Crossing the Rubicon

I’d like to say we’ve crossed the Rubicon and that the cold nights we’ve been experiencing mean the end is nigh for all the undesirable flora populating the alleyways between, and in, our vegetable beds … but unfortunately, such is not the case. The temperatures have not yet dipped low enough to rid us of these uninvited guests once and for all – and so they continue to hang on, teasing us still. It’s looking more and more like the weeds’ demise will have to by the wheels of my disk harrow rather than due to natural, i.e. frost-related, causes. In our solanacea tunnels, morale is good, as the protective plastic  tarps do their job. The plants are looking pretty tired, but by some miracle of nature, communication between stalk and fruit continues uninterrupted. And so a few summer stalwarts  will continue to grace your baskets in addition to the increasing rations of root vegetables that one expects at this juncture, with a winter squash – whether delicata or pumpkin, we shall see –  thrown in for good measure…

Sunrise, Sunset: Swiftly Flow the Days

We’ve had sunset after sunset these days, and they’re all magnificent. Last week we pulled all stops, irrigation-wise – so summer’s last hurrah has so far been manageable. The only challenge has been in managing our irrigation schedule to ensure we don’t run our pond dry. Another week without rain will bring water levels perilously low…but summer cannot last forever. We live in Quebec, after all, do we not? As we await the rain that will inevitably come, our fall field cleaning is already under way. We will be collecting the plastic mulch from our early solanacea beds and the metal rods which we use to stake our tomaotes, then we will use the disk harrow to plow the plants under and sow the season’s last green manure before fall rains make it impossible to enter the fields with heavy farm equipment. The last big harvests are upon us : rutabaga and root celery on Monday, with carrots, beets and other, lesser-known root vegetables like black, daikon and melon radishes to follow. Daily, I get a little thrill as I check on our fall greens, all of which have been transplanted to the fields over the past several weeks. These include lettuces as well as other leafy things – watercress, mizuna, komatsuna, claytonia – I’m eager to introduce them to you.

Sunny Skies

Sunny skies in September is a 2017 farmer’s almanac prediction come true. After months of complaining about the wet weather, the dog days of summer are upon us : hot and dry for the past couple of weeks, with not a hint of rain on the horizon. We have hauled out our irrigation system for the young plants that will round out the season’s end and had to re-familiarize ourselves with the workings of its pipes and valves. It’s good news for our late-season plants, but the weather has already wreaked its havoc on others that have suffered much from the season’s hitherto unclement conditions, namely our tomatoes. Bent over in their tunnels, stressed and exhausted, they are in full demise, awaiting a merciful end to what has been a truly brutish tomato existence.

This week’s basket is a marriage of two seasons, summer and fall, in almost perfect equilibrium. The full shift to fall will happen in a week or two when you will see more of the root vegetables we are about to harvest, such as swedes (rutabagas) and root-celery (celeriac). Others will follow in due course, but one can never hasten Mother Nature – and some root vegetables need a hard frost to give them the flavour one expects of them (more on these later, as the first fall frost nears).

Good Samaritan

These days, we have been experiencing a radical change in diet at the farm. Since the arrival of Sarah, a new employee with us for the month of September, we have been subjected to the rigours of veganism – and have to admit that we’re enjoying the experience. Like the proverbial cobbler’s children, we have no shoes : we are organic farmers with no time to cook our own vegetables during the high season. Supplications to our children are of little to no avail, so we often choose the easy, yet delicious way out, resorting (almost daily) to our all-time summer favourite – the tomato, onion and feta salad – supplemented from time to time with salad fixings salvaged from the veggie leftovers that feed our rapacious hens. Sarah has taken charge of the kitchen, realising that for a change of menu and more sustenance, she would have to step in. With some restaurant experience and a keen interest in vegan cuisine, she has allowed us to rediscover our own vegetables, cooked to perfection, boldly seasoned with spices we rarely use. The adventure will last a few more weeks, but we are already dreading the departure of our culinary Samaritan, who will be traveling to more exotic and distant places from October onwards. Thank you, Sarah.

Harvest Time

We’re into our last « big » harvest of the season these days, gathering up winter squash. While harvesting continues into October, nothing of this magnitude will follow. The fact is, you can’t escape winter squash on a farm; they take all the field space allocated to them, and then some. Whether of the creeping or bushing variety, it matters not – they fan out and fill the field, forming a luxuriant carpet after only a few weeks of growth. This year, inspired by another organic farmer, we experimented with a new growing technique, planting our squash seedlings in a field of felled rye, the idea being to use a natural weed barrier instead of the plastic mulch we use (too) often in our ongoing battle with weeds. Sown right, rye can indeed act as an effective weed barrier, subsequently doubling as compost for the field which will be harrowed under after the harvest. We have yet to draw a formal conclusion for all of our winter squash, but if the spaghetti squash in your baskets this week is an early indication of a trend, it’s looking pretty good. We’ll see how our other squash fare as they grace your baskets in coming weeks before we make a final call for future seasons.

A new employee, Sarah, has joined us for the month of September. An amazing vegan cook, she dreamed up a delicious spaghetti squash recipe over the long weekend. It goes something like this : cut the squash in two, lengthwise and empty out the seeds before placing the two halves face down in a baking dish. While the squash bakes 45 minutes at 400⁰F, prepare  a dressing of olive oil, seasoned with cinnamon, cumin, cloves, coriander seeds, salt and pepper – all to taste. When it is done, scoop the out the interior into a serving bowl and mix in the spiced sauce. It’s an interesting change from the tomato sauce default. We look forward to seeing you all again.

It Feels Like Fall

The brisk morning air, despite the sunny warmth of late August days that inevitably dispels it, reminds us that Fall is just around the corner. Everything has lost its luster, except perhaps the goldenrod, the final stop for our honeybees as they build their winter reserves. Harvests mark the season and the passage of time. From garlic in July, we’ve moved to conservation onions in August – red, yellow, white – piled high in bins where they will continue to dry. Later this week we’ll begin harvesting the winter squash we’ve purposely ignored until now : spaghetti, delicata, buttercup, butternut, musk de Provence, pumpkin – all will now exit the field and begin to cure, a hardening that is critical to their post-field performance, in your kitchen and in your plate. The squash will be harvested in rapid succession, contributing to a momentary traffic jam in the warehouse, spilling over into spare barn spaces – but only for a very short time before they end up in your baskets.

In this week’s basket we include one of my favourite onions, Red Tropeana Lunga, served up as a fresh (i.e. not cured) onion. At this point in the season, its leaves have to be trimmed. But it is a great Italian variety that packs a punch when eaten raw and is delicious candied in a confit d’oignon. Last but not least, we’ve finally exited our lettuce lull – indeed, be prepared to see at least two (maybe three) heads this week.

We look forward to seeing you all again.

Farm Classifieds

Time for a purely informational, some might say, crassly commercial, post – but one essential to surviving the rigours of a still-distant but inescapable winter. We have planted garlic; harvested, cleaned and weighed it – the time has now come to sell it. So, if you’re a garlic aficionado with a love for fresh, juicy and odorous bulbs destined to be kept through the long winter months, this note is for you. Starting today, we’ll be taking garlic orders online. We will confirm receipt of your order with a view to fulfilling it by the second or third week of September. Payment is cash on delivery. This year, we will be offering the same two varieties as previously – Music and Ukrainian – the first is usually a bit larger, albeit with fewer cloves. The real difference between the two lies in the slightly stronger flavour of the Ukrainian garlic – a subtle but nonetheless noticeable difference appreciated by diehard garlic connoisseurs. Prices remain unchanged since last year at 10 dollars a pound (5 to 6 bulbs) or 22 dollars a kilo (10 to 11 bulbs). Your orders will be payable cash (or cheque) on delivery.

In the same vein, we also offer paste tomatoes for canning and other preservation purposes. This year, we’re pushing our Amish Paste variety, followed closely by the classic San Marzano. The Amish paste is a larger North American heirloom variety of paste tomato. It is easy to process because of its large size and quite tasty. The San Marzano is the classic Italian paste tomato, with its unique, almost-but-not-quite-pear-like shape – well-known by tomato-sauce-makers everywhere. We offer both in half-bushel, 20-lb boxes – at 20 dollars per box, while quantities last.

End of commercial.

As usual, there will be vegetables in your baskets, plus cantaloupe or watermelon, perhaps some corn (provided the racoons leave enough standing), and many other things. We look forward to seeing you all again.

Time Flies Amidst Shooting Stars

Mid-season already. Time has flown, and the stars too. Yesterday we had two farm stay visitors de passage, in search of sunsets and shooting stars. We were happy to oblige – the sunset was beautiful, and although we told them we couldn’t promise the shooting stars, between the two of them they saw six. In our household, excitement builds yearly in early August at the thought of spending at least one evening, at the height of Perseid season, watching stars flit across the sky – then wanes just as quickly due to either cloudy skies or closing eyes…This year it was the latter. Meanwhile, our flower gardens and fields are at an apogee – filled with flowers, vegetables and…weeds.  Cornu copia, the Romans would say. A fleeting sense of total abundance that every farmer knows will not last, as August nights become cooler, a subtle signalling of the wheel that turns. Be that as it may, we try to enjoy nature’s bounty while it lasts, and howsoever chaotic it may seem at times.

This week’s novelty in your baskets: melon or watermelon. Funny fruits – in fact more vegetables than fruits, large cucurbits, really – but it’s nicer to think of them as fruit. And here’s hoping that the last few days of sun will have had the same effect on the melons as it did on the blueberries and the corn, ripening them to sugary sweetness. Meanwhile, garlic cleaning is ongoing, a time-consuming activity which record quantities of garlic this year make even more intense than in years past. Also, our Italian tomatoes are finally beginning to blush – when they are ready, we will let you know when & how to place your orders for your winter provisions of both. We look forward to seeing you all again.

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.

.

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.