Harvest Home

Essex Farm Note

Week 44, 2015

thumb_IMG_6077_1024

High winds, hard frosts, and then two inches of rain this week, as the tail of Hurricane Patricia swept over us. The new drainage is working hard, pulling water from the saturated field. When the wind shifted to the south, Mark put on his heaviest wetsuit and headed to the lake and his tattered old windsurfer. Nothing makes him happier than a few hours spent near the brink of disaster, getting blown all over the lake and periodically crushed by waves.

Back on land, milk production is ramping up quickly. We are milking twice a day, and there is a pen of calves to take care of along with their fresh mamas, so Lindsey and Ashley Outlaw have been more or less living in the west barn and the milkhouse for the last couple of weeks, with a rotation of farmers taking afternoon and weekend milking. The cows are transitioning from grass to hay, and you might taste that transition in the milk. Most of them choose poor pasture over good 1st cut hay in the field, even if it means eating plants that they usually ignore. Some plants that the cows deemed unpalatable before frost are now palatable, while the grasses that were favorites earlier in the season are now either gone or devoid of taste and nutrition. Unusual weeds make for unusual flavors in the milk. Then, last weekend, one cow, Kite, had breath that smelled ever so slightly of nail salon. She had a touch of ketosis, a metabolic condition that happens when a cow is not taking in enough energy (carbohydrate) to support what’s going out in the form of milk, and begins to burn up fat instead of glucose. The byproduct of this process is acetone – nail polish remover. A really ketotic cow will not have any appetite, which sends her into a downward spiral from which she must be plucked with a dose of glucose. Kite, however, readily ate the hay and grain that Ben offered her in the barn and is eating well in the field. Still, it was a clear sign we needed to get more feed into the cows, so we are giving them all the 2nd cut hay they will eat, and some organic grain at milking time. We would like to see more fat on them before winter comes on hard, plus a little grain and good hay should help even out the taste of the milk.

thumb_IMG_6053_1024

All the potatoes went through the sorting rig this week, and the strange, the small, the green, and the rotten ones were sorted out, while the sound ones were bagged and stacked in the basement of the house. There is a particular smell to potato sorting, thanks to those rotten ones, which end up smashed around the driveway in purple, white and red splotches. It is fetid, but not altogether unpleasant, because it signifies the harvest is home. Half of the carrots are still in the field, along with the beets. The harvest was so good we are out of storage space – a fine problem if you have to have one. Mark is working a reconfigured set of refrigerated trailers in the barnyard, with help from Jonathon Pribble and his crew, and Mark Bimonte, our member and refrigeration genius. Until it is finished, the roots can stay in the ground, but a pallet of meat is heading to temporary frozen storage in Vermont.

thumb_IMG_6116_1024

Remember, there will be an Election Night Dinner at the Grange on Tuesday, eat in or take out, and also, the Pink Pig is now serving tacos in Essex every Thursday at 5pm. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this don’t-forget-to-vote 44th week of 2015.  –Kristin & Mark Kimball

thumb_IMG_6145_1024

Mary waiting for the school bus to spit out the younger child.

thumb_IMG_6101_1024

Wheat has germinated but not yet emerged.

thumb_IMG_6089_1024

Small tool for a big field! The I&J cultivator, at rest, after Kirsten, Taylor and the horses used it to loosen the ground for planting garlic.

thumb_IMG_6082_1024

Beets, awaiting harvest.

thumb_IMG_6083_1024

The kohlrabi is so good this year it makes you want to dance. Carrying it around the field by the leaves made me feel like a headhunter with a trophy.

thumb_IMG_6074_1024

There’s our hard-won Winterbore kale! That seed was so hard to find this spring. I love this variety – it will stay green out there until snow flies, and more.

thumb_IMG_6065_1024

Miranda and Mark inspecting the field corn, which is getting closer to dry. I’m using it to make pozole for team dinner tonight. The squirrels have discovered how good it is, too.

Carrots, Garlic, Calves

Essex Farm Note

Week 43, 2015

I was in Kentucky until Wednesday night, so I missed most of the heavy action here this week. In short: carrots came out of the ground, garlic went into the ground, and more calves hit the ground. Carrot-wise, we have about six tons in storage, and six in the field. Thanks to the whole team for a long day of plowing, bagging and hauling carrots, followed by a full round of garlic planting. Garlic went into the new field, inaugurating it. This is a crop we save for seed, year to year, and the 2015 harvest was a quarter what we had hoped for. All of the garlic we harvested in July was used for seed yesterday, so alas we will not have garlic this winter.

