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.

Frosty forecasts

This morning’s field inspection took place in the deepest of silences. Dawn had broken, it was the beginning of an honest day’s work, but in the eerie quiet, it seemed as though everything was numbed by the morning’s chill.

In the winter squash patch, a few forlorn and forgotten squash seemed to be begging to be taken indoors, anywhere being better than where they lay. Our field solanaceae were also looking almost peaked, despite the protective cover of our high tunnels. Be that as it may, Mother Nature knows what she’s doing and bringing the cycle of life to an end is something she does…naturally.

Already, the forecast is calling for our first fall frosts, two nights below zero by Thursday in fact, just enough to instill fear in our sun-loving nightshades. There’s no reason to panic, however, as there are plenty of other vegetables who find an early frost invigorating, a warning shot across the bow prompting them to hurry up and sweeten before the season truly ends.

This week your basket will be filled with a motley crew of vegetables, a schizophrenic blend of summer handfuls and fall armfuls. As promised, the spaghetti squash will be making a second appearance, mostly because it shouldn’t linger too long in our warehouse – and the fresher you eat it, the better.

 

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.