I am still in denial – but the forecast is calling for -12 degrees Celsius during the night between Wednesday and Thursday, here at the farm – an unseasonally cold and way-below-average mid-November forecast. This week’s basket deliveries will seem more like a Christmas bazaar than a CSA basket pick-up…In anticipation of such extraordinary lows, we’ve already harvested this week’s leeks and today we’ll be harvesting all the lettuce and other leafy greens in our unheated greenhouse that are unlikely to survive a deep freeze. Everything else, i.e. our remaining winter squash and root vegetables, is already in cold storage at a steady, and much warmer, 4 degrees Celsius. Indeed, the packing of our last November baskets will be done in our largest cold room – where 4 degrees seems balmy in comparison to the -1 reading in the rest of the warehouse (note to self for next year’s to do list : insulation work)…This week’s update includes news of the departure of our two last Mexican employees, Crescencio and Gregorio, who are already reunited with their families under warmer skies. The last few weeks were a challenge for all – rainy, cold, with late harvests and last plantings under difficult conditions. But such travails will quickly be forgotten in the Mexican sunshine…
While we can’t shake the rotten weather, we’re moving right along, harvesting root vegetables and leafy greens from our greenhouse to fill your basket. It’s a bit frustrating, all the same, to realize that Mother Nature is refusing to give us a break. In hindsight, Sunday’s sunny weather was just a teaser, as this morning’s rain, and its consequences – water-logged roads, muddy boots and numbed body parts – attest. The forecast is for more of the same for another week. So we might as well forget about the El Niño effect previously mentioned – clearly borne of some wild and woolly imaginings…
That said, I toured our woods this weekend, if for no other reason than to let any trespassing hunters know that the owner was afoot, and would not tolerate any uninvited hunterly activities. The excursion was a success, as nary a soul was seen, which was exactly as I hoped it would be. The woods revealed their sad beauty, hidden all summer by the insolent greenery, but revealed at last as one walks through them, dripping wet in the autumn chill. Winter is fast approaching, and with it, the prospect of many more woodland wanderings.
Cooler weather but relatively sunny skies mark the end of the regular CSA basket season at Arlington Gardens. Twenty full weeks, sometimes wet but mostly hot and dry, the likes of which we hadn’t seen in several years. We’ll do a seasonal post-mortem in a month or two, once winter will have settled in, as we contemplate snow-filled fields – but already, in terms of lessons learned, we know we’ll have to be prepared for just about anything next year, given this year’s prolonged dry spell following on the previous year’s monsoon-like weather. Growing vegetables in these here parts has become part gamble, part obstacle course, definitely not for the faint of heart. That said, it’s a challenge we continue to take up, and we are already thinking of improvements for next year.
We extend a hearfelt thanks to those of you who will be ending your baskets this week. We wish you a great winter and hope to see you again next year, ready to share in our agricultural adventure. For those of you continuing with us for the extended season which starts next week and ends November 22, you will continue to receive our weekly missive, reminding you to pick up your baskets and informing you of their contents. We look forward to seeing you all again.
Early Monday morning routine calls for a farmer’s tour of the fields, although said tour takes less time, nowadays. As the wet grass drenches my boots, I know already that some pressing farm work will not get done. Three days without rain are not enough to dry out several recently harvested plots. I’m chomping at the proverbial bit, but will have to wait for better weather, a wait that can be trying as fall progresses. Yet hope springs eternal, particularly with Environment Canada forecasting a warming El Niño effect scheduled to start soon. All in all, today’s walk is a good one, with sightings of vegetables still growing in the fields and in our unheated greenhouse against a backdrop of reds and golds in the woods that surround the farm. Needless to say, our contemplation of fall’s colours is always too brief, but glimpses of the brilliant hues make the day seem a bit less grey.
On this Thanksgiving Monday, while I could thank Mother Nature for her gifts and generosity, I would rather mention those without whom our family enterprise would flounder, our four seasonal employees, Mexicans all, who form the backbone of this farm. That’s not to say that we don’t have other employees. At the season’s peak, we number roughly 10 hard-working humans in the fields, doing our organic farming thing – i.e., planting, harvesting, weeding, irrigating and ultimately, packing your baskets. But if I draw your attention to our seasonal workers – Jhenrri, Crescencio, Carmelino and Gregorio – it’s because they are my closest collaborators in the fields, a reality that has earned them a status that differs from that of the others who join us mid-season, for two or maybe three months, often as coop agronomy students or simply as summer job-seekers. In contrast, our Mexican workers arrive in early spring and depart in late fall, like the migratory birds who follow a similar flight path between the Canadian Great North and warmer climes along the Eastern American seaboard and even further south. I raise my hat to all four of them, to their kindness, their courage and their hard work. Tomorrow morning, at dawn, the first to depart will be returning to his family after a six-month absence. Indeed, I cannot thank them enough.
Fall has arrived suddenly at the farm, like an unexpected guest. In just the past few days, we’ve had to switch from shorts to pants and from comfortable shoes to heavy boots. Don’t mistake me, the grass is still green, thanks to abundant morning dews and nocturnal rains, but our fields are no longer as luxuriant as they once were, the cooler temperatures having affected each and all of their inhabitants, without exception. Well, almost all : there are some leafy greens who relish the cold, which draws out the sweetness hidden within. We’ll be serving them up in succession over coming weeks. The cooler temperatures also signal that it’s time to move seriously into field clean-up mode, patch by patch, sowing green manure as we go. Next week will see us begin to dismantle our low tunnels, yet another Herculean farm task.
