On Saturday, May 22, farmer Rob Flory used oxen Jake & Chris to weed the potato field he planted 3 weeks ago with the help of visitors. (See that post here.)
Farmer Rob's objective was to eliminate the very nice-looking crop of weeds growing in with the potatoes. To do the job, he used a mechanical weeder similar to ones used during Howell Farm's circa-1900 time period. The weeder is designed to kill emerging weeds without disturbing the slightly larger, better established crop planted by the farmer. To do this, the implement must be adjusted carefully ... and the stage of crop vs. weed development must be properly assessed. And, not only do crops have to be ahead of weeds, but the timing of weeding has to be just right: it must be hot enough that weeds knocked over by the weeder die as their roots are scorched by the sun and don't have a chance to re-set.
The photos below were by taken by Margie Lucido of Hamilton, who captured these images while visiting with her family on Saturday.
Rob sets the weeder depth so that tines work just the uppermost layer of soil, where weeds are just beginning to emerge. If the weeds are allowed to grow along with the potatoes, they will reduce the water, nutrients and light available to the cultivated crop, reducing the yield.
After traveling forward several feet, Rob stops the oxen so he can check the effectiveness of the weeding action and, if necessary, fine tune the adjustment of the weeder.
It took Rob about 30 minutes to weed the 2/3 acre field. Subsequent weeding operations will not be done with the weeder, but with a cultivator that will weed between the rows. During the second or third cultivation, equipment will be used that "hills" the potatoes by pushing soil up against the rows. The operation adds a layer of soil to the row that will help keep the potatoes covered; it also buries weeds that are growing between the plants that form the row.
The year’s first hay cutting was a success. It’s raining again this week, but a streak of sunny days last week allowed our farmers time to cut a hay field, give it a chance to dry, rake it, bail it, and then bring it into the barn.
Farmer Jim reports that the hay was very high quality, and earlier than usual.
The job was completed with a combination of tractor power and animal power. The oxen pulled a hay rake through the field, and then a gasoline-powered baler was used to collect it into rectangle-shaped blocks tied up with twine. The baler requires human power as well. The Howell Farm interns took their first turns on the back of a hay wagon, hooking the bales off the arm of the baler and then stacking them high on the wagon. Intern Emese Salopek learned that the hay bales must be stacked in a particular order, almost like a game of Tetris, in order to keep them from toppling over. “There’s a method to the madness,” she says.
In total, 160 hay bales were made on the farm last week.
-There’s an old farmer’s proverb that goes:
“A swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly.”
That’s because swarms found in May have plenty of time to make honey and prosper, but swarms found in July will likely die during the winter from a lack of stored honey.
Last week, beekeeper Bob Hughes was visiting Howell Farm when a swarm of bees from one of our healthy hives decided their home was getting a little cramped. The bees swarmed and settled in a nearby tree, as their scouts went out in search of a new home. Fortunately, Hughes was visiting at just the right time and was able to return the swarm to one of our hives, adding on some “supers” to provide the bees with more space to store honey.
FYI: People are sometimes freighted when they come across a swarm of bees, but swarming bees are usually extremely docile. Scientists believe this is because the bees don’t have any brood to defend, and because they’re most interested in finding a new home for their queen. Swarming bees are usually able to find a new hive location in one or two days.
-Last week, Farmer Jeremy hitched Tom and Jeb to a grain drill and planted oats. One week later, the first green shoots are visible in the field. We’ll keep you updated on their progress.
-Off the farm, Howell Farm participated in the 2011 Spirit of the Jerseys State History Fair on May 7. Approximately 120 visitors, ages 3 to 83, helped steer a walking plow behind two of our draft horses. This year’s fair was held at Allaire State Park in Farmingdale.
Unpredictable weather patterns are becoming commonplace all around the world. We’ve been seeing the same unpredictability here in New Jersey. The spring of 2009 was extremely cool and wet, and then the summer of 2010 was extremely hot and dry.
So far, this spring has been another for the record books.
