And So It Begins

Essex Farm Note

Week 11, 2013

The first seeds went into soil this week. We have onions and shallots in the germination chamber, and leeks in the greenhouse. So begins the cycle of seasons. We use soil blocks to start our seeds. They are made out of potting mix with a tool that presses the soil into little 1 1/2” cubes, and then spits out the cubes as a block of 20, into a flat, which can hold 160 cubes. The advantage of the soil blocker is that there are no pots to buy or store or dispose of, and when done correctly, the soil blocker leaves a little space between each cube, so the plants air prune themselves, keeping their roots to their own cube, which leads to less shock when they are transplanted to the field. But soil blocking is an art. The potting soil must be neither too dry nor too wet, and the blocker must be slammed down just right so that the soil packs the block completely, then pressed out carefully so the blocks are uniform and the cubes are separate and whole. The soil blocker was popularlized by Eliot Coleman, and Matt and Aubrey have both worked at his farm, so they are accomplished soil block artists. The seeds go into a divot on top of each cube, and are covered over with a little more sifted potting soil, and then watered in. Jane seeded a whole flat of shallots by herself this year – a fine job for little fingers.

Marco came by on Tuesday to help us work the beef herd. Gwen and Cory set up the corral panels and the head gate in the covered barnyard. We sent the young stock through first so they wouldn’t get crushed in the chute by bigger animals, and in separating them from their mamas, things got a little wild. Cory got kicked hard in the thigh, which put him out of service for the day. He sat on a bucket and manned the clipboard while Gwen worked the head gate. Marco preg checked the cows (mostly pregnant to the angus bull, hooray) and castrated any young stock that we missed last time. We made notes on each animal’s condition, and decided which animals to keep and which to cull. A few of the yearlings were inexplicably thin, so we sent their fecal samples out for testing. One steer and several heifers and cows had horning injuries. I am thoroughly sick of horns! If we continue to breed to polled bulls, the herd will eventually be polled, but I’m ready to consider removing horns from the adult brood cows as well. The horns are not an issue on pasture, and pasture is a mere six weeks off, so this is a decision that can be put off until fall. We will work the whole herd again in a month, to recheck for pregnancy, and vaccinate for rabies, blackleg, and pinkeye.

We have a new Essex Farm sign. I think it’s the classiest thing on the farm. Don Hollingsworth made it for us, with his characteristic care and craftsmanship. It makes me smile when I pull into the driveway. Thanks, Don! Mark’s got another month without weight on his broken leg. Enforced rest gets harder as the days grow longer. Gwen and Stephen moved all three pig families out of the barn to the run-in this week. Kelsie, Amy and Barbara got to watch Bun the Jersey heifer calve this week —  a bull calf. Bun’s friend Stevie is due any second. Travis put his jackhammer skills to use, tearing out concrete to fix the barn cleaner.  Jenny returns next week, hooray. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this hustling 11th week of 2013.     -Kristin & Mark Kimball


Essex Farm Note

Week 10, 2013

Can you feel the sap rising in the trees? It’s the source of that hopeful itch that makes you want to pull on your mud boots and dance in puddles. Most years, this energy goes to good use, as we stomp snowshoe trails in the woods, and collect the heavy buckets of sap. This year, with no sugaring, it is a frustrated joy. The animals seem to feel it too, cooped up in the barn. Yesterday, Jane and Miranda and I went out to the barn to watch David Goldwasser drain the abscessed hematoma on Juniper’s side. (This sort of thing is Jane’s favorite farm work. Despite the heavy and penetrating smell of infection she got in close and watched David with grown-up stillness.) Gem the orphaned lamb followed us into the barn, and the eight yearling heifers, who have yet to meet any sheep, stared at him through their gate with their heads low, a new creature, a new smell, an alien. They are penned in the northwest quarter of the barn and they used Gem as an excuse for a contained stampede. They galloped the length of their enclosure, bucking, executed synchronized sliding turns, and galloped back. I bet they dream of grass and sun, and a pasture big enough for all the life in their gangly limbs.

