Good Growing Weather

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Essex Farm Note

Week 31, 2015

On a farm walk with Mark one hot afternoon this week I noticed that different pollinators had staked their claim in different perennial crops. The raspberries were noisy with the low drone of bumblebees, and only bumblebees. Not two yards away, the asparagus patch was crowded with the honeybees, their saddlebags full of asparagus pollen, and not a bumble to be found. What made them segregate themselves that way, and who had the better deal? As the years tick by I find myself increasingly interested in the intersection between nature and agriculture. I want to know more about what is going on just beyond our sight and out of our meager zone of control, in the hedgerow, underground, in the tangle of grasses in the pasture. Who benefits from our presence here, and who suffers? Would the resident American Bittern have chosen our pond if it weren’t for the fat frogs who eat the copious flies who are attracted to the cows who manure the pasture? But what about the bobolink, whose nestlings had not yet fledged when we mowed the first hay field? I bet she would rather we had never come. Then there are the teaming, invisible residents of the soil, the microbes, the mycelium, the beetles, the worms. I wish I could comprehend, all and once and for an instant, the entire complexity of the web of life around us, and see the force of our choices on it.

Back to the heat. We’ve had very good growing weather this week. The field corn is stretching its leaves high and wide, well composted, well cultivated, and well drained. The first sunflowers are opening in the flower garden. The tomatoes are coming quickly ripe, the first carrots are ready, and the potatoes now range from shooter marbles to pool balls underground. Two months until frost! We brought in 4 tons of winter wheat on Tuesday. Unfortunately it was doused by a storm just before the combine came, so it arrived on the floor of the granary quite wet. Thanks to Mike, Taylor and the team for keeping it stirred to prevent molding.

We are grateful to everyone for working hard in the heat. The vegetable crew has been weeding maniacally to make up for the wet weeks. I am so impressed by what they have accomplished. The fields look better than we could have dared hope for, given the difficult conditions this year. We have over 400 bought-in round bales of hay in the barn. Ben and Jon got 50 of our own up this week, and are out now cutting 50 more. Things look pretty good from the wider angle, too. Sales are up this year. We are producing a lot of food. We are thinking about how to get more land drained, more solar panels up, more resilience into this scrappy regional economy. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this optimistic 31st week of 2015. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Fava Beans

            I just love favas. They are the big weirdoes of the bean world. Unlike their bushy, tendrilly cousins, they grow on upright stalks that send out fragrant white flowers from the central stem. The flowers become large, lumpy pods, leathery on the outside, furred with white fuzz on the interior, like the inside-out pelt of a polyester beast. When fresh, young and thoughtfully cooked, fava beans are very tender, almost creamy, with a delicate flavor similar to good english peas, but with enough substance to be the center of a satisfying meal.

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The preparation is a little bit fussy, because the fava’s bright green treasure is locked under two coverings: first, the pod, and then the outer skin of each bean. Cut or snap off the end of the pod, strip away the string, pop open the pod, and scrape the beans into a bowl with your thumb. To remove the white outer skin, it is easiest to first parboil the beans. To do so: Boil a pot of salted water, add the shelled beans, return to a boil for two minutes, then cool in a bowl of ice water or under a running faucet. The skins will be slightly split and the bright inner bean will pop out when squeezed – a gratifying tactile experience.

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Alternatively, if the beans are small (or if, like us, you are usually hungry and always short on time) you can eat them (boiled or steamed) without peeling each bean. They are a less delicate sort of legume that way but our kids actually preferred them with jackets on. Try them both ways and you will understand. -Kristin Kimball

 

