Oxen in training...
We'd like to congratulate Farmer Ian and Emese, a former Howell Farm intern who now helps out with the farm's educational programs. Today at Howell Farm, the two were engaged to be married.
The Wheat Grows
Both of Howell Farm's young winter wheat crops are looking great. Quite a few warm days in November have allowed the wheat to continue some strong growth before the winter sets in.
Howell Farm planted two different varieties this year. The wheat in the first photo below shares characteristics with older varieties of wheat -- it will grow taller than modern wheat varieties with a long beard protecting the heads. The wheat in the second photo has characteristics more typical of modern wheat crops -- it will grow shorter, and although it also has a beard, the beard will be shorter.
The farmers at Howell Farm are interested to observe the results of this experiment. Which variety will grow the best, which will yield the most grain, which will be easiest to harvest with historical equipment, and which will prove to be the most resistant to grazing deer?
Don't judge yet by the photos. The wheat in the first photo was planted later than the wheat in the second.
By late November, visiting school children have picked most of the feed corn out of the cornfield. (As the saying goes, the pickings are now slim.) Our livestock will be well situated this winter with a reserve of corn in the corn shed.
Since mid-October, Howell Farm has been hosting a ram, who is flirting with our ewes. Most visitors to Howell Farm probably haven’t seen the ram, because he and the adult ewes are in a separate pasture – surrounded by an electric fence – apart from the main farmyard. According to Farmer Jeremy, keeping the ram in our regular fences just doesn’t work. It’s not the ram’s fault. All the yearling ewes who are still too young to breed will try to break down the fences in order to be near him.
You wouldn’t know the ram is a ram unless you look closely. He doesn’t have horns. (In the photo below, he’s the dark sheep, second from front.) But he will, Farmer Jeremy says, try to ram you.
As fall turns into winter, the farm chores change with the season. One big change is the amount of effort required to keep the stalls clean. Because the horses spend a lot more time inside the barn as the weather gets colder, it also takes more time to muck the stalls. All that manure then needs to be loaded onto a manure spreader and dispersed across the crop fields.
Another job on Farmer Jeremy’s winter list is to shoe the draft horses with “ice shoes.” These shoes have a special cleat to help dig into icy pathways, and also special leather padding to help prevent the buildup of snow and ice around the shoe.
Farmer Jeremy says one adjustment to the farm schedule for next year will be an earlier wheat harvest. Because Howell Farm is a living history museum focused on public education, many of our public agricultural programs are committed to a calendar months ahead of time. This puts our farmers in the somewhat unenviable position of needing to make predictions about when specific crops will be ready to harvest. This past year, the wheat harvest was probably about two weeks too late. Hungry deer and prickly weeds took advantage of the delay.
And finally, Happy Thanksgiving! I read with great interest recently a book titled 1491, written by journalist Charles Mann, which presents the latest research on Native America civilization pre-Columbus and shortly following the arrival of European settlers. According to the book, much of what we’re taught in school about the first Thanksgiving is true and some of it’s not. But overall, as it is with most things, the real story was probably much more complicated than the one we learned in school.
I don’t have the book in front of me as I type this post, but here’s my recollection, aided by a few Google searches for spellings:
-It’s almost certainly true that the Native Americans taught the pilgrims to plant maize, beans, and squash together. These “three sisters” were excellent companions. The maize provided the beans a pole to climb, the beans added nitrogen to the soil, and the squash leaves helped block out sunlight and stifle weeds.
-It may be false that the Native Americans traditionally used fished as an additional fertilizer for the crops. According to the book, “Squanto” probably did teach the pilgrims the benefits of using fish for fertilizer, but Squanto – whose proper name was Tisquantum – probably picked this trick up from other Europeans. Years before the first Thanksgiving, Tisquantum had been kidnapped by English explorers and taken back to Spain and then London before finally returning to North America.
-The site of the Pilgrims’ settlement was actually the site of Tisquantum’s former village. By the time Tisquantum returned from Europe, after his kidnapping, his people had been wiped out by a European plague, possibly smallpox, and his village abandoned.
-An interesting aspect of the Thanksgiving story, as presented in 1491, is speculation about why the local Native Americans helped the pilgrims as much as they did with agricultural and other assistance. According to the book, the Native Americans were probably no more or less politically minded, warlike, and shrewd than the Europeans whom they encountered. The Indians that attended the first Thanksgiving were from the Wampanoag Confederacy, led by their chief Massasoit. The Wampanoag people had already been decimated by the same plague that destroyed Tisquantum’s tribe, the Patuxet. Meanwhile, Native American tribes to the west of the Wampanoag Confederacy, as yet unaffected by the plague, threatened to overrun the Wampangoag’s borders. The Wampanoag’s decision to help and ally with the Pilgrims was likely a political calculation to try to preserve the Wampanoag Confederacy, rather than a spontaneous act of charity. Although it's nice to think that charity and goodwill and a mutual exchange of cultures played a role, too.
A much better and more detailed version of the story above is found in the page of 1491. Recommended for your winter reading list.
Livestock in Autumn
Howell Farm's pasture fence is receiving some much needed repair this week. In late August, Hurricane Irene's floodwaters washed away much of the fence along the farm lane. Since the storm, lengths of rope have served as a makeshift barrier to keep the sheep corralled. Fortunately, the sheep are not very determined to escape.
Farmer Jonathan and Interns Dan and Aaron are out along the fence line with shovels and post hole diggers this afternoon, putting the fence back in proper order one rail at a time.
Aaron Shier is Howell Farm's newest intern. Hailing from the Washington, DC-area, he spent the past seven months interning at Horsepower Organics in Oregon, where he learned about growing hay and other crops using horsepower. He comes to Howell Farm to continue his farming education. This winter in particular he's looking forward to increasing his knowledge of livestock, small scale dairy operations, and maple sugaring.
The Winter Wheat is Up
It was a misty, mild morning on the farm today. As I walked up the farm lane, I spotted six giant draft horses grazing contently on the hillside pasture. The mist was thick enough that the horses appeared indistinct and shadowy and perhaps more giant than usual against the low-contrast sky. It was a nice scene.
I started to line the horses up for a photo, but I was a few seconds too late. Farmer Jonathan was already making his way through his list of morning chores and the horses knew that feeding time was imminent. They started trotting down the hill and in short order were jostling for position along the farm gate, ready to enter the barn and get some grub.
Whenever I arrive at the farm for my weekly photography and blogging session, my routine is to start by taking a lap around the fields to see what's changed. This week the farm's second field of winter winter is up, green, and thriving. (Last week it was just brown soil.) And the first field of winter wheat -- planted a few days earlier -- is even taller and greener.
One nice thing about farming is that the job changes as the season changes. Winter is a slower time in the fields, but there's plenty of work going on in the barns and workshops, fixing up equipment and preparing for another new season. So this winter, keep checking back on this blog to get a behind-the-scenes look at the world of winter on a 1900s farm.
You may have noticed a slight redesign of The Furrow website. Now, anytime you're curious, you can click on the Crop Map on the right side of the page to see what's growing where. The current map shows the field layout for the past 2011 season. We'll have a new 2012 crop map ready soon.
The Milking Machine
A dispatch from the barnyard from Farmer Rob about the farm's "new" Surge milking machine:
Today the Surge milking machine worked beautifully, with a modification to allow the bucket to sit on the ground instead of hanging under the belly. We extended the vacuum tubes and milk tubes. Now we know where the term "spider" comes from for the apparatus that attaches to the cow. Anyway it milked her pretty quickly with little problems. When we had it under her belly it was hard to keep everything together so it didn't lose vacuum.
I hope that maybe Farmer Jim will be able to show us some "kung fu" for getting the thing to work while hanging. His father used these milkers for years. Jim's buddy gave us the machine and I scrounged up components to make the vacuum pump and tank needed to make the machine go.
For more information on the history of Surge milking machines, click here:
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||