Three cheers for second cut hay

Essex Farm Note

Week 33, 2014


August is a transition month, when the focus shifts from growing to harvest. We worry less about weeds now – the frost will take care of them before they go to seed – and more about getting crops in ahead of the inevitable blights and funguses that take hold as the days get shorter and the nights grow cool. We had a window of warm clear weather this week, with a heavy rain and a stretch of cool wet days predicted at the end of it. The whole crew worked long hours to bring in onions, wheat, and the precious second cut of hay.

Second cut hay – taken from the fields that have already been cut once – is the good stuff, with more leaf and less stem, more protein. It carries our grass-fed dairy cows through the winter. There is an inverse relationship between quality and quantity, and we have to strike a balance when deciding when to cut. Do we want more hay or better hay? In our climate, we usually don’t get to choose. We make hay while the sun is shining or not at all. With a four day window, we made sixty acres of the hundred acre field on Middle Road, which is about two miles from the home farm. We put two tractors and six horses to it – the tractors for mowing and baling, the horses for tedding and raking. It would have taken too long to walk the horses to and from the field at the beginning and end of the day, so we set up a temporary pasture at Dillon and Kelly’s house, across from the hay field. I think the horses liked camping out. It was good to see diesel working in conjunction with draft horse power – and three beginning teamsters doing important work. It was, as always, a nail biter in the end, with all eyes on the weather radar. We made 116 round bales; the last few came in a little sooner and wetter than we would have liked, ideally, but nature rarely lets us get exactly what we want.

As the hay crew was racing through hay harvest, the vegetable crew was pulling in the year’s onion harvest. The onions were suffering, in some sections, from a blight that would make them more difficult to store. We wanted to get them in before the rain came and made it worse. It was a huge project for a small crew, and seemed almost impossible at mid-day. But in the afternoon we got a few pairs of fresh hands, and they were all safely in the loft of the east barn by dark.

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Meanwhile, the wheat in the field was at 17% moisture – too wet to harvest, technically, but with rain coming and the weeds growing up to meet the heads, we had to. Jeff Benway came over with his combine. When all but a quarter acre was harvested, the combine blew a hydraulic line. It was another nail biter, but they got it fixed and all three tons of wheat in the grain bin a day before the rain, which gave us enough time, with the blower on, to lower the moisture from 17% to a safe 10%. Whew. Everyone worked so hard, but it wouldn’t have come together without Corey Lincoln, who practically lived in the machine shop. Things only break when you are using them – which is when you need them– and as things broke, Corey fixed them. Thanks, Corey. We’re so glad you’re here.


And that is the news from Essex Farm for this busy 33rd week of 2014. Don’t forget the picnic today and the tour here tomorrow, plus the County Fair in Westport this weekend. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.                                                             –Kristin & Mark Kimball


Every day ends with a walk around the farm, to make note of what needs to be done the next day. This week we celebrated the hay harvest. The garlic is hanging to dry in the foreground.


Good night, barn.


Good night, store.


Good night, fields.



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