Frost Run

Essex Farm Note
Week 9, 2014

Of all the work we do on this farm, sugaring is the sweetest, even if you don’t count the end product. Is it even work to spend a sunny late-winter afternoon tromping through the woods, from tree to tree, with frosty-sweet sap to drink out of the pails when the exercise makes you thirsty? We got a two day run before the cold clamped down on us again. We collected 350 gallons in two loads on Monday, using Jake and Abby to pull the wagon. The trail was already broken so the pull was not as difficult for the horses as it was the day we tapped, even though their load was heavier. The sun was low by the time we brought in the second wagon, and we still had to set up the holding tank and evaporator, bucket the sap from the wagon to the tank, get the fire going and the split wood stacked. When all that was finished, it was night. The forecast called for a stretch of valve-crackingly cold weather. If we were going to make syrup from this sap, it had to happen immediately, so Mark volunteered (or rather was conscripted) for an all-nighter. Scott joined him for a few hours to learn the process. Aubrey brought sustenance in the form of chocolate chip cookies. When I woke up in my warm bed the next morning, Mark was just finishing the last draw. He made seven gallons. Scott was shocked. This is his first sugar season, and he couldn’t quite believe how many hours of work it took to fill those precious jars. I am a jaded veteran and was surprised that we got as much as we did, since the sugar content of the sap seemed fairly low. But we all agree the first run of 2014 produced a particularly delicious syrup. Maple syrup has a complex flavor profile, with variations that depend on weather, soil, tree genetics, and means of production. We are one of the only producers I know still making a truly traditional maple syrup. We use buckets instead of plastic tubes, horses instead of engines, and a good old-fashioned evaporator that burns wood from our own trees. It is slow, and it is unique. We will be selling this syrup tomorrow, at the CCE’s annual Food From the Farm event, 2-5pm at the Plattsburgh City Gym. Soon as the new farm stand is open, we will have it for sale there too. Members will get a half pint in the share today, and can buy more with a member discount from the farm stand when it is available.

Speaking of precious, it seems we are in the midst of a kale seed bubble right now, created by decreased supply (widespread crop failure) and increased demand (kale hired a publicist and is suddenly the nation’s ‘it’ vegetable). Mark, Miranda and I finished our seed order on Wednesday, only to find every seed supplier we know has sold out of Winterbor seed. That’s the variety that holds up well in cold weather, and provides us with fresh green food through most of the winter. This morning I googled up a supplier who still had packets, at more than ten times the price we would have paid for our usual bulk quantity. I snapped them up.

And the short news? Travis fixed a cracked head on the skid steer; babies galore in the east barn, of the porcine and ovine persuasions; got a new moisture meter, so we know the popcorn, at 22%, is still too wet to pop, and a refractometer, so we know that our first syrup is a perfect 67 brix. Metrics! I love them. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this unsportingly cold 9th week of 2014.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

 

PS Here are some photos from the week.

First load of sap on the way home.

First load of sap on the way home.

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The sunset load.Thank you Dylan, Jori, Otis, Kristen and Scott for helping us collect it.

This pair of twins was asleep like this when I found them.

This pair of twins was asleep like this when I found them.

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But I got too close and woke them up.

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Tapping!

 

 

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It was a tough pull for the horses, breaking trail uphill. We had to stop and shovel through the drifts a few times. Good job on the lines, Scott Hoffman.

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Honcho

Nothing says almost spring like a lamb in the house. I got back into town last night to find this little guy next to the wood stove. He was small, the survivor of a pair of twins. He nursed after he was born but got so chilled overnight he could no longer stand. Mark brought him inside, and tried to feed him with a bottle; no luck. He got weaker all day. When I got home I thought there was almost no chance he would survive. I ran out to the barn and milked the ewe, then held the little mite on my lap and snaked a tube down his throat and into his stomach. I gave him 30 ml of milk and put him back in his warm place.

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Half an hour later he stood up, bleated, and peed on the floor. Huzzah.

Miranda named him Honcho. She also decided he was lonely — though that was unlikely, given all the attention he was getting from Mary and the girls.

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At bedtime he got another 20 ml of milk and was ready to go back to his mama. She baa’ed her relief to see him again and I spent a satisfying few minutes watching him nurse, his little tail wagging, his mother nudging him encouragingly. As sweet as it is to have a lamb in the house, it’s much sweeter to have him back in the barn with his mother.

 

Snow lambs

Essex Farm Note

Week 7, 2014

I got three new lambs for Valentine’s day – a pair of twins born to a veteran ewe, and a singleton to a first time mama. The twins were nice and dry this morning, and looked like they had been diligently cleaned and fussed over. Their mouths were warm inside, and they had that air of satisfaction and contentment that says they probably nursed not long ago. Good sized boys, both of them. The single boy was a bit on the small side, and looked hungry. The ewe bleated at him, but seemed confused about her duties, and flustered by his attempts to nurse. I got a towel from the house and rubbed him dry, then pinned the ewe against the side of the jug with one knee, and reached under to feel the udder. Sometimes there is a plug of wax stuck in a teat, or the hard, hot feeling of mastitis, or no milk at all. This ewe seemed fine, except for her lack of experience. I scooped up the lamb, and, while holding the mama still, guided his eager little mouth to the source of life. I couldn’t see what he was doing, but I could feel it, and his tail began to flick back and forth happily. The ewe held still, thinking. He nursed all the milk from one side of the udder and then I left them, the ewe a little wiser, the lamb a little more firmly connected to our world.

Miranda was sick all week so I took advantage of the enforced home time by finally doing the two project I’ve been meaning to get to since our beautiful soybean harvest in the fall. On Tuesday night I put up my first batch of miso paste. Miso is a mixture of mashed, cooked soybeans and special rice (or another grain or bean), called koji, that has been inoculated with an aspergillus culture. It’s possible to make koji at home but it is fussy, so I ordered mine instead from South River Miso. You mix the koji, salt, and soybeans together, then pack it tightly into a bucket or crock, and let it ferment for, for this type of miso, between seven months and three years. It is traditionally made in winter, and its age measured in summers. I am going to move the crock to the basement so I’m less tempted to mess with it. Yesterday, in need of more immediate gratification, I made a few pounds of tempeh, a fermented soy product that originated in Indonesian. To make it, you soak and partially cook the soybeans, then rub them together to loosen the hulls and break up the beans. That part was tedious, and next time I’ll try running them through a mill first so I won’t have to do it by hand. When the beans are mostly dry and have cooled down, they are mixed with a little bit of vinegar and the culture, then incubated at 88 degrees, to trick them into thinking they are back home in Indonesia. I used a Styrofoam cooler with a 20 watt light bulb in it. When I checked this morning, the soy was covered by a white web of mycelium, and was generating so much heat on its own it no longer needed the light. It should be ready by tonight. If you are interested in making tempeh yourself, you can get the culture (and many other interesting ones) at Gem Cultures. Next stop for me: soy sauce. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this we-love-winter 7th week of 2014.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

PS Here is the tempeh project in the incubator last night, and the finished product, which came out perfectly and tastes better than the store kind. A surprise hit with the kids.

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Fluffy White

Essex Farm Note

Week 6, 2014

I had my annual kitchen-table meeting with the state vet, Roger Ellis, and our own David Goldwasser this week. We’ve been enrolled in a New York State program for dairy cow health ever since we bought a cow who brought a case of Johne’s disease along with her. Johne’s is a weird one – among other quirks, cows can be asymptomatic for a long time but still shed the disease and spread it to young stock. Also, the test is infamous for yielding false negatives. Once Johne’s gets going in your herd it is a real pain to eradicate it, and the disease itself is very serious. If a cow is symptomatic, she’s a goner. The state program offers subsidized tests, and annual herd health advice. We have not had another cow test positive, nor seen any signs of the disease, for four years, so we are beginning to feel we are in the safe zone. Still, it’s good to have the opportunity to sit down with the vets to review the health of the herd. This year, the main topic of conversation was mastitis, as our somatic cell counts have been higher than usual recently. We came up with some new goals and herd protocols.

File this under bad luck/good luck. We bought some 700-lb square bales of hay from a neighbor this week, to use as bedding. When Travis was hauling them home, the tongue on the wagon broke, and the bales and the wagon careened off the road, up the ditch, and then smashed through a fence. Bad luck. The good luck part was that it happened on a deserted stretch of Middle Road, and not on Route 22 in the midst of ferry traffic or into someone’s house or car or any of the myriad anxiety-producing scenarios my mind can invent. We do have to fix the fence.

There was a flurry of cabbage chopping, salt-mixing, and stomp-packing in the farm kitchen this week. We made kraut out of a quarter of the remaining stored cabbage. There are four barrels in the germination chamber now, in the first stage of fermentation, giving off that pungent eau de skunk scent. I am very glad they are not in the house this year. Much as I love kraut I do not love the weeks of stink it brings when played as an indoor sport on a large scale.

Good old Jet is in need of some TLC this week. He was neutered on Monday. Mary will have her first heat soon, and I didn’t want to take the chance of an accidental mating. Jet is also getting older, so his days as a stud dog were coming to an end anyway. I’m sure if he’d had a vote, he would still have his undercarriage. He’s been quite miserable all week.

Now the short news. Thanks to Kirsten who was here this week as an Essex Farm Institute intern, and contributed her hard work and good company, especially at kraut making. We have maple syrup in the share today, the last of the supply we bought from Bradley French last spring. We’re still discussing this sugar season. Mark pulled the evaporator out of storage this week just in case. The kale is finally exhausted, but it’s February, so that was a great run. I have been raiding the freezer this week for the spinach, arugula and beet greens. Always grateful to have them available this time of year. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this fluffy-white 6th week of 2014.

– Kristin and Mark Kimball

Lamb Forecast

Essex Farm Note

 Week 5, 2014

The light seems stronger this week. It’s warmer. The forecast is a little ominous – snow coming? – but what I feel in my bones is surely spring. I also see it on the to-do list. We have about ten more minutes of frozen lull in which to get tools in order and machines serviced and plans laid before the curtain goes up and it’s show time. The first spring-like work this year will be lambing, which should start around the end of next week. I pulled the lambing bag out of storage yesterday to check supplies – stomach tubing, lamb jackets, elastrator, check! – and Scott just popped his head into the house to say he was going out to the East Barn to make lambing jugs, which are the small, temporary pens we use to bond mamas well with their babies. I’m excited to get going. There is no better soundtrack for the return of light than the bleat of a newborn lamb.

Mark and I are in the midst of that annual mid-winter debate. To sugar or not to sugar? The argument for sugaring is pure pleasure: good fun work, and a fabulous product that lights up the endorphin receptors all year long. The argument against is practical: the economics just don’t pencil out. We can’t pay our staff to make syrup the way we do it, with horses and buckets, over a wood fire, without losing money. One option is to make a modest amount of syrup as a family, and retail it at the farm stand. I took a walk in the sugarbush while thinking about it, and it was snow-quiet and inviting. I checked the trails for downed trees, just in case. There is some clearing to do, if we are going to move forward.

The dogs and I took a walk around the farm earlier this week, and discovered some unwelcome creature had made its home in a tunnel among the haylage bales. It’s important to keep rodents away from here so the wrappings around the bales stay intact – otherwise, the valuable feed inside will rot or mold. Jet didn’t need any encouragement. He found the mouth of the den and dug at it maniacally. Mary is now six months old and took her cues from her father. Opossum? Woodchuck? Whatever it was, it has now rethought its choice of den. There has been a lot more dog-to-dog training happening this week. Mary is testing limits all the time, and Jet is suddenly less tolerant of her antics. He is exactly what I aspire to be as a trainer: fast, firm, fair and, afterward, forgiving. When the pup nipped too hard at his ruff or jumped too obnoxiously on his back he corrected her with a single, ferocious snap. It is all sound and no teeth but he is not asking, he’s telling, and he doesn’t need to repeat himself. It’s time to grow up, he seems to say. Mary stops, licks her lips, wags her tail and gains another modicum of self control. It’s like having a live-in super-nanny. Jet turned nine in December and it occurred to me, watching him, that he is more powerful now than he was when he was younger. He was always a big strong intelligent boy, but now he owns it. He used the same ferocious snap and projection of power this week on a dairy cow. One of our cows will sometimes lie down in an awkward position during milking, then be unable to muster the motivation to get back up. It’s annoying, especially since she always makes us think there is something tragically wrong with her, and that she is unable, rather than unwilling. It happened over the weekend, and after Aubrey and Barbara and I spent about twenty minutes rocking her, cajoling her, and trying to lift her with a rope, we decided to put Jet on the job. He trotted into the barn, looking majestic. I said, get her!, he let forth his papa dog bark at her rear end and that cow was up, easy peasy. Mary, watching, was somewhat in awe.

Mark and I inspected the cabin just north of the solar panels this week, the one built by and for our old friend Sam Ehrenfeld, and occupied over the years by many visiting and resident farmers. We’ve been talking about the possibility of renovating it, and moving it to the front of the farm, to house our farm stand. It would be less crowded and more appealing than the office trailer. It has a sleeping loft that can be used for dry-goods storage, and it is well-insulated, so will be easy to heat. It’s also prettier than the office trailer – a low bar, that – and a good size for what we need.

This is Matt’s last week as butcher. He recently discovered that he is eligible for Portuguese citizenship, and can work legally in the EU, and so he’s off to seek his fortune. We can’t wait to hear about all the things he does and the people he meets and especially about all the food he cooks and eats. We’ll miss you, Matt. Thanks for all your good work. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this good-skating! 5th week of 2014.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball