Season’s end

I’m sipping coffee at a table at the Williamsford Pie Company, looking back on the growing season as I write this post. This past Tuesday was my last (19th!) vegetable delivery of the 2010 season and so now I have time to reflect.

I’m truly thankful that I was able to make vegetable deliveries for 19 weeks out of a potential 16-20 week season. I had to buy in winter squash and pie pumpkins from a fellow organic vegetable farmer to make full vegetable packages for the last 4 weeks, but my field still had greens and root vegetables to harvest, so it was worth it to keep going. With all the cold of the past few weeks, my greens all turned super sweet. My mother stir fried some bok choy from the field for dinner one night and I was amazed at how sweet it was. And my salad greens, despite having to survive 2 inches of wet snow on Oct. 21 (crazy early snowfall…but absolutely gorgeous), were deliciously crisp and tasty. I still have chard, kale, spinach, carrots, beets and potentially, napa cabbage and kohlrabi, to harvest for myself until winter finally sets in. I’ll invite my neighbours for a field glean in mid-November so we can have a vegetable feast that night.

Some random things I learned this year while in the field:
1. Cabbages really attract earwigs, slugs and other wormy critters. I’m not fond of any of these pests so cabbage harvest (napa, green & purple) wasn’t particularly fun. Since all my harvest this year was done solo, no one had to hear my bug related shrieks other than the local wildlife ;P I would always drown the heads in tubs of cold water to try and flush out any remaining bugs, but that’s no guarantee of getting them all out of the leaf layers. I hope my clients weren’t too freaked out if they found any wormy things in their cabbages. I may resort to the use of diatomaceous earth next year (or finally put 2+ years of collected eggshells to work) to see if that cuts down on the creepy crawlies.
2. My local rabbit/mouse/mole/ground hog population really likes nibbling on the tops of my beets. I guess I can’t blame them given how tasty they are…but it breaks my heart each time I discard a beet in the field that’s been nibbled by rodents. I wonder if having some cats patrol the farm next year might decrease rodent depredation. Can I get cats to patrol my field specifically? Or maybe it will be time for me to finally get a dog…
3. I need to make more noise in the field or risk being freaked out by wildlife. While weeding or harvesting, I have variously been frightened by the proximity of deer, rabbits, lizards and frogs/toads. Perhaps frightened is too strong a word…startled may be more appropriate.  I have no particular objection to the presence of all these animals in my field, and am quite happy to have them around as it speaks to the health of the farm’s environment, but I’d rather they stayed a bit further away from me. The deer was the most alarming. I stood up from a crouch, turned to my right, saw a deer close by and yelled in reflex. The deer took off, obviously as startled by me as I was by him/her.
4. Parsnips can grow really, really, really long. This was my first year successfully planting and harvesting parsnips and I was expecting their harvest to be on a par with carrots. Well, after loosening the parsnips with a pitch fork, I would then huff and puff trying to pull up the parsnip, only to have the greens or root itself break off on me. I often had to resort to scrabbling around each parsnip with my fingers, digging down until the majority of the root was uncovered and I could get a good enough grip to pull it out of the soil. I did fall on my backside a few times from the sudden release of the parsnip. And my finger cuticles suffered some damage from all the finger soil scrabbling. I guess the super creamy texture of the parsnips makes it worth it in the end…but I’m still on the fence about that ;P
5. I can finally take heat. I spent this hot, humid summer in the field mostly covered from head to toe, wearing long sleeves, long pants, rubber boots and a hat. This was to avoid having to cover myself with sunscreen and bug spray (their chemical contents make me shudder). I can even sit in saunas now! As long as I’m hydrated and there’s a cold swim in a river to look forward to at the end of the day, the heat is bearable. Not pretty, but bearable. My glasses often collected droplets of sweat for me and I would have salt lines on my work clothes when they dried…really attractive ;P

All in all, I’d say my second season was a success. While I only hit my minimum financial targets, I’m not destitute and haven’t increased my debt load. I think my vegetable subscribers were happy with their packages this year (which a survey in the next few weeks will hopefully confirm or refute). I ate lots of delicious and tasty vegetables (don’t really remember what grocery store bought vegetables taste like anymore) and got lots of exercise in the sun (no vitamin D deficiencies for me!). And some great news…I have an intern for next year!

Jeremy, a fellow Albertan transplant (he’s from Grand Prairie), has spent many weeks/months of the past 6 summers out in Grey County and has quite fallen in love with the region and country living. He has been living at my neighbour’s for this past summer, working on a building project, and I’ve gotten to know him and my neighbours quite well this past year. It’s been great to find so many kindred spirits in such close proximity.

I really look forward to having some company on the farm next year and to the increased vegetable capacity that means. I’ll also be able to work on a lot of projects that require at least two people: building a composting toilet, outdoor shower, bread oven, clearing all the scrap wood out of my barnyard so it will be useable by animals, etc. And I’ll be able to raise some sheep and goats for meat next season, so keep some freezer space open next fall if you’re interested!

I’ll be looking to double my vegetable subscribership to 80 (2 sets of 40, every 2nd week) for 2011 as Jeremy and I will be able to cultivate 2 acres of vegetables. I’ll also be experimenting with some vegetables that I’ve never grown before, like corn, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, edamame and brussel sprouts. I’m getting quite excited just thinking about all the vegetables that will be grown next year! And I’ll be on a field that has been in green cover crops for the past 2 seasons, getting prepped for intensive vegetable cultivation. I’m hoping that vegetable production will be more consistent on the new field than on the former hay field that I’ve been using for the past 2 seasons. It will also be a hugely public field as it is completely visible from the road, so time will need to be spent keeping it pretty 🙂

But I’m getting ahead of myself…my current field still needs to be put to bed (final crops harvested, irrigation equipment wound up and put away, etc.) and then there are a bunch of house maintenance tasks I need to take care of (seems to be a never ending list). One thing’s for sure, I won’t be bored any time soon!

This is the story of my journey into sustainable agriculture. From the streets of downtown Toronto, to the farm land of southern Ontario, I hope to discover the techniques and practices that work for me in both mind and heart.

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