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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #15, 5/26/17

What’s been going on!

Rain, rain, rain.  We are somewhere north of 4 inches this week and things are just soaked but no flooding.  We did push really hard on Monday, seeing the potential for too much water, and got all the peppers in the ground!

It is always a big job but with four of us we were on a roll and the soil was not so wet from the half inch of rain the night before that we couldn’t easily plant.  Even the no-till section was friable enough to tuck them in.  At one point every time I stuck the trowel in the ground I turned up an earthworm, always a good sign!  In the end 2800 plants that are now well watered in and already greening up nicely.

For the most part we have been able to work at least every morning this week and pick berries.  The sad result of the really heavy rain on Wednesday night was that it knocked a huge number of blueberries off the bushes that we just couldn’t get picked earlier in the week.  I do think this is the last week of blueberries for this year, only two weeks.

Picture of the Week

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No-till peppers happy to be in the ground

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #14, 5/19/17

What’s been going on!

Always something new or at least a new twist.  Birds are a common problem in blueberry fields but our losses have always been relatively small and we lived with them flitting in and out of the bushes.  Last year when we had a very tiny crop as a result of the late April freeze the birds got them all.

This spring’s hard March freezes took maybe half of the blooms but the remaining fruit looked good and with the crazy generally warm conditions they began ripening early, just like all the vegetables some of which have been weeks early.  We could have begun picking last Friday which is a least 10 days early but decided to wait until Monday and then we realized the berries that were turning blue were disappearing, damn the birds are back!

The gold standard for bird protection is netting but we don’t have any, didn’t want to buy any much less have to cover and uncover 100 foot long, seven foot tall rows of bushes.  Big growers sometimes have to build structures over their whole fields to support netting so the mowing and picking can happen underneath.  Not going there.  There are plastic owls and hawks, propane cannons that explode every so often to scare flocks away, not going there either.

Ours are a mix of birds, mostly small birds alone or in tiny groups.  Last year it was cedar waxwings moving through.  We had to move fast so we went with the fun house/disco look.  We ordered, with overnight delivery, scare eye balloons to mimic predators to hang in the field and shiny mylar holographic tape to tie onto the bushes, hasn’t chased all the birds away but enough that we are picking.

Picture of the Week

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Blueberries, scary balloons, flashy tape can you hear the music?

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

Peregrine Farm News Vo. 14 #13, 5/10/17

What’s been going on!

We had a good visit last Friday when Josh Volk the farmer/author of Compact Farms, his new book from Storey Publishing that we are honored to be included in, stopped by the farm.  Focusing on farms under 5 acres in production it is an interesting look at how these small operations are putting it all together in different parts of the country.  There is a mix of young farms and old established ones.

As you walk around the Farmers’ Market, with many of the booths filled with the same kinds of produce, it is hard to know how things are done on each farm and how it looks out there.  That is part of the reason we have written this newsletter for 14 years is to give you a peek at what daily/weekly farm life is like.

There is always change in the farm community and it is particularly evident in the newer small farms coming along.  When we developed our systems we had to invent the wheel in some ways as small scale tools were not really available, similarly there was little information on how to farm sustainably.  Now there is a plethora of information, sources and inputs that we could only dream about.

In all businesses there is a tension between sustainability and profits, especially so on a farm where we are managing a natural resource.  We have always tended toward the former to ensure some of the latter.  Newer farms, under pressure to generate dollars to pay for loans and improvements, tend to use more disposable plastics and rely on convenient bagged fertility sources or commercial compost that really were not available to us decades ago.

While we tweak our systems all the time we are happy with how we have put our pieces together and have been successful in building a sustainable operation which, we think, is why we are still in business after all these years and have been able to bring Jennie on as a partner to carry those ideals forward.  As my good southern Mother used to say “there is more than one way to skin a cat(fish)”, we like to think our way is best.

Picture of the Week

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Spring flowers in a nutshell, delphinium and campanula on the way, poppies on the wane

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #12, 5/5/17

What’s been going on!

“May is always the worst” I reminded Jennie the other day as she looked worriedly out across the field.  Everything hits at once.  Not only is there the most diversity of crops to harvest and process but all the other farm tasks ramp up too.

The weeds grow with extra vigor, it gets hotter and (usually) dryer so the attention to irrigation becomes more critical and like the weeds the crops that need support are getting so tall that trellis must be built for them before they fall over.  Mowing, weed eating and more crops to plant.

While we plant something almost every week of the year the last big planting projects happen in May too.  This week the winter squash, believe it or not, went into the bottom field that was underwater just 8 days ago!  A quarter of an acre plus and we are doing a tillage/weed control experiment so it adds yet another permutation to think about instead of just putting the plants in.

Now we are headed to pepper planting, in the next two weeks we will prep half the beds with the final tilling, irrigation lines and landscape fabric mulch.  The no-till half will be rolled and crimped to kill the cover crop and then planting slots cut to receive the 2600 transplants waiting patiently in front of the greenhouse.  Never a break in the action and Jennie is doing a great job keeping it all under control.

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Rising like the Phoenix, final tilling of the winter squash field on Wednesday

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #11, 4/28/17

What’s been going on!

River up river down.  Another big rain event in the books.  Seems like so many over the years that it is hard to keep track anymore.  When we cleared the bottom field in the early 80’s it was in the middle of an historic drought and we never thought about it flooding.  In April 1987, right after we had the bulldozer in to take the stumps out, came one of the highest crests of the river ever recorded at 27 feet.  At the time we did not realize how high it really was.

We always watch the river gauge at Haw River, about 18 miles upstream from the farm, to get a feel for how high the water might back the half mile up our creek and into the field and possibly over the irrigation pump.  Flood stage in Haw River is 18 feet, if it gets to 20 we start paying attention, if it gets to 22 we probably will need to pull the irrigation pump out.  Tuesday it got to 23.4, the 15th highest since records began in 1929.  The pump came up the hill at 7:00 a.m.

After that first big flood in 1987 we then had a few more years of dry conditions and no high water.  In early 90’s that all changed and we had water up into the fields every year from 1991 until 1998 but mostly in very early spring before much was planted, it worried us but we always managed to have good summer crops.  That all changed in June 1995 when the remnants of a tropical storm sent the Haw to its 3rd highest ever over 28 feet.  It took our entire tomato crop.  The next year was Hurricane Fran at the highest ever recorded at nearly 33 feet!  In the 36 years we have been here there have been at least 13 times the river has backed up on us.

After that we stopped growing our major crops in the bottom and moved them all 60 feet higher, up on the hill, even though the most fertile soil we have is down there.  This week’s flood is a fairly minor one in our books and we will still be able to plant the winter squash down there in a week or so.

Pictures of the Week

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Tuesday evening high point, the pump would have been under 2 feet of water

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Hurricane Fran, 1996, the 500 year flood level

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #10, 4/19/17

What’s been going on!

Thanks to all of you who sent kind words about last week’s newsletter. The pundits are giving HB662 a 50% chance of getting through the Legislature.

Jennie and company have been hard at work this week getting ready for and planting the Big Top tomatoes.  They pushed hard to get the landscape fabric down and half the trellis up by last Friday so the NC State folks could come out and plant their research plots.  For the second year, so they have good replication, all of the Cherokee Purple have been grafted to root stocks that have root systems that take up more water than normal.  Last year’s trials produced some interesting results so it will be good to see if they produce similarly again.

The beginning of this week the rest of the trellis has been erected and the other 12 rows and nearly 800 plants have gone in the ground.  Perfect weather to transplant the last two days with overcast and a bit cooler to better let them get past the shock.  A couple of new varieties this year including one that we brought back from Sicily last fall.  The early tomatoes in the little tunnels are flying along with lots of blooms and growth.  Tomato sandwiches soon!

We are not on the Piedmont Farm Tour again this year but Jennie is suggesting that we do it next year.  It is a great fundraiser for Carolina Farm Stewardship Assoc. and a good way for people to see the farms that they know from farmers markets.

Picture of the Week

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Some of the research tomatoes with special irrigation set up and soil moisture sensors

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #9, 4/12/17

What’s been going on!

First, we will be back at the Wednesday market today, 3:00-6:00!  Beautiful day and enough produce to make a show.  Come see us!

An unusual morning yesterday.  Strange times require new things.  I was asked to go to the General Assembly and participate in a press conference for the roll out of a proposed bill, by Republican legislators, for the expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina.  Let that sink in.

When the NGO folks who contacted me said they were going to try to expand Medicaid to NC and asked if I could speak to the needs of farmers for health insurance I thought someone was pulling my leg and then realized they were serious and I said sure.  All of the bluster and horse trading around health care legislation in DC and here is disheartening, mostly misguided and very real and scary for us.

Farmers, like many small businesses, have to buy their own health insurance.  We don’t have the luxury of working for the school system, or a big drug company or the state government.  Farming is the sixth most dangerous occupation.  The number one reason that farms go out of business is not a crop failure or a hurricane or export market pressures, it is because someone gets sick or hurt and they can’t pay the medical bills and have to sell the farm or declare bankruptcy because they could not afford insurance.

It is one of the main reasons that something like 90% of all farms have someone with an off farm job, partly because many farmers don’t really make enough money to be profitable and so they can get benefits through their off farm employment.  We are some of the rare birds that don’t have off farm jobs, we make our entire living from these four acres!  We have always managed to afford health insurance, knowing we needed to for the possibility of something happening, that is why it is called insurance.

The Affordable Care Act has been a dream for us, good coverage at affordable prices.  Before the ACA, our insurance costs were getting beyond our reach up to 10% of our gross farm income.  If we had to buy in the open market today it would be nearly 25% and we would not have insurance until we can get to Medicare, 4 long years from now.

I told them that if they really cared about growth, jobs and particularly the rural economy as they all profess then this was as much a jobs bill as it was access to health care for the working poor.  17% of all jobs in NC are in agriculture and small business creates the majority of new jobs.  While this legislation fills but a small gap it is at least a glimmer of hope in a sometimes very dark discussion.

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Lots of beautiful lettuce on the way

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #8, 4/7/17

What’s been going on!

Crazy blustery days and maybe the last cold snap?  I doubt it.  We are slowly working our way towards planting the big array of tomatoes under the Big Tops but even that is two weeks away because we know what can happen if we try and plant too early.

We did move the last of the Big Top hoops over the tomato field and ran the top webbing that ties all the hoops together and keeps them vertical.  This coming week we have to pull the plastic over the whole shebang, need a good still day!  Then the final soil preparation before we can cover the beds with landscape fabric and finally build the trellis.  By the end of the week we should be ready to plant.

A pretty normal spring week with some planting, some seeding in the greenhouse, lots of cultivation (partly so we can concentrate on tomato prep next week), building cucumber trellis and other chores and we are still trying to get all the firewood split.  We have so much wood cut that it will take at least another 2 days to finish it up but we will be warm for two winters to come!

Picture of the Week

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Even the airy pea trellis is billowing in the wind

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #7, 3/31/17

What’s been going on!

A gap is coming, a gap is coming!  In most normal springs we are able to move fairly seamlessly from the protected production of the little tunnels to the wild outdoor production of the open fields.  After years of fine tuning the planting dates, especially for crops like lettuce, we finish harvesting the indoor crops just as we pick the first ones out of the field.  Not so this year.

The crazy warmth of January and February allowed the indoor crops to grow much faster than normal and then the return to cooler temperatures in March has kept the outdoor crops on their normal schedule for first harvests starting in mid to late April.  The anemones and ranunculus have had a steady march of production since late January, several weeks earlier than last year.  Most of the lettuces have matured almost a month ahead.

So after this week expect a bit of irregularity at market as we coax the field crops along and pick that last of the early production.  Some years we are surprised by how fast the outdoor crops can catch up but just like the late winter was, fast and then slow, the early spring appears to be following the same song.

Picture of the Week

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The beautiful long view, the lushest cover crops in years

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #6, 3/24/17

What’s been going on!

So busy last week after all of the cold and windy weather and three nights near or at 20 degrees we had one day to push hard to uncover it all and plant more before the rain that came in on Friday night and Saturday, hence no newsletter.  Most everything seemed to survive the cold, some things burned here and there and the blueberries are still an unknown until they finish blooming (or not).

A big spring week, our new staff began their voyage with us on Monday and not only have Laura and Kyle slipped right into our system but Jennie is doing a great job in directing them.  Two new folks at once is always hard as there are twice as many questions and tasks to think about.  We have for years operated with four of us but in Betsy and my attempts to slow down a bit we have added a 5th to cover some of the things that we used to do.

Rest assured there are still full days for us, like yesterday when we slid the last two of the little tunnels to their new position over the early tomato beds.  Sandwiched on either side of that was firewood cutting and irrigation pump repair.  As head of maintenance, any day I don’t go to Lowes is a good day, yesterday was not one of them.

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Laura, Jennie, Oscar and Kyle- an all-star team for sure

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