Plowing is underway for this soon-to-be field of oats. As the horses and farmers get into shape, the pace of plowing should begin to pick up next week (as long as it stays dry enough.)
In preparation for April 26's big potato planting, Farmer Rob has been paying frequent visits the farm's pile of heavy, dark, nutrient-rich compost. Throughout the crisp morning, Rob and the oxen have been making the rounds, pulling the manure spreader to the compost pile, then to the potato field to be spread (with Maggie the farm dog always a few steps behind the spreader), then the empty spreader back to the compost pile, and repeat.
All are welcome to come on April 26 to help plant some seed potatoes. By my reckoning, it's one of the most enjoyable days on the farm all year, in large part because of the always-interesting group of Peace Corps alumni who come to help out.
A wonderful and poetic letter written by Inez Howell (Howell Living History Farm's benefactor) upon her donation of the farm to Mercer County now graces a plaque in the farm's visitor center.
Recently, Howell Farm director Pete Watson was given an early draft of the letter he had never seen before. The letter was written by Inez Howell to Richard Coffee, who was instrumental in the creation of the Mercer County Park System. Here's an excerpted version of the letter:
February 23, 1974
I am offering the farm as a gift from Charley and me to Mercer County to be used as a Living History Farm, hopefully by 1976, where the way of living in its early days could not only be seen, but actually tried by the public, especially children—gathering eggs in a homemade basket, watching them laid or a hen setting, or hatching; shearing a sheep and carding the wool; spinning and weaving, and washing clothes in the creek (or WATCHING washing.) Building a fire (from logs you chop) and preparing and roasting a hog on the spit. And eating it along with Indian corn grown the way the Indians—Lenni Lenapes—did it. All this and more, under supervision, of course.
Moore’s Creek runs thru the farm, where boys are always getting in some Huck Finn fishing in the spring. A wildlife refuge might be good in the NE corner, where the land is not tillable and has a rather steep rock formation that boys and girls. too, like to climb. It is woodsy, giving some privacy to the Ferb Roeblings whose land adjoins ours. There are deer all over the farm (and the area.) We have been renting hunting privileges for both bow and arrow and gun seasons. The deer, particularly, get out of hand without it. There is much small game, pheasants, some red foxes, ducks—all wonderful to have. So maybe our farm could keep them in the wildlife refuge somehow.
The farmhouse was built in three eras—the oldest with 18” walls of native stone with clay for mortar. (Our Central Jersey clay is extraordinarily fine—Trenton’s world-famous Lenox china, and the Maddock sanitary ware that heralded the end of the outhouse—but the farm should have one.
Each era of the house had its big fireplace; the bases are still there, but smaller fireplaces with nice materials have been built into them. Each era has its own winding stair, with varying degrees of pioneer simplicity, to a more leisurely decorative grace.
There is much history to be researched, seeming to offer an opportunity to students of all ages to earn credits as well as learn firsthand that no man—nothing—is self-sufficient unto itself, but that study of the past not only helps him understand himself, but helps avoid in his lifetime some of the pitfalls of the past and to build toward a better world for those coming after.
The farm is presently rented to a fine young family, Dr. Sancho. If they could be persuaded to stay on as tenants and open it to the public part-time it might add a 5th dimension to the historic value—he is doing experimental research with Santa Gertrudis cattle to adapt them to colder climate than their native tropics—the world could have better beef a whole lot cheaper—it could be a big thing. And it’s a beautiful sight—the cattle grazing in that beautiful valley.
There are still many descendants of families who came to the area several generations ago—the three Hunter brothers, full of fascinating tales of long ago. The Woodens and many others. And I hope some day children will be sleighriding and see animals mate and give birth; swing on a grape, and sow grain and scythe it, wild blackberry picking and black walnut gathering at picnics, and hold hands, and steal a kiss, and help the farmer’s wife with her chores and her vegetable garden and her eggs for sale. And the barn itself—the rugged individualist, with pigeons in its belfry and maybe bats, too (a real belfry, it is, and many a story about it) and barn swallows swooping in and out of the barn—with its animals (and because of the animals)—and what else can YOU add? Have a contest? Old and young could enter in, thinking up the old time things they would like to have on the farm.
Sap collecting season at Howell Farm is officially over; now it's time for the big job of cleaning up. The final syrup count isn't in yet, but it promises to be a record-setting year.
Farmer Jeremy has started giving the sheep their spring haircuts.
Two naturalists from the Mercer County Park Commission and a visiting Howell Farm intern alumni look at some wood frog eggs found in Howell Farm's vernal pool. (Don't worry, the eggs made it back to the pool safe and sound.) These eggs are from the safe wood frogs rain-soaked volunteers helped cross the road last week.
After cold winter weather led to a delay in the start of maple syruping operations this year, Farmer Jim thought 50 gallons of finished maple syrup--an average year--was probably a good estimate. However, even old masters are sometimes surprised. With chilly weather lingering until the very end of March, the buckets of sap just kept collecting. Today, the count of finished syrup is up to 74 gallons, and, with more sap going through the evaporator, this season will almost certainly break the all-time record set at Howell Farm last year: 76 gallons.
The Furrow is the online newsletter of The Friends of Howell Living History Farm. We will be updating this site about once a week with crop reports and other insights into life on a horse-drawn living history farm.
|THE FURROW: The online newsletter of Howell Living History Farm||