Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Twilight of the Tomatoes

    Well the season is drawing to an end. The summer was so hot and dry and it seemed to be going on unchanged for ages but then fall came almost overnight. We have had several weeks of rainy cold weather. The tomatoes have been struggling to ripen. The cherry tomatoes where the first to come ripe back in late July and it seems they will be the first to succumb to the cold. The yield has been droppping drastically. The Big Heirlooms are fairing a little bit better. Last Tuesday night we had a big storm and when I got to the fields on Wednesday morning I found most of the ripe tomatoes had been blown right off the vine and into the mud. Oh, well... wont be the last time the weather knocks me about a bit.

    Not sure how much longer the harvest can go for. Hopefully mother nature will give us a little bit more time. I plan to go up on Wednesday or Thursday morning to see what is available.  While the tomatoes are just about done for, the butternut squash are ripening nicely as are the Muscade de' Provence pumpkins. I made some ravioli filling with some butternut squashes tonight and the potato and butternut "boulanger" was a big hit at the Great Gatsby Party that we hosted up at the farmhouse in Meaford last weekend.

    This first season has been a challenge and a great experience. The learning curve on farming is rather steep but i feel we have learned alot about nature, farming, food and ourselves this summer. A few more weeks of harvest and then we will tear down and clean up the Niagara field. After that it will be time to sit down with my notes and review the years lessons. there have been lots of mistakes and some great successes as well. Anyone who has sat down to a salad of the tomatoes couldn't deny that some things went very well indeed. Late fall will be a time to plan for year number 2. We have some exciting ideas which we will tell you all about after we have had a bit more time to work out the details.

   

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Labour Day Weekend

Quality Control

September started out super hot but the arrival of this weekend had us wearing jackets to do deliveries this afternoon. As i got home at 6 am from working a night shoot, Grant got up and went to the farm to harvest. By the time he got back i had slept for a few hrs and gave him a hand organizing all the orders. We dropped veggies off to Multiple Organics, Enoteca Sociale, Grace, Bohmer, Marben, The Atlantic and Cowbell. It seems like everyone is super happy with the tomatoes and some of the chefs actually came to the car to snoop in the window to see what else we had. It was interesting to hear Grant talking to the chefs about their recipes and witness them be so passionate and truly excited to get a fresh batch of vegetables right from the farm, picked that morning. There sure are some talented chefs in these restaurants and it feels really good to be a part of their creative process. 


Note to self: Build a bike trailer to do deliveries next summer. Traffic was/is brutal and cyclists were passing us...so next year it would be great to deliver on bike - faster, more eco-friendly and waaaay less stressful.

I had more deep thoughts but they've vanished and i need to get ready to go to the farmhouse tonight after grant finishes his "real job". The next few days will be spent relaxing with friends, eating good  healthy food that we grew oursleves, breathing fresh air and not working. It's been a very long, hard summer but it feels worth it. Now it's chillax time.

Happy Labour Day all you hard workers!  -Lainie


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bounty


well, nature sure has been good to us this summer with near perfect tomato growing weather. i really must stress our thanks to her. we have been very lucky our first year of growing.

it has taken a few weeks to get into a groove. at first we had too many tomatoes and not enough mouths for them and now we have too many mouths and not enough tomatoes! grant is heading back from the farm as i type this, with a fresh carload full. ella has to ride shotgun. ;)

our friends at multiple organics (on dundas at sheridan) wrote this in their newsletter which i thought summed stuff up nicely...

"We've got the best neighbourhood. Full of creative, smart, caring people.  We got to meet another one this week who goes by the name of Grant, aka Prairie Boy.  He's a Brocktonite AND he's a farmer. He has a place near Niagara where he produces the most mouth-melting tomatoes you will ever eat.  My partner Andrew said to me after eating a slice: "Now that's why tomatoes are a fruit!!""

nice huh?

thanks everyone for supporting us and digging into the yumminess; such a delicious time of year.

-lainie

Saturday, August 7, 2010

TTT sandwich

3rd post in 1 day! We must be productive when we have the time. Last night I finished a 10 week tv series and am psyched to have some spare time to help with the farm; just in time for harvest! As Grant is off delivering tomatoes, i wanted to take the time to document what has been going on with the veggies from where i sit.

Things are growing and ripening at an exponential rate. Soon the house will be filled with actual tomatoes instead of the tomato grow op that was here all spring. ;) 

I woke up this morning to the smell of toasted tomato sandwiches...delicious. My favourite summer meal. So simple. It reminded me of my good friend Judy who lives in Amsterdam who taught me all about the art of the tomato sandwich from growing up eating incredibly fresh tomatoes from her parents garden in Winnipeg. She is CRAZY for tomatoes and taught me alot about picking them. She was the pickiest tomato picker out there and i think she would approve of what Grant is harvesting. i wish i could courrier her some. hmmmmm.........

I was obviously the first guinea pig and i must say they are delicious. My favourites are the black crims, juane flammes and all the cherries. Actually those are the only ones ready, so they are all my favourites ;)  The big ones seem to have alot of cracks which is apparently a result of absorbing too much water too fast. Sorta how you feel after eating too much...;) only we just undo our belts not open our skin. I'd rather have mind blowing flavour and a few cracks than pristine  looking fruit that tastes like cardboard.

Things started rolling last week at Cowbell with Grants' fried green tomatoes. They were apparently a hit. Thanks Chef/owner Mark Cutrara for putting them on the menu and being our first restaurant to serve Prairie Boy tomatoes. Chef Carl at Marben has also purchased some tomatoes and squash blossoms. Pots at For Life Organics in Kensington market has tomatoes, as does cafe/caterer Belly in parkdale. Grant is out today delivering to new chefs now that we have more than just a few samples. Last but not least, our heatwave seems to have broken which means the tomatoes are going to ripen like crazy starting now because apparently they won't ripen above 35˚ or something like that (Grant knows) and i had my first tomato, tomato and tomato sandwich for breakfast (which was actually 3 kinds of tomatoes, cukes, avocado and a little red onion).


 it was scrumdiliiscious! -lainie

Them Crooked Swedes

So as promised I'll tell you about the Crooked Swede. Lainie and I went up to Manitoulin Island to visit friends, Marilyn and Elwood. They have an amazing backyard garden that was a little overrun as Elwood had been away for a week at his bother's 80th? birthday party in Saskatchewan. As we helped him catch up on the garden, he told us about his potatoes he calls Crooked Swedes. Where exactly the varietal originated is unclear but the ancestors to these little beauties came over from Europe in the coat pockets of Elwood's grandfather in 1905. Elwood gave me a few of the sprouting spuds and i have planted them in the Niagara. Not sure if they will be too late to give me a few spuds or not. I hope to get enough to use for seed next year. If not I guess we will have to head back to the Manitoulin for some more gardening and spuds next spring. Thanks Elwood and Marilyn for the great day and for the Crooked Swedes.

First bite!

    On Saturday the 24th of July i went to the farm for the first time to harvest veggies. The plan was to get some squash blossoms for Mark at Cowbell. During my morning walk through the fields I noticed to my huge excitement a ripe tomato. It was a beautiful, bright orange Kellogg's Beefsteak. It hard to describe what it was like to stand in the middle of the field after months of hard work and eat this amazing tomato. The texture was firm and the taste was a perfect blend of sweet and acid with a remarkable complexity. As the rounds continued i discovered several more ripe fruits. Not too many yet but its a sure sign that full scale harvest is only days away now. I also was able to harvest cukes, zucchinis and squash blossoms. It is both exciting and stressful. I have the feeling that i am about to get very, very busy.

   

Friday, July 30, 2010

quote for today

we have been very busy but i like this alot:

If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done. Be sure to stay busy and plant a variety of crops, for you never know which will grow... perhaps they all will. -Ecclesiastes

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Happenings

Cell Phone Pics

Black Beauty Eggplant blossom
Red Brandy Wine Tomato
Marconi Sweet Red Pepper

Friday, July 9, 2010

Beautiful Rain!

