First Heat

Essex Farm Note

Week 20, 2017

First real heat this week, which put everything in motion. The lilacs hit the peak of their fragrant bloom, the asparagus leapt out of the ground, the grass grew high overnight, and the soil warmed enough to plant corn and potatoes. (The first big thunder storm of the season threatened too, with destructively high winds and heavy rain, but luck was with us, and it missed us.) This time of year, the office becomes a command center at the all-hands morning meeting, beginning at 6:00 sharp. What resources do we have available? Humans, horses, tractors, machines? How and where are they best deployed? Almost always, the answer right now is planting. If the pigs have to wait a week to get on new pasture, it won’t hurt too much, but if seeding is a week behind, the hit in production is huge. As I type, Ben is driving the corn planter to the field. We’ve set it to seed a little deeper this year, to try to keep the crows from getting too much of it (organic seed is not treated to deter them). And Joseph got all 2,250 lbs of seed potatoes in the ground yesterday. Hooray for that. Much as I love fresh greens, these are the crops that make me feel most secure. They are the big calorie plants, converting sun to carbohydrates, to power us living creatures throughout the year.

            Lambing is all finished! The rams are off the farm until fall; the orphans are getting fat on cow’s milk, and the ewes, lambs and guard dogs are grazing their way through the lush May pastures. The dairy heifers are on pasture this week, too, and we had two more litters of piglets born. We’re expecting two of the dairy heifers to calve in the next couple weeks. Here’s to new life.

            We’re sending thanks to the Adirondack Council and its sponsors this week for the Cool Farms/Healthy Park grant we received. We are using it to seed many acres of leguminous cover crops, which fix nitrogen, increase the carrying capacity of the land, and allow us to sequester more carbon. Seed is on the way, and the crop plan is in place. Thanks too to NYC member Hilary Rhoda who mentioned the Essex Farm CSA in an interview this week. Check out her interview and beautiful photos at bonberi.com.  And thanks as always to our hard-working crew! An astonishing amount of work got done this week, some of it in uncomfortable heat. For example, Mae and a rotating crew of helpers washed and boxed a record 261 dozen eggs in one day. Slightly belated welcome to Lauren Swank, who joined us from Brooklyn, and Tonya Larock, from just down the road, who works here after school during the week.

            Members, our team asked me to remind you to please wash your milk jars well (and return them). Most of you do! But about 10% of the jars come back in bad shape, and they really slow down our washing and sanitizing system, because they have to be separated and hand-washed carefully. To wash dairy glass: rinse thoroughly first in cool water, then wash in hot soapy water (or in a dishwasher), then rinse, and store glass and lids separately. We all thank you! And that is the news from Essex Farm for this whoop whoop 20th 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

Eggs

Essex Farm Note

Week 19, 2017

I think I just assisted in the last lambing of the year. (Big lamb, small dam, which was the general theme of the year.) There are still a few ewes without lambs but they are showing no signs of late pregnancy, so I suspect we are wrapped until next time. We have 90 lambs on the ground, which is fewer than I had hoped for, but they are all healthy, and gaining incredibly fast on this good spring grass. It was a big year for girls - 57 of the lambs were ewes – 63%! I attribute the somewhat disappointing overall lambing number to the fact that 44% of the breeding flock was first timers that were lambing as yearlings. They were on the small side, had singles rather than twins, and some of them did not breed at all, so all of that lowered our lambing percentage. Also, I didn’t “flush” the flock last fall by giving them extra feed at breeding time, which would have made them more likely to conceive twins. This fall, we’ll do that. The goal with the sheep for the last few years has been to build up the numbers in our ewe flock, so I have kept most of the ewe lambs for breeding. Now that we are getting to over a hundred head of ewes, we will get more selective about choosing our breeding stock, so we can start to shape the flock genetics for what we want: good mothers who raise twin lambs that gain well on grass and are resistant to parasites.

            The new flock of hens has finished laying the tiny little pullet eggs and has upgraded to a more reasonable size product. They are on the fresh May grass so the yolks are deep orange and delicious. Every year at this time, when eggs are so good and bountiful, I remember their incredible range, as I incorporate them into each meal of the day, from savory to sweet to spicy. Deviled! Scrambled! Poached! Omletted! Perhaps my favorite this year is hard boiled egg curry, which has many different regional variations in India. Google it up and try a few different ones. Most are tomato-based but the spices vary widely. It’s a fine main course, served with fresh chapatti.

            The dairy herd is grazing rye grass this week, and will move to mixed grass pasture next week. The taste of the milk changes dramatically when we move from hay to grass, less dramatically when we change types of fresh forage. You may notice the difference. The cows are so happy to be on pasture again, and their production has picked up. Mary the cow dog is extremely glad to be back in work, too, moving them from pasture to barn and back twice a day. Soon, she will remember she can do it at a walk and not a run.

            What else? The ground is still cold. Soon as the temperatures come up, the asparagus will take off, along with everything else. For now, we’re holding off on planting, so seeds don’t rot before they grow. There’s an owl plaguing the laying hens. We’ll shut them in at night and place some geese with them to try to ward off the dawn and dusk attacks. There’s a wild rush of field work today, ahead of the inch of rain expected this weekend. We could use some more hands on deck for May so let us know if you are looking for work. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this beautiful 19th 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

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