Whoever reaps a harvest
Matured by sun and rain,
Sees more than seed and fruitage
And more than measured grain.
He knows, with heart uplifted,
Returning from the field,
Man only plants, believing,
God gives the harvest yield.
I was reminded recently of the aforesaid poem, written by Cleo King, of the days when I was a youngster living on the farm with my parents and siblings. Every fall my dad would harvest the corn crop that had been growing taller all summer long. I loved seeing the corn tassels waving on the breeze when I got off of the school bus at the corner and walked up the country road to our home.
Thinking about all the hard labor it took to plant and harvest the corn and other crops in those days, compared to the way it is accomplished today, it’s amazing. I don’t even know the names of all the modern equipment farmers have available now days. Although harvesting crops isn’t easy, it takes much less time today than it did in yesteryear. The change would be even more amazing if one had seen how the early settlers harvested their crops.
In the 1800s, American farmers used everything from a simple hoe to a thresher that gave off black smoke. Eventually when machines became available they were run by hand, oxen or horses.
One of the most important tools for early farmers was the plow. It was used to loosen the soil so moisture could reach the crops roots and to keep down the weeds. It was made out of wood by a blacksmith and held together with metal bolts and bars. Later, cast iron parts were added to the cutting edge of the plow. It took two oxen and three workers to operated the plow. Of course that was very slow work.
When the John Deere’s plow was invented, it pulled easier, and farmers could use horses instead of the slow oxen. Thus planting and harvesting was accomplished much faster.
In the early years corn and other grains were planted by hand. Getting rid of the weeds was done by stirring the soil to kill them. As new technologies became available the farmers, work became easier and faster. One of those technologies was the colter, a sharp wheel-shaped piece on plows, which would cut the soil and help the plow blade get through the soil easier. But still a farmer walked behind it so he could only plow a couple acres a day. Then a two-horse sulky plow became available. It had a seat in which a farmer could ride. It was pulled by two horses and could plow two rows at a time so seven acres could be plowed in a day.
When it came to harvest time, it meant even more hard work. For instance, hand husking corn in early days was a slow, difficult task. Each ear was picked by hand and put into a wagon. The high board on the wagon was called a “bang board.” When the ear hit that board, it dropped the ear into the wagon.
Harvesting the whole corn at once was difficult too. Corn stalks are heavy and setting them up in a shock was a back-breaking task. Moreover they were cut with a cradle which was a scythe that sliced the stalks close to the ground. Then the stalks were tied into bundles called shocks to dry before hauling them to the barn.
Other grain harvesting was also hard work necessitating much hand labor not to mention making the finished crops into flour and other eatable products.
I did not personally experience the earliest farming methods, but I vividly recall seeing my dad and Uncle Frank putting the corn stalks into bundles in the field to dry before taking it to the barn on a horse drawn wagon.
Thankfully other farming equipment was invented over the years making farmers tasks much easier. Nevertheless, farming is still hard work seven days a week and cannot be avoided even one day unless someone gives them a reprieve for a while. Nevertheless, for one who enjoys working for themselves, outside and inside, it’s a gratifying occupation and we should all be thankful that there are dedicated farmers to supply the means of food and other necessities of life. Moreover, I believe it’s a great place to bring up a family, but that’s another story for another day.