April showers

It’s mid-April already, and we’re dealing with the fall-out of a wet spring. Soaked fields, muddy roads and overcast skies. It seems that’s what it is for now, we’re still searching for a certain Justin’s ’sunnier ways’…Not that all this matters much, as our season prep continues, and the arrival of the first members of this year’s crew means we can get down to brass tacks and do some real spring cleaning, i.e. organizing our greenhouses and our warehouse, collecting what the wind has scattered across the fields, freeing our strawberries from their winter cover, and, something we don’t do every year – but felt would be appropriate this season – spreading a layer of straw in our garlic field, to stifle the weeds before they start to compete with the plants that are already growing quickly.

We’ve hit our stride in the seedling greenhouse, where the Seedling Waltz continues, as successive waves of broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage alternate with tomatoes and eggplant waiting too be transplanted shortly. Indeed, it’s a greenhouse frenzy that continues unabated until the end of the summer.

I remind you that the season will start June 8 at all our neighbourhood locations and will run for 22 weeks therefrom, while our farmstand basket season will begin July 1st and will run for 19 weeks. We are also formally introducing a market-only prepaid card for people wanting to select their own veggies at our Atwater and Jean-Talon farmstands. As we are increasing production and staff at the farm, do not hesitate to invite family members, friends and work colleagues to try us out for a season – we love good old-fashioned word-of-mouth referrals, and we have some extra room in our delivery trucks at all our delivery locations.

Happy spring to you all, we look forward to meeting up with you soon.

Firing Up

Just as Spring was springing, I opened our seedling greenhouse. It is always with the same excitement, the same sequence of events, that I reconnect the pump of our artesian well, fire up the furnaces, and check that everything is in working order…It is only once the water is running and the heat is flowing in our greenhouse cocoon that I consider the season truly launched!

That’s also when our spreadsheets prove their worth, organizing the endless list of vegetables to be sown, ordering their planting periodicity in a repetitive and mission-critical process to ensure sufficient quantities of vegetables to fill your baskets and make our farm stands overflow.

By the end of this month already,
we will have sown onions and leeks, as well as celeriac, peppers and most of our fine herbs – all crops with long germination periods and high DTM (days-to-maturity) counts. It bears repeating : strong seedlings make for a good season – it’s a foundational activity to which I apply myself every year with great pleasure, as well as a touch of dutiful self-abnegation.

We’re excited at the thought of seeing all of you again.

Season Launch

Even as Environment Canada is in winter storm warning mode for the umpteenth time in this middle of February, we think it is high time to shake the snow off our boots and launch our 2022 season! We are pleased to announce we are ready to take your registrations for our CSA baskets via this link to our sign-up page. A sign of the times but due mostly to the construction of our new cold greenhouses last summer, we will be launching the regular season for our baskets the week of June 6, and ending it 22 weeks later, the week of October 31.

Our offer has not changed, i.e. you may still choose between a regular format («small»), generally sufficient for two adults, or a family format («large»), somewhat more voluminous, geared towards three or more adults. Once again we affirm our commitment to offer CSA baskets filled with an interesting variety of fresh seasonal produce, including fruits and berries – strawberries in June, blueberries in July and watermelons and canteloupes in August. Our delivery times and locations have not changed.

Capitaine Levain‘s delicious loaves will also be back for another season…Once on our sign-up page, you’ll be able to register with them directly via the links provided under the Organic Bread Baskets section on our sign-up page.

For those of you who like to wander up and down market alleys, keep in mind that we continue to operate our farmstands at Atwater and Jean-Talon, Friday through Sunday from late June to early November and we deliver our CSA baskets there, too. Our farmstand basket season at Atwater and Jean-Talon begins on July 1st and will run for 19 weeks through the week of October 31. Details re variations on our farmstand offerings can be found on our sign-up page.

We have taken advantage of the past few months to catch our breath, to enjoy some fleeting farniente, to read, meet up with friends and most importantly – to prep for the upcoming season. We’ll spare you the details, but we’ve revisited our field plans to take into consideration an earlier season start, our ongoing commitment to growing more green manures while improving our soils and a prioritised laundry list of investment projects at the farm.

Finally, we also want to announce, provided we can finally put this pandemic behind us, that we’ll be planning a méchoui at the farm on September 5th. So mark your calendars for a farm visit on Labour Day Monday – and a harvest celebration in which we’ll not only thumb our nose at the pandemic but also gather round a harvest table overflowing with homemade fare and make our toasts to Mother Nature and her boundless bounty.

We look forward to seeing all of you again, and hope to see you back in droves!

The End (2021)

Thus ends our 2021 season :
an apotheosis, according to Environment Canada and their forecast for sunny skies, albeit accompanied with a bit of a chill. I won’t complain, as the fields are soaked from weekend rains and we still have to harvest the contents of your last basket.

Another summer growing season
has come and gone, true to form,
i.e. with its share of certainties – lots of sun, some rain, and a few dry spells already forgotten – as well as the myriad of small irritants that inflect the routine existence of a market farmer. The usual pests have also made their appearance : the leek moth, the potato beetle (which, despite its moniker, seeks refuge in our eggplants ), the striped leaf beetle in our cucurbits and the damn flea beetle in our crucifers.

Mmm, the flea beetle,
deserving of its very own post.
Content for another season…

I will not bore you with a list of the season’s wins and losses,
but I will take a moment to recall the saga of the red peppers that did not make it into your baskets, one that serves as a reminder that farming is not only a science but also an art, and that patience is a virtue, or, as more aptly put according to this lovely Persian proverb: 
Patience is a tree whose roots are bitter,  but whose fruit is very sweet .

To you all, then, many thanks
for your steady support and encouragement, and for the weekly encounters. We wish you all a nice fall and a vigorous winter, and hope to see you back in droves next year.

When in Rome…

Si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more 
or more familiarly, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’  The expression comes to mind as I observe my three sons readying themselves for the deer-hunting season. Preparations include the felling of a few cedars to build their caches, the installation of cameras to better appreciate the comings and goings of the local deer population, the scattering of carrots and apples as bait – not to mention the small fortune spent on courses, permits, 308s, 22s and 12s.

As the urban dweller I once was,
I find all this activity perplexing; although I am no stranger to weapons given compulsory military service in a previous life, the call of the hunt leaves me indifferent. But country life is filled with its own requirements and rituals which my sons have fully embraced.

The father rooster that I am worries
about them in the woods, with dangerous weapons, at odd hours. But as one of my sons is prompt to quip, 99% of hunting accidents happen – and I quote – « to old fogies (sic! ) falling as they enter or exit the hunting cache »…While I feel compelled to apologise for the ageism of my twentysomething offspring, I nevertheless take it as a reminder that I am far better surveying my vegetable beds than roaming the woods these days. In other words, when in the country, do as (some/other) country folk do, too…

In your baskets this week you will find Jerusalem artichokes.
They could have done with a frost or two to sweeten their taste profile, but Mother Nature has decided otherwise. They are still delicious, whether roasted, pan-fried or in a soup.
We look forward to seeing you again at your respective drop-off locations.

Hail to the Hen(s)

They’re heading off to greener
pastures, our hens,
the very ones whose eggs have graced your plates, whether poached, scrambled or boiled (hard- or soft-). It’s our usual routine every October, as the days grow shorter and the hens yearn for a more hospitable laying environment. So it is that we go to great lengths to find them new – heated and better-lit – homes, with well-meaning owners, excited at the prospect of caring for laying hens through the long winter months, feeding them copiously, giving them lots of water, conversing with them even, perhaps…

Yours truly has neither the inclination, nor the courage, to care for hens during the winter. I’d rather bring the season to a complete stop, and scattering my hens is the first step of the season’s last dance. I do so knowing that they will be in good hands – with a local goat cheese producer, a German literature professor, my local garage owner – to list but a few new owners. In fact, I have a long list of interested parties. The hen is ‘gone’, long live the hen.

Many of you have already made up your holiday baskets, thank you.
If you have yet to double up, please note that you have three weeks left to do so. Beyond that, you may have to come pick your own vegetables in the fields…
We look forward to seeing you all again.

Farm Cleaning Time

It’s (farm) cleaning time.
We’ve been talking about it for weeks now, but the dithering has to end, it’s time to get down to brass tacks…As our honeymoon with the vestiges of summer comes to an end, we run the risk of getting stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place – namely, diluvial fall rains and chilling fall frosts, true harbingers of winter.

Time is of the essence,
as we gather up ground covers and geotextiles in our cucurbit fields, take down the high tunnels which have sheltered our solanaceas and harrow – again and again, to destroy all the weeds that have besieged us this summer – in order to be able, finally, to sow the last green manures of the season.

