It’s been cold at the farm these last few days. So cold, in fact, that we’ve been huddling in the cold room (4⁰C) to bag your veggies and pack your baskets! It’s the inconvenient truth on an old farm : the buildings are gracious and cool during the summer, but come winter, everyone and everything is all too happy to call it quits. Realistically, at these temperatures, we can’t ask too much of the hangers on in our unheated greenhouse. We’ve harvested the last of the spinach – which will be the only leafy green in your basket this week – and have regretfully given up on the last of the turnips in our fields…they might have stood a chance had we planted them a bit earlier. And so it is that most of the vegetables in your baskets this week will be of the root variety. Said baskets will be the last of our extended season.
We wish all of you a great winter, happy holidays, and hope to see you again next year. Meanwhile, though, we look forward to one last encounter at all of our drop-off locations this week. Cheers.
Having closed out our farmstand at Atwater and said good-bye to half our members as the regular season drew to a close at the end of October, suddenly our farm workload has lightened considerably. So much so that we even found a moment to attend our first winter concert at Place des Arts, a nostalgic tribute to an Algeria that is no longer. Meanwhile, back in Stanbridge East, winter Nor’easters have begun to blow, sweeping everything clean. We’ve had our second hard frost, yet another reminder that leafy greens will not last forever in the field, despite their remarkable hardiness. We’re taking heed, and will be harvesting our mustard greens Monday, before the -4 degrees Celsius they’re forecasting in Montérégie. Be that as it may, the rest of our leafy greens are in the greenhouse, and should last a while longer.
The country calm is not yet complete, as deer hunting season has begun. From dawn to dusk, the occasional shot rings out, although the exercise seems a bit pointless, as deer populations are dwindling. But the same instinct that drives Canadian geese south as soon as the weather turns seems to move hunters out into the November chill. They’re a strange breed, hunters. Modern Don Quijotes tilting after wildlife instead of windmills in their fluorescent jackets and camouflage vests, they find satisfaction shivering in the cold, waiting for that chance encounter with a young buck. One gets used to it, but fortunately, the season lasts a mere two weeks.
Your second extended season basket is VEGETABLE, writ large : carrots, fennel, beets, Pak Choy, etc., but leafy greens, too – kale, Fun Jen mustard, arugula and spinach.
This will be our first time delivering baskets in November, so we’ll all find out what it’s like together. Will we be harvesting beets in the snow? Will we have to wait until mid-day to harvest greens so they warm up a bit first? Only time (and temperature) will tell – but we do hope the weather will be relatively clement. We look forward to seeing you all again – please remember that night falls quickly in November…
This week, we harvested the vegetables for our last regular season basket in t-shirts and with sweaty brows…a real novelty for us, accustomed as we have become over the years to shivering in the dark late-October-early-morning-chill as we dunk freshly harvested fall greens in ice-cold water. That said, we were hurrying to harvest the week’s greens before heavy rains forecast for Tuesday. We also rushed to plant next year’s garlic – a task readily accomplished under sunny skies in light, fluffy soil, contrasting sharply with garlic plantings of years past (picture frozen hands, stormy weather, muddy fields). And we even managed to harrow the remaining open fields in preparation for the sowing of our last green manure, autumn rye – the only cereal capable of withstanding winter temperatures.
We finally got our night below zero. After a few close calls and disappointments, the weather finally came within the range of average temperatures for this time of year, even if it only lasted a night. Minus 2 degrees celsius is enough to separate the wheat from the chaff, the annual from the perennial, the galinsoga from the bok choy…which warms the heart of this otherwise chilled vegetable farmer. Minus two is also when wheat and peas do a hand-off to rye, altering the green manure patchwork of the farm. Rye, you see, loves the cold, draws its winter sustenance from it, and will be the first to emerge from it in the spring. Like garlic, an allium which also winters over in the fields, rye builds in strength during November, then is quietly laid low by the first snows, only to emerge triumphant under the first rays of spring. We shan’t jump the gun, though, as there will be many long cold months between now and then…
Although we’ve yet to feel the autumn chill, we’ve still felt the winds change as the rain fell this weekend – intermittently, but heavy nonetheless – before yesterday’s downpour, that is. This week’s harvesting has been done with our boots on and with water on our backs. It’s not like we have a choice : the weekly window is short, whether for harvesting or basket prep. The good news is that the recent rain will be beneficial for all the green manure we’ve sown these past few weeks, which was getting to look (and no doubt feel) pretty dry. A good soaking will boost the plants, and combined with more warm weather to come, their biomass should increase significantly. It’s all good, but we’re itching for some cold weather now – as cold air, near zero in fact, increases the sugar content of certain fall crops, like beets, for one, and carrots, for another. Meanwhile, it’s curtain call for our solanaceas. Literally. The tunnels which have sheltered our tomatoes and eggplants will be dismantled this week and stored away in the warehouse, packed away until next spring. Meanwhile, fall cleaning is under way and the fields will gradually be swept clean, so to speak, of their seasonal clutter of agricultural tools and implements, much to this farmer’s satisfaction…
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…
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 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).
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.
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.
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.