Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #33, 12/4/15

What’s been going on!

We hope that everyone’s Thanksgiving was warm, fun and full of great food.  Ours certainly was as we go over the my brother’s house for a leisurely gathering where we all share the cooking, eating and drinking duties and then can quietly slip home and sleep in our own beds.  What could be more simple and filling?

We have made it to another December.  It used to be that November was really the end of the produce season other than the odd collard and butternut squash and we would have to work to have good greens for Thanksgiving and then pack it in for the winter.  December would come in and clamp down hard, sure we would have a few warm days but the nights were consistently cold.   Not so much anymore.

While the days are still short so that nothing really grows much but with good row covers, unheated high tunnels and just a degree or two warmer it is now fairly easy to hold those crops and not have them damaged by cold.  December is now a fairly robust month at market and January is when the tables are filled with more durable goods.

Picture of the Week


A brilliant December day after yet more rain

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol.11 #32, 12/18/14 Winter Solstice Edition

What’s been going on!

A beautiful sunrise this morning but the saying “Red sky in morning, sailor take warning” appears to be accurate for Saturday’s market, forecast to be in the 30’s with rain.  Don’t let that deter you from coming out, getting your Christmas dinner produce and visiting with us at our last market of 2014.

One of my favorite things this time of year is to get up quietly, leaving Betsy sleeping, stoking the woodstove and taking my coffee up to my office to watch the day come up with the first rays of sun through the big window.  Time to think about the coming day and many other things too.

Another good year just about in the books and the 34th season is underway in the greenhouse and in the field.  Only a few more end of the season projects to finish up like the last of the pepper trellis to take out so that field can be prepared for onion planting in early spring and moving of the Big Top hoops over next year’s tomato field.  The winter travel and meeting schedule is set and well underway, all too soon it will be spring again and we will wonder where those slow days of winter went.

Once again we feel fortunate.  Fortunate to be on this beautiful piece of land and to be able to make a living from it.  Fortunate to have great help, especially Jennie, and a great market with such supportive customers and friends.  If we don’t get a chance to see you on Saturday we hope you all have great holidays and thank you again for making it possible for us to do this thing we love.

Picture of the Week


2015 tomato beds ready to be covered by the protective hoops

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #1, 1/10/13

What’s been going on!

Happy New Year to all, we hope that your holidays were enjoyable and as you wanted.  This is one of those times of the year that I realize how complex farming can be and how many different hats we have to wear to operate this business.  Just looking at my desk there are stacks of catalogs with most of the seed order forms completed.  It goes along with the clip board that includes spreadsheets with the crop plans for the year with the number of beds, plants, seed flats, seeds needed, planting dates, fields they get planted to, and on.

There is an architect’s ruler and square as I am still working on design details on the new building. There are bills of lading for the new Big Top parts, and By-laws and rules being reviewed for the Farmers’ Market.  A stack of grant applications, just reviewed and scores sent and of course the end of the year tax forms and records that need to be finished up soon.

Our holidays were as we like, quiet with some family dinners but mostly we were marching on with the workshop project.  Determined to get it “dried in” we did finally wrestle the last pieces of siding on last week, I am glad to be down off the scaffolding and on solid ground for a while.  We poured concrete for the deck and stair footings this week, which is what awaits us when we get back from Tennessee.  Don’t worry, Betsy has the greenhouse filling up with lettuce and flower transplants too.

But hey, its winter, let’s not get too tied up with the upcoming growing seasons plans, there is still time to relax some before the weather really warms up.  So this weekend we are off to the annual meeting of the Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans and Chefs and the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Taste of the South event with our compatriots Ben and Karen Barker.  A truly fun and unusual weekend where not only do we get to hang out and visit and talk business with the other Fellows but there are a number of interesting attendees and talks to absorb and of course the food and drink!  Jennie will be at market this weekend so not to worry about getting those sweet carrots and glowing anemones.

Pictures of the Week

068We sometimes refer to it as La Torre, the tower 

What’s going to be at the market?

It’s the deep winter selection now.  The winter potato- Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes).  A little more Spinach.  Lacinato Kale, beautiful tender and sweet Collards.  It is root season with lots of Turnips and plenty of sweet Carrots.  In Herbs we have Cilantro and Dill.

Bring some color to the house with the amazing bright Anemones.

As a reminder if there is anything that you would like for us to hold for you at market just let us know by e-mail, by the evening before, and we will be glad to put it aside for you.

Hope to see you all at the market!

Alex and Betsy

If you know folks who you think would be interested in news of the farm then please feel free to forward this to them and encourage them to sign up at the website.

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #32, 12/21/12 Winter Solstice edition

What’s been going on!

First day of winter and it roars in with authority.  We saw it coming and harvested some things yesterday while the weather was more amenable and then covered everything back up as best we could.  Most of the folks at market at this time of year have the majority of their crops under some kind of cover either a high tunnel (plastic) or floating row cover.  It is the “floating” part of row covers that make it a challenge in high winds like today.

Designed to be light enough to lay on top of the crops or slightly elevated with wire hoops it also billows in the wind easily.  There are no fool proof ways to weight it down but the best is either mesh bags filled with large gravel that you can almost throw into place or our favorite, bricks.  If you are careful with securing the windward edge then it only takes a brick every 20 feet or so.  These 30 foot wide sheets have a way of gathering the wind and we are not the only ones to have one become airborne and then land in the tops of the trees where they can hang for years.  Hopefully it will not happen to us today.

Last newsletter and market of 2012 and it has been quite an eventful year.  The crazy warm winter and the continuing drought punctuated with both the record number of 100 degree days in a row and the Big Storm that brought the Big Tops down would be enough.  We also had major changes in our routine with the closing of Magnolia Grill and then bringing Jennie on year round and a shift to year round production.  Through it all you have supported us at market and in many other ways and we cannot thank you enough, it is what keeps us excited and engaged in what we do.  If we don’t see you tomorrow at market have a great and enjoyable holiday season!

Pictures of the Week

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 A blustery first day of winter

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Anemones warm inside the little tunnels

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #2, 3/11/10

What’s been going on?

Well some of you caught us at Farmers’ Market last week, on our inaugural outing. Really more of a shakedown cruise to make sure we could find everything and remember how to do it. After six months of not going to market it takes some re-adjustments to find the right tables and the cash box and signs, etc. It was great to see everyone we talked to and the market seemed alive with souls who are more than ready for this endless winter to cease, farmers and customers both.

When I sent the last newsletter out in January, at that time starting to be amazed at the duration of the cold weather, little could we have imagined how long it would really last. Certainly now, standing at the brink of our 29th growing season, we can say that never have we experienced such a winter in North Carolina! It has not been so much about the amount of snow or threats of snow we’ve had but the string of days below fifty degrees. In years past we would be out occasionally working in thirty and forty degree temperatures but usually there are enough days in the winter when it warms up past the fifty degree mark that we would just save up the outdoor chores for those days. This winter has seen only a dozen or so days when it got above the average high temperature (which most of the time hovers just above that fifty degree mark).

What does this all mean besides we are really out of shape and can barely move after some of these first warm work days? It means that most crops are going to be running very late this spring. Some people I have talked to are saying things look three weeks behind right now. If it warms up in some reasonable fashion those delays will shrink. I can say we have been up to three weeks delayed in getting some things in the ground and I have officially moved back the seeding dates for most of the spring vegetable crops by a week over last year. Cold soil means really poor germination rates for things like spinach, beets and carrots. The transplanted crops, like lettuce, will go in on schedule and usually catch up with the arrival of warmer days but I would say that they too will be off by at least a week this spring.

Despite the weather, the staff started back to work this week, for at least a few days, because we do have a lot of maintenance work to get done. The first job was dismantling the shed roof that collapsed in the January snow. It took all day to carefully take it apart so we can, fairly easily, reconstruct it before the Farm Tour in April. Cov and Glenn are both back for this season and it is really nice to know we have skilled help when it comes to getting these kinds of jobs done as well as the inevitable catch up work we will need to do when it warms up for good.

Picture of the Week

Nothing left of the Stand but the posts and the de-tinned roof structure.

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

It’s Grant and Application Time

Just before tax season and serious planting season is small farmer grants and market application season.  Lots of trees are felled to be able to print all the pages required for farmers to fill out.  While most people have heard of the farm subsidies programs for large conventional commodity crops farmers, few know that there are an increasing number of small grants programs intended to help small and medium-sized, sustainable and organic farmers.

The subsidy program payments are intended to underpin the large farms with a stable base price so that they are not entirely subject to the ravages of a world market they have no control over.  These grants programs for small or non-commodity crops farmers are intended to help them with trying or developing new crops or techniques to produce crops more sustainably. While small amounts of money, usually up to $10,000,  some of the best new ideas in alternative agriculture have been nurtured by these programs.

We have only ever applied for and received one tiny grant.  Way back in the early 1990’s we got a small amount of money to continue work we had been doing on raspberry variety trials and new ways to prune and manage them.  After 21 varieties and some real break throughs in improved trellising techniques what we really learned was that raspberries are not suited for production in the piedmont of North Carolina.  Sometimes research leads to an answer you don’t want, but at least it is some kind of answer.

Our only really good harvest of raspberries, on an innovative swing trellis

Since 1994 we have been participants, co-operators and collaborators on others projects.  But mostly we have been reviewers of many, many grant applications to various competitive grants programs.  We have literally read thousands  of applications!  These programs all operate in similar ways with review panels, comprised of people knowledgeable in various aspects of agriculture.  The difference is they are funded from all kinds of sources; Federal funds, state funds, non-profit groups.

Our specialty is a category usually called “Farmer Grants”, because, well, we are farmers.  We think that peer review is the best and fairest way to decide what ideas have merit or are even possible.  The granddaddy of these is the SARE programs Producer Grants .  Alex helped develop the Southern Region’s call for proposals and reviewed them for seven years.  Using that experience he has worked with the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA to build their Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund grants program.  Betsy founded the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers Research Foundation which gives out small grants for research into various aspects of cut flower production.

One of the reasons we still do these reviews is to continue to build the knowledge base needed to move agriculture forward.  Another is we get to see what the latest and most innovative ideas are in agriculture and sometimes it gives us ideas of new things that will improve our farming system.

Sometimes it’s is frustrating because the ideas are nothing new, or poorly presented.  Sometimes they are asking for money for equipment or projects that we, as good business people, just did out of our own pockets because we knew it was the direction we had to go.  We believe in funding good research or demonstration projects that will benefit the greater farming community, not just one farmers operation.  Many times we just have to bite our lips.

What ever the situation we spend many hours reading and scoring proposals every January and February.  This is followed by more hours with the whole review committee discussing the highest rated applications to narrow it down to the ones that will eventually get funded.  In the end it is a worthwhile process for all.

This years stacks of grants on the office floor

1/25/10 Vol. 7 #1

What’s been going on?

A new year, a new decade and a mid winter newsletter. Betsy and I hope everyone has passed the long cold period and dark days comfortably. Quite an amazing cold snap, certainly not the coldest temperatures we have ever seen but we can’t remember so many days at or below freezing here on the farm. We do remember the last time it did happen back in 1977. We were in college in Utah and read, with amazement, as the reports came in that it was so cold in the East, that the Ohio river was frozen so hard it popped the coal barges out of the water and power plants were running out of coal! As folks who heat with wood, we burned an amazing amount of wood this January too.

The cold and wet weather that began in December has driven us into the house for most of the last two months but we have been productive while clanking away at the computer. All the seeds have been ordered and Betsy is beginning to fill up the greenhouse with transplants. Having taken most of the winter off from teaching/speaking engagements has given me time to finally work on and get up and running. A combination of website and blog you can now find information about the farm all in one place. I will continue to send out the weekly newsletter during our market season and it will also now be on the website as well. The blog portion of the site will also allow us to post other items as they occur to us, it will allow people to comment on posts and it has archives of past newsletters too.

Please go to the site and check it out, there are many links to our favorite groups, places that buy our produce and to pieces about the farm on the web. We will be adding more information pages as time goes along. If you would like to subscribe to the website and blog you can do that too, look for the subscription box on the lower left of the website. If you do subscribe and would prefer to get the weekly market newsletter that way instead, just let me know and I can take you off this email list so you don’t get double newsletters. Who would have thought we could be drug into the 21st century!

We haven’t spent all of our time by the fire or in front of the computer. We did manage to get the house painted, a well house built over the well at the greenhouse and the firewood cutting season has begun. We had a great turn out again for the Triangle Slow Food New Years day meal and gathering. 200 folks enjoyed a relaxing time and great southern traditional New Years food including collard greens from us. Betsy and I also had another fun weekend at the Southern Foodways Alliance weekend for the Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans and Chefs several weeks ago in Tennessee. Now that it might stay warm for a few days in a row we are beginning to plant a few things in the sliding tunnels and generally getting mentally ready for spring. We will see what Punxsutawney Phil and the rest of the groundhogs say next week.

Picture of the Week

It’s not all hard at work! Seed catalogs on the left, cats holding Alex down, and a glass of wine on the right.

Hope to see you all at the market soon!

Alex and Betsy

3/19/04 Vol. 1 #1

Happy Spring to all!

Betsy and I hope that the winter has been good to you all and that you have been enjoying the first vestiges of Spring.  Tomorrow (Saturday) is the first Farmers’ Market of the year and the first day of Spring.  To mark that occasion we are also launching our e-newsletter.  We hope to send out one each week during the season to let you all know what is going on here at the farm, what crops are coming along, and other farm related items that we think that you maybe interested in.  They will be brief and not take up too much of your time.  We get so many questions from folks about what’s going on out here that we felt that this would be a good way to keep people up to date.  If you wish to not receive this newsletter just reply so to this message or just let us know at market.  On the other hand if you know folks who you think would be interested in news of the farm then please feel free to forward this to them and encourage them to e-mail us to be added to the list.

What’s been going on?

For us it has been a fast and furious winter with lots of projects being started and completed, entirely too many meetings and lots of fun and educational travel.  Betsy has taken on the mantle of the most traveled this off season with trips to Vancouver (she let me tag along for this one), Florida, Missouri/Oklahoma, Virginia, and most recently Ecuador!  All flower related and she saw and learned a lot of great things.  We have always felt that it is very important for our business to continue our education and research into new things, in fact we still spend up to 5% of our gross income on this continuing education and we hope that you all reap the benefits of it!

Things here on the farm are lurching into spring.  We have been planting indoors in our unheated high tunnels since late last year and outdoors since the beginning of February.  Generally the crops look good and we have been able to stay right on schedule until this last week when the rains have made it too wet to work the soil.  I imagine that we will be right back on track by the end of this coming week.  As a bit of insight into what it takes for us to schedule and produce the almost 200 varieties of vegetables and flowers that we grow we plan the entire season usually in early December and then order seeds.  It turns out that we are planting something into the field 47 out of the 52 weeks of the year!
Picture of  the Week
Sliding tunnel with anemones, collards and lettuce

9/22/04 Vol. 1 #27

First day of fall, how great is that news!?  Twenty 28 weeks ago I sent out the first newsletter and it was just before the first day of spring.  Since then we have been on that wild ride the growing season always gives us, most of it is a blur right now but will actually become clearer as the fall rolls on and we can step back and look at it.  What a difference a week makes, last week we were preparing for Ivan and this week is quintessential clear fall weather.  Soil preparations for the winter and next year are going smoothly and we will get most everything seeded down to cover crops before the next rains come early next week.  Because cover crops are the backbone of our soil fertility program I get a very “focused” in getting them in just right.  The perfect time to get them established is now thru the first of November and it is ideal to catch a rain just after seeding them.

Of course there are other things that we need to get done as well.  The first of next years flowers went in the ground yesterday, yes the next season has already begun for us, from now until mid November we will plant a half an acre of flowers for spring harvest.  There are other “putting the farm to bed for the winter” chores beyond the cover crops.  Maintenance on the sliding tunnels, we move any dirt away from the rails, sweep them down and give all the wood parts a coat of linseed oil (it is all untreated wood because we don’t want the arsenic leaching into the soil where we are growing food).  Taking out the rest of the trellising, pulling up the last drip lines and stowing it all away.  The last big job is to move a quarter acre of “Big Tops” to it’s new field.  That should take about a week in total and I want it done before we go to Italy in less than four weeks, yikes!

There is work to do on the house, work to do on the packing shed, the driveways to drag back up the hill after all the rains and people ask “what do you do in the off season?”  Before we know it, it will be March again and time to start back to market!  As Saturday is our last regular market for the season, this is the last weekly newsletter of the year.  I plan to send one out monthly through the winter just to keep you updated on what we are up to, look for one just after we get back from Italy and then one just before the special Tuesday before Thanksgiving market.  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 first 3000 flower plants for next year, Sweet William, Delphinium, Campanula and more!

3/2/05 Vol. 2 #1

They live!  I have been trying to sit down and send out an update for months!  Just an indication of how our winter has been going, way too busy for a couple of folks who are supposed to be “taking it easy”!  I would like to think that I have gotten caught up on all of the things that we need to do but I know that would just be a bold faced lie!  As a friend of ours once said “our recreation is getting in the way of our recreation”!

Let’s see, since our last newsletter we have both had several major excursions and many minor ones.  In December Betsy and I both flew to Texas where I gave an all day workshop for the Austin Farmers’ Market.  We have good friends there who are large cut flower growers and we held the workshop at their farm.  After five days with them, including a quick side trip down to Mexico, Betsy flew home and I headed on west to Big Bend National Park.  I have been going out there, to hike, for over 30 years (starting when I was in high school in Houston).  We had a great 60 plus mile walk across the desert and up into the mountains.

In January I went to New Orleans for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) conference.  I didn’t have to give any workshops this time around but as a board member we are always busy.  The end of the month Betsy flew back to Italy!  A professor friend of ours is doing a sabbatical in the main cutflower growing region there and as we weren’t very successful in October in seeing much flower production this gave Betsy a great chance to get on some farms.  After several days in and around San Remo she took the train up to see our Italian family, the ones we stayed with in October.  I am not sure that I may not lose her to the Italians!  We have had lots of other extracurricular distractions sandwiched in as well, workshops to give, grants to review, etc.

On the farm we have been trying to pay attention to business but quite frankly have been having a hard time as we have been having too much fun!  We have managed to get quite a bit of work done on both the house and the packing shed.  The weather has made it difficult to get any planting done in a timely manner and we are running a bit behind with some crops.  Betsy has the greenhouse full of transplants and we have managed to get the first 3000 or so lettuce plants in the ground as well as seeding some other flower and vegetable crops.  If it doesn’t warm up soon I am not sure what we will have to sell the first few markets.  We are using all of the tricks that we have to get things to grow faster but really we just need some normal March weather.  The high tunnels are protecting flowers and vegetables (spinach, lettuce, turnips and more), in the field we are covering the lettuce with huge floating row covers of spun bonded polyester.  These 30’X100′ sheets are very effective but also can try a marriage!  Imagine trying to put these out in the kinds of winds we have had the last few days!

We are planting several new things this year and are excited to see how they work out.  I have a new planting of asparagus going in, new blackberries, rhubarb, and artichokes as well as new varieties of peppers and tomatoes to try.  Betsy has thousands and thousands of tulips and lilies planted along with other new flower cultivars.
Believe it or not the first market is only two weeks away, March 19th!  Yikes!  I will send out another newsletter just before then to let you know if we will be there and what we might have.