Essex Farm Note week 17

Essex Farm Note

Week 17, 2012


An end-of-April chill is upon us, and for the next few nights, the tender young things on the farm will have to withstand a dip into the 20s. I shiver for the asparagus, the chicks out on pasture, and the nine piglets that were born on Wednesday. This kind of weather is entirely expected (our frost-free date is not for another month) and we don’t foresee any dire consequences. The asparagus will die off but come right back; the chicks, fully feathered, should be fine if we can keep them dry; and the piglets are snug in their farrowing hut, bedded in hay, and warmed by their mother’s vast body. So we can get through this, but it does seem a little unfair, soft as we all are from this warm, mild spring.

Mark and I took a walk this morning, to check on the state of the farm. First, up the hill to the west. The horses are pastured in the sugarbush right now, to keep them off of valuable pasture during this wet spell. We can’t see them but we can hear them. With four new big boys in there, they are trying to figure out their new herd order, which they do with squeals and threats and the occasional bite or kick. I am putting my money on Abby to maintain her position as head mare. At the top of the hill, the three fields on Middle Road are too wet to work but we will soon plant at least one to oat/pea, and will leave the northernmost one to grow up as pasture, since it’s rife with clover. Back down the hill to the west pasture, the grass looks good enough for the cows to get their first nibbles this very afternoon. Then past the solar panels, and out to SuperJoy, where the rye is now underseeded to clover. The rye looks like it needs some nitrogen, so we might spread compost there after we’ve grazed it once. Next, the vegetables. Garlic seems thrilled with itself. Transplanted lettuces are growing slowly but happily. All 21 rows of onions are smiling. Peas have germinated. And the tile drainage’s terminus – where Mark always pauses to palm himself a drink – is flowing heavily, drawing excess water off the fields. Back toward home on Monument Field, we stop to admire the rhubarb, which needs to be deflowered (horticulturally speaking), and the impressive stands of vetch and rye, where the cows will be grazing shortly. At the end of the driveway we say hello to the flowers that Barbara planted last fall. They are blooming so enthusiastically they almost distract you from the rows of rusty equipment that Mark has parked out front. (In town, people ask me if we are having an auction. No, I say, just trying to keep our taxes down. Beauty, counters Mark, is in the eye of the beholder, and having all the equipment out and ready to hitch is, to him, about as pretty as it gets. To which I reply: sigh.) And on to our final stop: the sheep, who grazed the lawn this week better than I’ve ever mowed it. In all, an entirely satisfactory first quarter.

One important reminder, members: bring your glass back every week! We are scrounging for half gallons to get through this weekend. And finally, we’re hosting a Farmhack here on Sunday morning, beginning at 8:30. It’s free and all are welcome, but come prepared to nerd out on appropriate tillage.

And that is the news from Essex Farm for this nippy 17th week of 2012.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

State of the Farm Report, end of April

This is what the fields looked like this morning.

Jet posing in the garlic:

The transplanted lettuce is coming along:

The transplanted onions are still small, but growing:

 The sweet peas have germinated:

20 rows of mangel beets (2/3 acre, for animal feed) are planted, but not yet up:

Drainage is working! Huzzah.

Mark loves having his picture taken:

Meet the new boys

Apparently I have a thing for horses’ behinds… Here are the new guys, (from l to r): Chuck, Obie and Amos.

And members, if you wonder how we are spending your money, here’s a glimpse of our new sets of harness. They are D-ring style harnesses, which take the tongue weight off of the horse’s collar, and transfer it to the saddle, where a horse is built to carry it. These saddles are padded and grooved like a riding saddle, which spares the horse’s spine and is more comfortable than the usual plain strap. A comfortable horse is a happier (and safer) horse. I’ll post pictures of the horses actually wearing these soon as we get them fitted and adjusted.


