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.

Farming for the Future

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

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

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

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

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

Taking Stock

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

The A-Team

Last week I breathed a sigh of relief when Librado stepped off the plane, the last of our six Mexican employees to arrive. All told, it has taken an extra two months to obtain the necessary governmental authorizations for each of our Mexican employees to reach the farm. We have witnessed the effects of the pandemic firsthand, particularly as we have wanted to ensure that we provide our employees who have come from afar with the right conditions for a safe sojourn with us. Unlike the large farms making Covid headlines, our farm is small, and its human scale has made it possible for us to place each of our foreign employees in individual quarantine in apartments belonging either to friends (thank you Catherine and Jean!) or to our own children completing their studies in Montreal.

The late arrival of so many employees whose work is essential to the smooth running of our farm has been the source of many headaches and logistical challenges in the fields. We give our heartfelt thanks to the motley crew of teens and young twenty-somethings who lent more than a helping hand in May to get the season going against all odds, planting everything they could, setting up netting and irrigation lines. Notwithstanding their efforts, I knew in my heart of hearts that without the experience and resilience of our Mexican crew, this farm would not make it through the season.

I could go on at length about the reasons for our dependence on foreign workers, but that will have to keep for another time – the purpose of this email being only to provide a glimpse of the serious labour issues that plague agriculture in general and market farming in particular. Today, in Quebec as well as elsewhere across Canada, it is nearly impossible to produce fruits and vegetables without the valuable support of a seasonal foreign workforce. I may revisit this topic at a later date.

The good news is that our team is now complete : Librado will soon be joining Jhenrri, Crescencio, Gerardo, Crispin and Gregorio, supported by Djamel, Imad, Tarek, Arnaud, Julien and Émile, in addition to our basket and seedling crew – Yamina, Maïka and Emmanuelle. Of course you’ll see us at our market farmstands and our drop-off locations too, assisted by the two Sophies, Natalia, Alexis and Laurent. We’re proud of our A-team, and ever so grateful for their ongoing support.

The contents of this week’s baskets are not unlike those of last week, as we await the arrival of our solanaceas, whose growth continues apace. A notable novelty is our fennel, which can be eaten in a variety of ways – raw in a salad, roasted on the grill, cooked in a fish soup, or however else tickles your fancy.

Weeding Frenzy

The week ended in a weeding frenzy. Not to say that we didn’t see it coming, but last week’s rain and sun combo made it inevitable, and your family farmer felt that familiar nagging concern that without swift action, a crop or two might be total write-offs.

I am sure you get the picture, starting with that of a weeding short list drawn up from a much longer – if not endless – list of farm chores all requiring immediate attention. Of so many vegetable beds to be cleaned, of green blades and metal blades, of bended knees. First the lettuce, then the onions, followed by the corn and the beets. Weeds are incredibly resistant and count at least as many lives as nine-lived cats. All this we know, and so it is that we take the long-term view of weeding as a marathon – pacing ourselves, clipping and pulling steadily, finding our stride and generally striving to adopt a zen attitude about it all until the first fall frost finally frees us from this fatality…

This week will be our busiest yet this season as we continue to deliver our neighbourhood baskets and open our public market stands at Atwater (#99-100, facing Première Moisson) and Jean-Talon(#198-199-200, on L’Allée verte) starting Friday, July 3rd. Farm stand hours are 9 to 6 on Fridays, 9 to 5 on Saturdays and Sundays. This note therefore also serves as a reminder to market members to pick up your baskets on your assigned days.

This week’s basket is a pleasing mix of leafy green and root vegetables, including one of my personal favourites, beets – which we will be serving up with their leaves.

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.

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…

Patience is a virtue

The confinement measures of the past weeks have allowed us to focus on urgent and not-so-urgent farm tasks like starting our greenhouse seedlings – obviously – as well as a slew of other projects, big and small, some of which had been back-burnered for a while. While yours truly has been quietly filling trays in his greenhouse bubble, yours truly’s offspring has been put to the task of taking down what remains of our main greenhouse, after it was destroyed by gale-force winds last spring. Phase two of the family chore will be its reconstruction this summer to allow us to plan for an extended growing season this year. Other projects include a reorganisation of our wash and pack shed, the construction of a warehouse space for our winter squash and the relocation of our current tool room. As long as their furlow keeps them on the farm, our young ‘uns will be put to good use, and we will be forever grateful for their efforts… Like you all, we are settling into confinement, buoyed by the hope of a better tomorrow and a greater appreciation of patience as a virtue.

Springtime Rituals

In this time of COVID-19, there’s nothing better than looking toward the future and life’s simple pleasures. In a mere week, we’ll be opening our greenhouses again and the dance of the seedlings will begin. We have received all our seeds, from eggplants to tomatoes and summer squash to sweet peppers, not to mention all our herbs and our sweet corn. We’re not in too much of a rush, but we still have to clean the greenhouse from top to bottom, straighten out our growing tables, which shift and heave under the effects of alternating frosts and thaws (yes, even in a greenhouse) and test our furnaces. It’s our springtime ritual, the beginning of an ongoing rite of passage for each and every seedling sown in the greenhouse between late March through late August.

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.

Déjà vu

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again is a saying that takes on special meaning at the farm as we expand our irrigation pond for the third time in 10 years to meet our growing demands for water. Indeed, they arrived bright and early this morning, with two backhoes and a truck in tow, keen on moving mountains of soil and clay to reshape what for decades had been no more than a small watering hole for the farm’s cows. It is impressive to watch the heavy machines in action, guided with deftness and artistry, almost, by their drivers, scraping and redistributing the soil with their telescopic shovels. More impressive still is how little time it takes to dig a pond – a single day, sometimes two if progress is slowed by an unexpected rock formation. Miracle of machinery and ode to human genius – by this evening the result will be a gaping hole that will slowly fill with water in coming months, from a combination of underlying springs and winter precipitations.

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.

Fall fog

This week is looking to be overcast and grey – with rain at dawn an early indication of what is to come. We won’t complain, though, because while the sun is no longer quite as warm, it still managed to dry out several of our beds over the past few days, leaving us no choice but to redeploy our sprinklers. These have suddenly become redundant in light of this week’s forecast of abundant rains – and now, instead of worrying about parched fields, we’ll be pining for the return of Helianthus orbis and its rays as the only means of drying out sodden earth. Indeed, as October nears, this farmer worries about wet fields and poor drainage – a combination which can constrain our use of some fields at this time of year, even as we still have cover crops/green manures to sow in some, and fall veggies to harvest in others. However, we’ll refrain from singing the farmer’s blues just yet, October often surprises us with an Indian summer or two…

 

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.

Ode to Eggplant

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…

Seeking Balance

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’…