Essex Farm Note

Week 9, 2017

Fickle March! We went from tee shirts to multiple layers of woolies this week, with the forecast calling for wind-chill temperatures of twenty below zero this weekend. The work was more decisively spring-like than the weather. Anya led a push to seed 62 flats of red (Red Wing) and yellow (Patterson) storage onions – 40,000 onions! – all now carefully tucked into the germination chamber, a week ahead of schedule. Soon as they come up, they will join the first two batches of chicks in the greenhouse. Meanwhile, the third batch of chicks is peeping next to the woodstove, laying down a cheery soundtrack to our daily routine. They may be the tamest chickens ever raised, as they have spent so much time being cuddled by girls, but when I turned on the ceiling fan yesterday, they mistook the whirling blades for a predator’s wing, and cowered, hushed, in the corner of their tub. 

            Sugaring is well underway. We tapped last Saturday, hanging a total of 350 buckets, and hitched to collect sap three times this week, with Aidan, Anya and Chris all getting a chance to drive the horses for the first time. The sap averaged 2% sugar, at the low end of sweet, and we had thirteen gallons of syrup in the can as of midnight, when Mark came to bed tired, sticky, smelling of singed hair and woodsmoke. Mark and Chris rigged up a powerful bellows out of a reclaimed kitchen fan and some pieces of tin, and I think the rate of boil we’re getting with it is the best we’ve seen. However, the old arch that Mark brought with him from Pennsylvania 14 autumns ago is on its last season. The bottom is held up with a jack, and when it’s roaring, flames lick out of the rusty spots in the sides. We stuff them with tufts of rock wool and keep going. The big question is, what will we do next year? We have some time to ponder.

            Mary Lake came to shear the sheep yesterday, just as the temperatures were taking a nosedive. It is not the week you’d want to lose your four-inch thick wool sweater, if you had the choice, but this was the week that Mary could do it, and they’ll be fine with good feed in them. It was a smooth day, if a long one, with 74 ewes, 2 rams, and 1 sneaky wether shorn. After they came off Mary’s board, they had their hooves trimmed and were vaccinated. Then they mustered in the yard, sniffing each other, calling, trying to discern by smell and sound who was who. Early in the day, one of the shorn ewes decided to sneak back into the catch pen, and a ram, convinced she was a new girl, pursued her relentlessly. That was before he lost his own wool for the first time, which left him humbled. Lambing begins in six weeks. The bred ewe lambs look wee; I hope they’re carrying smallish singles.

            I’m off to speak at the Small Farm and Homestead Fair at SUNY Morrisville tomorrow morning. Back here, on Tuesday, Essex Farm Institute is co-sponsoring a lyceum talk at the Grange by writer/researcher Siena Chrisman, titled Raising Less Corn and More Hell: Facing the Crisis in Rural America. The series wraps up on March 14th with a talk by farmer and director of the Bionutrient Food Association, Dan Kittredge. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this fickle 9th week of 2017. Find us at essexfarm@gmail.com, 518-963-4613, on Instagram at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball