Hard Cold Happy

The solar panels are aimed to catch the flat winter light.

Essex Farm Note

Week 51, 2016

The cold came, making tarmac out of fields that were mud only a week ago. Yesterday, Derek and Mark Wrisley drove their combine across Newfield, eating 10-foot swaths of corn and leaving stubble in their wake. By the end of the day they’d put 80 tons of shell corn in our bin. It’s the most we’ve ever grown, enough corn to feed all of us – humans and animals – for the next year. At about $500 per ton for organic corn, it was a $40,000 harvest, and it makes the monthly payment on the drainage we put into that field a more cheerful check to write. Our yields in Newfield should improve as we continue to use cover crops and compost to build fertility and organic matter on its silt soil.

The below-zero temperatures today have called halt to greenhouse production for the year. Kirsten harvested the rest of the lettuce, chard, and spinach yesterday. The tomato vines, no longer producing, died a natural death almost as soon as she turned off their propane life-support system. The new greenhouse gave us an extra six weeks of greens production this fall, and should bring greens to us several weeks earlier than usual next spring. We will also have frozen spinach available this winter, thanks to a good harvest and the crew at the Hub on the Hill.

I bit into a poor-tasting carrot last night, which reminded me to remind you all to store your refrigerated carrots in air-tight ziplock bags – a detail we overlooked at our house this week. The crisper isn’t good enough. Carrots go from sweet and delicious to orange-colored cardboard when they are stored with brassicas (like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, or kohlrabi) or with fruits. On the farm, after harvest, we keep them in their own separate refrigerated trailer, and distribute them each week from a cooler without other vegetables in it. Once they are in your home refrigerator, you have to remain vigilant about segregating them. Just a day or two with incompatible neighbors will ruin their taste.

The sheep moved from the field to the barn at Bonebender this week. The rams have been with the ewes for two cycles. One more and we will pull them. Ben had another double-base AI hit, with two more cows testing positive for pregnancy. The piglets in the covered barnyard are snugged together in pods under a thick blanket of straw, invisible and inaudible until one of the sows steps on them. We are waiting for another litter of piglets, and also another dairy calf, and hoping they come in a few days, when it’s not so very cold. So far, the chill has been a clean hard benevolent presence. No frostbite, no frozen waterlines, no broken drainpipes. I’m grateful for our good wood stove, and for warm layers, which allow us to work and play in the cold instead of hiding from it. The girls have been outside, skating, from the minute they get home from school until I call them in for dinner. When the wind rose on Wednesday evening, Mark built a bonfire at the edge of the pond. My favorite moment of the week was playing hockey with them, after dark, in a mix of fire- and full moon light.

This is Taylor LaFleur’s last week with us. Thanks, Taylor, for your good work, good company and fabulous cooking – we will miss all three! And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this hard cold happy week of 2016.

Snow, rye, and wind erosion.

Horses and ponies in their thick winter fur

The tip of the piglet pile


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