First Plants Hit Dirt

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Essex Farm Note

Week 17, 2015

The first transplants are out of the greenhouse and in the ground now. Lettuce, chard, onions, scallions, shallots. Those rows look like someone waved a Technicolor wand over a sepia-toned world. BrownbrownbrownbrownbrownbrownGREEN.  We are trying something new this year: planting directly into a furrow cut into last year’s cover crop of oats, peas and radish. It certainly saves time in plowing and harrowing, and the theory is that the less we disturb the soil, the fewer weed seeds we’ll bring up from below. If it goes bad, it could go really bad, since the residue from the cover crop will make weeding more difficult. For now, everything looks great. I was nervous about the plants going into such cold soil, because they were not quite hardened off from their cushy beginnings in the greenhouse. We had to push them, knowing we were facing a stretch of rain. I’m happy to report they look absolutely content. They have not grown much, because of the low temperatures this week, but they seem glad enough to sit there until the weather warms up, and then they should take off very quickly. Thanks to the crew from Middlebury College who helped with planting on Saturday, and to our own crew, who finished in the rain on Monday. Next stretch of dry weather we will get peas in the ground. We should see our first home-grown greens – stinging nettles – in the share in about two weeks. Credit goes to Beth Spaugh at Rehoboth Homestead for the greenhouse spinach in today’s share. Hooray for fresh greens!

Lambing has slowed down a little. We have 43 lambs now, with only five ewes left to lamb. Lamb #43 was a large single born to a small, flighty first-time ewe. I found the mama straining and looking defeated, with two feet and a head partway out, the lamb’s tongue and nose swollen from the tight squeeze. Next time she strained, I gave a gentle pull on the lamb’s forefeet, and out he came with a wet whoosh. The ewe was worn out by then, and wanted nothing to do with mothering. I gave the lamb a slug of colostrum via a stomach tube, toweled him off, and left them alone together for the night in a small pen. When I checked on them at dawn, she had emphatically changed her mind. She stomped her foot to warn the dog away and nudged her precious baby toward the teat. That’s what makes midnight barn checks worth the lost sleep. We still have one bottle lamb. The girls have named her Jessica. At least Mary is happy to have a baby to lick, now that Pancake is all grown up.

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Next door in the West Barn, two more sows farrowed with litters of 10 each. We are spending a lot of energy and effort to keep the farrowing area warm, but it seems to be paying off in terms of piglet survival. Four of the litters have had no losses, two have lost only one piglet each and only one – a sow who surprised us with a litter of 12 before we’d moved her to a pen with a warming mat – lost more than one piglet. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this snowflakes-and-peepers 17th week of 2015.

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-Kristin & Mark Kimball

PS I posted the Saturday Tour dates for 2015 on the events page. Hope to see some of you at the farm this year.

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