Changing Seasons

Fall has arrived at the farm! The changing of the seasons has many different impacts on the farm and on us, the farmers.

Last week, we had our first surface frost. The frost had a noticeable impact on many leafy plants. The bean and zucchini plants now look rather dead, with blackened and rotting leaves. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the plants are completely finished – we still harvested a good amount of zucchini and beans this week – but they are on their last legs, and any fruit that was exposed during the frost was damaged. The basil in the greenhouse also suffered, with any leaves that were touching the sides or poking outside freezing and blackening. With the salad greens, the frost did not kill them, but we had to be careful to wait until the leaves thawed before harvesting, to allow them to recover.

Damaged bean plants

Damaged bean plants

Frost can also have a beneficial impact on some crops. Carrots and parsnips, for example, get sweeter after a frost. And the frost that kills back some of the greenery on the winter squash plants allows us o harvest much more easily.

Other Seasonal Changes

As the weather turns, we now start our days a bit later in the morning, keeping up with the later sunrise and colder mornings. We have started covering some of our fragile crops, like salad greens, with floating row cover to insulate them somewhat from the cold and potential frost. We close the greenhouses (usually kept open for air flow during the day) as soon as the sun moves behind the mountain, to trap the heat. Harvesting has shifted from the summer vegetables, and into the fall crops like squash.

As we prepare the farm for winter, one important thing to do is to cover the soil in the beds that are finished for the season. This is important for several reasons: to hold the soil in place and discourage runoff from rains and snow melt; to outcompete the spring weeds by already having growing plants; and to have a good crop of greenery to plow into the soil in the spring, adding organic matter. All of these are important for long-term soil health, as well as short term benefits for annual crops. Here at Rootdown, we are covering our fields in fall rye, a quick growing grass that can cover the soil and prevent weeds from establishing. As we finish different beds in the field, the rye is being planted, with the idea that the grass will start to grow and get established before the winter freeze.

Winter squash

Winter squash

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A Fond Farewell

Hannah's favourite task

Hannah’s favourite task

This week at Rootdown, we say goodbye to Hannah, who has been here for the summer working on the farm. If you’ve visited us regularly at the Whistler Farmers Market, you’ve most likely met Hannah, with her big smile and endless energy!

Hannah joined us at the beginning of July from Ontario, and has spent her summer holiday weeding, harvesting and processing all of Rootdown’s bounty. Her strength has been highly valued by us all (heavy tote to lift? Call Hannah!), her tireless positive attitude keeps the rest of us smiling, and she has a knack for loving certain tasks that some of us prefer to avoid (squash blossom harvest anyone?).

 

  • Favourite farm task: clamming salad (putting salad in plastic clams sold at grocery store)
  • Crops she will be happy to leave behind: beans and zucchini
  • Stories she’ll take home to tell: opening the bee hives, seeing the bee colony, honey, and queen
  • Off-farm adventures: encounters with bears on her morning bike ride; local hikes to Joffrey Lakes and the Chief; camping and canoeing; exploring Whistler
  • Best part of the day: gelato time when work is done
  • Critters best avoided: mice
  • Favourite place on the farm: hanging out in the greenhouse

From all of us at Rootdown, thanks for your help this summer, Hannah! We’ll miss your smiling face, and we hope we’ll see you again next summer!

Hannah at our market stall

Hannah at our market stall

A Day in the Life

Greens like kale are heat sensitive, and need to be harvested early in the day

Greens like kale are heat sensitive, and need to be harvested early in the day

Do you ever wonder what your Rootdown farmers do every day? Well, you probably have some idea, in the sense that we grow vegetables and bring them to you either at market, in the CSA, at local stores and restaurants, but what exactly occupies us for hours every day?

Well, for certain, it changes with the seasons. But at this time of year – mid-July, full high season – our days have established themselves in a solid rhythm of harvesting, processing, packing, and, when we have time left over, weeding.

