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.

Family and Friends

As is no doubt true for many of you, COVID-19 is everything but business as usual here at the farm. That said, seeding and transplanting in the greenhouse are essentially untouched, these are activities we handle on our own, meticulously. Likewise, basic field prep is handled by our home team – sitting high on our tractors, we turn under last year’s crop residues and crush green manures and cover crops into the soil. The truly disruptive effect of the pandemic is manifest in the late arrival of our Mexican contingent, six employees whom I rely upon heavily during the season and whose work ethic and efficiency I value greatly. This year, we’ll be chafing at the bit while we wait for them to arrive by late May or early June. We’ve averted disaster with a Plan B, i.e. the drafting of our children’s friends, who stand ready to brave the elements, face the physical demands of working the soil and plant the tens of thousands of seedlings biding their time on our hardening tables. Our recruiting efforts have borne fruit : we currently have enough temporary fieldhands to start our fieldwork in earnest, pending the arrival of reinforcements.

Sign-ups continue apace. Within a couple of weeks, all our drop-off locations will be full. Fresh produce, eggs on a first come first serve basis and the sourdough breads of Capitaine Levain, should you opt to sign up for them too. Only seven weeks to D-day for our regular season baskets, and nine weeks until our farmstand season basket deliveries begin at Atwater and Jean-Talon.

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.

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.

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.

When time is of the essence

This is an intense period, when time really is of the essence. Suddenly there is very little time left for field prep for next season. The cleaning and harrowing of plots already harvested, the sowing of the most nourishing green manures possible – all of these form part of a schedule dictated entirely by Mother Nature. It is now that rains we hoped and prayed for during the dog days of summer become irritants, obstacles even, to the work still to be done by this market farmer to prepare the fields for next year. Green manures are not created equal – a mix of oat and peas, for example, is much richer in nitrogen than straight oats, and sowing too late greatly affects yields. And so it is through a combination of hard work and sheer luck that we will address this recurring challenge by working a new one-hectare plot, expanding our acreage to allow for better crop rotations.

I’d like to say we’re fully into fall, but the green hues of the woods that border our fields give me pause. And while the harvest of a second series of winter squash this morning also speaks of autumn, we’ll wait for the first frost before declaring summer officially over (even though, in my heart of hearts, I know the season has begun to turn). That said, summer continues to linger in your baskets, which we look forward to sharing with you again.