(This page deals with Crop Farming. For information about animal husbandry, go to Animal Husbandry; for stock and poultry farming, go to the Stock and Poultry page. or for farm management, go to the Farm Management page).

Crops are raised in several different environments. There are cereal crops (wheat, corn, maize); surface crops (cabbage, lettuce, celery); underground crops (potato, carrot, turnip); and tree and bush crops (apple, stone-fruit, berry), and each has its own requirements for harvesting.
The divisions here are intended to simplify the subject for those not fully conversant with the technical terms used in farming.

Cereal crops

With cereals, the crop is cut, and then threshed and cleaned to separate the grain from the ears and straw. Tools of the trade were once the scythe, a two-handed tool with a horizontal blade at the bottom, and the sickle, a single-handed tool with a curved blade. The blade was sometimes serrated for better cutting.

The sickle was a one-handed tool. The crop was grasped in a small 
bunch with the other hand then sliced with the sickle. This was useful for corners and small areas, but too slow for larger fields
A sickle
The farmer would usually cut the whole field before returning 
to tie the crop with twine into clumps, which would later be baled.
Farmer with scythe
The scythe was used with two hands, with a sweeping action 
that laid the crop in a fairly ordered row beside the reaper.
The hay was later formed into clumps ready for gathering 
onto a tray drawn by a horse or a tractor.
Hay in clumps
After the crop had been cut and tied, a horse-drawn tray
was used to take it away for baling and stacking.
Gathering clumps of corn
After the crop had been cut and tied, a horse-drawn tray
was used to take it away for baling and stacking.

Machines have been developed that reduce the time needed to harvest these crops. They may provide separate harvesting and threshing operations, or a total solution in one machine.

  • Swathers cut the crop and drop it into a row at the side of the machine.
  • Reapers cut the crop and form it into sheaves, then lay them out for later gathering.
  • Reaper/binders take this one step further by tying the sheaves with twine.
  • Combine harvesters (combines) cut, head and clean the crop in one operation.

Often, groups of farms will share use of the larger machines like the combines, or hire one from a nearby hire company since these are only required for a few weeks each year.

Underground crops

These include crops like carrots and potatoes, where the crop is lifted and the soil removed. This was once a totally manual operation.
They were planted in rows on flat ground for easy gathering. At harvest time pickers moved along the rows uncovering the produce with forks, then returned to gather them later.
Later it was found that raised rows provided better drainage and better crops. Machines like the potato planter were designed. This machine created rows of hills and furrows, dropped and covered the plants, and fertilized them in one operation.

Picture of team hand-planting potatoes.
Hand-planting potatoes

Tractor-assisted sowing saved many hours of labour.
Tractor-assisted sowing

Picture of hand-planted potatoes ready for covering.
Planted potatoes waiting to be covered
Picture of team hand-picking potatoes, with collecting tray in background.
Hand-picking, with collecting tray standing by
Picture of tractor-drawn scraper unearthing potatoes.
Tractor-drawn machine unearthing potatoes.

Picture of scraper lifting potatoes for pickers to recover.
Digger unearthing potatoes for gathering

A modern potato harvester unearths the potatoes several rows at 
a time, and transfers them to an accompanying truck
Modern potato-harvester unearths potatoes and transfers them to a
nearby truck.

Surface crops

Crops that grow on the surface, like cabbage and lettuce, are a bit more delicate than underground crops like potatoes and carrots, and many farmers still prefer to pick these by hand, although machines have been developed to harvest them. Cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli belong to the cabbage family, and a major problem in growing these is they are all attacked by the cabbage white butterfly and its larvae, the cabbage worm. Modern control methods have helped reduce this problem. These include covers on the rows of plants, and Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, a naturally-occurring bacteria which is sprayed on the plants.

Cabbages form a large part of our diet in England
Cabbages are easily picked, usually by hand
Harvesting cabbages
Broccoli is now produced in several colours, though the taste is essentially the same
Coloured broccoli
Cauliflower is a very useful additive to many dishes
The larvae of the cabbage white butterfly attacks cabbage, cauliflower 
        and broccoli crops
Cabbage white butterfly
Picture of cabbage moth worm
Cabbage worm

Tree and bush crops

There used to be little choice of apples in my area - the green Granny Smith, mostly used for cooking, and red eating apples, which I suspect included several different types of apples.
We kids were allowed to take any fruit that was on the ground, referred to as "windfalls". Sometimes the wind was given a little help. I recall often returning from the nearby orchard with my jumper tucked into my pants-top and bulging with apples or pears.
There were also the unpalatable crab-apples, which were just used for jellies and cider. They were (and are) used as rootstock for grafted trees because they were more hardy than other types.
Fruit was picked by hand, as it still is mostly, although mechanical platforms are sometimes used for higher crops. Apples were picked when ripe, while pears were taken while still green and needed a day or two to ripen after picking. Stone-fruits were picked when ripe, and were packed carefully with straw or paper to separate them because they bruised easily.
In modern times there is a huge number of fruit varieties that have been bred for various climates and seasons and uses. Their sweetness varies between different types, and is measured in "brix". A brix rating of 11 is quite sweet-tasting.
Apples and many other fruits are seasonal, and can be picked only for a couple of months of the year, so there were periods when certain fruits were not available. But these days, fruit is picked and kept at near-freezing point, then brought out for sale as needed. Bananas (which are not grown around Manchester) are picked while hard and green, then ripened by treating with ethylene.

Grapes grow on vines, which are lower and are planted in rows that allow a tractor to pass between when pickers are at work.
Grape vines
Some pears acquire a "blush" of red when ripening,
        while others remain green or yellow.
Nashi pears are not "pear-shaped", but shaped like apples.
Nashi pear
Gala apples are very popular now, with high brix levels and good keeping qualities.
Gala apple
The Granny Smith is probably the most 
        popular cooking apple in the world, but is also very flavoursome for eating as-is.
Granny Smith apples
Crab apples have very low brix (sweetness) levels but are good for making 
        jellies and cider.
Crab apples

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