Almanacs were extremely popular books in the farming community, largely because of their weather predictions. Farmers would use these predictions to help plan the planting season.
In 1862, Lucy Medora Walker, a woman from Springfield (Otsego County), New York, kept a diary. In addition to recording her daily events, “Dora” kept a memorandum in the back of her diary that tracked how much of her money she spent. She earned her money by picking hops.
In the early nineteenth century, turnpikes, also known as toll roads, crossed New York State. These roads were much different than modern paved highways. They were little more than dirt roads. These roads gave farmers a route to bring their goods to market. Farmers, and other travelers, had to pay a toll to travel on the roads. The term “neat cattle” refers to cows, bulls, and oxen.
After the hops pickers harvested the hops into hop boxes, the farmer paid them with tickets. Each ticket represented the number of boxes the worker picked. These tickets are from the Wedderspoon farm near Cooperstown, NY.
This image from Benjamin Butterworth’s The Growth of Industrial Art, depicts reaping grain during the colonial period. Reaping had to be done by hand, using a scythe or hay knife to cut the grain. Notice that the whole family helps with the field work.
By the mid-nineteenth century, farmers no longer had to reap entirely by hand. Machines made the work of harvesting go more quickly. This Self Raker Harvester was patented in 1855, to help farmers bring in their harvest.
In order to harvest grain and process it to be used for food, farmers must cut the grain from the field and separate the grain from the plant. Cutting the grain in the field is known has harvesting or reaping. Separating the grain from the plant is known as threshing. Harvesting and threshing were two separate jobs, but machines called “combines” save farmers time by both cutting and threshing in one step.
This combine was patented in 1879. Notice the machine was powered by steam, but the farmer still relied on horses to move the machine through the fields.
To harvest grain, the crop was usually first cut, then the grain was separated from the stalk or body of the crop. Grain cradles were used for cutting and gathering the crops. The long wooden “fingers” of the cradle gathered the straw as it was cut and deposited it in piles. The cradle was an improvement on a single blade because the fingers acted as extensions of the farmer’s arms and made harvesting a little easier.
This 1882 oil painting by Theodore Robinson illustrates the change in technology toward wheeled farm equipment. This riding reaper, or cutter, reduced the amount of physical labor needed to harvest crops. The horses pulled the reaper, and it cut automatically. The farmer only had to direct the horses. This painting also illustrates how women played an important role on farms as well. Women often did just as much work in the fields as men.
Planting is a very important step in the farming process. This small seeding bag spread the grain seed out onto the field. Planting could have also been done by hand, but the seeding bag made the process much easier. This seeder is operated by a crank at the bottom. The farmer would turn the crank, the seeds would come out through the bottom of the bag, and be spread out onto the field.