March 2011 was one of the rainiest Marches ever recorded in the state of New Jersey. (Correction from an earlier version: March 2010 was actually the rainiest ever.) Above-average rainfall totals then continued in April. As a result, the crop fields of Howell Farm were totally saturated with water.
Now that it’s May, the skies over Howell Farm have finally cleared and we’ve had a streak of sunny days. Our fields have finally begun to dry out. A few updates on the fieldwork:
-With the help of draft horses Bill and Jesse, Farmer Jeremy has begun plowing the North crop field that runs parallel to the farm lane (closest to where the footbridge is located). The field here is well drained and Farmer Jeremy reports that the soil is turning over very nicely in the furrow. He made some adjustments to his favorite walking plow in the off-season and it’s been working great.
After the rest of this field is plowed and then harrowed, it will be planted with field corn, which will be harvested in the fall and fed to our animals in the winter.
-All our potatoes are now planted and beginning to grow in one of the farm’s East crop fields. These fields are a little bit of a hike from the main farmhouse, so be sure to ask for directions if you come visit and want to watch the potato plants grow.
-The field where our oats are to be planted has been the subject of much discussion at Howell Farm this spring. The oats should have been planted weeks ago, but the ground has been so wet that it was impossible to get into the field to finish plowing until very recently. (This field is the lowest and wettest on the farm.)
After plowing, harrowing comes next. A harrow rides over the soil like a comb and smoothes out any chunks created during plowing. This wet field ended up so extremely chunky, however, that the footing was treacherous and the job for our horses would have been immense, not to mention potentially injury-ridden.
Nearly all of the field operations at Howell Farm are completed with animal power, but in this special case the decision was made to call in the tractors. Farm manager Gary Houghton hopped on a farm tractor and pulled a harrow across the entire field three times. This work, completed in a day, would have likely taken our horses an entire week to finish. Now the oats are ready to be planted as soon as tomorrow.
Every year at Howell Farm, visiting school children ask our farmers some interesting and occasionally humorous questions. Some years we notice that themes start to emerge. This spring, our farmers report that they’ve been getting an unusual number of questions concerning, “Is that real?”
A few examples of stories shared around the lunch table:
-A student walks up to a fence to get a closer look at Blaze, a 33-year-old retired workhorse who now spends his days grazing in the pasture. The student turns to one of our farmers and asks, “Is that a real horse?” This is perhaps a fair question. Blaze often stands very still for long periods of time.
-A student hails one of our farmers as he is walking in from a field, his pants covered in dirt. The student turns to the farmer and asks, “Is that real dirt?”
Howell Farm’s visitor center barn will be transformed into a fashion runway this Friday night for the farm’s fourth annual historic fashion show.
More than a dozen re-enactors representing historic sites and women from the New Jersey Women’s Heritage Trail will walk the runway during the event, which takes place from 7:30-9:30 p.m. and includes live music, narrated character presentations, and appearances by audience members in period attire.
Visitors are encouraged to join the fun by arriving in attire that was common during any period in New Jersey history—from pre-Colonial to mid-20th Century. Before and after the performance, historically dressed guests can pose on the runway and have their picture taken by the fashion show photographer, compliments of the Friends of Howell Farm. Prizes will be awarded to those deemed “best dressed” by the farm’s fashion scouts.
One of the most popular programs at Howell Farm every year is potato planting. Members of the community come and help plant seed potatoes in long rows, which are then covered over with dirt. The potatoes, to be harvested in August, are donated to the Greater Mercer Food Cooperative and other local hunger projects.
Click above to see photos from Saturday’s harvest. And click below to read some media coverage about the harvest and a recent Peace Corps photograhy exhibit:
Howell Farm’s interns have been hard at work preparing the farm's kitchen garden for planting. (In the photo above, they’re weeding.) Carrots and beets are already growing, and more vegetables will be planted soon, once the rain stops and the soil finally starts to dry out.
Kitchen gardens played an important role on nineteenth-century farms. Not only did these gardens provide food for the farming family, they also provided some extra revenue. (Larger gardens were often called “market gardens,” because the extra produce was sold at market.)
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||