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Soil Preparation at Howell Living History Farm, Mercer County Park Commission (USA)

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

The 3-acre field is located within the farm's 45 tillable acres.The 130-acre historic farm and surrounding Pleasant Valley Rural Historic District is located between the last 2 ridges of the Sourland Mountains in west central New Jersey, near the Delaware River.The district includes five farms dating to the 18th century, as well as several others of later origin.The farm and surrounding district is listed on both the New Jersey State and the National Register of Historic Places.

Areal of Howell Living History Farm

Rainfall in the area averages 50" and snowfall averages 20". During the winter months, temperatures measured in Farenheit average in the high teens/low-mid 20s. Summers range in the mid-high 80s.

The Soil in the 2021/22 wheat field is classified as Piedmont Soil, and is well drained and was used historically for a grain and hay rotation that includes corn, oats, wheat, clover hay and timothy hay. Within the farm's historical crop rotation, wheat typically follows oats. The oat crop that was grown in what is now our wheat field, was planted in early April (2021) after soil preparation that included horse drawn plowing (late March) and tractor-drawn harrowing.

Syracuse 401 walking plow

In keeping with the farm's circa 1900 historical practices, plowing is done with walking plows pulled by work horses. The Plows are of the mouldboard type, and typically right-handed with bottoms in the 12" - 14" range. Depending on soil conditions, plowed ground is rolled or packed immediately after plowing, so as to begin breaking down the structure of the slices turned by the plow. Plows used are mostly Syracuse 401 and Syracuse 402 plows. The 401 is rated as a heavy two- or light 3-horse plow. The 402 is shown in Syracuse cataglogues as a 2-horse plow.

Subsequent tillage/secondary tillage begins with a two-horse roller or packer (as described above) and is followed by a series of operations that work-up the soil in a manner that renders it suitable for planting. Operations most often include harrowing with spring-tooth or disc harrows, which during the farm's first 30 years of operation were drawn only by horses or in some cases oxen. In recent years, due to aging horses and to staffing shortages caused by attrition and also the COVID pandemic, much of the harrowing has been done using tractors as a power source.

In our 2021 winter wheat field, the plowing was done with horses; harrowing with a tractor.

Talking about the main traction force at Howell Farm, Pete Watson is explaining: “We use what we consider to be 'old fashioned farm horses' for tillage – horses that stand 15-16 hands, weigh 1500-1800 lbs and that typically are a mixture of heavy and light horse breeds. Currently we have 3 teams: grade Percherons, grade Belgians, and a team comprised of a Belgian/Standardbred cross with a Canadian cross. We also have the remaining 30-year old+ member of a team of grade Belgains, that we use for light work. Tractors include a 1940 Farmall H, and several John Deere tractors (5400 series).”

Horse Plowing at Howell Living History Farm

1 Comment

Priscilla Rall
Priscilla Rall
Mar 12, 2022

30 years old and still working in the fields! Very inspiring for an old lady.

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