As I write these lines, the much anticipated winter squash harvest, heralded last week, has yet to be done. A build-up in farm chores, each more pressing than the next over the past few days, has been such that we have decided to harvest them one at a time, starting with this week’s special, our spaghetti squash. The others will follow in due course…and truth be told, there’s no particular rush, yet. This week’s basket bridges from summer into fall, with potatoes and onions on the fall side, and other items reminders that summer is still with us. Some of you will be relieved to hear of a notable decrease in the productivity of our summer squash and our eggplant. Say what you will, you cannot complain of a lack of them…but all good things come to an end, and the cooler nights of the past week have finally slowed our solanaceas down, not to mention the presence of the tarnished plant bug (TPB), who is particularly fond of delicate mauve and yellow eggplant flowers. While these vegetables have not yet come to an end, they will be served up less frequently until their inevitable demise. The question of the timing of the inevitable demise of our tomatoes has likewise begun to haunt us – as the slightest inflection in a hitherto bountiful yield causes existential angst, a fear of what will no longer be, our very own Paradise Lost…So like the ant of La Fontaine’s fable, we will gather them up fresh in copious quantities now, knowing that we will have to make due with their by-products when winter winds come.
High season at the farm continues, unabated. A sticky heat, with a humidex reading through the roof, makes these late August days bear an uncanny resemblance to the dog days* of July. Before writing these lines, I tour the fields to take in the sounds and smells of the late afternoon and surprise, surprise – there are signs of an early, and bountiful, winter squash harvest. Just a few days ago, our squash plants seemed to be full of vim and vigour, bright green and ready to weather the month of September. All it took was a rainshower or two to make them collectively decide that the time had come to call it a day and let their farmer reap the fruits of his labour. I will keep you posted, but plans are in the making for a weekend of squash picking, an enjoyable task, believe it or not – a symphony for the senses, a mix of colours and textures, shapes and sizes. In short, a pleasant way to spend a day, or two, in the fields.
In this week’s basket, we give you a glimpse of the fall that is yet to come with our first real harvest of summer leeks, with their white stems turning to green, light and delicious. And to make amends for our blueberry shortcomings, we offer up a third serving of watermelons, sans seeds, courtesy of our friend Gabriel Samson et Fils, our trusted supplier of the best organic potatoes in Quebec. I do not grow the seedless variety myself, given a nostalgic preference for the old-fashioned one with seeds, no doubt nourished by memories of seed-spitting competitions with my brothers, and the effort made to crunch nary a seed as we wolfed down slice after seed-filled slice of our favourite fruit…back in the day when life’s simple pleasures made us happy.
*To the Greeks and Romans, near the time when Sirius appeared to rise just before the sun, i.e. in late July
We’ve reached the peak of the season, a time when we begin to anticipate the ebb which will inevitably follow the flow — and quite frankly, this year’s succession of hot, steamy days is bordering on the obscene. This week will be yet another dry one, with little to no precipitation in sight. That said, we won’t exaggerate — already the cooler nights of August are bringing wisps of fog at sundown, and heavy dew at dawn. These contrasts are creating confusion in our plant kingdom as some crops don’t know whether they are coming or going. Indeed, by farmer’s almanach standards, we could well be a mere four weeks away from the first frosts of autumn. But we anticipate too much, we should let nature follow its course, however erratic said course may seem at times. And we’ll cheat a bit, harvesting our onions even as they stand ramrod straight — usually, they begin to topple over as the days shorten — and we’ll soon do the same with our winter squash, despite their showing no signs of slowing down, seemingly blissfully unaware of their imminent demise.
This week’s basket will be bountiful, we hope you appreciate its festive nature. We look forward to seeing you all again.
