A Banner Year…for mushrooms.

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Essex Farm Note

Week 26, 2015

The solar panels are locked into their most horizontal position now, faces to the sun in its high-in-the sky trajectory. We’re here whenever you choose to appear, sun, they say, and very well washed, too. Yes, the rain hit us again this week. It poured on Sunday, and again on Tuesday and Wednesday night, with another significant storm predicted for this weekend. Everyone’s a little sick of damp clothes under hot rubber pants and coats. We can transplant herbs and brassicas in the rain, move animals, slaughter chickens, and prune and trellis tomatoes, all of which was done this week. But we can’t make hay. Not in the rain, nor when it has recently rained, nor when rain is coming. That is the biggest problem at this point, because the more time passes, the more mature the grasses become, reducing the hay’s nutritional quality, and reducing the amount of precious second cut we can get before the sun loses its strength again in the fall. Let’s all hope for clear weather next week.

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The vegetables in the field are still fine, though the cabbages, Brussels sprouts, and dry beans in the northwest section of the field, where the soil is heaviest, have yellowed just a bit. Strawberries are doing well, shell peas are fattening, celery is thrilled, corn is thriving, and it sure is a fine year for mushrooms. We don’t grow them here but our neighbor Ron has been bringing them over by the bagful, from his home plot of oysters and winecaps. And Walker Cammack, of Walker’s Goods from the Woods, said it is a banner year for wild mushrooms, too. He brought us a sample of strange, delicious white coral mushrooms. My favorite dinner of the week was homemade egg noodles topped with loads of mushrooms, green onion and chard cooked with sage, butter, chicken stock and white wine, and finished with a few gratings of Barbara’s cheese. Meanwhile, Mark and Miranda have been occupied by fishing for crayfish in the pond. They made a trap, baited with a chicken bone. Half an hour after the trap went in, it came out with a dozen crayfish inside. Mark boiled them with salt, garlic, onion, old bay, and lemon, but I’m sorry to say that supply far outpaced demand. Not even the long lunch table of hungry farmers could be persuaded to eat them with much enthusiasm.

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We brought home three new dairy cows this week. Sweet-faced Jerseys, a bit smaller than most of our girls, certified organic, from Harris Farm, in Westport. Cows are creatures of habit and change is stressful for them, so I hope they have an easy transition to our herd and our systems. So far, all is well. Their milk should help round out our supply, which has been a little low this year.

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I have been really loving the chard this week. We moved away from the colorful and now ubiquitous variety called Bright Lights, to a green heirloom variety called Argentata. Bright Lights is a star at the farmers market because it is so striking when raw, but it loses its color when cooked, and I think Argentata is far better tasting, with less of the oxalic acid bite. We had a nice harvest of spinach this week, too. Time to start getting some chard and spinach in the freezer. The lettuce has been abundant and delicious. Last harvest of asparagus is scheduled for this week. Peas coming next week, hooray. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this wringing-wet 26th week of 2015.                                                 -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Good old Pancake the pig is all grown up now. He’s the one with the black ears.

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Beets, lettuce, favas, peas.

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Penelope the cat enjoying a sunny moment on the Farm Store steps.

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Strawberry harvest. Those rows look very long at picking time.

 

Solstice

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Essex Farm Note, Solstice Edition

Week 25, 2015

We made our evening farm walks through puddles and mud once again this week. After twelve seasons, I know we have a choice when the weather gives us challenges. We can either bemoan the rain, over which we have no control, or marvel at the beauty of the clouds piled on the horizon, stained by the orange and purple of a setting sun. I’ve learned that it’s best to lean as much as possible toward the marvel. But it’s a heck of a lot easier to do that when you have drainage in the fields. The last time we had a June this wet, before the drainage, we struggled with lakes full of drowning plants and lost about half our crops. That was a really tough year. This time, thanks to drainage, all our plants went in on time and we were even able to keep cultivating on all but the wettest days. On Tuesday, after getting another inch, Mark walked to the eastern edge of Superjoy to find a spout of water coming out of the ground, as though from an underworld whale. He called John Barnes, who installed our drainage, and he drove down from Plattsburgh with his backhoe and tile snake, the world’s biggest plumbing tools. They soon found the problem – a thick plug of viburnum, honeysuckle, and thistle roots, right near the outlet. They fixed it, and the water began to flow out in the right place again, bringing with it tangled mats of root, and a large, dead frog.

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Kirsten learned to cultivate with the horses this week. She is leading the vegetable team this year, and it felt good to see her out there with steady old Jay and Jack, using the best tools in our weed arsenal. She, Mike, Taylor and the horses have worked hard to stay on top of weeds despite very small windows of opportunity. So far, so good. Strawberries are beginning to bear nicely now; the ones picked in the rain won’t keep long and should be processed or eaten immediately. You can freeze them, or make jam, or shrub. We have radishes in the share today – a pretty, crisp and spicy variety called Cherriette. I’ve been nibbling at the sweet shoots of peas whenever I pass them. There are blooms on the snap and the shell peas now, as well as the fava beans. I’m really looking forward to the favas and hope they make it through the cool damp weather without catching a blight. They are touchier about rot than other legumes.

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The animal team is working just as hard as the plant team, trying to keep on top of the mud, sometimes literally. Waterers, minerals, and fencelines have to be moved quickly to keep the pastures from being badly compacted, which makes regrowth slow or nonexistent. Abby the mare is back to work this week after her frightening episode of choke, looking as good as new. The weather has been rough on the sheep, as it favors the parasites that tend to pull them down this time of year. Ben and Lindsey are off to look at two new milk cows in Westport today, hoping to expand the herd.

We got a mention in the latest issue of Rodale’s new updated and relaunched magazine, Organic Life, in a piece by Tracey McMillan about living off the grid. We were included because we and our members are essentially off the industrial food grid. There’s sweet picture of Jane with Jessica the lamb by photographer Amy Toensing.

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And that is the news from Essex Farm for this cold solstice 25th week of 2015. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Cosmos.

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Peas and favas.

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Family scouting mission to find a good site for the new weather station.

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Mike taking advantage of a break in the rain to kill weeds with Jake and Abby.

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Cloud Medley.

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Mud-dy!

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Essex Farm Note

Week 24, 2015

Muddy is the big word of the week. We got an astounding 7” of rain in the last 14 days. Every time we hit a stretch of weather like this, we shout thank you to our fifty drained acres. Before drainage, most of the crops out there would be dead, taking all the work we’ve put in to this point with them. With drainage, they are thriving. The cucurbits are growing like crazy. The shell peas are blooming. Tomatoes have never looked better. The wonderful planting of flowers, in Mailbox Field, is beginning to give us a little color. The field corn is up and gaining momentum. Away from the drained fields, the ground is far too wet to work, and will likely remain that way for several more days. Which leads to our second big word of the week. Pivot! As in, it’s too late to plant soybeans this year, so we’re pivoting to annual forage for pigs. Linguistically, I am not sure I approve, but I am all for the concept. As soon as we can get into the fields that are already prepared for soy, we’ll plant a fast-growing mix of corn, turnip, pea, oat and radish. Then we will turn the pigs onto it for the last part of the summer and into the fall. That should help reduce the grain bill, and because they will harvest it themselves, it will also reduce labor costs, and should produce some delicious and healthy pork, too.

We have our first broiler chickens of the year in the share today. It was an exceptionally good batch – nice-looking birds, and very few losses. Three cheers to animal team for good husbandry, and to the whole crew for a well-planned slaughter yesterday. This might be the time to point out that chickens are our highest-cost meat. They require a lot of labor from beginning to end, and eat very expensive organic grain. Members, please remember to treat them with the reverence they deserve, use every part, and don’t forget to save the bones for stock!

In other animal news, the piglets born in early spring are all weaned now, and the sows are turned back in with the boar, to be re-bred for fall. We had a disappointing loss in the sheep flock this week. One of the biggest ram lambs showed up with an injured knee, and after a lot of effort, had to be euthanized. We managed to get through lambing with 50 lambs and no losses, and somehow it feels worse when we lose one to a fluke like this, unexpected.

We’re saying thanks and goodbye to Jane M. and Daniel today. They have been wonderful members of the team for the last month. Meanwhile we welcome Charlotte to the fulltime crew, and welcome back Matt, Isabelle and Shona – three well-known, well-loved faces. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this muddy 24th week of 2015.                                                         –Kristin & Mark Kimball

We took a PJ-clad walk to the strawberries before bedtime, hoping for the first ripe berry.

We took a PJ-clad walk to the strawberries before bedtime, hoping for the first ripe berry.

Score.

Score.

Jori snapped this pic of personnel mustering in the neighborhood to search for the two escaped convicts. This was from inside the building at the top of our hill. As you probably know by now, there was much activity, but no convicts to be found.

Jori snapped this pic of personnel mustering in the neighborhood to search for the two convicts who escaped from Dannemora. This was from inside the building at the top of our hill. As you probably know by now, there was much activity, but no convicts to be found.

However, the sight of so many guns inspired Matt to give Daniel a lesson in gun safety. Target practice.

However, the sight of so many guns inspired Matt to give Daniel a lesson in gun safety. Target practice.

 

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The meat team got locked into the butcher shop this week and snapped this selfie to commemorate the occasion.

 

The week was full of clouds. Beautiful clouds.

The week was full of clouds. Beautiful clouds.

Peas, please.

Peas, please.

A Wet, Wet, Week

Essex Farm from the air, with Lake Champlain in the background. Jane Mittelman took this photo from Beth Schiller's airplane.

Essex Farm from the air, with Lake Champlain in the background. Jane Mittelman took this photo from Beth Schiller’s airplane.

Essex Farm Note

Week 23, 2015

We were wishing for rain this week.  An inch would have been perfect. The three we got were a reminder that nature doesn’t take orders from us humans. Fine, fine. On a highly diversified farm, something, somewhere is always happy, no matter the weather. The pasture, the hay ground, and the recent transplants were all delighted by the deep soaking. The strawberries – both this year’s fruits, and next year’s plants – really needed what we got, and we should see dividends, in berries, in the coming weeks.

These alien-like blobs were all over the cedar trees on the farm this week. They are gelatinous galls associated with a disease called cedar apple rust.

These alien-like blobs were all over the cedar trees on the farm this week. They are gelatinous galls associated with a disease called cedar apple rust.

The swamp was full of water and very happy frogs.

The swamp was full of water and very happy frogs.

There were a few casualties, too. We lost some broiler chicks in a wet field, soybean planting is delayed, and the newly-planted sweet corn got chilled and soaked at exactly the wrong time. The crows and seagulls are not helping us out on the corn front, either. If you have ever wondered why it is so hard to find organic corn, or why it is so darn expensive, here’s a primer. Virtually all conventional corn seed is treated with insecticides and fungicides, and some seed also contains nematicides and bird repellant. That’s just to get the corn through its seedling phase. Conventional growers use another arsenal of chemicals during its growing phase to kill weeds, ear worms, and other pests, and most field corn is genetically modified to enable heavy application of the herbicide glyphosate. We don’t use any of those treatments, and so at germination time we are especially vulnerable to seed rot, insect, and bird damage. Some farmers who grow sweet corn organically have found that it’s worth the considerable investment in labor and materials to start their corn in the greenhouse and transplant it to the field. We may try a planting or two like that this year, but we’re still hoping the direct-seeded rows will make a decent stand.

The organic arsenal for vegetable growers includes products like Surround, a non-toxic clay that deters insects, and pyganic, an insecticide derived from chrysanthemums.

The organic arsenal for vegetable growers includes products like Surround, a non-toxic clay that deters insects, and pyganic, an insecticide derived from chrysanthemums.

Good news on the two animals Dr. Goldwasser saw last Friday. Fruity the dairy cow with pneumonia is feeling well again, after a course of antibiotics. We use antibiotics only when medically necessary, and we always double the designated holdback period before using milk or meat from a treated animal. Abby the horse is doing much better, too. The swelling has disappeared from her throat, her cough is gone, and we are hoping she’ll be ready for work again in another few days.

Parade lineup, from largest to smallest.

Parade lineup, from largest to smallest.

We have a new Hereford bull on the farm, Timmy, and he’s a real beauty. He came from just down the road at Lewis Family Farm, and joined the herd as the first calves of the season arrived. Now we are on the hunt for some Hereford cows with good grass-based genetics to build our new breeding herd.

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Here’s Timmy. What a stud.

We have infinite lettuce, scallions and Swiss chard in the share today, plus the first harvest of pak choi. Pak choi is a cruciferous Asian green that is loaded with nutrition and flavor. Both the white and the green parts are used and can be steamed or sautéed, or even chopped very fine and eaten raw. My favorite way is to sauté pak choi with scallion or garlic and a little grated fresh ginger, then finish with a splash of soy sauce or tamari. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this chilly 23rd week of 2015.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball