Of Strawberries, and Other Matters

I will not write of the week that has just passed, almost identical to the one that preceded it and not unlike the one to follow – all of them providing glimpses of the next season and of small pleasures still to come. I will instead tell you of our planting schedule for the next couple of days, one exclusively focused on…strawberries. As with our garlic plantings which occur later in October, our 2020 strawberry planting efforts will only bear fruit, so to speak, in 2021.

The strawberries in question are an “early” variety: planted now, they will weather the winter and fruit by mid-June – a truly early variety for Quebec growing conditions. Strawberries will be followed by greens for our last baskets – mustards, lettuces and other leafy curiosities – with garlic rounding out the cycle towards the end of October.

Succession plantings mark our time on the farm like the steady pace of a metronome, constant reminders of where we are in the season, how much longer the summer will be, how close to the end we are. That said, the end is not yet nigh, there is still much to be done – crops to be harvested , of course, but other chores like soil prep for the winter, the sowing of green manures, new plastic on our seedling greenhouse, the move of our old greenhouse to its new location – the list seems never-ending. We’ll do our best to move through it until the first snows, which will bring everything to an inevitable, and welcome, halt.

Meanwhile, there will be a nice variety of veggies in your basket again, including tomatoes, still, as well as the first of our fall crucifers, or pak choi. For those of you who recall the lacy leaves in June, these seem to have avoided close encounters with the flea-beetle, proof positive of the difference between a June brassica, struggling to fend off the unending assaults of its worst enemy, and its September or October cousin, growing carefree and unbothered, to the great relief of yours truly.

SEE YOU SOON.

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.

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.

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.

 

August at Last

August at last! Not that its arrival signals the end of anything, really, but it does seem like something of a light at the end of the tunnel of our frustrations…August marks the beginning of some field cleaning (like house cleaning, only on a grander scale) as well as the start of fall plantings. It is also the month we sow our green manures, to ensure that even as we manage our fields in the present for the current season, we also have one foot in tomorrow’s fields as we prep for next year’s crop.

As if things weren’t busy enough, we’re focused on the gradual transformation of hayfields hitherto untouched by vegetables, along with intensive sowings of oats and peas in fields already harvested – and ongoing chores : harvesting, weeding, and fall plantings – of rutabagas, winter radishes, and japanese & regular turnips, to name just a few. There is little time for us to revel in summer, fall is just around the corner.

August is a month to be watchful: despite cooler nights, the days remain hot and humid. We’ll still be battling flea beetles with our nets, leafhoppers too and looking out for fungal diseases like powdery mildew in our winter squash, gray mould in our tomatoes…and more.

That said, August is also a month of plenty, when we can reward you for your patience and your civility. The solanacea trinity is with us, in addition to corn, melons and sll kinds of other delicious things you’ll find in your baskets in coming weeks.

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.

Summertime

In our fields, the solanaceas are rehearsing to take center stage. Even if the odd brassicacea will continue to make an occasional cameo appearance from time to time, at summer’s height it is the tomato, the eggplant and the pepper that hold us in their thrall. Lovers of sun and water all, they thrive in the summer heat. Perhaps not in the scorching heat we’ve experienced lately, but long, hot, lazy summer days – punctuated by the occasional shower or two – are when they are at their best.

They arrive almost all at once – the aromatic tomato, the purple-robed eggplant and, last but not least, the plump pepper. Quintessential summer vegetables, they are vegetable royalty; in this farmer’s view, they are sufficient justification for all our efforts and provide us with countless pleasurable culinary experiences. Those of you who know us well know our fascination with eggplant and the room we like to make for it in our baskets…There’s no denying it, we are at a tipping point: it gives us great pleasure to announce that summer has come.

Our sixth basket will be our least leafy one to date, providing something of a greens break to allow you to deal with the kale and Swiss chard that may have accumulated in your refrigerators. Also, a caveat: do not expect to see all three of the aforementioned vegetable royals in your basket this week. The plants have just started to yield ripe fruits, so available quantities will depend on initial harvests – but bountiful yields are just around the corner. We are pleased that so many of you seem to have appreciated last week’s black currant offering. This week, blueberries will be making their first appearance.

A Welcome Breeze

Last week ended on a refreshing note, with scattered showers and a welcome breeze. Enough water to quench the thirst of parched vegetables, but not enough to replenish irrigation ponds. These days, beggars can’t be choosers, we’ll take whatever water comes our way. Meanwhile, vegetables and weeds are engaged in their annual combat, one which your farmer wishes could be predetermined in the vegetables’ favour.

To stand idly by is not an option, the duel is scarcely a fair one, not unlike that between David and Goliath : a single vegetable plant surrounded by a multitude of weed seeds. And so it is that our long list of farm chores just got longer, to accommodate an almost Freudian obsession of ours : freeing our veggies from the clutches of the weeds that July always aids and abets, all the more so this year given that it is so far the hottest one on record in a very long time. It’s a movie we’ve played in before – in a follow-on email, I hope to be able to confirm a happy ending…

Everything is ripening in the fields, but our current focus is on our blueberry patch, where our earliest varieties are turning blue. The robins and blue jays have started sampling the goods, we sense an impending avian invasion. We’ve started covering the bushes with bird netting and will soon be looking for nimble fingers to harvest what I have come to consider the most emblematic of Québec’s fruits.

On the vegetable front, we were hoping to serve up the season’s first carrots this week, but they (and you) will have to wait another week. In the interim, we’ll be serving up more beets – an early root vegetable which is having a great run to date, dry spells notwithstanding. The nice thing about beets is that they can be stored in a fridge drawer and forgotten for several weeks, and remain none the worse for the wear. In our recipe tab, you’ll find a host of new recipes researched and organized by our friend Laure, including several beet recipes which you may find timely.

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.

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.