Week 33, 2018 | Kristin Kimball | Aug 18, 2018

A chilly 57 degrees this morning in front of a storm system and a warm front, dangling the possibility of some showers or thunderstorms over the next few days. We hope so. The ground is still thirsty. Rain fell all around us this week but most of the clouds split overhead and passed us by. We got .2” – better than nothing but not much. The hay fields in Willsboro got about twice as much, and are starting to look pretty good. Here at home, we’re mostly resigned to not making a second cut this year, and, more immediately, are searching daily for sufficient pasture, especially for high-demand herds like the dairy cows. Some of the best stuff is found in unlikely places that we don’t usually graze at all, like the edges of the farm road, or along ditches. The sheep are getting the second-best, which comes this week from a field of past-prime forage that went by before it grew very tall.

It’s tempting, when grass is scarce, to leave animals on a paddock longer than usual to eat every bit of grass they can lip into their mouths, but on a drought year, fast pasture rotations and not overgrazing are even more important than usual, because they are the keys to getting more, better, faster re-growth. We may try to wean the lambs this week, to try to optimize what we have to feed them. We don’t usually wean lambs at all, but it would be more efficient this year to do so, since the dry ewes could get lower-quality maintenance forage and we could save the better stuff for finishing the ram lambs and getting as much growth as possible on the ewe lambs we’re saving for breeding. Whenever we do it, the sorting will be much easier than it has been in the past, because we just bought a whole big load of new-to-us sheep equipment, including panels, gates, a tilt table, and an actual livestock scale. It’s a huge improvement on our old duct-tape and baling twine sorting system, and the scale will allow us to take the guesswork out of measuring gains, so we can make more informed decisions on which ewes to keep for breeding.

The biggest win this week was getting fall cover crops planted. We have 15 acres of rye/vetch in the ground now, aiming for a total of 60, with some turnip, alfalfa and birdsfoot trefoil seed going into the later mixes. The whole premise of organic agriculture is to take care of the soil so the soil can take care of everything else. Cover crops – and especially ones that fix nitrogen – are our first step to doing that. And the week’s challenges? Sweet corn, for one. Sad to say it’s pretty much a bust this year. What the crows didn’t get, the corn worms did, or the deer, or the drought. We may not see any more of it this year, or if we do, it’ll be a sweet surprise bonus. We have a little lag in tomatoes this week, too, related to the timing of our pruning, but there’s still a lot of fruit on the vines so we expect a return to plenty.

Farewell to Evan Reith, who was an incredible asset to the farm this summer. He shouldered hard work and complex responsibilities with competence, good judgment and great cheer. We miss him! Have a great year at school, Evan. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this mixed-bag 33rd week of 2018. I’m writing hard these days and so have fallen off social media. But generally, you should like us on Facebook to see what we post there, or find us at 518-963-4613, at essexfarm@gmail.com, on Insta and the web at essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball