Gotcha, sun!

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Essex Farm Note

Week 12, 2015

It’s the first day of spring. The sunrise this morning was the starting gun of the growing season. Much as we like to say Essex Farm is powered by magic, it is actually powered by sunlight. The whole game of farming – all farming, in all places, throughout history – is based on the capture of sunlight. In our northern region, we work to gather as much sun energy as we can from now until fall, store it, and spread it out through the winter. We capture it in the annual plants, in the pasture, the hay, and in the sugarbush. The sap that is in the evaporator right now was made by last year’s sunlight. The wood that is heating the sap to an urgent boil is the collected sunlight of the last decade or two. The horses and humans (both fueled by sunlight) have brought in 500 gallons of sap so far. We and everyone else in the neighborhood will have steam rising from our evaporators all weekend long, and before the end of the day today we will get to sample the first sweet taste of last year’s sunlight.

Mark reminded me at breakfast that heat lags light by a month or so. We have enough light now to grow things, but not enough heat. In October, we will have enough heat, but will lack sufficient light. So don’t despair at winter’s bitter grip. The light will loosen it, inevitably, over time. And already, thanks to the greenhouse and a few tanks of propane (which is sunlight captured over millennia, concentrated and stored underground) we are able to take advantage of the light. The greenhouse onions are up and their green tips, full of chlorophyll, are already converting sunlight to life. Mark took a farm walk this week with the veggie team, Kirsten, Taylor and Joseph. They report the strawberries made it through the winter, hurrah. The stinging nettles, hardy things, are beginning to green just slightly. The ground is still frozen hard but Kirsten is itching to prune the raspberries, as soon as the snowdrifts melt. The team built 200 new flats to hold more seedlings this week, with thanks to Don Hollingsworth for his shop, his help and his expertise.

The fleeces we sheared from the 31 ewes last week look really good. The staple is about 4” long and strong. I’m going to experiment with some value-added projects, like wool-stuffed bed pillows, then take the rest to Vermont to be made into yarn and batting for sale in the farm store. The ewes in the east barn are enormous and they are bagging up now, signaling that lambing is at hand.

I got a new phone and have finally figured out how to transfer pictures from it to my old computer, so I’ll post a few from this week and last week below. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this gotcha, sun! 12th week of 2015.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Last day in this year’s fleece.

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Family project: making grain feeders for sheep out of some scrap pieces of PVC and 2X4’s. Yes, our children use power tools.

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The feeders, ready to go.

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A pen of sheep — plus Mike — all ready for shearing. We couldn’t pin Mike so he is still in full fleece.

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Roger shearing.

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Wool!

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Sheared. I painted letters on the ewes who lost their ear tags over the course of the year. When they are in the lambing pens, I am going to tattoo them. No more lost identities!

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The buckets are hung, but…

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…the taps were mostly frozen this week.

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We collected enough to fire up the evaporator.

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Onions up in the greenhouse, snuggled under covers.

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Mark has started trimming hooves to get the draft horses ready for spring work. Here he is warming up on Abby Belle the pony.

White Becomes Brown

Essex Farm Note

Week 11, 2015

We were away for three days this week, speaking about farm ethics from a farmer’s perspective at Hamilton College. Mark created a big show, juggling eggs on top of a 14 foot step ladder, starting a moderately out-of-control gas fire on stage, and arranging for a live Brown Swiss calf to make a surprise appearance. (Thanks to Matt and Gillian at Greyrock Farm in Cazenovia for that.) We did cover some serious ideas too, mostly about the tricky balance we must try to strike among the three parts of sustainability: environmental, economic, social. Hamilton College is creating a residential Adirondack Semester for 3rd and 4th year students this fall, and we are looking forward to having close ties with them.

We always get nervous leaving the farm because the farm knows when we are gone, and punishes us. But this time, the team kept everything running smoothly, and moved forward in great leaps. Kirsten and her crew seeded 10,000 leeks and 40,000 onions, plus a few thousand herbs. The germination chamber is stuffed. Meanwhile, Mike and his crew collected the first run of sap in the sugarbush. It was only 150 gallons, but it was great to work though the system once with a small load, in order to flush out the weak spots. The only difficulties this week were injuries – the human kind. Amy sprang her back out of order while doing the NYC delivery on Wednesday, Megan sliced her finger badly in the butcher shop, to match the finger she got stitched up last week, and then Mark, upon returning home from Hamilton, pulled his own back as far out of order as Amy did. Amy is on vacation now, Megan is wrapped up in bandages, and Mark is taking it easy, or at least what passes for easy when it comes to Mark.

It was shearing day here yesterday. Roger Hastings came down from St. Lawrence County to shear the 31 ewes, who are due to start lambing in 3 weeks. Shearing involves a lot of bending over at the waist to use a heavy tool while controlling a sometimes uncooperative 150 pound animal. Mark and I tried it ourselves once. It took us an hour to do one ewe, she looked like she had been through a blender afterward, and my back was killing me. Now I call the professionals in. Roger is in his late 60s and has been shearing for twenty years. When I asked him how he keeps his back healthy he said he simply does ten sit ups a day. (I passed that information along to Mark as he hobbled past.) Now that the wool is off, the ewes are in the barn for warmth. I am so pleased at how they have wintered on that good second cut hay.

We welcomed Joseph Blackwood to the team this week. He spent last summer as a surfing instructor. I think that job must have trained him well as far as agility is concerned. I’m told that he was helping load the heifers into the trailer for a move this week when some of them broke toward him in the chute. He cleared a five foot cattle panel in one vertical leap to get out of the way.

And that is the news from Essex Farm for this white-becomes-brown 11th week of 2015.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball