Equinox Frost

Essex Farm Note

Week 39, 2014


Mark with Big Doris

First frost last night! The forecast inspired the annual rush yesterday to harvest the tender plants — basil, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, plus many tons of butternut, delicata and acorn squash, because squash holds better if it has not been chilled. The jack-o-lantern pumpkins are still in the field, and they look like large orange beacons glowing through the dying foliage. Members, you are welcome to choose and take yours today. They have been clipped from their vines and are ready to go. This variety, Big Doris, is wonderful for carving, and pretty good for eating.

The first dairy heifer of the year was born yesterday. It’s good to have new life on the farm, as we begin the long slope into the dark. Aubrey found her yesterday morning, which gives her the naming rights. She is Flo’s first daughter, so it has to be an F name. Aubrey told me this morning that she is going to be called Fry. That must be as in French, because it is definitely not as in Small. This year’s dairy calves were sired by a shorthorn/jersey cross bull, and he has definitely added some size to his offspring. Fry is a big, beautiful, vigorous gal. Members are welcome to visit her in the West Barn, but please don’t go inside her stall. And there is new life this week in the pig pen too. It is a sweet litter of 10, which is a very respectable number for a first time mama sow. They’ve joined a litter of 5 that was born a couple weeks ago.

First frost always gives me the urge to sum up the growing season, so here goes. First, plants. After enduring four years of wretched weather, we were gifted a season that was nearly perfect. Thanks to that, and to a dedicated crew, the biggest problem the vegetables threw at us this year was the extra labor of harvest, because they gave so mightily. We kept much of our best ground fallow this year and cultivated it repeatedly, to reduce the weed pressure. It is planted to cover crop now. Next year, we plan to make good use of it, for vegetables and grains.


Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes.

In the animal world, there was enough rain to make grass, but not enough to make mud. You can’t ask for better than that. Also, temperatures were generally comfortable, and we had enough dry stretches to make good hay, using tractors and horses. Both the broiler and laying chicken flocks thrived, rotating daily (broilers) or weekly (layers). We were a little shy on eggs until mid-summer, but have been rolling in them since. In the dairy, it was a year of almost too much abundance. In response, we culled twenty percent of the herd, to eliminate our problem cows and improve herd health and efficiency. Culling is emotionally difficult, but it was the right thing for the farm as a whole. We had help from dairy expert and member Peter Kindle, who redesigned some of our milkhouse systems. On the down side, we had trouble getting sows bred, and a tough calving season for the beef herd, due to fly strike. Good lessons there for next year. Many members have asked when we will have lamb in the share. We will keep grazing until the grass is gone, but will have some lamb and lamb sausages in the share later this year.

And that is the news from Essex Farm for this equinox frosty 39th week of 2014. I leave today for a writing residency, and will be back Oct. 17th. Until then, enjoy the bounty! You can find Mark where he always is: on the farm, any day but Sunday. -Kristin & Mark Kimball


Sunset over the squash patch.


Zinnias and eggplants enjoying the last days of warm sun.


Escarole, who doesn’t mind a little cold.


Fall cover crops coming along. This field is planted to a mix of oats, peas, and tillage radish.


We love you, delicata.


Pumpkin cairn.

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