This week’s basket signals the end of the 2015 season, another series of organic episodes filled with weekly twists and turns. Noteworthy highlights this year include not only a memorable spring for all our brassicaceae as well as narrow escapes from corn-craven ravenous racoons and busy birds, but also tomato-trying torrential rains. Each passing year is another learning experience. This year’s lessons include the importance of greenhouses to offer better plant protection and an extended growing season.
That said, fall has fallen at the farm, stripping the trees of their leaves and strewing them evenly across gardens and fields. Next year’s garlic and Jerusalem artichokes are planted, the strawberries are covered in straw. The only fall chores remaining are the warehouse clean-up — including basket and tub hose-downs, to be completed once our last baskets are delivered.
As always, you have been faithful at drop-off, full of goodwill, with cheerful demeanours despite the travails of work and other pressures…so many weekly reminders of the relevance of the CSA (community-supported agriculture) model, ongoing rewards for our efforts. We hope to see you return next year, sharing in our vision of alternative food systems and agricultural practices.
After two frosty nights (-5 degrees Saturday to Sunday and -11 degrees last night), we are reminded that winter is nigh and there is not much we can do about it. Colder weather makes us pick up the pace. Yesterday, for instance, we planted next year’s garlic: the air was brisk but the sun was glorious. We also continued to harvest other root vegetables (’tis the season), as we prayed for enough daytime heat to warm up our beets and lettuce, stopped cold in their tracks by the night-time chill. It’s looking like 2015 will not see an Indian summer, but no matter — September was memorable enough this year.
The cold snap and falling leaves beckon, making this farmer forsake his fields briefly and venture into the woods. Our woods lie forgotten during high farming season, but are top of mind as soon as the weather turns…Suddenly, we remember the treasures they conceal and set out to reacquaint ourselves with long-forgotten spaces. At this time of year, the wooded groves have lost the luxuriance of summer, but are not yet exhibiting all their wintry nakedness. They stand in an in-between state, awaiting the definitive northwester that will lay them bare. It’s the time I choose to walk my forest paths, asserting my rights as master of my woods and letting stalking hunters beware.
The Squash Symphony continues. This week (too late, some of you may say, given that Thanksgiving has already come and gone), we offer you pumpkins. Small, pie-perfect pumpkins, that fit nicely in a basket without overwhelming it. So don’t wait for Halloween to put them to good use, they’re not the jack o’lantern type. As squash often come in two’s, we’ll pair your pumpkin with an acorn or a delicata squash to make the count. This week, too, we delved deep into the earth to check on our Jerusalem artichokes, ripening quietly underground. The tests were conclusive, the ‘chokes are ready. We’re big fans, although we understand that Europeans often look down on this North American root vegetable. A visitor to the farm this weekend, a gentleman from Belgium, explained that during World War II, the German troops would requisition farmers’ potato crops, leaving the lowly rutabagas and topinambours for the locals. It seems both vegetables have had a hard time making it onto the root vegetable glamour list ever since. Our mission is to right a wrong and restore their pedigree…
This week, we celebrate the apple. Should we speak of the small orchard we planted in our first year at Arlington Gardens, or of the old apple trees we have discovered scattered here and there along the riverbank? Both warrant a brief accounting. We wanted an orchard of apple, pear and plum trees. So far, only the first have deigned to cooperate, as we have begun to harvest our first Empire, Cortland, Red Delicious and Russet apples this year. They are undeniably delicious, but somewhat lacking in aesthetic appeal. In our haste to plant an orchard, we opted for not only the most popular, but clearly also the most demanding of varieties.
Fortunately, Mother Nature continues to watch over us, sharing her secrets with us — when, as, and if she finds us worthy. Lately, these include at least a half-dozen hardy apple trees, as old as Methusaleh, sprinkled around the farm. First there is the Coach House tree, so named because of its proximity to the farm building of the same name behind the farmhouse, planted by a former master-gardener: its apples smell tartly of a bygone era when sweetness was not at such a premium. But two other trees have also captured our imagination: one, a runty skeleton of a tree down by the reclaimed and soon-to-be reconstructed railroad bridge, with honey-sweet, lemony apples; the other, a crabapple tree across the river, laden with yellow, fabulously sweet, apples…a revelation, no less.
I said I would revisit the topic, so here goes: another week has come and gone, and this vegetable farmer’s rapport with his farm equipment remains as fraught as ever. For some farmers, one of the major attractions of farmwork is precisely that: the use of mechanical gizmos and doodads, of tractors of varying horsepower and of specialized implements for virtually every farm task imaginable — i.e., countless hours of pleasure for the wannabe farm mechanic. But for the author of these lines, every mechanical breakdown, every suspicious klunk and every tractor hookup is a source of untold frustration, or worse. Why such a troubled relationship, you may ask? The answer is not an obvious one and stems, I think, from the dichotomy between an idealized and idyllic vision of farmwork, on the one hand, and the sine qua non presence of machinery in many of our daily chores, on the other. To be frank, your farmer sometimes feels like an old soul, a 19th century agrarian condemned to farm in the 21st century. It’s not always easy bridging the ideal and the real, even though it does happen. Like an old, fractious couple, the relationship endures, for agriculture cannot survive without either.
Nothing better than a night at 6 degrees Celsius followed by a sun-filled blustery day at 16 to celebrate fall. Suddenly, serving up squash and turnips seems more than appropriate, a welcome change of fare. To these we add a few other root vegetables, some leafy greens and some nightshades, hangers-on emboldened by the still relatively balmy weather who know not yet what awaits them when the first frost strikes. Ignorance is bliss, even in the vegetable kingdom. The night chill is a call to action, a reminder that some crops need protecting — like next year’s strawberry plants. We’ve started strawing them in rows. The straw is laid out between the rows, and once it gets really cold we’ll cover them completely, tucking them in, as it were, for their winter snooze.
Beginning this week, you will receive a variety of winter squash, some of which can sit on your counter-tops for weeks, others which must be eaten quickly. Our all-time favourite remains the delicate delicata, a squash for connaisseurs that is eaten with its skin, preferably roasted. Garlic prep is taken longer than anticipated; deliveries will begin the week of September 27 (Week 16).
Just as we were readying ourselves for the final stretch of the season — you know, the cool fall straightaway which leads to the wonderful world of squash and root vegetables — Mother Nature placed yet another bump in the road. Indeed, even as we write this with a chilly evening drizzle as a backdrop, an umpteenth click on our favourite weather site reveals a heat wave in the making (again), an Indian-summer-worthy happening scheduled to begin later this week. The end result is that we will postpone our fall launch — and stick to sliceable, fryable summer vegetable stalwarts — for yet another week.
Meanwhile, we continue in project mode at Arlington Gardens…and as we wait a few more weeks before beginning to dig a new pond, an unexpected combination of circumstances is resulting in our moving posthaste to build a platform straddling the small river that runs through our western fields. As those of you who have visited the farm may already know, until the 1940s, our fields were traversed daily by a cross-border freight train. Nothing of the former railway infrastructure remains except for the stone foundations of a large bridge which will, in the near future, be graced anew with a sizeable wooden platform. It’s a zany project, but one quite in keeping with our ongoing and sundry farm reconstitution, restoration, conservation and conversion efforts.
The hot spell continues…but why act surprised? Hot spells are all too common at this time of year in Québec. They are summer’s final hurrah before fall rushes in. That said, September is also the month of the first frost, the cold snap that stops many a vegetable in its tracks, in some cases finishing them off for good: last year’s first frost hit on September 18. Cucurbits, i.e. cool cukes and all their relatives, wilt quietly but quickly, dying a sudden, but certain, vegetable death. So the time is now to harvest all those winter squash and store them in one of our barns. In contrast, other vegetables, particularly the leafy greens (arugula, lettuce, etc.) and brassicas (broccoli, radishes, etc.) thrive in autumnal temperatures, the frostier the better.
Finally, September is the month for winter field prep: hot spells notwithstanding, sunny days are already numbered and dedicated to the planting of green manure, i.e. cover crops that need to take root and grow before the first snow, the objective being to carpet the fields in green before they are blanketed in white in order to anchor the soil and mitigate wind and water erosion.
Nature’s abundance was manifest this week, so we had to make a few decisions: we will continue to offer cucumbers (which are harvested daily), but we’ll be taking a break from peppers (an extra week on the plant will do them (and us) good). And summer’s caciques still rule: tomatoes, eggplants, the last melons and green beans.
They came intent on stepping out of the fray, far from the madding crowd, they told us. A charming couple: he, working on a masters degree in architecture; she, finishing her studies in public health. Well-informed on organics, knowledgeable in most things environmental, they came to test the comfort of our straw berths and the brilliance of our starlit skies. They must have liked what they found, as they lingered for three days, witnessing the farm’s varied modes and moods. As a parting gift, they left us a small token of their appreciation on a USB key. A vision of the farm hitherto unknown to us, but that has only made us love it more, a breathtaking landscape served up by a high-tech drone, a technology increasingly present in agriculture. While many are likely more familiar with their military applications, drones are increasingly used for trouble-shooting and problem-solving in farmers’ fields. For small-scale vegetable farmers like us, drones are overkill; but for large cereal growers, they are a necessary asset. That said, I promised our architect friend I would visit Lozeau this winter…
And if ever proof of Nature as a tease was wanting, the past week of stifling heat (more mid-July than late August) has been proof enough…Too late for the tomatoes which we have just ploughed under, but perfect for our ripening Fall vegetables and our green manure — all of which have benefited from the burst of heat. The challenge now is to keep everything well irrigated.
With this, our 11th week of basket deliveries, the countdown has begun. Already the fields seem to be winding down…not because summer is over (au contraire, the season is at its peak), but rather because the urgency of the season’s last plantings is upon us: radishes, arugula and other fall greens — all of which need to be sown now to fill your fall baskets. These magnificently sunny days have allowed us to do some fieldwork, laying down plastic mulch for next year’s strawberries and prepping new beds for our 2016 garlic crop. While we could postpone some of these chores, worrying comes naturally to this farmer — a constructive form of constant readiness (semper paratus), where expecting the worst means a constant refusal to put off to tomorrow what can be done today. In parallel with late plantings there is much field clean-up to be done, including removal of all the plastic mulch which has already served its purpose, i.e. protecting a multitude of plants from encroaching weeds. It’s an organic farmer’s conundrum: to use labour-saving plastic mulch (which must be removed every fall and sent to local landfills), or not? It is also a political issue: despite organic farmers’ lobbying, the different government entities concerned have yet to find a satisfactory recycling solution for plastic mulch. While biodegradable plastic mulch exists, its rate of breakdown is not great, as pieces of supposedly decomposable mulch linger much longer than they should in the fields. Stay tuned.
Garlic: place your orders now! As you know, our garlic is super fresh, ideal for long-term storage under optimal conditions — i.e. a dry, cool, dark place (in a paper bag). This year’s novelty is garlic braids — three-pound tresses available in limited quantities on a first-come, first-serve basis. Prices remain unchanged from last year: $10 per pound, $22 per kilo. We are offering only two varieties this year: a bit of Ukrainian (tasty, strong, streaked with purple, 6 to 8 bulbs per head) and Music (a local variety, mostly white, tasty, with 4 to 5 bulbs per head on average). We look forward to taking your orders.