Sheaf (agriculture)

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Wheat sheaves near King's Somborne. Here the individual sheaves have been put together into a stook ("stooked") to dry.
A sheaf of grain on a plaque

A sheaf is a bunch of cereal-crop stems bound together after reaping, traditionally by sickle, later by scythe, now generally by a mechanical reaper-binder after its introduction in 1872.

Traditional hand-reapers, using scythes and working as a team, cut a field of grain clockwise, starting from an outside edge and finishing in the middle. Scything leaves a windrow of cut stems to the left of the reaper and, if cut skillfully, leaves the seed heads more or less aligned. These are then picked up and tied into sheaves by following workers using other cut stems as ties. These workers, or a following team, then stand the sheaves up in stooks to dry.

A sheaf stook is self-supporting, well-ventilated for drying, and comprises about eight sheaves built upright in an A shape with their seed-heads meeting at the top: this keeps the heads off the ground, allows the grain to dry and discourages vermin. The drying sheaves are later either placed by hand or pitched onto a cart. The traditional sheaf pitchfork has a long wooden handle, two short tynes and a rounded back to make the placing of sheaves easy. The gathered sheaves are then either built into stacks (thatched stacks could be over 20' high[1][better source needed]) or taken to a barn for further drying before being threshed to separate the grain from the stems.

The mechanisation of agriculture in industrialised countries, in particular the introduction of the combine harvester from the middle of the 19th century, has made the sheaf redundant but sheaves remain in widespread use wherever harvesting is still done by hand or by reaper-binder.

Heraldry[edit]

In heraldry a wheat sheaf is called a garb.

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