Week 25, 2019 | Kristin Kimball | Jun 24, 2019

The solstice is upon us, and she came in strange. Such rain and chill on the long approach of spring but her landing was perfect. We got 1.25” of rain in a single storm this week, then mostly clear, and warm but not hot. I hesitate to say we needed the rain but the way it came was the way we would have ordered it. The plants like a deep drink all at once instead of spread out across days of drizzle. You really should see the strawberries. There is a dense carpet of berries out there, all growing fat, with the early varieties beginning to turn deep red. If we can keep them from rotting, we will have the biggest bumper crop of all time. Berries are tricky, because they need a lot of water for production, but they are also susceptible to so many molds and diseases, which tend to take off in damp conditions. And pests love them as much as we do. This why they are one of the most heavily sprayed crops in conventional agriculture, and also why large-scale organic berry producers grow them without any soil at all, in acres of pots full of sterile medium that they feed with “organic” fluid. Producing a perfect, sweet, ripe berry without sprays, without plastic groundcover, and without irrigation, in complex, naturally mulched, well-composted, healthy soil is a feat that requires a combination of skill and luck. Enjoy this special bounty while it lasts. We should have them in the share next week.

Downfield from the berries, the corn is up. The heavy spring rains meant we couldn’t plant until very late in the season, so we switched varieties at the last minute, to a 76-day type that we can hope will mature before frost. Mark was very proud of the fact that of the 500 pounds of seed we bought (at $230 per 50lb bag!) he wrapped up the field as the sun went down with a mere 8 lbs left over. He described this accuracy of estimation when he got home, covered in dust, as the sort of victory that can only be won after long years of experience and mistakes. The soybeans are up, too. So is the sweet corn. We are in a fight with the crows and the cutworms for its survival. The cutworms were an unhappy surprise. We found a large section of leeks and peppers entirely gone, and the soil full of hungry black caterpillars. We’ve never seen damage like that before, and cutworms have never been a significant pest here. It was a field that was cover cropped with oats and peas last year. We hope the rotation into row crops will put an end to them.

So much more to tell, after a few weeks without a farm note! The haymaking has been challenging, due to all the rain. We got a small dry window last week, enough to get onto the fields but not enough to thoroughly dry cut grass into hay. So we hired Jon Christian to make it into haylege – plastic-wrapped, fermented bales of semi-dry grass. Animals love it, and it has a high feed value. The downside, of course, is additional cost, and all that plastic. But we wouldn’t have gotten it in any other way. In animal news, we have four litters of piglets on the ground as of this morning. In the past, we farrowed each sow in a separate paddock, in late winter. This year, we free-farrowed, the sows all in a group, allowed to build their own nests and mother together as they see fit. I don’t know if it is the system or the season, but we’ve had very few losses, and the mothers are all so calm and content that our kids have been spending long hours in the pen, snuggling with piglets. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this light-filled 25th week of 2019. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on Insta and the web at essexfarmcsa and kristinxkimball, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball