Week 18, 2022|Kristin Kimball|May 6, 2022

When I close my eyes at night I see little white lambs on the inside of my eyelids. I dream of lambs, I hear the sound of lambs, and, frankly, I smell like lambs. About 150 were born this week, and the first group has already gone to pasture under the watchful eyes of the guard dogs, Apollo and Artemis. Mostly, it has been smooth and enjoyable, but the first few days were stressful, because we didn’t have enough space. We lamb the ewes indoors in a group, then move the newborns and the mother to a small pen called a jug where they bond for a few days and get their ear tags and bands before being released to a larger group and then pasture. When thinking of how many jugs we needed, I had last year in my head, because we lambed the same number of ewes. But of course, they were all bred by one ambitious ram last year, so lambing was very spread out. This year, with five rams at work during breeding season, the lambs are all coming at once. There was a heroic effort on Monday to construct more jugs (thank you Mark, Tully and Nick) so by Tuesday, we had enough space to work with. Phew! Our friend Jenny is visiting from New York City and has been incredibly helpful. She had no experience with sheep before this week but she is a human physician and so has a good eye and good instincts for when and how to assist. Thank you Jenny! Thanks as always to Anne Brown, and to everyone on the team for rolling with the great crescendo of spring. 

Mark took the penetrometer out for a spin this week, measuring soil compaction at different levels in various fields. Compaction is important to monitor because it affects the soil biome, which is one of the most vibrant systems on the planet, and totally invisible to the average human. Healthy soil is a web of complex interactions among plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, archaea, protists and viruses. There are an astounding 10 billion living organisms in a single teaspoon of fertile soil, more than there are people on Earth. Imagine that! Plants and their roots are the pipes that bring the sun’s energy in the form of carbohydrates (carbon) from the surface to this underground world, fueling the whole system. Like all living things, the tiny soil creatures need food, and also airspace, and water. When soil is compressed, the air is squeezed out of the lungs of the system, and the whole ecosystem dies. On the fields that have been cover cropped using the one pass speed tiller, and/or grazed, the penetrometer sunk deep, with hardly any resistance. The fields that have recently had vegetables on them were more compacted. This makes sense, of course. Domesticated plants are grown in disturbed systems. They require an environment that has been cleared of their wild competition, and that means we must repeatedly pass over the surface of the soil, flip it over, squash it down, and generally mess with the underground rainforest of soil life. This is the great irony of grain and vegetable agriculture: we must harm what we need to nurture. There are amazing advantages to well-managed grazing animals, to increase the vibrancy and diversity of underground life. 

This spring comes slowly, still. Plant corn, they say, when oak leaves are the size of squirrels’ ears, which happens to be when the soil is around 65 degrees. The leaves aren’t there yet, the soil temperature is 49 today. But the forecast calls for a string of very warm days next week. We should have asparagus in the share within the next week or two, and the corn planting will need to be done before we know it. That’s the news from Essex Farm for this sun shiny 18th week of 2022. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on instagram at essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball