Four Seasons

Winter

Despite suggestions by many that winter was a quiet seasonin the “old days” , having read many accounts of winter in the settlements, I beg to differ.

In fact it would seem that winter work was just as demanding as that of the other three seasons. With the exception of especially stormy days when freezing rain or high winds made work in the bush too dangerous, they worked from dawn to dusk.

Days when work in the forest was not possible were not wasted, there was always equipment and harness to be mended, buckets, troughs and spouts for spring tapping to be made or repaired, and grain waiting in the barn to be threshed. No, winter on a homestead was not a time for idleness.

With the homestead prepared for winter, it was back to clearing as large an area as possible for cultivation in spring. In order to get maximum benefit from the clearing project it was essential for the settler to familiarize himself with the various types of soils, and the value of the different logs. Areas with primarily pine trees the soil was generally not suitable for cultivation and the of soft wood stumps were almost impossible to remove and extremely slow to rot.

Pines, hemlock, fir, took 30 or 40 years to rot. However, pine was valued as a timber to be sawed into boards, or for making charcoal for blacksmiths. Both uses were of great value in a new settlement with so much construction being carried on. Beech, maple, and hickory were put aside for firewood. It took many cords to heat a house during a long, cold, winter.

An area with an assortment of hardwood trees flourished in prime growing soil preferable for fields. This area was chosen to begin clearing. The hard wood stumps also had the advantage of rotting in 7 or 8 years and were easily removed. Hardwood not required for other uses was set aside for making potash. Initially potash was a main source of revenue in a new settlement.

Oak logs, split, made durable fence posts, pine, cedar, and white ash were used to make the rails.

All this was duly noted and these logs were not burnt but piled for later use.

All winter the men worked in the bush felling trees despite the rain, sleet, snow and cold. Very few days were lost due to inclement weather. By spring they looked forward to having a relatively good size area to plant.

Spring

Seeding was done by hand. A canvas bag slung over the shoulder held the seed that was strewn evenly over the prepared field. A measured pace and regular arm swing spread the seed evenly. This took some practice but once the technique was mastered the result was an even field of grain or hay. Finally, the field was harrowed again to cover the seed before the birds could devoir them.

British settlers were paricularly scrupulous in the maintenance of their fields using manure from the livestock as well as rotating crops.  

As the clearings became larger they were planted with several types of wheat, rye, barley, oats, buckwheat, peas, flax, potatoes, corn pumpkins, and turnips. 

The garden produced radishes, beets, carrots, parsnips, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, onions, melons, watermelons, and several types of herbs and berries.

Every farm had at least one apple tree.  Plum and cherry  trees were also cultivated. The Copping family had a pear tree in a sheltered area near the house. 

The fruit trees were protected against insects by sprinkling them frequently with soapsuds, salt and water impregnated with sulphur or dusting them with hot lime.

Corn and potatoes were planted in holes or hills rather than seeded. Pumpkins were planted with the corn. The rough leaves of the pumpkins served to discourage marauders. Pumpkins were used to feed the animals.

The first years  land there was not much ground prepared for seeding. The seed was dropped and covered over. Corn, potatoes and a little wheat were usual choice for early planting. Every spring there was a little more ground plant. 

The soil around and between the stumps was loosened with a grubber and harrowed or raked smooth.

A harrow made from an oak root with steel teeth inserted.

With the seeding done it was a matter of waiting for the crop to grow and removing any weeds that appeared. Weeding was done by a hand, task assigned to the younger children, both boys and girls.

There were also nature’s marauders – squirrels, crows, and Blue Jays, who had no qualms raiding the corn patch despite the prickly pumpkin leaves. The youngest members of the family were put on sentry duty to scare the intruders off.

In a new settlement there were other intruders including foxes, skunks and raccoons, with a taste for poultry and eggs.

Bears were another worry. Attracted by a new source of food, they soon made their presence known killing sheep and cattle that grazed in opened areas. The report of a bear killing a cow was not unusual.

Whenever there was evidence of a bear in the vicinity a hunt was organized but might not necessarily be successful. The prey was sometimes craftier than the hunters.

Sheep were particularly vulnerable bear attacks and were penned in every night.

