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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #23, 7/21/16

What’s been going on!

Thanks to everyone for the many congratulations on Betsy’s steadfast dedication to producing beautiful cut flowers for Weaver Street Market all these years, they have been a great partner to work with and have helped Peregrine Farm become what it is today.  The champagne was savored!

Monday I was speaking at the Southern Cover Crop conference in Mount Olive.  Farmers and researchers from all 16 states and territories in the Southern region were there, nearly 500 folks.  Lots of incredible expertise on what we feel is one of the most important parts of a sustainable farming system, especially in the humid south.

Cover crops or green manure crops grown primarily to increase the vitally important organic matter in soils that the soil life feeds on and in turn feeds plants growing in that soil.  Their use is on the rise across the country especially on large conventional farms that have converted to no-till farming and who realized they needed to do a better job of fostering their soils.

We have always believed that cover crops are integral to a well designed agro-ecosystem for many more reasons than just organic matter.  They are important as beneficial insect habitat, in reducing soil erosion and water infiltration, they help with weed suppression and many other services.

Sadly one of the trends in small farms is to move away from the use cover crops to maximize production and income during the growing season that might otherwise be occupied by nonrevenue generating cover crops.  These farms are importing all of their organic matter either in the form of manure or compost which we think is short sighted, expensive and a potential source of problems brought in with those imports.  They might have a higher gross income but in the long run it may well cost them in other ways.

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A lush summer cover crop of sorghum-sudan grass and cowpeas in front of peppers raised on free cover crop nitrogen

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Peregrine Farm News, Vol. 13 #22, 7/13/16

What’s been going on!

Betsy says that I need to bring home a good bottle of Champagne tomorrow after I deliver.  We are generally not celebrators of things, you know birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and the like but this occasion seems worth marking.  Tomorrow will be Betsy’s and Peregrine Farm’s last delivery of wholesale flowers.

For 29 years, since they opened their doors, Betsy has grown flowers and made bouquets and growers bunches for Weaver Street Market.  In the early years we were the entire floral department and would deliver from late April up into the fall.  We also delivered to three Whole Food stores and various florists but gave them up years ago as we began to concentrate more of our efforts on the Farmers’ Market.  That was a lot of bouquet making for sure.

As part of our transition plan for the farm we are reducing Betsy’s workload and schedule.  That means no wholesale flowers and only growing flowers for the market.  Betsy has harvested every flower that has ever come off the farm for 31 years; that is a lot of wear and tear and time.  We think she deserves a break and someone else to pick some of those flowers.

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She is not quite done picking flowers yet though, Celosia and Lisianthus

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Peregrine Farm News vol. 13 #21, 7/6/16

What’s been going on!

Holy cow, its tomato week!  Good thing we are near peak supply.  Some of our restaurants are closed until the end of the week (Pizzaria Mercato, Elaine’s, Oakleaf) so that give us some breathing room but some of the others are putting on their tomato plates (Glasshalfull, Pazzo) and ACME is having its Tomato Festival which means hundreds of pounds of tomatoes are needed.  Finally Saturday is the Carrboro Market’s famous Tomato Day!

Tomorrow night is a tomato and wine dinner at ACME with our friend and tomato guru Craig LeHoullier.  Craig gave us plants of some of his 1400 varieties (that we don’t already grow) for this dinner but unfortunately they went in weeks later than the rest of our main planting so only a couple will be ready for the dinner.  We still have plenty of tomatoes to contribute to the evening though!

Enough with the rain already, nearly every day for over a week.  This kind of weather is really hard on everything especially tomato plants and fruit which is why we have the Big Tops to help keep them dry.  The crops most affected right now (always hard to know all the ramifications until later) are the lettuce and basil.  Looks like a really short basil season due to the rapid spread of the basil downy mildew, damn!

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Walls of happy and dry tomato plants

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #20, 6/29/16

What’s been going on!

Emergency trip to Wilson yesterday morning for tomato boxes, we all forget about one of the hidden parts of producing food, how does it get from the plant to the market table or the back of the restaurant or grocery store?  For all growers but especially small ones with limited resources, containers are a serious cost and hassle.

We all start out scrounging boxes from produce departments but you have to be careful that they are clean and not too torn up.  With the new food safety rules you not supposed to re-use cardboard boxes unless they have a liner.  New waxed boxes can cost up to $2.50 each and un-waxed boxes a dollar and a half or more. So every time you send a box off you will probably never see it again, especially wholesale.  Some of the restaurants will bring them back but mostly they go in the trash.  Even worse, the waxed boxes used for wet items like greens cannot be recycled or composted and have to go to the landfill.

Way back in 2004 we decided that the box chase and cost was too much and invested in food grade plastic returnable containers for all of our greens and other items that normally would go into a waxed box.  We knew that in Europe there were essentially no cardboard boxes, all we would see is plastic or wood.  After lots of research we ended up with our now familiar white crates with lids.  They were not cheap at $11.00 each but all it would take was to reuse them four or five times and they would be paid for in waxed boxes we would never see again.

Now twelve years later it has been fantastic, Weaver Street Market holds them for us to pick up at the next delivery just like they do milk crates or other similar boxes.  The restaurants hold them or bring them back to the next market.  It works great.  We do have to wash them between uses but that is far cheaper than buying new boxes.

We would love to find a plastic container for tomatoes that we like and stop using card board boxes but just haven’t found one than meets our requirements.  Because most of the tomatoes go to market or restaurants we almost always get them back and can reuse them many times before having to buy new ones so it is less of an issue and they can be recycled or composted too.

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Lettuce in crates with removable lids

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #19, 6/23/16

What’s been going on!

Farm transition, a very popular subject these days in the farm community as many farmers are getting older (average age is 59) and are trying to figure out what they are going to do with their businesses and properties and themselves as they get even older.  It is a complicated process that has many moving parts and every farm business is different in some way or another.

It is a long process too.  You don’t pass on, close or sell any business quickly, especially one where you live and have nurtured your whole life.  It takes time to put all the pieces in place as there is estate planning, financial planning, tax planning, and all manner of legal details to work through.  The more people involved, the slower it goes but as we are finding sometimes going slow is best as it reveals things that were not apparent at first.

Astute readers of the newsletter have maybe pieced this together between the lines and certainly we have spoken with many of you over the last few years at market or conferences about our transition plans but this is really the first official, in print, announcement about what we refer to as “The Jennie Project”.  Let me first say that all is fine with us and the farm, we are just being proactive about managing the last third of our life before it starts to manage us.

Over the coming months and years we will discuss our thoughts and process and how it is all going but rest assured that Betsy and I are not going anywhere.  We do plan to slow down some and let Jennie take over more and more of the business and work responsibilities in the next five years or so.  After 35 years it’s time for a change.

Part of the process is happening this week as the surveyor is here marking off our house and acreage, separate from the rest of the farm, so that we can stay here as long as we want but still be owners of the farm too.  It is exciting, interesting, scary, maddening, and rewarding all at the same time!

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It is definitely yellow flower season

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #18, 6/17/16

What’s been going on!

Another busy week with the change of seasons in the fields but apparently not quite yet with the weather.  One more last reprise from summer for the next few days including the longest day of the year and official start of summer on Monday in the mid 80’s!  I always feel like we are buying time when there are days in the low 80’s and nights in the 50’s in June.

We have been mowing down and turning under more spring crops every day, making way for new plantings or cover crops.  Last week beet, carrot, radish beds went under the tiller, this week, fennel, radicchio, more lettuce went down.  Same in the flowers with campanula, stocks, snapdragons and more having their irrigation lines and trellis taken out and then mowed.  Not to worry, more lettuce was planted as well as zinnias and sunflowers.

Now we begin to settle into the summer work patterns of harvesting tomatoes twice a week and maintaining other the summer crops.  Betsy will make her daily rounds through the flowers, getting the sunflowers and zinnias that have opened overnight, checking the other flowers that might be at the right stage to harvest.  All mostly done in the mornings so we can hide out in the shade in the afternoons.  Lots of mowing, weed eating and tying up tomatoes and peppers.  A bit of replanting each week until mid-August when the fall planting starts in earnest.

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An amazing Annabelle Hydrangea display, can’t possibly sell them all

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #17, 6/8/16

What’s been going on!

Whew! We survived the Farm to Fork weekend, barely. Three nights in a row with preparation for market and Saturday market all squeezed together is more than simple country farmers are used to! It all went as good as it possibly could have including having to move the Sunday Picnic to an indoor location due to potential severe weather. All events sold out and we raised a lot of money for new farmer training programs.

The change of seasons are upon us with the last of things like beets and larkspur and the beginning of tomatoes and zinnias. If just seems a bit out of whack with the relatively cool start to summer but it looks like the heat comes in with authority this weekend.

Do not miss this our fundraiser dinner this Sunday the 12th. We are doing the first Farmer and Chef Mashup at the Midway Community Kitchen, with Al from Al’s Burger Shack to raise money for Heavenly Groceries. We are thinking of it as a “Sunday dinner” with lots of side dishes from vegetables from the farm, dishes include the first tomatoes of the season with mozzarella, callaloo with pork belly, fennel salad, the first shishito peppers of the season and other good things. $65 with wine pairings, it will be a really good time.

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Early morning sun on the tunnel with cukes, basil and shishito peppers

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #16, 6/2/16

What’s been going on!

Our kingdom for some sun!  Flowers won’t bloom and tomatoes won’t ripen, argh!  The only good things are the temperatures are a bit more moderate and the newly transplanted peppers have had the perfect conditions to get over the shock of planting.

Two busy weekends ahead.  This weekend is the big The Farm to Fork Picnic Weekend featuring three events in 3 days, including a talk by Deb Eschmeyer from Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative on Friday in Saxapahaw (sold out), a dinner at “The Durham” with Sam Kass, President Obama’s former personal chef and assistant White House chef on Saturday and the always amazing Sunday Picnic.  We are paired with Brendan Cox and Oakleaf restaurant, it will be great tasty fun!

Next Sunday the 12th, we are doing the first Farmer and Chef Mashup at the Midway Community Kitchen, with Al from Al’s Burger Shack to raise money for Heavenly Groceries.  We are thinking of it as a “Sunday dinner” with lots of side dishes from vegetables from the farm and other good things.  $65 with wine pairings, it will be a really good time.

Pictures of the Week

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Even the bees have to work in the Campanula when it’s cloudy

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Happy peppers in the no till section of the field

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #15, 5/26/16

What’s been going on!

So I am afraid to say that it looks like we may not get any blueberries this season.  We knew way back last winter that we would have a smaller crop when they started blooming in the unusually warm December weather.  When they started blooming again   in late March we felt like there was still a substantial number of blooms so maybe an OK crop.  26 degrees on April 6th reduced the number of berries even further.  Now with so few berries out there the birds are taking everyone just as they begin to show any color.

We have seen this twice before.  In 2001 when we had what everyone now refers to as “the Easter Freeze” with 24 degrees on April 18th and again in 2007 with five nights in the 20’s the first week of April.  Both years we had a tiny fruit set which the birds and squirrels took either all or most of.  What happens when we have late freezes like that it not only kills domesticated fruit buds but wild fruiting plants too, leaving not much for the wildlife who in turn eat where the pickin’s are good, our bushes!

Could we net the bushes and save what we have, sure if we had netting here and when weighing the cost of netting and the labor to put it on and take it off to pick it is hard to say if it is worth it with a small crop.  So now we will wait and see if this flock of birds will move on or not.

The good news is we have gotten all the peppers in the ground and they look great.  The big planting of tomatoes we finally got pruned and tied up for the first time and they look happy too.  Every day we look for a ripe tomato in the little tunnels knowing that sometime in the next week we should be able to eat one!  Take that you birds!

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Even the fake rubber snakes don’t slow the birds down

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #14, 5/18/16

What’s been going on!

Another rainy week ahead, at least it is cool, so some solace.  We used the beautiful days leading up to yesterday to cultivate as much as we possibly could as the weeds were biblical after the previous wet period.  While we did not get everything perfectly weeded we did get to most of it.

Always too much to do in May and so we are a little behind in getting the big planting of tomatoes suckered and tied up for the first time.  Got a good start on it Monday but now it will be too damp to break off the shoots (suckers).  If we do it when it is really wet then the chances for disease to enter those wounds is very high so we will just have to wait until the sun comes back out.

The other big job we are trying to get to is preparation for the big pepper planting next week.  The plants look perfect and will be really happy to get in the ground.  Just before the rain started yesterday we tilled the nine beds that get covered with landscape fabric for all the hot and fussy varieties.  Today or tomorrow we can lay the drip lines and pin down the fabric so we will be ready to plant first thing next week.  That just leaves the rolling/crimping of the cover crop for the no-till sweet peppers.  Go, go, go!

Pictures of the Week

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Thousands of pepper plants ready to go

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Freshly tilled pepper beds on a really gray day

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