Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #12, 4/18/19

What’s been going on!

As the new Peregrine Farm plan unfolds it does seem a bit unusual that Betsy has only one more round of lettuce seeding to do in the greenhouse and there are only 5 more weeks of planting to do in the field but with our last market day slated to be June 29th then it all makes sense.  It doesn’t make it feel any less strange after having seeded or planted something almost every week for the last, at least, two decades.  Muscle memory is a powerful thing.

Despite the crazy rains we have had a busy week planting both indoors and out (basil, lettuce, sunflowers, zinnias) and cultivating to keep everything clean and growing well.  The tomatoes are moving along so well that we pruned and tied them up for the first time and soon will have to start training the cucumbers up their trellis too.  We have even started to clean up the now empty tunnel ends from the very earliest crops getting them ready for summer cover crops.

We are trying to keep our time in the field to only four hours a day and now that we are past the early crush of tunnel moving and tomato planting it does seem like we can maintain everything we need to with that pace.  As the temperatures rise it will be even more important as we will want to be out of the field by noon if not earlier.  It is a strange new world.

Picture of the Week

 P1050031It is all looking good on a beautiful spring day

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Peregrine Farm News, Vol. 16 #11, 4/10/19

What’s been going on! 

Well we have had over four inches of rain in the last five days!  Fortunately it did not come with the damaging winds or hail that some parts of the state got and it did, at least for now, clear the air of the amazing pollen storm.  We have lived here for 40 years and I don’t think I have ever seen it thicker than it was did Monday.  When it rolls up off the pavement in clouds like driving down a dirt road in a drought that is just too much.

Less than two months until the Farm to Fork Picnic, hard to believe it has already been a year!  Supporting the beginning farmer programs at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems which is a joint effort between NC State, NC A&T State and the NC Dept. of Ag.  CEFS not only has the largest sustainable and organic research farm in the US but also programs all across the state in many areas of socially just food and farming.  It is an organization close to our core as we have been advisors since its founding and no problem is more pressing than training new farmers as us old coots age out.

We are once again paired with our good friends at Pizzeria Mercato, don’t know yet what they will craft with our produce but I will let you know as soon as they have it figured out.  You can find all of the details and buy tickets here.  Sunday June 2nd, don’t miss out!

The first Wednesday market of the season is today, 3:00-6:00, come on by and see us, looks to be a beautiful afternoon.

Pictures of the Week

P1050022 The green, green view of the bottom field from the house

 P1050023Cherokee Purple blooms, less to two months until they are ripe 

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #10, 4/4/19

What’s been going on! 

“Plastics” for those old enough to remember the movie The Graduate they can hear the line in the back of their heads.  They are everywhere and unfortunately there are lots of them used in agriculture.  We have from the beginning tried very hard to find either alternatives or to use very durable plastics that will last a long time and not become big landfill or decomposition issues.

We invested in heavy duty seed flats that we never have to throw away compared to the industry standard that might last a year or two.  We use slightly heavier irrigation lines that we can get many years out of.  We don’t use plastic mulch on our planting beds but do use landscape fabric on a few crops and we have some that is at least 15 years old.  The unavoidable one is greenhouse coverings but again we use the longest lasting that we can.

I was reminded again this week by this good article in the NY Times about paper vs. plastic bags.  We are all now aware of the problems of single use plastics from straws to bags to cups.  We have been struggling with the bag issue for getting customers produce home from market.  Last year we changed to compostable bags made from plant materials but even that is not a panacea as they apparently don’t compost as easily as one would want but are better than plastic that takes centuries to decompose.

As the article points out that while plastic bags take a long time to break down and are a litter problem they are more climate friendly than paper from an energy and emissions stand point and cotton reusable bags have to be used a lot more (131 times) to be equal to a single use plastic bag from a climate change perspective.  The take away is to use as few bags as possible, reuse every type of bag/container as many times a possible and as the article says “the food you purchase and place in that bag probably has a vastly bigger effect on the environment than whatever you use to haul it home”.  So at least we can feel better about buying local food, grown using sustainable methods.

Picture of the Week

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Things coming along in the field

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #9, 3/28/19

What’s been going on! 

Second morning in a row at 30 degrees.  Last week we had four mornings below freezing but the long term forecast has nothing below 32 degrees!  Now we never trust long term forecasts and we know that our last frost date is usually around April 20 and we will for sure have a close call or two but things are looking up!

In working the new plan for a shorter marketing season I had boldly scheduled the earliest tomatoes to go in the tunnels two weeks ago but as I have written earlier, they got a slow start and so did we on getting the tunnels moved.  Finally today is tomato planting day and on looking back over a number of years we have almost always planted them on this date or certainly this week so it must just be the proper time.

If you remember from the Big Reveal this will be the only planting of tomatoes we are doing this year and because we only have 400 feet of row in the little tunnels, the selection has been narrowed as well.  There will be all of the our (and your) favorites though with Cherokee Purple, Cherokee Green, Sungold, Big Beef, our new yellow tomato and some Italian Oxhearts; really what more does a person need?  Now we just have to wait two months.

Picture of the Week

P1050015 Frost on the Romaine Lettuce

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #8, 3/21/19 First Day of Spring

What’s been going on! 

Trellis week!  Over the years we have become semi-famous for our different systems to hold plants up for better utilization of space, more and cleaner fruit or long straight flower stems.  I have even done workshops at farming conferences on the subject.  For many horticultural crops it is a critical part of the production system but it also has labor and material costs that need to be scrutinized to be worth the effort.  Trellises need to be both fast to put up and fast to take down, including all the plant material that has grown up through the structure.

Some small tools are ubiquitous on all small farms- rakes and hoes, seed flats, hoses, 5 gallon buckets.  I used to say that 5 gallon buckets were the backbone of market gardens but for us it is the lowly metal T-post which is designed for livestock fencing but we have adopted for fast and sturdy plant support.  We have used them for blackberry and raspberry trellises, for tomatoes, peppers, peas, cucumbers, sunflowers, celosia and all manner of other cut flowers and yes we have even built deer fence with them.  We now have hundreds of them in 5, 6 and 8 foot lengths.

All of our trellises start with the driving of the posts into the soil about a foot deep and then various cross arms, wires, netting or fencing is hung off or attached to the posts.  In past years we would, annually, put in at least 600 posts and then pull them back out at the end of the season.  That was a lot of work but we would have 2-3 people working on it and it happened throughout the season.  Another sign of the more manageable Peregrine Farm is that we pounded essentially all of the posts for the year this week and it was less than 80 and there are only two more trellises to come with 16 additional posts.  Checking off those big tasks one by one.

Pictures of the Week

 P1040990One of the tomato tunnels ready to go

P1050001 Nearly 2 inches of rain last night and the creek is raging

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #7, 3/14/19

What’s been going on!

 Every spring we set a date that we are going to slide the little tunnels to their summer position and every spring we are at least a week late in doing it.  Such is the case this year yesterday was moving day, a week late. The date revolves around when the very early tomatoes are supposed to be planted into the tunnels.  We want to move the structures far enough in advance to allow the cold soil to warm up as much as it can before we practice what is already a tough love regimen on the tender tomato plants. They will have a hard enough time early with cold temperatures and life threatening freezes the least we can do is give them warm toes.

This year’s tomato plants have had a slow start with both having to reseed some of them due to mouse depredations and too many cloudy days that impeded normal growth so it is OK that we are not right on schedule.  They should go in the ground in a week or 10 days but will mean not quite as early a harvest as we had hoped.

The other side of the moving coin is we are also uncovering from their protection all of the earliest planted vegetables which must now face the cruel winds and weather of March.  So the middle of March generally seems to be about right for both parties.

Pictures of the Week

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Alex ready to pull a tunnel off tender lettuces and over prepared beds

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Ranunculus anyone?

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #6, 3/6/19

What’s been going on! 

The usual spring dance- cold, warm, cover, uncover, one-two-three, one-two-three.  The first of two cold nights in a row past us and everything looks good, only 26 degrees even though they had forecast for colder.  We will see how it goes tonight, we always believe that the second night is the coldest no matter what they originally forecast.  They are calling for 24 tonight.

The other farmer dance step at this time of year is more free form because it varies in timing and intensity, more like improv- wet, dry, till, plant, wet and we are rocking that step this week too.  As soon as it warms up tomorrow we will till a few more beds that are finally dry enough and plant another round of lettuce, radishes, turnips and kale just before it rains again on Friday.

The thing that we are learning about the new compact Peregrine Farm is that none of these dances last very long.  There is just not that much stuff in the ground and we are slowly getting adjusted to that.  Not complaining mind you, just pleasantly surprised when a certain task is suddenly done because there are no longer acres of crops to take care of.  Maybe we will even have time for dance lessons.

Pictures of the Week

P1040947

 All of the crops are under their blankets

P1040944

 If you were an Anemone, this would be your world view

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #5, 3/1/19

What’s been going on!

Late newsletter this week as I slipped away for my last hiking trip of the winter.  Yesterday I arrived back just in time to help Jason and Shiloh and their crew from Tumbling Shoals Farm load half of the Big Top parts into a giant 30 foot long box truck so they can transport them back to their farm near Wilkesboro.

This morning they were back at 9:00 to get the second half and a good thing just before this next cold rain moved in.  The amount of steel required to cover a half an acre of ground is prodigious.  We had enough legs (225) to cover three quarters of an acre and along with all the associated braces and hoops (120) not to mention all the huge plastic sheets too.  So that is first and the biggest of the equipment and infrastructure we are going to sell as we downsize into Peregrine Farm 7.0 and it is a relief to have it gone to a good home.

So we made it to March and of course we have at least one more big cold snap coming this week with several nights in the low 20’s, in like a lion.  At least it will be dry which we need so we can get ready to slide the tunnels in preparation for planting the super early tomatoes and cucumbers.  The pace begins to quicken now.

Picture of the Week

P1040942

Some tough farm girls on a cold morning

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #4, 2/21/19 The Big Reveal

Peregrine Farm 7.0, or as we joke, back under really old management.

My father, who was a keen observer of life, always said that you had to reinvent yourself every so often.  By our loose thinking we have done so with Peregrine Farm about every 6 years or so. From all Pick-Your-Own berries to vegetables and cut flowers sold at Wholesale and Farmers’ Market.  From only Betsy on the farm full time to both of us with employees.  Reducing the emphasis on wholesale to really focusing on the Farmers’ Market.  Turkeys and the Big Tops.  Bringing Jennie on as a business partner.  All big changes in both direction and to “the brand”.  7.0 is the next re-jiggering, as my father would have also said, is probably the most dramatic since getting out of the Pick-Your-Own business.

If you read previous farm transition pieces closely you know that our original plan, before Jennie, was to eventually downsize to where just the two of us could do the work, go to Farmers’ Market only part of the year and become old characters at market (we may have already attained the last part) and that is what we are doing.  There are points of no return with this plan and we are fine with that.  The two big ones are getting so small that there is not enough work to actually hire help and giving up one of our two spaces at the market because we will not have enough product to fill two spaces and won’t be there enough weeks to qualify to have two spaces (27 weeks).

When Jennie made her decision last June we began to draw up the new plan.  It had to revolve around farming in the cooler months as both of us have gotten to where we don’t tolerate the heat well anymore and we wanted a large chunk of time off for travel and to enjoy life while we are still in good shape.  We have to attend market at least 17 weeks a year to hold one reserved space which is the key to us being successful.  While the “cooler months” do include fall and winter the difficulties of producing enough, consistently, in those seasons are too many.  We would focus on late winter, spring- when the growing conditions are the best and the very early bit of summer.

We also knew that we couldn’t grow every crop that we had in the past, so as pragmatic business people we did a deep dive into our data to determine which ones really paid the bills and how much of it we really needed to produce to meet market demand.  This also meant giving up crops that either didn’t carry their weight, didn’t grow easily on this piece of land or we just didn’t like growing.  The years of experimentation were over, we were going to only grow the tried and true.

In the downsizing we would limit ourselves to only a half an acre, a big change from the 2 to 2.5 acres we had been producing for the last decade or more with four to five people.  This is one quarter acre outdoors and one quarter acre under the cover of the little sliding tunnels.  We are moving from being small farmers to large gardeners.

So what does all this look like?  Our market season will start in February and run about 20 weeks until the 4th of July, Independence Day.  Our growing season of course starts earlier with a few things going in the ground in October and November but the greenhouse and planting really starts in earnest in December.  As you can see now at market it starts with Anemones soon to be followed by Ranunculus and other spring flowers.  Cool season vegetables will focus on lettuces with other greens and salad turnips and radishes.  Warm season vegetables will be limited to the very early cucumbers, basil and tomatoes.

Most significantly the days of big tomatoes and peppers are over.  The Big Tops (Haygrove field scale tunnels) that have allowed us to consistently grow large amounts of tomatoes have been taken down and sold, they are just too big for us to manage without employees and would mean too much tomato work in the heat of the summer.  We are going from 1300 plants down to 260 that will give us tomatoes in June.

The single biggest change will be no more peppers for market and no more pepper roasting.  We are thinking about coming for a few weeks in September just to roast peppers for people who purchase them from other vendors at market.  This is the one crop we really hate to stop producing for market but it is the most time consuming crop and during the hottest months, as they are in the ground from May until November.

So there it is, Plan B.  One of the reasons that Betsy and I became farmers in the first place was to be able control our as much of our own destiny as possible by working for ourselves, producing our own food and building our surrounds and this is just a continuation of that determination.  We know that you will embrace this next evolution of Peregrine Farm too!

Picture of the Week P1040933

Holy cow! The sun came out.  This is now the scope of Peregrine Farm

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #3, 2/14/19

What’s been going on!

We want to thank everyone who sent kind words and support for the Barker family!

We have more news to share and we have been waiting until the time was right to do so.  We have talked about this with some folks over the last few months and we are sad to say that Jennie will not be staying on with Peregrine Farm.  This was a very hard decision for her and we completely understood her position and supported her while feeling very sorry that she was leaving.

After eight years with us she came to realize that in the long run, without a business partner, she would not be able to run this operation by herself.  We concurred that it is nearly impossible to farm alone and while Betsy and I are currently still around we would increasingly not be here and eventually completely.  A secondary factor was that being alone out here in the country is difficult too.

What the three of us were trying to do in transitioning the farm to a non-family member was very difficult and a very high bar to achieve.  Only half of family owned businesses make it to the second generation and only half of those to the third and most of those are not farms.  I think about this several times a week when I drive by a local farm that has a sign out front that says “Since 1774”, that’s right, two years before the Declaration of Independence!  Who knows what infinitesimal part of a percentage point that farm is amongst all farms who succeed in passing the farm on.

We are proud of what we did accomplish and of the work we did to build a situation and relationship with Jennie.  Our legal and working model was excellent and Jennie did an incredible job of taking over the reins and running the farm.  But if you are not happy in your situation then a change needs to happen.  Betsy and I have been fortunate to have each other to work alongside all these years and have loved this place and the farming life but as I frequently say “there are reasons that farmers are only one percent of the population”.

The three of us knew from the beginning that something could happen that would make our plan not work out and so we have always had Plan B which we alluded to in our series of pieces on farm transition.  First we will say that we are not going to look for another person or persons to pass Peregrine Farm, the business, on to; it is simply too late in our lives and takes too much energy to build the relationship needed.  We have always said that Jennie was the only time we were going to attempt this and are a bit sad that the farm business will not survive us but the land will.

There are big changes afoot with Plan B and we are excited about them.  Next week I will layout the whole picture of what we are calling Peregrine Farm 7.0.  In the meantime if you run into Jennie in town (fortunately she is staying in the area) give her a warm greeting and thank her for growing such great produce for you!

Picture of the Week

P1040921

First light of day on a tunnel of Little Gem

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