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Get Stuffed - Harvest

Harvest time in the valley

There’s a crisp smell in the early morning air these days.

The Fall Equinox has come and gone, heralding shorter days and longer nights.

Cartons of fresh juicy strawberries have disappeared from the stalls at the farmer’s market, replaced with the hardier veggies like carrots, turnip and squash.

So it’s official: autumn is here.

And to date it’s been "stellar" according to Jordan Sturdy, owner of the North Arm Farm in Pemberton.

"I know the Fall Equinox has just passed but it’s still virtually summer," he laughed.

"So there’s still lots of stuff out in the fields."

He said the Fall Equinox, which fell on Monday, Sept. 23, is just a date.

"But it represents that we just have a quarter more year (to go) and the nights are getting longer again."

And so there’s a lot of work to be done on the valley farms as autumn wanes into winter.

The next few weeks will be some of the busiest of the year for Pemberton potato farmers as they begin harvesting their fields.

"For the guys who are growing 50, 60, 70 acres of potatoes, it’s harvest time and that’s the big time for them," said Sturdy.

"That’s what they do. That’s their life."

But on Sturdy’s farm, potatoes are just one part of the fall harvest.

There are other root vegetables in full force at the moment, including some that are a little less common like salsify and Jerusalem artichokes.

Both are root crops. The first is like a big, black carrot and the second is a relative of the sunflower, with a taste reminiscent of a sugary water chestnut.

When asked if they taste good he said: "Well, the restaurants seem to think so."

But that’s not all that’s still growing out there.

The warm weather means that there is still corn to be picked, as well as zucchinis and even some fall bearing raspberries.

"We haven’t had frost yet which is, I’d have to say, unusual," he said.

"Normally we get frost mid-September and we’re not much passed mid-September but as you can tell, the weather is awesome.

"With this kind of weather it’s really hard to go too far wrong."

But as Sturdy knows there are no guarantees on the farm.

His pumpkin patch is starting to produce pumpkins right now that should be ready to go in the next few weeks, unless the bears get to them first.

Sturdy said they’ve already been in his pumpkin patch this year and have a canny knack for sniffing out the best pumpkins in the batch.

"They go around and pick all the nicest, prettiest, biggest and orangest pumpkins and they bite a big hole out and then they scoop out the insides."

Likewise, there’s no way of knowing how long the potato harvest may last, according to Denise vanLoon, who owns a potato farm in the valley with her husband John.

"There’s lots of different variables that come into play," she said.

That’s the thing about farming – there are no guarantees.

"Everybody does their own system. Everybody is on a different cycle," she said.

This year vanLoon said they weaned the calves from their mothers earlier than usual because they were running out of grass for feed.

There was water at the farm to irrigate the potato fields during the warm summer months because the potatoes are the life-blood of the vanLoon farm. But that meant the grass for the cattle ran out faster than it normally does.

Instead of weaning at the end of October or early November, the scarce grass prompted an early weaning this past weekend.

VanLoon described the hard exhausting work of taking 65 calves from their mothers as very, very stressful.

"It’s overwhelming," she said.

It’s difficult to explain the combination of cows running at you and bulls still sniffing around for cows in heat, she said.

Added to this was the constant crying of babies and mums that kept the family without sleep for two nights.

The vanLoon farm is a cow/calf operation where the calves are sold off the farm every year.

After weaning on Sunday, the calves were then sent to market on Monday.

"It’s hard to let them go," she said. "(But) it’s what we have to do."

With the weaning over, vanLoon will be focusing on getting the spuds out of the ground.

Throughout the fall as farmers harvest their fields, they will also be slowly preparing their farms for the onslaught of winter.

There’s a lot to do from planting cover crops to draining pumps.

"You’re really getting your farm ready for winter," said Sturdy.

"You’re getting everything tidied up and squared away."

Fields need to be prepared for the coming year. That means some will be planted with rye, which ties up any excess nitrogen in the soil that would otherwise be leached away by the winter rains.

Buckwheat is also used as a cover crop because it adds organic material to the soil.

There are irrigation lines to be put away and hoses to be blown out so that there’s no freezing up during the cold months.

At the vanLoon farm, where the fields are on a four-year rotation basis, there will be plans made for the coming year. They will be ordering grass and reseeding the fields.

It will be the same busy pace at Sturdy’s farm.

"We’re probably about a month and a half away from any real cold weather but you never know," said Sturdy.

"It’s not something you can do in a day and a half."

And after the harvest time?

VanLoon says they catch up on a lot of sleep in December, only to be back up in the dark January, February and March with the calving.

The bull was put in with the cows around May and after 40 weeks they should be ready for calving by early the following year.

There are no cows at the North Arm Farm but that doesn’t mean that things get quiet there.

Sturdy said there’s hardly ever downtime on his farm.

He is currently planting garlic. And one of his big harvest times comes in June when he starts harvesting tons of strawberries and raspberries.

Apart from the bears getting into his pumpkin patch, he’s quite content with autumn so far.

"How can a guy complain?"




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