7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Oats for Me or My Livestock?

Greetings, my good friends. And for those who are visiting for the first time, I am Nathaniel Griffith and this is my humble farm here on Aquidneck Island in the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Please wait here while I get a measure of oats for my stallion.

What do you think of my plump grain? Not always have we been blessed with such good grain. When first I brought my family to this island I had but one horse, a milk cow, two beef cows and their calves, and five sheep with me from my father's farm near Boston (we were banished and our properties confiscated). In truth, we were blessed to have even that much livestock. They all fed upon what grass they could find and any undergrowth in the brush and woods.

Have you ever considered what it takes to grow this grain? Yea, it takes a bit of work. We came with only a small measure, not even enough to feed ourselves. I, my wife, and my sister worked to clear a small plot of land from the brush. We planted that small measure. 'Twas a dry year so twice a day we carried water from the brook down that path there to both the grain and the kitchen garden by the house. Through the summer we nurtured the grain, praying God might give us an abundant harvest, and He did. That first year the oats brought forth eighty-fold. This means eighty times more than what we seeded. Still that was less than eight bushels. The next year, I fear we had but thirty-fold. Hail had destroyed a good portion.

We labored with love to bring in that first crop. Myself, my wife, sister, and mother took one day to reap and bind the grain. Not a grain stalk was left standing, and we took great care when we threshed to not lose even a kernel. Each kernel was picked up from the threshing floor and the straw used for bedding, both for us and our animals.

Those first years the grain was not for our livestock but for ourselves. If we fed our horse every day for a year the measure of oats I just gave him, he would eat more than a hundred bushels. Those first few years we could not spare even a kernel for them. We ate what we could and saved some to plant each spring. In time, however, we continued to expand our cleared land and could grow more.

Yea, in time we were blessed to get eighty bushels of grain to an acre.  Indeed I'm told my grandfather only managed 8 or 9 bushels an acre in Wales nigh eighty years ago. I've heard tell of some here in the colonies getting even ninty bushels. I cannot think but that such a farmer was truly blessed by God.

Even today, however, I only feed grain to this stallion here during the breeding season. He needs the extra care at this time. But for the other livestock, our pasture suffices.

Look closely at the grass beneath your feet. You will see that there are a number of different plants, some clover, some timothy, and so on. This makes for good pasture and good livestock. This took years to grow and I had to import grass seed from England.

I wish you all Godspeed and may you count your many blessings today when you sit at your meal and enjoy the bread God has provided for you.

 A note from Lynn Squire:

I began to question how often bread was eaten by the early colonists. Growing up on a grain farm, I knew how hard we had worked to grow a crop--that with all the then-modern equipment, fertilizer, methodology, etc.

The early seventeenth century colonist did not eat a lot of wheat or oats (they ate nuts, berries, corn, meat and fish). They had a difficult time growing grain. While corn became a mainstay, even that wasn't as bountiful as it is today. I did find recorded where eighty-six bushels of corn was gleaned from one bushel of seed. A bushel of seed would cover approximately one acre of land. A bushel of corn weighs 56 lbs. One bushel could feed 10 people (the average household) for approximately 5 to 6 days.

Most farms were approximately fifty acres in New England. Livestock, buildings, kitchen gardens, pasture, etc. would be on those fifty acres.

The average acreage in England only produced about eight to nine bushels of grain to the acre. A lot of acreage would be needed to grow enough wheat, for example, to feed a family for a year. In time the colonists seemed to do better than those farmers in England.

I experimented in our backyard. Even though I would not have the same variety of grain the colonists would have had (which would be of poor quality than our present varieties), I scattered the grain on the soil in a manner similar to how the colonists would have. Yes my soil is different and the climate was different, but I felt it would still give me a feel for what the colonists would have experienced. Within a few months, I had first hand experience how little grain (grown from a handful of kernels) would grow in a small plot--not even enough to grind into flour for a loaf of bread.

Consider a few things. Rocks and trees and brush populated the land when the colonists arrived and needed to be cleared. I have memories of walking the fields to pick rocks and poison gophers. These were constant enemies of the farmer, as they would have been for the colonists.  The soil in most of New England was of poor quality. The birds would come. The mice would come. Floods and hail would come. Drought would come. As well as sickness. Even if the conditions were perfect, for those early colonists surviving on what they could grow on their farms would be difficult. How much more when you factor in nature.


  1. I have missed these special posts of yours, Lynn!!! I love this one as I have the others! I have often wondered about the incredible amount of grain needed to be grown, then milled, etc., just to make bread. It is amazing when you think about it. Thanks for the post!

  2. A very interesting and informative post, Lynn. Thank you.

  3. Lynn thanks for your post on grains today, I didnt realize how much was needed to be planted to get so little, we are a lucky nation today with all we have and most dont appreciate it.
    your story reminded me of the Bible story of Ruth gathering what was left in the fields to feed she and her mother in law.
    thanks Paula O(kyflo130@yahoo.com

  4. Wow, incredibly interesting and mind boggling to consider the effort required for survival. Loved it. Thanks so much for sharing that. :)

  5. Lynn - so happy to see familiar words and places - I lived on the island for some time and still have family and many friends in the area - the island, Tiverton, Fall River areas - My son and family are in Fall River and I'll be up that way the end of August. Always love a day on the island, down to Newport, and driving around the historic areas - soaked it all up when I lived there. Your story here was great - loving all the details and so appreciate those who came before us, their perseverance, and faith in working the new land. How much we owe them each time we bite into the plentiful bread on our tables today!

  6. One thing I didn't mention was that later in the 17th century the colonists moved further inland where there was better soil and were able to grow more grain. They would then sell to those that lived closer to the ocean.

    When talking with my family last week, I was reminded that even in this past century farming techniques improved substantially so that much more can be grown on even less land. Still, they talk about instances where some crops only brought 10 bushels to the acre. They live on the Canadian prairies so there are some differences in soil and weather conditions, but I found it interesting considering what I have been researching.

  7. Lynn, thanks for a great post. I find it fascinating that you experimented with growing grain as the colonists would have. I tried making candles once, sweetening them with bayberries. It was a disaster and tedious.

  8. We used to make candles when we were kids, and yes, that was tedious though probably not as hard as when the colonists made candles.

  9. Lynn, thank you for that interesting Post, yes it is mind boggling to think what these people had to do to survive.
    Learn something new everyday (smile)
    Many Blessings

  10. Very informative and interesting post Lynn. They were some incredibly hardy folk that initially survived here.

  11. Lynn, I love how you scattered the seeds as the colonists did and then observed the scant results. Very sobering picture of what our ancestors endured. Thanks for another great post!

  12. Very fun post Lynn. Thank you for sharing your research in an entertaining manner!


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