Essex Farm Note, week 31

This is our ninth season and whenever I am feeling a little smug about our progress, the farm finds a way to humble me. We went out for dinner on Wednesday, and got home past our usual bedtime, looking forward to sleep. But as we pulled into the driveway, two lambs greeted us, outside the electric net. I had left the sheep in their paddock an extra day, to try to get them to eat some unpalatable weeds. These two must have been nosing under the net for better stuff, found the charge on the fence low, and popped out. We grabbed headlamps and as Mark opened a gap in the fence, I tried to herd them toward it from behind. They spooked, and squirted out around me like two wooly balls of mercury. In the old days, I would have persisted in trying to push them against their will, but nine years in, I know better, and decided to attract them instead of repelling them. I got inside the fence, and called the rest of the flock to me, walking toward the opposite side of the pasture. I hoped the babies would find the gap and be sucked through it by the magical power of the flocking instinct. Somewhat to my surprise, it worked on the first shot. With everyone contained, Mark and I began to move the perimeter of the fence out a few yards, to give them enough grass to get through the night. Sleep was mere minutes away. “Aren’t you glad we have gotten so good at moving stock?” I said to Mark. Just then, Number One, an old battle-ax of a ewe, saw the smidgen of succulent grass we’d exposed, and with a great deep BAAAA!, charged the fence. She overshot, got tangled in the net, thrashed, and flattened it. The rest of the flock leaped over the downed fence in waves. We watched their little white tails disappear into the dark, along with the promise of sleep. The night was not about our stock handling skills after all, but it strongly reinforced another Farming 101 fundamental: keep your electric fences hot, and don’t expect them to hold in hungry animals.

Our massive planting of tomatoes got pruned, re-trellised, and harvested this week. Aren’t they delicious this year? My favorite slicer is the pink one. It is time to gear up your tomato factories, people. I’ve been putting up small loads of Juliet whenever I have a spare 15 minutes. It adds up, and you will be so happy to have them come winter. Please note that late blight is around again this year, so we have sprayed the tomatoes with copper sulfate, the organic method for preventing it. Organic does not mean harmless. Wash your tomatoes before eating them.

Now for the newsy news. Monthly payments are due today. Please help us stay ahead of the cash flow tide by making your payments on time. We are hosting a Celebrate Summer Farm Tour and crop mob next Saturday, August 11th. This is open to the public for a suggested donation of $25 adults; $10 full time farmers/students; $5 children. It is free for members. The tour will leave the barnyard at 10am. At noon, we’ll gather at the pizza oven for flatbreads. After lunch, we’ll lead a high energy weeding party, most likely in the potato field. The lambsquarters in there are humungous, and extremely satisfying to kill. Bring your own place setting, appropriate clothes and sun protection, and a fierce weed-annihilating ‘tude. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this tomato-tastic 31st week of 2012.

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