Our growing season started with great promise, a predictable spring after a mild winter with good snow cover. Many brassicas and even some artichokes managed to survive a winter where we saw only a couple of nights below -15*C. Although warm winters are easier on the woodpile they are also easier on the insects and disease which may have an economic impact on our production. We saw an increase in onion fly, click beetles, carrot fly and cabbage fly, all have larva which overwinter in the soil and can cause damage to our favourite and most valuable crops. Warm winters also allow for populations of predators of these and other damaging insects to proliferate and help control populations which may be getting to destructive levels. An example is the huge numbers of hornets and wasps this past summer, these are excellent predators of many soft bodied insects like cabbage worms and aphids which were almost nonexistent this past year.
In early August we were pelted with hail stones the size of ping pong balls. Much of our seed production was affected, carrot seed umbels were snapped off their stems, much ripening seed was bruised, all our leafy greens were shredded, our heritage varieties apple crop was virtually obliterated; tomato, pepper, eggplant, squash fruits were gashed and bruised, causing rot and scarring as they ripened. Although hail is not an uncommon phenomenon in our region, the size of the stones and their ragged shape were, something I’ve seen only once before in 50 years in the Okanagan. Fortunately we grow many root crops and our fresh production of carrot, radish, beet, potato, onion, salsify and hamburg parsley were barely affected. This is when I congratulated myself for having such diverse plantings. Many of our neighbours with orchards and vineyards suffered devastating losses.
Last November we travelled to the Italian region of Tuscany where we spent time on a mixed farm an hour east of Florence. We found some unique varieties of chicory, tomatoes, artichoke, peppers, eggplant, lettuce and other ‘Old World’ specialties.
We were excited to trial some of these varieties from Europe this past season. One of the interesting varieties we trialled was the Spanish Black Carrot. The flavour was great, Colour, nice and dark and high in purple flavinoids (like blueberries) but there was a very high incidence of bolting to flower which renders them useless for eating. The reason may be, that the original seed was grown in England, a much more temperate climate than the Okanagan and that the carrots were planted in late June (after the carrot fly is destructive) when the temperature was much higher, possibly causing the flowering. This reminds us that we will be much more successful growing vegetables from seeds which were grown in our own or similar bio region. Hopefully we will be able to select this carrot variety to perform well in some of our Canadian regions.
Some additions to our offerings this year are the ever popular ‘Sugar Snap’ or ‘Mangetout’ Peas, a very vigorous vining pea with, in our opinion, the best tasting and most productive edible pod pea. We also produced seed for the exotic Purple Dragon Carrot, a spicy sweet 6-8″ conical shaped purple skinned carrot selected and bred by the great American plant breeder John Navazio with seed brought from China in the early 1990’s. One of the Italian varieties we were happy with, is Romano romaine, a sweet crisp romaine lettuce popular in Tuscany.
While shopping for dinner at Mercato central in Florence we found an exceptionally long SanMarzano tomato, the flavour proved to be exceptional as well and we are able to offer some of these seeds this year as they performed equally well here in the Okanagan in both taste and productivity.
A couple of spicy peppers we are adding to our repertoire are the Romanian Giallo from Italy and the Criolla Sella from California both sweet hot and excellent fresh salsa peppers .
As I write this, I am concerned about the threat to farmland in British Columbia, and ultimately around the world. It is our agricultural land which sustains us, feeds us and clothes us. Around the world, soil is being degraded with the use of agrochemicals killing important microbiology, causing erosion and in fact rendering land and soil unproductive and beyond remediation. In British Columbia, our government is threatening to dilute the parameters of the ‘agricultural land reserve’ by proposing that because some land is in the north it is not important for food production and can be flooded or subjected to hydraulic fracturing to produce energy for markets to the south. This lack of foresight is astounding, less than 5% of the land base in BC is suitable for agriculture, do we have the right to remove any of this from agriculture,, taking the food from the mouths of future generations?
Chemical farming is not sustainable, in fact it is only changing the flavour of a diet of the petrochemicals sprayed and spread on our soils every season. We should know that these pesticides and fertilizers are not good for our health but chemical farming is part of a bigger problem. We do have some control over the erosion of the ‘Agricultural Land Reserve’ in BC, please talk to your MLA or write a letter or sign a petition to help preserve agricultural land for our children, grandchildren and beyond. If you reside outside BC, be aware of the erosion of farmland in your region and be a voice in its preservation.
Looking ahead to the season, we are reminded of a great advocate for sustainable, local, non-GMO, community and a seed saver who passed from among us this past year. June Griswold will always be in our minds as we need another hour of work in the field, or the energy to organize a community event, or get on the phone to delegate or inform. Thank you June for inspiring us and giving us and your community all you did, we will surely miss you.
Good luck with your garden this season!