The best news of the week has been Donn Hewes. He was here from Sunday through Thursday, giving our farmers their first lessons in being teamsters. It was good to see horses at work after a long winter off, and to witness that look of awakening that comes when people take lines into their hands for the first time. Donn likes to start people in the woods, pulling logs with a single horse, because it offers opportunity for starting, stopping, standing, and reading a horse, so we got some firewood in the deal, as a bonus. We are so grateful to Donn for coming, and hope we can lure him back again before his own farm, Northland Sheep Dairy, gets too busy.

Mark is slowly returning to the world after last week’s surgery. He is down to Tylenol, which gives him a clearer head, and he’s being diligent about his physical therapy. It is disconcerting to watch his leg muscles shrink. He crutched his way out to the office yesterday for the morning meeting, the first step back to regular work. The team has done a wonderful job in his absence.

In the midst of this family crisis, I’ve been looking for ways to economize my time in the kitchen, without skimping on satisfaction. The stocked chest freezer is my best friend right now. I am calling on my cases of frozen squash soup, pozole, pork and beans, my bags of frozen kale and edamame, and this week I made three meatloaves – one for the table, and two for the freezer. I will never again make a single batch of pancakes, because I’ve learned my family will gladly eat them twice a week: once fresh off the griddle, and once a couple days later, heated up in the oven until they are hot and crisp. It is lovely to serve a delicious homemade meal that gives the feeling of normalcy but doesn’t generate a sink full of dishes.

This Saturday, March 9th, is the first farm tour of the year. Please come! It is free for members, with a suggested donation of $25/$5 for non-member adults/children. Details are on the events page. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this muddy-sweet 10th week of 2013.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball


Essex Farm Note

Week 9, 2013

Mark had surgery to fix his knee on Tuesday. The top of his tibia got crushed by his femur when he fell, and the tibia was also cracked. Fourteen screws, a plate, several pins, and one big bone graft later, we’re home. The operation took somewhere between four and five hours, and Mark came out of it in full Markian form. Turns out narcotics make him more hyper rather than less.

I can’t say enough good things about his surgeon, Dr. Bullock, nor about the nurses and support staff at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake who took care of Mark for the two days he spent in the hospital. Now the long road of rehab begins. I am sending deep, heartfelt thanks to the many people who helped us this week, from the farmers who kept the farm running to the friends who took care of the girls and cooked for our family. What would we do without you?

Two more sows farrowed this week. Nine surviving piglets in one batch, twelve in the other. The mamas are doing well and the babies are growing so fast you can almost see it happen in real time. Pig milk is rich. Watching them, it occurred to me that each species has its own distinct mothering style. The ewes are sweet and nurturing, nickering and nuzzling endlessly with their lambs. They are the attachment parenting moms of the animal world. Sows are more like the overburdened mothers you see in the grocery store who offer to show their kids the back of their hand if they misbehave. Big, scary, tough-love mamas. I suppose I might be like that, too, if I had twelve squealing babies attached to my nipples for hours on end.

Jane’s cosset lamb, Gem, has moved to the barn, where he is getting free choice cold milk and a little bit of hay and grain. He is with his own kind, but lonely for his young human caretakers. Jane likes to carry him from his pen out to the barnyard, where he follows her around like a puppy.

We had the vet out on Tuesday, to see a dairy cow, Juniper, who got horned in both sides by one of the bossy cows (I suspect Connie, though I have no proof). Juniper’s organs were protected by her ribs but she developed the most enormous hematomas I have ever seen. They looked like overstuffed saddle bags. The vet drained the fluid out of them and declared her good as new. The replacement bull, Chris, seems to be getting a very good workout, which suggests his crooked predecessor lacked the ability to get the job done. We have two springing heifers due to calve in the next couple weeks. It will be nice to have new babies in the nursery again, now that the fall calves are getting so big.

Spring work has officially begun. We are moving the chickens out of the greenhouse in preparation for seeding, and the arrival of the first batch of chicks. Matt and Jenny have done fine work on the seed order. We finalized our seed potato decisions today. I’m ready for longer days, warmer sun and green green grass.

I’m off to speak at the Northeast Organic Farming Association New Hampshire conference. More thanks are due Ronnie, Don and Donna for caring for the kids and Mark while I’m away. And that is the news for this rough 9th week of 2013.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball