Excellent, considering

Essex Farm Note

Week 28, 2013

Blue skies and sweet, cool air today. That’s more like it! The forecast for the coming week is hot and sunny. Suddenly, it’s haymaking weather. Mark and I just took a spin around the farm, to see if the ground is dry enough to hold up mowers, balers, tractors. Some fields still contain standing water but the upper section of the hundred acres on Middle Road looks promising. Note that I said hold up tractors. In the past, we’ve done our mowing with the horses, but given what this year has dealt us so far, we can’t afford the risk that more hay will be ruined by rain. We need to make lots of hay while this sun shines. So we’ve borrowed a mower and a round baler (thank you, Heather!), which will allow us to make large bales quickly. We’re also borrowing a bale wrapper (and thank you, Tom!), which will allow us to make haylage if we need to. What is the difference between hay and haylage, you ask? Hay is grass that is preserved by drying. Haylage is grass that is preserved by fermenting. It is, essentially, pickled grass. The forage is cut and left to wilt and dry slightly, and then it is baled and wrapped in plastic. In that anaerobic cocoon, the damp grass produces lactic acid, which lowers the pH of the bale, which prevents rot. The advantage to haylege is that because it is baled at high moisture levels, you don’t need the long and totally uncontrollable window of dry weather that you need for hay. The finished product is also palatable to the animals, and has a higher protein content than dry hay. This is because it captures more of the nutritious leaf, which is fragile when it is dry, and tends to shatter and get lost. The disadvantages to haylage are that it costs more to make, and it uses a lot of plastic. Also, the bales have to be moved with heavy equipment, and very carefully, because if the plastic wrapping gets torn, it must be patched, or the haylage will go bad. And finally, we’ve never done it ourselves before, so there is that old learning curve to climb. This farm offers plenty of curve, even ten years in. Steep, it is, but never dull.

Now a quick state-of-the-farm report. The fifty drained acres rate a solid fair. Or maybe, excellent, considering. Drainage kept the plants alive but they are stressed. All the blights and rots just love a year like this. And plants that are weak are more vulnerable to insect damage. We’re using organic sprays to mitigate those things. Jenny sprayed the potatoes for Colorado potato beetle yesterday, and is spraying the tomatoes with copper today, because the first reports of late blight have begun rolling in. It was confirmed in Buffalo and in Madison County this week. Late blight, you’ll remember, is the bad one that can zero tomato plants in a matter of days. Hopefully the copper and this bright stretch of weather will hold it at bay.

Tomorrow is our big summer tour. We are so excited. Meet in the barnyard at 10. It is free for members, with a suggested donation of $25 for non-members. Bring something to share for a potluck lunch, and your own place setting. No dogs, please! More details on the events page. Finally, I just got news of a guided mushroom foray happening in on the Black Kettle nature trail loop on August 14th. When life gives you rain, eat mushrooms! Preregistration required at www.themushroomforager.com/events. And that is the news for this hopeful 28th week of 2013.                                                    -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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