Essex Farm Note, week 26

Essex Farm Note

Week 26, 2012

It is solstice time now, with long days and strong sun. Last week, the forecast promised exactly what we were hoping for: a three-day window of no rain in which to get a huge load of hay mowed, tedded, raked, and baled. Courtney, Asa, and Chad each took a team of horses and a sickle bar mower up the road to the 150-acre field and mowed and mowed through the sticky heat until there were 2,000 bales worth of grass on the ground. That much hay will feed our animals for a whole winter month, and has a street value, in our neighborhood, of about $8,000 — provided it doesn’t get wet before it gets to the barn, which renders it more or less worthless. Of course, placing such a big bet attracted the attention of the puckish god of agriculture, who, last Friday, crooked his finger at the baler, and broke it. Severely. While Chad and Liam began loosening bolts, Mark drove to Champlain for parts, and I nervously hit refresh on the NOAA weather website. Saturday looked iffy, with a chance of thunderstorms that climbed from 20% to 40%. Two good things happened after that. Our neighbor, Fred Holland, appeared in the field with his baler, and got a thousand bales in for us, out of the goodness of his heart. It was humid and nearly a hundred degrees, and he baled until one of his tire popped. On Saturday, with our baler back in service, most of our crew came in to help, and we went to the field as soon as the dew was dry. Around noon the clouds gathered ominously around the Boquet hills, and a cooling breeze carried the smell of rain. The radar showed a band of thunderstorms headed directly for us, and the radio warned of downpours and hail. But then that same puckish god must have taken pity on us, because just before the storm hit us, the clouds parted. It rained to our north and to our south, but not on our hay. By the end of the weekend, all the bales were stacked neatly in the barn. As soon as they were in, we found ourselves wishing fervently for rain, not so much because the fields needed it but because the farmers did. Everyone looked hung over from all the heat and hay dust. And so it rained, right on cue. We got about half an inch over two or three days. The farmers got a little rest, and the fields got enough moisture to ease the transition to outdoor life for the final round of transplants, which went in this week. Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make the hay while the sun was shining. Looks like more of the same will happen this weekend.

The short news now, before I head out to cultivate. Peter and Carrie of the Old Brick Store in Charlotte brought their mobile wood-fired pizza oven across the lake to us yesterday. Mark is firing it up as I type and Carrie is coming back later today to show us how to use it. We are doing a test run today, and will have more news on it next week. Today is Asa’s last day. We send him off with thanks for a year a half of good work, and with best wishes for the next phase of his life. He and Courtney bought a farm in Keeseville, and we know it’s going to be a huge success. Lindsay is taking on Asa’s duties as head of the vegetable department. She got some reinforcements this week, as Annelies and Jake have joined on for the summer. I am in the corn field with Jay and Jack today so there will be no 4pm walk, but will plan on an activity next week, if the field work isn’t too pressing – maybe hitching horses? I had fun doing the cooking demo last week. Several members joined me in the office kitchen to learn how to butterfly a chicken, and cut one into parts. If anyone has ideas for other cooking techniques you’d like to learn together, let me know. We have Lacinato kale in the share this week. Strawberries are starting to go by but you are welcome to glean any you can now. We have plenty of chard for members who want a bushel or more for the freezer. Tell Amy or Jenny so we can harvest it for you. There are delicious Sugar Ann snap peas in the share today, with lots more coming next week. I was arrested by the summery smell of basil as Lindsay prepared two bushels of it for the share. Cilantro and dill are getting close, and we’re looking forward to raspberries, tomatoes and sweet corn. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this good and busy 26th week of 2012.  -Kristin & Mark Kimball

 

Here’s a look inside our new mobile coop for the laying hens. Form definitely followed function on this project, in a good way. Here’s to Mark and the Brothers Weidenbach (I call them the Bacchae) for coming up with a great design under strict parameters. The farm is on an austerity budget right now, so they had to make use of materials we already had on the farm. They also had to make it big enough for 200 chickens, and light enough to move easily. Using available lumber, running gear, chicken wire, nest boxes, and a billboard tarp that features an advertisement for some suburban shopping mall, they came up with this:

  The hens spend most of their time outside, in electronet, and come into the coop only to lay and to roost. I like how airy and cool it stays, thanks to the wire floor and the light-colored billboard tarp. The best feature (besides the natty billboard) is outside access to the nest boxes, which means we no longer have to worry about getting pooped upon by a roosting hen while collecting eggs. Less suspense this way, but faster, cleaner, and much nicer.

Essex Farm Note, Week 24

Essex Farm Note

Week 24, 2012

A quick note, as this dry weather is calling me to cultivate the three-inch-high corn.

The bad news of the week is that Mark was sidelined with some spectacular pain. If it weren’t so terrible it would be funny, because it’s not his back this time, but his, er, hip area. Basically, he has a pain in his butt. He says it feels like a charley horse that doesn’t relent. He couldn’t stay in one position for more than a few seconds, and he wore a hole in the sheets with all his flipping and flopping. He might have set a record for sleep deprivation. This injury has something to do with the fact that he played an exuberant game of barefoot ultimate Frisbee with the farm crew last week (give him ten hippy points for that), then stayed out on the tractor until midnight. The good news is that he seems to have turned the corner. He slept last night, and is up and about today. Thanks to everyone for the hard work, support, and love that got us through it.

There was a pretty column by Verlyn Klinkenborg in the New York Times on Wednesday, about his family’s farm in Iowa, and how it has changed since his father’s boyhood in the 1930s.  “Even when I was young,” he writes, “it was still biologically complex, full of different animals and various crops and a huge garden. The place is economically more complex now – managing loan and insurance programs, subsidies and incentives – but it is biologically simple: corn, soybeans, no animals, no garden.” Reversing that trajectory – creating a farm that is biologically complex, and economically simple – is exactly what we dreamed of when we started this place. I still think of us as an old fashioned family farm, growing for a very big family. And like the farm that Verlyn holds in his heart, it feeds us, body and soul.

We had an actual fox in the actual henhouse this week. He ran across the barnyard with a chicken in his mouth, and when Jenny came out of the milkhouse and scared him, he dropped it, but later returned to the scene of his crime. We found him tucked in a nestbox, his red head sticking out, but he foxed his way right past us. Gwen moved the electric net, and got it nice and hot, and so far, no more problems. The fox population seems to be high this year, and now that this one has a taste for hen, we’ll need to be vigilant about keeping the girls safe inside their net.

Now let’s talk strawberries. Thanks to our intrepid picking crew, the cooler is full of luscious red berries today. This week, we’re opening the patch for members to pick your own on Saturday, Sunday and Monday only. Please limit your haul to ten quarts per family for the season. (We may up the limit as we see how the supply holds out.) The rules are: 1. Don’t pick only the best berries, but pick every berry that is reasonably ripe in the section you’re working. 2. If you find a mushy berry, please pick it and throw it out of the patch. 3. Keep yourselves and your kids from crushing plants or berries. Have fun and don’t eat so many you get a belly ache.

Short news: Welcome to Liam Davis, who is here for the summer. No 4pm tour today, as I’ll be in the field. Next week at 4, we’ll do a hands-on demo on how to cut up a whole chicken. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this glad-to-be-alive 24th week of 2012.                                                            –Kristin & Mark Kimball

Essex Farm Note week 23

Mark pulled what passes for a farmer all-nighter last night, harrowing the upper field to get it ready for corn. He came home sometime after midnight. We have 20 acres of corn planted and starting to germinate now, and are aiming for another 10 in the next few days. Meanwhile, Cory, Ryan, Asa and Chad worked late on the new mobile chicken coop. Egg production has been sagging, so we’re pushing hard to get the layers out on pasture. The new coop is an A-frame design, built on the running gear of a hay wagon, and it will be covered by a tarp. (Our new tarps are splashed with brand-name advertising. We are not being sponsored by big box stores. These are spent billboard tarps that we bought at a deep discount, and for better or worse, they seem to be nearly indestructible.) Meanwhile, the rest of the crew maintained good spirits under a grueling planting, weeding, seeding, chore-ing, milking, harvesting, haying marathon.

It’s been a fun week in the kitchen. The strawberries are starting to come in, and greens are suddenly plentiful. Yesterday, for lunch, we had fried chicken, sautéed asparagus, and strawberry pie, and I was hard pressed to think of a meal I’d enjoyed more, even if it required a lot of cleanup afterward, plus a post-lunch nap. Speaking of asparagus, we had a bushel left over last week, so I blanched and froze a bunch of it, pickled some of it, and turned the rest into a delicious pesto-like spread. This is the last week of asparagus in the share. It’s time to stop harvesting and let the patch grow so the plants can recover from all the flooding. We hope to have that whole field drained by fall, and if we can do it without disrupting the plants too badly, we’ll have an even better harvest next year.

And that is the news from Essex Farm for this still-plenty-busy-around-here 23rd week of 2012. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Asparagus and Green Garlic Spread

  • Double handful of asparagus, about a pound
  • Two heads green garlic, cut into pieces. Use the tender green stem as well as the white head.
  • 1 cup (more or less) walnut pieces, toasted
  • Olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste

Cut the asparagus into 1” pieces, and blanch in boiling salted water for 3 or 4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stems. They should be tender but still vibrantly green. Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a hot skillet until they smell good. Don’t burn them. Drain the asparagus and combine with the garlic, walnuts, and a hearty splash of olive oil. Using a food processor or an immersion blender, process until smooth and spreadable. Finish with a squeeze of lemon, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve on crackers, or on bread. I bet it would also be good tossed with pasta and a little extra olive oil. Variations: If I had anchovies on hand, I might have thrown a few of them in there. You might also add some fresh herbs.

Essex Farm Note week 22

Essex Farm Note

Week 22, 2012

The landscape has taken on that lush verdant look that means we are in the thick of it now. The farm is buoyed by the waxing force of life, the great flood tide of the sun. The summer solstice is just three weeks away, and everything with roots and leaves is pressing the cellular accelerator. The pastures, the crops and the weeds are growing full tilt. All hands are scrambling to keep up. I won’t even attempt to name all the things that got done this week, because it would take up too much space. But if you see a farmer today, you might want to give him or her a hug. This week, we moved forward as fast as we could to get the field corn in the ground. Last Saturday, Mark and I headed out with six horses on the two bottom plow, plus the little red International tractor. Mark took the tractor and started to disk, and I took the horses and the plow. It was my first time driving six, a configuration that requires two sets of lines, and it was a humbling experience. One set of lines steers the three lead horses, and another the three wheel horses, and when you’re rounding a corner, you want the leaders to turn before the wheelers. I felt like I needed another pair of hands, plus some extra brainspace. Luckily, Chad has spent so many hours plowing on the corn field that we actually named it after him, and most of the horses in the hitch were familiar enough with the routine that they forgave my clumsy communication and did the right thing. By the end of the day I had the hang of it, but I was mentally and physically exhausted. Then, going home, I made a bad corner on the way out of the field, and hooked a downed limb with the forecart. I’m very lucky to have had three good steady horses in the leader position. With the help of Mark and two visitors (because it helps with the humbling to have witnesses to one’s boneheaded mistakes, dontcha know?), we were able to stop and back the horses, disengage the tree, and get everyone home safe and sound.

We narrowly missed another hail storm this week. It would have been ugly, because we’d just gotten 2,000 healthy tomato plants transplanted, and the strawberries are fruiting like mad, and there is nothing like a hail storm to zero both those beautiful things. (The only mortal casualty of the last hail storm was the rhubarb. We won’t have any in the share until next year.) We did get a hard inch of rain that we didn’t need, but we heard reports that communities nearby got anywhere from three to five, so gratitude is in order. Cross your fingers that the coming week is not going to be as wet as predicted, will you?

Lots of love to Asa and Courtney, who are keeping up with the heavy work here while getting their farm in Keeseville up and running, and also moving house. The only thing they’re not doing is sleeping. We are delighted to welcome Gwen Jamison back! She worked with us last summer, graduated from college this spring, and is with us full time now. Don’t forget the 4pm Friday member farm walks. Next week, dairy. And we’re hosting a farm tour on Sat., June 9th.  Details on the events page. That evening, there’s a barn dance at Black Kettle. Chili dinner ($5) starts at 5:30, music at 6:30 (suggested donation $10). And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this plantweedplowseed 22nd week of 2012.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball