9/17/08 Vol. 5 #25

OK enough with the rain for a minute!  Thirteen inches over the last few weeks but at least the forecast for the next week looks sublime and maybe fall is really here.  We had a great time in Portland last week with the cut flower growers where they kept us on the move.  Up every morning at 5:00 to get on a bus for another tour.  The first day we went out to the misty coast and saw acres of colored calla lilies, hydrangeas and the largest artichoke producer in Oregon, beautiful huge purple chokes.  The second day we went to the Portland Wholesale Flower Market for a short visit but it is always good to see how the larger farmers send their product through the system.  In our only real free time Betsy and I made it downtown to a really great small farmers’ market (the size of the Carrboro Wednesday market) with some of the finest produce displays we have ever seen anywhere.  We took lots of pictures and brought home some new ideas for our set up at market.

The last day we headed south of Portland into the Willamette valley to see four farms including the largest dahlia grower in the US with an amazing 40 acres in full bloom!  We also visited maybe the largest producer of dried flowers in the US with something like 30 acres including their huge drying rooms and processing facilities.  Just when we thought the bus rides were over we got back on the bus that evening and went up the Columbia river gorge for a dinner cruise on an old paddle wheel boat.  Beautiful night on the decks with the moon rising over the river.  Friday we were up again at 5:00 to start the long flight back home.  Back to the farm with just enough daylight to cut some lettuce, feed the turkeys and finish loading the truck.  Dan and Cov did a great job taking care of the place and had us ready for market but by the time market was over on Saturday we were ready for a rest!

Things here on the farm are winding up smoothly despite the rain.  Most of the irrigation is up and put away (don’t seem to really need it anymore) and the Big Tops are uncovered except the last bay with the last tomatoes.  Soon we will be ready to begin to turn under all the fields.  The little sliding tunnels are all cleaned out and several already planted with crops for Thanksgiving.  The Brussels Sprouts are maybe the best looking we have ever grown, at least at this point.  If the grass would just stop growing so fast from all the rain, the end would even be closer.

Pictures of the Week
Acres of Calla lilies and Dahlias

4/1/09 Vol. 6 #2

It has been some years since we had a wet spring, one forgets what it could be like.  So far this one is what I would call consistently damp, not so much rain that you begin to wonder if you will ever get stuff planted but the frequent wet days do make us rush around trying to get things in the ground before it comes again.  This week was just such a case.  We usually need about three dry days for the soil to drain enough to be able to till and not do any damage to our soil structure.  After last weeks inch plus rains it was just barely dry enough to till on Tuesday but the forecast for more rain on Wednesday was 90 percent so off we raced.  Three beds of lisianthus (very tedious as they go in four inches apart), two more beds of mixed flower transplants, followed by three beds seeded to carrots, turnips and radishes.

After all of the recent wet weather the weeds are really starting to germinate and in another week it would be scary.  So after lunch I set the guys on getting most everything cultivated even though another day would have made the soil conditions just right.  By three o’clock we had covered the most egregious areas including thinning the broccoli raab which had come up like hair on a dogs back.  Cov and Glenn then headed off to get some planting done in their own gardens before the rains came.  Almost two days work in one but with a rain day coming.

Wednesday morning I am at the desk viewing the radar on the computer as it had not started raining yet.  While I am making some notes on the crop plan I realize I had forgotten to seed the second planting of broccoli raab, with this forecast I better hurry out quick.  Quick means taking down the deer fences so I can get the tractor into the field, spreading a little bit of feather meal for nitrogen, firing the tractor up and lightly tilling the tops of the beds, carrying the seeder down and running it up and down the beds.  A light mist falls off and on as I do all this, then it stops.  The rest of the day it barely drizzles and we wonder what all the rushing around was for.  Oh well, I am looking at the radar again this morning and it looks like rain for sure again, we’ll see.

Picture of the Week
The blueberries are blooming like crazy

4/8/09 Vol. 6 #3

The annual last frost/freeze dance is near.  This morning it was 28 degrees, not cold enough to really do any damage but low enough to get our attention.  The only things out there that could really get damaged are the first tomatoes and 28 degrees is really their point of no return.  But they are inside the little tunnels tucked under an additional layer of row cover.  After the famous Easter freeze of two years ago when we had tomatoes under the same protections and they survived 20 degrees we are a little more relaxed about these last fronts of the year than we used to be.

There are really two major methods of cold weather crop protection covering, like we do for the most important crops and ice.  The ice method that the most of the strawberry growers use requires lots of water, big pumps and sprinkler guns and you still have to stay up all night making sure that it all keeps running.  Once you start to “throw water” you have to keep it up until it begins to melt the next morning.  If you run out of water and or the pump stops you can do more damage than if you didn’t spray any at all.  In high winds, like yesterday evening started with, it is even more difficult to get the water to behave and go where it is supposed to.

We don’t have the capacity to ice protect so we mostly use the third method of protection- we just don’t grow those crops that need it or wait to plant them until it’s safe.  This goes along nicely with my “keep it simple” motto of farming.  It is so easy in farming to make the basic act of growing crops into a wildly complex house of cards that relies on too many artificial supports for it to work.  At best it adds additional work and cost to a crop, in the worst case it can mean total crop loss if the support fails.  Even organic/sustainable growers are lured into the trap by the promise of an extra early crop and maybe a little more money, or a special spray that will “enhance” the crop in some way.  Farming is complicated enough without adding too many additional hurdles.  I am happy with my unheated greenhouses and simple row covers, it’s as high as I want to jump.

Picture of the Week
Warm tomatoes

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

5/27/09 Vol. 6 #10

Rain, glorious rain, we have been missing the showers of the last week and have been irrigating everything lightly with an eye towards the sky not wanting to over water if it is going to dump rain on us.  Finally yesterday the skies opened over us and we had a good solid rain.  Chased us out of the field for an early end to the day but it was welcomed just the same.

Blueberry picking time has arrived and with power.  This first week we usually go through the planting with just us kids here on the farm and it only takes a couple of mornings to get all that are ripe.  This year the plants are heavy with fruit and it is already taking extra hands on deck to attempt to get them all picked.  We like to pick through the rows twice each week and so far we have only made it part way through on the first time around.  So many berries this year that it looks like mostly berries on the bushes and not many leaves.  Hang on.

Fortunately we have been preparing for this onslaught by getting as many other jobs around the farm done beforehand.  Now Betsy and I are mostly alone in working on the other areas of the place trying to keep up with the odds and ends and harvesting the other crops while the forces are massed up on the hill in the blueberry field.  This it the change of seasons and for the vegetable side of the business, blueberries are the bridge between lettuce season and tomato season.  I have been mowing down old lettuce and other spring crops and turning the residues under in preparation for late plantings of flowers.  Soon we will eat the first tomato and we will know that summer is offcially here.

Picture of the Week
Berries wet with yesterdays rain

6/17/09 Vol. 6 #13

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain.  Good thing we had a rain day yesterday as we are all just now recovering from the Farm to Fork picnic on Sunday.  It looked like a good time was had by all despite the heat.  Not so hot that you just stood there panting but definitely the sweat was running down my brow.  70 plus farmers and chefs cooked and served up an amazing array of small bites from every kind of vegetable pickle to collard green kimchi and barbecued shrimp with bloody Mary sauce to cabrito tacos with heritage corn tortillas.  A pre-event estimate of 650 people were signed up to attend, including the farmers and chefs, not sure if they all showed but a nice chunk of money was raised for the new farmer programs at the Breeze Farm and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.

We had fun, as always, working with Amy Tornquist and Glenn Lozuke from Watts Grocery and Sage and Swift Catering.  We presented a beautiful trifecta of Treviso radicchio leaves with a small piece of Glenn’s house made pancetta topped with some of the first tomatoes of the season; a colorful hand held bitter, salty, sweet salad.  Glenn had boned out an entire pig, stuffed it with herbs and hot roasted it, all night, in a traditional porchetta style and it was amazing.  The third part of the trifecta was a lemon ice cream with a blueberry swirl in tiny little corn meal cones, each with a blueberry in the bottom.

Back here in farm land the rain is holding us up from getting things done.  Blueberry picking was canceled for yesterday and I hope we can get a full morning in today.  We began the onion harvest on Monday but it is too wet to continue until maybe Thursday, it is bad to harvest them when wet and muddy, too much danger of ending up with rotting onions later.  We need to cover the last of the Big Tops this week so we can plant the late tomatoes, the transplants of which are really ready to get into the ground.  Looks like we will blast into summer on Friday when it goes straight to the high 90’s, that’ll dry it out for sure!

Picture of the Week
Pig with snout on the left, radicchio salads in the middle, tiny little ice cream cones on the right.

7/8/09 Vol. 6 #16

What glorious weather for July (except that lack of rain thing), can’t remember summer weather so delightful for such an extended period of time.  I am sure we will return to the normal steamy hot days before it’s over but we are really enjoying it for the time being.  We are into the “easy” days of summer where we have designed the program to have everything in the field done by noon and then hide out in the shade (or air conditioning) the rest of the day.

Some of this means fewer crops to manage and less planting going on but what ever is in the field now needs to be established and/or tough enough to handle the conditions.  Betsy is in the thick of Lisianthus harvest, it is a daily process of cutting truck loads of stems, taking them back to the packing shed (in the shade) and then processing them for later use.  The big job for the staff is the Monday and Thursday tomato harvest which takes all morning to complete.  The rest of the week is filled with a little harvesting of other crops, a little planting, a little trellising, a little mowing, a little weeding, a little irrigating.

Fusarium Wilt (chapter two).  I want to thank everyone who has expressed on their sorrow for our problem with this disease in the heirloom tomatoes.  It is a damn shame but it is just the kind of thing that happens in farming that you become used to and learn to adapt.  The good news is we have several things we can do about it for the future and it appears to only really be in this one area in the Big Tops field.  I have already taken the first steps this week by saving seed from plants that showed no signs of the wilt or at least a strong resistance.  The seed for the Cherokee Purples we are growing is some we saved two years ago, from plants grown in the same field.  They are showing no signs of the wilt and producing lots of great fruit.

The other two things we can do are to solarize the soil in that area by covering the bare, moist soil with clear plastic in the hottest part of the summer and basically cooking the fungus spores out of the top few inches of the soil.  That process will have to wait until year after next when we have a rest year planned for that spot.  The last thing we can do is to take advantage of the research we have done with NC State over the last few years and use grafted tomato plants.  I have mentioned this in the past and didn’t really think we needed to use this technique until now.  It is just like fruit trees where you graft what ever tomato variety you want onto a wilt resistant rootstock.  So next year we may actually have to graft some of our own plants.  There’s always something when farming.
Picture of the Week
Beautiful Lisianthus beds flanked by brilliant Celosia

7/15/09 Vol. 6 #17

Still reveling in yet another cool July morning, temperatures in the high 50’s and low humidity, what a treat!  We did get a bit of rain on Monday, and I raced around to finish the summer cover crop planting.  A week and a half ago (July 4th weekend) in anticipation of the best chance of rain in weeks I rushed around and seeded an acre of summer covers, as a light rain was falling.  It turned out to be all the rain we would get that day, Arghh!!  Just enough water to get some of them to come up but not all.  Mondays half an inch of rain was hopefully enough to bring the rest up, looks like another chance of rain tomorrow too.

With the drought, the varmits are moving in to take advantage of the juicy plants and fruit.  The squirrels are really out of control in the tomatoes and in some of the transplants for late summer production.  Something, squirrels we think, got up onto the benches where we had lettuce and Brussels sprouts transplants in the seed flats and ate the tops off of all the Brussels sprout plants and much of the lettuce too.  So the hunt continues with daily afternoon rounds, so far the tally is four groundhogs and five squirrels.

Everybody is beginning to ask when we will have peppers and begin roasting at market.  Well the easy answer is the roasting will begin, as usual, the end of August when we have an abundance of colored bell peppers.  The answer to when we will have a good supply of peppers at market is harder.  We have been working in the pepper field this week and the plants look amazing, maybe a good as any crop we have ever grown, but for some reason almost all of the early blossoms made no fruit.  Some times it is a result of high temperatures and resulting bad pollination but we have just not been that hot, my best guess is the heavy pounding rains a month ago actually knocked the blooms off the plants.  That being the case it will be late this month before we have many green bells and the same for anaheims and poblanos.  The good news is that with such vigorous plants we should have more, better quality, fruit later in the summer than usual.

There are a number of Peregrine Farm related dinners coming up in the next month that you might be interested in.  The first is next Tuesday, the 21st, at 18 Seaboard in Raleigh.  A tomato focused event, Jason is coming up with dishes around each of the varieties we grow.  The second is our annual Panzanella farm dinner on the 27th, it looks to be equally divided between tomato dishes and pepper dishes, it is always fun.

The last two are cooking classes at A Southern Season the first is a lunch class on the 28th with Marilyn Markel who runs the cooking school and the second is an evening class on August 6th with Ricky Moore of Glass Half Full, again focused on tomatoes.
Picture of the Week
A beautiful field of peppers, some plants shoulder high