Night and Day

Essex Farm Note

Week 17, 2017

In a list of the world’s totally opposite things, we have night and day, summer and winter, north and south, and also, English Shepherds and Great Pyrenees. I’ve grown used to living with English Shepherds, with their constant attunement to us humans and our wishes. As working partners, they are highly trainable. You could probably teach an English Shepherd how to open a bottle of wine if you had enough time – heck, you could probably train one to be a decent sommelier. Great Pyrenees, though, are very different creatures. They are bred to live in the field with the stock, be independent of people, and rely on their own instinctive judgment. This makes them good guards, but terrible at obedience. They aren’t unintelligent. They just don’t care to obey. With our three, even simple things like come, or stay, are at best taken as suggestions. Yesterday, I was tagging lambs with Mae at Bonebender when two sheep popped out of the cold fence. Mary (the English Shepherd) was waiting in my car with the windows halfway down. Mozzie (the Great Pyrenees) was in the pasture with the flock. Mae was out of earshot but the escaped sheep were so close by, I thought I could get the gate open and the sheep back in on my own before the rest of the flock even noticed. And, truly, I almost had them. But as I opened the gate, instead of the sheep going in, Mozzie ran out. And then he took off toward the road like a train: full power, no hesitation. He didn’t even glance back at me when I called, so I ran after him as fast as I could, hoping there was no traffic coming down the road, because he has no sense for cars or what they can do to a dog, even one as formidable as Mozzie. From the start, it was a race I was going to lose, and I braced for what might happen next. Just then, I saw a little black and white streak barreling toward us down the driveway. Mary had been watching the drama unfold, saw I needed help, and squeezed herself through the half-open car window. She didn’t herd him, exactly, because you can’t herd a Great Pyrenees, but she got to his head and interrupted the trajectory of his thoughts about travel just long enough for me to catch up, and get hold of his collar. Then she escorted us both back to the fence, gloating only slightly.

            Lambing has slowed down. Whew! We have 20 more ewes to go, but the main focus has already turned away from lambing, and toward getting animals from winter quarters onto pasture, and more plants in the ground. The dairy cows got their first fresh grass yesterday; you might taste it in the milk. Today, there are stinging nettles in the share, as well as overwintered scallions, and (maybe) some nice arugula from the greenhouse. Steady, abundant greens are almost within reach! The asparagus is pushing its tips above the ground now, and we are about two weeks from fresh chickens. The best improvement of the week has been the addition of 10 new rollaway nest boxes for the hens. They are angled and constructed so that the freshly laid eggs roll gently into a collection area, away from the hens, which keeps them clean, prevents cracks, and makes them easy to gather. That, along with a new automated egg washing station, has made this daily chore a lot easier and more efficient. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this summer-like 17th week of 2017. Find us at essexfarm@gmail.com, 518-963-4613, on Instagram daily at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday. –K&M

Peepers

Essex Farm Note

Week 15, 2017

Peepers sang from the pond this week, signaling the start of the great annual game. Suddenly, the grass is coming, bright green life rising up out of cold dead brown. Even though the last patches of snow were holding out in the shadows, the fields were dry enough for work. Work we did! We pulled the straw from the strawberries and the sweet and green onions, and noted how beautifully the garlic next to them has germinated. We spread organic fertilizer with the spin spreader, and scratched it in with the pulvermulcher. We killed some overwintering weeds: shepherds purse, field pennycress, and peppercress, in preparation for planting onions, potatoes, and cover crops. The soil is still cold – 45 degrees – but nonetheless we are hoping to seed spinach, peas, lettuce, carrots and beets this coming week. The greenhouse is already planted to spinach, pok choi, and swiss chard. The overwintered parsnips are coming out of the ground today, and they should be sweet as Easter candy. Still, there is just enough cold at night to keep the sap running. Mark thinks we will get a run today. The maples will be budding in the next few days, which puts a hard stop to the maple season, but we might just eek out a few more gallons of very dark syrup. All this busy-ness was a full team effort from a small team that has been running at half power, due to a spring respiratory virus that ran straight through all of us. The sun has knocked it clear of us now.

            I’m heading out of town with the girls today, to pick up our seed potatoes in Central New York and sneak in a quick visit with family. This leaves Mark in charge of the flock, just as the first lambs are due to hit the ground. But everything is ready, and the ewes look good, and I do think he can handle it. We had a small setback in the sheep barn this week. Someone left the water on, and it overflowed, and flooded parts of the lambing area with a good five inches of water. All the deep bedding was saturated. This meant we had to decide quickly if we should move the flock to a different barn for lambing, lamb on pasture, or try to get it cleaned up before the quickly looming deadline. We settled on the last option, and Ben, Morgan, Jon, Mae, and Brandon spent several hours working hard with the skid steer and hand tools on Monday and Tuesday, hauling out the wet bedding, piling it for composting, and replacing it with dry. Everything looks cozy now, and as a bonus, we used the special circumstances to set up the first pasture, so sheep and guard dogs have more space to spread out as labors commence.

            We have Fledging Crow spinach in the share this week, and hooray for that. We’re close to final drawings on the new compost barn, hoping to break ground in 4 weeks. The pullets are on pasture and have begun to lay. The rollaway nest boxes in their coop are working beautifully. Special thanks to Chris and Joseph for getting auto waterers up and running, which saves lots of time and keeps water clean. The goslings did their first work this week, weeding the middle greenhouse. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this peepers! 15th week of 2017. Find us at essexfarm@gmail.com, on instagram at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, at 518-963-4613, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

Waterlogged

Essex Farm Note

Week 14, 2017

The barnyard, the farm roads, the fields are all plastic with mud. We got 2.51” of rain this week (thank you, mesonet station) on top of significant snowmelt. It’s the season of ruts, wet layers of clothes, of sucked-off boots. Everything in our world feels soft and swollen, like the victim of a drowning. The farm’s streams are over their banks and dark with moving dirt. Mark braved the mud for a farm walk yesterday, and reported that Pine Field has suffered some significant erosion, despite the fall cover crops meant to hold our hard-won dirt. Farmers get used to losing all sorts of things at different times, but losing good topsoil is perhaps the hardest loss of all. Soil is a generational resource. It takes years of care to build it, and only one bad season to abuse it, one bad storm to lose it. Increasingly, we are talking about healthy soil as the key to everything from climate change to nutrition. We already know that sequestering carbon in soil is good for plants and good for the planet. I suspect that in the next decade, we’ll start to get some data on the connection between a healthy soil microbiome and a healthy human gut. One of our 2017 goals is to double the quality of our cover crops, by optimizing the timing of planting, and increasing the legume content, which improves the soil’s ability to grow more plants, and capture more carbon – in other words, to build the healthy soil that grows healthy plants and animals.

            What more? That storm last weekend! The heavy wet snow and ice brought down the power lines, and with them, the power. I had been feeling so cheerful about getting the last of the broiler chicks out of the house, but without lights to keep them warm it was a mad rush to stoke the woodstove to glowing and bring them all back in. No sooner were they settled than the lights came back on. Happily, the house is now finally and completelypoultry-free; chicks are in the greenhouse and the west barn, and geese are in the garage.

            We may be finished with sugaring for the year. The forecast calls for highs in the high sixties and low seventies early next week, and no significant frosts at night. I’m watching the lilac out the kitchen window, to guess when the buds will break. We had one good run this week, and made another 10 gallons of syrup. If indeed we are finished, it was a poor year. We made 70 gallons instead of our hoped-for 125. But as our neighbor Ron says, the best boils are the first one, and the last one. I think we’re all ready to wash the sticky equipment and put it up until next year. Many thanks to Chris, who spent the most time running the evaporator, which is a fiery but tedious job. 

            Mark built a bird feeder for me this spring, under that same kitchen window with the view of the lilac. I’ve been keeping track of our visitors. I’m happy to report that the bluebirds (Sialia sialis) and the goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) are present and busy with their own spring work. There was a blue heron fishing in the ice-free pond yesterday (Ardea herodius) and this morning, a pair of hooded mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus), such strange beauties, the Tilda Swinton of ducks. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this waterlogged 14th week of 2017. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on Instagram at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday. 

–Kristin & Mark Kimball