During the early settlement of America and the subsequent Colonial times, farming was the backbone of economy and wealth. Every member of the household would have had chores to do, and the family’s food and money supply would have relied on the success of the farm. Colonial farmers used a variety of tools to keep their livelihoods going, some of which are not very different from those we use today.

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Farm.

Preparing the Soil

Field of vegetable crops
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Prepare soil.

From the Colonial times to modern farms, fields need to be prepared to receive seed. Colonial farmers used a variety of plows to till the soil and get it ready for the growing season.

Modern gardeners and farmers use hoes to prepare soil. Colonial farmers would have used similar tools. This long-handled tool with a flat blade on the end has changed little over time. Farmers would swing this tool into the soil before planting to cut out weeds that would compete with crops for water and soil nutrients. Hoes could also be used to break up clumps of dirt or stone that could prevent seeds from taking root.

Many modern growers use aerators, which break up clumpy soil by making small holes in the surface. These holes allow for water and air to penetrate the soil, increasing growing chances. Colonial farmers used a similar machine called a spiky roller. This large wood and iron machine was driven by a man controlling a team of oxen. It weighed nearly 2,000 pounds. The tool would drive iron spikes into the surface, breaking up clumps and weeds over a large section of land.

After Planting

Pitchfork and metal rake
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Pitch fork.

When the planting was finished, colonial farmers had to plow the fields to allow for proper water and nutrient absorption.

Cultivators and shovel plows also were used to move between rows of plants to create furrows for water. These tools were often pulled by horses or mules, since the plows themselves were often made of iron and could be extremely heavy.

Colonials also used a variety of long-handled forks on the farm. Pitch forks could be used to feed cattle or spread hay across the soil. Dung forks, which were essentially pitch forks with longer tines, were used to spread manure over the soil in the fields. Manure would provide nutrients to the growing plants.

Harvest

Basket of vegetables
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Harvested food.

Colonial farmers also had tools to harvest their food. The basic harvesting tool was a reap hook or scythe, a long, curved blade that had a short handle. Harvesters would swing the blade back and forth to cut down grains for harvesting.

Some farmers may have used cradles, which were basically reap hooks with small rods or fingers protruding from the blade. These rods would catch the grain as it fell and slow its descent, allowing it to gently touch the ground. This reduced the loss of grain and wheat from impact.