Last Blast

Dear blog readers, I have not posted here for a few weeks, due to technical difficulties, and lack of time to solve them. Here are the entries from August, as well as today’s note.

Essex Farm Note

Week 37, 2015

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Ninety degree heat this week, and we got lucky with the timing of the rain. The corn grew closer to harvest, and the hay rolled in like crazy. Mike, Taylor, Ethan, Scott, Ben and Jon got the field in Willsboro cut and baled. The last bales went on the truck just minutes before rain hit. All the farmers deserve huge thanks for pulling through a very intense six weeks of good weather. Ben managed the whole hay operation and we have more hay in the barn than we ever have had before. When I look at it I see future beef, lamb, and milk. Most of the haymaking was done with tractors this year, except for some raking. Still, the horses have seen a fair share of work. We’ve been keeping track of how many times we hitch horses this year and so far it is 117. On the mechanical side of things, the skid steer that was down for a month is finally up and working again. It had Mark banging his head with a wrench, trying to figure it out. This week, Joe V., our diesel mechanic, ripped the whole hydraulic system down to zero to reveal the problem: a bearing had self destructed and flung metal bits of itself into the hydraulic pumps.

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The dairy cows are pastured far from the barn this week, on the north side of the Middle Road fields. It’s a good ¾ mile walk to milking each morning. I have been enjoying the fall colors at sunrise – the goldenrod, the aster – and the fun work of herding cows with an eager and talented two year old dog. Mary is much more confident in her own power this year, and has learned that it’s possible to move stock at a walk instead of a gallop. She would prefer the gallop, but she knows she’s not allowed. This week, three of the springing heifers joined the milking herd, and Mary did a good job teaching them to respect her without freaking them out or running them through a fence. Calving is right around the corner. With calves comes milk, members, so hang in there with us through the low point of the dairy year.

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In other news, the young pigs went to pasture along Blockhouse Road this week, nearly 100 of them. The draft horses moved across Route 22 to Jackson Field. The rain that is forecast for this weekend should do a lot to bring on good fall pasture, and to water in the oat/pea cover crop we are rushing to plant today. We have hard red winter wheat planted in part of the newly drained Chad Field, and a few acres of cereal rye in the clay side of Superjoy. We’re hoping the rye will yield some nice straw as well as grain. The Barnes family was back this week with an excavator, to grade some of the farm roads and pull stumps from the new field. Finally, Kirsten and her crew used Jake and Abby to plow the first storage carrots out of the ground yesterday. What a fine looking load, and much more to come.

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Patagonia’s Worn Wear team is here today from 3-7, with the Poco Mas food truck serving up tacos, and music from Plowman’s Lunch. Also, beer. The event is free and open to the public. This Sunday, the freshly painted Whallonsburg Grange is celebrating its 100th birthday with a block party from 1-5. Burgers, games, music and lots of fun. Finally, there’s a nice article by Rowan Jacobson in this month’s Eating Well, about the resurgence of agriculture in and around Essex. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this last-blast-of-summer 37th week of 2015.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

Drainage

Essex Farm Note

Week 36, 2015

Last week, I promised to update you on the new tile drainage. Drainage, on our farm, is the single biggest improvement we can make. Two sections of the home 500 acres have some of the best soil in the region – rich sandy loam, almost entirely free of rocks – but production on those fields was hampered by the impenetrable clay underneath, and the fact that they are close to perfectly level. Water tended to sit there on wet or even average years, and especially during the crucial spring planting season. There is nothing that plants dislike more than wet feet.

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Drainage tile delivered and ready to go in the ground. But first, it’s playground equipment.

Over the last few years we drained one of those sections, the 50 acres that run east of the driveway. This year, those acre kept us fed. The spring was so wet, we could not plant anywhere else. We had enough room for our vegetables, the perennials, a few strips of pasture, and some field corn, but not nearly enough for the year’s worth of grain, and we had little flexibility for the fallowing, rotations, and cover cropping needed to build soil, mitigate pest and disease pressure, and reduce the weed seed bank. So, this summer we decided it was time to drain the other section , 40 more acres, give or take, south of Blockhouse Road.

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Watching heavy equipment do its mighty work inspires a feeling in me that is part awe, part grief. If you have ever dug a hole by hand or plowed a field with a horse you cannot help but feel awe at the power of steel and diesel. The sadness comes, I think, from that dissonance between the hard angles of machines, and the soft contours of soil and grass, the roar of the engines over the noises that usually reign there, the swish of air through the trees and the calls of birds. In order to drain it the hard machines come into this soft place and tear it all up. First the ditches, then the trees in the hedgerow and along the edges, and then the structure of the soil, all changed at a pace that in nature would signal disaster. Like slaughter, it must be done for the good of the whole, but I feel better once it’s over. The field is remade now, into a new shape. The soil is smooth again and ready for seed. I can’t wait to see what we can grow there next year.

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This is the machine that digs the trench and lays the tile in the ground.

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This is the feller/buncher, to take down trees.

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One of the test holes offers a lesson in soil structure.

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Playing with the clay at the bottom of the ditch.

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The ditch is clear now and running.

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We just put your college fund into the ground. Hope you like farming, kids!

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This is going to be vegetables next year. Not a bad view, either.

The haymaking team brought in 150 round bales of second cut this week. That’s a huge relief. The vegetable team brought in the first round of storage beets, and huge load of Chinese cabbage, which Jori and her crew have transformed into kim chi at the Grange. Our hens are still not laying well, so we bought in some certified organic eggs from the Latremore farm. Tomato season is winding down, especially for the slicing tomatoes. Broccoli is ramping up, and we’ve never had this much eggplant before, nor so many beautiful peppers. Peppers can be frozen without blanching so be sure to get some in the freezer. I core and cut them first.

For the calendar: The Grange is celebrating its centennial birthday with a grand party on Sunday, September 13th, from 1-5pm. See details at www.thegrangehall.info. On Friday, September 11th, we are hosting Patagonia’s Worn Wear team from 3-7 at the farm. Bring your broken zippers, your rips and tears, and they will fix them for free, first come first served. The event is free and open to the public. Ride your bike to the farm that day for a chance to win new Patagonia denim. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this dry! 36th week of 2015.  –Kristin & Mark Kimball

Catamount

Essex Farm Note

Week 35, 2015

Remember the mountain lion – a.k.a puma, or Eastern cougar, and locally called a catamount – that our neighbor Ron spotted running across the road into the sugarbush a few weeks ago? Two more people have seen it now. Taylor described it as a very large-bodied, tawny cat, lurking in the field near the firehouse. Whereas Ron definitely saw a long tail as it crossed the road, Taylor didn’t see the hind end so can’t say if it had a long tail or a bobbed one. Once the cat saw Taylor, it flashed some teeth, then turned and ran. The Eastern cougar was officially declared extinct in June of this year, and the Fish and Wildlife Service believes it has been so since at least the 1930s. So is this a collective mirage, a bobcat with tail extensions, or a very very overgrown house kitty? Or has feline tenacity been officially misjudged? I’m rooting for the undercat, despite the little chill it sends down my spine.

We are inside the best haymaking window of the year, with no rain and low humidity. Ben and Jon will be mowing until the forecast changes, putting some precious second cut into the barn, and a lot of overgrown first cut. Meanwhile the vegetable crew has been slogging through heavy late-season weeding. Yesterday, two heaping wagon loads of mature amaranth, galinsoga and lambs quarter came out of the field. That is a sign that we missed some key cultivations, but a lot of the blame for that goes to the weather. You can’t cultivate a field that is too wet to support a team or a tractor, and that was the state of things for most of June. Big thanks to the weeders for keeping most of those seeds out of our soil.

The 2015 onions have been harvested and are drying down in the lofts of the barns. If you are a faithful reader you may remember that we experimented with planting the onion starts directly into the cover crop this spring, in unplowed ground. I think it’s safe to say that the strategy worked. Production was excellent. The east barn loft is completely full, with overflow in the west barn loft. We are hoping they will store as well as they grew.

 

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Onions coming in from the field. The horses, Jay and Jack, are in their mid-20s now — older than some of our farmers. They can still do a day’s work and are a steady reliable team to learn to drive with.

The raspberries are booming. On the other hand, eggs are scare due to molt, hot weather, and a change in feed formulation. We’re also at the low point in the year for milk production, with most of our cows resting before the first calves arrive this fall. Luckily, we are extremely rich in vegetables. Don’t forget to keep putting up what you want to eat in late winter and early spring. I’ve got a few bags of whole tomatoes in the freezer, and some pints of sauce, and some raspberries. This week I’ll work on edamame.

I was traveling last week, but Mark barely noticed I was away, because he has been so busy with the drainage project. I’m out of time and out of space, so next week, I’ll report on that in detail. But do mark your calendars for Friday, September 11th. Patagonia is kicking off their westbound Worn Wear tour from Essex Farm, during distro, from 3pm to 7pm. More details to come, but it is open to the public, with food and music. The Worn Wear team will fix or recycle your Patagonia gear for free. First come, first served. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this bright 35th week of 2015. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

By the Ton

Essex Farm Note

Week 33, 2015

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Harvest season now. Food coming in by the ton. I feel the change in my palate already. I’m craving more substantial vegetables, the roots and the hearty greens. The weather was cool and wet this week, carrying a premonition of autumn. The heat is coming back this weekend, but the real shift is not far behind. Every crop we grew this year was planted on our 50 acres of drained ground. The weather was so wet during planting season, it was simply not possible to plant anywhere else, and if we had managed it, the plants would have been poor at best. We prioritized vegetables on the available ground and left out most of the grain, which had to be purchased this year. This is the hand that nature deals and she doesn’t take requests. But drainage, at least, offers a hedge against her whims. In our area it is the wet years, and not the dry ones, that hurt the worst, and this farm is wetter than most; even in a dry year, our drained fields yield better than the unimproved fields. Drainage is expensive – between $1,000 and $2,000 an acre, after all is done – so Mark and I have been thinking and planning for a long time about how to put in more of it. This week we finally made the decision to go for it, on another 40 acres. If we can grow grain on it, the investment should pay back within a few years. We chose Chad Field and a section of Fifty Acre Field, on the northeast section of the farm. We do not own that land but we have a long term lease on it, and it has excellent soil – a foot of rich and stone-free topsoil above a layer of sand, underlain by clay. In the past, despite the beautiful soil, it has yielded well only in years with near-perfect rainfall. I can’t wait to see what it will do next year. Ben Collins is here today, removing willow and poplar from the border ditches, and the Barnes family will arrive on Monday with their ditching plows. The Barneses have been in the drainage business since the 1970s, back when drainage was made of interlocking one foot sections of ceramic tile. Now it is done with 4” perforated plastic pipe, laid continuously along the field 30 feet apart, 4 to 6 feet underground.

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Now, plant news. The last flats of lettuce are going into the ground this week. First sweet corn is in the share. The ears are small, thanks to weed pressure, but small corn is so much better than no corn. There’s okra in the share too. I used it to make bhindi masala for dinner last night, delicious. We also have the first harvest of kohlrabi today. This time of year I like it raw, simply peeled and sliced or grated, with a little salt or a light dressing. The green bean harvest was immense this week. Thank you to the team for all that hard picking. Members, this would be a good week for canning them. Also, note that the early blight is halfway up the tomato vines, and late blight has been spotted just north of us, so the end of tomato season is probably not far behind. Now is the time to take advantage of any extra tomatoes for canning or freezing. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this bountiful 33rd week of 2015. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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