Corn Patch Pressure

Although there are still one to two weeks remaining before we begin delivering corn in your baskets, the tension is rising in our corn patch. Long-standing farm members know whereof I speak : the rank smell I sniff when I walk through my corn field, a tell-tale cob here and there, gnawed bare. The pressure is increasing because my arch-nemesis is camped out on the edge of the cornfield, waiting to invade and to lay me low, along with my cobs.

We are locked in our customary stand-off, watching each other’s every move, tracking each other’s steps, assessing each other’s latest techniques. We are indeed at war, and while it remains of an undeclared sort, the stakes are high. My traps have been laid, the electric fence has been installed and prayers have been recited. For this farmer, victory is the only outcome possible…as much for said farmer’s mental health as for the unmitigated pleasure of our farm members.

At last, a real summer basket! It was about time, and even though it has been hot, we cannot outpace Mother Nature, who decided this year to delay the ripening of our ‘Glacier’ tomatoes until now. They are our earliest field tomatoes, an heirloom saladette variety, flavourful and delicious. Next week our cherry tomato plants will also begin to yield their fruit, followed by our Russian varieties and then, by late August, by our main season field tomatoes — a mix of heirloom varieties, beefsteak tomatoes and Italian paste tomatoes.

Cornfest

After a few years of dwindling corn yields, I am pleased to announced that our stratagem seems to be working; as a result, you will be able to munch on your cobs shortly…Without going into technical detail, it seems that the success of our electrification scheme had less to do with the 110-volt hook-up, and more to do with the addition of a third, higher, rung on the fence – a solution born of a quick brainstorming session amongst farm employees who noted that the simple act of electrifying the previously solar-powered-only fence had not had the desired effect, i.e. raccoon festivities had begun, albeit (fortunately) on a very small scale. Three rungs spaced 6 inches apart, electrified to boot, seem to have finally stopped the critters in their tracks. All the same, we remain vigilant, raccoons can be wily creatures…

August has begun as it is often wont to do, i.e. with hot days and cool nights, a clear reminder for us market farmers that we are already heading towards fall. I know, I know – we have to enjoy summer while it lasts, we who live in these northern climes where summers are so short and winters so long. In agricultural terms, though, the cooler nights also signal to the plants that they have to think of their progeny, and weeds heed that clarion call more than most, revving up for one last hurrah before they drop their seeds and are spent. Despite all this, your baskets will have corn and many other things to remind us that summer is still in full swing.

Corn Battles

Our corn is beautiful, tassled and growing fast…and yet, we worry about our corn nemesis, the raccoon – corn thief par excellence, this farmer’s Public Enemy No. 1, and most likely the bane of every market gardener’s existence. Following the havoc wrought on our 2018 crop by this pest – i.e., the total destruction of nearly 20 000 cobs by invading hordes in the space of a few weeks despite frenzied attempts to somehow stem the onslaught – we have decided to bring in the heavy artillery this year. No more solar-powered trip wires, whose zap was no more than a tickle. Instead, we are opting for bona fide 110-volt fencing this year. The shock will not be deadly, but it should be a significantly more powerful deterrent than our well-intentioned, but completely ineffective, ecological line of defence. And if they manage to get past THAT, it will simply be proof positive that raccoons really are the smartest animals to walk the face of the earth!
While our first zucchinis and cucumbers provided a foretaste of summer, this week’s offering of tomatoes and eggplant should convince you that summer has indeed arrived. Tomatoes and eggplant are my two favourite vegetables/fruits, the possibilities they open up are endless, and we will be serving them to you until the plants yield no more. Unlike the zukes and cukes, which we succession plant, our solanaceas offer a continuous harvest from the same plant which just keeps on giving, week after week, until the first frost.

Ready, set, go!

We’re off to the races at last! Mid-June marks the start of our weekly missives detailing basket contents and providing tidbits from the farm as well as additional information you may find useful. We have sowed, planted, hoed, weeded, watered and prayed – it is now time to harvest. In this week’s basket we were hoping for strawberries, but we’ll have to wait another week given the cooler weather which has delayed their ripening. You will, however, be graced with greens, all of which love days at 25 degrees or less and nights below 10. A quick list follows : lettuce, kale, spinach, japanese turnips, tatsoi, chives (complete with their edible flowers), radishes, potatoes from our potato supplier, Samson et fils, and, a 2018 novelty, green or spring garlic – harvested young and tender.

Arlington Garden CSA basket pros already know the routine, but for new farm members, please take note that we expect you to bring your own bags to carry your vegetables home. Two to three bags should be more than sufficient for both small and large baskets. Recall that we will be delivering breads ordered from Capitaine Levain. They will be visiting our different drop-off locations over the first few weeks with extra breads for sale so those of you who have yet to place your bread orders get to know their (delicious) organic sourdough breads. We will also come bearing farm fresh eggs ($6 a dozen). While they are not certified organic, our hens are fed organic feed and roam our orchard for a balanced diet. For extra breads and eggs, we accept cash payments only.

That said, Claire and I are eager to see you all again, for another season colourful and flavourful season – and to pick up all our conversations where we left them off last summer.

Winter interlude

After a two-month hiatus, which provided a most welcome break from almost everything vegetable, as the new year begins this organic farmer is yearning to get back at it, in a strange fit of passion and obsession. Indeed, as the greenhouse is not scheduled to fire up until mid-March, despite maddeningly fluctuating temperatures one could simply sit back and relax a bit more, awaiting signs of a true spring thaw. But winter is no longer what it used to be, and our fields go from white to green and back to white again in a scant few days, much to the chagrin of our perennials, who find such mixed signals particularly taxing.

And so it is that yours truly has felt moved to venture out to tour the farm’s pastures, if only to let its inhabitants – i.e. all of those who leave their prints in the snow – know that we are watching and waiting to reclaim the land which we share with them, our off-season being their on-season, and vice versa. Deer in search of open fields and buds to nibble, hares fleeing rapacious predators and rafters (sic) of  wild turkeys – all find solace and freedom on the farm during winter. We give them free rein, but they and we all know that nothing lasts forever, and that come March, we will have to put a stop to all this wild-and-woolly behaviour.

Meanwhile, we wish all of you a great start to 2018 and the best of health. Stay tuned : in just a few weeks we will provide further details re the launch of the 2018 season.

An Ounce of Prevention…

Last night, we had to shift gears, moving into prevention mode. As I was inspecting our corn patch, to check on the plants’ progress and assess the silent presence of the nefarious corn borer, I noted some damaged stalks scattered throughout the patch, lying on the ground, felled at the base, unfinished cobs still intact. Clear signs that a skunk has been inspecting the corn, too – taking stock of the all-you-can-eat buffet to come. On the long list of farm pests, the skunk ranks lower than some, even though the havoc it wreaks can be appreciable over time. The skunk is a funny animal, with an ambling and erratic gait, and very poor vision, to boot. In truth, however, the pest I lose most sleep over and against which I will go to great lengths to defend my cobs is the racoon, master of woods and fields, imho. Far more intelligent than his stinky cousin, the raccoon doesn’t waste precious time in an immature cornfield. He bides his time until everything is ripe, then invites all his friends to a private corn husking party. So I have just decreed that this week will be Corn-Thieving Raccoon Prevention Week. While we’re at it, we’ll make it Blueberry-Stealing Bird Prevention Week. So, as you will have understood, protective electric corn fencing will be going up while blueberry netting will be coming down.

NB: This masked corn thief was transported some 10 kilometers from the farm to a large wooded area where he was released

Back to our veggies : yet another week of bountiful greens, with a hint of summer vegetables to come. In addition to the now-abundantly yielding summer squash, you’ll also find beans and cucumbers in your baskets. I bid you to be patient : our tomatoes are coming along nicely, the same goes for our eggplants, and the pepper flowers are blooming. A full week of sun should make all the difference and would allow us to begin to load your basket with genuine summer fare. Keep your fingers crossed.

Abundance

Summer is in full swing at the farm, amidst alternating sunshine and rainfalls, just enough of the latter to tide the plants over to the next one. Last Friday I woke determined to do something both pleasant and useful – which explains why I spent the day harvesting garlic. Those of you who have been following us for a few years now know how much I love my garlic. It is both nourishment and medicine, ensuring sustenance and health. I will not dwell on its historical and cultural significance, but it is an essential ingredient in almost every culinary tradition. All the better, I say, and I trust that you will find the garlic in your baskets in coming weeks satisfyingly subtle and pleasantly unctuous. We were hoping to improve on the delivery dates for another banner crop – corn – but in the end, we will not be harvesting our first ears until next week. That said, we know it’s almost ready: two more raccoons have fallen for the bait in our cornfield traps and been discretely spirited away to wooded areas some 20 kilometers from the farm. We wouldn’t wish them on anyone else, but we do want to make very sure they don’t come back!

So, in your baskets this week: a cornucopia of summer vegetables to complement your leafy greens, and a second week of blueberries. They’ve had some time to sweeten – we’re even more eager to share them with you than last week’s batch.

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

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