Photo story: Belgian draft horse gets a drink of water from the pond.
Farmers do tend to talk about the weather a lot, but it’s been an even more frequent topic of conversation recently around these parts. November has seen some chilling days and deep frosts—colder than we’re used to at this time of year. And then on Monday it’s forecast to hit 72 degrees.
But the biggest weather story of the year—even bigger than the huge snowstorms that have hit Buffalo—is what’s happening to the weather on a global scale. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, January 2014 to October 2014 was the warmest such period on record, and 2014 is on track to be the warmest year ever recorded. This is especially significant because there has been no El Nino this year. All the other record-breaking years have occurred during periods of El Nino, which tends to push up global temperatures. The implication is that the next El Nino year could be significantly hotter than any year ever experienced by modern civilization.
The work for next year’s corn crop begins now. Corn is a very nitrogen hungry crop, so Farmer Ian is out today spreading manure on next year’s cornfield. Over the winter, the nitrogen in the manure will migrate to the soil, where it will feed the growth of the corn plants in the spring and summer.
“Bacon, Sausage & Scrapple Making Day” is one of the more eye-opening of the public programs hosted by Howell Farm. When I’ve blogged about the process in past years, including posting photos, these are some of the comments I’ve gotten back from the public:
“Nice, although I don’t know if I always want to know exactly how my food is made.”
“That first pic of a side of hog is surprisingly non-disgusting. It looks like plastic!”
For many people, there seems to be a limit of how much they want to know about where the meat-portion of their diet comes from. It’s easier to eat something if you don’t think about it recently having been a living animal. It's better if it looks like plastic instead of flesh.
I imagine this queasiness is a very modern problem. For most of human existence, killing, butchering and cooking animals was a crucial part of the work required to survive and prosper. It would be interesting to know if early humans ever gave killing and butchering an animal a second thought.
I myself had never killed an animal until about two years ago, when I worked a few days helping butcher chickens. I had mixed feelings about doing the work. I didn’t mind butchering a few chickens at a time, especially when one of those chickens was going home with me into my own soup pot. But killing 50 chickens in a row felt a little different— more like it was just a job that needed to be done. I was relieved when it was over.
Like most things, I found that doing difficult work at the scale required for an individual or family group felt more satisfying and humanizing than doing the same work at the scale required for production and commerce. For better or worse, modern society has replaced the need for one person to do many different small jobs with the need for one person to do one job, over and over again, as efficiently as possible.
Coles Roberts is one of the world’s foremost experts on the history of apple peeling technology, and today he shared that knowledge at Howell Farm. Apple peelers, he told the assembled crowd, are an excellent example of human ingenuity and their desire to work ever-more efficiently.
As a teenager, Eli Whitney’s first invention was an improved apple peeler. He later went on to invent the cotton gin, which changed the history of the United States.
The first apple peelers merely peeled an apple, and had to be loaded and unloaded by hand, one apple at a time. Innovations included peelers that also cored the apple, peelers that removed the apple once it was peeled, and eventually peelers that also loaded the apple. Coles demonstrated an automated apple peeler than can peel and core 90 apples in a minute, and said that modern apple canneries now have dozens of machines that process up to 120 apples in a minute. Some of these canners will process millions of apples in a single day. Overall, said Coles, there are more than 200 apple peeler patents on file.
Coles doubts that apple peelers can be improved much further, because he thinks they’re nearly perfect. Then again, humans have proven to be very ingenious.
While attending college, Former Intern Alex has been returning to Howell Farm on odd weekends to continue his ox droving training under Farmer Rob's instruction. Today Alex moved firewood to the sugar shack in an ox cart, in preparation for maple sugaring season.
The Friends of Howell Farm are seeking contributions for an auction benefiting the furnishing of the farm’s newly restored Henry Phillips Farm House. The auction will be held November 22, and donations can be brought to the farm until November 19.
Items sought for the auction include tools, household items, books, antique clothing, furniture and hand-made items. Gift baskets, gift certificates, tickets to events and baked goods are also welcome. All donors will receive a letter acknowledging their contributions for tax deduction purposes.
To contribute an item, contact Kim Daly or Danielle Houghton at 609-737-3299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proceeds from the action will be used to purchase period furnishings for the farmhouse, whose restoration is now complete. A furnishing plan for the house was completed through a grant from the federal “Save America’s Treasures” program.
During the Old Time Auction on November 22, visitors can participate in two types of auctions—a silent auction and a live, old-fashioned barn auction. Items made by the farm’s blacksmiths, restoration carpenters, bakers and sewing guild will be included in the auction.
The first frost of the fall has come and gone, which means all but the cold-hardiest vegetables are dead and gone. Farmer Rob has planted clover in the raised garden beds to help winterize them. Not only will the clover keep out weeds and prevent erosion, it will also help fix nitrogen in the soil.
Can you spot the coyote in the photo above?
Farmer Rob spotted this coyote making its way along the edge of a Howell Farm pasture at about 10am. Then it disappeared into the woods.
I’ve heard many coyotes calling in the night, but this is the first time I’ve seen a coyote with my own eyes that I’m 100% sure was a coyote. When I was a Howell Farm intern six years ago, I watched a four-legged animal dash out of the barnyard at night that I think was a coyote, but I can’t be sure.
Coincidently, I’ve been thinking about coyotes recently. Two nights ago I watched a documentary on Netflix called “Coywolf” about the Eastern Coyote, which has some wolf genes that make it larger and less timid than the Western Coyote. Eastern Coyotes are also more likely to take down a deer than smaller coyotes. Overall, coyote populations have been rising in places where they historically aren’t found, like inner cities.
There’s also a scientific study I read recently that mentions lyme disease, white tailed deer, mice, foxes and coyotes. Conventional wisdom has been that high deer populations are a major driver of lyme disease in humans, because deer harbor many deer ticks, which transmit the disease.
This new study found, however, found a much closer correlation between fox populations and the rate of lyme disease in humans: The more foxes there are, the less lyme disease. The hypothesis is that foxes eat mice, which are the main transmitters of lyme disease to humans. Coyotes come into play because coyotes often kill foxes or drive them away. Rising coyote populations have meant fewer foxes. Habitat fragmentation also plays a role. Small forest fragments host more mice but fewer mice predators than larger forests.
A summary of that study is here:
Today the Howell Farm “Hometown Teams Corn Maze” had some special visitors—members of the various organizations that helped make the Smithsonian’s Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America traveling museum exhibit a big success. In 2014, the exhibit visited six New Jersey locations, including the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center, the Atlantic City Historical Museum, Howell Living History Farm, Bridgeton Public Library, Hudson County Community College, and the Morris Museum. The exhibit was brought to New Jersey by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities and the Smithsonian Institution.
At the start of the maze tour, Howell Farm director Pete Watson explained that Howell Farm’s maze was one of the first corn mazes in the country, and is now in its 18th year. Maze challengers have two main objectives: “To get out” and “To answer questions.” This year, to fit the maze theme, those questions are related to New Jersey sports history.
Farmer Pete also explained that coming up with tough maze trivia questions has become more of a challenge in the modern age of smart phones. The maze designers are now instructed to make sure no answers to maze questions can be found in the first three pages of a Google search.
|THE FURROW: The online newsletter of Howell Living History Farm||