Taking care of the land, planting and harvesting was hard, physical labour for farmers in the past. Farmers needed to use the resources available to them to help make their jobs easier. Farmers would use their animals and make or trade tools to help them with farming.
PHOTO CREDIT: WESTERN DEVELOPMENT MUSEUM
Farmers are using pitchforks to put grain into the threshing machine.
Harvesting a crop means cutting down the stalks and threshing the grain. Threshing the grain means removing the seed from the straw and husks.
This whole family is helping out to harvest their crop on their farm in 1938.
Harvest was a busy and important time on the farm. There was a lot of work to complete harvest each year before winter came. Families and neighbours often worked together to get everything done in time before the first frost.
A group of harvesters have cut the crops and bundled the stalks into these sheaves that were left to dry in the field before being hauled into the barn.
When a crop was ready to harvest, the farmer used a sickle, scythe or cradle scythe to cut the crop. Next, the stalks were bundled into sheaves. The bunch of sheaves were leaned against each other so the sheaves stood up. The standing bundles were called stooks. The stooks were left to dry in the field. Later, the sheaves were hauled to the barn.
Farmers helping each other to get the crop off the field before the first frost.
Bunches of sheaves were piled into standing bundles called stooks.
The grain was spread out on the floor of the barn or outside on the ground and hit with a flail. Seeds, chaff (bits of seed head) and straw remained. The straw was used as bedding for the farm animals or as a mattress-filler.
A group of people are demonstrating how flails were used to remove seeds from the sheaves.
After the flail was used, the seeds often still had some of outer shell on them. It was important to separate the outer shell (called chaff) from the seed because only the seed was edible. The process of separating the seed from the chaff is called winnowing. This is a very old practice that has been used all over the world. The winnowed grain was stored for animal feed or taken in sacks to the mill to be ground into flour. This stone-ground flour was better than flour ground by hand.
This is an illustration of a farmer winnowing grain.
Types of Crops
Many of the farmers brought seeds from their homeland and planted those seeds for their first crops. The crops that were planted were wheat, rye, oats, barley, and flax. The climate was different in the Prairies though and the crops did not always grow well or sometimes they froze because of the short summers.
Farmers used their crops to provide food for their families and their animals. Farmers also always saved some seed to plant the following year. Extra seed was traded or sold to get other items they needed that they could not make themselves, such as salt, sugar, cooking equipment, etc.
Farmers sold extra seeds so they could buy items they needed, such as household items.
BarleyBarley was used to feed the farm animals. Many of the settlers’ breads, soups, and stews also had barley in them.
Wheat was used to make flour, which could be used to make loaves of bread, pastries, and pasta.
Rye could be used to make flour as well, but sometimes rye crops grew better in certain types of soils than wheat crops did. Rye straw was also incredibly strong and could be used for a variety of things, such as basket making, insulation, and padding for horse equipment.
Oats were mainly used to feed the horses. Settlers would also make a breakfast porridge using oats.
Flax was used for making linen because the flax fibres were very strong, absorbent, and dried faster than cotton. Also farmers in Saskatchewan could not grow cotton because of the weather.