Friday, October 30, 2015

The Season of Re's

  "What do you do over the winter?"
                               Most frequently asked question at our farm.

  I found the answer to the above question while cleaning up our market the other day. Someone had left a reusable bag behind. It had dozens of words on both sides, all starting with "re".

  Winter is the season of  re's.....

   Reweld. The prefix "re" means "again" or "again and again". Any old piece of equipment covers both meanings, adding another "again" in the case of that cobbled together front mounted mower. It is similar to a Lancaster bomber in that it requires 25 hours of maintenance for every hour that it is operational.

  Reestablish. One of the ironies of growing and selling fresh produce is that (sometimes, Karen's edit) after a busy day of dispensing tips on how to best prepare and serve kohlrabi, Swiss chard and kale, we come in exhausted and order pizza. Time to reestablish healthy eating, walking the dog and getting to know my pillow a little better.

  Restore. I have a 1934 Ford pickup that has been in my shop for the last seven years. At my present rate of progress, it might be done by 2034. Time to get it back on the front burner.

  Renew, reconnect. We have forged many friendships at the market over the years. The problem is that it is tough to have much of a quality conversation in seven second bursts on a busy Saturday. We look forward to reconnecting with those friends during the more relaxed days of winter.

  Rejig, retry. Okay, so those eggplants that looked like tomatoes were a bad idea. Still, it's always fun to order new and different veggies from the seed catalogs over the winter to try next spring.

  Rejoice. 2015 was a very challenging year: a late May killing frost followed by a cool, wet June and a dry July and August. All this was followed by an absolutely miraculous warm to hot and just-enough-rainfall September. It ripened our crops to full maturity that looked like a lost cause in the last week of August. If every September was like the one of 2015, we would all want to be farmers. A cause for rejoicing, indeed.

  Remember. I was honored to be asked to say grace at my niece Heather's wedding reception a couple of years ago. The wedding was held in a barn, all beautifully appointed for the occasion. So, in keeping with the theme, I said a grace that was originally carved into the stone lintel of a barn, over a large doorway. It is original to the barn and its owner, and its sentiments are absolutely appropriate for this time of year. It reads:

                 When your barn is well fill'd all snug and secure
                   Be thankful to God and remember the poor.

  I hope that your barn is metaphorically well filled, snug and secure. We all have much to be thankful for living here in Canada. I hope we all take time to remember and do something for the poor and dispossessed around the world and right here at home.


Friday, October 23, 2015

School of Hard Knocks

 " We shape our tools and then our tools shape us." 

             Marshall McLuhan

  We hand dig our garlic, beets, carrots and other root crops. A big piece of the harvest is a favourite garden fork that has a story of its own to tell......

  Dempsey Brothers Hardware Store was a Toronto landmark, located on the North-West corner of Yonge and Sheppard from 1860, until it was moved a few blocks north in 1996.

  My father, who was a builder, had his office a few houses to the west of Dempsey's and he was a frequent and enthusiastic customer. Mickey Dempsey sold my dad the usual hardware fare like paint, tools and nails but also my mom's kitchen pots, the family's foot-ware and my winter and summer wardrobe.

  Some of the clothing stock was pretty dated, to say the least, so it really wasn't a big surprise that I looked like an extra on a 1960 episode of "Leave it to Beaver" in the summer of 1969.

  One of the perks for my dad's loyalty was Mickey's very occasional permission to allow him up into the attic to select his choice of what we now call new old stock. The business had been sold to the Dempseys in the early 1920's, but a lot of stock must have been included in the sale.

  It was like entering a time capsule: racks of beautiful old skates still in the boxes, old unused shotgun shells, horse bits, bridles and hand tools in mint condition that hadn't seen the light of day for decades.

  On one visit, my dad came home with a garden fork, among other things. The fork was immaculate, still with the original label. It was to my tool collecting  father like finding a long forgotten Fender Telecaster would be to a guitar collector. It likely dates to the 1920's, and it is this fork that we enjoy using to this day.

  My father's care of his tools ventured deep into obsessive-compulsive territory. He had them stored in racks on a wall in a purpose built room, where they were to be returned after each use. They also had to be cleaned off and oiled if necessary. It was like an armory.

  The cardinal sin of tool use was to leave one outside. "It'll open up the handles!", my dad told me (repeatedly), meaning that the dew, or worse (for you), rain would immediately start the handles towards an irrevocable downwards spiral into decay.

  My young brain seemed to struggle with the notion of order and looking after tools. I remember helping my father one hot summer day to lay some hated patio slabs.

  My father went out for the afternoon. I characteristically forgot about putting the tools away and somehow day faded into twilight with a rousing game of "Kick-the-Can" going on with all the neighborhood kids.

  As I rounded the corner of the garage in full rebel yell after joyously kicking the can, my mind vaguely remembered a stiff garden rake that I had left laying on the ground somewhere close by.

  I do not know the terminal velocity of a rake whose tines are stepped on at speed, but I do know what it feels like to be a stunned mullet that has been dynamite fished, lying on the ground gasping for air.

  It certainly made an impression on me, one that I couldn't tell my dad about, but the overall effect was life altering. I started to pick up those tools and look after them, before they took care of me.

  And here it is, all these years later, and I think about how much I enjoy putting boiled linseed oil on the handles, sharpening the blades and oiling the steel  of those tools every fall before they get put away. It is, in a way, time spent with my dad.

  Which is a big part of why that garden fork lives on.



Friday, October 16, 2015

Why do we treat our soil like dirt?

    "Man, despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication and his many accomplishments, owes his existence to a six inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains"


  My doctor craned his neck to get a look at what I was reading on my last visit to his office. It has become a bit of a ritual, and has led to some great discussions about Steve Jobs, Lawrence of Arabia, plagues or whatever else I happen to be reading about.

  "Dirt", he said. End of discussion.

   In fairness to him, he knew as much about dirt as I would about performing a frontal lobotomy.

  The book is indeed called "Dirt", by David Montgomery and despite its less than riveting title, it is a fascinating read. The overarching theme is that soil is our most important and essential natural resource. It is also our least appreciated and least valued. While we all know the price of gas or heating oil, we tend to forget that soil is a vitally important strategic resource as well.

  This is not news to most farmers. I went to a day long "Soilsmart" conference in Kitchener last winter that was well attended, with speakers from all over North America.

  This would have been a huge event in 1931, when one in three Canadians lived on a farm, However, this is 2015, and the number is one in forty six. A number that will continue to dwindle.

  What this means is that, like my doctor, most people don't have the foggiest notion of why soil is so important. We treat it as a cheap industrial commodity that is available in limitless supply.

  Sadly, this is not the case, and Mr. Montgomery provides many examples of why soil degradation has taken down countries and empires, including Iraq, Greece, China, Haiti, Iceland, The Roman Empire and others. It's a long list.

  He states " soil erosion now exceeds new soil production by as much as 23 billion tons per year. At this pace the world would literally run out of topsoil in little more than a century. It's like a bank account from which one spends and spends, but never deposits."

  This steady bleed has caused many farmers around the world to dramatically change how they treat their land. I have written another blog ( "Is your farm organic?") and I will write more in the future that I hope you will read  to further your understanding and appreciation of what many farmers, including me, are doing to arrest and reverse this decline.

  We have seen our soil organic matter levels increase over the past 30 years, due to cover cropping, long rotations, no-till planting, composting and other practices. These have provided tremendous advantages to us by increasing the water holding capacity of our soil, increasing microbial activity; even helping plants fight off disease.

  But the bottom line is what these practices provide to you and to society as a whole, and I will continue to hammer this point home over the years to come:

  Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People

  Your local soil zealot,




Friday, October 9, 2015

Farintosh's Squashes



   John Shales high school nickname for yours truly

  A bit prescient, was our John Shales. Little did he, or I realize how predominant a role squash was to play in my life.

  It wasn't by design or any plan on my part; just one of those random strokes of serendipity that all too infrequently falls into our lap.....

  The fall of 1977 was my first full year on the farm after graduating from Ontario Agricultural College. I had a fledgling pick your own enterprise that had just come face to face against a hard truth of marketing farm produce:

  It's a lot easier to grow produce than it is to sell it.

  I had a couple of long garden rows with a bumper crop of squash that had tempted few buyers. By late September, the end was nigh, unless I stored them in my non-existent storage room.

  Down the lane puttered an ancient, powder blue VW beetle. The driver was one Isilene Lunan, an older black woman with cats-eye glasses and an bottomless supply of good cheer.

  She was drawn to my squash field, where she picked a few and then asked for my help to pick some more.

  By the time we were done, that VW was on its knees; squash crammed into every available space. We settled up and she headed out the lane.

  Next day, Isilene was back for more squash. Again, we overloaded that bug. She was back twice more before the end of the season. I later found out that she had given the majority of her payload away to friends and family.

  "You know", she said, "I have a few friends that would like these. You should plant more next year."

  I was to be reminded of that day when I watched "Field of Dreams" years later, when that Iowa corn farmer was told to "build it and they will come."

  So, in 1978, I planted more squash and as Isilene had promised; they came. Not only in cars, but in pickup trucks and vans; all loaded with customers looking for my squash.

  I later found out that  Seventh Day Adventist and Pentecostal ladies are the gold standard of networking.

  This annual squash picking day grew to the point that, by the high water mark of 2008, thirty years later, we were growing 10 acres of squash for all those folks who kept coming every fall.

  It has turned into a reunion for both me and my loyal customers, one where I have seen small children grow up and have family of their own.

  Isilene Lunan retired to Jamaica, where she passed away several years ago.

  But her spirit is alive and well. The generosity of our customers continues to humble me every year. I am sure that more squash is given away than is consumed by them; to friends, family and older people who can no longer make the trip to the farm.

  Any squash that we have left over is taken to the food banks in Markham and Richmond Hill.

  Isilene would expect no less.




Friday, October 2, 2015


 "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.
    The second best time is now."
                                                     Chinese Proverb

  Picture if you will, a newly planted vegetable seedling in a large open field. 

  It was transplanted into beautiful, loamy soil with ideal moisture conditions and a shot of water and starter fertilizer to settle it into its new home. The day is sunny and warm. Conditions are perfect.

  Most early mornings are relatively windless on our farm, but, by about 9:30 a.m. the wind has really picked up. The wind generally strengthens through the day, often hitting 60-70 clicks by afternoon. Visitors from the city often remark on how windy it is on the farm compared to the city they just left.

  Long before this speed has been attained, our happy little transplant is starting to undergo some serious stress. It is transpiring or losing moisture through its leaves more quickly than it can replace that water through its roots. Blowing soil damages the leaves as well.

  Left unchecked, wind will stunt the growth of those stressed transplants leaving them prone to insect damage and disease with a consequent reduction in final yield.

  This is where those windbreaks enter the picture.

  By planting rows of coniferous trees at 90 degrees to the prevailing wind, we are able to slow down the wind to a point where it is no longer damaging.

  The rule of thumb for protection from windbreaks is that: for every foot of tree height,
ten feet of field to the lee of the wind is protected.

  Our oldest windbreak is a triple row of Norway Spruce, planted in 1927 by a forward thinking Carl Reesor. It is now about 80 feet high, giving us roughly 800 feet of protection, which covers most of our farmstead buildings.

  It also shelters a 3 acre field where the benefits of a dense windbreak become most apparent.

  The microclimate that has been created to the lee of this windbreak is an almost unbelievable transformation: a virtually windless sanctuary that we refer to as "the banana belt". It is perfect for watermelon and other heat seeking crops that thrive in the lush, steamy sanctuary that it becomes every summer.

  I have added to this original windbreak over the years, planting 2000 conifers in 1984 and another 2000 trees in 2006. I used white cedar to the windward side, with a middle row of norway spruce and white spruce on the leeward side. I've also used white pine on some of the more sandy land.

  No wonder so many people ask me if we sell pick your own Christmas trees!

  My own experience is that the trees have grown about one foot per year. That assumes that you take care of them just like any field crop: our 2006 planting required extensive watering in the drought of 2007. We also weed around the trees and mow between the rows for the first 6-7 years.

  Practical people have pointed out to me that I'd better stick at the farming for awhile to take advantage of that latest planting.

  They're right, of course. I hope to do just that; after all, those fields are going to be more fun and easier to farm every year!

  Less gusty in Gormley,


P.S. Our windbreaks will be part of a Conservation Authority Tour this coming Thursday October 8, 2015.

Check out the link, you may want to be part of an environmental farm tour to hear more details about our windbreaks and other farm initiatives:

Friday, September 25, 2015

In Praise of Mature Squash

  Question: (asked by me of a tiny 85 year-old woman who had just purchased a huge Hubbard squash)  "Do you need a hand to cut that into smaller pieces?"

  Answer:  "Oh my dear, no thank-you. I live on the eighth floor!"

We have grown and harvested hundreds of tonnes of squash over the past few decades including:

  Butternut Squash: The Alfa Romeo of squash that appears as though God was handed a french curve set. With its small seed cavity, it is easy to process. Terrific for baking or steaming.  Sublime in soup.

  Acorn or Pepper Squash: The Toyota Camry of squash that doesn't look anything like an acorn. Reliable and pleasant, although it can be stringy if unripe. Best baked with a dash of brown sugar. Early maturing.

  Hubbard Squash: The Hummer of squash with a hard shell that can be a challenge to cut open. Has a small core of devoted fans. Excellent for pies (similar to pumpkin.)

 In all we grow about a dozen different varieties, but of that dozen, I admit to having a huge bias towards one variety in particular:

  Buttercup Squash. The Dodge Caravan of squash that does look like an acorn.  A Dodge Caravan with a lumpy, warty exterior and flat green paint job.

  But the inside is pure, unalloyed squash soul. When mature, the Buttercup has a somewhat dry, nutty, sweet flavor that just begs for a little butter to carry you home to the promised land of squash perfection. It needs no brown sugar; it will be chock full of  sweetness from all those days spent on the vine soaking up sunlight.

  "Mature" is the operative word for squash. Like that small print on the 8th page of that divorce settlement; the devil is in the details. Allow me to digress for just a moment...

  Squash, which was grown by the native people long before the appearance of any white man on this continent, has always enjoyed a place of honor at Thanksgiving.

  Every year North Americans celebrate Thanksgiving in either October or November. The original idea was to celebrate the blessings of a bountiful harvest.

  Squash requires every frost-free day it can find in our latitudes to mature. It and many other crops are simply not ready for harvest until late September in most years, which is the reason why we don't celebrate Thanksgiving on Labor Day or earlier in the year.

  However, the chain stores and other merchants insist on stocking and selling squash right after Labor Day. I have even seen local squash for sale in late August. Some local farmers are more than happy to fill this niche; the wholesale price for squash in early September is much higher than it will be later in the month.

  Why? Because after a winter of high priced American imports, squash lovers are looking for more reasonably priced local product. We are besieged by requests starting in August every year.

  Part of the problem is the squash fruit itself. Although it has reached full size in the field by mid August and certainly looks mature, it requires several more weeks on the vine in the field to fully develop the natural sugars and full complement of Vitamins C, A and B6.

  Ditto thiamine, magnesium, iron and calcium; all will be present, but in diminished amounts.

  It will never mature off the plant if it is picked green in this way, and it will never taste remotely like the delicious vegetable that it can and should be.

   Look for a dark yellow to orange ground spot to determine the maturity. If it's light green or pale white, choose another one or wait until you can buy mature squash.

  Due to the cool wet summer of 2014, we had to wait until the second week of October to harvest our squash; our latest harvest ever. It was a major source of frustration for us and our customers.

  But, it was (finally!) mature and it was so worth the wait.....

  We have just picked our squash for this year and will have them available for the next several weeks.




Friday, September 18, 2015

Season of Mists

  " Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness"
            John Keats  "Ode to Autumn"  September 1819

  " It's wet tractor seat season!" 
               John Deere flyer      September 1999

  What's not to love about September?  Typically, September is the love child of  August and October, although it has been uncharacteristically July-like for much of the first half of the 2015 version.

  Our fields in September are bursting with the bounty of the harvest. It catches me by surprise every year; those spindly transplants that we have been coddling over the past few months are suddenly robust and fulsome.

  We go from wondering how to fill our market up in August to wondering where we can put all that fresh produce. Our market tables are groaning under the bounty of this year's harvest for a few short, hectic weeks.

  John Keats might not have had the chops to make it as a John Deere copywriter, but both quotes make the same point: September is a month of heavy dews and morning mists.

  When a warm, clear day is followed by a cloudless, cool night (typical September weather), dew is formed. Because the cooler night air cannot hold as much humidity as the warmer daytime air, it condenses on the plant leaves.

  This fact can be both a blessing and a curse to farmers:

  A series of heavy dews with light daytime winds creates a situation where a plant's leaves are wet for most of the day. This creates an ideal environment for the growth and spread of certain fungal diseases.

  We try to pick tomatoes, beans and melons when the foliage is dry to help limit any diseases that may be present. All these crops are highly sensitive to foliar diseases.

  The silver lining to dew is the fact that it can compensate for a lack of rain. It is not uncommon to receive an inch or slightly more of precipitation in  the form of dew per week, which can help bring a crop to maturity in a dry fall.

  If you look at the base of a corn plant after a heavy dew, you will see an area of wet soil around the base of the plant. Corn, and many other plants, have a unique leaf design that allows the collected dew to be channeled to the stalk of the plant and then down to the roots through gravity.

  This wonderful time of year is all too brief. Why not come on out to the farm and help us enjoy all the blessings of a bountiful harvest?




Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Watermelon thumping

When one has tasted watermelon, he knows what the angels eat.
                                                                    Mark Twain

  Watermelon are the perfect late summer treat, deliciously sweet and crunchy underneath their garish striped rinds. To me, they evoke memories of checkered table cloths laid out on the lawn, brimming with all the fixings for a summer picnic. No watermelon; no picnic. Simple as that.

 Although they are 92% water, they do contain significant amounts of Vitamin A, B6 and C in addition to lycopene, antioxidants, amino acids and a modest amount of potassium.

  I love growing them. We harvest thousands every year, to rave reviews. I prefer cultivating seeded varieties; they are more reliably sweet in our increasingly unreliable Southern Ontario summers.

  The appearance of watermelons in our market marks the beginning of a ritual that has become so predictable to us as to be almost comical: the watermelon thump. We have several weeks ahead during which our market will reverberate with the sound of watermelon thumping.

  It doesn't seem to matter where in the world our customers come from. Everyone seems to know this ritual, or has inherited it from a parent or grandparent.

  The idea of rapping a melon with your knuckles is, of course, to determine whether it is ripe or not. There is a modicum of science to the practice, the fact that a ripe melon has a more hollow sound than an unripe one. It takes a skilled practitioner and the sound does vary between melon varieties.

 My advice to die-hard thumpers: the sound that you make rapping on your head denotes an unripe melon; the sound that you make by thumping on your chest approximates that of a ripe melon.

   Okay, it's an inexact science, but it does enhance the comic effect.

  Realistically, thumping a watermelon to determine ripeness is about as effective as kicking the tires on a car to determine if it is mechanically fit.

  A more effective method, and the one we use in the field, is to roll the melon until you find where it lay while growing and ripening in the field (the "ground spot" or "belly spot".) This spot should be creamy white or yellow. If it is light green or you can see stripes running through the belly spot, then the melon is immature.

  Watermelons will not mature any further after they are picked! We are extremely careful when harvesting our melons to try and avoid immature fruit for this reason.

  Mature melons also have a faded appearance on the top that you will easily recognize.

  Believe it or not, there is a new Melon Meter app for your smartphone to determine whether it is ripe or not:

  Call me a Luddite, but we have resisted that one so far. It is clearly not as much fun as thumping.

  Come and get them while you can; it's a short and sweet season!




Friday, September 4, 2015

Bug Busting

  "Alright you two; break it up!"
  Geoff Farintosh, Age 8, squishing two mating potato beetles.

  Anyone who grows potatoes or eggplant already knows way more than they care to about Colorado Potato Beatles.

 Beneath their handsome striped shells lurks a stone cold killer with the ability to strip the leaves off a potato crop almost overnight.They create millions of dollars in damage every year.

  What makes them so singularly successful is their legendary ability to develop resistance to any insecticide thrown at them. Starting with DDT in 1952, there is a long list of failed chemicals that are no longer effective.

  Chemical control typically involves several applications of insecticide every growing season.

  Their kryptonite, however, is what they call "mechanical control", or in layman's terms, hand-picking-and -squishing-them. It is 100% guaranteed and there is absolutely no chance of their developing resistance.

  It is slow and tedious work. Not only do the adult beetles have to be squashed, there is also the matter of larvae and egg masses to deal with.

 Given that an adult beetle can lay up to 800 eggs, times a couple of generations per year, that's a lot of sons and daughters of anarchy wreaking havoc on your crop.

  We only grow about one acre of eggplants, so it is within our means to practice mechanical control, which we do when the plants are small, typically within the first couple of weeks after transplanting, when they are most vulnerable to insect damage.

  This is when my son wishes he was 8 again, rather than  6'5".

  Our other ace in the hole is the use of predatory beneficial insects, or biological control. This is sheer serendipity, but about the time that the second generation of potato beetles is laying eggs, lady beetles (lady bugs ) appear in great numbers, usually attracted by aphids on other crops.

  Potato beetle eggs are chocolate truffles to lady beetles, who typically destroy about 60% of the egg masses.

  By then, the host eggplant is usually big enough to fend for itself without any chemical intervention from us.

  We grow a dozen or so different kinds of eggplant, all using the same system. They are picked every morning at the height of their creamy goodness. Sicilian, Asian and the more usual purple varieties are all on offer.

  So look up your favorite recipe and stop by the farm. We will have them ready for Pick Your Own later on in September.




Friday, August 28, 2015

Home field advantage

  " Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing."

                                               Oscar Wilde

  The big Plymouth pulled over on to the gravel shoulder beside where I was selling sweet corn off the back of a pickup truck. It was a hot, steamy day in late August with not a whisper of a breeze.

  " How much is your corn?", the woman asked.
  " Sixty five cents a dozen. It's Seneca Chief and it was just picked this morning", I said, brightly.
  " It's fifty cents a dozen in Windsor" she replied, unimpressed. Emphasis on the "fifty".

   Windsor; 240 miles to the southwest from where we were; in the heart of corn-growing country.

  " That would be the place to buy it then", I answered, helpfully.

  She pinned the accelerator, putting up a rooster-tail of gravel and dust that enveloped my truck and I, as she fishtailed back into traffic.

  Sigh. Another satisfied customer.

  Local food was a tough sell in 1975. Price was the number one concern of most shoppers; the cheaper, the better. The whole notion of local food actually tasting better or being more nutritious was appreciated by few consumers.

  Whole Foods wouldn't have had a snowball's chance in 1975 in our area. Knob Hill Farms ( a deep discount chain) was king.

  So why is it a lot easier for me to sell that fresh corn today?

  A better informed  population, with its increased interest in health and well-being has really propelled the local food movement to the fore. They get the fact that fresh food is more tasty and nutritious than produce that has traveled further to get to their supermarket shelf than they did on their last vacation.

  This is where smaller growers, like myself, enjoy a distinct advantage. A local chain advertises "if it was any fresher, it would still be in the field." Well, as a matter of fact, it probably is still in our field, and will be until a few hours (or minutes, even) before it is sold.

  We are far more nimble at managing our fresh inventory because we can delay our harvest until the last possible moment to ensure peak ripeness, flavour and nutrition.

  There is an ever increasing body of scientific evidence that directly links the freshness of certain vegetables  to their health benefits. While a potato can be stored for several months without compromising its nutritional benefit, broccoli begins to lose its cancer-fighting compounds within 24 hours of harvest.

  The book "Eating on the Wild Side" by Jo Robinson discusses many different fruits and vegetables through this lens.

   For the ultimate fresh local food experience, why not try picking some of the many different vegetables at our farm yourself. We are sure that once you have tasted the difference, you will be back for more!

  Outstanding in his field,


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Whatever happened to real carrots?

"Sowe carrets in your gardens, and humbly praise God for them, as for a singular and great blessing"
                                                   Richard Gardiner  1599

  So what was the best carrot that you ever tasted?

 Most people I ask remember it as that one they pulled out of the garden themselves, wiped on their sleeve and popped into their mouth. There it was: earthy, crisp and sweetly delicious.

