Tipping Point

Already early August, the season’s tipping point at the farm. We have started to free up portions of field, those that have already yielded their spring and early summer bounty – the first leafy greens, the brassicas and other …. A few of them, stripped of their vegetables for a few weeks only, have already run wild, overgrown with weeds, much to this farmer’s chagrin, who has been just too plain busy to remedy the situation. The time has come to harrow it all, prepping for the green manure that will replenish the soil – most probably a mix of oats and field (aka broad or fava) beans. It is also a tipping point for the plants themselves, who seize the cool nights and shorter days of August are their cue to grow at a slower pace, curbing the frenzied pace of the first part of summer, like a horse shifting from a mad gallop to an ambling trot. The farmer cannot yet slow his pace, though, which continues unchanged as he continues to do battle with the weeds and to sow seeds and transplant seedlings for the fall harvests to come. The only respite, albeit a welcome one, comes in the form of magnificent sunsets, gifts from an anotherwise all too wet summer.

The tomato has finally deigned to grace us with its presence. Like Pizarro, we have yet to see El Dorado, but we now know it’s within reach. We’re also planning to drop a few peppers and/or eggplants into your baskets, making for another great summer trio…Meanwhile, the corn cycle continues : following on last week’s delicate Sugar Pearl ones, this week you will witness the arrival of our Honey Select cobs. Last but not least, we want it to be known that we have recruited the absolute best (in our humble opinion) blueberry pickers the region has to offer, all friends of our daughter Yamina. Not yet quite fourteen, they pick like seasoned pros. You will be sampling their berries this week. See you all soon.

Garlic Et Cetera

As you may surmise from the tardiness of this weekly missive, we had a full weekend and the week is off to a riotous start. Indeed, we spent all of Saturday and Sunday harvesting our 2017 garlic crop, a vintage, if I may be so bold, the likes of which we have not seen in quite some time. The bulbs are beautiful to behold, with little to no trace of disease…and they were surprisingly easy to uproot. Why so this year compared to others? Who knows. It may be the combination of a mild winter, abundant precipitations and just enough sun at exactly the right time. As in past years, we have grown two varieties for you : Music, aka the iconic ail du Québec – plump, pleasantly garlicky and easy to cook; and our Ukrainian garlic, a smaller varietal with a bit more bite. We’ll introduce you to both in coming weeks. As before, we will let you know in due course, probably by mid-August, how and when to place your orders for your winter garlic supplies.

Our eggplants are coming in, and are pepper plants are finally yielding too. We’re undecided re corn this week, we’ll see what happens over the next couple of days. And as for our tomatoes, well…they’re still playing hard to get, just barely blushing. So far, 2017 has definitely NOT been the year of the tomato. But that may change…as plants laden with fruit finally respond to the sun’s advances. Meanwhile, we look forward to seeing you all again.

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Berry Picking

They came, they harvested, they left. The ‘curranteers’, we call them. For a second year running, numbering near twenty this time, they parked their compact urban cars in the farm entrance and stood ready to pick, all smiles and clutching their berry containers. With Hélène acting as a reluctant chief to a motley crew of volunteers, they suddenly morphed into harvest centurions, circling our black currant plants in siege-like fashion. Sitting, kneeling or prone, they diligently picked the ripe fruit. 75 magnificent plans, plying under the weight of berries we would never have gotten around to harvesting, were it not for the steadfast efforts of the curranteers. Black currant picking requires time and patience, both of which are in short supply at the farm at this time – and so we welcome these volunteer pickers as a seasonal godsend. The end result seems fair: one third we keep, another third the ‘curranteers’ keep, and the balance goes to a charitable organisation called Les Fruits Défendus, an urban fruit harvesting collective hosted by Santropol Roulant. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll be able to make it an annual tradition…

Meanwhile, the season’s farm work continues unabated. We’re still planting – to ensure a bountiful crop of fall vegetables – as harvesting intensifies: blueberries, our first carrots, more cucumbers and summer squash. We’ve finally had some meaningful sun, which has dried up field puddles and made our tomatoes ripen. This week’s basket will be a full-on summer one, at last.

Greener Farm

Incredible, but true – two days without rain! I wanted to do a little non-rain dance…instead, I harrowed. I tilled a full field of green manure, prepping for my fall brassicas. Perhaps you know my obsession with green manure – cereals and legumes that I grow for no other purpose than field fertilisation. Last night, I laid low a mixture of oats and peas which I buried, leaving it to be further worked on by the denizens of the earth. It is astonishing to witness the speed with which worms and other bacterial hordes transform a patch of freshly destroyed vegetation. In hot and sunny weather, composting only takes a few days, so a field can be worked again within a week. There really is method to the madness: at Arlington Gardens we’ve placed a bet that intense green manure management will be central to the fertilisation of our fields and that we will do without importing anything from outside the farm, be it compost or animal manure. It’s a bit risky, but the pay-off has been great so far, as demonstrated this year’s brassicas, our corn and our nightshades (solanaceas). I got religion, so to speak…I now sow a trinity of buckwheat, oats and peas and let Mother Nature do the rest.

An Ounce of Prevention…

Last night, we had to shift gears, moving into prevention mode. As I was inspecting our corn patch, to check on the plants’ progress and assess the silent presence of the nefarious corn borer, I noted some damaged stalks scattered throughout the patch, lying on the ground, felled at the base, unfinished cobs still intact. Clear signs that a skunk has been inspecting the corn, too – taking stock of the all-you-can-eat buffet to come. On the long list of farm pests, the skunk ranks lower than some, even though the havoc it wreaks can be appreciable over time. The skunk is a funny animal, with an ambling and erratic gait, and very poor vision, to boot. In truth, however, the pest I lose most sleep over and against which I will go to great lengths to defend my cobs is the racoon, master of woods and fields, imho. Far more intelligent than his stinky cousin, the raccoon doesn’t waste precious time in an immature cornfield. He bides his time until everything is ripe, then invites all his friends to a private corn husking party. So I have just decreed that this week will be Corn-Thieving Raccoon Prevention Week. While we’re at it, we’ll make it Blueberry-Stealing Bird Prevention Week. So, as you will have understood, protective electric corn fencing will be going up while blueberry netting will be coming down.

NB: This masked corn thief was transported some 10 kilometers from the farm to a large wooded area where he was released

Back to our veggies : yet another week of bountiful greens, with a hint of summer vegetables to come. In addition to the now-abundantly yielding summer squash, you’ll also find beans and cucumbers in your baskets. I bid you to be patient : our tomatoes are coming along nicely, the same goes for our eggplants, and the pepper flowers are blooming. A full week of sun should make all the difference and would allow us to begin to load your basket with genuine summer fare. Keep your fingers crossed.

Blueberry Blues

Lamenting the fact that it rained again this week would serve no purpose, so I won’t add anything stating the obvious. Instead, let me tell you about our decision to (finally) install protective netting in our blueberry patch. Some of you may recall plaintive emails of seasons past recounting forced sharing of our blueberry crop with the farm’s many feathered friends. More foes than friends, in fact, given the obscenely usurious tax of approximately 40% they collect on our blueberry production year in, year out. So once again, we have determined that enough is enough. Armed with resolve, a sledgehammer and the farm’s bank account, we are steadily building our defense, aligning netting support poles throughout our blueberry patch, 50-plant/75-meter row by 50-plant/75-meter row. The work is not so much difficult as it is tedious – measuring the distance from the previous pole, clambering up the stepladder, hammering in the metal pole, and starting over again, a thousand times, under the wry gaze of the farm’s robins, scavengers on stand-by. Word has it our blueberries are tasty…at least, that’s what the birds have told us over the years. This summer, we’re aiming to prolong our blueberry season…

We’d like to think summer and full-on solanacea season have arrived, but such is not the case. Our zucchini plants are already fully laden, the cukes are on their way – but tomato time, the ultimate proof that Quebec does indeed have a summer, has not yet come. Cabbage is our veggie of the week. This week’s is a summer varietal, light and crisp, to be eaten raw, preferably in a slaw with a nice dressing. There will be other goodies in your basket, including strawberries, which should be eaten quickly before they mildew in your fridge. We look forward to seeing you all.

