A Greenhouse of My Own

Would that I could spend the entire season in my seedling greenhouse. It’s where I’ve been hiding since the Ides of March : a cozy refuge under a wooden frame, a zen space, a peaceful and warm oasis. These are precious moments which I cherish, but they are also mission critical to ensure the season is properly launched – onions and leeks to start, then peppers and eggplants, tomatoes very soon as well as successive waves of lettuces, broccoli and beets patiently biding their time. It’s a long and repetitive list, one meticulously planned. While we remain completely subject to the vagaries of Mother Nature as soon as we begin cultivating in our fields, our greenhouse seedling management leaves nothing to chance and owes everything to Excel…

What makes it all so satisfying are the moments of introspection and meditation the greenhouse procures, and repetitive gestures that transport one to another plane, as the 800th lettuce seed is nestled in its cell or the 2000th pepper plant seedling is transplanted and is suddenly unfettered to grow more. Indeed, would that I could stay here forever – but I cannot. The seasonal perfect storm is already brewing, and as the ranks of seedlings swell they are a daily reminder of the maelstrom yet to come, the field transplanting and planting that will keep us busy all summer. Anticipation is in the air…

Patience is a virtue

The confinement measures of the past weeks have allowed us to focus on urgent and not-so-urgent farm tasks like starting our greenhouse seedlings – obviously – as well as a slew of other projects, big and small, some of which had been back-burnered for a while. While yours truly has been quietly filling trays in his greenhouse bubble, yours truly’s offspring has been put to the task of taking down what remains of our main greenhouse, after it was destroyed by gale-force winds last spring. Phase two of the family chore will be its reconstruction this summer to allow us to plan for an extended growing season this year. Other projects include a reorganisation of our wash and pack shed, the construction of a warehouse space for our winter squash and the relocation of our current tool room. As long as their furlow keeps them on the farm, our young ‘uns will be put to good use, and we will be forever grateful for their efforts… Like you all, we are settling into confinement, buoyed by the hope of a better tomorrow and a greater appreciation of patience as a virtue.

Springtime Rituals

In this time of COVID-19, there’s nothing better than looking toward the future and life’s simple pleasures. In a mere week, we’ll be opening our greenhouses again and the dance of the seedlings will begin. We have received all our seeds, from eggplants to tomatoes and summer squash to sweet peppers, not to mention all our herbs and our sweet corn. We’re not in too much of a rush, but we still have to clean the greenhouse from top to bottom, straighten out our growing tables, which shift and heave under the effects of alternating frosts and thaws (yes, even in a greenhouse) and test our furnaces. It’s our springtime ritual, the beginning of an ongoing rite of passage for each and every seedling sown in the greenhouse between late March through late August.

2020 Season Launch

It is with equal parts pleasure and trepidation that we announce the launch of our 2020 CSA season, our 11th to be precise. We thought it best to wait until the first real winter storm of the year was behind us, but as we are only a few weeks from the opening of our seedling greenhouse, the time has come – to rev up our laptops, update a few links on the website and press ‘send’. Well-rested, in both body and soul, we are eager to project ourselves into the future, towards the farming season that awaits us – ready, once again, to expect the unexpected. We’ve come to face each season as a clean slate, filled with the resolve to do better than the year before and to share with you the best of what our gardens have to offer.

Our CSA programme remains essentially unchanged : a large and a small basket, the first for 3 to 4 adults, the second for one to two adults, or a small family with one or two little ones. Our ‘regular’ season deliveries are scheduled to begin Wednesday June 17 and to end Thursday November 5, for a total of 21 weeks…Our ‘farmstand’ season – for members signed up for our market baskets at Atwater and Jean-Talon markets – will run from Friday, July 3rd through Sunday November 1, for a total of 18 weeks. For the organic sourdough bread fans amongst you, we are pleased to confirm the return of Capitaine Levain’s seasonal bread basket. You know the ropes already : you can sign up directly with them through our website – they bake, we deliver.

A closing word on a few of this year’s projects: firstly, we will be rebuilding our large greenhouse which was damaged by high winds in March of 2019 and planning for the construction of two new greenhouses that will allow us to extend our season to late November, possibly early December. Secondly, we will be opening 4 hectares of new land to allow for better crop rotations and complete autonomy for plant-based fertilisation of our crops. Last but not least, we plan to continue to develop new green manure mixes to meet the nutritional needs of our vegetable crops.

The season will be intense. We invite you all to join us again to share in the farm’s bounty.

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.