Some fields are sown with oats
which will be quickly slain by the first frosts, while others are sown with buckwheat which will hibernate and grow again as soon as spring returns. To each field its own cover crop, depending on its intended use next year.

Timing really is everything,
because once the dreary weather settles in, it will be too late to perform these basic field chores. A quick glance at the weather forecast suggests that we have until Thursday to complete a large chunk of our tasks…

In closing, your basket will definitely be fall-like
from now on, as we continue with our winter squash and introduce the first of our fall radishes – the daikon – a crisp, light and slightly peppery root vegetable. It can be enjoyed raw, in salads or in soups. It can also be marinated. We look forward to seeing you at your respective drop-off locations, and please don’t forget to let us know if you want to make up any remaining holiday baskets, as the basket season will fast be drawing to a close (the week of November 1 will be our last).

Ebbing Daylight

Each year, as the days shorten and we move into October, I pick up my well-thumbed copy of Verlaine. I always flip to the same poem, a few stanzas thrown on a page, simply written but so evocatively capturing the essence of what we all feel as autumn begins.

The poem is Chanson d’automne (Autumn Song), an ode to nostalgia expressed with an economy of words, as only true wordsmiths are wont to do :
With long sobs
The violins
Of autumn
Wound my heart…
Many are those who have made similar attempts. Quebec’s very own Nelligan, for example – who finishes his Tarantelle d’automne (Autumn Tarantella) with a nod to Verlaine and another evocative line on the passage of time :
Ah! See there on time’s steep hillside,
My fallen illusions cut and dried,
All cut and dried!
Or perhaps the nod was to Ronsard and his delicious
‘My sweet, let us go and see if the rose…’

No need to descend into pathos – there’s also Thédore de Banville and his stirring version of a Dionysian fall in L’Automne (Fall)  :
Welcome, red autumn,
Hurry in your rich apparel,
Set ablaze the ruby hillside
That the grapevine embellishes and adorns.
In short, to each his own.

We were thinking of the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend as we planned this week’s basket  – a happy mix of squash, root vegetables and leafy greens to accompany the proverbial turkey.
We look forward to seeing you again.

Market Frenzy

Montreal’s public markets are lively these days. We should know, it’s where we spend our weekends. You can feel the end of the season is nigh and like any season end, it is characterized by a last minute frenzy, as some rush to fill up on paste tomatoes for their spaghetti sauce while others load up on garlic and onions for the coming months.

To say our market weekends keep us busy is an understatement, even as our markets – i.e. Atwater and Jean-Talon – are readying to close their outdoor (farmer) spaces and focus on their indoor (merchant) spaces for the winter. We too are prepping for an eventual wrap-up, despite our having at least half a dozen weekends left in our current outdoor locations. Given a warm September and forecasts calling for a temperate October, I find myself wondering if the markets should begin to envisage later outdoor closing dates, global warming oblige.

We have been dealing with the vagaries of climate change for nearly fifteen years, and can assure you that the seasons have indeed grown longer, particularly at the front end as we are now consistently able to enter our fields two weeks earlier than when we first embarked upon our farm adventure. While there is upside to a longer growing season, it also brings with it a slew of human resource challenges. All of which will be food for thought during the winter months…

Meanwhile, there are only six weeks of basket deliveries to go, including this one! 

Deceleration

Following its August apex, the season continues to decelerate, trailing with it a number of pluses and a few minuses. On the plus side, who would have thought we’d see such clement weather given a Farmer’s Almanac average first frost date of September 18 in Quebec? We certainly won’t complain, nor will a number of vegetables in our fields. It’s their chance to grow under optimal conditions, with more than enough water as an added bonus. As for our green manure crops, they will just grow taller, greener and stronger.

However, the opportunist in me laments that they are also forecasting a longish frost-free period. Frost is not usually a good thing, but for a market farmer feeling a bit overwhelmed by weeds, it’s nature’s Roundup, a potent weed antidote that does a pretty amazing job of eliminating plants that one would rather do without. It usually takes several frosts to complete the task, but a first jolt around this time of year is always welcome on the end-of-season weed management front.

The Dance of the Winter Squash continues in your baskets, and a pleasant addition we think (and we hope you’ll agree) is the presence of ground cherries, a funny fruit indeed. This year we decided to grow them in one of our high tunnels, protected from the rain and other unpleasant weather conditions which used to contribute to their earlier demise when we grew them in the open field.