Death, taxes and…weeding

They say two things are certain in life: death and taxes. I would add a third: weeding. In organic farming, there is no escaping it. The formula is almost mathematical: rain plus warm weather, made worse by the technical unfeasibility of wheeling mechanical (i.e. tractor-pulled) weeding equipment into a soggy field – and there you have it: weeds here, there and everywhere. The situation worsens with every passing day, bringing the anxiety level of the ‘master weeder’ (yours truly) to a fever pitch. Finally, enough is enough, and an entire field team has no choice but to get down on all fours and wrestle with the hairy galinsoga, shepherd’s purse, crabgrass and false chamomile. Heavily armed, on padded knees, the team of five moves forward: two in front, three bringing up the rear, earth warriors all, their progress slow but unrelenting as they show the weeds no mercy. We were at it all weekend, amidst scattered showers and a thunderstorm, with bright sunny breaks punctuating the battle. Early summer weeding usually begins in the carrot patch (the most tedious weeding ever), followed by row upon row of celery root, beans, fennel and lettuce. While the job is far from finished, at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Fortunately, the sunny breaks were just enough for the broccoli florets to form and for the fennel to swell. We’ll also be harvesting our first beets of the season, delicate and delectable, from leaf to root. The balance of your basket contents will be not unlike those of last week: lettuce and other leafy greens, strawberries, garlic scapes and kohlrabi (the latter, despite having been sown in finite quantities, seemingly multiplying asymptotically towards infinity in the field). That said, we look forward to seeing you all again…

Ode to Lettuce

Will you allow me to wax lyrical on lettuce? Lettuce so rarely merits more than a passing thought, but this week’s selection makes it worthwhile to pause and consider it. In truth, it’s pretty easy to overlook lettuce. Farming-wise, I mean, if not otherwise. Forget it in a corner of the field, fail to water it in time or enough, and it will quickly bolt and turn bitter. Fortunately though, the season has been anything but dry so far. We’ve had abundant rain, with just enough sunny days to give delicate lettuce leaves more rather than less substance. The long and short of it is that our early lettuces are flourishing, and the two varieties in your basket this week (‘Red Oak Leaf’ and ‘Emerald Oak’) will prove my point. While we’re at it, a few words on the proper storage of lettuce (and other leafy greens – spinach, Swiss chard, etc.) are in order: the less water on the leaves, the better, as the longer they may be stored in your refrigerator. So for this week’s lettuce: as soon as you can, cut the leaves at their base, give them a nice cold water bath, spin them and store them in an airtight container. They should keep for at least a week.

That said, this second week of the season is also scape, strawberry and Swiss chard week. Our just harvested scapes are at their freshest now. Eaten raw or cooked, garlic scapes are a delicate teaser, hinting at the full-grown garlic that will follow in late July. With a couple of days to go before deliveries, the jury is still out on the readiness of our snap peas and broccoli. We’ll let Mother Nature make the call.

Week One

The heatspell of the past two day has, as if by magic, erased all memories of the ridiculous weather we had been having up to now. We’ve turned the corner into full-on summer, and there will likely be no looking back until October, when we will have had our fill of languid summer temperatures. Meanwhile, in just two days, we have been consumed by waterworks: drip tubing to unwind, hoses to be laid, seedlings to rescue and greenhouse waterings twice daily versus the usual one. It is on a dry note, therefore, that we announce the true start of CSA basket deliveries for the 2017 season – a season that has kept us on our toes so far and that seems intent on testing our farming mettle. We’ll keep you posted on Mother Nature’s antics as the season progresses.

In this week’s basket, a battle between leafy and all other greens, the leafy ones clearly have the upper hand (see list). It’s always the case in early June, a situation made even more apparent by the absence of strawberries: the cool weather of the past few weeks having slowed their ripening so much that it will likely be another couple of weeks before they enter the fray. That said, the brassicas have enjoyed the cooler weather – and will be making a strong showing at your delivery locations. Pay particular attention to the bok choy and tatsoi – by mid-week we’ll have posted new recipes on the site – and don’t overlook the spinach, basil and kohlrabi. We’ll also be serving up new potatoes from organic potato farmers Samson & Fils, for a little extra oomph.

Hard at Work

We’ve had no choice but to weather the weather, so to speak – and to compensate for its vagaries, unpredictability and liquid excesses by throwing this year’s crop rotation out the window…Or so it seems, given the past few weeks at Arlington Gardens. We  know a wet field when we see one, and a dry one, too. And it’s in the drier parts that we planted our earliest seedlings, whose root systems were too confined to wait in their trays any longer, particularly all those brassicas. Other seedlings quickly followed suit, as we dodged rainfalls and monitored soggy fields : first onions, then leeks, followed by leafy greens, several root vegetables and our favourite nightshades (solanaceas). The worst is now over, and although not everything is according to plan, we’ve arrived at a workable alternate configuration.

Only three weeks to go before deliveries begin and we’re eager to  see you all again. Our new hens have started laying and we’re hoping for a nice strawberry harvest for our first baskets. Already it’s looking like our garlic crop is going to be a bumper one this year. Every year is different, garlic-wise. This year’s batch is the result of a hands-off approach, or PITFAI (plant-it-then-forget-about-it) – as we planted thousands of cloves in a garlic patch last fall then did absolutely nothing until weeding  it this weekend. Interestingly, the plants seem to have responded particularly well to relative neglect, which gives us something to think about for next year’s crop.

We have room for a few more basket sign-ups at all our drop-off locations, so we invite you to register before deliveries begin if you’ve been putting it off.

April Showers, May Flowers

This month of April will clearly have been the wettest one in a very long while. The water levels in our irrigation pond are the highest we’ve ever seen,  and our fields are sodden. Fortunately, we will be starting our earliest field plantings under the cover of our big greenhouse. I should no better than to complain – summer will undoutedly dry things up and out, building up reserves is necessary at this juncture.

Meanwhile, things are hopping in our seedling green house, as April is a month of seasonal metamorphosis. It’s where you’ll find me, sowing an nth batch of lettuce or some celery.  I am already transplanting, multiplying seed trays like a certain prophet once multiplied bread. The first transplants were the peppers, followed by parsley, then celeriac. In a week, I’ll be transplanting early tomatoes, then eggplants. What may seem boring and repetitive to some, is anything but : the act of transplanting – removing a single plant from an intertwined matrix to isolate it in its very own container – is very nearly paschal, as the plants recover from the root shock that very nearly kills them – saved by the gentle speed with which they are handled and a refreshing shower of water. Time and a bit more water ensure their recovery is complete.

To all of you who have not yet registered : why put off until tomorrow what you can do today? Sign-ups are in full swing – reserve your basket before it is too late. The seasonal them will be variety, as we strive to introduce more choices into our weekly baskets. We are also pleased to offer an extended basket option for those wishing to receive veggies through November.

The sourdough breads of Capitaine Levain are back for a second year in a row (see their panier surprise and panier au choix, available at most of our drop-off locations) and remember that you will also find us at Atwater Market, Thursdays through Sundays, from mid-July to the end of October. Our farmstand will serve as a new drop-off location for those of you wishing to pick up your basket at the market. We have also opened a new drop-off location in Griffintown, at Le Kitchen – a great source of organic, vegan and other healthy food options, on William Street. Please let family and friends in Griffintown know. Last, but not least, for the social-media-savvy amongst you, please note that you can now follow us on instagram and facebook…In closing, we’re looking forward to seeing you all again soon.

Rite of Spring

Spring is finally in the air, complete with rising temperatures and thawing soil. The fields are waterlogged and we’ve begun to spot the occasional intrepid cyclist, all telltale signs of the impending change of season. But none of that really matters, as we focus our undivided attention on the season’s prep: the greenhouse has been going full tilt since the third week of March, our alliums (leeks and onions) are sprouting, as are our first kales and chards. New seedlings are being sown daily, and the list lengthens : peppers, basil, spinach, celeriac. With tomatoes and eggplants just around the corner, we’ll soon be able to claim that the 2017 season has firmly taken root.

Sign-ups for the season are in full swing – we encourage you to register for the season asap, if you haven’t done so already. We’re looking forward to another season!