Last Updated:  17 June 2002

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Remmick.Home.Site Page 46

Russian Harvest

man scythe

Tools, Machines, & Other Items Needed for Harvesting Grain


Baskets were used for the pickling of the wheat,  [see description and process below] as well as for the  carrying  of food to the people taking part in the plowing,  later, the sowing  of the the seed , harvesting and then taking the grain to a mill/ and, or market.

Baskets were not usually made by farmers or their families but purchased from the wandering peddler who always held a variety of different kinds  of  baskets the peddler had purchased from the men, women and children who made them for their living and usually lived near a lyman where the reeds could be fathered and used.   They were simple and cheap or very expensive and ornate.

See Step Four for picture of  basket.

Double Handled Sowing Basket- The  woven wicker basket had two handles on the one side and straps could be slipped through and it could hang around a person's neck if a person sowed seeds with both hands.  There were a variety of shapes and sizes and each person found one that suited him or her if possible.  On the opposite side of the handles was often found a "stave" with which a person could use to steady the basket if needed.

Those who did not use baskets could have used a "sowing sheet" that was like a sling made of heavy canvas and used by someone who used only one hand to sow the seed.

The seed fiddle  [bag] was canvas and had a wood frame with a strap around the sower's neck and rested on the sower's chest. It could hold up to seven pounds of seed.



The practice of dibbers was used until the early 1800s by people who didn't broadcast their seed.    For some who didn't want to poke every single hole for a seed/ seeds,  they used a dibbling wheel that speeded the process.





Plows  [Ploughs]:


The first plow was a man's finger, than a stick, a bone and slowly   through the ages wood and metal developed  into forms being pulled behind a tractor which we know and recognize today .   

This tool was needed to break the soil and prepare it for seeding.  So, the better  and stronger the plow, the easier it was for the farmer.

By 1840 the  plowwrights and blacksmiths were creating more than eighty different types of plows. To name a few:

  • swing plow - worked on least favorable soil
  • wheel plow - made plowing easier ;  depth of the plow would change in height
  • double furrow plow - cut separate furrows at the same time
  • multiple plow - an invention which worked best after the tractor was invented; a three furrow plow
  • turn-wrest plow - sliced furrows in one direction
  • paring plow - removed shallow slice of turf with a flat share to remove surface growth
  • ridging plow - lifted up two ridges to form a hollow into which see could be sown
  • sulky [gang] plow - driver could be seated and farmers preferred the single furrow-wheeled plow with it
  • potato lifting plow
  • steam balance plow
  • subsoil plow
  • draining plow
  • disc plow


From what I understand from the Schweikert Family tales, when the German-Russians first migrated into Russia they purchased what was being sold by the Russians or had German plows.  However, because of the vegetation and the virgin soil,  these plows twisted into useless piles of metal.  Fortunately, the Schweikerts and other Germans who had lived for a time in Poland had discovered the "Polish Plow" which was stronger in two ways.  The beam  was arched and medal for the blade was a new mix  called "cast iron", later, came the mix of  metal called steel [1837].  According to Joseph S. Height's book HOMESTEADERS ON THE STEPPE, The Odyssey of a Pioneering People, p. 324, the first  steel  plow was made by John Deere. He gives credit to Arnold Bechtel  of Freudental who produced the first iron plow in S Russia in 1840.  It could plow four acres a day.  Bechtels, Schweikerts, Henks, Hohns and others couldn't turn the "new" plows  ["colonist plows"] out fast enough because the demands were so high.

The Schweikerts of Borodino / Bess.  invented new kinds of plows,  one of them was the two-ply plow which  was shown at the  largest Russian Fair and won all kinds of awards.  




Sickle and Scythe:


According to family tales and history there are different tool connected with the harvest of gain. From what I understand the ancient Egyptians harvested wild and cultivated corn with a primitive form of a sickle.  Evidence tells us the first sickle was made from the jawbone of a large animal which had teeth sharpened down to form a cutting edge.  As man progressed through the centuries,  man developed better tools.  A sickle was a wooden handel and an iron curved blade.  The early German-Russians used these sickles to cut grass and grain crops.  The process was slow, hard on the back, hands and legs.  Different kinds of sickles had been invented for different chores.  The "reaping hook" had a cutting edge of about 18 inches long, was curved with tiny teeth which was connected to a short wood handel. This was used for corn.  The "bagging hook" was not as curved as the "reaping hook" and it's blade was ground down to a thin sharp cutting edge used to "hack" over the corn which sped up the harvest because the blade didn't have to "cut" but "hacked down" the stalks.  The "reaping scythe", also known as the "cradle scythe", replaced the sickle for reaping corn and was found to work well on grasses and grain.  The blade  was about 40 to 48 inches long  but straight accept for the last several inches.  The handel was long and had two handles which allowed greater ability to cut.  The HAINAULT SCYTHE originated in Flanders during the Middle Ages.....  It was found to cut one third more  each day than the "reaping hook".  Variations were added to the Hainault scythe and it produced what is called the "mowing" scythe.  And this was used in the early 1900s.  

