Essex Farm Note, Week 27

Draft horses are stoic beasts. They can work through heat, dust, discomfort and fatigue. But, like Gulliver, they are tormented beyond their limits by hordes of little things. The face flies that mass around their eyes and nose, the green-headed flies that bite the belly, neck and chest, and the dreaded big black ones that like to attack the legs are all exceptionally bad this year. Yesterday, I walked Jay and Jack up the sugarbush hill to cultivate corn. The previous night’s rain must have hatched out a new crop of bloodthirsty bugs; each step in the tall grass seemed to draw more of them to us, until the horses were moving in a living, buzzing cloud, and shook their heads in misery. In the past, we’ve gotten through these bad summer weeks using a combination of the old-fashioned string fly nets with masks that make the horses look like extras in Lawrence of Arabia, plus the liberal use of a repellant I make from a blend of essential oils (and use on us as well as the horses). This year, the flies are overwhelming both of those defenses. We’ve just gotten a delivery of conventional pyrethrin-based spray, and hope it will make them a lot more comfortable.

More gross entomological news this week. Have you heard about the armyworms? The mild winter, plus a late hatch for the parasitic wasps that usually keep them in check, equals a banner year for these caterpillars that travel in great writhing waves, and can devastate a field overnight. They are voracious eaters, and will devour row crops, grain plants, grasses – even lawns. We saw the damage first hand up on Middle Road. They were camped in the hay field next to the one we were haying, and had eaten every blade of timothy to the ground. The equipment parked in that field was covered with squishy black casualties. I shudder to think what they would do in our hard-won corn, or in the vegetables.

The good news is that for now, all is well, and isn’t that all we can ask for? We got a little over half an inch of welcome rain this week. The plants are so busy, stretching down for nutrients, up for sunlight. We put up a big load of hay last weekend, thanks to a long days that ran into the night. We have over 7,000 bales stored now. Liam has been top dressing the corn in Chad Field with compost, because it’s hurting for nutrients. Other fields of corn are looking pretty good, though, and the oats looks great, as does the rye, which is close to harvest. Vegetables are booming. Raspberries in the share this week, hooray. I’m starting to stock the freezer for winter. So far, I have asparagus, strawberries, kale, and scape pesto. If you are looking to do the same, check with Amy or Jenny at distro for items in abundance. In community news, there are two cooking classes coming up at the Grange: small fruits with Joann Gardner on July 14th, and Totally Tomatoes with Kevin McCarthy on July 25th. See www.thegrangehall.org. Essex Theater Company’s Godspell opens tonight at the Masonic Lodge, and runs through next week. Our own Natalie Kawecki appears as Peggy. Love and thanks to Carrie and Pete of the Old Brick Store for providing not only their pizza oven but ingredients, time and expertise. I am out of town so no 4pm tour today, but we will try for next week. That’s the news from Essex Farm for this crawly 27th week of 2012.

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