Peregrine Farm News Vol. 17 #22, 6/17/20

What’s been going on! 

Just when you thought the weather this year couldn’t get any crazier we set a new record for the lowest high temperature at Raleigh of 61 degrees.  All this rain, no sun, cool temperatures make it really hard for warm season crops like tomatoes to grow and ripen.

Traditionally the second week of early tomato season we pick twice as many as the first week.  Monday, in between the rain showers, I managed to pick a few more pounds than last Monday but certainly not double and I am not optimistic about how tomorrows harvest will go.  One saving grace is that all the tomatoes are under cover, to try and grow tomatoes outside in these conditions is disheartening at the least, disaster mostly.  We grew all our tomatoes in the open for 20 years and once we moved indoors 20 years ago we never looked back. With climate change intensifying the weather extremes it will only get crazier.

A few people say that the indoor tomatoes don’t have the flavor that field grown ones do, that they need to struggle a little like wine grapes to develop the most flavor.  I disagree.  Taste in tomatoes is partly variety, partly plant size (the amount of foliage) and partly the soil they are grown in and how they are watered.  The worst examples are the Florida winter field grown tomatoes which are small plants, raised in very sandy soils with terrible genetics, they have no flavor. Second are some of the greenhouse tomatoes grown in bags of “substrate” (not soil), irrigated and feed with synthetic nutrients, under low light conditions.  Some of them at least have some better taste genetics bred in.

Most tomatoes grown under high tunnels by small farmers are grown just like field tomatoes, in the same rich organic soil as the field just with a layer of plastic over them to protect them from early season cold and excessive moisture.  The most flavor comes from a variety with good flavor genes, a large plant with good foliage to photosynthesize lots of sugars and other compounds that go into the fruit, a good balanced soil to provide the right nutrients and careful irrigation.  Too much water washes out the flavor, just like in melons.

We spend a lot of time on managing our great soil with cover crops, compost and minerals, have spent years trialing and choosing the most flavorful varieties and most importantly are very careful in how much irrigation water we give them- especially when ripening.  What we really need now is some sun and warmer temperatures!

To update our fundraising to contribute to Campaign Zero to help end police violence in America, we had another impressive week helped with more large donations from Ellie and Jim, Karen, Lydia and others.  The total for the month is now at $702.  Thank you all!

Picture of the week

P1050593Even this lone sunflower can’t brighten this gray week.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 17 #21, 6/10/20 The Tomato Issue

What’s been going on! 

If you want tomatoes there is a lot of info below, read carefully. 

The tomatoes are coming!  The tomatoes are coming!  Normally this heralds one of our favorite times of year but this year I have had many sleepless nights trying to figure out how we are going to safely and effectively sell this wonderful crop.  For decades we have relied on our customers to pick out the fruits they want, bag them and hand them to us to weigh.  We can’t do that with Covid-19, we cannot let a bunch people handle the tomatoes.

Everyone has their idea of what the best tomato is- size, firmness, ripeness, etc.  This year you are going to have to rely on us to be the experts (because we are) and make that decision for you.  We will not pre-bag tomatoes either, that is a waste of time, energy, resources, is not good for the fruit in the long run, and you don’t really get what you want.  We want the stars of the summer season to shine as much as they can.

Here is how it will work:

Online– we will only put part of the harvest in the online store to make sure we have some available for those who want to see them and buy them at market.  We pick Monday and Thursday mornings and will update the online store again Thursday afternoon once we know how many more we have in stock.  If they are sold out on Wednesday, check back on Thursday.

We will put limits on how many can be ordered online.  You will order by variety and by the pound.  Most of the varieties are about 2 fruits to a pound but can be 1 to 3.  We will do our best to get the weight close to the amount you order.  If you order larger amounts, expect some part ripe fruit in the mix to ripen later in the week on your counter at home.

Email Pre-orders– tell us what you want and we will have it ready at market for you.  Same pay instructions as below.

At Market– The tomatoes will be displayed on our front table, you will indicate what size and how many you want, we will pick them out and weigh them.  If you are paying with cash the total will be rounded to the nearest dollar, usually up.  We are taking no coins at market.  If paying by credit card then we can charge the scale price.

The line will form around the side of our stall, out into the grass.  You will be able to see what is available as you move along, please have an idea of what you want before you get to the front.  Know that many varieties will sell out early.  Imagine that you are at a market in Europe where you are not allowed to touch the produce.

Suffice it to say that our tomatoes are better than any you have had since last summer and probably since you ate one of ours.  We have a very limited supply this week but it will increase quickly over the next two weeks.  Patience my friends, patience.

To update our fundraising to contribute to Campaign Zero to help end police violence in America, we had another impressive week helped with more large donations from Ellie and Jim, Johanna and others.  The total for the month is now at $455.  Thank you all!

Picture of the week

P1050585A tunnel full of cukes and basil

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 17 #20, 6/3/20

What’s been going on! 

What a crazy and disconcerting week with the death of George Floyd and all the demonstrations and violence around the country.  You all know that I essentially never talk about anything other than the farm in this newsletter but these times are truly unusual.  Betsy and I were twelve in 1968 but we were still very aware of what was going on then, Betsy especially so as she lived not far from Newark, N.J..

There is not a lot we can do from here on the farm but we were inspired by our friends and fellow farmers Jillian and Ross Mickens at Open Door Farm who have decided to donate all of their online store credit card processing fee gifts to Campaign Zero.  Campaign Zero is a police reform campaign that advocates for research-based policy solutions to reduce police brutality against people of color.

We will be doing the same thing for the month of June with all of the “tips” above the processing fees from our online sales.  As they said, it won’t be a ton of money but it is the least we can do and with generous gifts from Paige and Bob to kick if off and the generosity that you all have given us, it will be a start.  We will keep a running total both at the online store and here.  So are we are at $232

It has been a beautiful week to be on the farm and we have been getting a lot done and it is an excellent diversion from the news.  It is the transition now to warm season crops as we mow down all of the early crops like Peas, Broccoli Raab, flowers and lettuces.  The tomatoes look great and we had our first BLT on Sunday!  Cucumbers are really beginning to produce and the basil that we thought we had lost to the downy mildew seems to be okay.

Picture of the week

P1050582Early rays of sun on the tomatoes surrounded by the electric netting to keep the critters away.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 17 #19, 5/27/20

What’s been going on! 

Another damn rainy week!  There is a great stress reducing factor when you can look back over four decades of farming and know that it can always be worse.  In our first season farming we had just planted four acres of blackberries and raspberries, 20,000 feet of row.  We were living in the tent next to the 20’X20’ tractor shed when after a March and April dry period it started to rain in May and didn’t stop the whole month, 15 inches of rain fell in those thirty one days.  Nearly every afternoon there would be a thunderstorm with great downpours.

The result was a biblical scourge of weeds that germinated in the berry rows.  We had turned over soil that hadn’t been farmed in years and unleashed millions of weed seeds that had lain dormant.  We had no equipment to deal with it and had not yet been able to mulch the rows.  After mowing the six foot tall growth in the aisles between the plants, standing on the tractor so I could see down into the mass so as to not mow the young berry bushes, I spent the month of June hand weeding circles around each of the 10,000 plants so as not to lose them followed by weed eating the remaining growth.

We were humbled by the power of nature and only by the shear dent of our stubbornness did we save those plantings and continue on to be successful.  We vowed never again to be caught that way.  So this seven or eight days of rain this month is just another blip in the long history of weather events here at the farm.  Needless to say it has slowed crop growth and nearly decimated the blueberry season but it is what it is.

Picture of the week

img055 - CopyIn this old grainy picture you can see the river that formed every afternoon that May, you can also see the weeds growing in the background

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 17 #18, 5/20/20

What’s been going on! 

This is certainly a capper for a couple of weeks of dramatic weather turns.  We are looking at 4-5 inches of rain over this four day stretch and it is really throwing a wrench into the farm works.  It is one thing to cut lettuce in the rain (a task I have done, unfortunately more times than I wish to count) but to pick fussy crops like blueberries and sugar snap peas is untenable.

We picked blueberries as hard as we could on Monday, it also appears to be the peak week for this year which makes it doubly frustrating.  No picking yesterday, today or probably tomorrow which loads the work onto Friday, already busy with the normal market harvest.  We do have a few people lined up to help but we will never get to all of the berries.  We did sneak out yesterday, in between showers, to pick damp peas which is never a good practice as it will spread the pea enation virus up and down the rows but the pea crop never lasts more than two weeks anyway.  80 pounds of beautiful peas and we will try do the same tomorrow if the rain will let us, you have to pick them at just the right size so they cannot wait.

Everything else looks good in the fields and tunnels, we appear to be past the production gap we have had the last few weeks.  We actually needed some rain but not this much for this many days.  Our last planting for the year went into the ground Monday and we are now in the count down to the end of our season with just six more markets.  Hard to believe it is Memorial Day weekend!

Picture of the week

IMG_20200519_143107865_HDRNot sure what is scarier, the rain or the Scare Eye balloon?

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 17 #17, 5/13/20

What’s been going on!

Well the cool week has lived up to the hype.  We did bring out the row covers on Saturday night to add an additional layer of protection over the tomatoes, cucumbers and basil as additional insurance.  While 28 degrees is the point at which real damage occurs we want these warm season crops to not miss a beat at this time of year.  Sunday morning it was 30 degrees near ground level outside the tunnels but 37 degrees inside.  Yesterday morning it was 31 or 32 degrees outside and 38 inside and everything looks great and we have now rolled up the row covers hopefully for the final time this year as we are now headed into the furnace.

The cool weather has definitely slowed down the growth of some crops, like lettuce, so it looks like we will again have a production gap for this weekend but with the warm temperatures coming things will catch up quickly.  One crop that is way ahead of schedule are the blueberries which are a good ten days to two weeks earlier than normal.  We will pick the first ones this week!

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, no farmers anticipated what would happen this spring when planning the cropping schedule last winter.  We, and most farmers, plan with the knowledge and information from years past.  Our production has been carefully balanced with past sales at Farmers’ Market and orders from local restaurants, we have decades of data that tell us pretty accurately what you all will reliably buy.  Some local farmers have by now increased plantings of some crops but most of it is baked in.  I thought that this piece from the NYTimes did a good job of describing how flawed the current food system is and how growers like us have worked outside of it.

Picture of the week

P1050511This is diversity, saponaria flanked by a new lettuce planting and sugar snap peas

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 17 #16, 5/6/20

What’s been going on! 

I try not to make this the weather report page but you know that is what dictates farmer’s lives and sometimes, especially in the spring, it is the news.  A very unusual May cold snap coming Saturday night, an extreme version of the classic blackberry winter which we have every May but usually with lows only down into the low 40’s or high 30’s, we have forecast lows on Sunday morning as low as 31 degrees!  We will be watching this one closely but will undoubtedly have to pull out the row covers to add an additional layer of protection over the tomatoes and cucumbers even inside of the tunnels.  And the wild blackberries are not even blooming yet!

This blast of cold is one of those crazy swings due to the polar vortex breaking down as it moves towards summer.  There was a really good article in the Washington Post in March that talked about how intense the polar vortex was in the arctic this winter (which contributed to our warm winter) and when a vortex with such strong winds breaks down all kinds of unusual weather can be the result.

The generally cool weather for the start of this week has slowed down some crops in the field especially the flowers which are not blooming as quickly as we would like for the Mothers Day weekend.  Betsy refers to it as like milking a chicken, you go out every day and cut the few stems that have opened but you don’t get much.  If you need to reserve some bouquets email us and we will put you on the list or let you know if we will have them by Friday afternoon.

Picture of the week

P1050509Sugar Snap Peas blooming like crazy, peas in two weeks!

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 17 #15, 4/29/20

What’s been going on! 

Really glorious weather this week and we are in the heart of spring for sure.  A few weeks ago I was talking about how early this spring seemed compared to past years, warmer earlier, trees leafing out faster, crops maturing weeks ahead of normal.  Interestingly I ran across the National Phenology Network’s page on the status of spring and according to their maps we have had the earliest leaf out in the 39 years they have been keeping records!

bloomri

We have been taking advantage of the last cool mornings to finish up some chainsaw work, cleaning up some areas around the farm and cutting a little more firewood.  I hate running the chainsaw when the leaves are out but there are times you have to do it and the weather was conducive as long as we are finished by noon.  Weekly plantings continue but we are nearing the end of the cool season crops that need to go in the ground, only a few more rounds of lettuce to go in the ground.

The earliest warm season crops are beginning to really move.  The cucumbers are beginning to climb the trellis and two weeks ago I suckered the tomatoes and this week I will have to tie them up a second time as they have kicked into a higher gear after the pruning.  With temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s things will really start to move fast, including the weeds!

Picture of the week

P1050502Sign of good things to come

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Peregrine Farm News Vol.17 #14, 4/22/20 Earth Day!

What’s been going on! 

Earth Day!  Hard to imagine is has been 50 years since the first one.  Betsy and I were eager young foot soldiers in the environmental movement back then which eventually lead us to our choices in college degrees and to become sustainable/organic/regenerative farmers.  We wanted to save and improve the environment around us and the planet as a whole.

Back in the 70’s the work and the problems were more obvious, you could see the pollution in the air, the water and on the ground.  We all knew that what we were doing to the planet was not sustainable and great changes were made.  Today there are still vast problems but they are more invisible and insidious and harder to correct, the largest and the culmination of most of the problems combined is of course Climate Change.  I thought this article in the NY Times summed up well where we are today.

While it would be great to be able to have an effect on the planet, we can only control what is immediate to us, you know “Think globally, act locally”.  We have focused all these years on how to make Peregrine Farm the most sustainable and environmentally sound place and business that it can be.  We are constantly thinking about the ways we do things, the materials we use, the way that we interact with the greater world around us.  In this unusual time of Covid-19 it becomes even more important that we don’t lose sight of that goal.

We want to again welcome the many new subscribers to the newsletter and eaters of our food that have joined us in the last weeks, we hope that it is one of your “act local” efforts.

Picture of the week

P1050491The last of the clover and wheat cover crops that improve our soil.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 17 #13, 4/15/20

What’s been going on! 

Thank you to everyone who called, emailed and texted us on Monday to make sure we were okay after the tornado passed near us.  Everything is fine here on the farm, all we got was some heavy rain.  We were up very early preparing and watching in case we did have to get into our safe place but both storms, one a confirmed tornado, went by to the northwest of us about five or six miles away.  Knowing the storms paths we, like you, began checking in with all of the farmers and others that we know in those areas and so far everyone we have talked with had no damage.

The only other tornado we have had near us was 26 years ago when one passed right over the mill in Saxapahaw and took the roof off.  Back then it was still a working yarn mill and that was the end of its commercial life.  It sat idle for some years before the renaissance that has become the miracle of Saxapahaw began.  Now the old mill is full of apartments, restaurants and the renowned Saxapahaw Ballroom music and event center.

Thank you again for everyone’s patience and understanding of what seem to be constant changes in the market routine as they are mostly out of the Market’s control.  Last week’s change to one entrance and exit and a limit on how many people could be in the market area at any one time was sprung on us late on Thursday by the Orange County Health Dept. while it is not ideal and might be tweaked some more this week you all were great at working with the change.  If you see our new market Manager Maggie give her a big thank you for handling so many changes and challenges in her first month with such grace and skill!  I can say that the Carrboro Farmers’ Market is doing an exemplary job of social distancing and managing the flow of people, far, far better than any other place I have been in the past month.

Picture of the week

P1050487Even on a gray day the green of spring is vibrant and the creek has returned to normal after the storm.

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