Drainage

Essex Farm Note

Week 36, 2015

Last week, I promised to update you on the new tile drainage. Drainage, on our farm, is the single biggest improvement we can make. Two sections of the home 500 acres have some of the best soil in the region – rich sandy loam, almost entirely free of rocks – but production on those fields was hampered by the impenetrable clay underneath, and the fact that they are close to perfectly level. Water tended to sit there on wet or even average years, and especially during the crucial spring planting season. There is nothing that plants dislike more than wet feet.

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Drainage tile delivered and ready to go in the ground. But first, it’s playground equipment.

Over the last few years we drained one of those sections, the 50 acres that run east of the driveway. This year, those acre kept us fed. The spring was so wet, we could not plant anywhere else. We had enough room for our vegetables, the perennials, a few strips of pasture, and some field corn, but not nearly enough for the year’s worth of grain, and we had little flexibility for the fallowing, rotations, and cover cropping needed to build soil, mitigate pest and disease pressure, and reduce the weed seed bank. So, this summer we decided it was time to drain the other section , 40 more acres, give or take, south of Blockhouse Road.

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Watching heavy equipment do its mighty work inspires a feeling in me that is part awe, part grief. If you have ever dug a hole by hand or plowed a field with a horse you cannot help but feel awe at the power of steel and diesel. The sadness comes, I think, from that dissonance between the hard angles of machines, and the soft contours of soil and grass, the roar of the engines over the noises that usually reign there, the swish of air through the trees and the calls of birds. In order to drain it the hard machines come into this soft place and tear it all up. First the ditches, then the trees in the hedgerow and along the edges, and then the structure of the soil, all changed at a pace that in nature would signal disaster. Like slaughter, it must be done for the good of the whole, but I feel better once it’s over. The field is remade now, into a new shape. The soil is smooth again and ready for seed. I can’t wait to see what we can grow there next year.

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This is the machine that digs the trench and lays the tile in the ground.

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This is the feller/buncher, to take down trees.

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One of the test holes offers a lesson in soil structure.

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Playing with the clay at the bottom of the ditch.

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The ditch is clear now and running.

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We just put your college fund into the ground. Hope you like farming, kids!

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This is going to be vegetables next year. Not a bad view, either.

The haymaking team brought in 150 round bales of second cut this week. That’s a huge relief. The vegetable team brought in the first round of storage beets, and huge load of Chinese cabbage, which Jori and her crew have transformed into kim chi at the Grange. Our hens are still not laying well, so we bought in some certified organic eggs from the Latremore farm. Tomato season is winding down, especially for the slicing tomatoes. Broccoli is ramping up, and we’ve never had this much eggplant before, nor so many beautiful peppers. Peppers can be frozen without blanching so be sure to get some in the freezer. I core and cut them first.

For the calendar: The Grange is celebrating its centennial birthday with a grand party on Sunday, September 13th, from 1-5pm. See details at www.thegrangehall.info. On Friday, September 11th, we are hosting Patagonia’s Worn Wear team from 3-7 at the farm. Bring your broken zippers, your rips and tears, and they will fix them for free, first come first served. The event is free and open to the public. Ride your bike to the farm that day for a chance to win new Patagonia denim. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this dry! 36th week of 2015.  –Kristin & Mark Kimball

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