Solstice

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The Egg Department, off to work at sunrise.

Essex Farm Note

Week 25, 2016

Here we are at the solstice, and doesn’t it feel like it? The forecast calls for clear weather until Monday, and it has been clear all week, so we, like every other farmer in the region, are maniacally making hay. We have 300 large round bales of grass hay down now, and about half of it baled. I love these long days of focused, urgent effort, when everyone works together to get it in before rain, and large bets are laid on which way the clouds blow, and whether or not the repair on the baler will hold. We switched from square bales to round bales a couple of years ago, so we no longer spend sweaty summer evenings running through the field, throwing bales onto the wagon, then loading and stacking them in the hot barn loft, dizzy with effort and trying not to get walloped on the head when a bale fell off the elevator. My memories of those times are all happy ones, even the night when I tried to keep pace with Matt Volz, stacking, and got sick on the new green bales. Haying is not so demanding now, physically, but there is still that enjoyable sense of urgency and unity that I have always loved.

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Mowing

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It only breaks if you use it. Pay attention, girls, and you might learn to fix it.

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Family dinner in the field. Still hours to go before dark.

Vegetable team, led by Kirsten Liebl, is feeling the solstice burn. They are weeding, transplanting, and copiously harvesting now, all at once. There is so much coming in from the field for distribution today, Anya and Isabelle came in at 5 this morning to get a jump on it in the cool dawn. The obvious star of the share this week is the strawberry. Early Glow is still booming, and the Jewel variety is beginning to ripen now. The first bloom on each plant sends forth one enormous berry, which our girls call the King Berry, and all week they have been grazing on them, each berry the size of their fist or better. I made panna cotta for team dinner tonight, and as I type I have a pot of berries cooking down into strawberry sauce, to go on top. But there’s only so much sweet red perfection one can take, and it is the B-list celebrity I’m most interested in this week: rhubarb, in savory garb. I made a version of Martha Rose Shulman’s chicken tagine (NYT cooking) last night, and rhubarb gave it that pop of brightness that pomegranate molasses brings to Persian cooking, or preserved lemon to Moroccan.

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I have more to report but I’m out of time now, so that’s the brief news from Essex Farm for this make-hay-while-the-sun-shines 25th week of 2016.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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No filter on this shot, just sunset through a mean cloud. There was some hail in it, but it just missed us.

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Clover, birdsfoot trefoil, happy cows.

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Love Bucket

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Essex Farm Note

Week 24, 2016

We are almost halfway through the 100 day sprint now, in the annual race to capture as much sunlight as we can, and keep it. I see surprised exhaustion on the faces of some of our new farmers these days, but those of us who have been at it a while are accustomed to the intense power of June and the work that comes with it. Yesterday, Ben said that when he was in his twenties and dairying he worked such long hours in June he would fall asleep on the tractor and wake up when his head hit the steering wheel. I know that feeling from having fallen asleep while cultivating in June, stopped at the end of a row to let the horses blow. With the strong June sun hammering down on us, those few profound seconds were sweeter than dark hours between cool sheets.

The brand new AI tank is in the barn now, full of liquid nitrogen and, as of yesterday, forty straws of deep-frozen Jersey bull semen. We’re sending thanks to Skip Maynard of Milk and Honey Genetics, who drove all the way over from Orwell, Vermont to get it to us in time to service the three cows who are scheduled to come into heat this weekend. It was wonderful to select semen from prime bulls to compliment each cow, rather than using a single live, dangerous, and genetically fair-to-middling bull. Among other traits, like good feet, strong udders, and the ability to thrive on grass, we chose bulls with genes for A2/A2 milk. Some background: The A1 and A2 alleles determine the kind of protein a cow will produce in her milk. There is some research suggesting that the A1 gene (which predominates in Holstein cattle, and exists, but does not predominate, in Jerseys) makes for milk that is difficult for humans to digest, causing inflammation and intolerance. Now, some of that research was sponsored by a corporation with a vested interest in promoting A2 milk, so you have to take it for what it’s worth, but additional research has shown there may be something to it, and in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the demand for A2 milk is very strong. We have had some members ask about it, so I’m happy to be able to say that with artificial insemination we know which gene the bulls carry, and can select for A2 milk.

Short news, now. We had several calves born in the beef herd this week. The 500 new pullets are beginning to lay, and are well-trained to get in their coops at dusk, thanks to Mary the dog, who specializes in finding the outliers in the long grass, and the stowaways under the grain wagon. The piglets are weaned and moving to pasture next week. The corn is up and cultivated. All hands were in the field last weekend to get that done before the much-needed rain came. We got 2 ½ inches, good for plumping up the strawberries, which are in the share today. The lettuces are thriving and we’re eating them by the giant bowlful around here. The farm has never looked better, Mark says, which he says every year, and means it. Thanks to Liam for coming over this week to get the new greenhouse endwalls made. The plastic is not up yet, so the frame has served as the biggest kids’ jungle gym ever. Every time I look outside there’s a girl scaling a pole or hanging from a hoop, upside down. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this intense 24th week of 2016.                                                         -Kristin & Mark Kimball

 

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Radish, three seconds before I ate it, dirt and all.

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That’s the year’s bread, members, if all goes well until harvest.

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Mark brought me the first ripe berries while I was milking. Better than breakfast in bed, that.

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Mark checking the nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots of the vetch in the rye/vetch cover crop.

Lettuce, peas. The peas got trellised this week.

Lettuce, peas. The peas got trellised this week.

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Fava beans, a favorite of mine. We have a ridiculous amount growing in the field.

The corn is up!

The corn is up!

Asparagus, mulched with bark chips, with oat/pea cover crop between the rows.

Asparagus, mulched with bark chips, with oat/pea cover crop between the rows.

Farmer father, double tasking.

Farmer father, double tasking.

Dizzy

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Essex Farm Note

Week 23, 2016

I was away for six days and when I came home everything was dramatically changed. The strawberry plants had gone from bud to flower to fat green fruit. The cover crop of rye on Monument Field, which had been thigh high, had been tilled in and the field made ready to plant to soybeans. The pastures, when I left, were still full of that soft, short, succulent grass that makes ruminants crazy with pleasure. Now the orchard grass has nearly gone by, its stems tough and topped with seedheads. Things move so fast this time of year, you can’t turn your head, or you lose the thread of the story.

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Today, the first lettuces are coming in from Newfield, in gorgeous variety and in abundance. I grazed on a head of red oak leaf lettuce this morning, on my walk home from that field. It was so tender and sweet I ate the whole thing, leaf by leaf, dirt and all, savoring the sweet center last. The heat of the last ten days has accelerated the asparagus to the point where it’s hard to keep up with the picking. And those strawberries! I eyeball them every day when I walk Miranda to the end of the driveway to catch the bus. The fruits on the Early Glow plants are the size of shooter marbles, and yesterday I saw the first blush of red over the green. We might get our few first ripe berries by next week, or certainly the week after that.

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The dairy herd has relaxed into a more moderate level of production now that the first flush of spring grass is over. It will soon be time to think of drying off the cows bred to calve in early fall. At the same time, Ben and I are getting set up to breed the heifers and some of the cows to calve next spring instead of calving all of them in the fall. This will help spread out our dairy production more evenly, and take good advantage of the best grass while we have it. This time, we’re doing it with artificial insemination instead of with a Jersey bull. We have a new semen tank on order, for storing frozen semen, and now we get to look through the Jersey sire catalogue, which makes me dizzy, because the full-color spreads are all so bullishly beautiful.

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It was a huge week of planting and transplanting. We have close to 40 acres of field corn planted. Soybeans are going in right now, 10 acres. Sweet corn was planted yesterday. Last weekend, all the winter squash, melons, summer squash and cucumbers were transplanted, by hand, plant by plant. Over a weekend! Two acres of transplanting! Thanks so much for the whole team for making that happen. Potatoes are up, Adirondack Blues first, with their strange blueblack leaves. We bought a new manure spreader, on credit, a big investment in NEW equipment for once, and we have put it to good hard use already. The only thing we have been lacking is rain, and guess what? Forecast says we should get between an inch and two inches on Sunday and Sunday night. If we do get it, and manage to cultivate the corn once before it hits, we would suddenly and without precedent have everything a farmer could wish for. That is the news from Essex Farm for this golden late spring 23rd week of 2016.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

 

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