Oh Deer

Essex Farm Note

Week 28, 2018

Oh, deer. Part of farming is negotiating acceptable terms with the wild animals who live around us. Some years, these talks go better than others. It feels like we’ve gotten the skinny end of the deal with both the carnivores and the herbivores this year. We had some radical chicken predation, plus ongoing high-level devastation of certain crops by our graceful nemeses, the deer. As a countermeasure, the last thing Mark and I do every evening is hop in the car with a rifle and the dog. We drive the perimeter of the farm, stopping first at the laying hens’ pasture. No gun needed here. Suit the Great Pyrenees is on patrol against land-based predators, and a pair of Toulouse geese helps ward off hawks and owls. Mary the English Shepherd finds and catches any hens that have escaped the electric net during the day and are roosting in the tall grass, and then we three drive past the firehouse, through the village, along the lake and to the vegetable field on Blockhouse Road, where we hunt for the deer who wait in the woods to emerge in the day’s last light. It has been several days since we’ve seen one, but they’re definitely not gone. This week’s entire planting of lettuce is, however. Over 900 row feet, eaten down to the last ruddy leaf. Last night, Mark said, “Do you think these patrols are deterring them at all?” He sounded hopeful. “Nope,” I said, “but I think we are teaching them to be more alert.” It’s useful to accept that when things are balanced, cross-species negotiations aren’t unilateral. Despite our forebrains and firepower, sometimes the wildlife comes out ahead, and that’s as it should be. All this to say, members, that the certified organic lettuce in the share today was not grown by us, but bought from our friends at Fledging Crow Farm. And I’m voting to put the next planting of lettuce in Mailbox Field, between the road and the farmhouse, where we can keep a closer eye on it.

We had a mini heat-related crisis on Monday, with the sheep. For complicated reasons, they ran short on water during the day. Sheep can handle heat better than cattle as long as they have copious amounts of water, but if they don’t, they crash. Luckily, the highs were in the high 80s instead of pushing 100, and the chore team caught it just in time. The luckiest thing was that handling and close observation due to the water crisis led us to identify some ewes who were showing stress from haemonchus contortus – barber pole worm, bane of organic sheep production – which can kill a sheep within days once it gets rolling. We treated the ones who needed it with ivermectin, which is allowed in emergencies in breeding stock under the organic standard. I was worried we would lose some ewes in the wake of it but everyone is doing well so far, and the lambs are humongous.

Today’s share is glorious, and tastes like summer itself. The yellow squash and zucchini are rolling in now. Argentata chard is particularly good this year; see the recipe for chard with drained yogurt. The sweet onions debut today, beautiful and so good! Use them raw, or slice thickly and grill/roast them to make them the star of the plate instead of a supporting actor. Tomatoes should arrive in about two weeks. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this hope-for-rain 28th week of 2018. Like us on Facebook to see what we post there, or find us at essexfarm@gmail.com, 518-963-4613, on the web and Instagram at essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

 

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

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The Wave Breaks

Essex Farm Note

Week 27, 2018

The heat wave is finally breaking today. Like a fever? Nope, that’s not it. It’s more like the way you feel when physical pain abates: better than you felt before the pain came on, because you’re just so grateful it’s gone. This was our first serious heat emergency in about ten years, if I remember correctly. We got really lucky on some fronts, like the inch of rain that fell before the heat wave hit. That sustained the thousands of young transplants – the whole fall brassica crop – that were just getting established. They were able to take root, and live, instead of baking to a crisp in that hot hot sun. The direct-seeded fall carrots and beets germinated and emerged into the middle of the wave, and survived, as did the planting of soybeans, which just got its first cultivation. The animals, for the most part, did well, thanks to long hours and some heroics by our seriously muscular animal team, who made sure they were well-watered and tucked into the hedgerows, or under cover of the barn, going out to graze mostly in the early morning or late evening.

The extreme weather took the biggest toll on the humans, I think. The strategy was to start early and quit early, but the reality was that we started early and quit late. Everyone looks a little limp today, but since they were mindful of staying hydrated and taking mid-day breaks, we had no casualties. The to-do list this coming week includes some heavy work that couldn’t be done in the heat, like pounding in the tomato stakes to get those plants trellised. They are so fragrant when you brush by them, and are heavy with green fruit. I can’t wait to see the first blush of red. I hear reports that the sungold cherry tomatoes are just beginning to ripen, but haven’t tasted them yet, because the reporter ate them all. Soon!

What else? We disked in about two thirds of the oat/pea cover crop, leaving the rest for grazing sheep and dairy cattle. It seems like it’s a little less palatable to them now that it’s getting mature, but it’s really fun to watch the sheep lip and munch their way through infinite pods of peas. Speaking of peas (for humans), the deer ate the ones we planted, along with most of the first planting of green beans. Not happy about that! Also, crows got a good part of the second planting of sweet corn, but the first planting looks solid. We are still patrolling for deer every dawn and dusk, adding dog presence when possible, and generally sending the message that they ought to graze elsewhere.

We are saying goodbye to one of our MVPs this week. Ben Christian, we are really going to miss your stories, your experience, your work ethic, and your knowledge of cows. I have always especially loved Ben’s steadiness in the face of a crisis, large or small – a skill born of having seen so much, I think, in the course of his farming life and the farming lives of his parents and grandparents. There’s no substitute for generational knowledge. Happy to say we’ll still see him around the farm on an occasional basis. We are looking for someone with good tractor skills to take over part of Ben’s job, so let us know if you have any leads. And don’t forget our farm tour tomorrow at 10, free for members, $25 suggested donation for non-members. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this abating-wave 27th week of 2018. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on the web and Insta at essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.         

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Heat

Essex Farm Note

Week 26, 2018

We have the light. Now, here comes the heat. We are readying the farm for high temperatures this weekend, with a predicted heat index, on Sunday, of 105 degrees. That weather will probably hang over us for a few long days. All the animal groups will need good shade, which means a lot of animals will be on the move today, heading for the hedgerows. The plants, on the other hand, love nothing more than a bit of a heatwave after an inch of rain at the end of June. Grow, babies, grow. The part of the farm that I get most concerned about in weather like this is the farmers. We have to stay hydrated and take breaks, and we’ll adjust hours, to avoid the hottest part of the day. Harvest starts at 4:30 on Sunday morning, for our NYC delivery on Tuesday. Extreme early birds (or super-extreme night owls?) are welcome to join us.

That rain brought us .93”, to be exact, and we cheered every hundredth we got. The pastures have been slow to recover from spring grazing because of dry soil, and we would have been in a real pinch without the 65 acres of oat/pea forage we planted, which have fed sheep, cows, and pigs. The pastures should come on nicely now that they’ve been watered, but we still have some big decisions to make. The oat/pea is reaching maturity, with the nitrogen beginning to move from the roots to the fattening peas and oats; the longer we graze it to feed the animals, the less value it has to the soil. As usual, it’s a balancing act, and the decision, a bit of a gamble.

We just heard we didn’t make the first round of awards for the VAPG we applied for, to support the development of an on-farm dairy plant. There’s still a chance for us in the second round, but hopes are a little dimmer this week. Sadly, this will be our last chance, since mandatory funding for this program was cut in the House version of the new Farm Bill that narrowly passed last week, along with, unbelievably, cost share for organic certification (NOCCSP), which puts the benefits of organic certification within reach for farms of all sizes – benefits that accrue not just to the farms that receive them but to the whole local economy. On the food-access side, the House version cuts availability of SNAP benefits to low-income families while simultaneously increasing subsidies for wealthy ‘farmers’ and their extended families, by adding a loophole that eliminates the means test. The bipartisan Senate version, which passed last night, is much better, but now the reconciliation process begins. Our representative in district 21, Elise Stefanik, voted yes on the House version. I have already written to her to ask for a Farm Bill that’s better for the farmers (and the eaters) of our district. If you are a constituent of NY21 and want to politely let her know what you think, you can reach her office at 202 225-4611, or send an email through her web site, https://stefanik.house.gov/contact. Being polite and specific helps.

What else? We’re on the backside of strawberry season now. The heat will not be kind to them. Still working on deer control in the main vegetable field, but making some headway. The cows are producing beautifully on the luscious oat/pea. Corn is coming, soy is up, and that’s the news for this fast-growing 26th week of

2018. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on the web and Insta at essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

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