Farmer Jeremy and Farmer Larry are out plowing this morning behind three draft horses. In order to be ready for fall planting, plowing must proceed despite dry conditions. Some dust is coming off the field as the farmers make the rounds, and Jeremy noticed that many of the weeds are detaching from the soil as it gets turned over, rather than getting buried, due to the tenuous hold the dry ground has on the roots.
For the first time this summer, U.S. Drought Monitor shows that parts of New Jersey, including Howell Farm, officially qualifies as “abnormally dry.”
The big story in droughts this year, however, is that every part of California is in a severe drought, with half the state in “exceptional drought.”
It’s been so dry at Howell Farm of late that no plowing has taken place since the plowing match 10 days ago. The ground is too hard. Once it rains enough to soften up the soil a bit, fall plowing will become the farmers’ priority.
Pete Watson, Howell Farm’s director, noticed something unusual today as he walked past the moldboard plows sitting idle in the carriage barn. They are so clean they are gleaming in the sunlight angling into the barn. Almost like they were polished for display. Apparently the ground was hard enough at the plowing match that the abrasive soil scoured the plows cleaner and cleaner with every pass up and down the furrow.
As part of the Hopewell Valley Arts Council “Stampede 2014” event, Howell Farm has been hosting an oxen statue devoted to farming with draft power in the developing world. (The ox’s flanks have photographic images of draft animals working alongside farmers.) The oxen statue is sponsored by Mercer County and the artist is Jonathan Conner.
To see more oxen statues from the stampede, visit here:
As I walked past the Howell Farm pond this morning and then over the wooden bridge, I saw more vultures perched in a tree than I've ever seen before. With a great flapping of wings, they soon took flight, proceeding to circle overhead as vultures do, and this gave me a chance to count them. I counted at least 50.
I didn't have time to find what they had come for, but later at the Visitor's Center one of the farmers mentioned that a dead deer had been spotted down in the far fields.
Vultures aren't the most popular birds among birdwatchers, but they provide an important service on the farm and in the ecosystem: cleaning up, not to mention recycling nutrients.
English Language Fact of the Day: A group of vultures in flight is called a kettle. Vultures at rest are called a committee, venue or volt. Vultures feeding are called a wake.
While an electric fence kept the deer (and sheep) out of the Howell Farm popcorn field for a while, the lure of free corn has more recently sent the deer jumping over the fence. Today the farmers are installing a taller, plastic fence around the field, in hopes of saving the popcorn that remains unmunched.
Popular opinion seems to be that the Summer of 2014 was on the dry side. And while that may be true in specific locations, averaged across New Jersey the Summer of 2014 was in fact almost exactly average in terms of precipitation.
At Howell Farm, Dry Run Creek dries up most summers. The current state of Dry Run Creek on September 3 is "Almost Completely Dry." Two smallish pools remain, each near Howell Farm's two wooden walking bridges.
(photo of Daniel Ruth by Jeff Kelly)
The 2014 Howell Plowing Match was held on August 30. Here are the results:
Fine Plowing (the main event):
1st: Daniel Ruth
2nd: Pat Hlubik
3rd: Aaron L. Vastine
Wagon Driving Obstacle Course:
1st: Scott Stevens
2nd: Pat Llubik
3rd: Aaron Vastine
Old Timer Plowing:
1st: Martin Rapp
2nd: Matt Schofield
3rd: Steve Spayd
1st: Ron Hinman
2nd: Karen Sweeton
3rd: Chris Berry
Farmer Rob harvested the sweet potatoes in the kitchen garden one month earlier than last year's harvest. He wants to use the late-August heat to cure the potatoes outside (for better storage), rather than heating and drying the potatoes inside. An earlier harvest will also mean fewer giant potatoes, which are often less tasty.
Rob says some of this year's potatoes split or burst, likely a result of prolonged dry weather followed by bouts of wet. But overall he's happy with the season's potato haul.
The Sugar Baby watermelons in the kitchen garden are beginning to size up. They will be ready when the vines begin to shrivel and turn brown where they attach to the melon.
|THE FURROW: The online newsletter of Howell Living History Farm||