If it bleeds it leads

Essex Farm Note

Week 26, 2013

Hard call on the lead this week. Should it be the rain, or the drive-by? Since the latter is bloodier and in ways more tragic, it wins. Someone killed one of our half-grown pigs last night. We found it dead in a puddle near the road this morning, shot in the head. It’s probably a $500 loss, in terms of dollars and cents, but more when you count the bad feelings and their side effects. We have no idea who would do this or why. Was it just cruelty, or personal? Two of our farmers saw a suspicious vehicle in the area yesterday. If anyone has any more information, we’d appreciate it, and so would the police.

The weather pattern has been gray, followed by rain, with grayness and rain — punctuated by heavy rain – predicted for the foreseeable future. It’s turning out to be a tough year for growing food. In one dramatic hour on Wednesday morning, we got 1.6”, on top of .6” that had already fallen; the pond overflowed its banks, the farm roads washed, and running water etched gullies in the topsoil. It looked worse than it did after Irene.

Thanks to the tile drainage, all the crops in Pine Field, Monument Field, and Superjoy are alright. Thanks to Gwen and everyone who helped her, the broiler chickens are up on pads of hay, and out of the standing water, and there is a trench through the chick house, to move water out of it. Thanks to Cory, the skid steer, and everyone who helped, the beef cows are in the covered barnyard, and not destroying the mucked-up pasture. Nobody could save the hay that is down. We made a good effort to get in what was cut last Friday but two tractors broke down at the same time (as will happen when you are in a hurry) and we ended the window of good weather on Tuesday with 600 good bales, 600 marginal bales, and 600 bales-worth of grass left down in the field. We’ll pick it up and compost it soon as we can get into that field with a vehicle. We can’t leave it or it will scuttle the next cutting.

Uplifting news? We have strawberries for you, members. The team picked two days this week, and froze the first batch, because they were not going to hold until today’s pickup. Yesterday’s picking has been washed and put in the refrigerator but the conditions are such that they will not hold for you either. You should either eat them or put them up before tomorrow. You can also hull them and mix them with a little sugar, and they will keep in your fridge. Sugar snap peas are also uplifting. They should be in the share next week. Matt led the effort to get tomatoes trellised yesterday. The plants look good and healthy so far. Take a load of scapes home today! You can freeze or pickle them.

Mark and I had a grand summit this week, to discuss strategy for the rest of the year. Part of it involves making sure member payments come in on time! If you are paying monthly or quarterly, those payments are due today. Farewell to Brandon, whose last day is today, and hello to Jeff Sherwood, who is here for a month from Virginia. Jeff is a combat veteran exploring farming as his next career. And that is the news from Essex farm for this wet 26th week of 2013. -Kristin & Mark Kimball



Week 25, 2013

We’re at the midpoint now, the very climax of the year’s light. Today is the solstice, and tomorrow the days begin to get shorter. It seems like the seeds were just swelling to burst their coats, and now the plants are suddenly tall, the light under their leaves dappled, their blossoms setting fruit. The more seasons I see the faster they seem to roll by.

This week has been a crazy mix of wins and losses. We will put big stars next to the vegetable column. Growth, plant health, and weed control are all excellent. Peas are in bloom. So is the calendula. The green onions are perfect now, and garlic is gorgeous. We’ll have scapes in the share today. Greens are bountiful and the soybeans make me happy when I look at them. And strawberries in the share today!

The potatoes are in the middle column. One of the varieties had bad germination, but the others look pretty good. Also in the middle column, we have sweet corn. The birds got it, almost down to the last sprout. But we’ve replanted it, and have our fingers crossed.

In the losses column, we’re putting field corn. The rain finally stopped but as of yesterday, the undrained fields were still too wet to plant. I’m glad we didn’t put many resources toward it because the few acres we did plant germinated poorly, and the crows and the seagulls were waiting to pull those sprouts out of the cold mud. We’re going to look at those fields on Monday to decide if we should cultivate them or plow them up. The window for planting (or replanting) corn is effectively closed, so now we need to get creative and figure out the best plan to bring the stock through the rest of this year and next.

            Haymaking began this week. We put the chips down on a good forecast, and cut a thousand bales. Jane and Miranda and I took a picnic up to the field on Wednesday evening to watch the mower launch into a thick stand for its maiden voyage. Travis and Cory mowed all day yesterday. It looked like we’d have until Sunday to get it dry and in. This morning, though, the forecast changed, and we are looking at a 50% chance of thunderstorms tomorrow. So now we’re pinning hopes on today. The sun is out and the breeze is fresh and if we’re lucky and work hard and nothing breaks, we might be able to bring it all home by dark. I’m cooking team dinner to be eaten in the field tonight – lots of savory pies and strawberry shrub.

Watching the mower

I got a jump on next winter’s cooking this week. I blanched and froze about a dozen bags of spinach and beet greens. This week, you should all be getting your scapes in the freezer! I find them indispensible once the garlic heads run out. Just put chopped scapes in the blender with enough oil to make it wiz, add a little salt, and freeze in ice cube trays. When they are frozen, pop them out and store in zip lock bags. I put up two or three gallon bags every year and that’s plenty.

The Greenhorns are throwing the Solstice Mixer at the Keeseville Grange tomorrow. There are farm tours and talks during the day, and our own Matt Robertson is making the dinner, to be served at 6:30. Music follows. Details and directions at www.thegreenhorns.net. Hope to see you there. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this longest-day 25th week of 2013.           -Kristin & Mark Kimball

Jewel in a Swamp

Essex Farm Note

Week 24, 2013

I have said before that a farm is like a slot machine: taking taking taking until you forswear the whole game, and then, on the last dime, jackpot. This week the spin kept coming up lemons. Three inches of rain in 30 hours, on top of too much rain last week. The fields too wet to walk on, let along work, and the unplanted seed corn – 50 acres worth – sitting in the granary, a silent reprimand for decisions made and bets placed that cannot now be undone. The price of organic corn is running $650 a ton. I woke up several times in the middle of the night to the sound of the rain and the weight of unwieldy numbers in my head. Then today came, with sun, and a cheery cool drying wind. Mark and I set out for the drained fields after lunch, to see what the plants have done. Suddenly, the world didn’t look so bad. In the drained fields, we have a lot of food coming. The soybeans, five acres worth, are up and lovely, without that poor, yellow cast they always had when we tried to grow them in undrained ground. The potatoes that Liam and Jenny and Cory and Matt planted have breasted the surface of the soil, ten thousand dark green rosettes that are full of health and vigor. The transplants – the peppers, tomatoes, the eggplants – are the best I’ve seen on our place, ever. And the fifteen acres of field corn that we managed to plant, thanks to Cory’s and Liam’s near all-nighters, is three inches tall, looking happy to be here. We have rye that is heading out, too, and dry beans sprouted. Before hurrying back to write this note, Mark and I cruised the strawberries, and found one fat ripe one each. I hope everyone gets a good taste of them in the coming weeks.

We are rich in greens now, and should be for the foreseeable future. Lettuce will be available every week until fall, barring bad luck. If you get sick of fresh salad you can always sauté them gently for a warm wilted side. Garlic scapes will be in the share next week. They are good fresh but even more valuable to me for the freezer: I am using last year’s on a daily basis now, since we are out of head garlic. I blend them up with oil and a little salt and freeze them in ice cube trays, then store them in zip lock bags. Swiss chard and beet greens will be available from now until frost. If you want quantities for your freezer, please order them in advance. This week we have a windfall harvest of spinach. Check the board to see if there is enough for your freezer. The spinach will probably bolt in the next week or two so this is your chance until the fall planting comes in. We are close to the end of asparagus, which needs to begin storing its energy now for next year. And we don’t have chickens this week. The wet cool weather has slowed this batch way down. Hopefully they’ll be big enough to harvest by next week.

I feel a shout out to the whole team is necessary this week. It’s not easy to keep up morale when the rain is falling. Thank you Barbara, Jenny, Amy, Kelsie, Matt, Aubrey, Liam, Cory, Travis, Luke, Isabel, Brandon, Gwen, Jori, Andy, and this week’s volunteers, Leslie and Jared. Thank you too to all who have helped with our marketing effort. It’s working! And that is the news from Essex Farm for this jewel of a day in the swamp of the 24th week of 2013.                                                                            -Kristin & Mark Kimball

Good Dog

Essex Farm Note

Week 23, 2013

Rain, rain, it’s quite enough already. The undrained fields remained too wet to plant this week. Just before this latest rain started we were so optimistic! Cory checked the fields every 6 hours, hoping for a small window, which never opened. But let’s focus on the positive. The drained fields are planted from hedgerow to hedgerow. The last crops to go in were popcorn, soybeans, field corn and mangel beets.

I think it’s safe to say that Jet enjoyed this week more than anyone else on the farm. He had a two-day courting visit from a lovely and accomplished English Shepherd named Rosie, who came from Pennsylvania with her owner and handler, Heather Houlahan. Rosie lives on a farm with chickens, turkeys, and goats, but she has an off-farm job as a search and rescue dog.  (You can read about her and her work on Heather’s blog, http://cynography.blogspot.com/). Heather, who trains dogs professionally, describes Rosie like a canine Ferrari – an awesome animal to own and work, but too much dog for most people. She thinks Jet will add some size to the pups (he’s big for an English Shepherd, with heavy bone) and make them more user-friendly.

We had a bout with bloat in the dairy herd this week. They were grazing the clover/rye field, and clover, like some other legumes, can cause this potentially fatal condition. When the feed hits the rumen, it begins to ferment, and gas is produced. Normally, the gas is released through burping, but in bloat conditions, the gas is trapped and pressure builds up in the rumen. It can happen very quickly. The left side puffs up, the cow looks uncomfortable, and if it progresses, she dies. Luckily Amy and Kelsie were keeping a close eye on the girls, and caught it quickly. We drenched them with vegetable oil, which helps settle the foam in the rumen so the air can come out in the form of large, stinky burps. It goes away as quickly as it comes on, and within an hour everyone looked comfortable again. We’ll have to be careful to get the cows full of grass or grass hay before putting them on the clover field. It is also more dangerous in the morning, and when the weather is cool and wet, like it is now.

We bought the skid steer I wrote about last week. Travis has already used it to turn all the compost, and to clean the winter’s bedding out of the heifer barn. That’s a job that would have taken a crew of humans with shovels most of the week. Thanks to Jonathan Pribble for selling it to us, and to Peter Gucker for loaning us his gravel bucket, which made the compost turning so much easier.  Welcome to Isabelle, who is back with us for another summer, and to Scott, who worked with us this week, as he made his way between farm jobs in central New York and Vermont. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this drippy 23rd week of 2013. -Kristin & Mark Kimball