decided to sleep in the trees last night instead of on the roosts in the shelter, should have shut them up last evening to make sure. Fortunately they were all happy to run through the woods and then be rounded up and herded back into the fence. I’ll make sure they stay in tonight!

Picture of the Week

Turkeys drifting through the woods, their white tarped shelter is in the background

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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

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #15, 6/16/10

What’s been going on?

Late newsletter as the phone rang at 6:30 this morning just as I was sitting down to write and it was the post office with the next batch of turkeys. This group are the Broad Breasted Bronzes, the Fat Boys as I call them. This breed of bird was the first step, back in the 50’s, from the standard or heritage breeds like the Bourbon Reds that we already have out in the field, to the monster broad breasted white turkeys that are the standard of the industry now. The reason we raise this kind, as well as the heritage breeds, is because they will grow to more than 15 pounds, which is about as big as the Bourbon Reds ever get. Some folks just want a bigger bird for Thanksgiving. We think that the Bronzes are better adapted to being raised on pasture than the big whites too. 67 very energetic poults are now running around in the brooder, one forgets how much noise the little guys can make.

As soon as we got them installed we moved on to covering the last of the Big Tops so we can plant the late tomatoes under them. Perfect timing as we have had a nice inch plus of rain over the last few nights and so the soil will be moist to begin the new plants in. This last planting of tomatoes is smaller, only four rows of mostly Big Beef reds and Sungolds as that is what has done the best for us in the hot days of August. The rains have also brought up the freshly seeded cover crops, we haven’t had this kind of conditions for summer covers in many years now. We are trying to make the best of these beastly humid and hot days but it is hard to have a great attitude at times!

We were talking with Sarah Blacklin, the Farmers’ Market manager, last night about our new electronic benefits transfer (EBT) program at market. This is the program we got a grant for to implement the electronic food stamps system and it has gone so well we are now receiving more EBT sales than almost all the big markets in New York City! Part of this success is we modeled an incentive program that other markets have used which matches up to $20 of tokens with $20 of EBT tokens. This matching helps get EBT recipients used to coming to market and shopping in a way that is different than normally do.

It has been so successful that we have already gone through the $2000 allotted in the grant for it. We are now looking for donations to help continue to build this important food access program. If you are or know folks who might be interested in donating to this program you can speak with Sarah at market or contact our program coordinator, Sabrina López, at  or 561-901-0569. As a program sponsor, you will be listed on our website, facebook, ongoing media alerts and in our market materials at the market Information Booth. We hope to continue to be leaders in the area for food access and innovative farmers’ markets.

Picture of the Week

All singing all dancing broad breasted bronzes

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #13, 6/2/10

What’s been going on?

OK, enough with the wet weather, we need some drying time to get some soil turned over and to keep the diseases and weeds at bay! It is the change of seasons for sure around here. Sunday I mowed down all of the mixed spring vegetable crops except for the beets, lacinato kale and a few radishes. I followed that by mowing down the remaining larkspur, bachelors buttons and other overwintered flowers. Friday I mowed down the majority of the spring lettuce beds leaving only a few beds with the hot weather tolerant Summer Crisp varieties. In some ways it’s sad, but mostly it is relief and time to turn our efforts to summer crops. If we can get a few days dry, I will get all the summer cover crops planted on the freshly mowed areas and the cycle will start again.

The herky, jerky blueberry season continues on. Not a huge crop but very large berries due to lots of rain and fewer fruit on the plants. The birds and squirrels are having a field day, which is usually not noticeable when there are lots of berries but now we can really notice that there are fewer ripe fruit on the rows next to the woods. Betsy draped some fake rubber snakes in the bushes to try and slow them down but it mostly surprises the pickers as they reach into the bush to find a snake on the branch. With the generally cool and cloudy weather they are also ripening at a slower pace so scheduling the pickers has been irregular too. We are trying every other day this week and by the end of the week there will not be a lot of berries left on the bushes, as I suspected the season will be short and sweet.

The turkeys have been out in the hydrangea and viburnum field for a week now and seem to be getting the hang of outdoor life. Some groups of birds are just more flighty and difficult to wrangle. This group, maybe because there are only 30 of them, seem to get along well and self organize better than past flocks. Every morning at daylight we let them out and they come rolling out the door to explore the day, moving around the field in mass. Every evening near dark, with the feeder and waterer already returned to inside the shelter, we go to close them up and they are all inside on their roosts, ready for sleep. Some years it takes multiple chases around the shelter to scoot the last hold outs inside, not so this group, maybe a more intelligent batch?

Picture of the Week

Turkeys in the Hydrangeas on a gray morning

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #11, 5/19/10

What’s been going on?

Oh what beautiful rain! We didn’t get quite a much as others, somewhere around an inch and half initially, but then last nights additional shot probably brought us up to two inches. Of course I irrigated everything on Sunday, not going to be fooled again by the forecast, Oh well those beets will just size up quicker. Everywhere I went on Monday people were smiling and commenting on what a great rain, even our mechanic was ecstatic.

Of course working in the rain can be a challenge but we have enough stuff under cover now that, for at least a day or two, we can keep folks busy. The one thing that I can’t avoid is cutting lettuce in the rain. We cut Weaver Street’s lettuce to order, the day of delivery, so Monday morning I carefully watched the radar and went out when it looked like there would be a lull in the action. Worked pretty well and I only had to cut the last two cases in a strong shower. I have had times when it was full rain gear and the rain was just pouring down, this was not so bad. I did get the guys to come out from under cover to pick the broccoli raab during the lull and they managed to get pretty wet too.

This strange spring continues to surprise us. This time it is the extreme earliness of the blueberries. The earliest we have ever begun picking is the 22nd of May, with the average first picking being the 25th. We could have easily picked on Monday, the 17th, this year! From this early ripening and general look of the crop, my guess is it is going to be a fast and short season with fewer berries than normal. The first pick through will be today and we have a couple of additional hands coming to help, hold on it will be a fast ride, maybe three weeks.

Farm to Fork picnic this weekend and today we are harvesting the produce that Ben and Karen at Magnolia Grill will be using for their dishes. Beets (all three colors), Sugar Snap Peas, Turnips, Easter Egg Radishes, lettuce and Spinach. Their dishes are going to be Cornmeal Cake with Blueberries & Sorghum Buttermilk Cream and Spring Vegetables with Hickory-Smoked Rainbow Trout & Beet Ricotta! For those who got tickets to the now sold out event, we look forward to seeing you on Sunday. We are sorry for those who couldn’t or can’t make it but we will give you a full recount next week.

Picture of the Week

Turkeys just out after a day of rain, brooder on the left and the new mothership on the right

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #10, 5/12/10

What’s been going on?

Pepper week, well mostly anyway. Seems like I need to look at the master schedule and move a few things out of this week for next year, way too much going on, in theory. It could be that things have just run together in such a way due to the late spring, who knows. Monday we had our usual harvest for deliveries and then covered the four Big Tops over the flowers as they are beginning to stretch and need trellising and protection. In between we did the final soil preparation for the hot pepper beds. Long day.

Yesterday I rolled and crimped the cover crop of rye and hairy vetch where the no-till sweet peppers will go. As opposed to the last few springs, the hairy vetch was blooming vigorously which will aid in it’s death. The ground is so hard, from the driest April on record, that I ran the sprinkler on the flattened cover crop for six hours to try and moisten the soil underneath so we have a chance to get the slits cut in it that will receive the plants. Today the guys will get the rest of the landscape fabric mulch on the hot pepper beds and get all of them and the eggplants in the ground. Perfect weather for transplanting peppers onto a synthetic mulch, over cast, warmish, light winds.

Tomorrow we will slit the no-till rows and begin poking the sweet pepper plants down into the thick cover crop residue/mulch. Twenty seven varieties this year, seven sweet types and the rest in hots and near hots. Can’t wait! Only 50 days until the first fresh peppers are at market and about 100 days until roasting begins! If you are interested here is an article on growing sweet peppers I wrote some years ago for Kitchen Garden Magazine, the techniques are the same, the varieties have mostly changed.

The turkeys have spent an enjoyable and dry week running in and out of the brooder and into the portable shelter that will become their new mothership when they move out to the field for good, next week. Sometimes these transition weeks from brooder to shelter are wet and cold and it is hard to let them out too much as their immune systems are not fully developed yet and the fear is they will get set back. Not so this week, plenty of sunshine and green grass to eat and play in, they are growing like the weeds in the garden.

Picture of the Week

Four covered Big Tops, three mulched hot pepper beds, one beautiful cover crop for no-till

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Turkeys Again

After passing on raising turkeys in 2009 for a number of reasons including not being able to get the little poults when we needed them, there are now 40 little Bourbon Reds running around in the brooder!

All singing, all dancing Bourbon Reds

The Graham Post office called at 6:15 yesterday morning telling us that the birds had arrived.  We always let them know a day or two in advance that we are expecting them and to call us as soon as they come in.  We don’t want them sitting on some loading dock or in the postwoman’s car all day,  after all they already have been in transit from Texas for almost two days.

Off I go to retrieve the little chirpers and have them installed in the freshly cleaned and prepared brooder by 7:30.  All “working” birds, that are bought mail order, are hatched and immediately put in a box and shipped.  These guys (and girls) were hatched at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, left Lubbock Texas at 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday, arrived in Greensboro at 7:00 p.m. and then trucked to Graham on Thursday morning.  The reason this can happen is they have enough nutrients inside them from the yolk of their own egg to last them a few days.