Heat Sensitive Crops

Some of our crops are very heat sensitive, and need to be harvested early in the morning, preferably before the sun dries the dew, so those are always our priorities. These same crops also don’t store as well in the cooler, so they must be done as close to the time of delivery as possible.

These sensitive crops are the leafy greens, including our salad greens, kale, collards, lettuce heads, and chard. We harvest these from the field first thing in the morning, get them into the shade of our processing area, cool them down with water, and store them in the cooler as quickly as possible.

Some of these crops, such as lettuce heads, and others like radishes and spinach, do less well in the heat, and radishes and spinach are finished for the season, and lettuce will be struggling in the heat!

Speedy Growers

If left unsupervised, zucchinis can grow to enormous sizes!

If left unsupervised, zucchinis can grow to enormous sizes!

There are a few crops that grow very quickly in this weather, and need to be harvested every couple of days. With crops like zucchini and cucumbers, especially field cucumbers (a.k.a. pickling or snacking cukes), if we aren’t on top of collecting them, they can easily get oversized. And even with our frequent harvesting, a few will inevitably get overlooked in the jungle of the large, leafy plants, and we come across some giants with regularity.

Weeding in our Free Time

While the hot weather and sunshine is great for most of our crops, it is also good for the weeds, and if we don’t keep on top of them, weeds can easily overwhelm our pathways and rows. Weeds also take nutrients and water away from our crops, and so we try to keep on top of removing them, especially from slower growing crops like beets and carrots.

Beating the Heat

With the extreme heat of mid-July (37-39 degrees Celsius this week!), we the farmers, like the lettuce and spinach, can also struggle with the heat. We combat it by starting earlier, keeping coolers of cold water with us in the fields, and occasionally ending the days with a bit of ice cream.

Weeding is good, old-fashioned manual labour.

Weeding is good, old-fashioned manual labour.

 

Farm Friends – Lambs

The lambs hang out in their house

The lambs hang out in their house

In another introduction to our farm friends, in this instalment we introduce you to our resident lambs, Blacky and Pinky – you can see we’re creative in our naming, as one has a pink nose and one has a black nose! These lambs arrived to us at a couple of months of age, both male, and will be raised on the farm for personal meat production.

Sheep don’t need much from us except shelter, fresh grass, water, and a handful of oats each day. We move their fenced area about once per week to put them on fresh grass, and when they feel they have been on one patch for too long, they let us know by escaping and running around the farm in search of the tastiest dandelions and clover.

The lambs spend their days munching on grass, then sitting down in the shade to chew their cud. They spend all of their time side by side, because clearly the grass that the other one is eating is much better and must be taken from him!

Lambs, pigs, chickens, dogs and turkeys (stay tuned!)… our farm family is multi-faceted, sometimes needy, and always entertaining!

Oats time!

Oats time!

Whistler Farmers Market for 2014

Simone at our market stall

Simone at our market stall

Since opening day on June 16, Rootdown has had a booth at the Whistler Farmers Market. Every Sunday, two of us can be found at our booth near Portabello restaurant, selling a wide variety of produce freshly harvested from our farm.

Farmers’ Markets are a great place not only to sell our produce, but also to interact with a wide variety of people, some of whom are familiar with the farm, and others who are being introduced to us for the first time. Here are some of the questions that we frequently get asked at the market:

Are these vegetables organic?

Yes! Rootdown is a certified organic farm, and everything that we sell is completely organically grown. In order to maintain our status as a certified organic farm, we undergo an inspection every year to prove that our growing practices fit within the guidelines. We are also certified as a Salmon Safe farm.

Where is your farm? How far is it from here?

Rootdown is located on Pemberton Meadows Road, about 45km away from Whistler, about a 45 min drive. We bring our food to market with our truck and trailer, arriving at market around 7:30am.

My, what large veggies you have!

My, what large veggies you have!

How do these veggies get so big?!

