Wheat Harvest « Claude Moore Colonial Farm

Wheat Harvest

Planted in early fall, the wheat and rye are finally ready for harvest. Watch the farmer and his neighbors cut the grain, then join them to bind and stack the crop. Find out why more and more of the farmer’s neighbors are growing wheat as a cash crop in addition to tobacco. At the Farm house, lend a hand churning butter, and learn how the farm wife bakes wheat bread.

For the current year’s event schedule, please see our calendar of eventsEvents may be cancelled due to weather conditions.

sharpening sickles
cutting the wheat
bundling the wheat

Information about Wheat and Rye

The farm family grows winter wheat and rye as secondary cash crops, tobacco being the main cash crop. The wheat and rye are sown in September, after most of the other crops are harvested. They usually sprout before the first frost and then lay dormant throughout the winter. As soon as spring arrives, the wheat and rye shoot up, forming heads of grain by May, and then they are ready to harvest in the early summer.

The wheat and rye are cut with a sickle, a hand-held tool with a curved blade. The cut grain is gathered and tied into thick bundles call shieves, then stacked in shocks in the field. The shocks remain in the field until the grain has dried out.

The wheat and rye are threshed in the fall to separate the grain from the stalk and then traded, sold or taken to the mill to be ground into flour for the family’s use. The nearest grist mill in 1771 was Tolston’s on Difficult Run. (According to the Journal of the Historical Society of Fairfax Volume 17, Tolston Mill was authorized in 1769. It is described as located “one quarter mile from the Potomac River and about one half mile from the Great Falls of said River” when it was put up for sale in 1832.)


Wheat yields in the 18th century varied depending on the quality of the land. Our family probably would have gotten between 6-8 bushels per acre. In 1791 a man reported the following yields in Fairfax County: 6 bushels per acre when sown in cornfield; 8-10 bushels per acre when sown in fallowed ground; and 20 -30 when sown in well manured old tobacco ground. In circa 1790, George Washington writes that 7 bushels is “more than any body in this Neighbourhood gets.” In contrast, apparently both corn and “rie” (rye) yielded 10 -15 bushels per acre in Fairfax county. A bushel is 8 gallons.


Wheat was fetching a high price in late fall of 1771 – 4s6d (4 shillings, 6 pence) per bushel, compared with 2 shillings per bushel in 1763.


1. Gertrude R.B. Richards, ed “Dr. David Stuart’s Report to President Washington on Agricultural Conditions in Northern Virginia”, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 63 (1953) p. 287;

2. “Estimate of Cost on Mrs. French’s Land and Negroes on Dogue Creek, Compared with the Produce by Which it Will be Seen What the Tenant is to Expect ” in The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., Vol. 39 ( Washington DC, 1931-44) p.188.

3. Nan, Netherton, et al., Fairfax County, Virginia; A History. (Fairfax, Virginia: Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, 1978.) p. 173

Moon Guidebooks Top 10 DC

Moon Guidebooks:

Rates Claude Moore Colonial Farm One of the

This spring break, Patricia Nevins Kime—respected journalist and author of the first edition of Moon Washington DC—offers her selections for ten can’t-miss activities, perfect for kids and their chaperones.

"7. Claude Moore Colonial Farm: Something’s always being grown, harvested, dyed, dried, or crafted at Claude Moore Colonial Farm in McLean, Virginia, a rendition of a modest circa-1771 frontier farm."