One by one, we immediately dip each ones beak in water and then drop them into a feed tray so they know where the good stuff is.  The learning process for these birds, without mothers to guide them, is to introduce them to all things new, slowly, so they get the hang of it and then once they have been exposed the first time they are off and running.  We are their mothers in essence.

Now they will stay in the warm, secure brooder for 3 weeks while they grow stronger and become fully feathered.  The 4th week we will begin to let them out during the day to get used to eating grass and bugs and what will be their new home.  Sometime during their 5th week they will graduate out to the field for the rest of the season.  Look for more stories to come and a dedicated Turkey info page for everything you ever wanted to know about the Peregrine Farm Turkey program.

warm under the heat lamp, with eyes watching the human

4/28/04 Vol. 1 #7

New delivery day for the newsletter in an attempt to reduce the workload on Fridays and to give everyone a little more heads up on what’s going on at the markets.  We raced around and got a number of things planted before Mondays rains (not as much as we would have liked, only a quarter of and inch).  The last of the spring lettuce, more sunflowers (we plant sunflowers every week for a continuous supply), tuberoses and more.  We are at that point in the season where we are out of room in the fields and need for something to finish up so we can plant more!  This week we have two deadlines rapidly approaching that we are rushing to meet.  The first is the building of a new brooder house for the turkeys which are arriving next Thursday.  Last year being a test year we just threw together a small room behind the greenhouse to raise them for the first 6 weeks until they were big enough to go out into the field.  It was adequate for 20 birds but not great.  We have 60 birds coming next week and no place to put the little guys hence the urgency!  Started building a 8′ X 12′ shed yesterday, got the floor and half the walls up tick, tick, tick…

If we had nothing else to do this would be OK but Saturday and Sunday is the Farm Tour!  Our annual opening of the doors to the general public to come see the farm.  Many of you have been on the Farm Tour before and it is a great opportunity to see many of the folks who sell and the Carrboro Market.  Few folks know that the tour was actually Betsy’s brainchild.  Ten years ago she thought it would be great for customers to be able to go see the market vendors farms.  In the end Weaver Street Market sponsored the Tour as a benefit for Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.  Betsy designed the first tour and worked closely with Weaver Street and CFSA on timelines, etc.  Now in it’s ninth year thousands of people go on the tour and it raises thousands of dollars for the work CFSA does.  It is easy to go on the tour.  Just pick up a map at market or Weaver St. or many other local businesses and go to first farm that you want.  The best deal is to buy a button which will be your pass for as many people as you can stuff into one vehicle, for as many farms as you want.  29 farms this year so you will have to choose, it is hard to do more than 3 maybe 4 farms in a day.  In the mean time we will be mowing and picking up around the place, nothing like have hundreds of house guests all at once to make you buff up the joint!

Picture of the Week
Look at all of that lettuce!  Those are the “Big Tops” in the background

5/12/04 Vol. 1 #9

For weeks now I have been telling myself that if we can just get to next week things will slow down a little, hmmm how many weeks have gone by now?  The problem with May is that we are keeping all the balls in the air at once.  We are still planting a lot of stuff, keeping it cultivated, trellised and watered and then the volume of harvesting really kicks in with wholesale deliveries and big markets.  You throw in something extra like building a turkey brooder or a new market and it just tips the cart over.  Soon the planting will slow down and some of the cultivating and we can get into a steady rhythm of harvesting and markets.

Good progress last week even in the unusual warmth.  We put in Betsy’s main planting of Lisianthus, very important for market in July as well as the first big group of Celosias.  The new Southern Village market started smoothly and looked good, we know it may take some time to get rolling but the customers seemed to be pleased to have a market out there.

We tied up and “suckered” (pruned off the lower shoots) the tomatoes under the “Big Tops”, they really look great and are growing before your eyes!  I can just taste the tomatoes now!  Peppers start going in today and should be finished up by tomorrow at noon, phew!

Of course the big event was the arrival of the turkeys last Thursday morning!  As hard as it is believe they come to us in the mail.  They hatch them in Texas, put them into a box and send them to us Priority Mail, two days later the Post Office calls.  Betsy ran up to the Post Office in Graham, after they called early, while I went out and began cutting 28 cases of lettuce.  By 9:00 we had dipped each one of their beaks in the waterer and then set them into the feed trays and they were off running around in the newly furnished Poultry Villa.  They are just little fuzz balls when they arrive but grow really fast.  Their wing feathers are really developing now and the first signs of tail feathers showed yesterday.

Picture of the Week
A Blue Slate on the left and a Bourbon Red on the right.

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!