End of June Report

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Get a horse!

Essex Farm Note

Week 26, 2014

We are sleep deprived and red-necked, the house is a total disaster, the lawn is shaggy, and we’ve been eating cold scraps out of a nearly barren fridge. And this is exactly the way it should be when things are going well at the end of June. The weather is behaving as if custom ordered. We pulled some long days haymaking last weekend. Mike, Mark, Matt, Luke, Aubrey and Scott got the last load of bales under cover minutes before the rain started. Then it fell gently, steadily, so that the plants and grasses, which had which had just begun to wish for water, raised their leaves up in gratitude. Now the sun is out again and the forecast is clear and hot; Jon Christian is aboard the Ford, laying down more hay, and Mark is tedding it right behind him.

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Aubrey and a crew of four just finished harvesting the vegetables for today’s distribution, and are moving on to strawberries. We are adding garlic scapes and bok choi to the lineup today. Scapes are the shoots that we remove from the garlic plants this time of year, to put more energy into the heads; in the kitchen, they a gentler version of our favorite allium. Blend them into salad dressing, or sauté with vegetables, or use them any other way you would use garlic. Today’s bok choi looks a little rough due to flea beetle pressure, but to my eye the battle-scarred leaves are more beautiful than pesticide-perfect ones. Also, bok choi is one of the most nutrient dense vegetables you can eat, so load up. We also have lots of herbs in the share today – the year’s first basil, dill, and cilantro. We will have snap peas very soon, with zucchini to follow. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant have never looked better. The only sore spot is the sweet corn. We planted several successions, but each suffered from something – planter problems, over-cultivation, or poor germination. We might get a bit of a harvest but it won’t be what we’d hoped for.

In animal world, we had a litter of 9 piglets born to one of the first-time mother sows yesterday. We should have more to farrow in the next few days. First chicken harvest went smoothly yesterday; we have fresh chickens are in the share. It turns out Isabel Cochran, one of our fabulous summer interns, is a trapping prodigy. She cleared the granary of eight woodchucks in less than a week, using the hav-a-hart trap and various fruity baits. The dairy herd is a bit smaller now, as we’ve culled several cows over the last month. It’s always emotionally difficult to cull dairy cows, because we work so intimately with them, but it was the right thing for herd health and for the farm as a whole.

Now for the newsy news. Next Friday is our July 4th picnic, catered by Griddles, during distribution from 3:30 to 6:30. It is open to the public. $6/plate for members; non-member guests are $12/plate. BYO beverages, plates, flatware, and a picnic blanket if you wish, and please help spread the word! The following day is our summer farm tour, beginning at 10am. Details on the events page. The farm store is bursting with fresh greens, milk, eggs, maple syrup, and it is open daily from 8am to 6pm. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this fun! 26th week of 2014.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

 

 

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Haymaking

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Sunset walk, solstice week.

Essex Farm Note

Week 25, 2014

Every weekday here begins with team meeting, at 6 sharp. We review notes from the previous day, set priorities, and divide tasks among the farmers. These days, the crew is as large as the days are long. Still, there is enough work to go around and then some. This stretch of heavenly weather – low humidity, breezy, sunny, clear– is one of the best haymaking windows we’ve had in June since we started farming here eleven years ago. And the sooner we can get the first cutting made, the better the animals will eat this winter. So while the first priority on a Friday is always distribution, the next one for today, emphatically, is haymaking. We’ll have horses and tractors in the field all day, mowing, tedding, and raking, and by tonight we will have fifty acres down. That’s a lot of chips on the table, but the weather report says clear through Wednesday, so off we go. We hired Jon Christian to drive tractor yesterday. He is in high school but watching him work I can still see the four year old kid he was the first year his father made hay with us here.

Meanwhile, Aubrey and her crew, and Scott and Josh and their horses, are harvesting strawberries and killing weeds. The strawberry crop looks good this year, despite some heavy weed pressure. Mark and I took a farm walk last night, and ended up, inevitably, grazing the berries. Early Glow is the variety that ripens first, producing small, squat, berries that win no beauty contests but in a taste test, run away with first prize. Jewel is the next variety, and it is also coming ripe. These berries are bigger and easier to pick and strike a nice balance between looks and taste. Cabot will come ripe last, in the next week or so.

Today is the last asparagus harvest. It has been a good run. Now it’s time to disk the patch, give it a heavy feeding of compost, and mulch it down for the year. We have a huge harvest of spinach today, and it will be in the farm store all week. Chard is also available, and will be throughout the season. We are also selling bags of beautiful unlimited spring lettuce mix. Garlic scapes should be in next week, and we will have the first of this year’s fresh chickens too. We won’t have any eggs in the store today, but the good news is that the new pullets have finally begun to lay, so supply will ramp up quickly now.

Also in the farm store, we have brand new Essex Farm T-shirts and tote bags. Check them out:

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That’s Essex Farm on the front, and Powered by Magic on the back. With a unicorn pulling the plow. Uh huh, Essex Farm style.

Put us on your calendar for 4th of July weekend. We’re hosting another Dinner in the Field on Friday the 4th, from 4 to 6:30, catered by Griddles. It is open to the public so please spread the word. $6/members, $12/guests. On Saturday the 5th, we’ll host our summer farm tour; details on the events page. And that is the news for this impossibly bright solstice week of 2014.                                                              -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Look how much the potatoes grew in four days. This was Sunday…

 

 

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…and this was Thursday. Hello, summer!

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Definitely the happiest worker on the farm. This week she learned to kill woodchucks. Still working on moving the dairy cows at something less than a full gallop.

 

It’s Alive

Essex Farm Note

Week 24, 2014

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These last few days of gentle, soaking rain made the crops very happy. We’re only a week away from the summer solstice, and the fields are filling with green. We have new spinach, lettuce mix, and chard in the share today, along with unusually beautiful head lettuce and late-season asparagus. We should be solidly in fresh greens until well after frost now. Isn’t that a good feeling? The strawberries are just starting to color, and with luck we will have some in the share next week. Aubrey and her team of vegetable warriors transplanted the winter squash and melons in the rain yesterday; direct-seeded cucumbers are coming along well. No rhubarb this week – the plants just don’t have the oomph to withstand a heavy harvest. They really need to be separated and then heavily fed. In the last week, the potatoes have gone from vague green sprouts to bushy rows. No sign of Colorado potato beetle yet, but we have our eyes out for them, especially since we did not rotate potatoes to the opposite side of the farm this year, as we did the last two years. I wish potato beetles weren’t so darn destructive, because I like their harlequin costumes. The adult beetles have flashy yellow wings with black stripes, and orange heads splashed with black. The larvae are squishy and bright orange, and the eggs are like teeny tiny orange tic tacs stuck to the bottoms of leaves. Our first line of defense against them is simply going through the rows early in the morning and knocking beetles and larvae into buckets of soapy water. So far, no need, but we will be vigilant.

I am quite in love with the head lettuce this year. There are two varieties being harvested now, a green leaf lettuce and a butterhead. When Mark and I take our evening farm walk, I cut a head from the ground with my leatherman, push my face deep into it, and rip out the silky, tender heart with my teeth. It makes me feel like a very privileged woodchuck. I wonder if the quality of the first lettuce this year has anything to do with the fact that it was planted in the section of the field that held tillage radish last year? Tillage radish is a specialized variety of daikon radish, with thick, strong roots that can grow up to 30” deep. It is not harvested, but used as a cover crop. The root decomposes in the ground, leaving behind looser soil with space for air and water, plus nitrogen and other nutrients. Last year we planted some test strips. Given how happy the lettuce is, I’d like to try a larger planting this year.

Mark has been on a cleaning tear all week. He got the machine shop back in order, and is now moving on to the pole barn. Travis finished clearing the bedding pack out of the dairy barn. Meanwhile we are keeping eyes on the weather report, looking for a window to cut hay. We will be making dry round and square bales this year, instead of the haylage we made the last two years, so we need to weather to cooperate and give us a good stretch of sunny days soon.

We say goodbye to Travis this week. He has been an incredibly valuable member of the team and we will miss him very much. We are wishing him lots of luck and success with his new venture: his own construction company. And that is the news from this light-filled 24th week of 2014.                                                          -Kristin & Mark Kimball

 

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Pigs are rooting like crazy in fresh pasture.

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On hot days, they do love a good wallow.

Long days, short weeks

 

Essex Farm Note

Week 23, 2014
IMG_8193The sweet corn is at the stage I call beak-ready. Birds love to use the sweet tender greens to pull up the remnants of the succulent buried corn kernel. We have scare balloons and flashy CDs hung in the field, as well as some faux-snakes made of lengths of rubber hose. Every morning, at team meeting, Mark asks the vegetable crew if they have remembered to move their snakes. The first time I heard him say that I hadn’t had my coffee yet and I thought there was some new reptilian enterprise happening on the farm that nobody had been brave enough to tell me about. But in truth the rubber faux-snakes must be moved around because to a bird, acclimation is everything. As of this morning, the smartest birds (I’m looking at you, crows) are starting to notice that these are suspiciously sessile snakes, so it’s time to put on the row cover, which will keep the seedlings safe until they are no longer so tempting. Scott and Josh cultivated the sweet corn rows this week with the horses. Not only did they kill millions of weeds, but they did not kill many corn plants, which is not easy when the horse hoofs are so big and the plants are so small.

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Speaking of birds, we have had several late (for us) nights of chicken tag this week. An owl discovered that many of our pullets were roosting outside of their coop, and was taking one bird each night. How do we know it was an owl? Because it was inside the hot electric net, so it was most likely a flying predator, and it was happening at night, so it had to be nocturnal. Also, the carcasses bore the classic mark of an owl kill: no head. Owls love to eat heads and necks for some reason, and often leave the rest of the carcass. Once an owl has an established hunting pattern it is not likely to change, so we now have to make sure all the pullets roost in the coop, which takes some patient training at dusk. Thanks Matt, Mike, and Aubrey for coming in late this week. Mary the pup was definitely a net gain on this job, too. By the third night, she understood the task, helped herd strays toward the door, and enthusiastically flushed birds from under the coop, which saved us some time crawling around on our bellies in poop. It’s so perfect when a gross chore for us humans is exactly what a dog loves most in the world.

We had weather custom-ordered for transplanting this week, with some gentle rains between warm sunny days. We transplant by hand, so after the rows were prepared and a furrow was dug with the horses, Scott walked down each furrow with a dibble wheel to mark the plant spacing. Then one person walked backwards down the row, carrying a greenhouse flat full of plants, which got progressively lighter as another person pulled plants off and threw them down to the dibble mark. A third person crawled along on knees, to scoop a little soil out of the dibble hole, press the roots into it, and pile the soil up the plant stem to the proper depth. Sweet peppers, hot peppers, eggplants went in on Wednesday. The tomatoes went in on Monday, 2500 plants, and everyone helped, even the little kids.

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Another great week for asparagus here. Green onions are booming. Strawberries are about a week away. We’re skipping rhubarb harvest this week, to let the stems gain some heft, but we have lovely lettuce, both in the share and in the farm store. Centerfold-worthy butterheads, my favorite.

IMG_8287And that is the news from Essex Farm for this long days, short week 23rd week of 2014.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball