But, this is a story about what life was like on an Orlando area farm during the past times, not its pros or cons. What did the farmers raise on their farms and produce for sale? What were the techniques used by area farmers to produce their crops? This article will give a glimpse at life on the Orlando farm, so we will know it a little better.
Plow horses were plentiful in the Orlando area until the 1950s and 1960s. Farmers needed horses to plow gardens, to pull stumps, to pull a wagon, mowing machine or other machines, or simply for transportation. Few people during the early 1900s had tractors so horsepower was essential for the Orlando farmer. It was generally considered that a horse could plow an acre and a half in a day. There were countless other farming chores which required the use of a horse, such as skidding logs, turning a grist mill or carrying loads of feed, flour or sugar from Charlie Knight’s store in town.
~ To the right below are Coleman Jeffries and his grandchildren June & Billy Nixon with Coleman's team of horses, in the late 1940s.
Horses were an essential part of Orlando farm life. Generally horses on an Orlando farm paid for their keep in the work they performed. It was the rare horse on an Orlando farm which had more leisure time than work. The Orlando farmer could expect a fifteen to eighteen year work life from his horse. A good work horse was also relatively inexpensive to maintain. The hay from an acre of grass land could feed a horse for a year. When a horse was being worked hard, its hay was supplemented with grain, usually corn or dry feed. Horses could also provide the farmer with a foal every year or so which could be sold as a cash crop or groomed as a replacement work horse.
Orlando enjoyed a horse economy for many years. In the 1920s and 1930s, Orlando hosted a horse traders convention where horses were sold or traded. These conventions were not without incident. Uncle Zeke often complained in his newspaper column that when the horse traders came to town, the bootleggers weren’t far behind and that profanity and lying was rife among the horse traders.
Dale Barnett grew up in Orlando during the mid 1920s until the early days of World War II. While reminiscing about farming, Dale expressed the opinion that sheep probably gives the small farmer a better return on his investment than any other marketable animal. Dale recalls that during the time he lived in Orlando just about every farmer had a few sheep. Two cash crops came with the sheep: wool and meat. Sheep are primarily a grazing animal and have minimal food requirements other than grazing land. Sheep are also quite efficient stewards of the land in that they graze what would soon become brush or trees, thereby keeping the land clean.
Dale also remembers that lamb was often on the dinner table in past times, more so than presently. He noted however that dogs and coyotes generally are mortal enemies of sheep and could easily kill or worry a sheep to death and that the Orlando sheep farmer had to constantly vigilant against those predators.
Orlando farmers raised all of the usual barnyard fowl. Chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and guineas were common feathered creatures on Orlando farms. Although poultry was mostly used for domestic consumption, there was some commercial use of poultry by Orlando farmers. Bill Barnett purchased turkeys, as well as other animals, for re-sale to city markets. According to Dale Barnett, during the 1920s and 1930s, his father, Bill Barnett, purchased turkeys from Orlando farmers, gutted and plucked them, leaving the head and feet intact, packed in wooden barrels and shipped them from the Orlando depot to city markets.
Below, right, is a guinea hen with chicks.
For more on Beham Henline's business see the Sept '06 entry Beham Henline's Business Records
Dale Barnett recalls that many farmers in the Orlando area kept geese, turkeys, and guineas, in addition to the omnipresent chickens. Geese were useful as “watchdogs”, of a sort according to Dale and when their useful days were over, goose feathers made good feather ticks. Dale also remembers the guineas for their distinctive and unceasing “bawd drat” chatter.
After the grass was cut, whether by hand or by horse drawn mowing machine, the Orlando farmer of the past would have to turn or fluff the grass so that air could circulate into the grass to help it dry. John Jeffries, who worked on the family farm on Oil Creek, advised this writer that when the hay was dried and ready to put in the barn or in a stack, a long pole would be attached at the rear of a horse. The sheaves or flakes of hay would be laid across the pole. A rope or chain was rigged from the front of the pole and through a ring at the rear of the pole. This chain or rope when tightened would hold the hay in place on the pole as the horse moved forward as hay was gathered. The hay would then be moved to the barn or the place where a stack was to be built.
Farmers buy shoats in the spring to prepare for late fall butchering. Some farmers bred hogs for their own use or to sell the piglets or shoats as a cash crop. The fattening of a hog was an annual ritual for Orlando farmers.
It appears that most Orlando farm families never let any part of the hog to be wasted. Any part of the hog not used by the families was feed to the family dogs.
Dale Barnett also recalls that Bert Skinner, who lived up the hollow beside the Orlando Cemetery , had a fenced orchard which consisted of about a dozen trees. One day Dale was traveling through Bert’s property looking for rabbits and noticed that Bert’s apple trees were invested with bag worms which could devastate an apple tree in a short time. Dale advised Bert of the bag worms stripping his apple trees, and Bert, somewhat of a religious fanatic, laconically replied that “bag worms were the Lord’s army, and that he wouldn’t touch nary a one.” Bert was quite generous about sharing his apple trees with the ‘Lord’s army’ and probably never got a single apple for himself that year.
Preservation of vegetables was a long, laborious period during the fall. Opal McCrobie and her mother, Clora Henline, spent many hours putting away vegetables. Corn, tomatoes, beans, and peas were canned the usual way. Beans could be pickled and cucumbers made into pickles. Tomatoes could be canned whole or made into juice. They would also do some unusual canning. Opal and Clora for many years would cut the tops off green peppers, stuff them with cabbage, and sew the pepper tops back onto the pepper with clean twine or heavy sewing thread. The stuffed peppers would then be immersed in a jar in a vinegar, spice and water mixture. Later in the winter or following spring the stuffed peppers were considered a real treat. Another form of preservation practiced by Clora Henline was to stitch beans together with thread and hang them in the kitchen. When dried, Clora called these beans “leather britches,”2 perhaps because the beans, although edible, were a little tough when finally eaten. Farm families, such as the Clora Henline household, made every effort to fill every spare jar with processed vegetables or fruit, and didn’t rest until it was accomplished. The more which was canned or preserved the less that had to be bought at the general store.
Another way of preserving food was to bury it in the garden. Dale Barnett recalls that his father would bury apples and potatoes nearly every year in a mound in the garden and use them as needed. Dale recounts that his father would dig a hole in the garden, line it with straw, and then fill the nest with apples or potatoes and mound dirt over it and cover the mound with tin or with roofing. A little door into the side of the mound gave access to the hoard. A drainage ditch around the mound kept water from invading the cache. Dale remembers this as an effective way to preserving the farm produce for winter’s use.
~Above on the right is a sampler of canned produce that would warm the heart of any canner.
~ On the right is a picture from the very early 1900s of him with his wife Sarah Bennett , daughter of George Bennett mentioned as another good farmer, and their young family. (Gid Skinner is also pictured earlier in this entry driving his mule-pulled wagon.)
footnote 2. In the November/December issue of Mother Earth News, Grace Schillinger wrote more on “Leather Britches” and how to preserve them.
“Pick your green or wax beans when they’re tender and snappy. Wash them and snip off the stem end. The other little sharp pointed tip won’t matter, so leave it on. Let the beans drain until fairly dry, or at least till the water has dripped off.
Take a large darning needle and thread it with white store string. Kite string will do fine. Then thread your beans on the cord, sticking the needle through the middle of each bean. I don’t mean down the center of the bean, just through the center, so both ends of the bean are loose.
Fasten the first bean by wrapping the string around it and making a knot so it won’t pull through. Then go on stringing till your string’s full. Fasten the last bean the same as the first one.
Dry the beans by hanging on a wire in a clean, dry place. An attic or unused room would be okay. Or hang them in your kitchen. They’ll be gab grabbers for sure. In the most high fallutin’ magazines you’ll see how decorators festoon rooms with the most unusual items. All right – go ahead with your leather britches.
The beans will become dry and wrinkled and you’ll wonder what in the world you’ll ever do with them, besides just letting them swing there.
In winter, take your dried beans down – several strings for a large kettle – and remove the strings. Rinse well, then put on to cook. When they boil up once, pour off the first water so you know they’re clean and to remove any bitter taste. Then pour in fresh water, toss in a ham bone and an onion to keep the beans company and salt and pepper to taste. Cook will tender.
You’ll come up with a mighty fine cold weather dish that’ll stick to your ribs. Those beans will remind you of long ago when folks had to preserve much of their food by drying.”