Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Har the Garden


As I drive to and fro this time of the year my eyes are snatched from the road by dark brown patches of earth where folks have har’d their gardens in preparation of planting summer’s bounty. None of our garden areas are large enough to har, but a man down the road used to come har Pap’s big garden. Since no one in the holler had a way of getting their garden har’d themselves the man would do Uncle Henry’s on the same day.

Chatter and Chitter were always anxious to shuck their shoes and walk through that cold turned ground in search of hidden treasure that might have been unearthed. The photo above was taken on a warm March day in 2011. As soon as the tractor drove off down the road toward’s Uncle Henry’s Chitter took off straight across the fresh turned ground. You can see Chatter on the left edge of the photo and you can see from her stance that she wasn’t happy with me.

Chatter was getting over a bad cold and I wouldn’t let her follow Chitter because I could hear Granny in my head telling me she’d take a backset if she took off her shoes and got in that cold dirt.

Har is a word that surprised me. Until I started writing here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn I had no idea that har wasn’t really a word, but a corruption of the word harrow.

Miss Cindy: I learned the word har from the Deer Hunter’s Papaw James. He told me I needed to get the garden hared. I said what is hared? He said you know cut. I said what does cut mean? He said you know hared. Well that could go round and round all day. When the Deer Hunter’s dad came home from work I asked him and he explained.

Vicki Lane: I was a tutor with a remedial reading class in the local high school and my student was reading something for me. He bogged down at the word ‘harrow’ and I said ‘You know what that is — the triangular thing with teeth that you drag across a plowed up field to smooth it.’ ‘You mean a har?’ he said.

You can see from the two comments above har is like a lot of other words used in Appalachia…it can have more than one meaning. Folks here use it in the same way Papaw James did. When we say har we mean turn the garden over and cut it down deep. After our gardens are har’d they still need to be plowed before you can plant in them.

However the other commenter, who lives in Madison County NC, used the word to indicated the smoothing of a field or garden.


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  • Reply
    Uncle Doc Wilhite
    June 28, 2018 at 4:50 pm

    Tipper, I use to break up my garden, but have got too old now and have to har a younger man to do it.

  • Reply
    April 13, 2018 at 9:30 am

    Like José Luis, I am familiar with two kinds of harrow – a disc harrow and what I call a “tooth” harrow, but there’s probably another name for it. I’m in New England, though, and I’ve never heard the shortened “har” for harrow. I’ll have to ask around amongst local farmers and see what they say.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    April 12, 2018 at 5:36 pm

    Finding arrowheads in the field used to be common. When I was about 12, a cousin gave me a perfect black arrowhead he had found when they were plowing their field. Several years ago he mentioned the arrowhead to my mother at a reunion that I wasn’t able to attend. The next time I went back to SC, I visited him and gave him the arrowhead back in a small presentation box. I told him I kept it for 50 years so he could keep it the next 50. I hope one of his grands will appreciate it as much as I did. He did smile when he saw it.
    I look all the time when I work the garden, but haven’t found anything yet.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 12, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    Oops! My mistake, I was trying to say “bush hog” not “bog har”.

    I had to smile at the comments that refer to the smell of freshly turned soil. Us farming types (real or wannabe) do like that smell. And we also like the feel of soil with good ’tilth’ that slides through the hand like tiny black beads; especially when we had a part in making it that way as you all have making your raised beds.

  • Reply
    April 12, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    Hi Tipper,

    Oh yes, the older folks in my family like my dad and his generation called harrow har too. He also called a wheel barrow a wheel bar and a barrow which is a castrated male pig a bar.

    Even though we have lived in southeast Texas since just after the Civil War, my family managed to hang onto their mountain heritage and language especially. My family originated from North Carolina and Northern Alabama. I can so identify with the things you write about. It’s like you are describing our life here. I have always since I was a child longed to be in those mountains where you are.

  • Reply
    José Luis
    April 12, 2018 at 11:55 am

    Hello Tipper and friends of the Appalachians: I am writing from Argentina. I read carefully everything written about the word “HAR”. And I tell them that it is very possible that it is of Spanish origin. I explain why: in Spanish, “harar” the earth, is to turn it around, preparing it for a new planting of seeds. This is done with a tool, which is called “harado”, and it can be of sharp discs or points that “scratch” the earth, and it is hooked behind the tractor. Normally the “harado” of disks is used first, and then to match the earth the “harado” of points that have a triangle shape as you say, and that there, if I am not mistaken, is what they call “har”. I hope you have entertained this comment, I greet you from the south of our common house, AMERICA, José Luis, the only gaucho banjo player, hahaha !!, God Bless you all.

  • Reply
    April 12, 2018 at 11:49 am

    I use to have my garden “harred” before I used the tiller. It was pulled behind a tractor to break-up any weeds, briars, or small sticks that occurred over the winter.

    At home daddy plowed with ole Alice to make a huge corn and potato field. After he got through and put Alice in the barn, I’d rub and talk to her, telling her what a good horse she was. She’d look at me with those big, brown eyes…couldn’t understand a word I was saying, but I kept on anyway.

    My older brothers would stack any big rocks that daddy plowed up, making a perfect place for any Copperheads to live. Me and Harold would take our four fiest dogs and they’d sling the stuffings out of those snakes. They got bit alot and would swell-up something awful, but they took care of those Copperheads. I guess that’s why they all went blind, later in years. …Ken

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    April 12, 2018 at 11:17 am

    When we first bought our place, what was once a large garden spot had grown up in brush and little saplings. We bought in August so my husband found a distant neighbor to come along with his disc. He cut deep into the ground and broke up all the saplings, berry, honeysuckle and weedy overgrowth. The big lumps turned up like rows of little mountains with all the brush sticking root up. Over the winter it froze, thawed, froze again and got drenching rains sometimes…Very early when it first dried the farmer showed up with his plow and har…He cross plowed the disked ground and let that new turned ground dry a day or two…By that time we were chompin’ at the bit to plant a garden on our new place…Finally the day came. He had left his har laying by the garden…here he come attached his har and went over and over going crosswise and row wise…back and forth and so on…Seemed like he done that for hours…Finally I heard the engine on the tractor turn off. The better half was just patiently waiting napping on and off in the shade to the hum of the tractor…When I went out there, he said that we “ort-er” have a great garden since he worked it over real good…and he did….and we did have our best first garden, the plants grew by leaps and bounds and just kept producing all summer…..Maybe because in some way it was considered new ground….or maybe because this wonderful Christian farmer said it would and blessed it many times with his plow and har….
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Sherry Case
    April 12, 2018 at 10:41 am

    Here in northeast Tennessee we always had our gardens disc then plowed. My Uncle Bob Phipps would drive his Ford tractor with his disc attached up to our house and go to work. I loved,(still do), the rich aroma of that dirt when it was opened up after it’s long winter slumber!

  • Reply
    April 12, 2018 at 10:19 am

    Roger “covered lots of ground” with his description of various types of harrows. He also pronounces it the way we did. Growing up on a “row crop” and “orchard” farm in South Texas we had a variety of earth turning implements that we either owned or borrowed/shared from/with other farmers. The disc had circular blades close together to break up old crops and weeds in a field and to tear up their roots. It could be set at varying depths depending on the kind of crop and the condition of the soil you were turning under. If the plant matter was old and brittle and the soil was fairly dry, all that was needed to finish turning the plant matter under and have the soil ready for planting again was running the chisel both directions through the field.
    The harrow was also called a chisel. As I recall, I seldom heard the word “harra” after the 50s. The chisel looked like a large yard rake with curved tines with little arrow heads on the ends to turn the surface soil. They often hung a series of heavy chains close together on a bar behind the blades to help further break up the dirt clods. Sometimes a disc with smaller blades called a tiller was used, especially if a field had lain fallow and didn’t have much plant matter on it. This would also sometimes be called a “harra”.
    If the soil was heavy (damp, slightly mucky) and you needed to hurry the drying process so you could get the seed into the ground in time, you would set the disc blades at an angle to each other and set them a little deeper so you could do a deeper turning of the soil to help dry things out – or you might use a plow which I will describe in a moment. This was hard going and you needed a good engine and big/wide tires on your tractor. After a day or two of drying time you would then need to use the chisel or the small disc to “smooth” the soil/break up the big clods and get the soil ready for planting.
    Plows had big arrow shaped blades; there were several blades lined up side by side when pulled by a tractor. Plows were used if you were breaking new or neglected soil or if the hard pan had gone deep as it sometimes did after a flood. Dad often commented about how he started farming with only a potato hiller (hand plow –one blade) to break the soil and couldn’t imagine how a person could make a livin’ these days (that was the 50s and later) that way.
    I was once asked what my favorite smell was – the smell of healthy just turned earth – it is comforting, hopeful, invigorating – and the best way to experience it is barefoot or planting!

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    April 12, 2018 at 10:03 am

    Roger described it just like I would from here in east Texas. The only difference in the whole paragraph from us is we kids would throw dirt “clods” at each other rather than “clogs”.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    April 12, 2018 at 9:59 am

    After turning the garden and other fields which we hired a neighbor who had a tractor to do he would disc har the ground to break up the clods, this was often done in the early winter to allow the weather to further break up the soil. We had a home made har we called a float to use prior to planting, this consisted of a triangular frame with railroad spikes driven through a 2X6 timbers with the other 2X6 timbers nailed or bolted on top of the spike heads to keep the spikes from backing out.
    There were cross pieces which also had spikes driven through them and were topped off also. A chain was bolted to the front of the triangle which attached to the Singletree behind the horse, we would pile heavy rocks on top of the float(har) initially then for seed beds we wanted super smooth we would turn the float over and leave a super fine area for sowing smaller seeds which required a shallower covering of soil.

  • Reply
    Ed "Papaw" Ammons
    April 12, 2018 at 9:36 am

    You called har is a corruption of harrow. I call it a contraction. There is really no need for that extry syllable so us altitudenally superior folks just drop the unnecessary row.

    My folks sometimes added an extra step to the soil tillage called floating. To get a raked like finish on the field we would drag it with a triangular wooden device we called a float. It was similar to the drag har only without teeth. The farmer would ride on it for extra weight. I called it surfing the field. It was pretty hard to stand up on it if the ground was uneven. I have also seen farmers pull old bed springs weighted down with rocks and blocks around the field. Another method was to cut a small tree with a bushy top and drag it around behind the horse. The latter two devices would also catch rocks and big clods of dirt and carry them out to the edge of the field.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 12, 2018 at 8:21 am

    Well, one thing really stands out; farming is more complex than most people realize and was even back in the animal power days. When and how the ground was treated depended on the ground itself, the local weather, the crop itself, the help available and so on. It means different pieces of equipment for different tasks. Then, as Jim suggests, after the dirt harrowing comes the mental harrowing of wondering how it is going to turn out.

    Your post made me realize that my substitute for harrowing is a broken once-four-now-three-prong hoe-like digger followed by smoothing with a hoe and/or garden rake. The point is that seed needs to be well covered with fine-textured soil, not big clods or rocks. My Dad used a disc in the garden. But we still speak of a “bog harrer” to refer to the brush-cutter pulled by a tractor but which doesn’t break the ground. I had never even made the connection in my mind before to the field ‘harrer’.

    My mind wouldn’t skip a beat to understand any version of ‘harrow’ that I heard. And that both surprises and gratifies me. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Robert Barlow
    April 12, 2018 at 8:07 am

    When I was a small lad, my dad would “harrow” the garden as well as his tobacco fields; his harrow was in a triangle shape with spike teeth (curved at the bottom) and it was pulled by one horse.

  • Reply
    Nancy Hofmeister
    April 12, 2018 at 7:52 am

    What kind of treasures might be found after the ground was hared? Indian artifacts? Other? Here in Iowa, I never heard the word shortened — we harrowed.

    • Reply
      April 12, 2018 at 7:54 am

      Nancy-thank you for the comment! On our luckiest days of looking we might find an arrowhead or at a piece of one. On most days we found small pieces of pottery or interesting rocks. Of course the girls always enjoyed finding interesting bugs or insects 🙂

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    April 12, 2018 at 7:51 am

    Tipper–Chatter had a harrowing experience when you wouldn’t let her walk barefooted on newly har’d ground (i. e., there’s another meaning for harrow). To me, to har a piece of ground always meant smoothing it out to be ready for planting, and what you describe as har’d ground would be what I call disced ground.

    A fond memory from my boyhood was an elderly black man who plowed and har’d many gardens in and around Bryson City. He had a ramshackle wagon in which he carried a plow and a home-made harrow. The latter was all wood–with numerous “teeth,” likely made of locust but I’m not sure of that–projecting downward from a frame. He had a horse which pulled the wagon and did the plowing and the harrowing. Like the girls, I loved to plunder around in the newly plowed ground, and I could always count on finding a newly unearthed marble or two (and maybe other treasures).
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 12, 2018 at 7:49 am

    Well, Roger seems to have explained why some of us learned of harring as different things there are actually different kinds of harring! Who knew?

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    April 12, 2018 at 7:28 am

    Smoothing down after breaking & discing was what we meant by “har”. We never do this now as a friend of ours does deep tilling before we plant and it’s pretty smooth afterward.

  • Reply
    Sheryl A. Paul
    April 12, 2018 at 7:10 am

    I just love words, this one had me going until I thought of the photo you attsched.

  • Reply
    Roger Greene
    April 12, 2018 at 6:59 am

    Down in the Uwharries the word would be pronounced “hara” with a long ‘r’ and a short ‘a’ at the end. You also have 3 types of harrow. A drag harrow, a bog harrow (heavier and with cutting discs turning the ground in one direction) and a disc harrow (with following gangs of discs cutting the ground in alternate directions). The bog harrow can replace the turning plow if the ground is soft enough or doesn’t have a lot of cover. The disc harrow is used to break clogs and smooth the ground to prepare for laying off rows for planting. Young boys used to engage in “dirt clog fights” before the disc harrow would break up and smooth the ground!

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