Hay hay!

Essex Farm Note

Week 29, 2013

The heat made for happy plants this week. The kids and I were away for most of it. Coming home to the farm after a few days mid-summer is like not seeing a small child for six months: you can’t believe how fast it changes. The corn had a big growth spurt. Since we have so little of it planted, we really poured the resources into it. We spread the field heavily with compost and then dressed the corn with purchased organic fertilizer after planting. All that nitrogen, plus good weed control and drainage, made for a gorgeous, even, deep green stand. It does my heart good to see it. In the northern section of Superjoy, the tomatoes are beginning to ripen. Now it’s a race against blights. Early blight is already here, creeping up slowly from the bottom of the plants, but we are used to that. We still get a tomato harvest with early blight. Late blight is the one we worry about. It is wending its way across the state, carried on the wind. Cross your fingers for bright dry weather and ask the wind to blow the spores away from us. We’ll do the same, plus spray copper, the organic prophylactic treatment for blight.

The big story of the week was hay. As you know, readers, the hay situation is serious. We need to bring in six months’ worth of decent hay for beef cattle, good hay for horses, and excellent hay for the dairy herd, plus a lot of material for bedding. By now should have a loft full of first-cut bales, with the grass for second cut well-grown in the fields. Before this week we’d made only a thousand bales, and they came in too wet and were ruined by mold. This late in the season, forage that hasn’t been mowed yet is over-mature and not very nutritious. But poor feed is better than no feed, so haying began this week the moment the fields were dry enough to support machinery and the forecast gave us hope for a few days without rain. The window looked just big enough to get the hundred acre field baled. I feel guilty that I was away, as it took enormous effort from everyone. Mark, Travis and Cory worked on the borrowed round baler. They were learning a new machine under pressure, which is like meeting a stranger and trying to become intimate friends really fast. This particular friend had not been out for a few years and had a bunch of cracked hoses and a quirky electrical system. While the hoses were being replaced, the rest of the crew made 2400 square bales. Gwen, Kelsey, Aubrey and Amy stacked in the mow, where the sun beats down on the roof, the heat rises up from below, and the bales throw off the heat of the field as they come in. Imagine lifting fifty pound weights for hours in a very dirty sauna. Not only did they get through it, but when I got home on Wednesday, Mark was finishing the last of the hundred acres with his new friend the round baler, and everyone was smiling. Thank you to all the farmers for their fortitude.

Animals did not like the heat as much as the plants did. We lost some broiler chickens, dairy and egg production is down a tick, and despite their fortitude, the farmers look a little droopy today. Extra thanks to Mairin, who is volunteering this week. I hear she’s a superstar. Summer shares are still available, and our web site is functional: www.essexfarmcsa.com. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this green-beans-and-zucchini-fest 29th week of 2013.  -Kristin & Mark Kimball

Farm Tour Tomorrow!


July 13th, 2013 — Essex Farm Summer TourTIME: Tour at 10am; Lunch at Noon; Afternoon session 1-3pm

SUGGESTED DONATION: $25 adults; $5 for kids

BRING: Weather-appropriate clothing, sturdy footwear, delicious food for potluck, your own place setting. NO DOGS, PLEASE!

ADDRESS: 2503 NYS Route 22, Essex, NY, 12936. We are one mile from the Essex-Charlotte Ferry.

CONTACT: essexfarm@gmail.com

July is farming at a full roar.  We will walk the vegetable and grain fields, the pastures and hay fields, and talk about time-management strategies for the peak of the season. We tour the fields and barnyard together from 10 until noon, then have a potluck lunch. In the afternoon, you are free to explore the remote parts of the farm on your own, or join Mark for a walk or a work project.

Excellent, considering

Essex Farm Note

Week 28, 2013

Blue skies and sweet, cool air today. That’s more like it! The forecast for the coming week is hot and sunny. Suddenly, it’s haymaking weather. Mark and I just took a spin around the farm, to see if the ground is dry enough to hold up mowers, balers, tractors. Some fields still contain standing water but the upper section of the hundred acres on Middle Road looks promising. Note that I said hold up tractors. In the past, we’ve done our mowing with the horses, but given what this year has dealt us so far, we can’t afford the risk that more hay will be ruined by rain. We need to make lots of hay while this sun shines. So we’ve borrowed a mower and a round baler (thank you, Heather!), which will allow us to make large bales quickly. We’re also borrowing a bale wrapper (and thank you, Tom!), which will allow us to make haylage if we need to. What is the difference between hay and haylage, you ask? Hay is grass that is preserved by drying. Haylage is grass that is preserved by fermenting. It is, essentially, pickled grass. The forage is cut and left to wilt and dry slightly, and then it is baled and wrapped in plastic. In that anaerobic cocoon, the damp grass produces lactic acid, which lowers the pH of the bale, which prevents rot. The advantage to haylege is that because it is baled at high moisture levels, you don’t need the long and totally uncontrollable window of dry weather that you need for hay. The finished product is also palatable to the animals, and has a higher protein content than dry hay. This is because it captures more of the nutritious leaf, which is fragile when it is dry, and tends to shatter and get lost. The disadvantages to haylage are that it costs more to make, and it uses a lot of plastic. Also, the bales have to be moved with heavy equipment, and very carefully, because if the plastic wrapping gets torn, it must be patched, or the haylage will go bad. And finally, we’ve never done it ourselves before, so there is that old learning curve to climb. This farm offers plenty of curve, even ten years in. Steep, it is, but never dull.

Now a quick state-of-the-farm report. The fifty drained acres rate a solid fair. Or maybe, excellent, considering. Drainage kept the plants alive but they are stressed. All the blights and rots just love a year like this. And plants that are weak are more vulnerable to insect damage. We’re using organic sprays to mitigate those things. Jenny sprayed the potatoes for Colorado potato beetle yesterday, and is spraying the tomatoes with copper today, because the first reports of late blight have begun rolling in. It was confirmed in Buffalo and in Madison County this week. Late blight, you’ll remember, is the bad one that can zero tomato plants in a matter of days. Hopefully the copper and this bright stretch of weather will hold it at bay.

Tomorrow is our big summer tour. We are so excited. Meet in the barnyard at 10. It is free for members, with a suggested donation of $25 for non-members. Bring something to share for a potluck lunch, and your own place setting. No dogs, please! More details on the events page. Finally, I just got news of a guided mushroom foray happening in on the Black Kettle nature trail loop on August 14th. When life gives you rain, eat mushrooms! Preregistration required at www.themushroomforager.com/events. And that is the news for this hopeful 28th week of 2013.                                                    -Kristin & Mark Kimball


Essex Farm Note

Week 27, 2013

 It’s fair to say we’re in disaster mode at this point. We got another .7” of rain yesterday, and though I’m away, Mark reports that it’s raining again right now. The storm clouds have been fickle. Reber Rock Farm, just 5 miles to our west, got 2” in the storm that brought us .7”, and Westport, 10 miles to our south, got none. The National Weather Service is forecasting another week of heavy rain and thunderstorms. What do you do with such weather? The best you can, I suppose. We’re recalculating our plans, both micro and macro. E.g, we’ll be putting more purchased organic fertilizer on the vegetables next week, to make up for nutrients that have been washed away. The team transplanted the fall brassicas to the space between the rows of strawberries in Superjoy, which is drained, instead of the undrained Middle Road field, where we’d planned to put them. The strawberries themselves are finished for the year, thanks to the extreme weather. We’re debating what to do with the broiler chickens. They are on Firehouse Field, which is one of our wet ones, and we’re seeing a lot of coccidiosis, a disease that thrives in warm, wet conditions. It is not usually fatal but it scars the intestines and stunts growth. You’ll have noticed, members, that the chickens are much smaller than usual this year. We’re considering different options for the next batches of chicks, including moving them off pasture to the dry, covered barnyard. There’s nothing that can be done about haymaking. It’s difficult to watch the uncut hay fields grow over-mature and less nutritious with every passing day. It’s a spiritual lesson, I suppose, in learning to accept the forces beyond our control, and a good intellectual and agricultural challenge to figure out how best to mitigate the damage. We are focusing on what we do have, and how best to use it. And for now, members, you are in good shape. It’s not this year but next year that weighs heavy on us. The share is still beautiful and plentiful, and we have the cushion of time to figure out the best plan for the future. Of the last four years, three have been extremely wet, with two of them setting historical records, so our strategy must take into account the possibility of shifting weather patterns. We believe that diversity equals resilience, and if we’re anything, we are diversified. Not to mention stubborn, resourceful and determined.