In your baskets, then, roots and leafy greens, the freshly harvested rutabaga, or swede, and the shapely butternut, the squash lover’s ultimate favourite, particularly well-know in North America, and super-sweet to boot.
I know I’ve been talking about if for a while now, but it was only this past weekend that we truly finished harvesting our winter squash, under the blazing sun. To be more precise, more than a week ago we had cut the squash off their vines and left them in the field to cure a bit, waiting for the right moment to actually bring them in from the field, into the empty bins waiting to receive them in the cool shade of the barn. But with the infinite (or so it seems) list of things to do on the farm, we woke up Friday morning with a sudden sense of urgency, realizing that while it’s okay to let a butternut cure for a few days, it’s not okay to let it roast in 35-degree heat. And so we rallied the troops, and some 10 tractor-loads later, the stress level abated…Although I must admit that as I contemplated the once luxuriant squash patch, I realized how messy a crop winter squash can be…a battlefield, I thought, observing the weeds competing with the trailing vines, rotten squash here and there having succumbed to some disease or another, squished squash (sic) having fallen under the wheels of our Farmall. A veritable carnage, I tell you, albeit quickly forgotten as the next chore beckoned, and a distant memory once we sow the green manure and make amends…
Meanwhile, your basket is a Fall one, with Kuri squash, carrots and arugula – my favourite leafy green, which will soon dethrone the tomato in my vegetable kingdom.
Even as the forecast is calling for yet another summery weekend, this week’s basket reminds us that fall is looming. Beyond last Saturday’s first frost, it is the general state of our solanaceas and cucurbits that is the true harbinger of fall — plants that have given so much during the peak season have started to falter, readying themselves for an imminent shutdown. In any event, we’ve completed our harvest of winter squash, and I am pleased to report that Mother Nature has been most generous. Butternut squash, acorn squash, delicata squash, buttercup squash, sweet dumplings and sundry pumpkins will all grace your basket in due course over the coming weeks. For the Brussels sprouts aficionados amongst you, know that we have just clipped the tops of the plants to redirect their energies downwards again, towards the budding sprouts. Another bountiful harvest in the making. We’ve held off on the celeriac for now, fragrant but still too small. A bit of rain and another week should see them come to maturity. All that said, summer still lingers, and with it tomatoes and cucumbers…although our squash and eggplants are bowing out. There is still time to order your Italian paste tomatoes – and next week will see us start to fulfill your conservation garlic orders.
As I write these lines, the much anticipated winter squash harvest, heralded last week, has yet to be done. A build-up in farm chores, each more pressing than the next over the past few days, has been such that we have decided to harvest them one at a time, starting with this week’s special, our spaghetti squash. The others will follow in due course…and truth be told, there’s no particular rush, yet. This week’s basket bridges from summer into fall, with potatoes and onions on the fall side, and other items reminders that summer is still with us. Some of you will be relieved to hear of a notable decrease in the productivity of our summer squash and our eggplant. Say what you will, you cannot complain of a lack of them…but all good things come to an end, and the cooler nights of the past week have finally slowed our solanaceas down, not to mention the presence of the tarnished plant bug (TPB), who is particularly fond of delicate mauve and yellow eggplant flowers. While these vegetables have not yet come to an end, they will be served up less frequently until their inevitable demise. The question of the timing of the inevitable demise of our tomatoes has likewise begun to haunt us – as the slightest inflection in a hitherto bountiful yield causes existential angst, a fear of what will no longer be, our very own Paradise Lost…So like the ant of La Fontaine’s fable, we will gather them up fresh in copious quantities now, knowing that we will have to make due with their by-products when winter winds come.
High season at the farm continues, unabated. A sticky heat, with a humidex reading through the roof, makes these late August days bear an uncanny resemblance to the dog days* of July. Before writing these lines, I tour the fields to take in the sounds and smells of the late afternoon and surprise, surprise – there are signs of an early, and bountiful, winter squash harvest. Just a few days ago, our squash plants seemed to be full of vim and vigour, bright green and ready to weather the month of September. All it took was a rainshower or two to make them collectively decide that the time had come to call it a day and let their farmer reap the fruits of his labour. I will keep you posted, but plans are in the making for a weekend of squash picking, an enjoyable task, believe it or not – a symphony for the senses, a mix of colours and textures, shapes and sizes. In short, a pleasant way to spend a day, or two, in the fields.
In this week’s basket, we give you a glimpse of the fall that is yet to come with our first real harvest of summer leeks, with their white stems turning to green, light and delicious. And to make amends for our blueberry shortcomings, we offer up a third serving of watermelons, sans seeds, courtesy of our friend Gabriel Samson et Fils, our trusted supplier of the best organic potatoes in Quebec. I do not grow the seedless variety myself, given a nostalgic preference for the old-fashioned one with seeds, no doubt nourished by memories of seed-spitting competitions with my brothers, and the effort made to crunch nary a seed as we wolfed down slice after seed-filled slice of our favourite fruit…back in the day when life’s simple pleasures made us happy.
*To the Greeks and Romans, near the time when Sirius appeared to rise just before the sun, i.e. in late July