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.