This will be news to none of you, but we are experiencing record breaking droughts in Ontario this spring and summer. Just last night I lay awake listening to a massive thunderstorm (and the accompanying rain) roll through, which seems contrary to the idea of drought. But quick and explosive thunderstorms followed but long stretches of dry weather and heat are classic drought weather patterns. I thought I would take the opportunity to explain how these weather patterns affect farmers and, specifically, our farm.
s The infographic above shows the levels of precipitation across the province since April 2016. Based on the map, our farm falls in either the 'extremely low' or 'very low' categories for precipitation. When I look at Environment Canada historic records for the month of June, we received 84.9mm (3.3") of rain in 2014, 139.5mm (5.5") in 2015, and 48.7mm (1.9") in 2016. To give you some context, most annual vegetable crops require a minimum of 25mm (1") per week to grow as expected. Luckily, as small scale vegetable farmers we are able to irrigate our crops to make up for low rainfall. This is not the case for many field crop (corn, soy, wheat, etc.) and yields are expected to be very low this year. But, there is no such thing as crop insurance for small scale vegetable growers and irrigation, while essential for us, is just not the same as rain. When the subsoil is completely dry (as it is this year), any water we put down is quickly whisked away from the surface.
So how is the drought affecting our production? Well, it depends on the crop. Our tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, summer squash, cucumbers, winter squash, and onions are all doing very well. There are two reasons for this: most of these crops love the heat and all of these crops are planting in beds covered with landscape fabric (under which we run a dripline for watering). The landscape fabric helps to hold moisture in the soil and eliminates weeds so the plants are not competing for water with the weeds.
But for other crops, particularly the Brassica family (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, and more) and the direct-seeded root crops (carrots, beets, potatoes, parsnips) we are seeing signs of stress. With the brassicas, our first planting of cabbage is largely fit only for compost as it has only reached about baseball size (cabbage are thirsty plants that need lots of water to grow big) and the kohlrabi split before it reached harvest size. As for the carrots and beets, they have germinated OK but are growing very slowly. Our second planting of carrots, which we watered nearly every day for 3 weeks straight is almost the same size as the first planting. And the first planting was sowed 5 weeks earlier!
So what does this mean for your shares? For this week and maybe next, you will notice a lighter share than we would normally like to give (typically I aim for 7 - 8 vegetables, whereas this week you have 6). However, once the carrots, potatoes, beets, and second plantings of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage become available we will be able to make up for these lighter weeks. Such is the challenge of working with nature! While this year is challenging us and our crops, we feel very thankful for a deep well and the splashes of rain we are receiving. Some farmers in Eastern Ontario and those who rely on ponds for irrigation are in much worse straights than us and we hope that their farms can survive these challenges.
A quick note on eggs: we will not have any eggs this week (except for Mount Forest members who I have promised eggs to). The heat lowers the hens production and Rob needed 3 dozen eggs to incubate another round of laying chicks. We will be back with eggs next week!
The heat has kicked our cucumbers into hyper drive so everyone will be receiving several cucumbers in their shares this week. We grow 3 varieties of cucumber and each look a little different. You may notice that some varieties have some marks on their skin. The thin skinned varieties are more prone to cucumber beetle damage (as they munch on the skin) and so are 'less perfect' on the outside than the others. Their taste, however, is delicious! We ask that all share members take at least one cucumber with some damage, so that everyone has the chance to have both beautiful and imperfect cucumbers!
Cucumbers are refreshing and cooling summer treats. With high Vitamin E levels and being 95% water, they are nourishing for your skin and great a replenishing lost electrolytes as a result of sweating. While most people know how to use a cucumber in the kitchen, this recipe is a great one to try on those days when it feels too hot to turn on the stove.
We have had a relatively normal week here on the farm: harvesting, weeding, some planting of later crops, and pruning the tomatoes. We were thrilled to receive a steady rain last Thursday; our rain gauge said about 1 inch but others in the area said we received closer to 2 inches. Either way, we were happy to see some water falling!
With our early summer crops done, we will now be able to start enjoying some 'height of the season' crops. In addition to the broccoli and zucchini we had last week, we also have some cabbage for the shares this week. You can look forward to green and yellow beans and cucumbers in next week's share! Once we hit August, we will be able to enjoy carrots, beets, eggplant, peppers, and, of course, tomatoes!
On a sad farm note, today we said good bye to our 15 year old farm dog, Okie (short for Okwaho). He has been a trusty companion to Rob since before even I was in the picture and in his younger days he loved to go camping and canoeing, visit farmers' markets, and frolic in the snow. He slowed down a lot in the last couple of years but still enjoyed sitting in the shade and sniffing the air. And he always found the energy to beg for food at dinner time and run for a treat from the Puralator delivery woman! This summer's heat has been hard on him and in the last couple of days he lost the ability to walk or stand up. We are sad to see him go, but know that he has lived a long, happy life.
It's the start of zucchini season! This means we all need to dust off our zucchini recipes from last year, because there is always lots to go around :) But before I share some recipe ideas, I thought I'd explain a little bit about zucchini's origins. You may hear me using the terms 'zucchini' and 'summer squash' interchangeably, which I do for simplicity's sake but it's not entirely accurate. All summer squash belong to the curcubit family, which also includes winter squash and cucumbers. Zucchini are just one type of summer squash. This year we are growing a standard green zucchini, a yellow zucchini, and an heirloom Italian zucchini that is green and white striped. We are also growing three other types of summer squash: both a dark and light green patty pan variety (shaped like a flying saucer), and a round, light green variety called 'Ronde de Nice'. Regardless of shape and colour, all summer squash can be used in similar ways. I find the heirloom varieties to be the most flavourful, with a rich, buttery taste. Most weeks this summer you will receive one of the standard zucchini varieties and the other summer squashes will appear in the trade-in bin as an option.
Summer squash are the perfect summer food because they are 94% water, low in calories, and cooling. They can be eaten raw, steamed, roasted, grilled, sauteed or baked into cakes and breads! For more ideas, here are some zucchini recipes to try.
I thought that this week I would share "A Day in the Life of Our Farm" so that you can see how we shape our days and the rhythms that we follow. But before I get into that there are a few crop updates I wanted to share. You will see that you have a choice between zucchini and broccoli this week. We will have many more for everyone in later weeks - we are just picking the first few that are ready this week. You may notice the broccoli looks a little misshapen. This is because it is buttoning. For those not up on broccoli lingo, this means that heat stress (and probably water stress too) is causing it to want to flower before it's full size. We are harvesting them now because they will not improve with age. But let me assure you that they still taste great! I sampled a few as I harvested :)
You will also notice that the lettuce in the shares is in smaller quantities. While many vegetables love this heat, the lettuce does not and has unfortunately bolted. In the lettuce lingo world, this means that it suddenly shoots up a flower stalk from the centre of the plant. At this point, only the pigs and goats like to eat them. So you have lettuce for this week, but then we will probably be without for a couple weeks while we wait for our second planting to size up. This seems to happen at some point every year and I will say that not being able to get the timing of each planting right drives me a little bonkers. Oh well, there always something to improve on... For those with lettuce add-on shares, you will get your add-on this week, but not again until the next planting is ready. I will email each of you to explain how we compensate you for the lack of lettuce.
This week is the start of 'bonus' items in the shares. Bonus items are not part of the main share but are available to members to take if they can use them. Sometimes we bring a crop that we have a surplus we have to get rid of (like this week) and other times we bring small quantities of items like herbs and hot peppers that share members can take if they would like. In another week or two, we will start to have herbs as regular bonus items.
Now, on to "A Day in the Life of Our Farm". One of my favourite aspects of being self-employed is my ability to create a rhythm to our days that works for me. While many farms follow similar hours, each will be a little different based on their needs and desires. For us, the rhythm you see below works for us. Like many parents, we struggle to find the perfect balance between employment (in our case, farm work), parenting, and general household management. As our farm and children grow, I imagine our daily rhythms will change too.
5AM Rob gets up and starts the day by opening the chicken and duck coops and making sure the animals are content. Then it's breakfast time for Rob.
5:30AM I (Lorraine) start the day by making a quick smoothie for myself and the boys. I then head outside to handpick cucumber beetles on the squash plants. While outside, I also open up the greenhouse.
7AM Back outside, Rob carries buckets of water and food to all the livestock, checks our live trap (we have a raccoon or skunk that is terrorizing the chickens), waters his tree nursery stock, and then heads off to his off-farm employment.
7:30AM I head back inside to make a proper breakfast for myself and the boys. Healthy eating and high quality food is one of the main reasons we became interested in farming in the first place so we always make time to enjoy the fruits of our labour!
8AM Our intern, Thomas, starts his day harvesting and washing 60 bunches of kale for our shares.
8:45AM After a yummy breakfast, I'm back outside and spend the morning cutting pea shoots in the greenhouse, harvesting peas, and setting up the irrigation for the day.
11AM Terran and Rowan (also known as 'the boys') collect cut hay from our hay field and transport it to the driveshed using a large garden cart. That was hot work, so then they have a water gun fight on the lawn. I may have been caught in the crossfire once or twice.
12PM I head inside to make lunch for everyone.
1:30PM After lunch and scrubbing off the field dirt, I water Rob's tree nursery again and load all the veggies into the truck. It's CSA delivery day!
2PM I get on the road for Guelph and Thomas moves the irrigation and spends the rest of the afternoon weeding the beets and beans.
3PM I arrive in Guelph and setup the stand for the first eager share members at 4PM!
5PM Thomas starts supper for all who are at home. Part of our interns' responsibilities is to prepare a meal for everyone 1 day per week. This gives them a chance to learn to cook seasonally and give me a chance to do other tasks.
5:30PM Rob arrives home from work and brings in the rest of the hay. There is rain in the forecast and we don't want it to get wet!
6:30PM The share drop-off is now complete and I pack up the remnants. Back on the farm, Rob and the boys head into Mount Forest for soccer practice. Terran and Rowan play soccer in the summer and Rob coaches both of their teams.
8:30PM I am back at the farm after running a few errands in Guelph and Rob and the boys are back now too. I load the remaining vegetables into the walk-in cooler, close the greenhouse, and check that everything is in order outside.
9PM Rob closes the coops and does a final check of the animals. Now it's off to bed for us!
Whew! This post is turning out to a be long one! For the sake of brevity, I will keep this recipe section to the point. For the fourth week, you are getting green onions in your share! Another week or two, and they will be done for the year. I love the smell and look of green onions and never tire of them. But I know some share members have a hard time using them all up. Here are some ways we use green onions:
Well, someone must have done a rain dance for us because we received a steady rain on Friday! While one rain doesn't make up for a very dry early summer, it does help to perk up the vegetables. And it allowed us to take a two day break on irrigation. Now, we are back at irrigating.
This week will be the third week with many of the early summer vegetables, but we will start to see a number of new items in the next two weeks. On my field walk I noticed broccoli the size of plums and cabbage the size of grapefruit. And the zucchini and cucumbers are covered in their first fruits. So you can anticipate some of these vegetables in your shares shortly! As long as the heat doesn't slow them down, we should have peas for a couple more weeks and then it will be time for green and yellow beans.
We have noticed a larger than typical amount of unwanted insect pests on some of our crops this year. The summer and winter squash have been heavily hit by cucumber beetles and some varieties of our kale have been infested with aphids. To manage the cucumber beetles we are handpicking them as much as possible. And I hung sticky traps and lures throughout the beds this weekend in the hopes that this lessens their impact. To get rid of the aphids, we have sprayed with a soap and water solution and removed the row covers to improve air circulation.
While pests often come in cycles, it's difficult to know exactly why they are worse this year. I think a mild winter plays a role as well - the colder and longer the winter, the more the overwintering pests' numbers are decreased.
This week, kohlrabi is a choice item in your shares. Unfortunately our kohlrabi crop this year has been poor (I think the lack of rain is partly to blame) so we will not have many spring kohlrabi. We do hope to have a great crop of fall kohlrabi, however.
Kohlrabi is part of the brassica family and some people believe that kohlrabi are a hybridization between cabbage and turnips. And the flavour is somewhat reminiscent of these vegetables. In our kitchen, we almost always use kohlrabi raw; sliced in salads or as vegetable crudites, grated in wraps, or made into a slaw. We use the leaves just like cabbage or kale. There is no need to peel spring kohlrabi (whereas fall kohlrabi generally is best peeled). If you separate the leaves from the globe, the kohlrabi globes will store in the fridge for up to one month.
If you would like to try cooking your kohlrabi, below is a recipe for you. When it specifies 'pea vines' I would use the pea shoots provided in the shares. To make these gluten-free, I would try replacing the bread crumbs with either almond flour, quick oats, or cooked rice.
Kohlrabi and Pea Vine Patties
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic or 3 tbsp garlic scapes
1 tbsp curry powder
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 cup packed chopped pea vines
3 medium kohlrabi, peeled and grated
2 tbsp flour
1 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup olive oil, coconut oil, or butter
Mix all ingredients except oil. Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Form mixture into small patties, squeezing out any excess moisture. Fry patties until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. Makes 6 patties.
Modified from From Asparagus to Zucchini by the Fairshare CSA Coalition.