Red, White and Blue – Barns, Snow and Skies

Everything has been stored away – tractors, farm implements, geotextile tarps. What really needs protecting from winter’s rigours has found a spot in a barn or a greenhouse. Otherwise, it will have to weather winter, as we do not yet have enough space for all the farm equipment we have accumulated over the years. While I won’t wax poetic on the whys and wherefores, here you have it: the farmer is a hoarder of metal and wood, nets and screws.  By default, by inclination, by prevention – because one never knows…even though what one never knows rarely happens. In any event, a tool and tractor shed is on the drawing board for 2017…

Tracteurs remisés - Tractor storage

With no time to walk the woods during summer months, this farmer eagerly awaits the first real snowfall to hike the nearby Sutton mountain range. Back from a picture-worthy trek – I’ve included a couple as teasers – I can assure you that it’s an immensely rewarding hike, provided one is in moderately good shape and seized by a spirit of adventure. And while the leafless trees at the mountain’s base seem spindly and without much interest, as one climbs, they are quickly replaced by magnificent, snow-laden conifers, trees that a single occurrence of freezing rain alternately lays bare or crystallizes in a frigid landscape. It is in this eerily beautiful but frozen state that we found the forest yesterday, under icy cover, along crushed-snow trails marked by the footprints of fellow hikers, a fairy tale vision dispelling the brutal cold. We’re looking forward to more hikes to come: winter has only just begun.

Mes beaux sapins

Arlington Gardens wishes you a wonderful winter season and health, wealth and happiness in 2017. We look forward to seeing you in the spring.

Snowfall

There’s nothing quite like an inch of freshly fallen snow to signal to this vegetable farmer that the time has come to end the grand ball of 2016. A harbinger of a possibly colder, snowier winter than recent ones, it was a mere dusting, really, but one that fell/felt like a cold shower, as we still have a few unfinished field chores – including, notably, garlic planting, which needs to be completed before the cold weather settles in for good. This year, in response to popular demand, we will be planting 15,000 garlic cloves. And so it is that another season draws to a close, filled to the brim as usual with its lot  of memorable, and not-so-memorable, moments. If we had to pick a single word to describe 2016, however, it would have to be hot, declined in a multiplicity of forms – as in drought, dry well and low pond – but transposed (thank goodness) into a symphony of flavours and tastes. The theory is hardly scientific, but I am possessed of an iron conviction that vegetables only reach their fullest potential when confronted by a trinity of earth, water and (lots of) sun – and on this last front, we were very well served this year. We thank you for your support this season, for your kind words of encouragement and your constructive criticism….Meanwhile, we wish you the best of québécois winters and look forward to seeing you again in 2017.

Fenêtre embuée - Foggy Window

In this week’s basket, our ‘touski’ special – québécois for tout ce qui reste, i.e. farm produce for a hearty mulligan stew – or whatever else tickles your fancy. As indicated last week, we’ll be topping the basket up with extra vegetables to make up for the shortfall of our first basket of the season. Please note that we’ll be sending out a survey next week to garner your views on what we do well and … less well. We’d appreciate your taking the necessary time to fill it out, it will help us improve our offer going forward. We look forward to seeing you all again.

End-of-Season Logistics

Ménage - Clean-UpThis week’s post is strictly informational, to let you know how we plan to end basket deliveries as we head towards late October and the season’s end. As per the original 2016 schedule, we have two weeks of ‘official’ deliveries left – i.e. this week and the next. As you may recall, however, given a smaller-than-usual first basket at the start of the season (the week of June 13, re-christened « Week 0 »), we had offered to extend the season by an additional week to Wednesday and Thursday, November 2nd and 3rd.  On second thought – after some hemming and hawing and a lot of coffee – we think it best, for you and for us, that we end the season on October 30th, as originally planned, offering up a larger-than-usual last basket to all. Following on this week’s next-to-last basket, then, and in keeping with the nominal value of both the small and large baskets, we plan to top up next week’s final basket. Conveniently, as ‘tis the root vegetable season, extra vegetables should be easy for you to store in your fridges…For those of you looking to make up vacation baskets, that leaves this week and the next to do so. We hope this will be to everyone’s satisfaction.

That said, we continue to harvest the season’s last vegetables. The fields are gradually emptying, except for the fall stragglers like Jerusalem artichokes, hankering for the next frost, and cauliflowers on the verge of giving up – neither they nor we are sure they’ll manage to ripen in time. I am always surprised by the resilience of some plants at this time of year, even after the first hard frosts (we’ve had a few in the past week). Our field cover crops are still thriving (the peas love the cold), and even the wild mustard in the alleys between the beds is still going strong.