Essex Farm Note Week 16

Essex Farm Note

Week 16, 2012

Yesterday, I hooked four horses to the pulver-mulcher, to fit Monument Field for planting. Now that it is drained, it’s nearly impossible to find a fault with that field. The rich, rockless soil will crumble if you look at it, and one pass of the pulver-mulcher left it fine and level, ready for seed. The pull was easy with four abreast, and we were taking the whole field in a large, uncomplicated spiral. By mid-afternoon, I was dust-drunk and wind-addled, and the horses were bored. Chad’s team was hooked to the left of the tongue, and Abby and Jake were on the right. When Chad’s horses are unmotivated, they start having a slow-walking contest with each other, until they are walking so slowly they could not walk any slower without stopping. Long-legged Abby was getting more and more irritated, and she snaked her head out and nipped Arch on the neck, which made him retaliate but did not make him walk any faster. Clearly, I needed to wake up and take charge. But with the lines arranged for four abreast, it’s difficult to give a poky horse a snap on the butt, and they are too far out ahead of the machine to reach with a stick or whip. I remembered that Chad sometimes lobs a stone at his horses’ rear ends at moments like this. So I whoaed, stooped to look for stones, and then found a fault with this too-perfect field: no stones anywhere. Not one. I worked my way around to the southeast corner, where the remains of an old house sometimes find their way to the surface.  I picked up a chip of brick, then a small smooth rock, and dug deeper, and came up with something else in my hand. It was an old inkwell, made of blue-tinted glass, dulled like sea glass from its time in the dirt, but perfect. I pocketed the brick and stone (which worked perfectly as horse-motivators), wrapped the inkwell carefully in my jacket, and tucked it into my bag. What a shame it would be to break it on the way home to my desk, after coming whole through the years in ground fraught with plow point, hoof and tire, to meet my hand, here, now.

It must be spring, since I have more news than room to report it. We doubled down on horses this week, and bought four more big ‘uns. Cub is coming to work with us, finally. I have loved that horse since the day I first saw him, five years ago, at Bucky Terry’s place in Redford. He is a hulking, chesty, 10 year old Belgian with kind eyes and an easygoing nature, a half-brother to our Abby and Jake. We needed a partner for him, so on Tuesday we went to see Jim Carpenter, a dealer in Vermont. My first glance in the barn revealed Chuck, who is just like Cub in age, size and build. While I ground-drove Chuck, Mark pestered me to look at a flashy pair of black and white spotted drafts a few stalls down. I was skeptical – we are farmers after all, not circus people – but then I drove them, and was sold.  At least we won’t have to worry about them being mistaken for deer during hunting season. Welcome Cub, Chuck, and full brothers, Obie and Amos. Now I’ll squeeze in the non-horse news, staccato style. Some greens in the share today. Asparagus up, hooray. Onions and lettuce transplanted. Carrots and spinach planted. Planting list now long as my arm. Four weeks ‘til chicken. Sows about to pop. Sheep on grass. Grass growing. Rain coming, right on time. Thanks, farmers. Thanks, members. All is well. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this expensive 16th week of 2012.  -Kristin & Mark Kimball


Essex Farm Note Week 15

Essex Farm Note

This mild, dry weather is the stuff farmers dream of in the spring. The new field, Super Joy, is 95% plowed, and the soil there is so deliciously friable, now that it’s drained, that we can skip the usual steps of secondary tillage – disk, harrow, shape up beds – and fit it out for planting with one elegant pass.  This saves time, and also compaction. Courtney finished most of the field yesterday, with four horses abreast, on a new-to-us tool called the pulver-mulcher. It consists of a spiky roller, followed by a gang of spring tooth harrows, followed by another spiky roller, with a seat for the teamster on top. Mark and I walked out to see it work in the afternoon, and Mark, in a moment of happy exuberance, tackled me, so that I sprawled on the field’s soft surface. The April sun had warmed it and there was there was some spring to the subsoil. It was so comfortable to lie on that I just stayed there, smelling the earth and looking up at the sky. Courtney whoaed the horses and said, “That’s the king-est bed ever. Everyone can be diagonal.” It was truly as good as a mattress, five acres wide.

I’m sorry to report that the rats are back. Last time we had a rat battle, it was when we’d first moved here, and the rats had multiplied unchecked in the granary. This time, they garrisoned in the compost pile. They must have spent the winter in there, breeding reinforcements, because when Mark turned the pile a few weeks ago, they scurried out in all directions. Asa shot one with the .22, Cory killed one with a shovel, and when another one invaded our house, Mark trapped it in the bathroom and squashed it between a plunger and one of Jane’s blocks. Between our brave men and the psychotic cat, Penelope, I think we’re gaining the upper hand.

Welcome Amy O’Brien to the full time staff. She’s in the office now, taking care of business, and she will be one of the faces you’ll get to know well, since she’s going to be helping at distribution. Speaking of distro, thanks to Mark Bimonte for getting the dairy and egg trailer refrigerated. It’s a huge improvement over the multiple refrigerators, isn’t it? Now we’re working on a walk-in box freezer.

In short news, we have three batches of chicks brooding in the greenhouse. The oldest ones are in the ugly awkward phase, while the little ones are cute little puffballs. The breeding sows are on pasture now, due to farrow in the next six weeks. The boar is finished with his work, and though he is a lovely boar, we haven’t found anyone who wants his services. Please remember to bring back your jars! We had to open 50 new half gallons today. There is fresh soap in the share, thanks to Barbara. We are on a search for more draft horses and have found the price of teams has skyrocketed since the new year, because of increased demand. Hooray for the latter part at least. We are about to start a marketing push to recruit new members but your word of mouth is the most valuable tool we have, so if you love the share please spread the word. Onions are hardening off, tomatoes are up in the greenhouse, and when Lindsay hoed the asparagus she found the tips are poised just under the surface. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this king-est 15th week of 2012.

Essex Farm Note Week 14

Essex Farm Note

We’ve known for years that the farm has eyes. When Mark and I leave, it knows, and things go haywire. We were at St. Lawrence University this week, giving a talk and a reading. We left Wednesday, planning to return today. The farm waited until last night to spring. We got a message just before the reading started that ten Highland steers were out, and had run off the farm entirely, and were thought to be wandering somewhere in the woods north of Blockhouse Road. Gus and Jenny and Rob had spent hours trying to lure them home, and nothing – nothing! – would persuade them to come back in. We did the reading, went to bed at midnight, got up at 3, and arrived back here at 6, just as it was getting light. The first thing I noticed when we pulled in the driveway was that the heat lamps in the greenhouse were dark, which meant that three hundred and sixty chicks were chilled and in danger of dying. The circuit breaker had blown sometime during the night, and the chicks were piled three and four deep, trying to keep warm. I pawed through the pile, uncovering the ones that were getting squashed on the bottom, while Rob flipped the breaker back on, and Mark rode out with Ashlee and Gus to try again with the steers. By then, of course, the farm knew we were back. The steers were home, just outside the fence, waiting to be let in.

What else? While at St. Lawrence I met up with shepherds Betsy Hodge and Corey Hayes of Cornell Cooperative Extension. They raise sheep at the Extension farm in Canton and also on their own farms. I got to see their stock, guard animals (they use llamas and livestock guardian dogs), and their grazing and handling systems, and best of all I got to ask all the burning sheep questions I’ve been collecting. Mark came along and tolerated all of it rather well. On Tuesday, Bill West delivered our new four-row corn planter, which he bought on our behalf at an auction. Was good to see Bill back up north, and we have high hopes for this planter. All of our horses are wearing their new collars and pads now, and their new harnesses should arrive any day. It’s a little disorienting to have all this spanking new equipment when we are used to the well-worn kind, but we’ll be much safer with new.

Spring is trundling along. We are getting close on the early greens – sorrel, dandelion, green onions, and nettles. Hope you’re enjoying the dry beans as much as we are. Pastures are greening, much earlier than usual. Pigs are rounding with their babies. The rye is three inches tall. Next Sunday, Mary the shearer arrives to give the ewes a proper shearing, and then the flock will go on grass. Thanks to all the farmers – Barbara, Cory, Gus, Rob, Lindsay, Ashlee, Sabrina, Asa, and Courtney, who valiantly held the fort while we were gone this week, and especially to Jenny, who also took care of Jane and Miranda. We send healing wishes to Ryan, whose back is giving him lots of grief. Good Pesach and Happy Easter to everyone. I hope you enjoy a good meal with family and friends this weekend. Won’t it be great when we have spring lamb in the share? And that is the news from Essex Farm for this haywire 14th week of 2012.

