Monday, 29 October 2012

The Harvest Moon

Harvest season was a very busy time of back breaking work for pioneers. Today, farmers can harvest their crops quickly and easy by using modern mechanized farm equipment. But for the pioneers, fall was a busy season, as all members of the family had to participate in order to ensure there would be enough food to survive the winter. It would start in late August, beginning with the wheat; pioneers would harvest the wheat by hand, cutting it by using a sickle or a scythe. The stalk of wheat was turned into straw, which could then be stuffed into mattresses or used as bedding for animals. The harvester that farmers use today combines many steps that the pioneers had to do by hand. After cutting the wheat and placing the stalks in shocks to dry, pioneers would need to separate the kernels from the stalks, using a piece of equipment known as a flail.

Winnowing Tray
 The kernels would land on the barn floor and would be swept up up and placed in a winnowing tray. Winnowing was done on a windy day. This process would separate the wheat from the chaff. Eventually, a fan mill was used to separate the wheat kernel from the chaff rather than relying on nature to provide the wind power. Farmers would then take their wheat to the Grist mill, and grinding stones were used to grind the wheat into flour. Again, natural resources were used as the grinding stones were usually powered by a waterwheel. Today, we have flour mills that grind wheat into flour by using a roller mill. Corn was also harvested by using a sickle or a scythe.

The fall was also a time when animals were slaughtered. The meat was hung on hooks in the smoke house and smoked for several days before being preserved by salt. The soft fat from pigs was used to make soap, and beef or sheep fat was used to make tallow candles. Vegetables and fruits from the garden were preserved with sugar, salt, and spice, while herbs and apples were dried. Females in the family spent many hours preserving and pickling food for winter storage. Many families would host a harvest bee where neighbours would come and help each other with the work and it would finish off with a barn dance after.

Farmers planned to harvest when there was to be a full moon, so that they had enough light to work until midnight, if necessary. In September, the full moon seems to linger in the sky for several nights in a row; hence, the expression, Harvest Moon.

School groups can learn more about Harvesting during our “Harvest Moon” Program presented at the Myrtleville House Museum. Students get the opportunity to take tour of the workshop, shell corn, make apple cider with our apple cider press, bake apple cookies, and learn about the harvest season with this program.

Fanning Mill
For more information about booking programs, please visit our website or call Lisa Anderson, Education Officer at 519-752-3216 or

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