Threshing Machines:

The process of separating the stalk from the seed is called threshing.  The earliest known process was beating the stalks which were loosely  spread out.  The next step in the evolution of threshing was the method of driving  oxen who were dragging a sledge to tread and separate the grain from the stock.  The Romans used a heavy wooden platform mounted upon rollers which was dragged behind oxen over piles of sheaves..... A threshing floor evolved...  It is thought that the first threshing machine was created by Michael Menzies about 1732.  It could flail the corn at 1,320 stokes per minute. It's failing was that it left too many seeds plastered to the flooring.  The machines which followed were powered by horses and the purpose was to separate the grin with revolving beaters....  This can be seen the the photograph on page 45 where the horses go around and around about two miles per hour and the horizontal drive shaft which is attached to the radial arms of the gear rotates the gears in the drive shaft and four beater bars inside the threshing machine revolve with rapid motion and separate with amazing speed the grain from the sheaves...  Plus they were portable.


About 1889 Karl Schweikert was  the  first to sell Steam  tractors which had been converted into a "combustion engine tractor"  in and around Borodino  / Bessarabia .  I assume he had sued a single cylinder gas engine mounted on the steam tractor which  Karl Schweikert had purchased from  them from the USA. The first to buy one was Michael Hein of Borodino,   but, most of  the  other German-Russian farmer believed they had to draw the line and it was with the tractor which frighted the horses as well as the women and children.    He lost a great deal of money, sold his shop  and was off to the Crimea where blacksmiths were in high demand and making good money.  The American  J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company who  had produced the first gas powered machine, also, failed but regained fame with it's two-cylinder machines in 1895....

It was not until WWI that man  and horse power plus food shortages which caused the tractors to catch hold in the USA, but, even in the 1990s the Russian steppes still see the old ways, scythe and horse drawn plows more often than not.

By 1918 all kinds of tractors were coming into their own and continue to be developed today ass we near the year 2000.

Wagons & Carts:

The main vehicles of moving and transporting was accomplished by carts and wagons.  The list in brief:
  • carts - simple platform of rough wood planking with sides, it was  fastened to an axle with solid wheels
  • trumbils - body of the platform could be titled up and the front and contents spilled out at the back, fasten to axle and wheels
  • hay or corn cart - cart that was elongated and used at harvest time, the wheels were usually wider and rimmed with convex iron tyres which prevented the damage of grasslands
  • cattle cart- built lower to the ground for the ease of loading sheep, pigs, cattle, etc. unto it's platform that held sides suitable for the beast it was carrying, some were covered to protect beasts from foul weather.. The axel and wheels were made to hold the weight..
  • pony cart - light cart which the farmer drove to the market or a child guided it's pony
  • farm wagons - the frame was heavier  and larger about eleven to fourteen or eighteen feet and the wheels were spoked  with the diameter of four to five feet with metal rims and it took a wheelwright and a wagonwright far longer to build


Wheels were complex and needed more than a carpenter or  a blacksmith to produce a finished product that was needed for a heavy farm wagon..

Winnowing Forks:

The Various Steps from Plowing, Seeding, Sowing to Harvest


Step One - Buying the Seed:

Where did one go to buy the seed or did they?  Was the seed saved from the last crop?

Step  Two - Pickling wheat:

Pickling wheat  sounds as if one placed the wheat in a jar, covered it with vinegar and water and screwed on the lid. However, that isn't what it means. Wheat seeds had to be treated against disease. This task was usually done on an evening just before seeding.  The seed had to be placed into a basket and it was lowered into a copper-sulphate solution. The basket was drawn out of the solution and set to dry.  One had to be careful not to let the dripping basket drain over a container, usually an open  barrel.  This was done with a rod pushed through the handles and hung.  The process prevented various fungi from destroying the seed before it had a chance to sprout.

If one was fortunate, they had "wet wheat pickling machines".

Step Three - Plowing:

 One of the excellent descriptions of  growing and harvesting wheat was written by David Weigum in his book MY HOME ON THE CRIMEAN STEPPE.  He was born in 1876 Ludwigstal (Meschen), Crimea.  Here are a few excerpts:

plow and oxen

Page 22:

"It was always quite an event when the plows were hitched up for the first time after winter."

Page 23-24
"For the farmer the cracking of the sod as it was broken loose from its century - or millenia- old entangled growth was a beloved sound. As he walked behind the plow, which did not need to be held but simply lowered into the ground and raised again at the end of the field, the farmer already visualized th waving wheat fields and calculated the income form the golden grain.  He had no ear for the other sound, the painful groan which emanated from the cracking of the soil as the coulter cut through it and the plowshare turned it over.  The turning over of the virgin sod signified a turning point in nature and in time for the steppe."
David Weigum saw the virgin soil turn into fields of wheat and understood that it's beginning would become and ending for plants like the "goat's beard" and other plants as well as many of the wild creatures, like the crane.  
It's a good book to read.
Remmick's Family note: The Weigums  married into the Hofer and Schweikert families.  I don't know if their Weber family is connected to my own.

horse and harrow

If the ground was in need of being leveled,  a harrow was dragged behind an ox or horse.

Step Four

Sow the seed and watch the seed grow and when it started to head, check and see  how many bushels  would be produced by taking a single stock and counting the kernels and repeating this process to get an estimate of the entire field or fields

sowing seed

Step Five

Preparation for harvest:  Saw to tools, machines, etc. etc.

Step Six:

The call went out to the workers needed to harvest the grain
David Weigum wrote [page 39], "Several days before harvest the Kazapps, as the Great Russians were called, arrived from the north. They gathered by the hundreds at the railway stations and the market places or wandered from village to village, men, women and girls"

Step Seven:

The fields were cut.

men in wheat field

In olden times the fields were cut with  Sickle and scythes then each stack was bound with twine by hand.  In later times it was the mower that cut,  the raker  followed and then the  binder that tied the stalks and grain into bundles.  

In the "olden times" all the cut grain was brought to the farm yard to be thrashed.

Step Eight:

Threshing floor had been prepared and harden if  it was a dirt floor.

The bundled stalks or sheaves were unbound and spread out on the threshing floor. Not too thick and not to thin.

Horses or oxen were hitched to the wheel on top of the grinding stone and  the beasts were  made to walk around and around as the stone loosen the grain from the shaft.....  The stone and beasts were removed and the shaft and chaff was lifted off  ["shaken"]  with winnowing forks and  let the wind blow what was left free of the sheaves to fall to the floor.

The kernels of grain were collected....  If there were hard kernels that hadn't separated, these were given the "riding off" which meant they were returned to the floor and stone and reground....

Step Nine:

Cleaning machine.....

Step Ten:

Grain was shoveled into sacks

Step Eleven:

Grain was hauled to trade or sell to another village, town or city.... which had a railroad or port.
Again, David Weigum gives us a scene in his book that allows us to know what it was like [page 62]:  "...After one arrived, there was often a long wait before one could drive up and unload.  Before the unloading, an employee, the Prishthik, puncture several sacks with a pointed hollow instrument and let some test grain roll into a bowl.  These test portions were then weighed with special fine scale for their specific weight and from this weight along with the color of the grain the price was determined. At the unloading, only a few sacks had to be placed on the large scale.  The others were emptied onto the large pile and their weight was accepted in good faith."

Business ended at the buyer's office, Kontor, near the railroad or the port stations.

According to Weigum and others, the villages or town or cities resembled a huge gathering place for everyone concern, even the Jewish men who loaned money.  A sea of empty wagons were parked near stores where they would be loaded with items bought to take home....  Meanwhile,  the horses were unhitched and taken to be watered and cared and feed... If one had the money, the horses were taken to stables of an Inn....

 Lanterns were burning everywhere when darkness fell and a person was still in town.  Older children and reliable servants watched the wagons and horses to prevent thieves from taking anything that didn't belong to them...

Outside the stores were booths of all kinds....  One could buy all kinds of nuts, especially the  sunflower seeds , which were the most popular or Halava [Halwa],  or Busa [an alcohol-free drink made from millet],  lemonade with ice....french rolls, kringles [sweet roll] that had been deep fired..... Sausages of different kinds not made at home....  Lamb ka bobs sent a  marvelous order into the air....All kinds of fruits  were sold....

One of my grandfathers Ludwig Hein's favorite fruit was the Crimean apple,  a Snapy [Synappy ], that was greenish-yellow with one red on just one of  it's elongated  side.... There was another apple that was green and it's skin was transparent and the flesh was very sweet and juciey....

Children usually fell asleep if they could after telling ghost stories before midnight.

The men stayed up very late as they gathered in various ways and places to talk about the old times, news of the world, or whatever they liked to talk about, while they drank  tea and from time to time a glass of snapps,  and, smoked their newly purchased tobacco. in hand carved pipes that were as different as the men who smoked them.

Morning came too soon for most.

Step Twelve:

Return home without mishap.

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