Post-solstice Maturity

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Essex Farm Note

Week 30, 2015

I was traveling last week and came back to find the farm subtly changed, having made the shift into post-solstice maturity. More yellows among the greens now, more grasses headed out with seed. Fat crickets, too, and swarms of flies that bother the cows and horses. In the field, things are ripe and begging to be picked: luscious raspberries, the last of the sugar snap peas, and the first slicing tomatoes. The garlic is beginning to set, the wheat is heavy and turning brown. We cut a few acres of hay this week, between showers; still waiting for that good clear window that we know will come. Right now it feels like the bounty will last forever, but it’s high time to begin thinking about what to put up. I am more grasshopper than ant, and lazy about it. My freezer is still echoing but I’m determined to at least get some herbs in there this week. They offer a lot of reward for very little effort. To freeze herbs, just wash and roughly chop, and use the immersion blender to blend into a paste with some oil and a little salt. Freeze in ice cube trays, then transfer to Ziploc bags. Cilantro and basil are my first priorities, followed by dill. This week we also have a bumper harvest of sugar snap peas. They are not as good after freezing as they are fresh, but frozen snap peas are much better than no snap peas. They should be briefly blanched then cooled and well-drained before freezing.

Mark and the girls were at a party on Wednesday evening and I was alone at home with the dogs. Suddenly I heard voices outside. Was that German? And why hadn’t I heard a car pull up? I looked out the window to see three Amish men in the driveway. They had come down from St. Lawrence county, via bus, ferry, and by foot, exploring locations for a new community. I was immoderately excited to show them around. We don’t often get guests who can look at our arsenal of horse drawn equipment and know what each piece is for, and nobody has ever admired our horse drawn finger weeder before. Mark and the girls came home, and we all had dinner. The combination of Mark’s rapid-fire commentary and the crisp Amish sense of humor made for an enjoyable evening. I have not laughed so hard in a long time. The men stayed in our cabin that night, and the next day drove around with Don, to get the lay of the land. They are looking in many places, but I hope we will see more of them. We owe a lot to Amish ingenuity for keeping draft animal technology alive, and for many other low- or no-fossil fuel techniques that the Amish have invented or propagated, like the water-powered can cooler we use to cool our milk. It would be transformative for us to have a vibrant horse-powered, small farm community in our region.

Finally, some neighborhood gossip. A few weeks ago, our neighbor Ron came by to say he saw a mountain lion run across the road and into our sugarbush. Mountain lions, of course, are not supposed to exist here; if the news had come from other sources I would be skeptical, but Ron knows his way around the local fauna. If he says it I believe him. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this drizzly 30th week of 2015. -Kristin & Mark Kimball
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Unpredictable

 

Essex Farm Note

Week 29, 2015


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We cut 80 acres of hay last Friday and no sooner was the last row laid down than the next day’s forecast changed from sunny to chance of rain. It takes three clear days in a row to make hay. On the first day, the grass is cut. On the second, it is tedded – fluffed – with a giant spider-like implement that spreads the hay out so the sun can get to it. On the third day, when the grass has dried to about 16% moisture, it is raked into windrows, baled, and hauled out of the field to shelter. Any rain will delay the process and reduce the quality of the hay. That’s why we watch the forecast so carefully before we mow. But we have found that forecasts are unreliable on years as wet as this one. Rain begets rain. The soaked ground gives up moisture to the laden air, which needs only a small excuse to get rid of it again.

The first storm on Saturday went to the north, just nicking us. Then, a storm popped up to our west out of nowhere. We could see it on the radar, a green blob with a red heart, moving straight toward us as though drawn by sinister force. It began as a light shower and then it started to beat on the roof and waterfall from the eaves, dropping an inch on us in two hours. There are few things that make one feel as puny and powerless as the sound of hard rain on 80 acres of cut hay.

The sun came out again on Monday and we got ¾ of the field baled before the next series of storms hit us on Wednesday morning. The quality of the hay is poor, but now our largest hay field is mostly clear and the new grass has already grown two inches, so we can hope for a good second cutting. Crops are holding steady or better in the drained fields. The first raspberries are ripe and the tomatoes, still free of blight, are sizing up. We have the first green beans in the share today, and the first sugar snap peas, both thanks to many hands that did the picking this week. I was excited to see a gorgeous Savoy cabbage appear in my kitchen this morning, and I’m told we have that plus the first green cabbage in the share today. Celery – the most moisture-loving of plants – is looking very happy.

