Constant Gardener

To expect a vegetable farmer to tend to his/her flower gardens is like asking a shoemaker to repair his own shoes: both belong to the realm of wishful thinking. Indeed, following years of criminal neglect, tree-sized weeds and plants gone rogue, we have come to accept that our gardening abilities fall far short of those of the farm’s previous owner, Mrs. Blackwood — a master gardener hors pair, known and remembered  fondly as such by many of the locals.

Jardinière - Flower Box

We have sought redemption for our horticultural shortcomings through Olivier, our very own garden hoe and rake wizard. In just a few weeks, he has wrought wonders in our flower beds by the sweat of his brow (and back-breaking work). In a floral game of musical chairs, he has patiently de-constructed, then re-constructed, our gardens — helping them recover something of their former glory, in keeping (we hope) with the original intent of our dear Ella. In fact, so satisfied have we been with Olivier that we have decided to open a few new flowerbeds (further justification of the farm’s name, we figure). Those of you who come for the méchoui will be able to admire a work in progress.

Marguerite Michaelmas Daisy

On another note: corn will be back with a vengeance in your baskets this week, aided and abetted by last weekend’s heat wave. It’s all good, particularly when compared to the previous year’s disappointing (due mostly to poaching by birds and raccoons) corn harvest. Perhaps there is a form of natural justice after all. Unfortunately, we’ve had no such luck with our tomatoes: too much rain means mildew, in our fields as well as in those of many other farmers.

Mildiou - Mildew

Not much else to report, except perhaps a reminder that our annual méchoui is fast approaching — on August 30th to be precise. We hope to see many/most of you then at the farm. Drop us an e-mail to confirm your attendance, the number in your party and whether you plan to bring a side dish or dessert. Cheers.

Once a Pond, Always a Pond

Surely you know the French expression — chassez le naturel, il revient au galop? In our case, it applies to a problem we face yearly in one of our fields.  Even the flattest of fields is never as flat as it seems…and so it is that one of our seemingly flat hayfields harbours a sizeable dip which makes for poor water evacuation every spring (and occasionally during a wet summer, like the one we’ve been experiencing). A wet field means poor hay, compacted soil and ultimately, one unhappy farmer. We finally decided take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and get to the bottom of things, literally. Four bulldozer shovelfuls later (and eight feet deeper), a water-filled excavation test had us wondering aloud about water table levels.

Étang ou champ - Pond or Field
Indeed, one of the locals remembers when the dip in the field was a large pond, filled in years ago by a zealous farmer looking to increase his productive acreage. Given our conclusive test, we have decided to give nature a boost, or credit where credit is due, and return the dip in the field to its origins as a watering hole which, we are told, previous farm stewards used for their equine and bovine herds. Stay tuned for more on this topic…

Nettoyage de l'ail - Garlic Cleaning

Tresse d'ail - Garlic BraidMeanwhile, we have begun cleaning our garlic and are eager to share some with you soon. Freshly harvested garlic is nothing like anything you’ll find in the grocery store.  Juicy, fragrant and crisp, it’s a key ingredient in our summer cuisine and a gastronomical treat, raw or cooked.

Last, but not least, we are sorry to inform you that we may not be able to offer zucchini this week. We apologize in advance for the zucchini withdrawal symptoms which may ensue…

Midnight Express

We were expecting them at noon, they arrived at midnight, an F250 pulling a trailer loaded with 200 feet of greenhouse metal tubing in the dark of the night…They thought loading the trailer would be easy, but it proved to be major feat, considering greenhouse geometry, all horizontal arabesques and transversal bars piled to infinity. Missing your highway exit, not once, but twice or perhaps even three times, does nothing to improve delivery times from distant Victoriaville. And so they finally pulled into the farm driveway: a former organic farmer and his two young offspring, half asleep but still willing to unload what they had helped load. In an hour, much aided by our new tractor and a few of our own farm employees, everything had been transferred to our new greenhouse location. A brief overview of the disassembled parts completed, they disappeared into the darkness whence they came, despite our invitation to stay and sleep…on straw. Our job will only be done once the difficult task of re-assembling the greenhouse is completed later this summer…our very own LEGO block construction project.

In the fields, nature continues to play tricks on us: reluctantly ripening tomatoes should prove just sufficient for this week’s baskets. We’re still awaiting our usual mid-summer cornucopia: next week, perhaps…they’ll have to turn red sometime! Notwithstanding, this week’s basket spells (smells like) summer…

Aube - Dawn

No Man’s Land

It’s a corner of the farm we refer to as “no man’s land,” our own “dumping ground between fiefdoms,” tucked away between the woods’ edge and the irrigation pond we’ve dug deeper and wider over the past few years. A natural landfill which nature is constantly reclaiming, where we (and the generations of farmers who have preceded us) have deposited farm detritus including blue clay from the bottom of the pond, rocks from the fields and even old stone foundations from renovated farm buildings. We mention it because in the few years we’ve been here, nature has once again asserted her rights, covering the latest layer of clay and stone with weeds and wildflowers, a luxurious vegetation that makes the spot a wildlife haven, a perfect place to relocate our beehives this year. Indeed, we are prepping for our first honey harvest of the season…so you can expect some honey pots shortly, coming soon to a drop-off location near you.

To Catch a Racoon - Comment attraper un raton laveur

Despite the unrelenting presence of a raccoon in our corn patch but perhaps subject to his forbearance, we are looking to include our first ears of corn of the season in your baskets this week. We’ve tried everything to catch the wily fellow, but racoons are far smarter than your average skunk, and he has so far eluded all our efforts to trap him.

Electric Fence - Clôture électrique

Remember that corn is at its absolute best if consumed within 24 hours of harvesting, preferably raw (really) or just barely blanched (i.e. dumped in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes at most). The cooking method is not mandatory, but strongly recommended.

No Man's Land Fleurs - Flowers

Corn Theft

We finally caught him. For several days, he had been teasing us, eating the first well-formed ears, nibbling at others as he ambled down the rows — early indications of ravages still to come. We didn’t know what to expect — a racoon, perhaps, or maybe a skunk? Finally, our nemesis let himself be tempted by the sardines we placed in the trap…Much to our dismay, we discovered it was a skunk. Getting rid of a skunk is a losing battle for both sides, sprayer and sprayee. Our first thought after having captured him was where to release him…a midnight drop on our least favourite neighbour’s front lawn? (Just kidding…) A longer drive and a woods’ edge beckoned: better to have him go eat some stranger’s crops. Our skunk problem effectively dealt with, next on our list are the birds. This problem is definitively more of a challenge, as the remedy necessitates regular patrols (as frequently as every half hour)  up and down the corn rows. Skunks and birds notwithstanding, we’re expecting a generous corn crop in a few weeks.

Meanwhile and more generally, the season continues to surprise us. Our tomatoes are stubbornly refusing to redden, despite a few isolated cases of expiation. We know they’ll eventually ripen, perhaps even by Thursday — and there will be no respite from that time onwards. The eggplants are also ripening slowly, as are the peppers. Patience is a virtue, or so they say. A final word on our lettuce, hitherto conspicuous by its absence: too much rain caused considerable damage to the bottom leaves, resulting in significant losses. We apologize, but the next wave, to be harvested in coming weeks, is looking good — we’ll all be eating lettuce again soon.

Épi de maïs - Corn Cob

On Manure

This week’s topic is anything but bucolic, yet noteworthy nonetheless. In short, we spread manure last weekend: heavy (nay, stinky), but necessary, work to guarantee quality organic produce throughout the season. The manure is delivered by the 10-wheeler, 15-tonne truckload, deposited in an odorous dark brown swath along the field’s edge. To the uninitiated nostril, there seems to be little difference between types — but the discerning nose recognizes the various grades of animal fertilizer ranging from pungent liquid pork manure to sweet-smelling horse manure. In between you’ll find a multitude of variations on a theme, ranging from dried chicken droppings to cow dung…the latter particularly odoriferous and rich in key vegetable nutrients nitrogen and potassium. And so Saturday saw us spreading a mix of chicken and pork manure — excellent soil amendments for next year’s (2016) most demanding crops. There was a time when animal farmers couldn’t find enough takers for their manure. These days, organically certifiable manure is in short supply, leading us to cultivate our relationships with our neighbours to ensure next season’s yields.

Belle de jour, liseron - Morning Glory

Heat(s) and Races

The timing of this post is an indication of the kind of weekend we’ve had. Another crazy race, this time against the heat. Which means installing sprinkler systems to water new transplants and rolling out drip irrigation lines where they had yet to be set out. You must be thinking, as you read this — following on previous fulsome complaints about too much rain — that the organic vegetable farmer is at best a perennially dissatisfied being, at worst schizophrenic. We live these contradictions daily, and assume them fully. That said, we are pleased to inform you that you will have broccoli in your baskets AGAIN…and what’s more, cauliflower too. Given the hot springs of the past few years, the performance of these vegetables had been sub-par: they either went to seed too fast or did not reach their full potential. This year, Mother Nature has been on our side on this one — you’ll see the result in your baskets.

Tomates mûrissantes_Ripening Tomatoes

Real summer is just around the corner — so spare a thought for the patient solanaceas (also known as nightshades) biding their time in their beds, waiting to impress. Si la tendance se maintient, as a well-known news commentator used to say, we should see our first tomatoes in a fortnight or so. Now there’s something that makes us smile.

Aneth au soleil couchant_Sunset Dill

New Wheels

Nothing better to lift sagging spirits in soggy fields than a high tech happening at the farm, i.e. the arrival of a gleaming new tractor, a Case 95 HP… While I am not particularly mechanically inclined (or perhaps because I am not so), I finally gave in to the lure of a new tractor. Several seasons of mechanical mishaps having taken their toll, I finally abdicated, increased our farm liabilities and contributed to the local agro-industrial complex. Indeed, I welcomed the new hot rod with the satisfied smile of the frustrated-no-longer farmer; it was immediately put to work harrowing a patch of green manure. One day, I will take time to write a post on the conflictual rapport that many farmers entertain with their farm equipment — a fraught relationship that colours my views on farm work. Suffice it to say that in this case and for the time being, the machine has won.

Un homme et son tracteur - A Farmer and His Tractor

The leafy green spring vegetable trend continues, albeit with somewhat fewer leaves but still considerable greens, as we harvest cabbages, kohlrabi, chinese cabbage, lettuce, garlic scapes, etc. We took the advice of a farm member last week, and prepared a delicious Swiss chard lentil soup, a nice change from your typical steamed or sautéed chard. If the plants have had a chance to regenerate, you may see some chard  leaves in your basket this week; otherwise, look for that other leafy green stalwart, kale.

Outil de récolte - Harvest Tool

Farm Stress

Merle sous le porche - Robin in the Eaves
Lapin dans l'herbe - Rabbit in the Grass

We had to do it. And do it fast. You see, the rain was coming. And so, Friday and Saturday, we weeded EVERYTHING: the herbs, the baby broccoli, the kohlrabi, the beans…the list went on and on. We also planted EVERYTHING — more broccoli, more kohlrabi, and a few other things left on our greenhouse tables. Because when a good rain comes, we don’t mess around. Our stress level (the good kind, like cholesterol) increases, making us more efficient, more productive. By day’s end on Saturday, our hands were heavy but our hearts were light. On Sunday, to make amends for 2 days of intensive labour, I took a break with our farm employees: we travelled to Oka, to visit someone looking to get rid of a weeding tractor. It was really just an excuse to visit the Oka abbey, a silent ghost of a monastery since the departure of the Trappist monks who previously inhabited it. Even though they were looking for a change of pace, I am not sure dead quiet was what they had in mind. We ended the day in Victoriaville, visiting a greenhouse for sale. If all goes well, we plan to install our first two field greenhouses in the Fall so they’re ready to use early next year. We want to start the season even earlier next year — by the first or second week of June, in fact. For our planned season extension to be successful, we need closed, yet well-ventilated, greenhouses. You’ll hear more on this topic in due course. 

Oka

First Week, First Vegetables

We spent the past week twiddling our thumbs and praying.  The thumb-twiddling was because of the rain…needless to say, there was a lot of both (thumb-twiddling and rain) as we waited for the sky to clear and prayed for the rain to cease…visibly, praying has its limitations, as it was only by the weekend that the sun finally appeared. In the meantime, much (water) damage was done, and we had to wait a few more days for the drenched fields to dry out. Our fields are well-drained, but even so, like prayers, miracles are few and far between these days. And so we went from thumb-twiddling to tractor idling — and focused on other chores to spare the soggy fields.

Poules nouvelles - Fresh Hens

A few sunrises later, we’ve managed to harvest our first crops of the season: spinach, tatsoi, kohlrabi, escarole and Swiss chard. To round out a decidedly leafy menu, we’ve thrown in some strawberries for a dash of red to balance out the green. Get ready to eat your greens, be they cooked, steamed, puréed or raw — and do not hesitate to let us know if you need any suggestions. We look forward to seeing you all and do not forget your grocery bags!

Chou-rave - Kohlrabi