Déjà vu

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again is a saying that takes on special meaning at the farm as we expand our irrigation pond for the third time in 10 years to meet our growing demands for water. Indeed, they arrived bright and early this morning, with two backhoes and a truck in tow, keen on moving mountains of soil and clay to reshape what for decades had been no more than a small watering hole for the farm’s cows. It is impressive to watch the heavy machines in action, guided with deftness and artistry, almost, by their drivers, scraping and redistributing the soil with their telescopic shovels. More impressive still is how little time it takes to dig a pond – a single day, sometimes two if progress is slowed by an unexpected rock formation. Miracle of machinery and ode to human genius – by this evening the result will be a gaping hole that will slowly fill with water in coming months, from a combination of underlying springs and winter precipitations.

Magnificent Méchoui

What a magnificent day we had yesterday for our 2019 méchoui ! Sparkling sunshine, blue skies and mild weather prevailed until 3pm, when, as if to signal the end of our interlude, the wind picked up, the clouds rushed in and the temperature dropped several degrees : clearly, it was time to clear off the tables, assemble the progeny and face the traffic back to Montreal. A thousand thanks to all of you who took the time to prepare your favourite dishes and to share your countryside impressions with us, to inspire us to do more and to continuously re-examine the why and wherefore of our engagement on the farm. And even though we lacked time to visit with each and every one of you, Claire and I were happy to share our insights about farm work, farm life, future projects and more. For all of you who couldn’t make it yesterday, you were missed, but we promise there will be more méchouis to come.

October Mondays, October Sunsets

With the arrival of Fall and fewer vegetables to be harvested, we’ve begun to take Mondays off over the past few weeks. It’s a good thing. Firstly, I don’t really like Mondays. Secondly, Mondays are rarely sunny, or so it seems, lately. And so we seize the opportunity to sit, to do a bit of paperwork and some yoga…and to start planning the après-season. Indeed, thoughts of an after-season can drive us to distraction, not unlike the effect of a desert mirage on a weary and parched traveler. But we are quickly brought back to reality, with emails to be sent off, harvests to plan and before we know it we’re swept up again in the thousand-count waltz, as the song goes…

We have prepared this week’s basket with your Thanksgiving celebrations in mind, i.e. as a veritable ode to fall vegetables. You should find a little of something to satisfy everyone’s taste buds, including our personal favourite, tomatoes…hanging in against all odds despite recent cold snaps.

Field-cleaning

This week is looking to be not only chilly, but rainy, too – typical early October weather, in other words. And so, instead of racing to collect veggies for your baskets today, we decided, under sunny skies, to clean up recently harvested fields in need of a bit of TLC. In order : plastic mulch and drip tape removal, followed by a quick pass with the bush hog to break up the bigger plants, a quicker pass with the harrow and a quicker pass still to sow some rye before the next rains. The sowing of green manure is often accomplished in less-than-ideal conditions. We don’t plan it that way, it’s just that the weather rarely cooperates at this time of year, so more often than not we have to make due with wet fields and mired tractor tires, knowing we have no choice if one considers that that soil left uncovered is subject to wind erosion that can destroy in a single winter what took millenia to create. Tomorrow we’ll likely be harvesting in the rain, but one – we’re used to it, and two – they’re forecasting warm-ish weather nonetheless.

Fall fog

This week is looking to be overcast and grey – with rain at dawn an early indication of what is to come. We won’t complain, though, because while the sun is no longer quite as warm, it still managed to dry out several of our beds over the past few days, leaving us no choice but to redeploy our sprinklers. These have suddenly become redundant in light of this week’s forecast of abundant rains – and now, instead of worrying about parched fields, we’ll be pining for the return of Helianthus orbis and its rays as the only means of drying out sodden earth. Indeed, as October nears, this farmer worries about wet fields and poor drainage – a combination which can constrain our use of some fields at this time of year, even as we still have cover crops/green manures to sow in some, and fall veggies to harvest in others. However, we’ll refrain from singing the farmer’s blues just yet, October often surprises us with an Indian summer or two…

 

Of Squash Harvests

We harvested the last of the winter squash today. Beautiful butternuts, harvested at dusk, are stacked high in our otherwise now empty seedling greenhouse. ‘Twas never thus, we who thought the squash harvest had to be a single epic battle, leaving us always feeling overwhelmed and heavily outnumbered, not unlike Alexander’s troops as they stood their ground against the Persian army of Darius the Great. This year, we opted for a divide and conquer strategy – knocking off the spaghetti squash first, followed by the delicata, and finally, the regal butternut – the prototypical winter squash that everyone knows and loves. The squash harvest is a high point of our growing season, a signal that summer is about to end, an invitation to rethink menus, to pull out fall recipes and to accept the inevitable.

When time is of the essence

This is an intense period, when time really is of the essence. Suddenly there is very little time left for field prep for next season. The cleaning and harrowing of plots already harvested, the sowing of the most nourishing green manures possible – all of these form part of a schedule dictated entirely by Mother Nature. It is now that rains we hoped and prayed for during the dog days of summer become irritants, obstacles even, to the work still to be done by this market farmer to prepare the fields for next year. Green manures are not created equal – a mix of oat and peas, for example, is much richer in nitrogen than straight oats, and sowing too late greatly affects yields. And so it is through a combination of hard work and sheer luck that we will address this recurring challenge by working a new one-hectare plot, expanding our acreage to allow for better crop rotations.

I’d like to say we’re fully into fall, but the green hues of the woods that border our fields give me pause. And while the harvest of a second series of winter squash this morning also speaks of autumn, we’ll wait for the first frost before declaring summer officially over (even though, in my heart of hearts, I know the season has begun to turn). That said, summer continues to linger in your baskets, which we look forward to sharing with you again.

Ode to Eggplant

Your baskets are overflowing with eggplants these days, and in response to the queries of some, I feel compelled to explain the why and wherefore of this overabundance. There are three vegetables I grow in large quantities, all of which belong to the solanaceae, or nightshade, family – eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. In the case of the latter, great care is taken to avert disease and to continuously test different growing techniques, depending on timing (early, mid or late season) and location (open field or high tunnels). In any event, tomatoes require significant space and constant care. In the case of peppers and eggplant, it’s an altogether different story : blame it all on the tarnished plant bug (TPB for short), a ubiquitous pest that relishes pepper and eggplant flowers. When it attacks the flowers, in a matter of days it can slay generations of vegetables, creating huge harvest gaps. What’s an organic farmer to do, then? Plant far more than he/she actually needs and hope that the TPB attacks will be limited to 30 to 40% of the flowers, leaving enough mature fruit to fill your baskets.

Exceptionally this year, we’ve seen virtually no TPB in our fields – or at least not enough to cause any damage worth mentioning. Go figure. And so it is that we have plants bursting with blooms, each of which becomes a fruit which we have no choice but to harvest in order to preserve the overall health of the plant – letting them go to waste would be downright sacrilegious.

We will therefore be serving eggplant for a few weeks to come…

Seeking Balance

We’ve had to reorganise the warehouse – moving crates and boxes, freeing up passageways – to make room for our first Fall vegetables, our winter squash. On this Monday morning, we harvested them at dawn – spaghetti squash, buttercup and more. While we were at it, we also harvested our seeded watermelons, our favourites, perfectly sweet and gently perfumed. And the race is on for more fall cleaning – dictated in part by our green manure sowing schedule, but also by the upcoming méchoui, and a desire to have the farm look presentable. As always, I welcome the last days of August and the equilibrium they herald – a balance to be found not only in the balmy days and cool nights, but also in the very composition of our vegetable baskets, a harmonious blend of nightshades, leafy greens and root vegetables. I say this knowing that you may still find our eggplant portions generous, but as my yoga instructor is wont to say when she doesn’t want us to overdo it, ‘it’s the direction you are seeking that matters’…

Bountiful harvests

Our garlic was harvested in late July and is slowly drying in our red barn, while our Italian tomatoes are quickly turning red in the fields. In other words, now is the time to place your orders for garlic and/or tomatoes, all of you who like to stock up for the long winter months ahead. This year, we invite you to once again place your orders via our website by clicking here – they will be delivered to you, while quantities last, at our CSA drop-off locations and/or our market stands at Atwater and Jean-Talon markets in coming weeks as soon as they are ready. We will advise you of the expected delivery date ahead of time, payment will be primarily cash on delivery although at our market stand you will also be able to pay via interac (using your debit card).

Garlic: easy to keep until late Spring or even longer, provided you follow a few key rules to ensure optimal storage conditions – namely, keep the garlic in its original wrapping (a paper bag), store it in a kitchen cupboard – in the dark and avoiding fluctuations in temperature. A cool cupboard is recommended over either your fridge or a dank garage.

Italian tomatoes: we produce two varieties of Italian paste tomatoes, the San Marzano and the Roma. Both are ideal for canning or sauce-making, i.e. fleshy and not excessively juicy. As we harvest them at or near maturity, it is important that you plan to process them in the two to three days following delivery.