Glad to be Here

Week 31, 2013

There has not yet been a season poor enough to dent the pleasures of this farm at the beginning of August. The tomatoes are heavy on the vines, the onions and the shallots are fat, the corn is above our heads, and the first plump fall raspberries are coming ripe, with the tantalizing promise of a good flush in a couple of weeks if all goes well. Yesterday, as we took our weekly walking inventory, Mark said he’d never seen a stand of soy so lovely. We stood there for a moment, taking in its bright green loveliness, and marveling at the generosity of the soil, which has been good to us despite what it’s been through this year. I do love this place with my whole heart, and never more than when it has brought us to the brink of despair and back off of it again, a few inches at least. Meanwhile, the weather has gone Dr. Jekyll on us, after all those weeks of Hyde. Soft breezes, strong sun, and cool nights good for sleeping. Yesterday we even got the gentle rain that we needed but were hesitant to wish for, lest we wouldn’t be able to shut it off again. That is good news for the hay ground, as it makes a decent second cutting of hay seem likely. And if you felt a small squall cross Essex yesterday that was Mark and I, heaving a great sigh of relief. We’d gotten a letter from the IRS last week, saying we owed $9,000 in back taxes, but yesterday we heard from our accountant, who says it looks like it was the IRS’s mistake. Whew!

We had our first official Essex Farm Institute event this week: a walking plow workshop at Reber Rock Farm. Nathan and Chad explained the mechanics and the surprisingly complex geometry of that elegant old tool, and everyone got to try their hand at guiding it, while Chad drove the horses.

Now, three events to tout. It’s Essex County Fair week. We have a display up, thanks to Amy, and plan on taking the kids over on Saturday afternoon. Jane has been fantasizing about cotton candy since last year. Next, we’re co-hosting an all-you-can-eat pizza event at the Brick Store in Charlotte, Vermont on Sunday, August 12th, time and price to be announced. Come over and help us recruit some new members from across the lake! Finally, I’m giving a talk and reading at Camp Dudley in Westport on Sunday, August 25th, to benefit the Literacy Volunteers of Essex and Franklin County. The talk starts at 1pm, with a book signing to follow. $15 per person. For more info call 518-546-3008 or visit www.litvol.com.

Warm welcome to Malcolm Drenttel, who has joined us for the month of August. He spent last semester in the farm program at the Mountain School in Vermont. We say goodbye to Isabelle today, the teenage powerhouse who kept us all laughing while cranking through enormous amounts of grunt work. We will miss you, Isabelle, and can’t wait to see you again next summer. We’ll save our goodbye to Luke Barns for next week, as he still has a few days here and we can only take so much. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this glad-to-be-here 31st week of 2013.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Empire Building

Week 30, 2013

Mark and I just got back from a bike tour around what we jokingly call The Empire. We saw all the animals and most of the plants, and it took almost a whole morning. Here’s the report.

The garlic came in yesterday and is hanging in elegant strings from the rafters of the covered barnyard. The dairy cattle are spending their days in there this week. There’s something olfactorily confusing but not entirely displeasing about the smell of cows mingled with the smell of all that garlic. We estimate somewhere between 15- and 20,000 heads, a little on the small side, half of which will go back into the ground as seed garlic. Once it is dry, members, we’ll have it in the share.

The beef herd is full of four-legged dirigibles, the cows all heavily pregnant and ready to calve starting on the first of August. They are bred to an Angus bull this year, so we’re eager to see how these babies turn out. Gwen has culled heavily for temperament the last two seasons, cutting out all the ambitious types who like to push or jump the fence. The result is a herd of cattle with Quaalude-like mellowness. It’s very peaceful out there. I wish the pastures looked better for them. The grasses in the less-than-perfect places are still suffering the effects of the Great Flooding.

Next stop was the herd of pigs on Blockhouse Road, the ones born in early spring. There are forty of them there, ranging in weight from an estimated 210 pounds to about half that size. They did a number on the pasture while it was wet. That field has nice soil but it is wet, wet, wet. Mark’s thinking about plowing it and planting it to cover crop after the pigs are out of it, and I’m fantasizing about what it would be like if it were drained. On the way out of that field we ran across a big patch of St. John’s Wort, which is just the thing to chew on to stabilize the mood after looking at wrecked pasture. See? Providence.

Chad Field, just south of Blockhouse, was too wet to plant this spring. That’s another good candidate for drainage after we win the lottery. It’s dry now, and Luke has been disking it this week, to get it ready to seed to an oat/pea and possibly forage turnip mix. In the best case, if we have excellent weather for the rest of the season, it would give us really nice forage for pigs and cows, and cut down on the grain bill. At the least, it will improve the field for next year. We’re never sorry when we’ve cover cropped. As soon as I finish this note I’ll run up to Peru to get the seed.

The dairy heifers are on one of the more marginal pastures, the one we call Paddock One, in permanent high tensile fence. Again, it’s not a well-drained pasture, so the forage is pretty poor this year. The three heifers who are bred for late fall will move up to be with the big girls very soon, so they can spent the last third of their pregnancy on excellent feed. One of last year’s calves is battling pink eye, which is transmitted by flies. We vaccinate against it but the vaccination is not perfect.

We visited the 6 week old piglets in the east barn run-in. They are thriving and ready to wean. All good news there.  And lots of good news on the home 80 acres. There will be tomatoes in the share today, and the first sweet onions, and more green beans. The winter squash are just starting to set fruit. They look good on the good soil and not so good on the clay end of the field, as expected. The strawberries need a big hand-weeding push if we want to keep them for next year. We have some really fun weeding projects for members who want to take them on, and I’m not lying about the fun part. The kids and I spent two lovely afternoons this week pulling weeds from the soft, loose soil in the rhubarb; the corn would like the same treatment this week.

The laying hens in the clover on Superjoy are looking well. They had their picture in the Plattsburgh paper on Sunday. The hens are in the Essex Farm sweet spot right now: producing just enough eggs to keep everyone happy, and utilizing clover, a non-grain sources of nutrition, to supplement their grain ration.

Finally, the broilers on Firehouse Field are in better health and growing faster now that they aren’t using snorkels. The sheep are OK, but haven’t put on a lot of weight this summer. Again, we can thank the rain for that. We have a few score acres of hay down today, and hoping for some afternoon sun to dry it.

And now I really do have to go to Peru, so I’ll post this without my usual final edit for length.  Thank you, members, for your love and loyalty this year. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this hazy-cool 30th week of 2013. Find us at essexfarm@gmail.com.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball