I cannot let this season end without a special mention for those who planted, weeded and harvested all the vegetables which have filled your baskets. 2020 will have been a very particular year : our core field crew, who hail from Mexico, arrived on average two months late, and it took a good deal of moral (and other) suasion by our children to convince their friends to step in and step up to help us launch the season in May.

Now that it is all behind us, I can affirm that mission impossible somehow became mission possible on the HR front. A young and inexperienced emergency crew learned on the fly and did their utmost to start vegetables in our seedling greenhouse, transplant them to the fields, water them and weed them – all during a season start that saw both freezing and sweltering temperatures, and everything in between.

COVID hygiene and safety measures were necessary to protect our local and foreign workers, « bubbles » were created to keep interactions to a minimum between those living full-time on the farm and those who came and went on a daily basis. All told, more than 30 farm workers came and went over the course of the season, participating in sundry farm activities, in addition to the half-dozen employees and friends who helped out at our Atwater and Jean-Talon market stands.

Last but not least, I want to underscore the contributions of our Mexican crew, who leave their families for months at a time to improve their lot and without whom our family business would not be able to function. They are the backbone of the farm; for this I am grateful. We extend our heartfelt thanks to Crescencio, Jhenrri, Gregorio, Librado, Gerardo and Crispin and wish them well until next year.

Our 20th basket is still colourful and filled with leafy greens. We will have to harvest these quickly, as the latest forecasts are calling for several nights below zero over the coming week.

Braving the Elements

It seems the forecast is for a grey and rainy week…and there is nothing surprising to that, as the end of October is fast approaching. Patience is a virtue, so we sometimes wait for the rain to end, other times we slip on our rain coats, don our rain boots and brave the elements head on.

The status quo continues in the fields, and the weather is perfect for many leafy greens still, and fewer root vegetables – all harvested as/when required. At this point, there is not much agrological activity in the fields – although we have started planting next year’s garlic, an activity that will undoubtedly be interrupted many times over by the rains Environment Canada is calling for throughout the week. We have also reluctantly halted the sowing of green manure cover crops on the remaining third of our fields still to be sown – the cold and damp weather precluding any miracles. All that is left is field cleaning – plastic tarps here, low and high tunnel arches there, sandbags everywhere.

In your baskets – roots and leaves and…fennel, making an end-of-season cameo appearance, small but flavourful. Feel free to consult our recipe section if you need some inspiration and may I also remind you that there are only two (for Atwater members) or three (for neighbourhood members) weeks left to recoup outstanding holiday baskets.

One last piece of information: the book we told you about a few weeks ago – La Saison des légumes, by our friend and organic farmer Mariève Savaria – was selected by Catherine Lefebvre (food and travel columnist at Le Devoir) as one of her top three Best Reads for Fall 2020. Congratulations to Mariève, whose work we commend, in both form and substance. We look forward to seeing you all.

We look forward to seeing you all.

Of Odes to Nature and Hunters

A glorious day is unfolding, cool and sunny, an upbeat start to a week that will be up and down, meteorologically speaking. My morning constitutional in our last vegetable patches reminded me of the second – slow – movement (The Lonely One in Autum) of Mahler’s The Song of the Earth, an ode to the fading beauty of nature, beautifully rendered by the clarinet, but also an ode to the acceptance of the inevitable, something we know all too well in these climes.

Another indication of time that does not stand still is the growing agitation of hunters as they prepare for the season, some repairing their hunters’ blinds, others scattering carrots and apples along forest paths, like contemporary Petits Poucets. Gunshots will soon be heard, and the local deer population will undoubtedly try to make itself scarce…

Back to this week’s basket. It is a fall mix, where greens abound despite Sunday’s frost, with a few novelties – radicchio, Brussels sprouts and Daikon radish – combined with the return of the potato to sate appetites whetted by the colder weather.

Plunging into Fall

The farm seems to be plunging headfirst into Fall. Fallen leaves are everywhere, empty boughs abound, nature is slowly emptying itself of life. How is it that the transition is always so sudden? It always takes me by surprise. All that’s left in the fields is row upon row of the vegetables that will fill your baskets over the coming weeks.

I must admit, it’s a time of year I enjoy, as nature separates the wheat from the chaff for everything, which makes our job that much easier at the farm. Between two harvests, we rush to clean out vegetable beds as they are emptied, we begin to dismantle and store the last of our irrigation systems which were still in use in our high tunnels and we collect sundry farm tools scattered here and there that had disappeared in the lush summer growth…

We are readying ourselves for the harvesting of our root vegetables, which include winter radishes, carrots and rutabaga, among others, and which will free up vast sections of our fields soon to be sown with autumn rye. A certain febrility as the end of the season draws nigh has replaced the permanent sense of urgency characteristic of the growing season at the farm.

In your baskets, you will find vegetables to remind you that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Buttercup squash will grace some baskets, pumpkins or acorn squash others – in either case accompanied by seasonal greens and root vegetables. Speaking of which: I would like to draw your attention that it is not because they are crisp and firm when you receive them that you can store your root vegetables unprotected in your refrigerators. To ensure they last as long as they should, we cannot insist enough on the importance of storing them in plastic or glass containers. The “crisper” drawers of your fridge will simply not keep your carrots crisp unless the latter are protected.

We look forward to seeing you all again.

Just plain (not alternative) facts

Beattie Barn, Arlington Gardens — by Peter Toth

For starters, the beautiful fall colours are a harsh reminder that there are only six basket deliveries remaining (five, for our market farmstand baskets). And so it is that we enjoin you to think about making up any holiday baskets still outstanding. We have officially entered Fall, so your baskets will be filled in part with root vegetables which are easily stored in your refrigerator. If you can, try to space out double baskets to avoid double kitchen duty for three weeks on end…

Also, I would like to do a bit of promotion for another organic farm, Les Jardins d’Ambroisie, and its co-owner, Mariève Savaria, a well-known caterer in another life. Mariève has just published an inspiring cookbook in French, La Saison des Légumes. We do not usually use our website as an advertising platform, but Mariève and her husband Francis Madore are very much aligned with us in terms of a principled approach to organic farming based on growing (and eating) with the seasons, consuming locally as much as possible and avoiding pesticide-laden fare.

Mariève is a colourful but thoughtful character, as this interview in Caribou magazine attests. We invite you to support her project – an original and oh-so-interesting take on vegetables and how to prepare them – by offering a copy of her book to yourself, and/or to family and friends. A nice holiday gift…before the holiday season begins.

In this week’s basket – varied squash, radishes, beets…and more autumnal fare.

Cleaning House

We had a rough start to the day last Saturday. A more-or-less anticipated frost had struck overnight, dashing all hopes of a lingering summer even as it killed most weeds. It was a mean hoarfrost, spreading its white crystals as far as the eye could see, not a speck of field was spared.

Despite the shock, yours truly is generally accepting of what such a frost heralds — i.e. the start of Mother Nature’s fall housecleaning. In one fell swoop, she indiscriminately sweeps out both the good and the bad, the necessary and the unnecessary, leaving us no choice but to regretfully bid adieu to our nightshades which were still going strong and to hurry up and pick the last winter squashes remaining to be harvested.

The only vegetables which remain standing are the thicker-skinned ones, those who thrive in colder weather as their flavour sharpens, such as Brussels sprouts, turnips, radishes, carrots and beets. You would be wrong, however, to think that this spells the end – there is still much to be done: rye to be sown, garlic to be planted, tunnels to be moved and many other tasks to be undertaken.

So, in your baskets this week: leafy greens, roots and a few tomatoes. The vegetables are still growing, albeit it at a slower pace, and some planned harvests will of necessity be delayed – like the beets which we had hoped to serve up in this week’s basket but that will need another week or two before they’re ready.

On the squash front, the star of the week is the butternut. Don’t fret about an accumulation of squash on your kitchen countertops – except for the spaghetti squash which has a shorter shelf life, most of them will last for weeks if not months…and are decorative to boot.

Frosty forecasts

This morning’s field inspection took place in the deepest of silences. Dawn had broken, it was the beginning of an honest day’s work, but in the eerie quiet, it seemed as though everything was numbed by the morning’s chill.

In the winter squash patch, a few forlorn and forgotten squash seemed to be begging to be taken indoors, anywhere being better than where they lay. Our field solanaceae were also looking almost peaked, despite the protective cover of our high tunnels. Be that as it may, Mother Nature knows what she’s doing and bringing the cycle of life to an end is something she does…naturally.

Already, the forecast is calling for our first fall frosts, two nights below zero by Thursday in fact, just enough to instill fear in our sun-loving nightshades. There’s no reason to panic, however, as there are plenty of other vegetables who find an early frost invigorating, a warning shot across the bow prompting them to hurry up and sweeten before the season truly ends.

This week your basket will be filled with a motley crew of vegetables, a schizophrenic blend of summer handfuls and fall armfuls. As promised, the spaghetti squash will be making a second appearance, mostly because it shouldn’t linger too long in our warehouse – and the fresher you eat it, the better.


Cool Nights, Warm Days

September is just around the corner, a comforting thought. Cooler nights but still warm days are all it takes to make pests that have been the bane of our existence suddenly disappear. That said, they don’t really disappear, they simply burrow underground, readying for the really cold weather, nestled between a few drops of water and some vegetable debris. There they’ll stay until next spring, ready for when the cycle begins anew.

Flea beetles, potato beetles, cucumber beetles, etc. (countless variations all on the Coleoptera theme), they will be in for a surprise once they emerge and realize that their favourite vegetables have moved. We hope it takes them a few months to find them again.  We know they’ll eventually hone in on them anew, but a few months’ break is all our vegetables need, and all we ask for. Meanwhile, we continue to plant the last vegetables of the season, leafy ones mostly, that flourish in the autumnal chill.

Proof positive that fall is nigh : in this week’s baskets we’ll offer up our first leeks, slender and perfect for steaming and serving in a salade tiède, not unlike asparagus in the spring.  The balance of your basket will remain steadfastly summer-like. We look forward to seeing you all again.

Farming for the Future

Organic farmers no longer really use ploughs in their ongoing field management. This millennial activity is no longer fashionable, much to the relief of defenders of soil conservation and subterranean biodiversity preservation. Nevertheless, when one wants to convert an old hay field to organic production, there are few options other than to till said field – a small price to pay for the long-term reward of expanded organic acreage.

And so it is that we have ploughed the large hay field adjacent to our existing vegetable fields: five new hectares of arable land that we will have to get to know, to work and to improve. All it took was a few hours, a plough with five mouldboards which we borrowed from a neighbouring organic farm, several passes with our disc harrow to break up the clods and smooth out the surface and today – Monday – a race against the clock to sow our first green manure before the rains in this evening’s forecast…

The end result is immensely satisfying : a vast area ready to go into production next year, an expansion in capacity that we had been envisaging for a while to enhance our fertilization and crop rotation planning. The deed is finally done, and we are eager to experience the benefits of reduced weed pressure in an old hayfield which has been harvested regularly over many years. In other words, our 2021 season has just begun!

This week’s basket is not unlike last week’s, albeit with watermelon replacing your previous cantaloupe. Watermelon is my favourite summer fruit, which we serve up the old-fashioned way – with seeds – so you can wax nostalgic and remember what watermelon tasted like before today’s seedless varieties made their appearance, when back porch/yard watermelon seed-spitting contests were the norm.

This week’s corn is a peaches-and-cream variety which we think you will appreciate as much as last week’s yellow corn. The current plan is to offer you one more week of corn after this, provided we are able to keep the raccoons at bay…

Taking Stock

It’s almost mid-season already, so both a review of what’s passed, and a preview of what’s to come, seem appropriate. As you may have noted, the first half of the season was not easy, successive heat waves and droughts having wreaked some havoc in the fields in May and June – particularly in our brassicacea beds where the flea-beetles feasted on almost everything, while our lettuces and beans were overrun by leafhoppers and our cucumbers wilted in the heat. As a result, you’ve seen far fewer of these vegetables in your baskets than usual. The same meteorological conditions also stressed our solanaceas (nightshades) pretty solidly : as a result, our peppers and tomatoes have been much slower to ripen than is their custom.

The good news, though, is that things are slowly returning to normal and we are anticipating a more clement second half of the season – firstly with welcome rains, secondly with the gradual, but thankfully certain, disappearance of seasonal pests. They have yet to depart, but within a few weeks the chilly nights of late August will be their signal to burrow back underground.

Almost surreptitiously, we have harvested all our garlic; we will be offering it up in your baskets several times over the balance of the season.  We’re also readying ourselves for our Italian (paste) tomato harvest on or around the third week of August – stay tuned.

Beets and carrots are on their way, most likely arriving within a couple of weeks. Two significant vegetable families will be making their appearance soon – namely, our conservation onions and our winter squash. Typically, they are harvested in late August, early September. They’re great fun, we harvest quite a few varieties of both which we are looking forward to sharing with you.

We are continuing to plant seedlings – for our fall harvests – which include ou last beets, our fall lettuces and many leafy brassicaceas which will be happy to see cooler temperatures begin to prevail. This year, we will be continuing our autumnal forays into leafy Asian greens, rapas, junceas, and more – we’ll tell you more about them in due course.

In closing, corn is upon us. Our fingers remain crossed (we wouldn’t want to jinx the next few weeks’ harvest), but we seem to have won our battle with the raccoons this year, thanks mostly to a pretty mean electric fence. Indeed, there will be cobs in your baskets this week.