• Sarah Elizabeth Smith

Abundant August

Oh August... you are so intense! Just like last year ... you are a month packed full of change, surges of activity, excess and heat! Oh, the heat, the growth spurts in the garden, the abundance of giant harvests of wild berries, multiple preserving projects and the energy of the long days filled with sun and work!

Harvest is just beginning with many things that had a slow start now bursting forward.

The first tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, green beans, sunflowers and all sorts of herbs like basil, sage, oatstraw, various mints, bergamot, borage and calendula are coming into the kitchen to either be eaten, dehydrated, made into pesto or pickled. And berries! So many berries. I've been exploring around my property and adventuring further and finding so many magical spots. A huge blueberry field over looking the Northumberland Strait, a Saskatoon Berry orchard near Little Shemogue Harbour, a crazy blackberry patch on the forested land next to my place and Elderberry bushes everywhere. Thanks to all the friends who help me find these spots. Foraging is wonderful. Not only for the experience of going into nature to explore and observe but also because it is heartening to know that these special, giving plants are close by and doing well. The delicious taste and medicinal benefits are the reward for the work of searching and labouring to collect, clean and “put up” berries and other wild harvests. U-picks are nice for gathering fruit in large quantities. For jam, I picked 40 lbs of strawberries at the local U-Pick and harvested Rhubarb from Windy Hill Farm as well as from my own plants, but otherwise all other berries for jams, jellies, syrups and wine (blues, blacks, saskatoons, raspberries) are coming from the landscape around me.... not that is has remained all that wild. I'm patiently awaiting the ripening of the choke cherries that are hanging in heavy clusters off of the trees all along the road. Their extremely tart, deep red juice will make delicious jelly. There is so much, though not to be taken for granted. In my own backyard, with all of the logging, hunting, garbage in the ditches, road building, oil in the water .... the diversity and availability of plant food may not always be there and so I think it's important to try to pay respect.

“Don't be an end user” says, Sandor Katz. Meaning: pass on the information and knowledge that you think is useful, special and important, acknowledge where you have learned from and make sure you continue to keep it alive through sharing.

Back into the garden ...

My garden is naturally “late” compared to fellow farmers because of my focus on Fall maturing crops. Many folks have asked if I've been going to the market, but I've not been selling any of what the farm produces. November is when everything that has grown is ready for the Winter CSA shares or the market, and this marketing strategy is allowing me to commit -at least this year after quitting all of my secondary jobs – all of my energy to the garden. And there is so much right now!

This weekend I dug out all the garlic and hung it up in bunches, to dry from the rafters in the barn. The tomato plants in my make-shift greenhouse are heavy on the vines and hidden under thick leaves. I trimmed away quite a lot of the lower foliage in order to let more air through and expose the fruits to a bit more light so they can ripen. I've never grown this many tomatoes before and they are awesome! I'm excited about a variety called Mystery Keeper from Mapple Farm, that is supposed to ripen very late and keep well over the Winter. It would be wonderful to be able to include tomatoes in the Winter CSA.

One of the biggest considerations during the August weather is negotiating the timing for starting Fall transplants. Late broccoli and radicchio made it into the field two weeks ago, followed by fennel. The chinese cabbage and green onions will be transplanted next week and I've been careful to be very patient with starting lettuces, spinach, radish and turnips .... It's still a little bit too soon. It's always a dance between patience and action, observing and doing.

In the field the crops that were seeded in June are getting noticeably bigger. I was careful to watch the small plants during this long dry spell that we've had this year. My irrigation system is simple with many hoses that connect to many garden sprinklers, snaking down the pathways and out into the field. The spray from the sprinkler is good for moistening the surface of the soil and helping germinating seeds. The sprinklers can also spread a lot of water over 6 beds at a time, if moved down the rows every 15 minutes or so. This may seem tedious, but moving a few sprinklers is for me, much more enjoyable than dealing with drip tape. When I start to use areas of the field hat farther away, I may have to come up with something more sophisticated, but for now, this setup is providing me with everything I need. I think I'm aided a lot by the water retaining nature of the clay soil here and also my laziness around weeding. There are a lot of plants besides vegetables in the rows and pathways. All of the extra plants helped the ground stay cool and moist. In bare pathways, it's easy to see that dryness caused cracking in the earth, and you know nothing is going to be able to grow there. I've seeded a thick carpet of dwarf white clover in most of the pathways, making it nicer to walk in bare feet. And, all of the beds that I didn't plant right away were covered, either with a thick layer of decomposing hay or with a cover crop like Buckwheat, Oats and Peas or Red Clover. These practices helped mitigate the effect of the lack of rain we've had this season. These wonderful ideas are all coming to me from Eliot Coleman's books, Jean-Martin Fortier's field preparation system and books by Nikki Jabbour and Ben Falk. An enormous help, this season, has also come from Richard Smith's “The Vegetable Gardeners Bible”.

I've been wandering through the squash lately amazed at the size and the numbers of fruits! Squash is my favorite vegetable to grow and I am so grateful to see how well they all did this year. Winter CSA members can look forward to sweet squashes, dry squashes, butternuts, spaghetti squashes, acorns with tough skins and red kuris with soft skins. I also grew 5 kinds of pumpkins this year ... I'm not sure why, but they are all very happy in the field.

Happy growing, harvesting and foraging to everyone. If ever you're feeling low, spend some time with the plants.

Also, registrations for the Winter CSA are trickling in. I don't ever want to remind anyone of the coming Winter too prematurely ... But you can always sign up early on the Winter CSA page.

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