Many Americans are familiar with the Amish, even if it is only in passing. Stereo typically seen as strait-laced and anachronistic, the Amish generally keep to themselves except to sell their farm produce and other goods at farmer’s markets. There, bearded men in plain clothes load and unload horses and buggies as they sell products from their village farms. Such is the perception, at least. The reality is of course much more complicated.
Who are the Amish?
Today’s Amish are for the most part descended from Swiss German Ana baptists who began migrating to America in the early 18th century to flee religious persecution in Europe.
In the mid-19th century, the Amish divided into Old Order Amish and Amish Mennonites. The Old Order Amish retained their original culture and still live in rural communities much as their ancestors did in the 18th century, eschewing modern conveniences like cars, radio, and television.
The Amish can be found throughout the U.S., including New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and other states.Largely keeping to themselves, their farms are maintained much like those farms before the Industrial Revolution. As a result, the techniques employed by the Amish for their farming and gardening are quite different from most modern methods.
Farming is done with horse-drawn equipment with metal wheels, as rubber tires are forbidden in the old order sects. The main crops grown by Amish farmers are typically wheat, corn, tobacco, hay, soybeans, tomatoes, barley, potatoes, green beans, and fodder for livestock.
They forgo any motorized mechanical equipment, relying on teams of horses and true grit to plant, raise, and harvest their products. What they do not need for their communities they sell to the outside world whom they refer to as “the English”.
Amish old fashioned farming techniques since for the most part, the Amish use only limited synthetic fertilizers and no industrialized equipment in their farming and gardening, it might surprise many that Amish farms can be very successful. While the average American farm is 444 acres, the average Amish family farm is about 40 acres, a size that can be worked efficiently by a team of horses and a family.
As a result, the Amish make the most of their limited land with careful, regular seasonal plantings and crop rotation and a reliance on livestock manure for fertilization. An Amish farm is full of livestock, typically dairy cattle, heifers, pigs, chickens, and horses.
These meticulous, old fashioned farming methods may help explain their success. It is not uncommon to hear of Amish farmers who brought overworked and unproductive fields back to life and maintained them using methods that have not changed over centuries.
A busy growing season
The Amish growing season begins in April with the sowing of oats and early-harvest corn, the planting of tomato seedlings raised in greenhouses, and increasingly, hemp. May is feeding time for the livestock on pasture grass and late-harvest corn is planted.
An early sweet corn harvest is perhaps one of the most well-known tricks of the Amish farming trade and Pennsylvania residents make annual visits to Lancaster County to buy Amish sweet corn a full 30 days before it typically appears in local markets.
Planting crops at intervals allows for multiple harvests in one growing season. The Amish plant a second field of corn for a fall harvest, but this corn is to feed livestock over the winter. Following the second planting of corn, in June hay is made and strawberries preserved.
July is the busiest month for Amish farmers as more hay is cut, threshing is done, berries are picked, apple starts are transplanted, and honey is harvested. It bears mentioning that this is all done by hand with simple tools and equipment. The sheer industriousness of the Amish people is very much a part of their agricultural success.
In August, the farm silos are filled and autumn wheat planted. The final corn harvest and cider making occur in October. Multiple yields of crops through the use of different varieties and interval plantings is not new to farming. But the industrious and meticulous methods of the Amish help them get the farm work done on a meticulous schedule without machines driven by fossil fuels.
The success of Amish farming
Some strains of crops can’t handle mechanical harvesting due to their fragility. For the Amish, who do not use industrial harvesters, this is not an issue. Thus, heirloom varieties of corn and other crops, which tend to be novelties for modern farmers, are sold in volume by the Amish at roadside stands and farmers markets.
Many Amish farmers pay close attention to the quality of the soil. In research studies, a higher percentage of organic matter was found in their soils vs traditional neighboring farm plots. Organic matter is key to plant nutrition, battling fungal diseases and plant viruses, and insect infestation.
Of course, the Amish are a varied group, and some farmers do utilize non-heirloom crops. The public has a mistaken impression that Amish farmers are 100% organic, but some do indeed use industrial style chemical fertilizers and pesticides on their small farms.
Another key factor in Amish farming is the use of older, heirloom varieties of crops in conjunction with modern hybrids. Heirloom crops (aka heritage crops) tend to be difficult to harvest with machines due to their delicate nature, but can be easily harvested by hand and provide good yields if carefully raised.
Some Amish do use seeds of modern varieties, allowing for higher yields in some cases. By alternating the crop plantings in a season, the Amish can achieve faster growth and impressive yields with their limited acreage.
For those looking for some sort of folksy, rustic secret to unlock the bounty of Amish farming techniques, they will likely find themselves disappointed. The answers are unfortunately difficult to replicate for modern farmers, but can definitely be applied to a small home garden. Properly cared for and tended, even a small garden plot can provide decent yields.
Add eggshells in with the soil around vegetables at planting time to provide calcium. Add eggshells again on top of the soil near the stem of the plant to deter slugs – they don’t like crossing eggshells.Plant peas when lilacs produce fat buds but before the buds open.
If weed sorrel starts crowding out other plants, the soil is too acidic and the pH needs to be raised (more alkaline). Use companion planting to enrich the soil and avoid plant diseases.Use heirloom plantings for biodiversity and to save seeds year after year.
When choosing tomato seedlings at a nursery, choose those with sturdy stems rather than those that are the tallest. If the top of the tomato plant becomes too big for the root system, the roots won’t be able to transport enough water to the top of the plant, resulting in transplant shock.
An organic fertilizer with high biological activity such as compost tea, liquid seaweed, kelp meal or alfalfa meal should be added into the hole when planting or transplanting. This will provide minerals to the plant and enhance soil biology for the first few weeks until the plant is established.With the exception of tomatoes, seedlings should be planted at the same depth as they were in the container – don’t bury the seedling up to its foliage.
Seedlings are frequently transplanted too deeply, which can lead to rot or fungus on the stem. Tomatoes, on the other hand, can be planted up to the foliage, as they have the ability to produce roots from anywhere along the stem.
Only use pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides when necessary and when you have already identified the problem. These chemicals can actually make your plants unhealthy, as they trigger a different kind of plant metabolism that may attract disease and insects.The Amish work ethic is a major factor in their success.
With no fossil fuel-driven machinery or electricity from the grid, they follow the seasons like clockwork to ensure the best planting times and harvest times. This allows them to obtain the best results in the most natural way possible.
Such a method on large scale would be incredibly time-consuming for most commercial farmers, but the Amish have traditionally small farms and families work closely together to complete the work.
Amish farming and gardening secrets might not be easy, but they are useful at home for those willing to put in the work. Tending to a small garden plot the old fashioned way is much easier, and also rather fulfilling.
Author’s Bio: Laura Sage is the manager of Amish Furniture Factory, makers of the finest solid wood furniture. She’s a professional when it comes to hardwood furniture and home decorating.