First Plants Hit Dirt

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Essex Farm Note

Week 17, 2015

The first transplants are out of the greenhouse and in the ground now. Lettuce, chard, onions, scallions, shallots. Those rows look like someone waved a Technicolor wand over a sepia-toned world. BrownbrownbrownbrownbrownbrownGREEN.  We are trying something new this year: planting directly into a furrow cut into last year’s cover crop of oats, peas and radish. It certainly saves time in plowing and harrowing, and the theory is that the less we disturb the soil, the fewer weed seeds we’ll bring up from below. If it goes bad, it could go really bad, since the residue from the cover crop will make weeding more difficult. For now, everything looks great. I was nervous about the plants going into such cold soil, because they were not quite hardened off from their cushy beginnings in the greenhouse. We had to push them, knowing we were facing a stretch of rain. I’m happy to report they look absolutely content. They have not grown much, because of the low temperatures this week, but they seem glad enough to sit there until the weather warms up, and then they should take off very quickly. Thanks to the crew from Middlebury College who helped with planting on Saturday, and to our own crew, who finished in the rain on Monday. Next stretch of dry weather we will get peas in the ground. We should see our first home-grown greens – stinging nettles – in the share in about two weeks. Credit goes to Beth Spaugh at Rehoboth Homestead for the greenhouse spinach in today’s share. Hooray for fresh greens!

Lambing has slowed down a little. We have 43 lambs now, with only five ewes left to lamb. Lamb #43 was a large single born to a small, flighty first-time ewe. I found the mama straining and looking defeated, with two feet and a head partway out, the lamb’s tongue and nose swollen from the tight squeeze. Next time she strained, I gave a gentle pull on the lamb’s forefeet, and out he came with a wet whoosh. The ewe was worn out by then, and wanted nothing to do with mothering. I gave the lamb a slug of colostrum via a stomach tube, toweled him off, and left them alone together for the night in a small pen. When I checked on them at dawn, she had emphatically changed her mind. She stomped her foot to warn the dog away and nudged her precious baby toward the teat. That’s what makes midnight barn checks worth the lost sleep. We still have one bottle lamb. The girls have named her Jessica. At least Mary is happy to have a baby to lick, now that Pancake is all grown up.

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Next door in the West Barn, two more sows farrowed with litters of 10 each. We are spending a lot of energy and effort to keep the farrowing area warm, but it seems to be paying off in terms of piglet survival. Four of the litters have had no losses, two have lost only one piglet each and only one – a sow who surprised us with a litter of 12 before we’d moved her to a pen with a warming mat – lost more than one piglet. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this snowflakes-and-peepers 17th week of 2015.

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-Kristin & Mark Kimball

PS I posted the Saturday Tour dates for 2015 on the events page. Hope to see some of you at the farm this year.

Two Weeks Ago…

 

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This is what the farm looked like two weeks ago today.

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Happy to say things are looking greener this week.

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Rhubarb coming up.

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Well, hello garlic.

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First transplants went in the ground. Lettuce and onions.

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Jake and Abby ready to dig furrows for transplanting.

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We decided to dig right into the cover crop without any tillage.

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This is how the first planting day makes us feel.

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Awesome team from Middlebury College came to help with the transplanting.

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Shedding season!

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Abby Belle is the best farm transport system for the little one whose legs are still too short to keep up.

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First day back in the field is exhausting for everyone.

C’mon grass!

Essex Farm Note

Week 16, 2015

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The year is young and fickle and changes her clothes three times a day. Sun, then clouds. Ice, then heat. But her layers of brown are steadily giving way to fresh shades of green. The garlic is up and there are new shoots of sorrel and nettle, and the chives are tall and bright. Yesterday, Mark and I walked the fields in the morning. Way too wet. I walked again in the afternoon. The top layer of the drained fields had dried to cracking, and felt warm and soft enough to invite a brief, supine rest. So temptingly workable there, and yet just a few inches down the soil was corpse-cold and wet enough to wring water from a fistful of it. Much as we wanted to hitch a team and harrow a few acres, we waited, as haste now would pay back in soil compaction for the rest of the season. Maybe this weekend. The whole world seems impatient. We heard the spring peepers singing a defiant song on Wednesday evening even though the culverts are still blocked with tubes of ice, and Mark and Miranda took a quick dip in the farm pond one afternoon – a symptom of their fervent belief in spring rather than a reflection of the actual conditions.

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I shorted all the good news from the greenhouses last week, so we’ll start there this time. Kirsten and her team have done stunningly well with the starts. The flats of onions, scallions, shallots, chard and lettuce have moved outside to harden off for planting. Peppers, tomatoes, herbs and the many flats of flowers are up, spring broccoli and cabbage are looking good, and those l-o-n-g season marathon plants – celeriac and Brussels sprouts – are peeping over the edges of their flats. Germination and growth are beautifully even, a reflection of Kirsten’s careful work and Vermont Compost’s good potting soil. We have parsnips in the share today, first things out of the ground for 2015.

The lamb counter stands at 35, with 11 ewes left to go. I watched the birth of healthy triplets, 1,2,3, from beginning to end on Sunday. So far, no losses and no difficult births, but we have one bottle lamb, and a case of mastitis. We need to shuffle some animals out to pasture this week, due to space, hay and bedding limitations. The layer flock was the first out yesterday. Dairy heifers are moving this weekend. Then I can put the ewes with older lambs in the east barn run-in and free up pens for the lambing ewes and younger families. The piglet count is currently 41 live piglets from 5 sows. Now it’s time to go through the first litters for castrating, marking, and iron injections, so I guess I know what we’re up to this weekend.

And the short news. Mark went to an auction last Saturday and came home with light pockets and some heavy items: a John Deere round baler and a Gehl discbine, plus a reefer truck box (don’t get too excited, members – reefer is short for refrigerated), a horse drawn sickle bar mower in great condition, and a set of running gear for a wagon. We are still in the market for a tractor to replace our superannuated Ford. Sugaring is officially over. It was a whole-team effort but Taylor deserves a sugar medal for his work at the evaporator. It wasn’t a great season, weather-wise, but not the worst either. Please note we are taking applications for summer staff and apprenticeships. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this c’mon grass! 16th week of 2015. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm at gmail dot com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Trifecta

Essex Farm Note

Week 15, 2015

Things are really cracking now. We have 20 lambs on the ground – all twins except for two singles. We’ve had no troubles with births nor with the newborn lambs, and they are all growing so fast my only concern at the moment is space. I had to get creative to fit everyone in the north side of the east barn, and am eagerly awaiting the departure of the laying hens for pasture, since that will free up the south side for the lambed ewes and their babes. Right now they are grouped four or five mothers to a pen, which makes eight or ten lambs together. When the ewes get up from resting we have a few minutes of noisy confusion while they sort out which lambs are their own and therefore welcome to nurse. The older group’s lambs have started to stot and play in a gang, romping around the pen all together. It’s good for the heart to see it.

Meanwhile, in the west barn, two sows have farrowed. The first one had only four piglets, but they are all thriving. We were checking on that litter last night when we heard a squeak from behind the sow next to her. She was just giving birth to her first piglet. When Mark checked her at midnight, she had more than twelve, maybe fifteen. This morning they were all nursing, a squirming pile of life. Because that litter is so big we may try to graft a few onto another sow to raise, as the sow doesn’t have enough teats to feed them all at once. The team did a great job getting the barn ready. They constructed farrowing pens, and nailed tarps to the drafty places so that we could get the ambient temperature up to 65 with a heater. Each farrowing pen has a heat mat, which raises the temperature another 30 degrees. Instead of constructing the false walls I wrote about a few weeks ago, we decided to simply anchor a farrowing hut in each pen. The huts have a metal bar around the inside edge that gives piglets a safe place to rest. So far, so good.

To complete the trifecta of adorable babies, the first batch of broiler chicks arrived yesterday. Because the greenhouses are full of plants, these first birds are being brooded in the garage of the farmhouse. It’s not like I was using it for the car anyway – the skid steer lived in there all winter. You see we have our priorities straight.

Finally, it was a busy week in the sugar bush. The forecast calls for nights above freezing and highs in the 60s, so this may well have been the last big week for syrup, which is good, considering how busy we are. As our neighbor Ron says, we are always happy for the first run and even happier for the last.

I hope the snow we got yesterday was winter’s final prank. It’s almost all gone now, leaving the surface of the fields a colloidal mess. The ground is still frozen hard a few inches down but that crucial top layer is terribly vulnerable to compaction right now, which makes us extremely grateful for the USDA grant that allowed us to build the covered barnyards two years ago. All animals are under cover and therefore not destroying the fragile pastures. This will pay off in less nitrogen runoff now and increased productivity throughout the season. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this mucky-sweet 15th week of 2015.      -Kristin & Mark Kimball

You know you are a farmer when…

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You leave notes like this for your children on Saturday morning.

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Spring wardrobe shopping means buying new boots that don’t have holes in them. On a side note, those Baffins didn’t even last one winter. I got a pair of Osca boots because Mark’s have lasted *three years*. (The runner up brand, for Mark, lasted three months.) Oscas are not so easy to find but Billy Boots is their main distributer and they have great customer service. You can google it. $69 with shipping — so they are cheaper than Mucks, and way better, in my opinion. Steel toe, very light, and, made in the USA. 

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Your look in the chest freezer to find something for dinner and all you have is frozen colostrum.

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First day of warm weather makes you want to take off your boots and squish around in the mud.

Catching up on pictures

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March went out just like it came in: lion. A very pretty lion, though.

 

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I love how moody the farm can be this time of year

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Contemplating the season.

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Soooooo pregnant.

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First set of twins, happy and healthy.

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One of the best things about being a farmer is you rarely miss a good sunrise.

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Moving the solar panels to their spring position.

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The hollow oak tree, a favorite playground.

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Poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio. The coyotes hath killed him most dead.

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South Greenhouse has new skin. So bright and warm inside.

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Isn’t she a beauty?

Just In Time

Essex Farm Note

Week 14, 2015

There is nothing quite like the first day of soft weather. The children are outside without coats on and the sun feels so good nobody minds the mud. The sap buckets overflowed last night, during the first really strong run of the year – and in April, for goodness sake, when we are usually beginning to think of pulling the taps. This weather will not last long but I am thoroughly enjoying it while it does.

The ewes are dropping lambs like crazy. First twins hit the ground on Tuesday, and as of this writing we have seven on the ground and several ewes looking imminent. My clothes and hands are always blotted with something colorful these days – sheep milk, slick red afterbirth, black meconium, or the sticky orange feces that the lambs produce after they have had a good drink of colostrum. I look like a filth rainbow. Also, tired. I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night to check the barns for lambs and piglets, and fatigue caught up with me today. We are working out new systems and the routine isn’t simple enough yet to put on the autopilot – I’ve have to write everything down to keep a semblance of order.  Even so I had to return to the house from the barn twice this morning for forgotten supplies. After that I decided I should just put everything in a bag and attach it to myself so I can’t forget it. So far, so good.

The horses have been working hard in the sugarbush. We had a slight accident earlier in the week with Amos, one of the spotted drafts. He slipped in the mud while pulling the sap tank uphill and lost his footing. When you weigh 2000 pounds, falls are going to hurt. He got a cut on his chest and has a swollen back leg that left him lame for a day or two, but he’s in good spirits and the injuries are healing quickly. Last night I noticed he was well enough to put his head down and kick at his pasture mates with both hind hooves. I expect he’ll be ready for work again in another week or so. Today, Cub and Jake are pulling the wagon. They are brothers that we bought separately several years apart. It is so good to see them hitched together, even better to drive them. I have not yet discovered a place in the world I like better than behind a pair of good horses. They are going to be tired boys at the end of the day, as the sap wagon team will be making several trips to collect all those full buckets. On the human side, Taylor has been manning the evaporator this year, and doing a great job of it. In fact, everyone on the team is doing a great job, pulling together smoothly here at the busy cusp of spring.

Four farmers came last Sunday to help get the south greenhouse skinned with new plastic during a brief window of calm weather. Just in time. By Sunday afternoon the broccoli in the germ chamber had to come out, and the North greenhouse was stuffed full. We are really ramping up veg production this year. Hooray. Finally, I dropped the fleeces off at Michael Hampton’s mill in Vermont on Tuesday. The good news is that Michael said they were good quality and very clean; the yarn should be great for things like mittens, hats, and sweaters. The bad news is we won’t have products back for six months. But at least they will be here for fall knitting projects and holiday gifts. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this glorious 14th week of 2015.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball