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.
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.
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.
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.
Your baskets are overflowing with eggplants these days, and in response to the queries of some, I feel compelled to explain the why and wherefore of this overabundance. There are three vegetables I grow in large quantities, all of which belong to the solanaceae, or nightshade, family – eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. In the case of the latter, great care is taken to avert disease and to continuously test different growing techniques, depending on timing (early, mid or late season) and location (open field or high tunnels). In any event, tomatoes require significant space and constant care. In the case of peppers and eggplant, it’s an altogether different story : blame it all on the tarnished plant bug (TPB for short), a ubiquitous pest that relishes pepper and eggplant flowers. When it attacks the flowers, in a matter of days it can slay generations of vegetables, creating huge harvest gaps. What’s an organic farmer to do, then? Plant far more than he/she actually needs and hope that the TPB attacks will be limited to 30 to 40% of the flowers, leaving enough mature fruit to fill your baskets.
Exceptionally this year, we’ve seen virtually no TPB in our fields – or at least not enough to cause any damage worth mentioning. Go figure. And so it is that we have plants bursting with blooms, each of which becomes a fruit which we have no choice but to harvest in order to preserve the overall health of the plant – letting them go to waste would be downright sacrilegious.
We will therefore be serving eggplant for a few weeks to come…
We’ve had to reorganise the warehouse – moving crates and boxes, freeing up passageways – to make room for our first Fall vegetables, our winter squash. On this Monday morning, we harvested them at dawn – spaghetti squash, buttercup and more. While we were at it, we also harvested our seeded watermelons, our favourites, perfectly sweet and gently perfumed. And the race is on for more fall cleaning – dictated in part by our green manure sowing schedule, but also by the upcoming méchoui, and a desire to have the farm look presentable. As always, I welcome the last days of August and the equilibrium they herald – a balance to be found not only in the balmy days and cool nights, but also in the very composition of our vegetable baskets, a harmonious blend of nightshades, leafy greens and root vegetables. I say this knowing that you may still find our eggplant portions generous, but as my yoga instructor is wont to say when she doesn’t want us to overdo it, ‘it’s the direction you are seeking that matters’…
I’ve started working on my créole lately. I wasn’t particularly intent on studying another language. We already speak three at the farm, Spanish being our lingua franca given the time spent with our Mexican crew. But necessity is the mother of invention, and a smattering of créole has been useful given the help we’ve been getting from workers hired on a daily basis through a season program run by the UPA (Union des producteurs agricoles). Every year we face the challenge of figuring out how to harvest our blueberries when we’re already going full tilt on the vegetable front and our regular team is spread too thin. And so this year we welcomed them, a small crew of grand-mothers – Viergela, Marie-Ange, Violette, Lumène: old-fashioned names from another time and country – who work only during the summer months. Hard workers who have had a hard life, soft-spoken and stoic, but who open up if you take the time to get to know them. They combed through our blueberry patch to provide some summer sweetness and have already moved on to another farm, another crop – weeding a carrot or a cabbage patch somewhere, perhaps. And so it is that we have begun to acquire an ear for créole, all it took was a single blueberry season.
Another summer basket awaits, the blueberries to be replaced by our first melon, a sweetly ripened cantaloupe. Mother Nature is still generous, so one has to get creative with eggplant and summer squash. In a not too distant future, there will come a time where neither will be found in our baskets…
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.
We had been waiting for rain for weeks, and it finally came on Sunday afternoon in the form of a sudden thunderstorm which lifted netting even as it dropped bucketfuls of thirst-quenching water. Indeed, our corn, squash, blueberries and carrots had all been standing still, desperately waiting for water-filled clouds to appear and break open above them. Truth be told, it was a small rainstorm as rainstorms go, so we’ll need many more to see our fields turn green again, but a little rain is certainly better than no rain at all. The other newsworthy development is the harvesting of our garlic. All it took was a few hours, and the harvested bulbs are drying on the tractor ramps of our old red barn, where they will be left to slowly cure over the next few weeks.
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.