    That heat wave we just had has resulted in the peppers growing fairly quickly. The tomatoes are doing well also. Wednesday turned out to be a bit stressful for me as I was unable to water my crops. I bought an irrigation pump about 6 weeks ago from princess auto. It worked a few times then quit so I returned it. They gave me my money back no questions asked. This week i picked up a new one and it worked for about 3 minutes before it also conked out and wouldn't restart. While their stuff is cheap, their in house brand "Power Fist" (no comment -lk ed.) products seem to be poorly made and not worth buying at any price. Again they gave me a return but this left me without a pump. Hopefully we will get a Honda pump some time in the near future if i can scrounge up the $600 for it. I checked the weather forecast and decided to give it a couple of days and if it didn't rain then i would go up and borrow Howie's Honda pump and water everything. Fortunately the rains came today just when they were needed. It is beautiful to see the rain falling and think about the life flowing into the crops. They should be alright on there own until Monday.
    That said, i still have a ton of tying up to do asap. Anyone who can come up early this week can email me at grantdmacpherson@gmail.com. Your help would be greatly appreciated.
   Next blog entry will be the "Tale of Elwood's Crooked Swede". The story of a spuds journey from the old world to my fields, so don't miss it!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Canada Day

    Canada Day was fun. Lainie and I went up with the lovely and talented Alex Castillo-Smith and spent the morning weeding and pounding spikes into the ground. Then a little lunch at Ravine Vineyards. It was a great way to spend the morning and productive too. Thanks for your help Alex.
    At the farm there are thousands of baby tomatoes. Its very exciting. I will be heading up tomorrow morning to begin staking up the vines. I am using steel posts that I got from Howie, and some old grape trellising wire. The plan is to tie a piece of sisal twine to the top wire and then to each vine base and wrap the vine around the rope as it grows. Its only a few weeks before the first tomatoes will be ready for harvest!
    A pleasant surprise awaited me at the farm. You may remember that the bunnies ate most of the bean plants. I was planning on reseeding them this week but it seems that even though they where cut down to stumps they where not ready to give up. There are new leaves spouting on all of them! Nature is truly inspiring.
   Another day of weeding, watering, and trellising awaits in the morning so its off to bed.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Many shades of green.

    A lot is happening in the Niagara over the last few weeks. Some successes and some failures. Many of the seeds have been unable to thrive in the heavy clay soils. Due to some heavy rainfalls the clay earth formed a crust. The weaker seedlings where unable to break through this layer so the herbs, lettuce and other delicate crop are struggling if not non-existent. The eggplants, beets  and peppers are having mixed success. So that's the bad news but the good news is plentiful. There are many healthy bean and pea plants; as well as corn, pumpkin, squash, and melon plants. The potatoes are starting to shoot up aggressively also.
    For those of you following from the earliest days you will know that my major crop is tomatoes. They started flowering about ten days ago. The plants have recovered nicely from their battle with wet soils and are shooting skyward. Howie and I drove metal stakes so its soon time to start tying them up. Some aphids have started to show up so I will be spraying the foliage with phosphate free dish detergent and water to discourage their feasting. I have planted some Marigold seeds to encourage ladybugs but I cant do too many of these because ladybugs are a menace for wine makers.
    I am ecstatic to report that on Monday the 18th I discovered my first little green tomato hanging on one of the Brandywine plants. Hopefully many more to come in the near future. This is a make or break period right now and I am a bit nervous about how well they will set fruit. I have done my best to give them good growing conditions and it is up to them now.
Pics to come soon.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Rain, rain, rain...

Well, its been days of rain in the Niagara. I got some seed planted on Monday and Tuesday, but i cant plant any of the finer stuff like lettuces herbs etc. Ground is too wet and heavy to even rake it by hand. Its calling for more rain this weekend. i really hope not, things as so wet now that i need 4 or 5 days of good sunshine and a wind to dry them out. i am a little concerned about root rot if it keeps raining. The bottom leaves on some of my plants are yellow. going to have to prune off anything touching the ground, as this will help avoid soil born disease. As you can imagine it will take a while to prune 1200 plants. hopefully the weather will change in my favour and i can a get a few solid days work in later this week.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Seedlings no more!

A little while since the last update. I have been so busy planting that i haven't had much time for the blog. All the seedlings are finally in the ground as of Wednesday morning. It was a long week but when i stood back for one last look before heading back to the city, I felt a great sense of satisfaction. We were up at the farm this morning. Its very waterlogged after several days of heavy rain. The plants are showing some vigorous growth already. Nice big stems and some new leaves starting. Very relieved to have my main crop in the ground. Thank so much Fiona, Emily, and Lainie for all your help.
    In the morning I will be heading back up for a round of planting. This time its seeds. Lots of veggies, melons, squashes and some leafy green bits. Should be some nice weather hopefully, so I hope to get a lot done. 
I'll get some more pics for you all soon.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Empty Nesters

Grant took up loads of plants all last week, (thanks for the truck Tico), leaving early in the morning, planting til early afternoon and returning to work at COWBELL in the evenings.  We FINALLY finished transporting ALL 1200'ish? plants out to the farm this past weekend. (Thanks Emily for the VW space and the hard work in the scorching sun.)  Grant has been hard at work out there for days, surviving some very hot weather, a tent full of ants then a tent that leaks in a thunderstorm and a dog in a tent petrified of storms. But all will be in the ground by tomorrow morning. Apparently the rain last night made the plants very happy and they're looking the best they've looked so far. So it's up to them now.  The house feels so empty without them... -lainie


Vegwagons
Ella rides with the tomatoes
One of the first plants in it's new home

The first row














Em trying out the new water pump

Grant planting

...and last but not least, Howie dropped off a port-a-potty. YAY!

Monday, May 24, 2010

May Two Four

Well, things still weren't ready for us to plant on sunday...pesky nature. So we decided to head to the land anyways and build the fort/nest/camp etc and take a few supplies up. We arrived to Howie hard at work, continuing to get the soil ready. We built a house, table and watched a beauty of a sunset over the field. Saw a coyote (a huge one!), watched Ella swim in 4 mile creek, slept over, awoke to what sounded like a zillion birds, got some five rows wine from Wilma and Wes and tried to enjoy the relative down time before the mayhem of planting, watering, weeding, commuting cycle takes over grants' life. Here are a few pics from the weekend.
-lainie





It begins!!!

We went out to the farm yesterday to set up a few things and see if we could do anything productive while we were waiting for the tilling. As we drove onto the farm I was ecstatic to see Howie out on the tractor tilling the land. Thanks Howie! We camped overnight and when we left this afternoon,  he was heading out to  do the final rotovating and then hill up my furrows. So starting tomorrow, and for many days to come after, i will be planting tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

So its Saturday and my weekend of planting is delayed yet again. The land is still heavy with water. Combine that with a bit of rain and we are still playing the waiting game. It seems that because the land has been fallow for so long, it is taking a long time to dry out enough to till. If the weather man is right, hopefully that will happen some time this week. And then its hoeing up the rows and then planting like a madman. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will go in right away followed by the direct seeded stuff. It is frustrating to sit on my hands and wait so we are going out tomorrow to set up a few things and see what if anything we can do to be prepared to go the moment the fields are ready.

Try to imagine tilling your 20 acres of unbroken prairie grasslands with this pulled behind a horse!?!? This was John Deere's highly innovative "Grasshopper Plow". Invented in 1837 this was a huge improvement over all previous plow and in only a few years he was selling 10,000 of them a year. Film buffs can check out " The Plow that Broke the Great Plains". an interesting bit of propaganda / history.

The Tomato Refugee Camp

Hiding from the noonday sun.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

refugees

I had hoped to get some rows built and some of the planting done last weekend but a heavy rain on Thursday completely soaked the fields. The fields look dry on top but still muddy underneath. It just clogs up the tiller. We finally got a stint of sunny dry weather in the last few days so the fields should be tilled by tomorrow. Which is great but I did have a bit of a panic from the intense sun yesterday. My seedlings have been outside for a few days but i guess some of them where not ready for a hot summers day yet. I had them in and out several times but that stint of cold when they had to stay in doors must have set back the hardening off process. Another lesson I need to remember for next year. Some plants lost a few leaves and I had to race around moving things into the shade. I can't haul them all back into the house so I checked online for a solution. A floating row cover to protect them from the sun is the solution, unfortunately we don't have any yet. Thankfully Lainie has some Saris that seem to fit the bill. So although our yard looks like a tomato refugee camp, I am confident that the seedlings will weather today's hot sun in style. Thanks again Lainers.
I have a few pics but blogger isn't letting me upload them right now. i will post them later hopefully.
Prairie Boy