Summer continues in full swing for this, our 10th week, and basket, of the season. It’s been in full swing for a while, now – 2018 will definitely be a season to remember – with alternating bouts of drought, gang-buster growth, goings-to-seed and weeds galore – the latter the only true constant in a crazy summer to date. But as I like to say, I’d take 10 seasons like this year’s in exchange for a single rainy one anytime. And the season is nowhere near finished, what with hot nights and days still pushing the high 20s and occasionally still topping 30. That said, here is a small sign of the fall-that-is yet-to-come: today I started sowing some of the root vegetables for your late-season baskets – turnips and radishes of all types, and in the main greenhouse we’ve started sowing our Asian greens – mustards, rapinis and the like. Fall vegetables don’t like the summer heat, so we’ll pray for a reasonable autumn. Meanwhile, we closed out the day harvesting good old-fashioned (i.e. with seeds) watermelons…
Several of you noted the bitterness of our yellow cucumbers, for which we are truly sorry. The explanation is simple: they are a variety that definitely does NOT do well in drier conditions. We mistakenly thought it was only the skin that would suffer, but some of them were bitter to the core. A few rainy days have made all the difference for our latest crop, but we will have learned our lesson: next year, we will be sure to irrigate them well (in summers past, none of our cucurbits ever required extra water). We look forward to seeing you all.
PS: no lettuces this week, they’ve all gone to seed…
The week began under the auspices of rural solidarity, i.e. when the only people you can rely upon are your neighbours, farmers for the most part, who are more than willing to lend a helping hand if/when the situation requires one. Our particular predicament arose as some of us were intent on revving up our largest tractor for a series of pressing field chores while others were focused on basket prep in the warehouse. The motor started but nothing else was working, especially the hydraulic arms without which a tractor is, for all intents and purposes, useless. All it took was a single, rather frantic, call for a good Samaritan to materialize, dropping everything to tend to our tractor woes, spending an entire morning changing engine and hydraulic oils to get the beast working again. I can’t even begin to count the number of times that André, Jimmy, Claude, François, Jean-Paul and others I may be forgetting here have gotten me out of one bind or another, always with a smile and a sense of humour. They are all quite remarkable, and they know how grateful I am – but their kindness bears mentioning from time to time.
And so it goes: this week’s basket is another summer one. We are on the verge of a tomato tsunami. For one last week, you will have to make do with our Glacier saladettes in your baskets, as they are the first to ripen, but from next week onwards, we’ll be overrun – as our paste tomatoes continue to ripen, and our Cherokees turn a darker hue of purple, daily. We look forward to seeing you all again.
Following a week marked by the harsh reality of farming – for those of you who thought plagues, drought and pestilence were only biblical – there is great solace to be found in this week’s bountiful harvests, namely a bumper crop of garlic which we have been harvesting over the past 10 days, and a haul of carrots which we completed this morning. The weather dial is still set at VERY HOT – under a beating sun that leaves everyone feeling parched. The summer of 2018 will go down in history as one to remember. Fortunately, a 15-foot deep surface well dug two years ago on a bit of a whim to water a small surrounding area is coming in very handy indeed. A not-so-justifiable investment at the time, in hindsight it seems to have been something short of a stroke of genius. It is worth noting that if a vegetable farmer’s day were nothing but planting and harvesting, life on an organic farm would be easy; but July and most of August are taken up by weeding, a demanding activity by any measure, and one that, we admit, we occasionally fail to duly accomplish, not through any ill-will per se, but rather through lack of time, energy, or both.
The time is fast approaching for us to take orders for canning tomatoes and conservation garlic. Returning members are familiar with the routine, but for those of you new to the farm, we hereby inform you that if you are interested in purchasing larger quantities of paste tomatoes for freezing or canning, or garlic that will keep all winter, we will be offering both online shortly. Meanwhile, check out the contents of this week’s basket here – and we look forward to seeing you all again soon.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no denying it : we are unlikely to have blueberries this year, barring an unforeseen miracle. The last month of drought-like conditions has decimated our berries as they ripened – then dried – on the plants, falling to the ground before they could be harvested. In the ten years we’ve had the farm, we’ve witnessed dry spells before, but this one couldn’t have come at a worse time for our blueberries. Our only consolation is that our black currants have done well, so we hope to be able to offer you a jar of our home-made black currant jam in coming weeks.
As bad news never travels alone, I must also inform you of the fact that our first three weeks of sweet corn, a seasonal highlight, have been destroyed by a roving pack of raccoons who, over the past 10 days, have managed to avoid all our traps, including an electric fence that usually stops most of them in their tracks. Every year, we lose a few rows of corn, but this year’s tribute is more akin to a Sicilian pizzo than a charitable donation. We’re at a bit of a loss as to how to deal with the critters/varmints – they’re frightfully cunning, and remarkably resistant to all our entrapment efforts.
Disappointing news, I must admit, for which we are truly sorry – but one must remain zen in the face of such setbacks, as Mother Nature has no patience for winers. She puts us to the test time and again, daring us to rise to the challenge as best we can. All is not lost at the farm – far from it : we’re halfway through a bumper garlic harvest, and our tomatoes will finally grace your baskets. And for those of you wondering about our irrigation woes, last weekend we managed to hook everything up to a new artesian well on the west side of the farm, and – miracle of miracles – we’ll have more than enough water for the rest of the season. Alleluia. We look forward to seeing you all again.
We’re at a crossroads at the farm. The prolonged dry spell this month has just about run our main irrigation pond dry, and as it will only fill up again with fall rains and winter snows, we’re having to think long and hard about our irrigation options for the balance of the season. That said, there aren’t that many. Option one has us digging a new pond in an adjacent field and using a combination of pumps and pipes to channel the water to the different plots; option two has us filling tubs with water from our wells, to be pulled by tractor or cart by pick-up truck to the individual beds which we then water by hand. A daunting project, either way. Fortunately, they’re forecasting rain tomorrow.
Already, a couple of vegetables are suffering for want of water, namely our winter squash and our corn, crops that are never irrigated as their roots run deep, but which nevertheless would have enjoyed a bit of extra water this year. No need to panic quite yet, Quebec summers are always full of surprises, so August could be as rainy as July has been dry… Meanwhile, our irrigated vegetables are enjoying the 2018 season, and we will do everything we can to ensure that that continues to be the case in coming months.
A heads up, fyi : we will be starting to harvest this year’s garlic on Friday. And while we can’t promise El Dorado yet, our early season tomatoes are ripening nicely, and if the hot, dry weather continues, the balance of our tomatoes should do very well indeed. We look forward to seeing you at your respective drop-off locations.
There are things I like to grow and things I definitely do NOT like to grow, carrots being one of the latter. I know, I know, what’s not to like about the carrot, archetypal vegetable if ever there were one, maker (and breaker) of farmer reputations, not to mention the importance of carotene and vitamin E for your eyesight. But carrot-growing is an epic battle on all fronts, be it germination, irrigation, weeds or Brix (sugar) levels. To sum it up: a single carrot needs optimal conditions to germinate, copious quantities of water to grow and to keep the earth surrounding it soft, and near-monastic attention during the first few weeks of its existence to ensure its survival. The carrot’s nemesis is the lowly weed, which somehow always seems to get a head start in every carrot bed I have ever sown. Despite the introduction of flame-weeding in recent years, weeds continue to reign supreme. The one and only remedy remains to drop on our hands and knees in order to complete by hand that which Prometheus has failed to do in full. To top it all off, sometimes the most coddled of carrot crops falls short of expectations, sweetness-wise. Please do not blame your farmer: notwithstanding all his best efforts, it is a well-known fact that the sweetest carrots are grown in fall and winter, when Brix levels increase in inverse proportion to ambient temperatures.
All that said, we hope you enjoy the first carrots of the season in this week’s basket.
The dog days of August have arrived in … July. Heavy, hot and phagocytic (sic), the likes of which we have not seen in a very long time – it is difficult to walk, let alone work, the fields when everything and everyone is weighed down by such an oppressive, heat-filled shroud. But the fields have no patience for our human weakness, daily harvests cannot wait. And so we wake at dawn, with slow hands and sluggish feet, to harvest greens that will not withstand the full blast of a mid-day sun : lettuces, Swiss chard, escarole. As these are quickly placed in safe-keeping in the blissfully cool cold storage of our warehouse, the sense of urgency dissipates for other vegetables remaining to be harvested today: spring onions, broccoli and zucchini. As the expression goes, too much of a good thing…Indeed, excessive heat can take a toll on all our plants, but flowers are particularly susceptible, as they can suffer irreparable harm at more than 34 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, there is not much one can do – other than resign oneself to accepting the rule of nature which will ultimately determine what survives and what does not.
Please note that this week marks the start of deliveries at Atwater Market for all members registered to pick up their baskets at our farmstand. We look forward to seeing you all pick up your baskets at your respective drop-off locations. Do not forget your bags and your smile.
Sunday is my favourite day of the week, rain or shine. It’s a slower day, made for catching up on everything back-burnered during our busy weeks and for spending quality time with our plants, giving them the attention they lack while we are focused on basket prep and delivery. Better still are rainy Sundays, when nary a soul can be found in the fields. The whole crew is at rest, in anticipation of the coming week of intensive fieldwork, while I roam the fields on the lookout for suspicious insects or wilted leaves. Today I focused my attention on our handsome eggplant plants – and the equally handsome potato beetle, already laying siege. Sunday is the day when, alone in the fields and in harmony with all living things, I strengthen my resolve to face the next challenge and draft mental notes to myself, never-ending farm to-do lists. Yup, the more I think about it, the more I really like Sundays.
We think you will like this week’s basket: strawberries are back, along with more kohlrabi, lettuce, garlic scapes and kale. Timidly making their seasonal debut will be our broccoli, spring onions and frisée, with some possible variations by drop-off location. In the fine herbs category, we’ll be serving up coriander. Don’t forget that we recycle the strawberry red pint boxes – meanwhile, we look forward to seeing you all again.
As I write these lines, a late rain is beating down on the farmhouse tin roof, another one of the scattered downpours that interrupted our harvesting all day long today. Harvesting lettuce or radishes under stormy skies is not much fun, but when the time comes to harvest, there’s no turning back. That said, we can’t complain too much, as we’ve had sunshine for the past several days, an ideal combo of warmth and water which has allowed most things to ripen, particularly our beets and kohlrabi which had been treading water for a while. Our garlic has also begun to yield its scapes – flowerbuds and their stems – which will grace this week’s baskets.
Given the copious portions of greens which nature offers up at the start of every season, we thought it opportune to remind you of a few conservation principles. As soon as you get your greens home, be sure to dunk them in cold water, spin or towel them off well, then refrigerate. Storing them as dry as possible is key. A salad spinner for salad greens is a must, a towel will suffice for the rest – and a hermetically sealed container is always your best bet to ensure freshness and longevity.
This week’s basket has more crunch: another serving of radishes, beets, kohlrabi and garlic scapes, for starters, followed by Swiss chard, a coloured bouquet of lettuce and more spinach on the leafy greens front. We have yet to make the call on strawberries – the jury is out as to whether or not they will be ready to be included in your baskets. We shall see. We look forward to seeing you all again.
We’re off to the races at last! Mid-June marks the start of our weekly missives detailing basket contents and providing tidbits from the farm as well as additional information you may find useful. We have sowed, planted, hoed, weeded, watered and prayed – it is now time to harvest. In this week’s basket we were hoping for strawberries, but we’ll have to wait another week given the cooler weather which has delayed their ripening. You will, however, be graced with greens, all of which love days at 25 degrees or less and nights below 10. A quick list follows : lettuce, kale, spinach, japanese turnips, tatsoi, chives (complete with their edible flowers), radishes, potatoes from our potato supplier, Samson et fils, and, a 2018 novelty, green or spring garlic – harvested young and tender.
Arlington Garden CSA basket pros already know the routine, but for new farm members, please take note that we expect you to bring your own bags to carry your vegetables home. Two to three bags should be more than sufficient for both small and large baskets. Recall that we will be delivering breads ordered from Capitaine Levain. They will be visiting our different drop-off locations over the first few weeks with extra breads for sale so those of you who have yet to place your bread orders get to know their (delicious) organic sourdough breads. We will also come bearing farm fresh eggs ($6 a dozen). While they are not certified organic, our hens are fed organic feed and roam our orchard for a balanced diet. For extra breads and eggs, we accept cash payments only.
That said, Claire and I are eager to see you all again, for another season colourful and flavourful season – and to pick up all our conversations where we left them off last summer.
I write these lines wondering how spring will unfold – to date, the recent rainy weather, with more to come according to the latest forecasts, does not augur particularly well. Aligned in quasi-Roman infantry formation, tens of seedling trays are already set out on our outdoor hardening table, restlessly awaiting orders to deploy to the fields and take root. The list is long : onions and leeks, several crucifers, but also beets, lettuce, spinach and sugar snap and snow peas. Meanwhile, in the greenhouse, our more delicate seedlings are patiently biding their time – tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, as well as root celery and several varieties of flowers that we are testing this year and plan to offer at Atwater Market. That said, I shouldn’t complain too loudly, as April rains are to be expected and are necessary. They warm the frigid soil, they replenish groundwater and irrigation ponds, and, combined with a bit of warm weather, contribute to the gradual greening of our fields. But too much rain can be as damaging as too little, and we’re praying for a few rays of sun to dry things up a bit.
With only 7 weeks to go before deliveries begin, we’re at 2/3 of our basket capacity for the season. If you have not yet signed up for your 2018 basket, I invite you to do so sooner rather than later to help us better plan the season. The link is here, do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions. Recall that we also deliver the sourdough breads of Capitaine Levain – to sign up for their bread basket click here – and in a week I will be picking up our new hens to ensure they have a few weeks to familiarize themselves with their new free-range digs before they go about their business of laying eggs…
Winter has given way to spring with an icy gasp, blanketing the fields with a late snow cover and taunting us with one last blast of blustery cold weather. In the face of this affront, we have decided to remain zen, cooling our jets as we postpone the start of our first seedlings by a few days. Heating a greenhouse when the thermometer is stuck at -10⁰ is something of an exercise in futility. Fortunately, though, the forecast is calling for warm weather shortly, warmer than usual for this time of year even, which will allow us to start sowing soon : leeks and onions first, followed by root celery or celeriac, peppers, fine herbs and a few flowers. Starting up the seedling greenhouse is a high point of the season – built with a wooden frame, in hindsight we find wisdom in our contrarian whim, as we discover the benefits of using a material that absorbs excess greenhouse humidity. High point and very special moment, as we realize yet again that it is in this single contained space that almost everything we grow in our fields begins, a spring prelude to the symphony of the summer growing season.
Many of you have already signed up for your 2018 basket, but I invite those of you who have not yet done so to sign up sooner rather than later, to help us better plan the season. Basket deliveries will run from June 13 to October 25 for our regular programme (20 weeks) and to November 22 for our extended programme (24 weeks), while the farmstand season at Atwater Market will begin July 6 and end October 28 (17 weeks) – a programme that can be extended by picking an alternative pick-up location pre- and/or post-market season. Some of you have written to let us know that you are looking for someone to share a basket. Please let us know if you find yourself in such a situation : we’ll be happy to provide basket matchmaking services. And if you like sourdough bread, don’t forget that you may also sign up for bread baskets from Capitaine Levain, the local organic bakery in our small town of Stanbridge East. We look forward to seeing you all again soon.
We have updated our website and are finalizing our field production, crop rotation and green manure plans – the season’s seed packs are sitting on our desk, waiting.
AND SO IT IS THAT WE ARE HAPPY TO ANNOUNCE THE START OF OUR 2018 CSA BASKET SEASON!
In a previous note, we mentioned that we were growing weary of this winter, its yo-yoing temperatures and its crazy precipitations (as I write this, our fields are green). So we’re putting a cross on winter and decreeing that spring has arrived at Arlington Gardens: we are ready to go.
The 2018 season is looking to be exciting. Deliveries will begin June 13-14 and end October 24-25 for the 20-week Regular Season (Wednesdays & Thursdays); those wishing to go longer – i.e. to November 21-22 – can sign up for our 24-week Extended Season (one more week than last year). The 17-week Atwater Farmstand Season will start July 6, 7 or 8, depending on the market day selected (Friday, Saturday or Sunday), ending as the market closes for the season, October 26, 27 or 28. The Atwater Farmstand Season can be extended by selecting an alternate delivery location pre- and post-Farmstand Season: instructions to that effect are provided if/when you sign up for our Atwater location.
On the vegetable front and to ensure we do not run out of Italian tomatoes at the peak of the season (you may recall the wet, rainy summer we experienced in 2017), we have invested in new hoophouses. All our solanaceas will be grown under these mobile greenhouses, installed in the spring and dismantled in the fall.
We continue to explore new vegetable varieties, ranging from ongoing trials in the fascinating world of Asian greens or, better still, in that of the tomato, a prototypical summer crop if ever there was one. We’re hoping for a ‘normal’ spring, in order to ensure strawberries in your early baskets and blueberries later in the season. This year we’ll be bumping up our watermelon production in order to give you more in August and early September.
For the third year in a row, we will be delivering the sourdough organic breads of Capitaine Levain along with our produce baskets. We do not manage their sign-ups, but we invite you to visit their website and/or to sign up for their organic bread basket.
WE ARE PLEASED TO BE TAKING UP OUR FARM ‘YOKE’ FOR ANOTHER SEASON AND HOPE TO SEE YOU ALL THIS SUMMER AT THE DROP-OFF LOCATION OF YOUR CHOICE
For now, anyway, winter is back. After a month of yo-yoing hot and cold, the first half of February has seemed almost normal, with a cold snap followed by abundant snowfall – much to the delight of our kids who were finding winter particularly dull this year. The snow was so abundant, in fact, that we had to clear out the sides of our main greenhouse, snowed under by huge drifts which were proving incredibly resistant to the rays of the winter sun.
February is paperwork month, a time for website photo album selections and seed order receiving. There’s no escaping these tasks – updating the website apps and plugins, organizing our sundry farm files as well as checking the status of our all our seed orders – received and back-ordered – to ensure that those we really need by mid-March, when we fire up the seedling greenhouse, are on hand. February is also the month when we order any new equipment we’ve been eyeing; this year we’ve set our sights on a transplanter that will help us plant straighter rows (so we can then weed straighter rows) – it will be a huge boon for field ops…
After a two-month hiatus, which provided a most welcome break from almost everything vegetable, as the new year begins this organic farmer is yearning to get back at it, in a strange fit of passion and obsession. Indeed, as the greenhouse is not scheduled to fire up until mid-March, despite maddeningly fluctuating temperatures one could simply sit back and relax a bit more, awaiting signs of a true spring thaw. But winter is no longer what it used to be, and our fields go from white to green and back to white again in a scant few days, much to the chagrin of our perennials, who find such mixed signals particularly taxing.
And so it is that yours truly has felt moved to venture out to tour the farm’s pastures, if only to let its inhabitants – i.e. all of those who leave their prints in the snow – know that we are watching and waiting to reclaim the land which we share with them, our off-season being their on-season, and vice versa. Deer in search of open fields and buds to nibble, hares fleeing rapacious predators and rafters (sic) of wild turkeys – all find solace and freedom on the farm during winter. We give them free rein, but they and we all know that nothing lasts forever, and that come March, we will have to put a stop to all this wild-and-woolly behaviour.
Meanwhile, we wish all of you a great start to 2018 and the best of health. Stay tuned : in just a few weeks we will provide further details re the launch of the 2018 season.
It’s been cold at the farm these last few days. So cold, in fact, that we’ve been huddling in the cold room (4⁰C) to bag your veggies and pack your baskets! It’s the inconvenient truth on an old farm : the buildings are gracious and cool during the summer, but come winter, everyone and everything is all too happy to call it quits. Realistically, at these temperatures, we can’t ask too much of the hangers on in our unheated greenhouse. We’ve harvested the last of the spinach – which will be the only leafy green in your basket this week – and have regretfully given up on the last of the turnips in our fields…they might have stood a chance had we planted them a bit earlier. And so it is that most of the vegetables in your baskets this week will be of the root variety. Said baskets will be the last of our extended season.
We wish all of you a great winter, happy holidays, and hope to see you again next year. Meanwhile, though, we look forward to one last encounter at all of our drop-off locations this week. Cheers.
Having closed out our farmstand at Atwater and said good-bye to half our members as the regular season drew to a close at the end of October, suddenly our farm workload has lightened considerably. So much so that we even found a moment to attend our first winter concert at Place des Arts, a nostalgic tribute to an Algeria that is no longer. Meanwhile, back in Stanbridge East, winter Nor’easters have begun to blow, sweeping everything clean. We’ve had our second hard frost, yet another reminder that leafy greens will not last forever in the field, despite their remarkable hardiness. We’re taking heed, and will be harvesting our mustard greens Monday, before the -4 degrees Celsius they’re forecasting in Montérégie. Be that as it may, the rest of our leafy greens are in the greenhouse, and should last a while longer.
The country calm is not yet complete, as deer hunting season has begun. From dawn to dusk, the occasional shot rings out, although the exercise seems a bit pointless, as deer populations are dwindling. But the same instinct that drives Canadian geese south as soon as the weather turns seems to move hunters out into the November chill. They’re a strange breed, hunters. Modern Don Quijotes tilting after wildlife instead of windmills in their fluorescent jackets and camouflage vests, they find satisfaction shivering in the cold, waiting for that chance encounter with a young buck. One gets used to it, but fortunately, the season lasts a mere two weeks.
Your second extended season basket is VEGETABLE, writ large : carrots, fennel, beets, Pak Choy, etc., but leafy greens, too – kale, Fun Jen mustard, arugula and spinach.
This will be our first time delivering baskets in November, so we’ll all find out what it’s like together. Will we be harvesting beets in the snow? Will we have to wait until mid-day to harvest greens so they warm up a bit first? Only time (and temperature) will tell – but we do hope the weather will be relatively clement. We look forward to seeing you all again – please remember that night falls quickly in November…
This week, we harvested the vegetables for our last regular season basket in t-shirts and with sweaty brows…a real novelty for us, accustomed as we have become over the years to shivering in the dark late-October-early-morning-chill as we dunk freshly harvested fall greens in ice-cold water. That said, we were hurrying to harvest the week’s greens before heavy rains forecast for Tuesday. We also rushed to plant next year’s garlic – a task readily accomplished under sunny skies in light, fluffy soil, contrasting sharply with garlic plantings of years past (picture frozen hands, stormy weather, muddy fields). And we even managed to harrow the remaining open fields in preparation for the sowing of our last green manure, autumn rye – the only cereal capable of withstanding winter temperatures.
We finally got our night below zero. After a few close calls and disappointments, the weather finally came within the range of average temperatures for this time of year, even if it only lasted a night. Minus 2 degrees celsius is enough to separate the wheat from the chaff, the annual from the perennial, the galinsoga from the bok choy…which warms the heart of this otherwise chilled vegetable farmer. Minus two is also when wheat and peas do a hand-off to rye, altering the green manure patchwork of the farm. Rye, you see, loves the cold, draws its winter sustenance from it, and will be the first to emerge from it in the spring. Like garlic, an allium which also winters over in the fields, rye builds in strength during November, then is quietly laid low by the first snows, only to emerge triumphant under the first rays of spring. We shan’t jump the gun, though, as there will be many long cold months between now and then…
Although we’ve yet to feel the autumn chill, we’ve still felt the winds change as the rain fell this weekend – intermittently, but heavy nonetheless – before yesterday’s downpour, that is. This week’s harvesting has been done with our boots on and with water on our backs. It’s not like we have a choice : the weekly window is short, whether for harvesting or basket prep. The good news is that the recent rain will be beneficial for all the green manure we’ve sown these past few weeks, which was getting to look (and no doubt feel) pretty dry. A good soaking will boost the plants, and combined with more warm weather to come, their biomass should increase significantly. It’s all good, but we’re itching for some cold weather now – as cold air, near zero in fact, increases the sugar content of certain fall crops, like beets, for one, and carrots, for another. Meanwhile, it’s curtain call for our solanaceas. Literally. The tunnels which have sheltered our tomatoes and eggplants will be dismantled this week and stored away in the warehouse, packed away until next spring. Meanwhile, fall cleaning is under way and the fields will gradually be swept clean, so to speak, of their seasonal clutter of agricultural tools and implements, much to this farmer’s satisfaction…
I’d like to say we’ve crossed the Rubicon and that the cold nights we’ve been experiencing mean the end is nigh for all the undesirable flora populating the alleyways between, and in, our vegetable beds … but unfortunately, such is not the case. The temperatures have not yet dipped low enough to rid us of these uninvited guests once and for all – and so they continue to hang on, teasing us still. It’s looking more and more like the weeds’ demise will have to by the wheels of my disk harrow rather than due to natural, i.e. frost-related, causes. In our solanacea tunnels, morale is good, as the protective plastic tarps do their job. The plants are looking pretty tired, but by some miracle of nature, communication between stalk and fruit continues uninterrupted. And so a few summer stalwarts will continue to grace your baskets in addition to the increasing rations of root vegetables that one expects at this juncture, with a winter squash – whether delicata or pumpkin, we shall see – thrown in for good measure…
We’ve had sunset after sunset these days, and they’re all magnificent. Last week we pulled all stops, irrigation-wise – so summer’s last hurrah has so far been manageable. The only challenge has been in managing our irrigation schedule to ensure we don’t run our pond dry. Another week without rain will bring water levels perilously low…but summer cannot last forever. We live in Quebec, after all, do we not? As we await the rain that will inevitably come, our fall field cleaning is already under way. We will be collecting the plastic mulch from our early solanacea beds and the metal rods which we use to stake our tomaotes, then we will use the disk harrow to plow the plants under and sow the season’s last green manure before fall rains make it impossible to enter the fields with heavy farm equipment. The last big harvests are upon us : rutabaga and root celery on Monday, with carrots, beets and other, lesser-known root vegetables like black, daikon and melon radishes to follow. Daily, I get a little thrill as I check on our fall greens, all of which have been transplanted to the fields over the past several weeks. These include lettuces as well as other leafy things – watercress, mizuna, komatsuna, claytonia – I’m eager to introduce them to you.
Sunny skies in September is a 2017 farmer’s almanac prediction come true. After months of complaining about the wet weather, the dog days of summer are upon us : hot and dry for the past couple of weeks, with not a hint of rain on the horizon. We have hauled out our irrigation system for the young plants that will round out the season’s end and had to re-familiarize ourselves with the workings of its pipes and valves. It’s good news for our late-season plants, but the weather has already wreaked its havoc on others that have suffered much from the season’s hitherto unclement conditions, namely our tomatoes. Bent over in their tunnels, stressed and exhausted, they are in full demise, awaiting a merciful end to what has been a truly brutish tomato existence.
This week’s basket is a marriage of two seasons, summer and fall, in almost perfect equilibrium. The full shift to fall will happen in a week or two when you will see more of the root vegetables we are about to harvest, such as swedes (rutabagas) and root-celery (celeriac). Others will follow in due course, but one can never hasten Mother Nature – and some root vegetables need a hard frost to give them the flavour one expects of them (more on these later, as the first fall frost nears).
These days, we have been experiencing a radical change in diet at the farm. Since the arrival of Sarah, a new employee with us for the month of September, we have been subjected to the rigours of veganism – and have to admit that we’re enjoying the experience. Like the proverbial cobbler’s children, we have no shoes : we are organic farmers with no time to cook our own vegetables during the high season. Supplications to our children are of little to no avail, so we often choose the easy, yet delicious way out, resorting (almost daily) to our all-time summer favourite – the tomato, onion and feta salad – supplemented from time to time with salad fixings salvaged from the veggie leftovers that feed our rapacious hens. Sarah has taken charge of the kitchen, realising that for a change of menu and more sustenance, she would have to step in. With some restaurant experience and a keen interest in vegan cuisine, she has allowed us to rediscover our own vegetables, cooked to perfection, boldly seasoned with spices we rarely use. The adventure will last a few more weeks, but we are already dreading the departure of our culinary Samaritan, who will be traveling to more exotic and distant places from October onwards. Thank you, Sarah.