And So It Begins

Essex Farm Note

Week 11, 2013

The first seeds went into soil this week. We have onions and shallots in the germination chamber, and leeks in the greenhouse. So begins the cycle of seasons. We use soil blocks to start our seeds. They are made out of potting mix with a tool that presses the soil into little 1 1/2” cubes, and then spits out the cubes as a block of 20, into a flat, which can hold 160 cubes. The advantage of the soil blocker is that there are no pots to buy or store or dispose of, and when done correctly, the soil blocker leaves a little space between each cube, so the plants air prune themselves, keeping their roots to their own cube, which leads to less shock when they are transplanted to the field. But soil blocking is an art. The potting soil must be neither too dry nor too wet, and the blocker must be slammed down just right so that the soil packs the block completely, then pressed out carefully so the blocks are uniform and the cubes are separate and whole. The soil blocker was popularlized by Eliot Coleman, and Matt and Aubrey have both worked at his farm, so they are accomplished soil block artists. The seeds go into a divot on top of each cube, and are covered over with a little more sifted potting soil, and then watered in. Jane seeded a whole flat of shallots by herself this year – a fine job for little fingers.

Marco came by on Tuesday to help us work the beef herd. Gwen and Cory set up the corral panels and the head gate in the covered barnyard. We sent the young stock through first so they wouldn’t get crushed in the chute by bigger animals, and in separating them from their mamas, things got a little wild. Cory got kicked hard in the thigh, which put him out of service for the day. He sat on a bucket and manned the clipboard while Gwen worked the head gate. Marco preg checked the cows (mostly pregnant to the angus bull, hooray) and castrated any young stock that we missed last time. We made notes on each animal’s condition, and decided which animals to keep and which to cull. A few of the yearlings were inexplicably thin, so we sent their fecal samples out for testing. One steer and several heifers and cows had horning injuries. I am thoroughly sick of horns! If we continue to breed to polled bulls, the herd will eventually be polled, but I’m ready to consider removing horns from the adult brood cows as well. The horns are not an issue on pasture, and pasture is a mere six weeks off, so this is a decision that can be put off until fall. We will work the whole herd again in a month, to recheck for pregnancy, and vaccinate for rabies, blackleg, and pinkeye.

We have a new Essex Farm sign. I think it’s the classiest thing on the farm. Don Hollingsworth made it for us, with his characteristic care and craftsmanship. It makes me smile when I pull into the driveway. Thanks, Don! Mark’s got another month without weight on his broken leg. Enforced rest gets harder as the days grow longer. Gwen and Stephen moved all three pig families out of the barn to the run-in this week. Kelsie, Amy and Barbara got to watch Bun the Jersey heifer calve this week —  a bull calf. Bun’s friend Stevie is due any second. Travis put his jackhammer skills to use, tearing out concrete to fix the barn cleaner.  Jenny returns next week, hooray. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this hustling 11th week of 2013.     -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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