September, When Hope (Still) Springs Eternal

Last week started with an autumn chill and ended with diluvian rains. September has indeed arrived and with it the increased risk of inclement weather. In our fields, the once vibrant hues of green are slowly giving way to browns and golds.  But September is also a month in which hope springs eternal, as summer lingers and vegetables continue to grow nicely. This is the kind of September I am hoping for, one where the sun’s rays warm leaves and roots even as a crisp coolness keeps predatory insects at bay.

With only a few seedling trays remaining to be transplanted to fewer still open beds, the line-up for the next two months is nearly complete: lots of leafy greens, but also a variety of emblematic root vegetables, the likes of which have provided sustenance through the long Quebec winters since time immemorial. And for those of you interested in these things, the new plots that we ploughed and sowed with oats and peas are doing very well, thank you (as you can see in the picture above). They mark the beginning of the next decade at Arlington Gardens.

Meanwhile, I just roasted our first spaghetti (‘Orangegetti’) squash of the season and all modesty aside, it was amazing : tasty, unctuous, a beautiful shade of orange within and without. And so we inaugurate September, anticipating the variety of winter squash which will follow in coming weeks. We have also just warehoused a bountiful onion harvest which we will be sharing with you in your upcoming fall baskets, starting with this week’s.

In closing, we wish you a great week and look forward to seeing you soon.

The A-Team

Last week I breathed a sigh of relief when Librado stepped off the plane, the last of our six Mexican employees to arrive. All told, it has taken an extra two months to obtain the necessary governmental authorizations for each of our Mexican employees to reach the farm. We have witnessed the effects of the pandemic firsthand, particularly as we have wanted to ensure that we provide our employees who have come from afar with the right conditions for a safe sojourn with us. Unlike the large farms making Covid headlines, our farm is small, and its human scale has made it possible for us to place each of our foreign employees in individual quarantine in apartments belonging either to friends (thank you Catherine and Jean!) or to our own children completing their studies in Montreal.

The late arrival of so many employees whose work is essential to the smooth running of our farm has been the source of many headaches and logistical challenges in the fields. We give our heartfelt thanks to the motley crew of teens and young twenty-somethings who lent more than a helping hand in May to get the season going against all odds, planting everything they could, setting up netting and irrigation lines. Notwithstanding their efforts, I knew in my heart of hearts that without the experience and resilience of our Mexican crew, this farm would not make it through the season.

I could go on at length about the reasons for our dependence on foreign workers, but that will have to keep for another time – the purpose of this email being only to provide a glimpse of the serious labour issues that plague agriculture in general and market farming in particular. Today, in Quebec as well as elsewhere across Canada, it is nearly impossible to produce fruits and vegetables without the valuable support of a seasonal foreign workforce. I may revisit this topic at a later date.

The good news is that our team is now complete : Librado will soon be joining Jhenrri, Crescencio, Gerardo, Crispin and Gregorio, supported by Djamel, Imad, Tarek, Arnaud, Julien and Émile, in addition to our basket and seedling crew – Yamina, Maïka and Emmanuelle. Of course you’ll see us at our market farmstands and our drop-off locations too, assisted by the two Sophies, Natalia, Alexis and Laurent. We’re proud of our A-team, and ever so grateful for their ongoing support.

The contents of this week’s baskets are not unlike those of last week, as we await the arrival of our solanaceas, whose growth continues apace. A notable novelty is our fennel, which can be eaten in a variety of ways – raw in a salad, roasted on the grill, cooked in a fish soup, or however else tickles your fancy.

Weeding Frenzy

The week ended in a weeding frenzy. Not to say that we didn’t see it coming, but last week’s rain and sun combo made it inevitable, and your family farmer felt that familiar nagging concern that without swift action, a crop or two might be total write-offs.

I am sure you get the picture, starting with that of a weeding short list drawn up from a much longer – if not endless – list of farm chores all requiring immediate attention. Of so many vegetable beds to be cleaned, of green blades and metal blades, of bended knees. First the lettuce, then the onions, followed by the corn and the beets. Weeds are incredibly resistant and count at least as many lives as nine-lived cats. All this we know, and so it is that we take the long-term view of weeding as a marathon – pacing ourselves, clipping and pulling steadily, finding our stride and generally striving to adopt a zen attitude about it all until the first fall frost finally frees us from this fatality…

This week will be our busiest yet this season as we continue to deliver our neighbourhood baskets and open our public market stands at Atwater (#99-100, facing Première Moisson) and Jean-Talon(#198-199-200, on L’Allée verte) starting Friday, July 3rd. Farm stand hours are 9 to 6 on Fridays, 9 to 5 on Saturdays and Sundays. This note therefore also serves as a reminder to market members to pick up your baskets on your assigned days.

This week’s basket is a pleasing mix of leafy green and root vegetables, including one of my personal favourites, beets – which we will be serving up with their leaves.

An Ode to Irrigators

A quick search in the dictionary leads one to conclude that irrigators come in all shapes and sizes, and serve a very wide variety of purposes. Our irrigators, however, are of the human kind, and have been sweating blood and tears almost literally – given the successive heat waves we have been experiencing – to bring liquid sustenance to all the vegetables we have already planted. Indeed, it almost seems as though the current heat wave, the 2nd of the season, will never end. We have appointed two irrigators to carry out this fundamental farm chore – 2 young fellows, full of vim and vigor, who have criss-crossed the farm trudging up and down the paths between the beds, unrolling drip tape in the beds, planting automatic sprinklers across the beds and just when they think they’re done, dealing with temperamental pumps that send them scrambling again. Irrigation is a thankless chore even in the best of conditions, but at 30 degrees celsius, it’s a real procession to calvary. Nevertheless, the job must be done, and somehow it gets done, since letting vegetables dry out for lack of an effective irrigation plan is simply not an option. Mission impossible has morphed into mission accomplished, as our sons #1 and #3, Djamel and Imad, have stepped up and met the challenge full on. We all have reason to be grateful.
And now for a word re this week’s basket : it is similar to last week’s, with the notable addition of strawberries which come from our friends in Farnham, La ferme des 3 Samson. We stopped doing strawberries a few years ago, but considering how difficult it has become to source good quality organic strawberries, we’ll be growing our own again next year, particularly as we add an additional 4 hectares to the 6 already under cultivation.

Delivery Week 1: At Last!

Clement weather of late has given our vegetables the boost they needed to really do some serious growing. It gives us great pleasure therefore to inform you that we will be delivering the first basket of the season as planned, i.e. starting Wednesday June 17 for our Montreal West and Town of Mount Royal drop-off locations and Thursday June 18 for our Westmount drop-off location as well as at the Farm. Farm members registered for our 18-week “farmstand” basket programme at Atwater and Jean-Talon markets please take note: pick-ups for your baskets will begin the first weekend we open at both markets, i.e. July 3rd through the 5th, depending on the pick-up day you selected.
COVID oblige, we have modified a few aspects of our basket pick-up modus operandi, most notably with the introduction of a rule to the effect that only farm staff will be authorized to handle the baskets. This key measure will ensure proper social distancing in response to concerns some of you may have re excessive promiscuity within a restricted area. Please consult the sketches for each of our neighbourhood delivery locations and come prepared to respect the requisite 2-meter social distancing rule. Please note that we have extended pick-up hours to start at 4 pm and end at 7 pm. To stagger your visits, in the absence of something more scientific, we simply propose the following – namely, that members whose last name starts with letters between A and H aim to arrive between 4 and 5 pm; those with last names between I and P, between 5 and 6 pm; and those with last names between Q and Z, from 6 pm until the end. Obviously, these are suggestions only, your respective schedules permitting; otherwise, come when you can.
Farm regulars already know that the contents of our first two or three baskets of the season are always pretty leafy, and this year will be no exception as we will be offering up kale or Swiss chard, spinach, arugula, lettuce, small turnips, garlic scapes (yes, already!), pak choy, herbs, kohlrabi (provided they continue to swell over the next few days) and baby potatoes (2019) from our usual organic potato supplier, Ferme Réal Samson et fils, a neighbour who just happens to be one of Quebec’s best organic potato producers.
DO NOT FORGET: to bring you own bags and to collect your organic sourdough loaves if you have signed up for Capitaine Levain’s weekly bread basket.
We look forward to seeing you all again soon.

Moving Out of May

What a month May has been! We’ve seen it all, weather-wise: from nights at -5 degrees Celsius to days over 30. It has meant countless hours installing floating row covers to protect vegetables – boldly (or foolhardily, it depends on one’s perspective) planted despite the frost warnings – then moving tens of meters of irrigation lines from one field to another so as not to lose the same vegetables to drought. A foretaste of the season to come, a couple of warning shots across the bow to remind us of Mother Nature’s whims…

Through it all, our young crew has been kept busy with a myriad of tasks, the most important of which has been the transplanting of thousands of plants from seedling greenhouse to field : onions and leeks, spinaches, lettuces and other greens, and all of our spring brassicas. This work will be ongoing until mid-June as we wait to be truly frost-free before planting our heat-loving solanaceae and cucurbits. The last few days of beautiful, first hot, then cooler, weather have been invigorating for everything that has already made it out to the fields — and that had previously been in a holding pattern given the unseasonably cold start to the month.

We are just hoping the plants will make up for lost time.

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…

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.

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.

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.