Essex Farm Note, week 26

Essex Farm Note

Week 26, 2012

It is solstice time now, with long days and strong sun. Last week, the forecast promised exactly what we were hoping for: a three-day window of no rain in which to get a huge load of hay mowed, tedded, raked, and baled. Courtney, Asa, and Chad each took a team of horses and a sickle bar mower up the road to the 150-acre field and mowed and mowed through the sticky heat until there were 2,000 bales worth of grass on the ground. That much hay will feed our animals for a whole winter month, and has a street value, in our neighborhood, of about $8,000 — provided it doesn’t get wet before it gets to the barn, which renders it more or less worthless. Of course, placing such a big bet attracted the attention of the puckish god of agriculture, who, last Friday, crooked his finger at the baler, and broke it. Severely. While Chad and Liam began loosening bolts, Mark drove to Champlain for parts, and I nervously hit refresh on the NOAA weather website. Saturday looked iffy, with a chance of thunderstorms that climbed from 20% to 40%. Two good things happened after that. Our neighbor, Fred Holland, appeared in the field with his baler, and got a thousand bales in for us, out of the goodness of his heart. It was humid and nearly a hundred degrees, and he baled until one of his tire popped. On Saturday, with our baler back in service, most of our crew came in to help, and we went to the field as soon as the dew was dry. Around noon the clouds gathered ominously around the Boquet hills, and a cooling breeze carried the smell of rain. The radar showed a band of thunderstorms headed directly for us, and the radio warned of downpours and hail. But then that same puckish god must have taken pity on us, because just before the storm hit us, the clouds parted. It rained to our north and to our south, but not on our hay. By the end of the weekend, all the bales were stacked neatly in the barn. As soon as they were in, we found ourselves wishing fervently for rain, not so much because the fields needed it but because the farmers did. Everyone looked hung over from all the heat and hay dust. And so it rained, right on cue. We got about half an inch over two or three days. The farmers got a little rest, and the fields got enough moisture to ease the transition to outdoor life for the final round of transplants, which went in this week. Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make the hay while the sun was shining. Looks like more of the same will happen this weekend.

The short news now, before I head out to cultivate. Peter and Carrie of the Old Brick Store in Charlotte brought their mobile wood-fired pizza oven across the lake to us yesterday. Mark is firing it up as I type and Carrie is coming back later today to show us how to use it. We are doing a test run today, and will have more news on it next week. Today is Asa’s last day. We send him off with thanks for a year a half of good work, and with best wishes for the next phase of his life. He and Courtney bought a farm in Keeseville, and we know it’s going to be a huge success. Lindsay is taking on Asa’s duties as head of the vegetable department. She got some reinforcements this week, as Annelies and Jake have joined on for the summer. I am in the corn field with Jay and Jack today so there will be no 4pm walk, but will plan on an activity next week, if the field work isn’t too pressing – maybe hitching horses? I had fun doing the cooking demo last week. Several members joined me in the office kitchen to learn how to butterfly a chicken, and cut one into parts. If anyone has ideas for other cooking techniques you’d like to learn together, let me know. We have Lacinato kale in the share this week. Strawberries are starting to go by but you are welcome to glean any you can now. We have plenty of chard for members who want a bushel or more for the freezer. Tell Amy or Jenny so we can harvest it for you. There are delicious Sugar Ann snap peas in the share today, with lots more coming next week. I was arrested by the summery smell of basil as Lindsay prepared two bushels of it for the share. Cilantro and dill are getting close, and we’re looking forward to raspberries, tomatoes and sweet corn. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this good and busy 26th week of 2012.  -Kristin & Mark Kimball


Here’s a look inside our new mobile coop for the laying hens. Form definitely followed function on this project, in a good way. Here’s to Mark and the Brothers Weidenbach (I call them the Bacchae) for coming up with a great design under strict parameters. The farm is on an austerity budget right now, so they had to make use of materials we already had on the farm. They also had to make it big enough for 200 chickens, and light enough to move easily. Using available lumber, running gear, chicken wire, nest boxes, and a billboard tarp that features an advertisement for some suburban shopping mall, they came up with this:

  The hens spend most of their time outside, in electronet, and come into the coop only to lay and to roost. I like how airy and cool it stays, thanks to the wire floor and the light-colored billboard tarp. The best feature (besides the natty billboard) is outside access to the nest boxes, which means we no longer have to worry about getting pooped upon by a roosting hen while collecting eggs. Less suspense this way, but faster, cleaner, and much nicer.

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