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Have fun!

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!

Picture of the Week

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

What’s been going on!

Running behind again this week after my two day Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) board meeting.  There are a lot of good sustainable agriculture organizations across the country doing great work in all areas of farming to make the lives of farmers and agriculture in general better and we have worked with a number of them over the years.  RAFI is one of the keystone organizations in the movement and has been working on the issues of fairness and farm sustainability since the 1930’s, tracing their roots back to the National Sharecroppers Fund.

Few organizations have the history or the experience to do the work that RAFI does both in North Carolina and around the world.  It is one of those groups that you probably have never heard about because they work either far out in front of emerging issues or quietly in the halls of the USDA, UN-FAO or the North Carolina General Assembly.  Their headquarters are right here in Pittsboro!

This small group has had far reaching impacts on fairness in contracts for farmers, literally writing the legislation for the National Organic Program and other farm bill provisions, saving hundreds of family farms from foreclosure, issues of rural poverty and hunger, preserving the rights of farmers to save seed and develop new varieties, farm worker’s rights and more.

But there is a big problem in the non-profit world that is bringing many well established NGO’s to the brink of closing their doors.  For last few years the foundations that fund most of the work that non-profits do have narrowed their focus and will only pay for exact project work and no longer give money for general operations.  This means RAFI can do the field work but cannot pay the light bill or the book keeper unless they can raise money from individual donors like you.

The work is so important that anyone who eats should donate to RAFI.  Those of you who read this newsletter who have received a grant from RAFI, get your check books out, those of you who read this newsletter who have used RAFI’s farm advocate services and had their farm saved from foreclosure, you need to donate.  Those of you who want good, clean and fair food have to send money.  RAFI has helped you and made for a better world, now you need to help them continue that work.

Betsy and I have worked with them for nearly 20 years and continue to be amazed at what they do; I am honored to be on their Board, donating time and expertise and even with a small farmers income we are sustaining donors.  Be prepared, when you see us next, to talk about RAFI and why you need to become a sustaining donor or at least give $50 to start.

Picture of the Week

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Perfect Sugar Snap Peas, sweet and glistening with dew.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #12, 5/6/16

What’s been going on!

Forty days and nights, at least it feels that way but not quite Ark worthy.  We can’t really complain too much as many of our farmers friends have had it much worse than us over the last week with really high rainfall amounts and very damaging hail and winds but we will be happy to see it all end for a while.

We have had over three inches of rain this last week and a very short period of small hail that you all may notice on some of the lettuce leaves.  You will also notice an extraordinary amount of soil on the lettuce from the intense down pours, we have rinsed as best we can but will leave it to you for the full cleaning once you pull the heads apart.

Late newsletter as the only decent day this week was Wednesday which we used to cover the last of the Big Tops over the flowers.  Already a week later than we wanted but there was just not a day suitable to get it done.  Some of Betsy’s flower crops took some hits from the storms that would have been protected under the Big Tops but most of them will come out just fine.

Big weekend with Mother’s Day and all of the university graduations going on.  The good news is despite the weather we still have a lot of beautiful produce and flowers for the celebrations and for all of our restaurants to make flavorful spring dishes.  Even better tomorrow looks to be a really beautiful day!

Picture of the Week

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With rain gear on, Tricia harvesting Broccoli Raab in a wet field

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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