Pressure, Release

Essex Farm Note

Week 22, 2014

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Pressure, release. This is one of the main principles of horse training. Apply increasing pressure until you get the behavior you want, then release. The pressure asks the horse for a different behavior, and the release tells him he got it right. Pressure can come in many forms: voice, touch, tension on the lines, or even energy directed at a place on the horse’s body. But the pressure, release thing has gotten generalized around here from a horse training tool to a principle of human behavior management. It is true that Nathan used pressure, release to win Racey’s heart when they were both farming here; Mark and I have employed pressure, release parenting and marriage strategies. This time of year I fear the farm has been observing all of this and is turning our strategy back on us. It is applying awfully firm pressure on the whole crew, in the form of fast grass, fast weeds, a million urgent needs. Our reaction is to work faster, longer, harder. Is that the behavior you wanted, farm? I think we are all good and tired now, and ready for a little release.

Have I mentioned lately that I’ve become friends with my pressure cooker? I don’t know what took me so long. The pressure cooker lives at the intersection of delicious and efficient, which is exactly where we need to be during the busy season. At the beginning of the week I pressure cook a whole chicken for 35 minutes with a pint of water, carrots, shallots, salt and pepper, then remove all the meat from the bones and keep it in the fridge. I use the meat in different forms: chicken salad for kids’ lunch boxes, chopped and stir fried with vegetables for a quick dinner, or in savory croquettes. The liquid from the pressure cooker gets strained and used as stock for cooking or a base for soup. That avoids the end-of-crazy-day blues, when everyone comes in looking hungry and all forms of protein are still in the freezer. I’ve been using that same pressure cooker to make a weekly pot of beans. Soaked beans cook in 4 minutes! And they are such versatile soldiers, working breakfast, lunch or dinner, taking on any style you ask of them. My final weekly efficiency is a 16-cup pot of polenta. This does not use the pressure cooker but neither does it require a lot of babysitting. 4 parts salted boiling water to 1 part corn meal, whisk, bubble, stirring occasionally, for at least 20 minutes, or up to an hour. This morning we had it hot for breakfast, topped with some lovely sautéed mushrooms (thank you, Ron!) chives and sour cream. The leftovers go into buttered pyrex dishes, to cool into something firm enough to cut. Polenta can be the base of anything saucy, or fried and topped with maple syrup for a different breakfast later in the week.

First lettuce in the share this week, and bountiful asparagus. Strawberries are a couple weeks away. Thank you to everyone who came to our farm tour on Saturday. We had perfect weather and lots of fun. And our first Picnic in the Field last Friday was delicious, thanks to Russ Bailey and Kaska Moore of Griddles. We are plotting to have them here again. Mark and I are off to Lake Placid today to talk at the Farm to School Festival. Thank you, members, for supporting our efforts these last ten years. We do love to feed you. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this bright 22nd week of 2014.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Mary is becoming a handy little cow dog.

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Tomatoes are hardening off, to go to the field early next week.

Hooray for fresh greens.

Hooray for fresh greens.

Essex Farm Institute weed ID contest.

Essex Farm Institute weed ID contest.

The team enjoying the pre-work sunrise this morning.

The team enjoying the pre-work sunrise this morning.

 

 

 

Rolling!

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Essex Farm Note

Week 21, 2014

No complaints about the weather this week. The rain left the fields steaming in yesterday’s late-afternoon sun. The grass is taller and greener every time I cross the pasture. The farm feels young and fecund. We have been lunching outside next to the pond, and on Tuesday, Scott picked up a toad that got caught up in our circle. The toad sat still in Scott’s hand and croaked and burred his green spring desires to the world at large. We have had cool breezes and warm sun, and still no horseflies. Birds are busy with their domestic arrangements, making good music to work by. And plenty of work there is. All the drained ground is ready now. Next year’s strawberries were planted just ahead of the rain – 3000 crowns. Sweet corn is in, too, the first planting in a series of two-week successions. If it goes well we will have sweet corn all through late summer and early fall. But that if is a big one. Organically grown sweet corn is not an easy proposition. Beyond the usual challenges (fertility, weeds, worms, etc.), the seed is not treated with chemicals to deter birds. Corn seedlings are like bird crack. Crows and seagulls can decimate a whole field in no time. We have used scare tape in the past, with limited success; this year we’re going with a circus-like approach, adding balloons, flashy CDs, row covers, and sporadic shotgun blasts. I bet the crows will take the hint, but the seagulls – more plentiful, and not quite as sharp – will need constant vigilance.

We have a new piece of equipment on the farm, thanks to a grant from the Essex Community Fund to the Essex Farm Institute. It’s a one-horse treadmill, which can be used to turn a PTO shaft. Treadmills were used for all sorts of jobs on farms in the past. This one is used but modern, Amish built, and can run a log splitter, ice cream maker, grain grinder, or power up batteries. I have not had a horse on it yet, but after the kids are in bed I run outside and do a few minutes of stairmaster on the end of it to keep my legs in shape. Abby Belle, the fat white pony, is my first candidate for treadmill training. I’ll post a picture next week.

This year, instead of hatching out our own layer chicks, we bought 16-week-old certified organic pullets from an Amish dealer in Pennsylvania. We needed to place a large order to make it economical, so our friend Beth Spaugh at Rehobeth Homestead put the deal together, and Asa of Mace Chasm Farm delivered the birds late last night. The power of cooperation is a wonderful part of the growing small farm infrastructure in our region. Thanks to both farms for making it happen. Thanks, too, to Matt Daly, for coming in to help us unload so late at night. The pullets looked relieved to be on solid ground this morning. They are smaller than we expected, so we’re crossing our fingers that they will begin to lay soon.

And the short news? Strawberries are blooming. David Goldwasser checked the beef cows for pregnancy on Wednesday and while they were in the chute we got everyone vaccinated for pink eye. Dairy herd has grown by one small heifer calf, and since she is the only baby at the moment, we’ve left her with her mama, lucky girl. Don’t forget we have a farm tour tomorrow, May 24th, at 10am. Details on the events page. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this rolling! 21st week of 2014.

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Come on lettuces! Grow! They are still two weeks away.

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Transplanted onions are making a strong showing.

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Kids played while the grown-ups sorted cows.

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Spring means a lot of days working from can until can’t. Sunset over the barnyard.

In the Black

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Essex Farm Note

Week 20, 2014

Mark and I were awake extra early this morning, catching up on a few things in the dark. He left the house just as the eastern sky was lighting up, and promptly came back in to get me. The sunrise was that sweet. I took a picture of it, but my photo doesn’t convey what this late-spring sunrise delivered. It misses the dim landscape, where flats of lettuce, leeks and celery are awaiting transplant, and the cows at rest on rapidly growing grass, and the nearby fields – better groomed than I am these days – planted to potatoes, spinach, lettuce mix, peas, and herbs. In the privacy of the half-dark I allowed myself to feel all the expectation, excitement, and anxiety of the coming season. What will the weather bring us? Will everyone get along? Will the numbers work out? Will the members be happy? But there was also the security that ten years work here has knitted, the earned knowledge that the land wants to give forth in abundance, and that the one guarantee the coming day holds is an endless supply of satisfying work. When auditing the life accounts, best mark those things down on the income side.

Busy week! Potato planting was knocked off the to-do list. Scott and Josh used the horses to plow, spread compost, harrow and finish the south half of Pine Field. Michael, Mike, Luke, and Josh cut one ton of seed potatoes into planting-size chunks, and then Scott went back out with the horses to plant. I’m sending a big high five to Scott here for plowing with Brandy, our green and underutilized mare, and also with Cub, who is not quite as green, but also underutilized, because he requires focused attention and patience. It was great to see those two in the rotation; the horses gained needed experience and it spread the work more evenly around the herd during a strenuous time of year.

Luke Barns is back. He finished his first year at UVM and then appeared in the greenhouse, making soil blocks, as though he’d never left. My first Luke sighting this week was as refreshing as my first bobolink sighting. Bethany Garretson has joined us as a volunteer for part of the season, and Isabel Cochran arrived for the summer, hooray. Sad to report that Michael flew back to Berlin this week to be with his father, who is ill. Please send them your good thoughts.

We have green onions and the first harvest of asparagus in the share this week, and eggs from Latremore Farm – certified organic and local, and also super-jumbo. Thanks to Curtis Latremore for delivering yesterday. I see asparagus and green onion frittata in our near future.

Now, here’s a news flash. Next Friday, May 23rd, we’re hosting a picnic in the field. Russ Bailey will fire up his griddle to cook our pasture-raised chickens, to be served al fresco with a variety of sides. $6/plate for members; non-member guests are $12/plate. RSVP by email to essexfarm@gmail.com so we have an idea of numbers. BYO beverages, plates, flatware, and a picnic blanket if you wish, and musicians, bring your instruments, because a little hootenanny is good for the appetite. The grill will run 3pm-6:30pm. The next day, Saturday, May 24th, is our first farm tour of the year. Details on the events page. Please help spread the word on both events. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this hit-the-dirt-running 20th week of 2014. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

 

Teamster in training.

Teamster in training.

Transplanted lettuce should be ready in 2 to 3 weeks. That's direct seeded spinach and transplanted cabbage on the right.

Transplanted lettuce should be ready in 2 to 3 weeks. That’s direct seeded spinach and transplanted cabbage on the right.

Too many caption possibilities to choose just one.

Too many caption possibilities to choose just one.

Mark's reward for his pre-dawn work on a very windy morning.

Mark’s reward for finishing his pre-dawn work. What a wind this morning!

 

 

 

 

Hot Cold

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Essex Farm Note

Week 19, 2014

I was traveling the last two Fridays and did not write the weekly notes. In this season of rapid transition, it feels like the entire world has changed since the last one. Grass grass grass. Seeds seeds seeds. A string of those evanescent days when your sun side is warm and your shade side is cold. The fragile wildflowers in the woods gave way to their assertive, domesticated sisters, the daffodils and the tulips.

All animals are on pasture now, even though the grass is not quite as luxurious as it usually is by May 9th. The ewes were sheared before they went. Mary Lake came over from Vermont to do it. She brought her wall-mounted clippers as well as a helpful sheep-catching friend, and buzzed through 24 head in the first part of a morning. I love to watch her. Her forearms and biceps remind me why I don’t do this work myself. Shearing reveals so much! As the wool comes off, you see the body condition that you were mostly guessing at for the whole winter. There was wide variation this year. Lambs, the new fall-born ewes, and some of the mothers ranged from healthy to fat, while a few – older gals nursing multiples – were thin. Josh, of our full time staff, helped us set up, and then practiced shearing one ewe by hand. It took ten times longer with hand shears than with Mary’s clippers, but it was fun to watch. Mary joked that when he was finished, that ewe looked like she’d been to the fancy salon, while hers had gone to the $8 barber.

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Josh with hand shears, Mary with the electric clippers.

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Barbara took some wool home to show Jane how to spin.

 

We’ve been awfully short on eggs in recent weeks. The flock is smaller than usual this spring due to some predation trouble last year. When we moved the hens to pasture a few weeks ago, we saw the expected dip in production that occurs whenever there is a major transition, and it has not yet climbed back up. Barring any unforeseen complications, we will buy in some local, organic eggs to give us a boost until the new flock of pullets arrives and begins to lay, at which point we will again be in a state of eggbundance. Ahem.

 

Now the short news. Kelsie has moved the milking herd to pasture, which has added character to the milk. Barbara is experimenting with aged hard cheeses. Scott and Josh have fused with the lines, having spent so much time behind the horses, cultivating perennials, plus some plowing and harrowing. Meanwhile, Travis has been spreading load after load of compost with the tractor. Aubrey is heading up the planting. Lettuce, chard and onions are out of the greenhouse and into the field. The first direct seeded crops go in this week.

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We have had a tough run in the chick brooder. The heat lamps tripped a breaker during one of the coldest nights, and the stress of that deep chill made for a lot of weak and fragile babies. Here’s to Mike, Michael and Matt for diligent care in there. While sending thanks, I can’t leave out Jori and Andy, our magical secret weapons in the office and the field. And welcome Lindsay, who has joined the Essex Farm Institute staff. So glad she’s here!

Our first farm tour of the season happens on Saturday, May 24th, two weeks from tomorrow. Please help spread the word. It is a wonderful time to see the farm. Details are on the events page. And that is the news for this hot/cold 19th week of 2014.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Take your child to work day, farm style.

 

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