Our big push this week was weed control. We’ve had such small windows of opportunity available for cultivation. So, for the first time, we used the tractor instead of the horses to cultivate between rows. I went to the field to watch as Mark drove the Ford through the field corn with our new four-row rolling cultivator hooked behind. I have spent innumerable hours behind horses over the last twelve years, cultivating slowly, one row at a time. It took the tractor about an hour to fly through a job that would have taken me a whole long day or more with the horses, and it killed more weeds, too. Watching it, I felt a complex cocktail of emotions that included both sadness and relief.

We are hosting our July tour tomorrow at 10am, details on the events page. Local readers, tomorrow is also the first in a series of harvest events at the Whallonsburg Grange Kitchen. At 9:30am, Jori Wekin will explain the Grange’s flash freezers, steam kettle, and other Grange equipment, which anyone may use to preserve the bounty of the summer share for the long north country winter. Does it get any better than that? And that is the news from Essex Farm for this rain rain go away 29th week of 2015.                                                           –Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Taylor with Jake and Abby, cultivating popcorn.

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Next door, Mark used the tractor to cultivate field corn.

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Hay field games.

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Ready for transplant.

Hopeful

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Essex Farm Note

Week 27, 2015

June ended the same way it started. Rain, rain, rain. We stopped counting inches on our rain gauge a while ago, but Mark told me this morning that the official tally across the lake was a whopping 15” for June. (For reference, 4” would have been ideal.) Let’s hope a new month means a new weather pattern, dry days, and some heat for the whole region, because we’re not the only ones who are soggy. The girls and I were in Vermont yesterday, and drove past a lot of very sorry looking crops – stunted, yellowing corn, and hay fields with coarse-looking, headed-out grasses.

The only mortality here so far has been the melons – watermelon and cantaloupe – which succumbed to a one-two punch of wet feet and insect pressure. Dry beans still look poor, but they are growing. Everything else looks fair to excellent. The weeds took advantage of the field conditions to get a jump on us, but we have two weeks before they have an unstoppable advantage, and if good weather holds, we should be able to catch up, especially if we can get our new 4-row cultivator in working order. Meanwhile, the team took advantage of a break in the rain last Saturday to get most of the fall brassicas transplanted, using the new waterwheel transplanter. Those plants look strong and healthy.

I shudder to think where we would be without drainage. Not to sound like a broken record on that front, but it really has saved us this year. Mark and I walked out to the end pipe last night after the kids were in bed, for the pleasure of watching water rush out of it. This is not the first time we’ve faced a supremely wet growing season, and it probably won’t be the last. We are talking about how to finance more drainage on the field next to Blockhouse Road. We would like to make it happen by the end of summer so we can get it fitted and ready for planting next spring.

Now that the sun is out, it’s full speed ahead. We can’t waste a minute. Ben took our newly acquired mower out to start cutting hay early this morning, along with every other farmer in the neighborhood. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the hay fields don’t look as over-mature as I thought they would. The cool wet weather must have slowed their growth. By mid-morning, Ben had laid down several acres, but then the mower broke, as it always does when you need it. Mark and Jon are in the shop with it now, hoping to get back out before the day is over.

What else? Lindsey has been on thistle patrol this week, trying to decapitate it before it goes to seed. Thistle has been increasingly problematic in our pastures over the last few years. We will see the last of the asparagus in the share today. The rain put a bad hurt on the strawberries, but raspberries are right around the corner and look particularly strong. We have a huge crew of volunteers here today and a large proportion of them are picking shell peas right now. It takes a day of picking to appreciate how much labor goes into harvesting shell peas. I hope you all enjoy them as much as we did in the farmhouse this week, cooked in milk with a little butter and some chopped mint. Sugar snaps should be here next week, and green beans in two weeks. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this hopeful 27th week of 2015.                                                    -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Picking peas before the rain.

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Heavy skies over the bean patch.

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Mark got the fall carrots planted yesterday. A little late, but not too bad.

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Carrots, carrots, carrots.

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First hay down.

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First breakdown.

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Getting down to deal with it.