Garden History – The Plow

The plow or plough is a garden tool used to turn up and cut furrows into soil to get the
ground ready for planting. The plow is considered to be the most important tillage tool. It saves time and is a necessity for the large farms. Some organic gardeners prefer to hand turn their soil but that is impractical for the commercial farmer.

The plow has a long history. It is mentioned in the Old Testament, engraved and painted on Egyptian monuments, and described by Hesiod (Greek poet) and Vergil.

The early plow consisted of a wooden wedge, tipped with iron and fastened to a single
handle and a beam, which would be pulled by men or oxen. This tool could only break but
not invert the soil. Mixing the soil would have to be done by hand until more
improvements were made to the plow. With the use draft cattle and horses, and cities
creating a larger demand for food supplies changes in the plows design and materials
were made.

The first half of the 18th century, England introduced the invention of the moldboard: a
curved board that turned over a section of earth cut. More important improvements in the plows design and materials were made in the early part of the 19th century, which
included streamlined moldboards, replaceable shares, and steel plows which had
self-scouring moldboards.

In 19th-century America horses largely replaced oxen for drawing plows. This led to
large farms and a strong agricultural economy. Tractors have replaced the use of
horses and oxen in most areas of the United States and developed parts of the world. In
our area the Amish still use horse and oxen and it’s not unusual to see them in their
fields or traveling to a nearby farm.

The plow has come a long way from the simple tools used in the early years and will
continue to advance with more demands for food production.

The plow symbolizes agriculture and is used in the great seals of New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and other states. I have used old plows, too far gone to
salvage as garden focal points or in theme gardens. They add to the garden and with the
plows rich value to gardening it seems only fitting that they become a centerpiece in the
yard.

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