Summer

If winter provided many challenges to the newcomers, summer also had his difficulties. The first challenge was a necessity of their bodies to adapt to the extreme heat and frequent humidity. Most had never experience the extreme temperatures the Canadas presented. Sun stroke and heat prostration were common afflictions for those who did not take proper precautions. The Coppings had been in Canada for 10 years before they came to Rawdon and thus better accustomed to the extreme temperatures than many of their neighbours.

Bloodthirsty invaders in the form of black flies and mosquitoes were constant plague spring through fall. Settlers had little defence against these tormentors. Exposed parts of the bodies were soon swollen, itching, and dripping with blood. Vinegar, lemon oil, or lavender, were the only options available even though they were not particularly effective. George complained about the flies pestering the animals as well as humans. They were merciless in the fields and in the bush. George very simply comments, “The black flies have become a real nuisance now”.

In George’s time haying was done without the help of automation. Horse-drawn mowing machines were invented after 1849. Haying was considered one of the hardest tasks facing farmers, made worse by the fact it was done in the hottest season, beginning in July and completed in August. It was advised to rise early and start cutting before sunrise. Not only would you be working in the cooler morning but hay was considered easier to cut when the dew was still on. About noon the advice was to leave the field for other chores returning to cut about four in the afternoon when the worst heat was passed.

Hay was cut with a scythe swung in along wide arch cutting the  hay as it passed. The long, thin, blade of the scythe was kept sharpened using an emery stone carried in the mowers pocket.

Practice usually brought about the smooth, steady, swing recommended for ideal results. It was not uncommon to suffer from a sore back after a few hours of swinging a scythe. George was a regular victim of such suffering.

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The hay cut before noon was scattered about to dry evenly. On a good drying day it was ready to be raked into rows in late afternoon. Hay was forked onto a wagon and drawn to the barn or piled in large stooks in the field to be brought into the barn when needed in winter. 

George planted more and more fields of hay and soon had enough to sell both  seed and hay.  Throughout spring and winter hay was delivered to his many customers.

The first year, though, there was still very little in hay for winter feed to be had.  What could be used was cut and stored.

Flax, usually harvested in July, was mostly left to the ladies. Care had to be taken not to damage the stalks while cutting them. These were then laid in the little creek that ran behind the house to ret (rot).  A few days later they were taken from the water and the outer stalks carefully removed leaving the long threads intact. Without the benefit of gloves, Elizabeth and the girls always had sore hands for a few days after this process. Elizabeth often used this activity to call on the ladies for a bee. One wonders what they felt of this as they left with sore hands.

The threads of flax were spun and then woven into linen. A very young Mary began spinning and was soon in demand to spin for her sister-in-laws.

Farm work went right along, spring into summer, summer into fall. No sooner was the haying finished than the various grains ripened, ready to harvest. As with hay, this was strictly manual work, cut, rake, and carry the ripened grain into the barn in to the barn.

Hay and grain was cut using a scythe. This was one implement not usually fashioned on the farm. It took many hours of back breaking effort to obtain the steady swing to necessary to a proper cut. Green hay was not an option in the early days, both were left to ripen before cutting, usually July or August.

It was 1860 before the first horse drawn mowing machine was invented to replace the scythe. A hundred years later a scythe could  be found on many farms to trim the edges of the fields or cut in areas not  accessible to a mowing machine.

Unlike the scythe, rakes were hand made, with metal or wooden teeth. After the cut the hay was left to dry.

This fork was carved in one piece from an ash pole and bound with light wire

Fall

Farm work went right along, spring into summer, summer into fall. No sooner was the haying finished than the various grains ripened, ready to harvest. As with hay, this was strictly manual work, cut, rake, and carry the ripened grain into the barn in to the barn.

As with the haying, the whole family was involved. Once they were big enough, the girls were adept with a scythe, rake, or fork, as were the boys.Potatoes and turnips were the main root plants grown on the farm. They were the main food for the family as well as being cut and fed to the cattle. With the grain safely stored in the barn, they were dug up and stored in to the root cellar. The month of October was taken up with this was cold, dirty, task. The girls and young Joseph picked the potatoes allowing the boys to go back to their potash production.

Farm work went right along, spring into summer, summer into fall. No sooner was the haying finished than the various grains ripened, ready to harvest. As with hay, this was strictly manual work, cut, rake, and carry the ripened grain into the barn in to the barn.