Essex Farm Note

Week 22, 2015


At morning meeting today, Mark looked around at the assembled crew of twenty and wondered aloud how long it has been since this piece of good land has seen so much concerted effort applied to it, in the form of muscle and sweat. Decades, or centuries? We have a very big crew for this early in the season, and there is still plenty of work to go around. All hands went to the field for planting ahead of the predicted thunderstorm on Wednesday – a storm that never really materialized, but did give us a sprinkle of much needed moisture. The gorgeous tomato plants moved from the greenhouse into the ground, along with all the peppers. We saw the first round of hand hoeing, plus many hours of horse cultivating, and fast, nimble temporary fencing. But the most impressive movement on the farm right now might be the un-human kind: the collective action of millions of seeds, emerging, right now, from the soil. There are dry beans and popcorn sprouting, and Mark planted nine acres of field corn on Tuesday, on our best ground. Each kernel is awakening beneath the surface now, unspooling its white thread of a root, sending up the tiny green twin flag of first leaves. It is hard to imagine that these tender babies will soon be mighty, seven foot stalks, and if all goes well, they will yield 6,000 lbs of energy-dense food per acre. That is the magic of corn.

We had a crazy morning filled with surprise and excitement. First, Lindsey texted to say one of the dairy cows, Fruity, turned up sick in the barn at milking, with what seems like pneumonia. We already had a call in to the vet about Fruity when Mike went out to get the horses and found the mare, Abby, with her head hanging down, separate from the rest of the herd, a little blood trickling from a snotty nose. Her throat, just behind her jaws, was enormously swollen, and she was having a hard time breathing. My first thought was strangles – a highly contagious disease that I have only read about, the one Steinbeck employs to kill that poor kid’s beloved horse in The Red Pony. But then Dr. Goldwasser arrived, and took about three minutes to rule out strangles. See? He said, pointing. With strangles, the swelling is here, not there – and then the big horse coughed up a mouthful of foamy half-chewed hay, and he said, That’s choke. Abby had something stuck in her throat, obstructing her esophagus. He sedated her, waited for her head to drop and her eyes to droop low, and then he braced her mouth open with a speculum. He examined the back of her throat with his headlamp, then passed a tube up her nose, down the esophagus, and into her stomach. There was no clear answer – the tube encountered nothing obvious – but whatever it was might have broken up with that mighty cough, and she seems to be feeling much better. She’s on stall rest today, under observation, and we have good reason to hope she’ll make a full and speedy recovery.

Such a beautiful share today, if I do say so myself. The most delicious lettuce, and the first chard, and still plenty of asparagus. Also, I am happy to report that the Reber/Essex farmers beat the Keeseville farmers in softball. Does it get any better than this? And that is the news from Essex Farm for this all-this-and-more 22nd week of 2015.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball



Lindsey, fencing.


The farm in her finest green.


The beef herd comes to the fence to say hello.


Raspberries, rhubarb at dusk.




Abundant lettuce.


Pretty chives.


Camomile is flowering now.


The youngest teamster, and the smallest horse.


Essex Farm Note

Week 21, 2015

I’m filing the note remotely this week, from a six day writing residency at the heavenly Blue Mountain Center, in Blue Mountain Lake. I’ll be back on the farm next week, with a cartload of fresh pages for my new book, which is due in the fall. In my absence, Mark has been on a tool acquisition spree. We’ve got steel in the field now, as he likes to say. Besides the new Ford tractor (which arrived just as the antique 504 Massey Ferguson took a serious turn for the worse) he bought a 3 bottom plow that will be very helpful for opening up more ground for corn. He also bought a used S tine harrow. Finally, he ordered a brand new water wheel transplanter, which can be pulled by a tractor or with horses. As it moves slowly over the rows, two people ride on the back, at ground level, pressing the plants into the ground, where they are automatically watered in. This saves strain on backs for the humans and also reduces transplant shock for the plants, making the transplanting season more fun and efficient for everyone. It should be here in 2 to 3 weeks. Meanwhile, the team put lots of plants in the ground this week, old school style. The tally, as of this morning, was 3,000 strawberry plants for next year, plus 10,000 leeks.

Speaking of strawberry plants, this year’s crop is blooming now and beginning to set fruit. Hooray for that, but boo for tonight’s forecast, which calls for frost. This is a late one for us, but not abnormal. We have seen significant frost as late as June 4th, and all of the tender crops are still in the greenhouse. The only vulnerabilities are the blooming and fruiting strawberries, and that first risky planting of green beans. When I spoke to him this morning, Mark said he could save either the beans or the strawberries, but not both, by covering them with row cover. Strawberries! I said emphatically, and he agreed.

The dairy calves had an exciting week. They are not yet well trained to electric fence, and they are also young, reactive, and energetic. They spooked at a truck and broke out of their pasture next to the driveway, sprinted up Route 22, and then just kept running. Megan and Lindsey herded them back from a good half mile away. When they broke out the second time and ran through the pony fence, we decided to put them in a high security situation until they settle down. They are living with the sheep across Middle Road, in the solid page wire fence. The baby chicks and pullets both moved this week, too. The chicks and their brooding lamps went from our garage to a more spacious arrangement in East Barn – a move I am at least as happy about as they are. The pullets are now pastured next to the older layers on lush grass in 50 Acre Field. You should see a huge boost in yolk color this week, since they have all been enjoying the fresh greens. We have greens for humans this week, too. The first taste of lettuce is in the share today, plus scallions and asparagus. Chard, spinach and strawberries are two to three weeks away.

I have much more news to report, new staff to welcome, and goodbyes to send, but I am out of time, so will leave it for next week. Local readers please note we have plants for sale at the store, plus a tour tomorrow, beginning at 10am; free for members, suggested $25 donation for guests, with details on the events page. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this blackjack! 21st week of 2015. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

Suddenly, everything


Sunrise over the compost pile, with pigeon.

Essex Farm Note

Week 20, 2015

I’m writing from the back step of the farmhouse today. The soft south breeze is carrying the heavy scent of lilacs, and the barn swallows, on morning shift, are swooping low over the pond, which is loud with frogs. The ponies are mowing the back lawn for me, and the orphan lamb, Jessica, is blatting from her pen in the front yard. I love mid-May. There is nothing, and then, everything. The long-awaited grass is suddenly to our knees in spots, and the annual plants are coming on, and so are the weeds. There is no lack of work, but it’s all good work, in fine weather, without flies. It will only be a matter of days before the green-headed horseflies hatch but we will all enjoy it while it lasts. The questions Mark and I discuss at the dinner table now are all about priorities. How much should we plant against the grain bill this year? And what should it be? Green crops, or corn and soybeans? How much labor can we spare from the rest of the farm to do it, and how much should we hire out? These decisions will be made in the next two weeks, and will shape the economic outcome of the next twelve months.


Long Pasture, with Camel’s Hump in the background.

Most of the animals are on grass as of today. The sheep – 31 ewes and 48 lambs – are in the Schwartzberg/Schiller pasture across Middle Road. It’s very nice to have use of their good page-wire fence. I’m not used to putting sheep in a fence we didn’t have to build ourselves, out of temporary electric net. I need to subdivide the field into smaller paddocks, but I’m having trouble with the fence charger, so for now, the flock has the entire five acres. They couldn’t grasp the concept of that much freedom at first and stayed clustered near the gate where we’d dropped them off. They’ve got the hang of it now. The ewes lounge near the shade trees, and the lambs dash across the field in a gang, only to come leaping back to butt their mothers for milk. The beef herd went out this week too, so only the pigs are left indoors.


Lots of news from the vegetable team. The first direct-seeded crops are up: peas, fava beans, spinach, lettuce mix, and beets. Carrots won’t show themselves for another week or so. The strawberries are growing fast, and we planted a risky early row of green beans. All the transplants are looking well after 2” of rain, including the cabbages that I was so worried about last week. A crew from Middlebury helped transplant more shallots, herbs and flowers last weekend. Kirsten put row cover over those flowers when frost threatened on Wednesday, but our low was a safe 35 degrees, and the forecast looks solidly above freezing for the coming week, so those green beans have a good chance of making it. Speaking of weather, Essex Farm is going to be home to a new weather tower, which will be part of a network of 125 monitoring stations across the state. The New York State Mesonet staff was here yesterday, exploring sites.


Checking for germination.


The soil in Pine Field is full of fat happy earthworms.


Green onions look fabulous. Garlic, next door, not so much. It had a hard winter. We should get 1/4 to 1/2 of what we planted.




The chard looks beautiful and shiny.


An asparagus-eye view of the patch.


The question, in the strawberries, is: to weed, or not to weed? Weeding would kill a percentage of plants, but it could save the patch for another year of production.

Our new tractor arrived last weekend. It’s a 1990 Ford 7710, with four wheel drive, a front end loader, and a cab. And air conditioning. Aren’t we moving up in the world? And that is the news from Essex Farm for this powered-by-magic 20th week of 2015.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball


Basil, still in the greenhouse.


Tomatoes have been potted up to 4″ pots. They will stay in the greenhouse for another couple weeks. Mint in the foreground.

Jessica the orphan lamb, with Mary.

Jessica the orphan lamb, with Mary.

