Thursday, May 23, 2019

Two Snakes Embrace in a Preserved Princeton Farm Field


I recently met with DR Greenway's Cindy Taylor to discuss management of 4.5 acres of farmland preserved by Mercer County. The land is strategically located next to Veblen House and Herrontown Woods, near the corner of Snowden Lane and Herrontown Road. It seemed destined to be added to Herrontown Woods, but was not included in last year's transfer of Herrontown Woods from county to town ownership.

While walking the property we nearly stepped on a couple snakes out mating in their field. From what I've heard and read, there are venemous snakes in northern and southern New Jersey, but not here in the central region. This one, or two, look like something a botanist would call a garter snake. I hope they didn't mind too much our human curiosity.

Up until a couple years ago the land was owned by John Powell, who was manager of the Weller farm before it became Smoyer Park. Each year on his six remaining acres of pasture, John would grow a couple head of cattle, a picturesque reminder of when Jac Weller had a real farm across the road, with bulls that would occasionally escape, prompting a surprised neighbor to call the farm to report that there was a bull in the backyard.

The preserved land includes a small pond that's filled in spring with spring peepers.

The 4.5 preserved acres are as close to a clean slate as we get in Princeton. Do we keep it as pasture with mostly nonnative grasses? Or do we shift it to native prairie grasses and wet meadow wildflowers? Periodic mowing would be needed in either case. Letting it grow up in trees would reduce even further the places where shade-intolerant plant species can grow. Or can it still perform some farm-like function? I showed NOFA-NJ (Northeast Organic Farmers' Association) the site years ago, including the adjacent farmhouse, without success.


Meanwhile, we continue our travel through the 21st century. Ash trees on the neighbor's property succumb to Emerald Ash Borer,


while garter snakes know what to do with a field, even if we do not.



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