Indoor Work

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Essex Farm Note

Week 5, 2016

Land leases, insurance. Inventory, contracts. Budgets, grant applications, orders, marketing. Taxes. It’s all work, but not the kind that makes you sweat. (Except maybe the taxes.) The weeks between the last of the harvesting and the first of the sugaring contain the highest percentage of the non-sweaty jobs. I think most of us who choose farming do so because we prefer the sweaty jobs. A younger farmer said to me recently, I wish I could just farm, and not have to make money from it. I understand the sentiment but we must take it all as a whole.

There was plenty of outdoor work this week, too. There was a crew cutting and splitting firewood, to use next spring for sugaring; another crew logged some timber from the woods just east of Monument Field, and took it down to Jonathon Pribble to be milled into lumber, which is now stacked in the barnyard and ready to use where needed. The seeds arrived, four big boxes, which Kirsten sorted and stored, ready for the greenhouse, which starts in a month.

Meanwhile, the dairy is running full tilt. Production is excellent, and the team has been doing a great job bedding the composting barnyard, so the cows come to their stanchions with beautifully clean teats, making milking a pleasure. The 2015 calves are growing so well! They have been getting whole milk twice a day, plus all the nice second cutting hay they can eat. Now it’s time to wean them off of the whole milk and onto to skim milk for the rest of the winter. On Monday, Ben and I had a meeting with our state veterinarian, Dr. Ellis, and our farm vet, Dr. Goldwasser, as part of the New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program (NYSCHAP) that we have been enrolled in for the last five years or so. This winter get-together is our annual chance to ask questions, review practices, and look over our cows’ health records together. This year, we set up a new vaccination protocol for calves and heifers, scheduled our annual tests for chronic diseases, and decided to cull the cows with the highest somatic cell counts in their milk, indicators of intractable mastitis. This last bit means we get to go cow shopping, which is exciting. It also means we’ll breed the largest of the 2014 heifers now, so that they’ll calve in the fall with the older cows instead of calving next spring with the rest of their cohort. Dr. Goldwasser will be back next Friday to preg check the cows, who have been with the bull, Dougie, since late November. Crossing our fingers for lots of bred cows.

The draft horses moved out to Paddock 4 this week, and I put the two ponies out with them. Little Trigger had never been turned out with the big horses before, and the first ten minutes were nerve-racking, as he led the herd around the field at a dead gallop, taking five strides for every one of the drafts’. They soon settled down, and now the big horses treat him as a member of the herd, though one who can easily walk underneath them.

There’s a dance party at the Grange next Saturday February 6th, to benefit Westport Central School’s parent-teacher-student organization. Info at wptso.com. We have a new Air B&B listing adjacent to the farm. See Essex Farm Guest House on the Air B& B site, and tell your friends! And that is the news from Essex Farm for this still-warm 5th week of 2016.                               –Kristin & Mark Kimball
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Pictures of the Week

 

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Taylor with Jake and Abby. Loads and loads of mulch were spread on the asparagus this week.

 

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Evening walk on the farm road.

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It is comforting to have so much hay in the barn this winter. Moderate temperatures reduce feed consumption.

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The solar panels in their nearly vertical, winter position.

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The siding is up on the East Barn run-in. The dairy heifers are in there now.

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The weather station now has a gauge for measuring snow depth. It can be seen on the camera image at http://www.nysmesonet.org/mesonow. Click on the Essex button. Not much to measure right now.


Looking Forward

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North Country Palm Trees

 

Essex Farm Note

Week 3, 2016

We spent much of this week planning for the rest of the year. Seed order is almost finished now, thanks to Kirsten Liebl. There are some fun new things for 2016. We’re ordering mache, the tender, low-growing, cold-loving green also known as corn salad, or rapunzel. In the eponymous fairy tale, this is what Rapunzel’s pregnant mother craved so badly she sent Rapunzel’s father into the witch’s garden to steal it for her. The witch caught him, setting off the whole long-haired-girl-in-the-tower drama. That is one powerful plant.

We’re also growing a couple fancy-schmancy things like hericot vert, and Belgian endive. Hericot vert are thin, delicate green beans. The good old Fedco catalogue, usually pretty laid back, says these should be picked every 48 hours — or less –, “when pods are still stringless and thinner than a pencil.”

