Springtime - A New Beginning

Spring on the farm was a season of anticipation and work. First, melting snow and early rains produced an almost separate season of mud before true springtime arrived. The dirt roads often became impassable from the mud.

Farm families could not get to town. The rural mail carrier could not make his deliveries by horse and buggy, so the mail was held at the post office. A team of horses could not pull a wagon through the deep mud.  People waited for the roads to dry out before they could travel again.

The children walked to their one-room country school on edge of the road. If a teacher stayed with a farm family for the term, she also walked to school. At times, their teacher might not get to school because of the muddy roads, if she lived in town.

It was a time before electricity, so the students and their teacher worked together in a classroom illuminated only by natural light coming through the windows. Many of the early spring days were overcast with rainy skies, but the songs of birds were in the air.

Over the winter, a large amount of the farm family's cellar of food had been eaten by everyday living. There were still cellar shelves of glass jars and crocks filled with last year's harvest, but the apple barrel was now empty and the fresh turnips, parsnips and carrots were gone. A dwindling supply of potatoes was still down in the cellar, but they were not as fresh and tasty as they had been in the fall.

The new family garden had been in the planning stages since winter, when the first seed catalogs had arrived in the mail. Families often started lettuce and radish seeds, along with some onion sets, in protected cold frames on the sunny side of a farm building. These would be among the first fresh vegetables of the season.

As their orders from the seed catalogs arrived, families also started other plants from seed this way for transplanting later in the garden. A patch of asparagus revived in the garden and provided another green vegetable for the table.

Planting potatoes was a big spring event in which everyone, children and adults alike, shared the work. Potatoes were an important part of the family's food supply for the year.

Another early taste of spring came from rhubarb, a garden plant which came up by itself each year. The early rhubarb stalks were cut off at the base of the plant. The leaves were discarded and the stalks cleaned. A sweet sauce was made by cooking cut-up pieces of the tart stalks, along with sugar, for a dessert much like apple sauce. Rhubarb was also used for pie filling and canned to be added to the cellar food supply.

Spring was also a time of renewal on the farm with the excitement of new calves, chicks, ducklings and piglets.

As the fields dried, farmers and their horses became busy with spring plowing, soil preparation and planting. The smell of freshly tilled earth filled the springtime air and blossoms appeared on the fruit trees. At the beginning of the 1900s, one farmer and his horses often handled from 100 to 125 acres.

As the corn began to grow and spring turned to summer, a farmer and his horses spent much of their time in the fields cultivating the new crop, to keep down weeds and loosen the soil around the plants.

Fields could be far away from the farmhouse. If a farmer was doing springtime work in a field away from the house, how could someone get a message to him to come home?

Often farm families had a prearranged signal. Sometimes it was the ringing of a dinner bell outside the kitchen door, but if the wind was blowing in the wrong direction, that could not be heard.


    More often, they used the clothesline and attached a special blanket, quilt or colorful piece of cloth, with clothespins, for the signal. This meant that the farmer needed to look back across the fields from time to time to see if a signal had been raised. If he was working in an area where he could not see the farmstead, someone had to walk out to the field and relay the message. People were inventive and tried to save time and labor on the farm wherever they could, no matter what season of the year.

    For farm families, each springtime and all its activities meant a new beginning.

 
 
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In very early spring, the rhubarb plant once again begins to grow. 

Flowering rhubarb.  This is the same plant with  only a few weeks later

Crabapple Tree

The three images below are of plants that are over a hundred years old, originally coming from the family farm and transplanted in town.

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