Essex Farm Note

Week 16, 2014

The rule holds: the first week we hear the spring peepers singing from the pond is the first week the fields are dry enough to work. It has been so every year here and it was so this week. I had my doubts. The weather has been very strange. The pair of beautiful days we had coaxed the grass up out of the ground, dried snowmelt and rain, and also woke the peepers from their long winter sleep. The next day, the poor peepers had to sing through a skim of ice. But they sang. And this morning, the north end of Monument was dry enough for Scott to hitch Jake and Abby to the plow, and turn over a row of last year’s parsnips for an easy harvest. These parsnips are almost sweet enough to put in your Easter baskets. I like them simply cooked with water or stock and a little butter until they are soft and the sugar in them begins to brown. I could also make an argument for parsnip fries, or cubed, boiled and mashed with potatoes and maybe a little rutabaga for a white root medley.

Where else is it happening? The herb garden, for one. We raked leaves and dead stalks out of the nettles, sorrel, and chives this week. The new growth is taller every day. Also, the pastures. Green is the new brown there. We put milking cows and sheep out for the first time this morning. The grass is not a plentiful source of feed yet but cows enjoyed stretching their legs and nibbling the shoots, and they will return to the covered barnyard this afternoon. The sheep are out for the season, but they have access to the run-in and will not move far from the barn until after they are sheared next weekend. The lilac tree outside the kitchen window is budding, which means the maples will be too. We’ll collect the last run of sap today and then it’s time to pull the taps and put a poor sugar season behind us.

We have a lot of new faces around the farm right now. I love knowing, from experience, that they will soon become as familiar and dear as all the other farmers who have been part of the extended farm family. Transition! Mike and Matt and Michael and Josh have joined the full time crew, and Lindsay is here for a week, to see what it feels like. Mike and Matt have been on animal chores, and encountered a run of difficulties this week: a cow in the beef herd died of an injury, a piglet died of unknown causes, and last night, one of the dairy cows cast herself against a gate and is still struggling to regain her feet. I could see on the guys’ faces that they were disheartened – as I was, of course, but I’m used to it, and I know that it gets better, and soon. April is always the cruelest month, just before pastures are ready, while the temperatures shift wildly and the animals are confined indoors. Transition.

Mark and I are in hot debate this week over adding another 50 KW of solar power to the farm – which would bring our capacity up to 75 KW. There is a grant opportunity available right now and it will not last. The whole project will cost about $200,000. Grants and tax credits would cover $140,000. At our current usage rate, we would repay the remaining $60,000 in ten years. But we aren’t always able to use a tax credit and we can’t carry the loans. We are making calls for counsel this weekend, and we’ll need to decide by the end of the week. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this peeping 16th week of 2014.

-Kristin and Mark Kimball


APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

-T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land


Dead Frog, Pollywog

Essex Farm Note, Week 15, 2014


This week the snow pulled back to reveal the winter-ravaged world. Muck, ruts, bones. A dead frog suspended in the ice at the edge of the pond. Also, a pollywog, alive and swimming in the meltwater. Water gaining against ice. Rye that was a mere suggestion two days ago now stands an inch tall. In the perennial field, there is a row of confident red and green rosettes rising from the cold mud. Love you, rhubarb. The ground is still frozen but the frost is loosening its grip. Water is moving everywhere we look. The tiled fields are starting to drain from below. The wind and the sun are doing their work from above. We’re still waiting for the first spring peepers, still waiting for the first chance to put steel and hooves in a field. Meanwhile the greenhouse is filling up with flats of healthy young plants. The animals, still indoors, dream of grass.

Remember the rat problem and the barrel trap? The barrel trap caught exactly zero rats. Yet the rat population has regressed to its usual low simmer – what passes for normal on a farm. Why? Possibly because of the mink. When Travis hauled the bedding pack out of the east barn run-in, he found thirty or forty rat bodies buried in it, which puzzled him. That evening, Aubrey was trying to catch an escaped piglet in the same area, and saw a slender, sleek brown creature about two feet long drinking out of a puddle of melting snow. Minks kill rats and bury prey in their dens. Go, mink, go. They also kill poultry so we will keep a close eye on the hens and chicks and meanwhile send the mink our thanks.


Hot chicks! The first batch arrived on Wednesday, a day earlier than we expected them. We didn’t have the greenhouse brooders ready for them so we put the cheeping boxes inside next to the woodstove and set up four hasty brooders made of one-ton apple crates in the garage. I ran to the hardware store for extra waterers and thermometers. In our experience, chick health, in the first week, depends on keeping the temperature of the brooders at a steady 95 degrees, not too hot and not too cold. We’ve killed more chicks by overheating than by chilling. The garage has turned out to be quite a nice setup for new arrivals; we’ve had no losses so far. Of course, it would be nice to use the garage as a garage, but as long as I’m not scraping snow off the car, no biggie.

We have room for more members this year. Please help us recruit some new families by telling friends and family about the share. If you know someone who might be interested, let us know, and we can give them a tour of the farm and tell them how the share works.

Parsnips are ready to be dug. After a long winter in the cold cold ground they are sweet as candy. And it has been a long winter, hasn’t it? This is the first week we’ve let the fire go out in the woodstove since November. Here is to spring – better late than never. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this dead frog, pollywog 15th week of 2014.


-Kristin & Mark Kimball


The season of running water


Neither pup nor child can resist a good puddle stomping


Ice cantilevered over the stream.