Dusk

The nights have been crisp – actually, downright frigid – these past few days, and to this farmer, at least, the end is apparent. There is something in the cool October air that announces a season’s dusk. Maybe it’s the pale green of the field beans, or the light brown of the dying galinsoga – but the penetrating chill definitely dulls the hitherto vibrant colours of a farm landscape. It’s sad and refreshing at once – and no matter the still intense mid-day warmth, the plants know – the waning light does not lie. Like old elephants who quietly lie down to die in a tropical dell, nothing in our fields will remain unaltered by a few nights under zero. Interestingly, it is the cold weather that enables root vegetables to come into their own. And so we exercise patience again as we wait for Nature to operate yet another transformation, knowing that our taste buds will enjoy the result.

Tomates d'automne - Fall Tomates

In this week’s basket, in addition to your now seasonal root vegetables, you will find a few tomatoes – hangers on, all. Some leafy greens, too, because greens are good for you. We look forward to seeing you all again.

Feuilles dans l'herbe - Leaves in the Grass

Into the Final Stretch

Already October, so it’s into the final stretch. Weather conditions are definitely not as expected this time of year – Wednesday’s forecast is for 23 degrees Celsius under sunny skies – but the telltale signs of a waning growing season are nevertheless evident. For starters, harvesting at 6 in the morning (the usual start time at the peak of summer) is no longer possible, given the likelihood of our picking the wrong vegetables in the morning darkness. This week, we’re harvesting the last of our beets and carrots, as well as our root celery and several of our fall radishes. By mid-October, we’ll be harvesting our Jerusalem artichokes and our rutabagas (also known as swedes). We’re lucky, though, as there doesn’t seem to be any imminent threat of rain. And that’s very good news for this farmer – I had been putting off sowing our green manure cover crops in fields that have been progressively emptied of their vegetable crops.  One pass with the disk harrow by Wednesday, another pass with the tractor to sow my oats, and that will be one fall chore off my to-do list. Fall melancholy has yet to set in, so I’ll save my walks in the woods for later – although not too much later, as hunting season will be starting soon. Celeriac - Root Celery

In your baskets this week: we’re happy to be able to showcase our buttercup squash and some Savoy cabbage. The first is great for soups, the second for cabbage rolls. You’ll also find leeks, onions and radishes in addition to other fall fare. See you soon.

Boreal Bell

The bell tolled this weekend for some of our solanaceas. Two nights at zero degrees was all it took to fell our eggplants, peppers and nearly all our unprotected tomatoes. The same goes for our beans and summer squash. Our covered solanaceas – the lucky ones protected by our tunnels and in our unheated field greenhouse – have so far survived, but their days are numbered, particularly if the near-zero night temperature trend persists. As a result, we’ve harvested all the paste tomatoes we could, and the last of our eggplants and peppers, stragglers all.

Derniers foins - Last HayingIt’s our end-of-season routine, following fast on the last haying of the season : pulling up plastic cover, harrowing large swaths of field  – a fall prelude to the final sowing of our green manure cover crops before the really cold weather settles in. Reading this, you’d think winter is just around the corner, but that’s not really the case…yet. It’s just that October can be blustery and rain-filled – making it near impossible to schedule field work with heavier machinery in sodden fields –  a miserable month, really, ruled by Boreas, who taunts us with the occasional sun-filled day even as he goes about his business of heralding winter.

Dieu grec du vent du nord, Boreas, Greek God of the North WindAnd so it is that our baskets have taken a decidedly autumnal turn. While a few tomatoes will still add colour, you’ll witness the return of the beet and the potato, accompanied by leeks (this year has been a great leek year) and this week’s winter squash special : the classic butternut squash. Don’t forget to register with Capitaine Levain if you want to continue with, or try, his sour dough breads for the rest of the season. And last, but not least, note that our friend and foodie blogger, Anaïs Berzi, a long-standing farm member, will be featured on Josée di Stasio’s cooking show on Télé-Québec this coming Friday, September 30th, at 8 pm.

We look forward to seeing you all at your respective drop-off locations.

Squash World

Courge Delicata SquashIf we had to wait for the first frost this year before harvesting our winter squash, chances are the wait would have been a long one. During one brief staff meeting it was decided that we would not test our patience given the multitude of other farm chores that await us in coming weeks. It so happens that as a result, we harvested a seemingly infinite number of butternut, acorn, buttercup, delicata and other squashes in record time. Said squashes had been planted in former hayfield purposely ploughed under at the beginning of the season for our late cucurbits and brassicas. Planting in an old hayfield is the vegetable equivalent of doping in élite sports, the ultimate in performance enhancement – permitting us to harvest ripe squash on still vigorous – green, even – plants (nitrogen, anyone?). After the last couple of weeks of spaghetti squash, then, allow us now to introduce you to the delicata, my personal favourite : easy to prepare (you can leave the skin on), sweet but not excessively so, with a texture reminiscent of that of the potato.Courge musquée au soleil - Sunlit Butternut

For those of you not able to pick up your orders last week, please note that your garlic and your tomatoes are ready. Remember to ask for them, and don’t forgot to bring your cash…We look forward to seeing you all again.

Let Them Eat Lettuce

Fin de journée - End of DayThe farmer’s dilemma at Arlington Gardens this week : with how many varieties of lettuce can we ply our customers over a given time period? An existential question which returns to haunt us every season. Our field plan calls for staggered harvest dates for successive varieties of lettuce, but — surprise, surprise – 3 varieties with different maturity dates have all come due at the same time. What’s a farmer to do? Weigh his customers down in lettuce, or feed the local deer? The conundrum is frequent in the greens department, particularly in the lettuce section – where, as if through some quirky telepathy, the plants seem to sync up their growth patterns, in blatant disregard of seed catalogue prognostications…Not to worry, however, as finite quantities of harvest bins will be a natural constraint on what is currently seeming like an infinite supply of salad leaves. That said, you should expect more than one lettuce in your basket this week.
Dans le sac - In The Bag
Bâtiments au soleil couchant - Farm Buildings at SunsetFollowing on tomato orders (which we are still fulfilling), this week marks the beginning of garlic deliveries. As per our previous e-mails, note that the garlic we will be delivering has been cured specifically for storage over the winter and into the spring, provided you take care to keep it in a cool and dry place, preferably in its original paper bag, in relative darkness. Leaving it in the recesses of a pantry is recommended…En passant, note that we still have Italian tomatoes available for freezing | canning – there’s still time to stock up for the winter. We look forward to seeing you all again shortly.

As Summer Lingers…

It’s hard to believe, but we’re already at week 12 of the season! The month of September signals yet another transition, this time towards fall vegetables – beginning with the spaghetti squash you’ll find in your baskets this week. Exceptionally, we feel like we are harvesting them against their will – a reluctance to be harvested made all the more evident by their refusal to turn yellow, a natural colour change typically triggered by the combination of cooler, and wetter, weather. This year we’re on Cloud Nine – with abundant sunshine, and nary a raindrop in sight for the foreseeable future. The dearth of seasonal triggers means the plants – all of them – continue in a state of ignorant bliss, as summer lingers and fall falters, totally unprepared for the winter none of us can avoid.

Verge d'or - Goldenrod

Tomato Tale

Following on last year’s epic fail, tomato-wise, I had promised some of you that 2016 would be ‘The Year of the Tomato’ at the farm. Indeed, after a disastrous season for Solanum Lycopersicum last summer, I resolved to take all necessary measures, and then some, to guarantee this year’s production, in terms of both quantity and quality. For those of you not with us last year, words fail to convey the overwhelming sadness felt by this farmer and his seasonal partners in late July when faced with row upon row of tomato plants decimated by a deathly combination of mildew, grey rot, bacterial canker, alternaria (black spot) disease — I spare you not — largely attributable to what was, without a doubt, the wettest of wet summers. I would not wish such a fate on any vegetable. So this year, ‘all necessary measures’ include ‘protective’ measures, as three quarters of our field tomatoes have been under cover in a summer greenhouse and high tunnels. Given the climatic vagaries of our increasingly crazy summers, we now have no choice but to cover our tomatoes to protect them from excess humidity. In this regard, this year’s hottest of hot summers has served us well, as even our uncovered tomatoes have fared exceptionally well. We produce many tomato varieties, but my personal favourites are our heirloom varieties, super-sized and surprising specimens from a wild and wonderful vegetable bestiary. Their misshapenness is redeemed by their exquisite taste and tender flesh, and the realization that the pleasure they provide is ephemeral…

Histoire de tomate - Tomato Tale

Meanwhile, in your baskets this week, a foretaste of fall: the leek. My kingdom for a leek.  I searched the internet to see if anyone noteworthy had ever uttered such a thought, but it seems not.

Poireaux 2016 Leeks