Well, probably different from the average garden, the farm is our full time job! So we take great care of our plants, starting most of them inside a greenhouse as seedlings, with monitored temperature and watering. When they are the right size and strength, we transplant them into soil that has been tilled and amended with nutrients like compost and manure. From there, the plants are protected from insects if necessary with floating row cover, and watered, weeded and thinned as needed. We harvest our veggies as close as possible to the time when they will be delivered or sold, so they are fresh for our customers, and are cleaned and stored in our market cooler. We take great care of our vegetables so they taste and look fantastic!

What can I do with ________?

There may be some unfamiliar veggies on our market stand, and we are always happy to share our favourite recipes with you. Being fresh, local and organic, most of our vegetables are delicious with minimal interference, cooked with light seasonings or eaten raw in salads.

Here is a favourite kale chip recipe, adapted from Vegweb:
Wash one bunch of kale and tear into chip-sized pieces. In a blender, combine and blend the following ingredients:
• 3/4 cup nuts (cashews or almonds work great), soaked
• 1 or 2 green onions
• 2 cloves garlic or 1-2 garlic scapes
• 3 TB nutritional yeast
• 1 TB soy sauce
• 3 TB apple cider vinegar
• 1 TB lemon juice
• Water – enough to make the mixture liquid, but not too runny
Once all of these ingredients are blended together smoothly, pour over the kale in a large container with a lid, close the lid, and shake until all of the leaves are well coated.
To cook the chips, my preferred method is to use a dehydrator, which dries the chips but will not burn them. 2-4 hours at 124-140 degrees works well, just keep checking until they are nice and crispy. They can also be baked in the oven at a low temperature – the higher the temperature, the faster they will cook, but they can go from cooked to burnt in less than a minute, so you have to keep an eye on them!
It can be hard to maintain the crispiness of kale chips for more than a couple of days. Store in an airtight container to maintain freshness, but we usually find that we eat them all right away!

See you at market! Every Sunday 11am-4pm in Whistler village

Garlic scapes on display

Garlic scapes on display

First Harvest Box

Our first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box went out last Thursday to our members in Pemberton and Whistler. Even though it’s still early in the season, the box was packed full of great veggies, including broccoli, Napa cabbage, green onions, garlic scapes, radishes, lettuce, cilantro and Hakurei salad turnips.

Some of these veggies are pretty familiar, but others might be new for members and others buying these items from the market, so here are a few ideas to using them.

1st Harvest box of the 2014 season

1st Harvest box of the 2014 season

Garlic Scapes

These are the tender tops of the garlic plant, and can be used the same way you would use garlic, or sautéed with butter. A great use for them is to blend with fresh basil, olive oil, and a nut like pine nuts or peanuts.

Hakurei Turnips

These mild-tasting turnips are great in salads and sandwiches, or brushed with salt, pepper and olive oil and grilled. If you like your greens, you can sautée the turnip greens with butter and garlic.

For more information on Rootdown’s CSA program, see here.

Rootdown Piglets

Our 2014-06-07 15.46.38 (1)farm got some new residents last week! Our 20 piglets joined us last week and have been settling in nicely.

For the first week, they had a smaller run as they got used to their new home, and slowly adjusted to us, their farmer friends. But being adjusted to their home and the electric fence, we were able to expand their range to encompass a large swath of nearly 5 foot tall grasses and weeds. Although initially hesitant, it didn’t take them long to feel bold enough to explore, and soon the whole group practically disappeared into the tall grasses, merrily chomping away and particularly seeking out their preferred treat, horsetail.

This year’s batch of pigs are a Berkshire/Tamworth cross, but are more heavily weighted in the Berkshire than Tamworth. We have been wanting to try this breed out for a while, as it is a favourite of many chefs and is know for its exceptional flavour, it’s large loin-eye areas and thorough marbling of the meat.

Excitedly exploring their new grass

Excitedly exploring their new grass