Threshing Wheat at Lasithi, 1979

After I published yesterday’s post about the Plateau of Lasithi I remembered I had some photos that were probably taken on that day, because as I mentioned previously, the plateau is a fertile farming area.

All the photos are very aged, but they do demonstrate some interesting techniques, so here we go  . . .

As you will have realised by now, Crete is a stony island, but the soil in the below photo is rich, even loamy perhaps, so I was reasonably sure it was taken at Lasithi. I’d like to say the trees are olives, only because they were so common, but the leaf looks too large. Perhaps it was some kind of fruit tree. The farmers don’t have much free space to work with do they? I’ll talk a bit more about that in a future post.

Ploughing a field Crete 1979

Ploughing in the traditional manner with two oxen in the yoke

Cropping in for a closer look confirmed the location to my satisfaction. You can see a windmill in the background . . .

Ploughing windmill in background

Which means these photos must have been taken earlier in the day before we got into trouble by sliding the Citroen Dyane into an irrigation ditch.

You have to get up early in the morning if you intend to thresh and winnow wheat in the traditional manner depicted in the next photos. The wheat had been harvested by scythe.
Woman threshing wheat Crete 1979Woman threshing wheat 2 Crete 1979

As you can see, the wheat has been spread directly on to the ground and the woman driving the oxen is standing on a wooden sled; her weight and the flat surface separates the wheat grain from the straw. What you can’t see in either photo is that she is also balancing an enamel dish – the kind of thing often used for washing up – and she is alert to any movement of the tails which indicates either ox is about to relieve itself. She has to shove that dish under the tail pronto!

The oxen and driver go around, and around, and around in a circle. In other parts of the photos you can see different stages of production. The mound is grain waiting to be winnowed. The clump in front of it – I think – is the straw by-product. Or it may be the sheaves waiting to be spread out. Actually, given that they look darker in this photo, and evenly stacked, that is more likely to be the case.

There are even some hessian sacks, which presumably contain the finished product.

The man was doing the winnowing, by pitchforking the grain into the air and letting the breeze blow the chaff away. In the photo below he seems to have swapped the pitchfork for a winnowing shovel. Every so often the woman would join him. I think she is giving the grain that has dropped back to the ground a second winnow with a hand-held sieve. I don’t think she is actually gathering the grain yet. You can see she has taken her shoes off at this stage, possibly to prevent contamination from anything that she picked up on the sled. He is also barefoot I think.

Winnowing Wheat (1024x708)Winnowing Wheat Close-Up

Well, I know at least one of my followers has experience of manual threshing, so it will be interesting to hear how this method compares!

And please feel free to correct my terminology, analysis, understanding or any other thing I have misinterpreted from these photos. I was born and raised a city girl (which reminds me, I must tell the story of when a subsequent “landlady” wanted me to fetch a chicken from the hen-house, destined for the cook-pot, based on which one was no longer laying . . . )

21 thoughts on “Threshing Wheat at Lasithi, 1979

  1. My goodness — some of those pictures remind me of paintings of the Quebecois farmers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And yes — you must tell us the story about the hen and the egg(s). As children, my sisters and I had a method for telling if a hen was going to lay, and it was not a pleasant task….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. They should do what the carriage drivers at Central Park do, have poop catchers strapped under the rear end of the animals,
    Tell you what; it’s no yoke being attached to that damned plough hour after hour and not having a proper place to poop in private

    Liked by 1 person

  3. They should have those things tied behind, & beneath, them to catch the poop, like the horses attached to the carriages that go around Central Park in New York.
    I’ll tell you what it’s no yoke being attached to that damned plough day after day,

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Will never eat another piece of wheat toast without thinking about the process and work required to produce the grain!! Same thing with heart of palm after witnessing the process of getting just one from a palm tree in Borneo – sadly no photos taken….

    Liked by 1 person

    • I so agree. In fact, after writing and illustrating these last few posts, and knowing what is coming up, I wondered if I should be sending these photographs to some antiquities museum in Crete. I think it emphasises something I referred to in an earlier post – the vast inequality in wealth that I observed in the months I lived there. Don’t you think that if this couple could have afforded a combine they would have used one?


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