  So why do so many carrots taste so "meh" these days?   It's a very good question.

  The first issue to address is the varieties of carrots grown today:

 For a large scale carrot grower, the goal is to harvest and store the maximum tonnage that can be coaxed out of his land. Obviously the money for commercial seed houses and plant breeders is to address the needs of these high volume producers, which is only fair.

   Commercial seed catalog carrot descriptions will include "good interior color", "strong tops", "good shipper", "good storeability"or "excellent yields". Flavor and sweetness are mentioned, but they are secondary concerns for most large commercial growers.

  The appearance of "baby carrots" several years ago was a canary in a coal mine about the disappearing taste. It was a tacit admission by the industry that, okay, our cello-pack carrots have no flavor, but how about these cute baby carrots with bunnies on the package!

  Then the truth came out that these were merely large carrots that had been mechanically shaped to resemble baby carrots. It was all an elaborate ruse.

  So, what about bunched carrots, sold with the tops on?

  California accounts for about 80% of the bunched market every year, due to their year-round growing season. Ask any farm market operator what the sweetest carrot type is, and they will tell you: Nantes, which is the only type that we grow.

 California doesn't grow Nantes carrots for bunching; preferring long, thin types to the generally shorter and less uniform Nantes varieties.

  The second contributing factor to the sweetness of carrots is the soil in which they are grown.

  Most commercial carrot growing areas have sand or muck soils to aid with seedling emergence and the development of long straight roots. Clay soils are anathema to commercial growers, tricky to work with and difficult to harvest from due to their "sticky" quality.

  Those of you familiar with wine may have heard the word "terroir",which, although it literally means soil, actually refers to the specificity of a place. This includes the soil, rainfall, climate, etc.  Bordeaux and Burgundy are well known examples of wine regions where the superior flavor is inextricably linked to their terroir.

  I don't think that it's much of a stretch to apply the word to vegetables as well. We find that the more complex that we can make our soil's biology ahead of carrots, the better they taste.

  This means using cover crops and growing diverse species of green manures to incorporate into our clay loam soils. A clay fraction in soil seems to confer a better taste to vegetables for reasons that are not fully understood, but may be due to its ability to hang onto more minerals such as Magnesium and Potassium.

  A less subjective and more quantifiable method that we employ is to measure the degrees of Brix or sugar, found in our carrots.  Vegetable farmers have stolen the idea from those savvy wine growers again, who have measured Brix readings for years to help determine the optimum timing for harvest.

 We may have readings of 9 early in the summer, climbing to 12 with the cooler weather of fall, which, again helps make sweeter carrots.

  Obviously, I have simplified the whole issue, but you now have enough information to make you dangerous at any discussion involving the taste of carrots.

  We have been digging some great tasting carrots lately, with brix readings of about 12; unusually high for this time of year. Stop by and catch them while you can!


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What are those red striped beans?

" I did not read books the first summer. I hoed beans."
          Henry David Thoreau       Walden Pond

We grow acres of snap beans every year, both green and yellow. We pick them every morning from late July until frost, weather permitting.

  Snap bean varieties grown for shipping are specifically bred to have added fiber to help them withstand the rigors of being loaded on and off trucks on their way to the supermarket. We have all tasted those beans. I'm sure that is why they used to be called "string" beans.

  The bean varieties we grow are bred to have less fiber, making them much more tender. We stagger our plantings over the course of the season to give us a steady supply of young, tender beans.

  Weather clearly sets the agenda, but 2014, with its cool, wet growing season was about as close to perfect a bean growing season as one could ask for. The quality and flavor were both excellent. Our 2015 beans have been great as well thus far.

  Most people are familiar with how to handle a green bean in the kitchen, but the appearance of those plump beans with their gorgeous splashes of pink, red and white marks the reappearance in our market of that perennial question:

  "What are those red striped beans and what do I do with them?"

  Romano beans is what we call them here in Ontario. They are also known as French Horticultural, Borlotti or Cranberry beans depending on where you hail from. Our West Indian customers call them, simply, "peas" which created some confusion on my part in the early years of my farming career, but we're all on the same page now.

  Unlike a snap bean, Romano beans are left on the plant to mature until the beans inside the pod are swollen. The beans are harvested at this point and  easily shelled, yielding strikingly colored white beans with deep red specks. The outer pods are discarded.

  These beans are now cooked, which will cause the color to fade to a uniform beige color. The flavor is wonderfully unique; a nutty,earthy, somewhat sweet taste with a creamy, substantial texture. The taste is nothing like a lima bean, which was a very pleasant surprise to me.

  The easiest way to use them is to add them as the last ingredient to chili, soups or stews. They only need about 35 minutes; if cooked much longer they will split and then start to break down.

  Or, you can boil them on their own. Cover them with two inches of water or stock and add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and cook them uncovered for about 35 minutes or until tender. Drain, toss with some olive oil , lemon juice, salt , pepper and some minced fresh parsley and you have a delicious warm salad.

  Another one of the really great things about Romano beans is the ease of preserving them. No need to blanch them, we just lay the shelled beans in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze them until they're solid. We then transfer them to plastic airtight bags. Because they're individually frozen, it is easy to take out a little or a lot, as required.

  We are all looking for healthy sources of protein these days, and these beans fit the bill. A one cup serving has 16.5 grams of protein along with 17.7 grams of dietary fiber. Added to that are their substantial quantities of potassium, copper, iron and calcium. We're talking about a nutritional powerhouse!

  So, why not take some time to spread your culinary wings if you have been a stranger to Romano beans until now. We'll have them available from early August to late September.




Tuesday, August 4, 2015


"Peaches and Cream! My husband and I don't eat genetically modified food; where's the yellow corn?"
Customer in our market, August 2014.

I grew my first crop of sweet corn in 1972; a variety called "Golden Bantam", that had been around since 1903.

Discovered by a farmer in Massachusetts, it was the first yellow sweet corn variety that bridged the gap between feed corn for animals and something that would be enjoyed by people.

Golden Bantam was (and is; it's still available from some seed suppliers) an open pollinated variety, meaning that it reproduces true from seed year after year.

Although many of our older customers suggest that Golden Bantam was the best sweet corn ever, I would suggest that their misty water-colored memories are flawed. The variety has neither the tenderness nor the sweetness of modern day sweet corn offerings. It displays a chewiness and flavour that was enjoyed by many back in the day, but again, doesn't compare favorably to present day hybrids.

So what is a hybrid ?

In its simplest form, a hybrid is developed by crossing two parents with individual desired qualities to create a new variety with both of the desired characteristics present.

When a female horse is crossed with a male donkey, a mule is created, combining the hardiness of a donkey with the size and strength of a horse.

Similarly, when when sweet corn breeders wanted increased tenderness and sweetness, they crossed two sweet corn parents with these qualities present. When a yellow variety and a white variety of sweet corn are crossed with each other, a bicolor variety may very well be the result (Peaches and Cream is but one of many bicolor varieties).

This is a gross over-simplification, and yet this is textbook classical plant or animal breeding. It has gone on for centuries; however the hybrid concept really came to the fore in the 1930's, especially in field corn breeding.

This is where the confusion creeps in for a lot of people, who figure that any new, improved variety has been genetically modified.

Genetic modification involves insertion or deletion of genes in a lab between organisms that could be conventionally bred in the field. The reason this is done is to create resistance to certain herbicides or insect pests. Field corn, soybeans and cotton are the most widely grown G.M. crops. They are often referred to as "Frankenfoods" for obvious reasons.

As most of you know, the practice is highly controversial. Europe has an outright ban on all G.M. crops. A large part of the problem, as myself and many other farmers see it, is that consumers were never made aware of the benefits of G.M. crops before they were introduced. Many highly toxic pesticides that were widely used by most farmers are no longer needed, due to the introduction of rootworm resistant field corn, for instance.

That said, rest assured that we grow absolutely no genetically modified vegetables on our farm.
There is a G.M. sweet corn that is resistant to corn earworms, but we don't grow it. There are also G.M. tomatoes and peppers; again, we don't grow them.

Any new variety of vegetable that we grow has been created the old-fashioned way: through classical plant breeding, because that is what you want and that is what we would prefer to grow.

Un-modified near Markham,