Essex Farm Note Week 13

Essex Farm Note

So much to report, so little time! Please forgive the lack of a note last week. I was out with the horses and the weather was too good to come in. This week, of course, we had a leonine reminder that it is March after all. The lows were seventy degrees colder than last week’s highs, and the cold wind roared. Still, thanks to drainage and this spring’s general dryness, we can work. We are ecstatic about how much is getting done so early. I’m about to go out and spread compost with Jay and Jack. Courtney will be on the two-way plow. I hope some of you caught sight of the grand hitch Chad set up this week, with six horses hooked to the big two-bottom plow that Bill West found for us at an auction in Pennsylvania. It’s a clever thing, with ground-driven hydraulics that lift the heavy bottoms when you press the foot pedal. An impressive machine, yes, but nothing compared to the living part of the equation: six big horses pulling together, a mighty herd of muscle. We just got new collars for all our horses, and this morning, Mark roached their manes to keep the long hairs from getting under their pads and irritating their necks. They look like war horses now, fierce and beautiful.

I will remember this week as the one of averted disasters. Our first batch of chicks arrived, and are snuggled into the new greenhouse, looking more vigorous than ever. I spent a lot of time on Wednesday morning fiddling with the heat lamps, trying to get the temperature in the brooder just right. Well, apparently I did not fasten the chain of the lamp properly, and yesterday, Jane and Keir and Emily smelled something strange in the farmyard, investigated, and found the greenhouse full of smoke, the heat lamp on the ground, about to ignite the dry bedding. Miraculously, they caught it just in time, and all of the chicks survived. Even more seriously, Asa had a near-miss with the horses on Monday. Again, it was the simple neglect of a fastener that caused all the trouble. When he hooked the horses to the forecart, the tongue was not through the ring of the neck yoke, but was supported only by its safety chain, which is not designed to take the full weight of a load. As he went downhill with a cart full of compost, the chain popped, the tongue dropped to the ground, and the tug chains came loose from the forecart, so the horses were entirely free. They bolted, and pulled Asa, who held on to the lines, over the front of the forecart. They all stopped a few yards away, and everyone is fine, but I don’t like to think of all the ways in which this episode could have ended. I feel incredibly lucky that the whole farm team got these two stark reminders of what is at stake, and to pay attention to details, and work safely and carefully.

Say hello to two new farmers. Angus Biederman is back with us, and Ryan’s brother Cory Weidenbach has signed on. One Gus plus a double helping of Weidenbach makes us feel almost invincible. And say goodbye the trusty old horned Honda Civic. Its inspection runs out tomorrow, and it is too rusted to pass again. If anyone sees Mark trying to transfer those horns to the good car, please tackle him for me. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this lucky 13th week of 2012.

Essex Farm Note Week 11

Essex Farm Note

Mark and I took a farm walk this morning, and it felt like the launch of the 2012 growing season. Here is what we discovered. This morning’s rain carried the softness of spring with it. The frost is out of the ground now, all trace of snow is melted. The tulips that Barbara planted at the end of the driveway last fall are peeping out of the ground. A bull calf was born to one of the Highland mamas this morning. He was a good size boy, still wet, but he was already up and alert and suckling enthusiastically. The four acres of winter wheat flooded by Irene is turning green and just might make it. The ice is off of both ponds, and the ducks and geese have wasted no time moving in. The bluebirds are busy with spring nesting. A  grouse flew through the double-paned window of the lower guest cabin at some point this week, which wrecked both the window and the grouse. In the greenhouse, the onions and leeks are up, and so are the first flats of lettuce. The un-drained stretch of Monument Field is deep in mud and spotted with lagoons but the drained acres are so beautifully firm that Mark and I taunted each other with the idea of working them this week. They really aren’t even close to ready yet but the contrast was striking, and I can’t wait to see what they do this year. The forecast calls for a warm and sunny week, with temperatures reaching the high 70s. It’s impossible to complain about a week off of mud season, even if this blast of warmth is coming creepily early. But given that forecast, it looks like sugar season is over. We may pull the taps during the tour tomorrow. We made about 30 gallons of syrup – less than a third of what we’d hoped for, but something sweet nonetheless. Thanks to Chad and to Ron Jackson for their good work, and also to Sabrina, the Hughes, Wekin, and Trzaskos families for helping collect sap.

So much happened this week I’ll run out of room before I run out of news. Peter Gucker and his crew of good men (Pete, John, Leo and Brian) spent three days transforming the falling-down east barn run-in into a nifty little pole barn. The dry cows and pony are in there now, instead of destroying muddy Mailbox field. The compost pile got turned with Mr. Gucker’s skid steer, too. Jenny gets special thanks for shouldering extra duties in the dairy world. Ashlee and Courtney spent the week visiting draft animal powered farms, including Greyrock and Northland Sheep Dairy. Ryan’s brother Cory was here and contributed more than a one-man share of work. Lindsay has cut loose from Brooklyn and is settled with Jenny and Rob in the White House. Member Mark Bimonte has competed the first phase of installing refrigeration in the veggie trailer – hooray to that. And tomorrow is our spring tour. Please come! See the blog on the web site for all the details. If a member would like to volunteer to help welcome visitors tomorrow, we would very much appreciate it. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this was-that-wedding-bells-I-heard-a’ringing? 11th week of 2012.

Essex Farm Note Week 10

Essex Farm Note

It’s a very sweet day here at Essex Farm. First, the literal. Chad, Kim, Sabrina, and a small pack of helpers got well over 300 sugar maples tapped this week. We’ve had decent runs for the last 48 hours, and Chad and our neighbor Ron Jackson have been firing the evaporator since dawn yesterday. Ron thinks we might get a run today from our small trees, but not the big ones, because last night’s temperature didn’t drop low enough for long enough to reset them, despite this morning’s chill and dusting of snow. But then, says Chad, we have got a lot of little trees tapped. I’m watching out the window now, hoping to catch a glimpse of Fern and Arch hitched to the sap wagon, which would mean there is enough in the buckets to justify collecting. Seems like everybody with an opinion on maple trees predicts that this will not be a good syrup year, because the weather has been so screwy, and there isn’t any snow cover. Maybe so, but for now, we can just enjoy the sweet steam rolling out of the pavilion, and the first good taste of spring.

The figurative sweetness comes from new twin ram lambs this morning. What a pleasure to go outside and find them just born, already up and nursing their mama. Happy births are an event that will never get old. We’ve given them a jug in the back of the pen so they can be alone and get used to one another. The ewe is a little nervous, so public viewing will have to wait until next week. In other sheep news, the older lambs had their tails docked this week. It is an unpleasant duty that has to be done. If you leave the tails long, the manure builds up on the wool, and flies lay their eggs in it, and things get less pleasant for the sheep from there. (See: note on flystrike from last summer.) It’s kind of remarkable how quickly they seem to recover. Jane stood by to soothe them during the 30 second operation, and about a minute later they were back to nursing their moms.

Spring is making her debut in other ways too. The older flock of hens has been exiled to a spot north of the compost piles, and Asa & co. are busy busy busy in the greenhouse, making soil blocks to start the leeks and onions. There are several dozen flats in the germination chamber now. Hooray for plants, and the promise of a new year.

What else? We had a good visit with Lars this week, brainstorming about the future of the land we lease from him. Mark’s mom is visiting from the Hudson Valley, but feeling terribly under the weather today. Our new farmer, Lindsay Willemain, arrives from Brooklyn today. She comes to farming by way of lawyering – she holds a law degree from Columbia – but I think the asset most valuable to her new life here is her bright spirit and adventurous attitude. Please help us give her a warm welcome to our little town. Speaking of little towns, I’m off to Indian Lake on Sunday, to kick off their Hamilton County Reads program. If you are in the area, come by and say hi. More info here: Last but not least by a long shot, don’t forget about next Saturday’s tour. Details are up over at the blog: And that’s the news for this sweet! 10th week of 2012.