Sugar snaps in the share today! These are not shell peas, mind you, but the kind you eat whole, pods and all. Just snap off the stem end and pull off the strings. I like them raw and I love them steamed or sautéed with a little garlic and soy sauce. We also have a bumper harvest of bok choi. This tasty vegetable is a real superfood, packed with vitamins and antioxidants and also easy to prep and cook. It freezes well. Blanch for 2 minutes, chill in ice water for 2 minutes, drain, bag and freeze.

I hear the whole Essex Farm team took part in the 4th of July parade yesterday. There were drums, guitars, dirty (literally) go-go dancers and flames deployed all the way down Main Street. At the judges’ stand, Mark juggled torches and the farmers formed a human pyramid, which was enough to win the prize for best float. The only casualty was Mark’s nose hairs, which needed trimming anyway. The trophy is the shiniest object in the farm office now. Finally, members, please remind your summer resident friends that we have summer shares available! Details at 518-963-4613 or essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.                                                                                                                                                  –Kristin &Mark Kimball

Farm Walk July 3rd

Mark and I did some reconnaissance on the home 80 this morning. It was drizzling, of course. The rain has been unrelenting for weeks now. Here is an ode to drainage, in pictures. If it weren’t for drainage in these fields, you would just see big smears of mud with aquatic weeds here.

In Mailbox Field, the zucchini is beginning to size up. We may have some ready for harvest next week. The field corn looks very good. We will not get a sweet corn crop this year (both the first and second plantings got flooded out), but we will have field corn for roasting ears. Green beans are coming, too.

In Monument Field, the onions are doing very well at the moment, but they look like they might be getting a little thrippy. Thrips are itsy bitsy little insects that love to chew, and the holes they make let in disease. It’s hard to see here, but the onion plants are starting to get brown tips. If the plants are strong enough they will grow through it. If not, we’ll have small onions. Next to the onions you can see chard. Nothing kills chard. We’ll have plenty. Then there are a few rows of summer carrots, which are also looking good. In the foreground, you can see some erosion. More on that in a minute.

Here are the sugar snap peas, on the trellis. I love this variety. The girls and I have been grazing them for the last few days, and the pods are sizing up now. They are the best treat of the week and should be perfectly ready for harvest on Friday.

This is erosion. We are lucky that our farm is flat and this land is drained. Still, it hurts the heart. These are mangel beets, for animals. A river runs through them.

Yet some good lookin’ food here. Diversity = resilience! 

And here is an example of the lemonade you can make on a diversified farm on a lemon of a year. This field, mostly clover, was too wet and too lush to graze with dairy cows, so Gwen moved the laying hens here. The high-protein forage will help cut the grain bill. And the hens are ecstatic.

No lemonade here. Those are the summer raspberries to the left of the gully. Quite poor. But the fall berries, which you can’t see, look much better.

 Hello, soybeans. I’m happy about soybeans. Given the relatively small scale of this planting, it might make more sense to feed the soybeans to people instead of animals this year. Tempeh? Tofu? Members, what do you think?

Potatoes. Not terrible. The plants are healthy, even if the planting was a little uneven. Not much sign of Colorado Potato Beetle yet. Mark squashed one adult female as she was laying her eggs. Very satisfying.


More field corn, and ten rows of popcorn. Liam and Matt actually cultivated this with the horses in the rain yesterday — a sight I’ve never seen before, but necessary if we want a chance of staying ahead of the weeds.

Much of the rye has lodged (i.e. gotten flattened by wind and rain) and  it is showing signs of rust. We can’t count on getting a crop.

We are transplanting fall cabbage between the strawberry rows. Normally we would have chosen another field but we have to maximize what we are doing on the fifty drained acres since we can’t work the ground anywhere else. That’s Jenny, with Isabel and Aubrey in the background.



 This is where all the water comes out, at the east end of the field. I love you, drainage.


Jay and Jack getting ready to go cultivate while it’s not actually pouring.







Back at the farmhouse, the ducks are having a grand time. It has occurred to me that the ducks may have seized control of the weather this year. You really couldn’t ask for a better year for ducks.


So that’s the state of the farm for this week, friends. The kids and I are off to visit family for the 4th of July holiday. Send sunny dry thoughts to us and all the farmers in our neighborhood, would you?

-Kristin Kimball