At Seven Trees Farm we’re always searching for information on farming methods of the past. Thanks to the modern technology of the present, there is plenty available, with a little digging. Living-history, reenactment type shows are a great way to see period tools, methods, construction, etc in full color. Due to time & budget constraints, they aren’t always as ‘deep’ as one would like, but beggars can’t be choosers.
BBC television seems to be right on top of historical aspects of the grow-your-own movement, starting back in 2005 with Tales from the Green Valley. This series recreates aspects of rural life on a British farm circa 1620, through the course of a calendar year. While 400 years might seem too far back to make a connection, the way this show illustrates the cyclical seasonal nature of farm life is impressive. At Seven Trees Farm, we perform many of the same tasks, at the same times, for the same reasons. Planting, harvesting, livestock breeding and slaughter, food preservation….all planned to make the most of weather and time and available labor.
Very low-tech compared to the next series of farm life shows, but great foundational information for low-input farming. I do have to note that most farmsteads would have had more ‘personnel’ on board – maids, farm hands, family members. I’m sure there were budgetary constraints keeping that aspect of accuracy down, but if you didn’t know more about daily life of a farm household in that era, it could be misleading.
Victorian Farm kicks off a few hundred years later, and really highlights how the industrial age changed farming. There were many many time and labor saving devices, mass produced in factories. Life was still relatively unadorned compared to modern times, but more food, clothing and tools were available ready-made than ever before. This convenience was a double-edged sword. Many people who were previously employed haying, dairying, making clothes, blacksmithing, and so on, were put out of work. Some ended up migrating to cities to take on factory work for wages. This meant they could buy ready-made things themselves, but they and their families were disconnected from the land and rural traditions. Food production was beginning to be the province of machinery and industrialization.
Watching this series while processing our own harvest has been inspirational in terms of ‘discovering’ old-fashioned equipment that would be helpful additions to our arsenal. A corn-sheller to get kernels from dried cobs, a root shredder to grind beets, mangels and rutabagas, and possibly a fodder chopper which makes it easier to chop stalks of straw into shorter lengths. All of these used to be common farmstead equipment, but are now expensive ebay relics, or expensive reproductions at modern homestead shops.
Check out this user profile on DailyMotion for full episodes of these shows.
Another great source of ground-level historical farming information are the collections of scanned texts available online. Depending on the topic of interest, it’s possible to read primary source material dating back hundreds of years.
Open Library aims to provide “one web page for every book” and houses a huge collection of electronically-accessible titles under a wide range of subject headings. Electronic books are available in a range of formats, online and downloadable. Naturally we are exploring poultry management titles from the turn of the last century. Practices that were once common for small to mid-sized commercial flocks, such as colony housing and rotational grazing, were the methods of choice not too long ago.
Titles like Eggs and Egg Farms have abundant advice on breeding laying hens, growing and mixing feed for different times of the year, building poultry infrastructure, etc. Instead of spending a fortune on newly-written books and magazines, first go for a ramble through what worked in the relatively pre-industrial times of 100 years ago.
Kellscraft Studio has a selection of public domain books that are optimized for reading on a web page format. We found a few on farming and other homestead-friendly topics, plus a lot of other just plain good reading books.
The Biodiversity Heritage Library is a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize and make accessible the biodiversity literature held in their collections. The site has it’s own navigational style, but more focused content. Browsing by subject and searching by keywords are good ways to find farmish titles.
Hopefully you’ll find something helpful, interesting, and even entertaining at these links and sources. Winter is here, and perfect timing for curling up with a good ebook or video….