On that closing note, we look forward to seeing you all again.

Stewards of the Land

You can look for them high and low, but you won’t find them anymore : our young farm employees have left in pursuit of more studious occupations. Colleges and universities beckon, and the call of the classroom has won out…you may still catch a glimpse of them from time to time at our market stands, but they have deserted the fields and our warehouse for the rest of the season.

We’ve gone to great lengths to replace them – and you are no doubt aware of how difficult it is to find good help. We’ve had to make several calls, begging with some, pleading with others, and have even recruited the odd farm member  😊 …in the end, though, we should be able to close out the season decently.

Such travails beg the question of with whom, and how, we work the land, and of the very future of agriculture in our climes. I can affirm without a doubt that without the presence of Mexican, Guatemalan and other foreign workers, there would be no market farming in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada. They are the backbone of countless farms across the country.

On our farm, they arrive in May and depart in October. Gerardo, Crescencio, Gregorio et al … they are incredibly knowledgeable and are often farmers in their own right on farms back home. For businesses such as ours, their contribution is invaluable. They bring tremendous know-how and a deep respect for the soil and the work it demands. While we come from very different backgrounds, we share an all-consuming passion for growing, tending and harvesting vegetables.

With this week’s basket, we are definitely heading into fall.
I draw your attention to the bok choi, my favourite Asian vegetable, sweet with just a hint of bitterness, fresh and juicy. It is easy to cook, whether steamed and served with a bit of olive oil or sautéed and served with a touch of soy sauce – I leave that up to you.
Meanwhile, we look forward to seeing you all again.

Between Summer and Fall

I like to say that the harvest season still has a long way to go and that summer still has a few spectacular days left, but these are risky – or at the very least, incomplete – statements. Harvests are but one of the many things that keep us busy at the farm these days. Field preparation for next year is also on our agenda, a task for which the window of possibilities diminishes with every passing day. For each field harvested, there remains a large chunk of cleaning to be accomplished, much harrowing to be completed and countless green manures to be sown in haste.

I say a window that is fast closing
because from September onwards the days of sunlight shorten and plant growth slows. Which is why one has to hurry and sow one’s green manures as quickly as possible, by mid-September, say – and hope for clement weather for the next few weeks. I will refrain from being too dramatic, as green manures can be sown into October, but the yields of organic matter will decrease proportionately as the calendar continues to roll forward. Sowing too late means ending up with a thin carpet of ground cover, in contrast with sowing early which results in a thick and long shag rug which will weather winter well. So much for a brief overview of Green Manure 101 

Suffice it to say that in your baskets this week you will find a mix of summer and fall.
We look forward to seeing you all again.

A Big Week

We have a big week in store at Arlington Gardens. The vagaries of the season are such that we find ourselves having to rush to harvest our winter squash which have all ripened at once as we also hasten to dry out our conservation onions a bit more in one of our greenhouses before bagging them for storage.

That said, the weather seems to be cooperating for now , even as the occasional shower slows us down occasionally. The irony of it is not lost on us: having complained about a heat wave followed by a drought, we are now subjected to rain showers with seemingly little rhyme or reason. This time, though, I will not complain – in agriculture, one practices gratitude by not looking the proverbial gift horse in the mouth…

It is not harvesting alone that will occupy us this week – there are countless end-of-season leafy greens still to be sown or transplanted, and a few root vegetables, too (such as radishes, to name but one). While the scattered showers have already delayed the seeding of cleaned plots we’ll try not to dally, as the sooner our green manures are sown, the higher the organic mass they will be able to contribute before winter sets in.

It is a sometimes daunting race against the clock, but such is the reality of life on a farm. For those of you familiar with Quebec terroir literature, the sheer intensity of it all that was the leitmotif of Quebec rurality more than a century ago still characterizes our existence on the farm as the growing season reaches a frenzied peak in September — a positive paroxysm for some, a source of overwhelming stress for others…

We’ve been waiting for them to blush before mentioning them, but our Italian tomatoes are finally turning red. For those of you interested in canning and other forms of winter reserve prep, please take note that you may now place your orders for ½ bushel boxes of organic paste tomatoes via our online farm store.

Meanwhile, please do not forget if you have a basket to pick up Wednesday through Sunday.
We look forward to seeing you all again.

Tipping Point

August is already drawing to a close and as I write these lines, we are sowing the last trays of the season, a series of leafy greens that will tickle your taste buds in October.

To think that we opened our seedling greenhouse in mid-March …and that it has been operating non-stop since, week after week, yielding up an extraordinary variety and number of seedlings to be transplanted to our fields, an almost complete array of everything that can be grown in our little piece of the hemisphere…

But it is my end-of-day tour of the fields, yesterday, that made clear to me that we had reached a tipping point, not in terms of what you’ll see in your baskets, but more fundamentally in the esthetics of our surroundings – a green no longer so green, rows  and alleys tinged with ochre, an early fatigue manifest in our solanaceae, not to mention winter squash whose leaves have turned completely yellow and dry as they pray to be relieved of the fruits of their labour that are now weighing them down.

Truth be told, the recent heat and drought have undoubtedly precipitated things, forcing hitherto lush vegetation to dig deep into its reserves to survive, to ripen and to produce its last seeds. I won’t complain. We will soon be harvesting winter squash and conservation onions, freeing up entire swaths of field which we will begin prepping for the coming winter. We’ll be in the final stretch soon, and the results will be well worth the effort.

A novelty in your basket this week: spaghetti squash. 
To cook your spaghetti squash, the basic oven formula is 400ºF/40min (having previously removed the seeds and basted the squash halves with oil)…from there, you can either eat it nature, or let your imagination run wild in terms of variations on a spaghetti sauce theme.

We look forward to seeing you all again.

Out of the Frying Pan…

And into the fire… or so it seems, as we exit a heat wave and they are forecasting another cloudless week for vacationers’ pleasure. For this market farmer, today has been an all-hands-on-deck day to ensure a good drenching of all the seedlings scheduled for planting over the next few days as well as seedlings transplanted to the field this past weekend.

Agriculture is impossible without water – but you already know that – and the next few weeks will be a challenge for farms across Quebec in dire need of water, a scarcer-than-ever resource. So we’ll be shifting from sprinkler systems, the SUVs of irrigation, to the much more efficient, but also much longer to install, drip tape systems. Ours will be a reasoned/rationed approach, the water El Dorado of July is already a distant memory…and to think that back then we were pining for just three continuous days of sunshine!

It’s not that we are unaccustomed to drought, but, in the havoc arising from climate change, it’s the unpredictability of it all that surprises us and complicates things. Fortunately, the plants in the field share none of my misgivings – instead, they continue to yield up their bounty, unabated. You’ll finally witness the solanacea trinity in your baskets, as well as watermelon, a thirst-quenching must…

En passant, we’re starting to run short on egg cartons, so we’ll be happy to relieve you of any excess boxes accumulating on your kitchen counters. The same goes for any spare berry boxes lingering in your kitchens.

Last but not least:
to those of you signed up for bread baskets, please recall that your bakers are back from their holidays this week. Meanwhile, we’re eager to meet up with you all again.

August

August is upon us and your farmer knows he’s heading into the final stretch. August is a perilous month, one of heavy humidity, blazing suns and late greenhouse seedlings that still require our full attention. Summer’s end plays itself out in the fields, as harvested plots need to be quickly harrowed and just as quickly sown with green manures.

Easier said than done. One cannot rush Mother Nature, as she slows our progress and reminds us that the remains of a harvested crop that took three months to grow and yield its bounty will take at least three weeks to break down into compost. For dust you are and unto dust you shall return…

August is also our cornucopia month, with its bounteous abundance and the arrival of a whole new series of vegetables – our long-awaited solanaceas, of course, but also our liliaceas, and shortly, our fall/winter cucurbits too. Meanwhile, we will not deny ourselves our summer pleasures as we stretch out the season with fruits and vegetables to be eaten in the shaded heat – indeed, no better way to end a day than with a slice of cantaloupe or watermelon.

Our garlic has been harvested and is drying in the barn.
It is fresh and delicious, and will keep all winter in a kitchen cupboard. We will begin taking 2021 garlic orders soon. Deliveries will begin once a critical mass of orders is received and our garlic is fully cured, most probably by early September. Your order will be delivered in paper bags that should be kept in a dark, dry space (i.e., a kitchen cupboard or pantry) to ensure it lasts the winter.

Finally, our black currants have been harvested and our first batch of honey has been extracted – so this week marks the start of our sales of jams and honey at our drop-off locations and our market stands. Quantities are limited, so we cannot take reservations – they will be offered on a first come, first served basis only.