Meanwhile, there were calves, calves, and more calves. Old Sis had a healthy boy on Wednesday. Sis is a daughter of our original cow, Delia, and I think she’s about ten years old, which is ancient for a dairy cow. Last year she aborted her calf late in her pregnancy and so by rights we should have culled her, but after the stillbirth she did give some milk, and there was never a free moment in the butcher shop, so we kept milking her. Then the bull arrived and Sis was bred, and so was granted clemency. You can’t run a dairy on sentimentality but it does make me very happy to see this sweet old gal back in the lineup, her enormous bag full of milk.

Winnie calved, too, on Thursday, a pretty little heifer. Jane got the naming rights, so say hello to Winter. Juniper calved the same day, another heifer, Jiya. Winter and Jiya look so alike in the pen we had to put colored collars on them right away, so we could tell them apart.

Frieda was close to calving, and was also badly lame. Her back left foot was swollen just above the hoof. She got progressively worse all week until she could barely put weight on it. Yesterday, when I brought the herd up for milking, I let her come alone at her own pace. She limped so slowly on the hill, it took her over an hour. We put her in a stall in the east barn so she wouldn’t have to repeat that arduous journey. Last night, Ben came over to look at her with me. He thought she had an abscess inside the hoof, which can happen when they get a scratch or some mud stuck between the claws. Ashley and Lindsey had been soaking the hoof, but there was no obvious place to relieve the pressure and her pain. Ben and I decided to give her an antibiotic last night, to work on the abscess from the inside. When I checked on her this morning, she had delivered a nice bull calf, and the lameness that was so profound yesterday was entirely gone. That is the miracle of antibiotics.

We also gave antibiotics to the two-week-old calf, Crayfish, who had pneumonia and would not eat. Crayfish was bright and perky the next morning, and drank her milk eagerly. She will be moving out of the sick pen and back to her group this weekend.

While it is unprecedented for us to use antibiotics twice in one week, I felt both instances were justified. Antibiotics are not allowed under the organic standard. We use them only when an animal is very sick with something that antibiotics work on, or to relieve unwarranted suffering; we always tell our members when we use one, and we double the recommended holdback time for milk and for meat.

If we decide to become certified organic, we won’t be able to do that — or rather, if we do treat an animal with antibiotics, we’d have to sell the animal off the farm. It’s a question we are kicking around the farmhouse this fall, weighing pros and cons. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this first-snow-on-the-mountains 43rd week of 2015.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

thumb_IMG_5744_1024 thumb_IMG_5748_1024 thumb_IMG_5768_1024 thumb_IMG_5798_1024 thumb_IMG_5799_1024

Unexpectedly Colorful

 

thumb_IMG_5803_1024

The Magic Circle

Essex Farm Note

Week 42, 2015

Frost came again on Thursday morning, dusting each blade of grass with glitter. The day before, there was the annual scramble to bring in the tender things that could be gathered and stored. The cellar of the farmhouse is home to two bins of eggplant now. The cooler is full of apples. In the field, the zinnias have wilted, the tomato vines have withered, but the last of the raspberries are on the canes, still red-ripe and fresh.

The Amishmen from Heuvelton – Samuel, Moses, Dennis and Emmanuel – came to visit again this week. They are looking for land, because their young couples are having difficulty founding homesteads within buggy range of the community. This is their third visit with us and each time they come it is a surprise, as though they have been dropped onto our driveway from a time travel device. This time their vessel took the form of a small taxi driven by a Pakistani-American from Keeseville. “He’s Muslim! He’s been in this country thirty years!” Samuel said. I wish I could have heard the questions and answers that passed between them on that ride. At dinner, our lively conversation turns toward family, farming and draft horses. These men are always incredibly cheerful and jokey, despite enduring what must be a difficult and stressful journey. The table rings with belly laughs and guffaws. The Amish may be known for their baked goods and cheese, but really ought to be famous for their collective sense of humor, which is dry as toast. They spent the night in my writing cabin, and the next morning, when I sat down at my desk, I found a note on an index card, in swirly 19th century script:

Land Shoppers’ Cottage

Keep Clean

Thank you,

Samuel

In the last two decades the world has evolved to make an Amish land hunt as difficult as possible. How would you undertake a high-stakes and complex project like this without the internet? Most real estate listings don’t even appear in a newspaper anymore. And this community is strictly Old Order, so no phones, not even in the yard. They carry none of the markers of modern-day personhood – no photo id, no credit card – so it’s complicated to do something as simple as spend the night in a motel. They are looking for reasonably priced parcels of agricultural land, at least four pieces of 50-100 acres within a 12 mile radius, enough to anchor a new community. If anyone has a lead, email me and I will pass it along.

Now the short news. Willa calved yesterday, a bull, unsportingly big for a first time mother. Luckily Willa is a tall, strong gal, and she managed it after a good morning’s work. The last of the green cabbages came in yesterday, heaping tons of them piled in large apple crates. The vegetable team spent most of the day around the wagon with sharp knives and cold hands, trimming away the outer leaves. I’m off to Kentucky on Sunday to speak at St. Catharine College, home of the soon-to-be-dedicated Wendell Berry Farm. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this unexpectedly colorful 42nd week of 2015. Find us at 963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, or by index card, in swirly 19th century script.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

thumb_IMG_5959_1024

Good looking corn, eh?

thumb_IMG_5947_1024

Cover crop on Superjoy

thumb_IMG_6018_1024

If the new field had more rocks, the cairn would be bigger.

thumb_IMG_6009_1024

The ditch around the new field shows a gorgeous soil profile.

thumb_IMG_6029_1024

Happy dog, doing good work.

thumb_IMG_5995_1024

Waiting for the school bus to deliver the younger child

thumb_IMG_5971_1024

This is the tall and the small of it. Trigger, meet Jake and Abby.

thumb_IMG_6032_1024

If you ever wondered what a cow’s placenta looks like, I’ve satisfied your curiosity. Mary wanted to know what she had done to deserve such a beautiful thing.

Pictures

I’m having trouble with my photo library since I switched to a new computer. Here is a slew of recent pictures, followed by the latest weekly updates.

Making Concord Grape Jam

IMG_5812

Mashed grapes.

IMG_5813

I threw in some green apples from a wild tree in the hedgerow of the Blockhouse Road fields.

IMG_5817

Afterward, the kitchen looked the crime scene from a grizzly alien murder. Purple gore *everywhere*.

 

 

First frost. There was ice in Long Pasture.

 

IMG_5825

 

 

A nice week for being born.

IMG_5843

The first calf of fall.

IMG_5853

Kanga and Crayfish. I couldn’t get them to stand still enough to get a photo of both of them.

IMG_5916

Geese over the west barn at sunset, after a final check on cows.

IMG_5899

Lindsey carrying Crayfish back to the barn, with Cori cow.

IMG_5889

Nice view up the farm road.

IMG_5884

Happy dog.

IMG_5887

The barn is full of hay.

Calves, Frost

Essex Farm Note

Week 41, 2015

It doesn’t get much better than this at harvest time. Soft warm days, cool nights, some color in the trees, and the dairy calves coming steadily, easily, almost one per day. Three heifers calved during the day this week, instead of the typical midnight-to-dawn shift. Daytime calves make management a little bit easier, but the best part is that if we’re lucky, we get to witness the event. Cori went into labor on Wednesday morning. She took her time through the early part, pacing the field, hormones rushing, occasionally pausing to lick me from my zipper to my chin as I sat on a fallen cedar tree and watched. Cori was a first-timer, and she mooed with alarm at the tide rising inside of her, this strange force beyond her control.

Lindsey joined me in the field, and when Cori lay down for the last strenuous part we both felt a strong desire to help, though of course, the best help in an uncomplicated calving is to give the cow her space. Cori mustered one last mighty push and when she had recovered her breath and looked behind her she gave a startled MOO! then immediately jumped to her feet to lick the biggest surprise of her life. She licked so vigorously and insistently the stunned wet calf flipped and rolled and flipped and rolled, traveling a few yards down the field, which is how Lindsey and I got a glimpse of her undercarriage, and discovered she was a heifer, the most precious of farm babies. Lindsey and I had naming rights, for having seen her first. We solicited suggestions for C names, and got Coco, Cookie, Cher, and Caroline, but Miranda’s contribution – Crayfish – won. Crayfish has sweet white spots on reddish-brown fur, and she has joined Kanga (Kite’s daughter) and Brooklyn (Beatrix’s daughter) in the nursery section of the west barn. Members, you are welcome to go visit them, but please don’t get too close to the rail, and don’t go in with them; for biosecurity reasons, we must keep the newborns away from any traces of adult bovine manure. While you are in there, check out the nice new litter of ten piglets across the aisle. They were born yesterday.

For the last several years, first frost has come at the beginning of October, so the one we got this week arrived right on time. It froze hard enough to skim the water tanks in Long Pasture with ice, and to take the last tomatoes, but not quite hard enough to finish off the eggplants or the peppers. I collected an armload of cilantro for processing, because it won’t be long now before it is gone.

The team spent a sunny afternoon at Lewis Farm, picking apples and grapes. I feel so rich in fruit this fall. Thanks, Lewis Farm. I have a dozen jars of applesauce in the pantry and seven jars of concord grape jam. Applesauce is a good project for beginning canners and the canning averse (like me) because it’s hard to screw up and you get a lot of healthy appealing food for the time invested.

This week’s collective attaboy goes to Scott, Ben, Brandon and Ed for keeping the old manure spreader alive until the whole pile of 2-year-old compost was distributed across Fireman Field and the newly drained field. It was a heroic (and frustrating) effort. Finally, please join us for our farm tour tomorrow at 10. See the events page for details.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Calf, finally

Essex Farm Note

Week 40, 2015

The long dry spell has finally broken. Not just the rain, but the milk. Kite the cow calved last night, delivering a sturdy heifer that Kirsten named Kanga. I knew a calf had arrived before Mark told me, because when he walked into the kitchen at dawn, my dog Mary got that soft eager look on her face that means she smells birth. Jane, Mary and I went to the barn after breakfast to visit the newborn. Kanga was full of colostrum and taking a profound post-partum sleep, curled into a bed of hay in the barn. Her mother is doing well, back out with the rest of the milking herd. I expect the next calves will come in quick succession; many of the cows have looked ready for the last week. I’m glad they waited for the cold rain to pass. Milk will still be tight in today’s share, as Kite will produce only colostrum for a few days, but we have reached the bottom now and the upswing should be swift.

The rain! We got 2.5”, and it fell softly, over a whole day and night, so the earth had time to drink it in. The soil was so thirsty, it absorbed an entire 2” before the drainage in the old fields began to run. (Interestingly, the drainage in the new section has never stopped running, even at the end of this near-drought. Mark thinks that means there is a spring under those fields.) The drainage helps redistribute all that water, and takes off the excess, so roots can breathe. The cover crops look incredible – green and strong with perfectly even growth. Hooray for drainage, and hooray for this rain, which should give the fall pastures a little boost. We have a lot of mediocre fall pasture stockpiled for the beef cattle, but less high-quality pasture left for the dairy cows, who will need the best nutrition we can give them as they come back into milk.

It was a fun week in the farmhouse kitchen. The girls and I made tortillas out of some ears of field corn that they picked, husked and shelled themselves. We cooked the kernels in water with slaked lime, let them soak overnight, then ground the dough with a molina, pressed the tortillas, and cooked them on a comal. It wasn’t nearly as labor intensive as it sounds, partly because the girls are experts on the tortilla press. Five ears of corn made a huge stack of tortillas, enough for as many tacos as our bellies could hold, plus corn chips the next day, and two stacks for the freezer. As I fried the chips in our own lard I wondered how many people get to eat tortilla chips made entirely from one farm, by their own hands? We must be a very small (but well-fed) minority.

We came close to frost this week, but ducked it. There are still a few tomatoes in the share. With the end of them in sight I dried two flats of the small salad tomatoes in a slow oven this week, then put them in jars with olive oil and a clove of garlic. They are delicious on sandwiches, or on pasta. (You should store them in the fridge for immediate use, or freezer for longer term storage – garlic covered with oil is a botulism risk.) Thanks to Josh and Beth for apples, and to Lewis Family Farm for grapes and apples. It is wonderful to have fall fruit in the share. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this first-frost-coming 40th week of 2015.-Kristin & Mark Kimball

 

Golden

Essex Farm Note

Week 39, 2015

Miranda and I took a ride to the raspberries after school on Monday. The pony kicked up thick clouds of dust that hovered in the golden afternoon light. The air was full of the dry, decaying smells of autumn. Mary chased the crows around Pine field, leaving zigzag contrails of dust in her wake. Taylor was disking down the flowers in Mailbox field – the mighty sunflowers going down to meet the soil they had come from – and we stopped to pay our respects to their faded beauty. As the pony lipped the weeds at the edge of the field and Miranda held fast to his mane I reached down into the turned earth and found it was damp, somehow still holding water just under the dust. That stored moisture has helped germinate the millions of seeds that Scott planted all over the farm in the last two weeks: cover crops of rye, just now shoving up to the surface in a thick red haze, and of oats and peas, coming up in green regular rows. When I look at those young plants I see future nitrogen, and future carbon, and by extension the stash of organic matter that enables the soil to hold on to moisture despite weeks and weeks of very little rain. We moved on to Superjoy, where the crew was harvesting winter squash, filling the bucket of the skid steer. Delicata alone filled five large bins, and the butternut lay ready for pickup, stretched across the field in long, heavy windrows. Next door, the pumpkins were huge orange beacons under browned leaves.

Later in the week the potatoes came in. I think potatoes probably give us the highest yield of calories for the number of calories invested – which is why they historically have made such a good staple crop for so many people around the world. The horses planted them, the horses hilled them, and the horses dug them. Kirsten and her crew did some heroic late-season hand weeding, which made it easier for the horse-drawn digger to move through the soil and pull the potatoes to the surface, where the whole (human) crew pitched in to pick them up. The sight of all those tons of potatoes put me in the mood for them again, in the kitchen. We had purple potato hash for breakfast, diced fine and cooked in lard with a lot of paprika, some garlic, and a handful of rosemary. I see gratins, and latkes, and mash in our near future.

Breaking news! We have Essex Farm yarn available in the farm store for the first time today. Barbara, our resident fiber expert, says the quality is excellent. It is 100% from our own Dorset and Polypay sheep, processed at a small fiber mill just across the lake in Richmond, VT. Here’s to local mittens, scarves, and sweaters. It’s $15/skein for non-members, $13/skein for members or in wholesale amounts. We also have large sheets of wool batting for $20 each, which can be used to stuff your own quilts, pillows, and comforters, or for craft or felting projects.

Sam Ehrenfeld will lead a discussion and demonstration about beef next week during distribution. Sam is a skilled and experienced butcher who started his career right here at Essex Farm, and has worked in shops in New York and Vermont for the last several years. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn more about beef from Sam. He’s the real deal. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this golden 39th week of 2015.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

 

The Creative Act with Edible Benefits

Essex Farm Note

Week 38, 2015

If you’re looking for me this time of year, try the kitchen first. The air is cool, the kids are in school, and there are so many good ingredients to play with. The kitchen is where I rest my brain after a few hours of trying to stick words together in a pretty, coherent way. Turns out I think more clearly with a knife in my hand. This week, I toggled back and forth between the butcher block and my computer, chopping produce, chopping sentences, repeat, repeat. My major culinary accomplishment was putting up a huge load of tomatoes. Those vines have kept producing long past my dire predictions. As you all know by now, I like to aim for the sweet spot where easy and delicious intersect. So my new favorite method for getting tomatoes up goes like this: Fill two big hotel pans with halved paste tomatoes and roast them in a moderate oven until they are just soft and beginning to release a little water, about 10 to 15 minutes. Then pop each pan under the broiler for a few minutes, until the surfaces begin to bubble and char. Then run them through a food mill or other device (I use the strainer attachment on my kitchenaid) to remove skins and the seeds, leaving any water in the pans. The charring adds a nice layer of flavor to the sauce without added effort, and the result can be canned or frozen, or boiled down to make a thicker sauce.

Outside, we had another unseasonably mild, unusually dry week, great for haymaking and field work, but not so good for the late-season grasses. The pastures are looking a little burned out, and we’re not getting the usual re-growth that helps power the grazing animals through fall and into winter. So it goes. No season is perfect for everything, and we have plenty of hay in the barn now, even if we have to begin feeding it earlier than usual. In the vegetable world, it has been an incomparable year for eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli and peppers, and pretty darn great for raspberries, but largely a failure for cucumbers, watermelon and cantaloupe. Sweet corn was delicious while we had it, but it didn’t last as long as we’d hoped. The field corn looks fantastic, but we can’t officially count it a win until it is dry, harvested and in the bin. Same thing with the popcorn, which must dry to a very precise 13.5% moisture in order to optimize its popping ability. Longtime members will probably recall the years in which we missed that mark, and had to make due with the half-popped stuff that Colin Wells dubbed Iffy Pop.

In other news, congratulations to Racey and Nathan at Reber Rock Farm on their marriage, formalized today. I remember watching the first sparks fly between them when they met in our milkhouse several years ago. Meanwhile, we are still waiting for the first calves to arrive in the dairy herd, but we’re beginning to see some tight udders and softening around the tail head, which are signs that calves will be here soon. Huge thanks to Patagonia for the great Worn Wear event last week! And to Poco Mas Tacos for the food, Plowman’s Lunch for the music, and to everyone who attended, for bringing the fun. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this hot hot hot 38th week of 2015.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball