After the Harvest

After the Harvest – An Update on the Potager plus what to do with a twelve pack of snakes.     

I had high hopes for The Potager back in June, but there may have been a reason my dad planted his garden in the corn field where it could sprawl among the rows of corn.    Sprawl is the key word here.   My potager was a testament to good soil, it was so prolific, but then it was a hot humid summer with lots of rain, ideal conditions for a rain forest. 

potager before

Where are the monkeys?

 It rained every weekend, and during the week, every few days in fact.    This made the mosquitoes plentiful, and some new species of tiny black bug called no-see-ums appeared and left bites which itched for days.    I had never seen a no-see-um before, but they left a lasting legacy of scratch marks.   I gave up and refused to go out.   Luckily, I did not have to water as Mother Nature did it for me, even as she left us bereft of any beach days. 

The romaine lettuce was bountiful, and after the first crop, I replanted and it was bountiful too. 

romaine lettuce

Three cucumbers sprouted from the small-garden plant, just the right amount for a Greek salad, with some tomatoes if only I could  find them, and when I did find them, many had split from too much rain.  

cucumber

The tomatoes threatened to strangle everything so in early August I gave it a haircut.   By mid-Sept it had grown back, requiring a regular trim every 4 to 6 weeks.  

I untangled the sole squash, mistakenly uprooting it’s lifeline, and leaving the fruit to wither on the vine.   Not deterred, it re-blossomed, producing a final harvest of five smallish orbs.  

squash

I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the multi-colored carrots, and so were the bunnies.    We were both disappointed.     

While the tops were luxurious, the carrots were sparse, spindly and white, (and maybe useful for the Simply White Dinner).   They say you reap what you sow, except I planted three seed potatoes, and got two.The Harvest

In mid-October (no frost yet, leaves barely changing), I dug up the rest of the russet gems.  Not bad for a first crop, but hardly enough to get me through the winter like my Irish ancestors. potatoes

Luckily the orange carrots were plentiful, if somewhat deformed from being crammed into too small a space.    The bunnies were delighted, as God is my witness, they would never go hungry again.  (Scarlet O’Hara – Gone with the Wind).   carrots         Due to the intricate web of netting I set up, the birds didn’t get as many of the strawberries, but then neither did I – it was too much of a hassle to open and re-close all those wires to pick one or two berries.   While reading about another bloggers garden adventures, she recommended rubber snakes be set among the strawberry plants and moved every few days in order to fool the birds.    Thank god she told me Walmart sells them online, because I don’t know where you would buy a twelve pack of snakes, and also thank god, those birds aren’t too bright.   I’ll keep that in mind for next year, or maybe I’ll just freeze some of the carrots.    I also wish I had put spacing and gravel around my boxes like Empty Nest Adventures did, for easier access.  

carrots

Next years orange snakes?

After the Harvest is a time to reflect on lessons learned….next year plant less, no matter how much you may anticipate the early specimens being carried off by nighttime woodland creatures. 

Plant one of everything, one squash, one cucumber, if it’s something you don’t want to breed like rabbits or possibly two like Noah and the Ark, two tomatoes, two potatoes, but no zucchini – ever.  

Or just buy more boxes……the New England Arbor charity sale is coming up…..

After the Harvest - AMc

After the Harvest

PS.  There is nothing so wonderful as a golden field of wheat being harvested, or so awful as After the Harvest when you would have to bale all that straw into small bales, with a baler which was forever breaking down, and then load them into the hayloft, a process which was hot and dusty and took hours.  Now every time I pass a field with those really big bales that are scooped up by a front end loader, I wonder, why didn’t someone think of that sooner?

Song of the Day:   Harvest Moon – Neil Young

The Farmer’s Market

           If you have ever dreamed of packing in city life and moving to the country then this book is for you.    Canadian author, Brent Preston turned fantasy into reality in this account of starting an organic vegetable farm and ten years of trial and error and back breaking labor before finally achieving a profitable outcome. 

The New Farm: Our Ten Years on the Front Lines of the Good Food RevolutionThe New Farm: Our Ten Years on the Front Lines of the Good Food Revolution by Brent Preston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A must read manual for city dwellers and lovers of the organic food movement about a family who chose to leave the rat race and follow their dream of running a profitable organic vegetable farm. Dust off those fantaseeds and learn the gritty reality of where your food comes from.

           Although he might have started out with a simple plan in mind, by the end of the ten years he had mechanized his operations, hired agricultural co-op students for summer labor, perfected a delivery service and marketing campaign, and ended up specializing in just three crops, one of which was lettuce.   One of the things he did initially was to participate in the local farmer’s market every Saturday morning, but after a few years of this he packed it in.  If you think about it, never a weekend off for you or your kids, up at 4 am to load up the truck and then later in the day unloading the unsold produce.   Plus, while he said while he enjoyed the social aspect with the regular customers and the other vendors, there just wasn’t enough profit in it to continue.   Better to cater to the fancy restaurants who would pay premium for anything fresh and organic.   

           There is no doubt we are what we eat and organic food is in – food in it’s natural state.   Ask a person who has been lucky enough to live to be over ninety and chances are they grew up on a farm.   So farmers markets are booming because organic food is so popular, but are the farmers doing well?  I grew up on a farm, 100 acres, so I know how hard it is to make a living on one and how much work is involved.   We had a dairy farm with Holsteins  when I was a child and my dad had a small herd, three milking machines and a cream contract.   He got up at 4:30 am every day to milk the cows, then he would come in, shave and have breakfast (bacon and eggs and perked coffee), as we were getting up for school, by 7:30 he would have left for his other job, home at 4:30, early supper, then milk the cows again, and he would be in bed by ten or falling asleep while reading the paper.   On the weekends there were all the other chores to do.   Even back then you couldn’t quite make a living on a farm without a second job, and with a growing family, he finally switched to beef cattle instead and cash cropped corn, soybeans and wheat, and while that was a lot of work too, we were finally able to take a family vacation without being tied to the milking schedule.   Now farming is big business, a thousand acres or bust.  There was an article in the local paper recently about the International Plowing Match which listed a combine as worth $500,000, and a tractor with GPS the same.   My dad’s first tractor in 1948 cost $1000 and had a side seat upon which we kids would ride – heaven forbid, no one would let kids do that now.   My elderly grandfather who died in 1951, was against the new-fangled modern machinery, as they had to sell his beloved Clydesdale horses in order to buy it.  HorseThe last tractor my dad bought came equipped with air conditioning and a few years after he died, they had CD players, now they are steering themselves.   While farming may be mostly mechanized now, organic vegetable farming is still labor intensive, especially during the harvest.   It’s not a job many people want to do, and often the farmers must hire seasonal workers from Mexico or Jamaica to help out.

        September is the best time of year to visit a farmer’s market as it is bursting with the last of the summer produce and the early fall harvest.   While the peaches and berries may be almost done, the  plums, pears, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, new potatoes and onions are coming in.   

tomatoes

potatoes

Our local market is open Wednesdays in the summer and Saturdays year round.   Even in the winter, the inside of the old building is full of root vegetables and cheese and butcher shops, but in the nice weather the outside stalls see the most action.    They really need more space, but it’s been in the same place for eighty plus years and you don’t mess with tradition.   Located in an older residential part of town, there is one small parking lot and you have to drive round and round waiting for someone else to leave.  With about 50 spaces for 200 people it’s kind of like musical chairs for grownups.  Luckily, no one lingers long.   While you can get a pour over coffee with freshly roasted beans, there is no cafe to sit in or cooked food available.   We don’t see a lot of homeless people here but one day a woman with her cart piled high with all her worldly possessions asked me for some money, and with my hands full I shook my head no, but then after putting my produce in the car, I went to find her, and gave her ten dollars, which I suspected might go to drugs but who knows?   A friend of mine keeps Tim Horton’s coffee shop gift cards to hand out for this reason, but there is something so very sad about begging in front of a place with so much plenty.     

              Even in the winter I will visit about once a month, because there is still cheese, and apples and oranges to buy, but I’ve often wondered why they open at 6 am.   All the vendors are yawning by noon, or closing up early as they have been up since four loading their trucks.   Wouldn’t 8-2 be more civilized hours?   If they are supplying restaurants do they need to buy that early?    If I don’t get there by 11:30 (or  I’m still playing musical chairs), I may miss my favorite cheese stall or they might be out of Gouda.  

The cheese wars can be fierce.  There are two cheese vendors, right across from each other, and the Battle of The Gouda got so bad last year, they both decided not to post their prices.    They will glare across the aisle if they think you have abandoned camp, but if they have run out, what is the alternative?  My grandmother was Dutch, so I grew up on Gouda, the mild form, not the spicy seeded variety she bought from The European Shop.   

Dutch Inheritance - AMc

Dutch Inheritance

The market cheese is better than at the grocery store and they will give you a sample if you are undecided.   Even if you know you will like it, a sample will often tied you over if you got up early and missed breakfast.    Buying cheese at the market is also much cheaper than in the grocery store so I usually stock up on aged cheddar as well as the Gouda.    The one cheese vendor has recently retired and been bought out by the egg lady beside them, who I don’t think has gotten the hang of the weigh scale yet as she is very generous with her pounds, or kgs.   I don’t buy eggs from her though as I can’t stomach those brown eggs with the bright yellow yolks.   It reminds me of the eggs growing up on the farm, but I know free range chickens are all the rage and I am sure they are full of omega-3’s.    

I like to look at the flowers, the glads are out now, but I seldom buy as I have lots of flowers at home. 

glads

I have my own semi-successful potager, so I don’t feel the need to buy tomatoes, cucumbers or lettuce, but one whiff of the dill brings back memories of my mother canning dill pickles.    You can get a free bunch of dill with every large purchase. 

20180818_114916

dill

The early apples are starting to come in, which will soon mean spies and pies.  I can smell the cinnamon now.

apples

 My favorite time of year is when the summer fruits are available, the strawberries and peaches.   You can get a bushel of overripe fruit for ten dollars and make a whole batch of jam for what you might pay for two jars.    There is a jam vendor also, for when you run out, who also sells homemade fruit pies.  So definitely there is a cost savings, and the food is so much fresher and better tasting, not to mention not loaded with tons of preservatives and artificial ingredients. 

Not everything is better at the market though.   Sadly, it is home to the world’s worst bakery which sells the most tasteless bread ever baked, not to mention tarts with uncooked dough and a scant quarter inch of fruit filling.  The next time I walk pass, the owner asks if I want something so I venture a tactful complaint – I figure if no one tells him he can’t fix it.   He tells me he hired a new baker so I bought butter tarts this time.  Same thing.  I gave up.  There must be an art to making play-doh like that?    Butter tarts are a national institution in Canada but I have a fine recipe inherited from my mother.   We have much better bakeries in town but I suppose once a vendor has tenure in the building, it’s for life, and so many people don’t know what good pastry tastes like.   But the bread – there’s simply no excuse.    Bread is the staff of life, but so is good nutritious food.   If you ate today, thank a farmer!    

PS.   Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving today! 

Wild Turkeys - AMc

Wild Turkeys

Strawberry Fields Forever

  StrawberriesStrawberry fields forever.   It sounds like a strawberry lover’s dream, but fortunately the science of greenhouse genetics has come up with a new strain of strawberry plant which bears fruit for four months – June, July, August and September.   Last year I planted two of these ever-bearing varieties which produced enough berries all summer to garnish a salad,

salad on plate
Mandarin salad with raspberry vinaigrette

and provide the odd nibble, both for me and the birds. 

Strawberries

I think the birds feasted, whereas I was more like Emma of Jane Austen fame, the pleasure was in the anticipation.   (see literary postscript below

Although the farmers markets are now full of gorgeous red berries,  Market Strawberries there is a certain satisfaction to be had in growing your own or in visiting a farm to pick your own fruit, plus it is certainly cheaper.    The farm outside town sells quarts for $6 versus $2.50 to pick your own, a significant savings if you are buying enough to make jam or freeze.  

Strawberry Field

       I remember going strawberry picking when I was a teenager, (long past the age when helping out was fun), and then spending a couple of hours at the kitchen table hulling the stems before my mother would place them in freezer bags.   We always had a long freezer at one end of the farmhouse kitchen, a freezer so vast and deep that if you tried to get to the bottom of it to find the last roast or bag of corn you might topple in.  Every summer those berries would go in the freezer and the next summer they would get thrown away.   I remember my mother making a strawberry shortcake in the winter exactly once and nobody liked it because the berries were soggy, but there is a vast difference between fresh and frozen soggy.    

        Our farmhouse strawberry shortcake was not like any of those anemic-looking store-bought cakes or biscuits garnished with a few berries.   My mother would start with a golden cake mix, (never white), baked in a long glass pan, and then crush a big bowl of berries (leaving some whole) with a bit of water using a potato masher, adding sugar to taste.  

When it was served you would cut your own size of cake, crumble it up, and then the bowl was passed around with a big spoon and you would ladle on a generous portion, certainly enough to make the cake soggy and wet with berries and juice.  Whipped cream was optional.   I still make my strawberry shortcake this way.   Guests who were not used to this old-fashioned version might find it a bit odd but in retrospect it was more like a trifle.

     I had a wonderful homemade strawberry trifle last week at a church dinner and nothing beats homemade, but if you want a quick alternative just layer the leftover cake and berries with store-bought vanilla pudding cups (instead of custard) and garnish with whipped cream (from a can but scratch would be divine).    It makes a nice easy desert plus it gives me an excuse to use my Downton Abbey thrift shop crystal goblets. 

Strawberry Trifle

Strawberry Trifle

I made a non-alcoholic and an alcoholic version, adding some brandy to the bottom layer of cake to make it soggy, and it was very good indeed.  

Strawberry Jam

      Last summer I made strawberry freezer jam for the first time (as part of my Jamfest frenzy), and into the freezer it went, where it still resides and will soon be thrown out……it must be genetic!    

       I am trying to be more conscious of food wastage, as studies show we throw out a quarter of the food we buy, but a fresh strawberry is such a wonderful thing and the season so short I think we can be forgiven for being extravagant in our stock-piling.  StrawberriesIs there really any comparison between a fresh picked berry and those berries the grocery stores pass off as the real thing the rest of the year – tart, tasteless and hard and pulpy inside to withstand shipping.        

      Still on the rare occasion I need jam for scones I can easily buy a good brand of strawberry-rhubarb jam from my friend’s shop.  strawberry rhubarb jam

       I did however make a fresh stewed strawberry-rhubarb preserve this year,Strawberry-rhubarb compote

equal cups of strawberries and rhubarb, with a tiny bit of water plus sugar to  taste, cooked down to a soft texture on medium heat, which I keep in the fridge and mix with vanilla Greek yogurt, because with all the varieties of yogurt available why don’t they make a strawberry-rhubarb flavor.   

Literary postscript:  Jane Austen’s Emma wherein Mr. Knightley has issued an invitation to Donwell Abbey, “Come and eat my strawberries: they are ripening fast.”…..”Mrs. Elton, in all her apparatus of happiness, her large bonnet and her basket, was very ready to lead the way in gathering, accepting, or talking — strawberries, and only strawberries, could now be thought or spoken of. — “The best fruit in England — every body’s favourite — always wholesome. These the finest beds and finest sorts. — Delightful to gather for one’s self — the only way of really enjoying them. Morning decidedly the best time — never tired — every sort good — hautboy infinitely superior — no comparison — the others hardly eatable — hautboys very scarce — Chili preferred — white wood finest flavour of all — price of strawberries in London — abundance about Bristol — Maple Grove — cultivation — beds when to be renewed — gardeners thinking exactly different — no general rule — gardeners never to be put out of their way — delicious fruit — only too rich to be eaten much of — inferior to cherries — currants more refreshing — only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping — glaring sun — tired to death — could bear it no longer — must go and sit in the shade.”

My sentiments exactly.   34 C today or 40 with the Humidex….Strawberry Field

 

 

 

Out in The Country

The Homeplace

The Homeplace – 2005

         A few years ago when I was still working I took my 90 year old mom for a drive in the country to visit her farm (not the homeplace which no longer exists.)   She rents the old white farmhouse (old farmhouses only come in two types – white clapboard and yellow brick), to a lovely couple and the wife showed us around her very large vegetable garden, and gave us a couple of jars of pear jam she had just made and some big fat beefsteak tomatoes.    We sat out on the veranda and listened to the birds twitter.  It was quiet and peaceful.  I remembered thinking what a lovely lifestyle.  Although my roots are rural it had been a long time since I was out in the country.  I grew up in on a hundred acre farm in the 60’s and 70’s and while I hope I am not romanticizing the past, I do seem to remember it as being a simpler more peaceful time.   My dad had a dairy farm with Holsteins, (which needed milking twice a day so no family vacations for us), then later beef cattle, and he also cash cropped.  It was a good thing to be self-sufficient and not always reliant on a grocery store, but it was also a lot of hard work, as was canning during the long hot summer, as my mother can attest, although she also often says looking back that we had the best of times.  

      It was a century farm, settled by my dad’s Irish ancestors in 1849, who had escaped the worst of the potato famine just in time. They arrived in Canada penniless in October of 1846 in a party of twenty or so, three having died on the coffin ship on the way over, and they lost one young 15 year old son in the bush after having jumped ship during the cholera quarantine in the St. Lawrence River.  I have a record from the National Archives of Canada for the three brothers who had to borrow one pound for water transport from Port Toronto to where they settled.  My great grandfather, who was fourteen, stayed behind  in Ireland because he had a chance to go to school with the landlord’s son, and came a year later through New York.   An uncle was sent to pick him up, which seems amazing as the land was all trees and wilderness.   My great great grandmother walked thirty miles along Indian trails to the nearest post office to get the letter telling them when and where he was coming.  It was October when they arrived here, and the Indians helped them build a hut, otherwise they would never have survived the first winter.  

First Homestead - AMc -2017
First Homestead – 2017

Several years later they bought the homeplace – for poor Irish tenant farmers to own land was a dream come true.   The homeplace was sold and the house and barn torn down twenty years ago after my dad died and now all that survives is the silo.   My mother painted it in 2005 from an aerial photograph, which is the picture above and on the home page.  

        While I am nostalgic for the country lifestyle, farmland today is way too expensive to live in the country, and farming is for the most part big business.  One day I was driving down our old line and there were four big combines out in the field (trying to beat the rain), and I thought, well there’s a million dollars there.   The small family farm is a vanishing business, to survive you have to go big.   So much of life is about survival but it is a good thing to remember where you came from, and it is also a good thing to know how to make your own jam! 

    Song of the Day:   Out in the Country – Three Dog Night