Paradise Lost

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.

 

How to spend a day or two…

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

Top of the Season

We’ve reached the peak of the season, a time when we begin to anticipate the ebb which will inevitably follow the flow — and quite frankly, this year’s succession of hot, steamy days is bordering on the obscene. This week will be yet another dry one, with little to no precipitation in sight. That said, we won’t exaggerate — already the cooler nights of August are bringing wisps of fog at sundown, and heavy dew at dawn. These contrasts are creating confusion in our plant kingdom as some crops don’t know whether they are coming or going. Indeed, by farmer’s almanach standards, we could well be a mere four weeks away from the first frosts of autumn. But we anticipate too much, we should let nature follow its course, however erratic said course may seem at times. And we’ll cheat a bit, harvesting our onions even as they stand ramrod straight — usually, they begin to topple over as the days shorten — and we’ll soon do the same with our winter squash, despite their showing no signs of slowing down, seemingly blissfully unaware of their imminent demise.

This week’s basket will be bountiful, we hope you appreciate its festive nature. We look forward to seeing you all again.

Swingin’ Summer

Summer continues in full swing for this, our 10th week, and basket, of the season. It’s been in full swing for a while, now – 2018 will definitely be a season to remember – with alternating bouts of drought, gang-buster growth, goings-to-seed and weeds galore – the latter the only true constant in a crazy summer to date. But as I like to say, I’d take 10 seasons like this year’s in exchange for a single rainy one anytime. And the season is nowhere near finished, what with hot nights and days still pushing the high 20s and occasionally still topping 30. That said, here is a small sign of the fall-that-is yet-to-come: today I started sowing some of the root vegetables for your late-season baskets – turnips and radishes of all types, and in the main greenhouse we’ve started sowing our Asian greens – mustards, rapinis and the like. Fall vegetables don’t like the summer heat, so we’ll pray for a reasonable autumn. Meanwhile, we closed out the day harvesting good old-fashioned (i.e. with seeds) watermelons…

Several of you noted the bitterness of our yellow cucumbers, for which we are truly sorry. The explanation is simple: they are a variety that definitely does NOT do well in drier conditions. We mistakenly thought it was only the skin that would suffer, but some of them were bitter to the core. A few rainy days have made all the difference for our latest crop, but we will have learned our lesson: next year, we will be sure to irrigate them well (in summers past, none of our cucurbits ever required extra water). We look forward to seeing you all.

PS: no lettuces this week, they’ve all gone to seed…

 

Good Neighbours & Good Tomatoes

The week began under the auspices of rural solidarity, i.e. when the only people you can rely upon are your neighbours, farmers for the most part, who are more than willing to lend a helping hand if/when the situation requires one. Our particular predicament arose as some of us were intent on revving up our largest tractor for a series of pressing field chores while others were focused on basket prep in the warehouse. The motor started but nothing else was working, especially the hydraulic arms without which a tractor is, for all intents and purposes, useless. All it took was a single, rather frantic, call for a good Samaritan to materialize, dropping everything to tend to our tractor woes, spending an entire morning changing engine and hydraulic oils to get the beast working again. I can’t even begin to count the number of times that André, Jimmy, Claude, François, Jean-Paul and others I may be forgetting here have gotten me out of one bind or another, always with a smile and a sense of humour. They are all quite remarkable, and they know how grateful I am – but their kindness bears mentioning from time to time.

And so it goes: this week’s basket is another summer one. We are on the verge of a tomato tsunami. For one last week, you will have to make do with our Glacier saladettes in your baskets, as they are the first to ripen, but from next week onwards, we’ll be overrun – as our paste tomatoes continue to ripen, and our Cherokees turn a darker hue of purple, daily. We look forward to seeing you all again.

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot

Following a week marked by the harsh reality of farming – for those of you who thought plagues, drought and pestilence were only biblical – there is great solace to be found in this week’s bountiful harvests, namely a bumper crop of garlic which we have been harvesting over the past 10 days, and a haul of carrots which we completed this morning. The weather dial is still set at VERY HOT – under a beating sun that leaves everyone feeling parched. The summer of 2018 will go down in history as one to remember. Fortunately, a 15-foot deep surface well dug two years ago on a bit of a whim to water a small surrounding area is coming in very handy indeed. A not-so-justifiable investment at the time, in hindsight it seems to have been something short of a stroke of genius. It is worth noting that if a vegetable farmer’s day were nothing but planting and harvesting, life on an organic farm would be easy; but July and most of August are taken up by weeding, a demanding activity by any measure, and one that, we admit, we occasionally fail to duly accomplish, not through any ill-will per se, but rather through lack of time, energy, or both.

The time is fast approaching for us to take orders for canning tomatoes and conservation garlic. Returning members are familiar with the routine, but for those of you new to the farm, we hereby inform you that if you are interested in purchasing larger quantities of paste tomatoes for freezing or canning, or garlic that will keep all winter, we will be offering both online shortly. Meanwhile, check out the contents of this week’s basket here – and we look forward to seeing you all again soon.

Mother Nature — A Harsh Mistress

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no denying it : we are unlikely to have blueberries this year, barring an unforeseen miracle. The last month of drought-like conditions has decimated our berries as they ripened – then dried – on the plants, falling to the ground before they could be harvested. In the ten years we’ve had the farm, we’ve witnessed dry spells before, but this one couldn’t have come at a worse time for our blueberries. Our only consolation is that our black currants have done well, so we hope to be able to offer you a jar of our home-made black currant jam in coming weeks.

As bad news never travels alone, I must also inform you of the fact that our first three weeks of sweet corn, a seasonal highlight, have been destroyed by a roving pack of raccoons who, over the past 10 days, have managed to avoid all our traps, including an electric fence that usually stops most of them in their tracks. Every year, we lose a few rows of corn, but this year’s tribute is more akin to a Sicilian pizzo than a charitable donation. We’re at a bit of a loss as to how to deal with the critters/varmints – they’re frightfully cunning, and remarkably resistant to all our entrapment efforts.

Disappointing news, I must admit, for which we are truly sorry – but one must remain zen in the face of such setbacks, as Mother Nature has no patience for winers. She puts us to the test time and again, daring us to rise to the challenge as best we can. All is not lost at the farm – far from it : we’re halfway through a bumper garlic harvest, and our tomatoes will finally grace your baskets. And for those of you wondering about our irrigation woes, last weekend we managed to hook everything up to a new artesian well on the west side of the farm, and – miracle of miracles – we’ll have more than enough water for the rest of the season. Alleluia. We look forward to seeing you all again.

Irrigation Crossroads

We’re at a crossroads at the farm. The prolonged dry spell this month has just about run our main irrigation pond dry, and as it will only fill up again with fall rains and winter snows, we’re having to think long and hard about our irrigation options for the balance of the season. That said, there aren’t that many. Option one has us digging a new pond in an adjacent field and using a combination of pumps and pipes to channel the water to the different plots; option two has us filling tubs with water from our wells, to be pulled by tractor or cart by pick-up truck to the individual beds which we then water by hand. A daunting project, either way. Fortunately, they’re forecasting rain tomorrow.

Already, a couple of vegetables are suffering for want of water, namely our winter squash and our corn, crops that are never irrigated as their roots run deep, but which nevertheless would have enjoyed a bit of extra water this year. No need to panic quite yet, Quebec summers are always full of surprises, so August could be as rainy as July has been dry… Meanwhile, our irrigated vegetables are enjoying the 2018 season, and we will do everything we can to ensure that that continues to be the case in coming months.

A heads up, fyi : we will be starting to harvest this year’s garlic on Friday. And while we can’t promise El Dorado yet, our early season tomatoes are ripening nicely, and if the hot, dry weather continues, the balance of our tomatoes should do very well indeed. We look forward to seeing you at your respective drop-off locations.

Carrot Agony

There are things I like to grow and things I definitely do NOT like to grow, carrots being one of the latter. I know, I know, what’s not to like about the carrot, archetypal vegetable if ever there were one, maker (and breaker) of farmer reputations, not to mention the importance of carotene and vitamin E for your eyesight. But carrot-growing is an epic battle on all fronts, be it germination, irrigation, weeds or Brix (sugar) levels. To sum it up: a single carrot needs optimal conditions to germinate, copious quantities of water to grow and to keep the earth surrounding it soft, and near-monastic attention during the first few weeks of its existence to ensure its survival. The carrot’s nemesis is the lowly weed, which somehow always seems to get a head start in every carrot bed I have ever sown. Despite the introduction of flame-weeding in recent years, weeds continue to reign supreme. The one and only remedy remains to drop on our hands and knees in order to complete by hand that which Prometheus has failed to do in full. To top it all off, sometimes the most coddled of carrot crops falls short of expectations, sweetness-wise. Please do not blame your farmer: notwithstanding all his best efforts, it is a well-known fact that the sweetest carrots are grown in fall and winter, when Brix levels increase in inverse proportion to ambient temperatures.

All that said, we hope you enjoy the first carrots of the season in this week’s basket.

Dog days of…July

The dog days of August have arrived in … July. Heavy, hot and phagocytic (sic), the likes of which we have not seen in a very long time – it is difficult to walk, let alone work, the fields when everything and everyone is weighed down by such an oppressive, heat-filled shroud. But the fields have no patience for our human weakness, daily harvests cannot wait. And so we wake at dawn, with slow hands and sluggish feet, to harvest greens that will not withstand the full blast of a mid-day sun : lettuces, Swiss chard, escarole. As these are quickly placed in safe-keeping in the blissfully cool cold storage of our warehouse, the sense of urgency dissipates for other vegetables remaining to be harvested today: spring onions, broccoli and zucchini. As the expression goes, too much of a good thing…Indeed, excessive heat can take a toll on all our plants, but flowers are particularly susceptible, as they can suffer irreparable harm at more than 34 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, there is not much one can do – other than resign oneself to accepting the rule of nature which will ultimately determine what survives and what does not.

Please note that this week marks the start of deliveries at Atwater Market for all members registered to pick up their baskets at our farmstand. We look forward to seeing you all pick up your baskets at your respective drop-off locations. Do not forget your bags and your smile.