Gotcha, sun!

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Essex Farm Note

Week 12, 2015

It’s the first day of spring. The sunrise this morning was the starting gun of the growing season. Much as we like to say Essex Farm is powered by magic, it is actually powered by sunlight. The whole game of farming – all farming, in all places, throughout history – is based on the capture of sunlight. In our northern region, we work to gather as much sun energy as we can from now until fall, store it, and spread it out through the winter. We capture it in the annual plants, in the pasture, the hay, and in the sugarbush. The sap that is in the evaporator right now was made by last year’s sunlight. The wood that is heating the sap to an urgent boil is the collected sunlight of the last decade or two. The horses and humans (both fueled by sunlight) have brought in 500 gallons of sap so far. We and everyone else in the neighborhood will have steam rising from our evaporators all weekend long, and before the end of the day today we will get to sample the first sweet taste of last year’s sunlight.

Mark reminded me at breakfast that heat lags light by a month or so. We have enough light now to grow things, but not enough heat. In October, we will have enough heat, but will lack sufficient light. So don’t despair at winter’s bitter grip. The light will loosen it, inevitably, over time. And already, thanks to the greenhouse and a few tanks of propane (which is sunlight captured over millennia, concentrated and stored underground) we are able to take advantage of the light. The greenhouse onions are up and their green tips, full of chlorophyll, are already converting sunlight to life. Mark took a farm walk this week with the veggie team, Kirsten, Taylor and Joseph. They report the strawberries made it through the winter, hurrah. The stinging nettles, hardy things, are beginning to green just slightly. The ground is still frozen hard but Kirsten is itching to prune the raspberries, as soon as the snowdrifts melt. The team built 200 new flats to hold more seedlings this week, with thanks to Don Hollingsworth for his shop, his help and his expertise.

The fleeces we sheared from the 31 ewes last week look really good. The staple is about 4” long and strong. I’m going to experiment with some value-added projects, like wool-stuffed bed pillows, then take the rest to Vermont to be made into yarn and batting for sale in the farm store. The ewes in the east barn are enormous and they are bagging up now, signaling that lambing is at hand.

I got a new phone and have finally figured out how to transfer pictures from it to my old computer, so I’ll post a few from this week and last week below. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this gotcha, sun! 12th week of 2015.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Last day in this year’s fleece.

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Family project: making grain feeders for sheep out of some scrap pieces of PVC and 2X4’s. Yes, our children use power tools.

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The feeders, ready to go.

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A pen of sheep — plus Mike — all ready for shearing. We couldn’t pin Mike so he is still in full fleece.

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Roger shearing.

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Wool!

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Sheared. I painted letters on the ewes who lost their ear tags over the course of the year. When they are in the lambing pens, I am going to tattoo them. No more lost identities!

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The buckets are hung, but…

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…the taps were mostly frozen this week.

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We collected enough to fire up the evaporator.

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Onions up in the greenhouse, snuggled under covers.

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Mark has started trimming hooves to get the draft horses ready for spring work. Here he is warming up on Abby Belle the pony.

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