We look forward to seeing you all again.

On Storing Veggies

I am often asked how best to store vegetables from your weekly csa baskets in your fridges – the short answer is to make sure there is as little water as possible on your leafy greens and to stock up on glass or plastic containers for all your vegetables.

For your leafy greens (lettuces, kales and tutti quanti ), the trick is to remove all excess water as soon as you get home and to store them in a hermetically sealed container – they’ll last the week. Obviously, not all lettuces are created equal, some are more fragile – and therefore more perishable –  than others.

Next are your root vegetables : carrots and beets, followed by ‘bulb’ vegetables like fennel and kohlrabi, or ‘fruit’ vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli. All of these should be stored in containers to protect them from the dessicating effects of the modern refrigerator.

Truth be told, nothing stored in a fridge should be left uncovered. I have become increasingly skeptical of the so-called vegetable « crisper » drawers one finds in most fridges. While they may protect well-wrapped vegetables, they’re a bit pointless, frankly.

Herbs remain an enigma for which there is no simple rule-of-thumb. Some fare quite well in the recesses of a fridge, especially if one has taken care to remove all excess water – parsley, sage, thyme, etc. – while others – basil and coriander, to name but two – hate the fridge cold-wet combo. In the latter case, the only advice I can give is to eat them faster.

Finally, please note that some vegetables (like tomatoes and garlic) should never, ever, ever  go in the fridge. Speaking of which: we harvested this year’s garlic a couple of weeks ago. It was a bountiful harvest that is currently laid out to dry in our big red barn, waiting to be cleaned and prepped for your baskets.

In coming days we’ll let you know the process for placing your conservation garlic orders.
There are more of you wanting garlic every year, we’ll do our best to organize what is becoming something of a tradition.

We look forward to seeing you all again.

July Notes

As we near the start of the regal month of August, allow me to share a few thoughts on the month of July which is drawing to a close. Greyer, cooler and more humid than usual, it has clearly affected the growth and productivity of many plants. In the normal course, July is hot and dry; consequently, we are somewhat put out, dare we say disappointed, that it has not been as it should be.

First there are the tomatoes, which have been notably slower than usual to redden, despite all our cajoling and entreaties. We will not yet be able to offer them up in your baskets, for lack of sufficient quantities to satisfy popular demand.

Then there are the blueberries which – despite magnificent robes of blue – have so far refused to shed a lingering tartness. We’ve also harvested our first cantaloupes, but their melony orange hues likewise offer no guarantee that they will be as sweet as they should be.

The biggest risk associated with a humid month of July is the development of different fungal diseases – such as cucumber and squash powdery mildew, tomato and onion mildew, apple scab, lettuce and spinach rust. Yours truly does not usually pray for a hot and dry August, but this year may be different – at the very least I hope that Mother Nature will be magnanimous and work in our favour.

It will be difficult to come up with a hard and fast list of vegetables this week, as explained above. Our tried and true veggies will continue to lead the charge – namely cucumbers, summer squash, lettuce, kale, spring onions – but the rest of your basket will depend on what, and how much, we can pull out of the field, i.e. most probably some cantaloupe, some corn, some eggplant, some cauliflower and more. So let us surprise you, but do not hold it against us if a given item (or more) does not make it into your basket this week.

One last housekeeping item: if you are also signed up for a bread basket, when you leave on holidays please remember to let your baker know the dates you will be away so you do not lose your bread. We’ve run out of space in our freezers and, much to our dismay, freezers seem to be out-of-stock most everywhere (!)…see you soon.

Shades of Grey

Last week ended in shades of grey. Nothing dramatic, just grey. In fact, I had been hoping for rainy weather to schedule plantings of lettuce, basil, spinach and more beets – rainfall to save us the bother of rushing to install our brand new electric irrigation system.

Everything fell into place perfectly: a full day of planting, followed by a few hours of light, but very effective, rain showers. We can now move to the next item on our never-ending list of farm chores, namely the harvesting of our blueberries, which will necessitate many person-hours daily over the next few weeks. The race is on for us to pick them before the birds and the fruit flies (drosophila suzukii ) do…Just kidding: our blueberries are protected by bird netting, and fruit fly season rarely begins before mid-August…

 I would be remiss if I did not provide an update re my specialty peppers – it is with much sadness and foreboding that I have witnessed their anemic performance. They clearly did not appreciate being transplanted, so much so that their short and brutish existence has just come to an unceremonious end on the compost heap, and with it all my pepper hopes…We’ll never know how they might have fared had I been more patient or had I left them in their original bed… Be that as it may, the end result is that there will be fewer specialty peppers in your baskets this year – and for that I apologize already.  

We look forward to seeing you all again shortly.

Country cemeteries

They lie scattered between rural routes. One happens upon them between two cornfields, or at the edge of a village like Stanbridge East. Peaceful and seemingly forgotten, but open to the public nonetheless – unlike our more-than-centenary churches. One can stroll through them and witness local history through the headstones rendered almost illegible by the passing of time.

These beautiful cemeteries, maintained by our towns and villages, are constant reminders of a local history which should not be forgotten : the presence of First Nations, the arrival of loyalists from the south, 1812, religious and linguistic cohabitation and the local impacts of broader historical upheavals.

I would be lying were I to say I visit them often, but every once in a while I do stop by to enjoy the shade of a magnificent and very venerable old tree or to wonder, as I gaze at their miniature tombstones, at lives suddenly cut too short. An occasional visit serves as a guilt-free escapade, a brief respite from the chaotic intensity of daily farm activities.  

The expanding arc of our zucchini and cucumbers continues, so do not be surprised to find them in your basket again, but this week we’ll also be serving up carrots and our spring cabbage, a refreshing ball of green-ness and a welcome antidote to the prevailing heat and humidity.

We look forward to seeing you all again soon.

When Time Flies

July has just begun and the fields are already garbed in full summer attire. The not-so-subtle heat wave last week turned field grass yellow, adding to the effects of the intermittent drought we’ve been experiencing so far this summer.

Beyond that, it’s the harvested patches of field that bear witness to how quickly time flies on the farm. Typically left untended for a week or two as other priorities take precedence, they will be quickly cleaned, harrowed and sown with green manure again.

It’s a technical itinerary we adhere to religiously, no doubt explaining why some find “us organic folks” scarily sectarian…Green manures are the very foundation of organic crop rotations, not sowing them in a timely fashion, or at all, is risking the overall fertility of our fields.

The cooler temperatures that prevailed over the weekend cooled the jets of a few plants, starting with our zucchini, which seem to have decided to wait for warmer weather before producing their next wave of flowers. This week’s summer squash harvest will be somewhat less bountiful than last’s as a result. And in our blueberry patch, what was looking to be a (farm-record-breaking) early start to the harvest is now lining up as a normal, mid-July event. 

Nothing to report yet on the pepper front – we suspect they are still feeling out their new digs, literally one root at a time…They say patience is a virtue, so I will keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best…

…meanwhile, we look forward to seeing you all at your respective drop-off locations.

REMINDER

Late last year, our good friend, former vegan caterer and organic farmer Mariève Savaria published a cookbook, La saison des légumes.  Extremely well-written and beautifully illustrated, it is a labour of love that pays tribute to all the vegetables (and some fruits) produced on Quebec’s organic farms. We can’t recommend it enough — it is the cookbook we would have liked to write, had we but a fraction of her talent. We will have copies for sale at all our drop-off locations this week.

Price: $45

Saving Private Pepper

Extraordinary situations call for extraordinary measures. I never thought I would find myself doing this, but over the weekend I transferred an entire high tunnel’s worth of peppers to another field.

It had already been two to three weeks that I was worried by their lack of progress. Plants that should have been knee-high were just ankle height. Let’s just say they were food for thought.

What could possibly explain their lacklustre performance? Soil compaction? A sloped bed ending in a depression? Lack of fertilization? Stress due to a cold spell just after the plants were transplanted?

While it could have been any of the above, a couple of quick shovelfuls revealed the culprit : an infestation of June bugs, whose larvae were stealthily attacking my peppers’ root systems. Unlike cutworms which are easily visible in the topsoil, June bug larvae are hidden away further below the surface. There is no magic recipe against June bugs which can, I suppose, be beneficial in some instances but are most certainly not in this case.

Despite the obvious stress the operation will have caused to our peppers, the calculated risk may well be worth it provided the plants seize this opportunity to make a fresh start. What’s done is done, we’ll see just how resilient nature is. In any event, the rainfall that followed seemed like an auspicious sign, so we remain hopeful.

Teamwork

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.