Action packed


Essex Farm Note

Week 19, 2015

Mark went to an auction last weekend and came home with an I&J two-horse cultivator, the newest model we’ve ever owned. It has a padded seat (!) for the driver and rubber wheels and heavy metal arms to hold the cultivating attachments. We have not hitched to it yet, but looking at it, it seems like it will offer less finesse but more durability than our old 1930s cultivators, which are highly maneuverable but lightly built. He also bought a horse-drawn round bale mover. This useful item came up at the end of the auction when most people had already left, and he got it for a good price. It’s a very clever way to use horses and leverage to pick up a 500 lb. bale and move it, on wheels, without much effort. It will be useful during haymaking time, or when feeding round bales in the field. And then he bought, on impulse, a small Shetland pony named Trigger. Mark is not usually an impulsive shopper, but he must have been feeling good about his purchases, and he said he was impressed at how well the little guy handled himself in the auction arena, pulling a cart in front of a crowd of 200 people. Plus, he thought he looked just the right size for our girls, ages 4 and 7, who have been sharing Abby Belle, and could really use a second pony. So Trigger – all 10 hands of him – came home to us and joined Abby Belle in her patch of pasture in front of the house. It seems he knows how to use his small stature to his advantage. The first night, he ducked under the electric fence and went on a wild run around the farm in the dark, with Mary in high-speed illicit pursuit, and I, slow human, waving my useless fist in the air, calling whoa! And no! to anyone who would listen, which was exactly nobody. Trigger finally stopped when he found some corn on the ground outside the tack room. I should have known – ponies are like hobbits, ruled by their appetites. But oh! I got distracted by ponies and buried the lead! We also bought a new used tractor this week, to replace our defunct Ford. I’ll tell you more about it next week. For now, thanks to Jon Christian who found the listing, and the Cornell potato research farm in Lake Placid, for selling it to us.





This sudden hot weather has conjured the asparagus out of the ground overnight. I went out to look at the field one evening this week, and searched on my knees until I found a few heads just breaking the surface of the soil; the next day, there were whole patches bearing long thick green stems. We still have another week or even two before we have a real harvest for the share, but it is heartening to see a fresh and beloved vegetable up and growing. Some of the transplants that went in last week are doing well, and some – I’m talking to you, cabbages – need to buck up a little. They aren’t crazy about the clay soil we planted them into, and the dry weather. Taylor and Kirsten hitched one horse to the sap wagon to give them some water, which may have helped. The dairy cows celebrated the return to grass on Tuesday, and on Wednesday night, the calves were let out. They were born late last fall so this was their first taste of the green food they have known they were meant to eat, deep in their collective memory. They wasted no time getting down to it. Two more sets of twin lambs were born in the flock but no grass for them yet, nor for the beef cows, who are perhaps the most eager of all. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this action-packed 19th week of 2015. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Hooves Hit Grass

IMG_2957Essex Farm Note

Week 18, 2015

The week was suffused with the urgency that always comes with the first dry weather of spring. The opportunity to be in the field must not be squandered. The light! It’s coming up fast and its tenure is so brief. When it falls on fields without plants in them, it hurts. Mark and I spent daybreaks and evenings squeezing clods in our fists, judging moisture and texture, and walking through the machine yard, considering tools. How to make that clay ground sing? We took good care of it last year. It was well-weeded, and cover cropped to radish, pea and oat, and thickly spread with compost in the fall. There is drainage underneath it, too. But what to do about the cover crop residue and the clumpy, lumpy surface? The transplants, and especially the direct seeded crops like spinach and peas, want a fine, even seed bed. You would think there would be a ready answer, after 12 years of tillage here, but every year is different. This time, Mike went over it once with Jake and Abby hitched to the two-gang disk, to break up the residue and turn some of it under the surface. After that, Mark used the John Deere to hit it with the 12’ spring tine harrow. Then we put two fresh horses on the pulver-mulcher – a tool with crow foot cultipackers on the front and back, and a spring tine harrow in the middle. Next step was to hook the horses to the hydraulic forecart, to pull the 4 row, 3-point-hitch cultivator with S tines, to mark the rows. Finally, we ran the dibbler down the furrows, to mark the spacing. Then the field was ready and the wagon of plants came down from the greenhouse. We had all hands in the field, pressing plants into the dirt, until the sun dipped low to the west. I made a custard-topped spoon bread to keep everyone fueled, and we ate it in the field with soil-covered hands. Thanks, team, for getting those plants in. We have much more planting to do over the next two weeks, so please let us know if you would like to help.

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The bred and un-bred dairy heifers went out to grass this week. There is not yet much for them to eat but oh my does it make them happy. All the other animals are eyeballing the grass from the barns and wishing. I am scheming to get half the sheep out this week. In the barns, birthing has slowed down. No piglets this week, and only one lamb, born last night. I am so glad I decided to check the barn one more time before bed because the lamb had gotten hung up, during those first stumbling steps, between the side of the pen and the water tub, with a leg wedged in the wire of the pen. Mark and I got her out and into a jug with her mother, who was anxiously hovering over her. The lamb was up and looking good this morning.

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We decided to move forward with the grant application process to add 50KW of solar capacity to our existing 25KW array. The deciding factor was the understanding that many of the grants and tax credits available now will disappear at the end of 2015, most likely for good. I’ll give you a full report when we hear if we got it or not.


And that is the news from Essex Farm for this watching-for-asparagus 18th week of 2015.   -Kristin & Mark Kimball


The work day ends in the dark these days, and usually in the machine shop.


Hoping we won’t need propane in the greenhouses much longer.


Tomatoes looking great.




Ready for transplant.