Belgian endive is an old Essex Farm favorite that Kirsten has positioned for a comeback. The seeds are grown out in the field for the season, then the roots are dug up in the fall, and stored until winter, when they are replanted, inside, in tubs of potting soil. This forcing must be done in total darkness in order to get the gorgeous, pale, mildly bitter leafy chicons. It’s a labor intensive magic trick, but so very delicious, especially in deep winter when other fresh leafy things are off the menu. We’re adding a petite blue hubbard, Blue Ballet, to the winter squash repertoire, and switching over to a variety called Cargo for our jack-o-lantern pumpkins. Mark is advocating for a planting of blackberries to complement the raspberries. Once seed order is finalized, we will get it posted for members.

Mark and I are also strategizing about how to make the 2016 all-you-can-eat, free-choice, full-diet share more user-friendly for busy households. We added ready-made whole wheat bread dough to the share in late 2015. The one pound loaves bake up in 25 minutes, and in our house, they’ve been a huge hit. Next, I would like to explore making stock or bone broth for members. I can’t get along in the kitchen without stock on hand, and it might be more efficient to make it on a larger scale. Members, if you have ideas for things we could do to add a dash of convenience to your whole food kitchen, please email us.

The two young rams have wrapped up their work with the ewes. Almost all of the ewes got bred on the first cycle, which means we should have a veritable lambalanche beginning on April 15th, and be nearly finished with lambing three weeks later. We have about fifty ewes bred. I’m eager to see what a slightly later lambing is like. I have moved it back a little bit each year, from February my first year to the beginning of April last year. Each delay has made me happier, and the lambs too, I think, at least as newborns. I’m a little nervous about putting delicate youngsters and vulnerable post-partum mamas on grass just as the parasites are waking up, but I very much like the idea that they will be on forage almost from the get go.

The East Barn run-in renovation project hit a costly bump this week. We got a heavy rain after the Sonotubes were in, but before the concrete was poured, and so had to do a lot of the excavation all over again. In better news, the beef cattle are enjoying their winter quarters down at the metal barn. The pregnant gilt farrowed in West Barn, but unfortunately only three piglets survived. The laying hens are ensconced in the East Barn, where they have protection and a little bit of extra light to keep the eggs coming. The draft horses are eating hay now, but the ponies are still roughing it on the last bit of pasture. They could stand to lose a couple pounds before coming in for the winter.

Mark just reminded me that my weekly note often makes it sound like he and I are still doing everything on this farm all by ourselves. He’s right, and I’m sorry about that. We have 24 hard working people on the farm right now, the biggest crew we’ve ever had, and each one of them deserves a big fat thank you. We say goodbye to Malcolm and Roman this week, with gratitude for their good work, and we welcome Jenny Linger back to the front of the house. Jenny started here in 2011 and has since developed a busy farm business with Liam Davis at Harvest Hill in Willsboro. We are happy to have Jenny’s cheerful presence with us again this winter, and I know our members will be too. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this forward-looking 3rd week of 2016.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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The East Barn run-in, before the siding goes up.

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Strawberries, under a heavy mulching of straw.

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A pretty day to hunt for voles.

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Unauthorized use of equipment.

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The beef herd, from atop the stack of round bales.

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Two pigs snuggled in.

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A piece of sandstone that Mark found in the new field, complete with ancient underwater ripples.

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We now have a road-worthy farm truck! It’s 10 years old but in great shape.

I can't look at this without laughing. I have no idea what he's doing here. I'm sharing it as a public service.

I can’t look at this without laughing. I have no idea what he’s doing here. I’m sharing it as a public service.

Cold Snap

Essex Farm Note

Week 2, 2016

winter, finally

The kids went directly from playing in the mud to skating on the pond this week. The weather station registered a low of 2 during the cold snap, and it was windy. Together, that was just enough to flush out the weaknesses in our winter systems. We had a few frustrating moments in the dairy barn, and a mishap in the west cooler that left some products frozen solid. But on the whole, all the people and all the beasts on the farm came through the first patch of real cold very well. We are close to the last of the kale because of it, and the spinach is iffy at best now, but even iffy spinach is amazing in the north country in January.

The last of the broiler chickens were slaughtered yesterday. I’m sure we’ll toast that fact at team dinner tonight. As much as we all love chicken, there are not many on our crew who deeply love chickens, at least this time of year. Chores are a drag and wintertime chicken slaughter, even in such a mild winter, is a cold, wet, messy, unpleasant job. I am not usually on the chicken slaughter crew myself but I can be sure it’s a chicken slaughter day when I see Ben looking grouchy, or when I see one of the farmers walking around with a blotch of gore on her forehead. In 2016, we’ll aim for finishing chickens in the fall instead of at the turn of the year.

We lost a beef cow to an accident this week. She was one of our old Scottish Highland brood cows, and she got her long horns stuck in a hay feeder, then slipped in the mud and broke her neck. Poor girl. But that unexpected death was counterbalanced by the promise of unexpected new life. One of the gilts began to bag up last week, indicating that she is close to farrowing. That was a big surprise. The timing doesn’t square with her exposure to Romeo, the boar, so she must have been bred by a cryptorchid pig – a male with an undescended, but apparently functional, testicle. This makes sense on another level, as I noticed that some pork I cooked over the holidays had a touch of boar smell to it. I am particularly sensitive to that unique smell, and strongly dislike it. As for the boar Romeo, he has been retired to the freezer, as he may well have carried the gene for cryptorchidism. Sam Ehrenfeld is in the butcher shop today, and he’s going to make some heavily seasoned pepperoni out of Romeo, which is a great way to make something delicious out of boar meat. Even I look forward to that. Our new boar, Scooter, is in with the sows, all of them deeply bedded down in the metal barn.

Now the focus of the farm is on getting the laying flock settled into their winter quarters, in the east barn’s west side run in. That has required more work than we expected, as the run in needed some emergency structural work. Mark is out there now, helping pour cement as foundation for new posts,. We’re lucky the weather is allowing it now, before heavy snow makes for a dangerous situation. Meanwhile, we’ve cleaned out the granary completely and grain has moved into one of the new trailers, which is rodent proof, to the chagrin of our resident rats and mice. We’re also working on getting a bulk tank into the milkhouse, which will be a huge and long-due improvement. The seed order goes in next week, and the cycle of the seasons begins anew. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this good-skating 2nd week of 2016.                                                 –Kristin & Mark Kimball

This was last week:

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And here is this week:

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A treat of cow-warm milk for ‘helping’ with the calves at evening milking.

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Lovely heifers, waiting for their milk.

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Kohlrabi in the snow

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Mark, Jet and Mary, contemplating the cover crop






End of Year Roundup

Essex Farm Note

Week 53, 2015

Happy New Year, everyone. I’m joining the rest of the world in an end of year review this week.

2015 will be remembered on Essex Farm for the longest stretch of good weather we have ever seen. From July through the end of the year, it was simply the best we could have hoped for. We had fine, moderate temperatures through the summer, with just enough rain, and then a fall so preternaturally warm we feasted on fresh spinach from the field on Christmas day. The spinach looked even greener this week, under its blanket of fresh white snow.

But before the good stretch, there was June, and she was a wet and ugly one. It was too wet for planting on any part of our farm this spring aside from the fifty acres of drained ground. We were more grateful for that ground than ever, and took full advantage of it, planting about 10 acres of it to field corn, with the rest dedicated to vegetables and the perennials. With luck we got crops in between rains, and when the weather dried out, everything took off. The vegetables, with a few exceptions, were gorgeous and plentiful, and the corn crop yield was excellent.

Because that ground has saved our hides so many times in the last few years, we decided to put in another 40 acres of drainage this year, on the opposite side of the farm. It’s an expensive undertaking, and debt is always stressful for me, but I believe in this investment. It is the best hedge we have against increasingly unpredictable weather, and it allows us to be better farmers, by, for example, allowing us long-distance crop rotations that break the cycle of pest buildup, and giving us the space we need to do better fallowing for weed control, carbon sequestration, and soil building. Thanks to the warm fall, the new field is green already, planted to rye, oat/pea, rye/vetch, soft white winter wheat, and hard red winter wheat plus four rows of next year’s garlic. Rye berries and the wheat could be harvested, or they could be turned in to build soil, depending on how the weed pressure looks in the spring.

We also made an investment in cold storage, the good timing of which was pure luck. Who could have known it would be warm enough this fall to melt any crops stored in ambient root cellar temperatures? We’re even struggling to keep our basement at the 50 degrees it should be to keep potatoes and onions happy. For the cold-loving vegetables, like carrots, beets, and celeriac, we have four new refrigerated trailers, shouldered together in the barnyard, well insulated with spray foam, plumbed and wired. One trailer is entirely full of carrots, top to bottom and end to end.

Our goals remain essentially unchanged, thirteen years in. Grow excellent food for people to eat. Nourish the whole person by providing an authentic connection to the land and its bounty. Reverse climate change, by sequestering carbon and using less fossil fuel. Pass it on, by training new farmers. Do it all with as much joy as possible, accepting failures and celebrating successes. Thanks to our members and our many friends and supporters for helping it all come true. Here’s to a peaceful, fecund, joyful 2016, with lots of love from Essex Farm

– Kristin & Mark Kimball