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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #11, 4/27/16

What’s been going on!

And so it starts again.  Tomorrow I will cut and deliver the first lettuce to Weaver Street Market for this season.  This year marks a quarter of a century we have been growing lettuce for Weaver Street, every spring the dance is the same.  A short dance as it only lasts 4 weeks, the prime growing conditions for standard lettuce varieties here in the Piedmont.

The perfect growth conditions for all of the spring vegetables, if you could hold them in a climate controlled place, is an average air temperature of 60-65 degrees, we have that here for about 20 days from mid-April to mid-May.  Once that average temperature goes over 75 it is too hot for quality lettuce except for a few hot weather varieties.  So by the end of May, all of the cool season crops are on the way out.  Every market day, at this time of year, folks always comment on how beautiful and lush the lettuces look and it is because we are in the heart of the best conditions.

Leaf lettuces are the sixth most consumed vegetable per person and rising which makes it an important crop for us and for the grocery store.  So for that reason you will find me in the lettuce field cutting lettuce four mornings a week, Mondays and Thursdays for afternoon delivery to Weaver Street Market and Wednesdays and Fridays for Farmers’ Market and the restaurants.  I expect everyone to be eating a lot of salads over the next month!

Picture of the Week

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Not lettuce, Jennie and Tricia harvesting turnips and more for Wednesday market

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #10, 4/20/16

What’s been going on!

A fair sized ripple rolled through the food and farmers market pool last week, on the internet, over a set of articles by the Tampa Bay Times food writer Laura Reiley.  Titled Farm to Fable she did excellent in depth investigative research on restaurants who say they use local products and a second article on the Tampa Bay area farmers markets.  Her conclusion was everyone was lying and there was almost no local food in either the restaurants or the farmers markets.

Were we shocked?  Not really.  Is it the same way here in the Triangle?  No.  First there has always been green washing in the restaurant and grocery businesses to get customers into their stores, do we really think that the produce department at Harris Teeter is a “Farmers Market”?  I can say that the restaurants we sell to do an excellent job in sourcing local product and try as best as they can to represent that accurately on their menus.  We do have friends around the country who occasionally have to go in and bust a chef for using their names on the menu when they haven’t bought something from them in a long time, it happens.

The second part on farmers markets also represents the fact that Florida agriculture mostly revolves around shipping large amounts of produce around the country and the world in the off season, so a culture of buying from big produce markets and reselling has been that way for a long time.  We know plenty of small farmers growing in Florida but apparently not in the markets around Tampa Bay.

The description of the farmers markets there were filled with crafts, prepared food vendors, food trucks and few produce sellers at all.  Some she described as Flea Markets.  Those are not the kind of markets we have here in North Carolina.  When independent farmers markets started up here decades ago they mostly took a growers only position, where the farmers actually sold their own products.  Sure there are Flea Markets here to but no one I know actually thinks of them as the place to buy fresh produce.

All that being said, not all markets here are created equal either.  The hardest thing for a market to do is to make sure that everything being sold does comply with its rules such as- every product is grown or made by the vendor, that the owner is actually there selling or that they are within a certain distance of the market.  Many markets just don’t have the man power or the will to do the inspections and leg work it takes and slowly “exceptions” can be made.

This is what makes the Carrboro Farmers’ Market so outstanding, for all of its nearly four decades it has been committed to upholding its rules (the most stringent all local markets) and by doing that supporting its producers in the best way possible.  We just hope that people don’t paint all markets or restaurants the same way but the wise consumer should look behind the curtain to verify for themselves the claims made are true, get to know who grows and cooks your food.

Picture of the Week

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A field full of lettuce, perfect growing conditions, eat it while it’s here

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #9, 4/13/16

What’s been going on!

Well we slipped the bullet on the big freeze but we sure were worried that it could have been worse.  Only 27 degrees on Sunday morning and the wind died enough that all the row covers stayed perfectly in place.  The wind was so strong all day we waited until just before dark to pull the covers over about three quarters of an acre, in textbook fashion the wind slowed as the sun went down and the next morning the covers looked like we had just put them out.

Cold shots are just the normal kind of hassle we can have in the spring but an unusual problem has been bedeviling us this last month.  Every once in a while a mouse decides that the greenhouse is a nice warm place to live when it is cold outside and what would a mouse eat?  Seeds and seedlings of course!

Their first choice is nice fat sunflower seeds that we have conveniently placed in fluffy soil on warm heat mats.  Then some of the tomato seedlings began disappearing so we reseeded those.  Finally we filled the germination box up with all kinds of scrumptious pepper seeds that they enjoyed with salads of cilantro and parsley seedlings.  Fortunately they don’t eat everything, just graze around but we have had to reseed a number of things.  Unfortunately for them we have dispensed with two of the little blighters and think we have stemmed the invasion for this spring.

Picture of the Week

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Early Sunday morning, lots of happy plants under cover

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #8, 4/6/16

What’s been going on!

Trying to get the newsletter back on its regular Wednesday schedule and why not do it just in time for the first Wednesday afternoon Farmers’ Market.  Yes today from 3:00 to 6:00, it all starts again.  We will be there with the first lettuces of the season and Betsy’s beautiful flowers.

Cold this morning, 26 degrees, but all the tender crops are tucked under their protective blankets and look fine.  We are definitely getting our March winds and temperature swings only a bit late.  Looks like another serious shot on Saturday night too.

We are steadily working towards the main tomato planting under the Big Tops in two weeks.  The cover crop has been turned under and a layer of compost has been spread on each bed.  Next week we need to pull the plastic over the bows and get the final bed preparations done.  The plants look good in the greenhouse but as usual there is experimentation in the air.

We are once again working with a graduate student from NC State on a grafted tomato trial.  A decade ago, over several seasons, we grew some of the first grafted tomatoes in the US as NC State was beginning to work on the technique.  Just like it sounds and just like more commonly grafted fruit trees, the desirable variety is grafted to the top of a rootstock with the required trait, usually disease resistance but in this year’s trial, drought resistance.

The rootstocks we are looking at this year are capable of taking up more water than other tomatoes, could be important in either very dry areas or as climate change throws more droughts our way too.  All of the Cherokee Purples in the main planting will be in the experiment this year and you all will get to see and eat the results.

Pictures of the Week

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Frost on the lettuce

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Early tomatoes warm under their blankets

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #7, 4/1/16

What’s been going on!

It must be April fool’s day, we worked all week expecting a full rain day today, which it started out looking like but now the sun is out!  Longer work afternoons, planting yesterday after finishing up an early harvest just to get it all done.  Just like spring to throw a curve ball at us.

It is the annual tug of war between finishing up the last of the winter projects and facing down the regularity of growing season.  Just need another day or two to get all the firewood in the shed, same with some edge of the field brush clearing we need to do so we can mow more comfortably.  Looks like we will get most of it done this coming week, especially with a few cooler days and nights coming in.

Yes we have warmed up rather quickly this spring with fewer erratic ups and downs but we always know that the chance of a cold snap is there and so it will be this week.  Several chances of temperatures at 32 or below so folks that have planted out tomatoes and other tender crops will need to be vigilant.  We are always ready and expect to have to cover a few things next Tuesday night if not several nights in a row.

On the regularity of the season, the big item on the list this week was starting all the peppers, as usual many varieties and kinds that have to painstakingly be seeded into flats and labeled so we don’t have surprises later in the year!  The ladies also did the tedious second cultivating of the onions which never seems to end but they look great and the deer fence is done!

Picture of the Week

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Spring vegetables glistening after a rain

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #6, 3/25/16

What’s been going on!

Another beautiful and productive week.  Started last Saturday, while Jennie and Betsy were at market I was on the tractor getting the last of the minerals spread on two fields and then disking them in before the rain, got done just as it started to come down.

Monday I had my Advanced Organic Crop Production class out to help move the last two sliding tunnels over the tomato beds and move the last Big Top hoops from one field to the field the main planting of tomatoes will be in this year, it was a tomato planting preparation kind of day.

Midweek saw a lot more cultivation, planting and irrigation set up and watering, just hot and windy enough to both kill weeds and to need to keep crops moving with water.  Yesterday we spent nearly the entire day working on more deer fence, we are now just 300 feet from finishing up what we wanted to get protected for this season.  There is at least another 1000 feet we would like to build but that will have to wait until next winter.

Most exciting is that today we planted the early tomatoes in the sliding tunnels, only two months until we can eat a real tomato!  With the cucumbers already planted and looking good and zinnias going in next week it is hard to believe we are working on warm season crops already.

Picture of the Week

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The long view from the very top of the farm, green green

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #5, 3/18/16

What’s been going on!

Very close to the first day of spring and still feeling very spring like until Sunday and Monday night when they are forecasting a low of 29 degrees, never be complacent in March!

Another busy and productive week.  Two heavy downpours on Sunday and Monday with a total of 1.5 inches in a very short time but the warm weather and a little breeze has dried things out well for perfect cultivation conditions and excellent weed killing.  Jennie and our newest staff person Tricia have worked over almost all the spring plantings, just in time as the rains and warm temperatures have really made the weeds sprout too.

Another 1000 feet of new deer fence is nearly done with about 600 feet more to finish up the big loop, this coming week for sure.  We did have to spend yesterday sliding one of the little tunnels over the early cucumbers and off the first lettuces.  Today we will get all the beds and trellises ready for the early tomatoes so we can slide those tunnels on Monday.

Another sure sign of spring is the start of the regular work schedule when the staff are here every day.  We are fortunate once again to have found another great person who has jumped right in with energy and a smile.  Lacey has moved on to other non-farm pursuits and we will miss her but Tricia is not missing a beat.  Its official, here we go again.

Picture of the Week

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End wall off, tractor hooked up, ready to pull the tunnel over new beds for cucumbers

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #4, 3/11/16

What’s been going on!

Shorts, sunscreen, wide brim hats, what happened to late winter?  With the warm temperatures we have been running hard the last two weeks and gotten quite a bit done.  Just wish it wasn’t quite so warm yet.

Jennie has single handedly pruned all the blueberries and while it will probably be a small crop this year due to the unseasonably warm December that caused some blooms to open and then be killed, the ones left should be large and on more open bushes.

We did get part of the deer fence finished around one field and will get back on the big loop next week but we got a bit side tracked cleaning up from the mess made by the backhoe/bush/tree removal.  Many days burning brush and hauling stumps out of the way so we could get around center of the farm again.  The new fence seems to be working great, no sign of entry in the young tender lettuce field.

Lots of planting going on including all the onions, two thirds of the spring vegetables, many beds of lettuce, the tuberoses and dahlias too.  Of course now that the rain spigot has shut off and the temperatures are rising we had to spend most of this last Tuesday getting the irrigation up and running to keep everything happy.  It’s either feast for famine.

Pictures of the Week

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The new fence around the lettuce field and partly mulched tuberoses

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Incredible Anemones and Jennie pulling Beets in the next tunnel

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #3, 2/26/16

What’s been going on!

Another 2.4 inches of rain but no wind damage from the storms on Wednesday, we hope that all of you also escaped with no issues.  Typical erratic move into spring- warm, cold, windy, dead calm, sunny, cloudy.  Last year on this date we had 7” of snow, at least that is not happening this year!

It did dry out just enough last week for us to get caught up with planting on Sunday, just before the rains came back in.  5 beds of lettuce, 4 beds of flowers seeded, 3 beds of Sugar Snap Peas and multiple beds of other vegetables put us back on schedule.  This coming week is one of the biggest planting periods of the spring with many beds of vegetables and flowers that need to get into the ground.  Once again we will be racing to get done before the next chance of rain on Wednesday.

The other thing we are working on getting finished is a major reworking of the deer fence before there are too many tempting things for them to nibble on.  Our electric 3 wire fence has worked well for fifteen years or so but in the last few years they have begun to figure it out and particularly in the winter have had their way getting in to eat our lush cover crops.  So we are resetting the posts to support 8’ tall plastic netting behind the two electric wires.  We have tested this the last two years with great success so now we are trying to get all the way around the main planting areas but we are talking about nearly 4000 feet of fencing!

Just to add to the spring madness we also had a backhoe in last week to pull out hundreds of feet of row of perennial flowering shrubs that we no longer need and were beginning to grow up in undesirable plants.  We will need to finish the clean-up in the next few weeks before things really start to grow.

Picture of the Week

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A lot of brush burning in our future

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #2, 2/5/16

What’s been going on!

Busy few weeks but home for the rest of the winter.  We made it through “winter storm Jonas” with just a few inches of sleet and thankfully no ice at all.  We did sweep off the tunnels twice just in case the ice did fall but would have been fine not cleaning them off had we known that would be all we would get.  By the way, I hate that the Weather Channel has decided to name these storms, while this one was historic further north, generally they are just another big snow event, no need for the hysteria.

The icy roads did make it a bit hard to get out of town for the big SSAWG (Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group) conference in Lexington, KY.  I was gone for a whole week because of another meeting beforehand about some organic tomato breeding work that they are trying to do at UK.  They worked me hard at the conference as I taught 3 sessions including a day and a half short course and a panel discussion. It was the 25th conference and they really did a good job on the program.  Jennie came up for the main conference and gained some new ideas and met a lot of other farmers too.

Back home on Sunday and we jumped right into it.  Finally dry enough to turn over some beds, getting ready for the first spring plantings, I was on the tractor Monday.  Tuesday the groundhog cartel said that spring is just around the corner, I hope they are right this time.  We seeded the first tomatoes in the greenhouse so that is a true sign of at least optimism, if not spring.  My main task now is getting the end of the year books finished so we can get them to the accountant and finally put last year behind us.

Picture of the Week

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Freshly turned soil next to very healthy cover crop covered beds.

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