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Farm Hand


My farm hand surveys the land from the safety of the new "barn".

watching and waiting


The plants are into their interim homes in the ecotainer cups. I chose these because they are sourced from renewable resources, fully compostible, and affordable. The little guys are growing fast and I am itching to get them in the ground. A little miscalculation on my part has caused me some grief however; I thought I would get 24 plants in each tray, but I can only fit 18. So I have 74 trays instead of the 56 I had planned on. This takes up a lot more real estate. Fortunately Lainie is excited about the project or else all 1400 of us might be looking for a new place to live.
The brief cold snap that we just had is a warning about getting hasty with the farm. I was told frost could come anytime until about the 3rd week of May and it showed up last night. Thankfully, my little plants are still sitting snug and warm in the upstairs of the house. Getting a bit crowded in here, which underscores the need for a better set up for next year.
The land has been worked up and I am now waiting for final rotovating so that I can build my beds. While that is happening, I need to “ harden off” the plants so they don’t go into shock when they are moved outdoors. This means I carry them outside for a few hours of sunlight and wind, and then back indoors. A bit longer exposure each day and after a few sunny days, they are ready for life in the fields. If consider that I need to carry all 74 trays from the upstairs to the back yard and then back again, you can imagine the leg workout I am getting. Perhaps I should advertise some kind of pre-summer boot camp for those who want sculpted legs.
So for now its sit and wait and watch the weather. I guess that’s farming…

Saturday, May 8, 2010

growth spurt

Got my hands a bit dirty while potting up the tomato plants. I used the ecotainer cups for most. i ran out near the end so i made newspaper "pots".


Saturday, April 24, 2010

the begining

So… a few pictures of some seedlings and a guy with a beard. How did we get to here?
Well that guy is me, the prairie boy. I was living in Winnipeg and working in the restaurant business as I have done since I was a kid. As my love for food has developed, I began thinking more about where it was coming from and how it was produced. I wont go into a rant about the madness of modern farming and food distribution, but its clear that we need an alternative to pulpy, bland, chemically treated tomatoes from 2500 km away. Its seems really wrong to eat food that is better traveled than the person eating it. As soon as I started reading about alternative food systems I was amazed and inspired to find such a huge group of people who were out there doing the very thing I had dreamed of.

For various reasons, the prairies are now far behind me and I find myself in the upstairs spare room of our Toronto home surrounded by 1200 tiny little plants that are teeming with life. This first wave of plants (heirloom tomatoes, peppers and eggplants) will be going into the ground in mid-may.

The ground…?

In our case this means a small plot on St. David’s bench in the heart of the Niagara. How does a prairie boy who is new to the big city get a great little spot in the Niagara you ask? Well its simple actually… Just jump into a car with a beautiful girl, a dog, and a bad tourist map of wine country and go for a drive. On our first visit Lainie (that’s her behind the camera) and I went to Treadwell’s restaurant for some lunch and got some great recommendations about wineries from James Treadwell. He told us about a little craft winery called Five Rows.

On our next trip, not too much later we headed over to check it out. What we found was very inspiring. The Lowreys, owners of Five Rows, are a fifth generation farming family. Howie (dad) is a grape farmer, Wilma (mom) runs the winery and grows lavender, and Wes (son) is the winemaker. You can check out their story on the Five Rows site, great people and great wine http://www.fiverows.com. While talking to Wes, and I was really inspired by his passion for wine and the pursuit of his dream, so I told him a bit about my own plans. As we talked he mentioned that his family has a small plot of fallow land that might suit my needs.

Forward to spring of 2010 and weather permitting we will be tilling the fields and planting soon. And so with the gracious help of the Lowrey family, Lainie, and Ella, I begin my quest for the Veg Less Traveled.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010