Essex Farm Note
Week 23, 2014
The sweet corn is at the stage I call beak-ready. Birds love to use the sweet tender greens to pull up the remnants of the succulent buried corn kernel. We have scare balloons and flashy CDs hung in the field, as well as some faux-snakes made of lengths of rubber hose. Every morning, at team meeting, Mark asks the vegetable crew if they have remembered to move their snakes. The first time I heard him say that I hadn’t had my coffee yet and I thought there was some new reptilian enterprise happening on the farm that nobody had been brave enough to tell me about. But in truth the rubber faux-snakes must be moved around because to a bird, acclimation is everything. As of this morning, the smartest birds (I’m looking at you, crows) are starting to notice that these are suspiciously sessile snakes, so it’s time to put on the row cover, which will keep the seedlings safe until they are no longer so tempting. Scott and Josh cultivated the sweet corn rows this week with the horses. Not only did they kill millions of weeds, but they did not kill many corn plants, which is not easy when the horse hoofs are so big and the plants are so small.
Speaking of birds, we have had several late (for us) nights of chicken tag this week. An owl discovered that many of our pullets were roosting outside of their coop, and was taking one bird each night. How do we know it was an owl? Because it was inside the hot electric net, so it was most likely a flying predator, and it was happening at night, so it had to be nocturnal. Also, the carcasses bore the classic mark of an owl kill: no head. Owls love to eat heads and necks for some reason, and often leave the rest of the carcass. Once an owl has an established hunting pattern it is not likely to change, so we now have to make sure all the pullets roost in the coop, which takes some patient training at dusk. Thanks Matt, Mike, and Aubrey for coming in late this week. Mary the pup was definitely a net gain on this job, too. By the third night, she understood the task, helped herd strays toward the door, and enthusiastically flushed birds from under the coop, which saved us some time crawling around on our bellies in poop. It’s so perfect when a gross chore for us humans is exactly what a dog loves most in the world.
We had weather custom-ordered for transplanting this week, with some gentle rains between warm sunny days. We transplant by hand, so after the rows were prepared and a furrow was dug with the horses, Scott walked down each furrow with a dibble wheel to mark the plant spacing. Then one person walked backwards down the row, carrying a greenhouse flat full of plants, which got progressively lighter as another person pulled plants off and threw them down to the dibble mark. A third person crawled along on knees, to scoop a little soil out of the dibble hole, press the roots into it, and pile the soil up the plant stem to the proper depth. Sweet peppers, hot peppers, eggplants went in on Wednesday. The tomatoes went in on Monday, 2500 plants, and everyone helped, even the little kids.
Another great week for asparagus here. Green onions are booming. Strawberries are about a week away. We’re skipping rhubarb harvest this week, to let the stems gain some heft, but we have lovely lettuce, both in the share and in the farm store. Centerfold-worthy butterheads, my favorite.
-Kristin & Mark Kimball