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CHAP. 72. (30.)—THE HARVEST.

The mode of getting in the harvest varies considerably. In the vast domains of the provinces of Gaul a large hollow frame,1 armed with teeth and supported on two wheels, is driven through the standing corn, the beasts being yoked2 behind it; the result being, that the ears are torn off and fall within the frame. In other countries the stalks are cut with the sickle in the middle, and the ears are separated by the aid of paddle-forks.3 In some places, again, the corn is torn up by the roots; and it is asserted by those who adopt this plan, that it is as good as a light turning up for the ground, whereas, in reality, they deprive it of its juices.4 There are differences in other respects also: in places where they thatch their houses with straw, they keep the longest haulms for that purpose; and where hay is scarce, they employ the straw for litter. The straw of panic is never used for thatching, and that of millet is mostly burnt; barley-straw, however, is always preserved, as being the most agreeable of all as a food for oxen. In the Gallic provinces panic and millet are gathered, ear by ear, with the aid of a comb carried in the hand.

In some places the corn is beaten out by machines5 upon the threshing-floor, in others by the feet of mares, and in others with flails. The later wheat is cut, the more prolific6 it is; but it is got in early, the grain is finer and stronger. The best rule is to cut it before the grain hardens, and just as it is changing colour:7 though the oracles on husbandry say that it is better to begin the harvest two days too soon than two days too late. Winter and other wheat must be treated exactly the same way both on the threshing-floor and in the granary. Spelt, as it is difficult to be threshed, should be stored with the chaff on, being only disengaged of the straw and the beard.

Many countries make use of chaff8 for hay: the smoother and thinner it is, and the more nearly resembling dust, the better; hence it is that the chaff9 of millet is considered the best, that of barley being the next best, and that of wheat the worst of all, except for beasts that are hard worked. In stony places they break the haulms, when dry, with staves, for the cattle to lie upon: if there is a deficiency of chaff, the straw as well is ground for food. The following is the method employed in preparing it: it is cut early and sprinkled with bay salt,10 after which it is dried and rolled up in trusses, and given to the oxen as wanted, instead of hay. Some persons set fire to the stubble in the fields, a plan that has been greatly extolled by Virgil:11 the chief merit of it is that the seed of the weeds is effectually destroyed. The diversity of the methods employed in harvesting mainly depends upon the extent of the crops and the price of labour.

1 Palladius gives a long description of this contrivance, which seems to have been pushed forward by the ox; the teeth, which were sharp at the edge and fine at the point, catching the ears and tearing them off. But, as Fée says, the use of it must have been very disadvantageous, in consequence of the unequal height of the stalks. The straw, too, was sacrificed by the employment of it.

2 In contrarium juncto.

3 "Merges." Supposed to be the same as the "batillum" of Varro. Its form is unknown, and, indeed, the manner in which it was used. It is not improbable that it was a fork, sharp at the edge, and similar to an open pair of scissars, with which the heads of corn were driven off, as it were; this, however, is only a mere conjecture. By the use of "atque," it would almost appear that the "merges" was employed after the sickle had been used; but it is more probable that he refers to two different methods of gathering the ears of corn.

4 The roots and the stubble are, in reality, as good as a manure to the land.

5 Called "tribulum;" a threshing-machine moved by oxen. Varro, De Re Rust. i. 52, gives a description of it. Fée says that it is still used in some parts of Europe.

6 On the contrary, Fée says, the risk is greater from the depredations of birds, and the chance of the grain falling out in cutting, and gathering in. Spelt and rye may be left much longer than wheat or oats.

7 Columella, B. ii. c. i., gives the same advice.

8 "Palea" seems here to mean "chaff;" though Fée understands it as meaning straw.

9 The chaff of millet, and not the straw, must evidently be intended here, for he says above that the straw—"culmns"—of millet is generally burnt.

10 Muria dura.

11 Georg. i. 84, et seq. Fée says that Virgil has good reason for his commendations, as it is a most excellent plan.

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    • Harper's, Puls
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), PULS
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