« AnteriorContinuar »
this machinery is combined into great gangs drawn by a powerful traction engine, and such outfits may cover from 35 to 100 acres per day.
Cultivation Subsequent to Sowing.–As a rule, in most countries wheat receives no cultivation between sowing and harvesting. Occasionally, however, it is harrowed or rolled after the seed has germinated, or after it has made some growth and become firmly rooted. This is done to kill weeds or retard evaporation. Ordinarily, such cultivation has not been found of advantage in modern wheat growing. In Japan wheat is planted in rows and hoed, but vegetables are usually raised at the same time between the rows. In the time of Fitzherbert, a kind of wooden shears or hook was used in pulling the weeds out of wheat. In the eighteenth century when wheat was drilled in England, it was hoed with a mattock or hoe.
Pasturing winter wheat is practiced to a certain extent. This should never be continued late in the spring, or when the soil is not in suitable condition, for yield and quality of wheat will then be lowered. If judiciously practiced, there may be no reduction in yield.
1 Okla. Bul. 65, p. 6.
Risks and Customs of the Harvest Period.-Man has a regulative control that is sufficient to insure a crop over so few of the essential conditions of wheat growing that there is always a very large element of risk involved from the time the wheat is sown until it is harvested. Increasing control due to accumulating knowledge acquired from past experience continually diminishes the risk. When a balance of all these things has been struck, however, the fact remains that the modern wheat grower is playing with many factors, anyone of which may cause a partial or complete crop failure. Extremes of heat and cold; drought; superabundance of rainfall; destructive hail or wind storms; floods; parasitic plants, such as smut and rust; predatory insects, birds and rodents; fire; various diseases and other unfavorable conditions may defeat all means to success at the farmer's command. Thus wheat raising, like most of the extractive industries, has a large aleatory element which cannot be eliminated, though it may be reduced to a constant factor by means of the insurance principle, to which we will give subsequent attention.
This risk which is involved reaches its maximum at the harvest period. In most regions wheat must be promptly harvested when it is ripe. If not then attended to, not only is the period of risk prolonged when there is no possibility of further gain, but an actual loss is sustained under the most favorable conditions, and the grain is also more susceptible to the destructive influences of its environment. The grain will now be shelled or lodged by wind previously harmless, many birds seek food in the ripened fields, and the rain causes the seed to lose color and to sprout. The ripening grain must be closely watched, for the determining change in the heads may occur between one day and the next. The field must usually be harvested within two weeks.
In wheat raising the whole year's toil meets with no reward before the harvest. If this is lost, the fruits of all previous labors go with it. Before the advent of modern machinery, harvesting was the most burdensome and exacting operation on the farm. It could not be delayed. The completion of the harvest gave relief from this season of toil and anxiety, and replenished bountifully the stores of grain which had become scant. Secure in this abundance and free from the arduous labors, the early husbandmen enjoyed a time of unusual license during which they dispelled their cares with rounds of uproarious jollification. During these general rejoicings practically all nations celebrated with games and rustic fêtes the final ingathering of the sheaves. In England the close of the season was marked with the “Harvest Home.” A procession led by a pipe and tabor marked the bringing home of the last sheares in the hock-cart. The load was surmounted by a sheaf shaped and dressed to represent the goddess Ceres, or by pretty girls of the reaping band in fantastic attire. The reapers danced about the procession, shouting:
Hip, hip, hip, harvest-home, etc. In France and western Germany was found the Harvest May, bouquet de la moisson. A green sapling or branch was selected at harvest time and adorned with flowers, ornaments, and dainty eatables. It was often set up in the field that was being reaped. When the harvest was made, it was brought home on the last sheaf or load. The farmer received it with a solemn welcome and attached it to some conspicuous spot on the barn or house, where it remained until replaced by its successor. These harvest festivals of modern Europe are very similar to those of ancient Greece, from which they have descended. There a branch of olive or laurel was used for the eiresione, or harvest bush, and it was carried to the temple of Apollo.
The great harvest festival of Rome was the Saturnalia, held late in December at the end of the vintage and harvesting. All classes, even the slaves, devoted themselves to feasting and mirth. Probably one reason why our Christmas was placed at the end of December was that it might supplant the Saturnalia and other heathen festivals. While Christmas is a festive occasion, and once took the place of harvest festivals, Thanksgiving Day is our national harvest festival. It ranks as a legal holiday and is fixed by proclamation. This day was suggested by the Hebrew feast of tabernacles, or the “feast of ingathering at the end of the year." Occasionally in our country there is also an after harvest dance.
Our festivals, however, have lost the rude simplicity and rustic romance characteristic of the past, and they are less immediately connected with the harvest. Modern invention has quite changed the nature of harvesting, rendering it an ordinary process and depriving it of many features which made it important and interesting in the olden times. One feature which has survived is the annual migration of harvest laborers. The novelty, the hardship, and the adventure incident to the travel, and the unusual compensation for the toil, so often performed with emulative zeal, have always lent a peculiar charm and enchantment to this occupation for a certain class of humanity. Every harvest, bands of the Irish used to travel to England, while the Italians and Austrians still go to France and Germany to help reap the grain. Shiploads of Italians regularly go to Argentina for the harvest time, and return to Italy when the season is over. Every year great numbers of agricultural laborers, both men and women, emigrate from the central and western provinces of Russia to the steppes of the east and southeast.
Nowhere else has this feature of harvesting evolved to such an extent as in the United States. The characteristic attractions are here found in an unusual degree, especially upon the bonanza farms of the northwest. In this district there is no farming in the usual sense of the word, for wheat raising has become a business interest differentiated from all others. The hard and practical business atmosphere of our age is everywhere prevalent, an atmosphere that would soon chill the simple home customs of our fathers. Not even home life is found here, for the year around the bulk of the work is done by transient laborers who live at the division dormitory, or in quarters far out on the fields. Nor is there the association of the factory, for men working on different parts of the same farm will often not see each other a single time from one year's end to another. But for the harvester the fascination
of magnitude is always present, for magnitude is characteristic of every phenomenon and of every operation. The mere sight of a field of swaying, rippling wheat, with its green and gold, and with wave upon wave rolling away beyond the observer's horizon, surpasses description.
The Harvest Laborer.-In the United States, the wheat harvest begins in earnest by June. It is September before the last harvester passes northward out of the Red river valley, and during this time the merry click of the reapers is heard from sun to sun. This harvest-time succession has developed its own typical harvester. He first appears in Oklahoma. As the wheat ripens, he travels northward. Before Kansas and Nebraska are left behind, his possessions include a little money, a blanket, and perhaps a sooted tin tea pail. He is now one of an army of many thousands, a great number of whom follow the harvest through the Dakotas and beyond the Canadian border. The typical men of this class rarely pay railroad fare. Many of them ride into the bonanza district on the “blind-baggage" of passenger trains. Perhaps most of them ride on freight trains, at times over a hundred on one train. As a rule, the men of this class are not “hoboes,” though now and then a tramp does work. The tramp element helps some, especially when laborers are scarce, but they are poor and unsatisfactory workmen, and are avoided when possible.
Perhaps a large majority of the men required to harvest the wheat of the middle west do not follow the harvest northward, but merely work through the season in one locality. Tempted by low railroad fares and large wages, they come from nearby cities, and from the states east and south of the wheat district. Many of them are farmers and farmers' sons.
A large per cent are foreigners, especially Scandinavians. The personality of the men varies much. Among them the writer has found the city banker again seeking in the harvest fields during a brief vacation the health and pleasures experienced in younger years; the refined college youth earning the means with which to finish his course in the east; the western pioneer making a desperate effort to keep the wolf from the door of the shanty that sheltered his family, and to save the homestead by paying the interest on the mortagage which drought and frontier misfortunes had placed upon it; the dreamy faced wanderer who