What work was required to harvest barley?
Just before the barley was ripe, workers went through the fields reaping, or cutting down, the stalks of barley with a sickle. Then workers went through the fields and gathered up the stalks into bundles called sheaves. The sheaves were stacked upright in groups, or shocks, of fifteen to twenty. The sheaves leaned against each other, making a pyramid shape. Standing the sheaves, as opposed to leaving them on the ground, allowed air to circulate through them, thereby preventing mold or rot.
After a few days, the shocks were taken to the threshing floor, a circular, paved area outdoors. The shocks were loosened and scattered over the threshing floor. Then the valuable grain was loosened, or threshed, from the husks in one of two ways. One option was when a pair of oxen, cattle, donkeys, or horses dragged a heavy, serrated board over the stalks. Another option was when workers used paddles to beat the stalks until the grain was loosened. At this point, workers separated the grain from the chaff, or unusable portion of the stalk, using a pitchfork-type device called a winnowing fork. Using the winnowing forks, workers tossed the broken-down stalks and grain into the air and allowed the wind to carry away the lightweight chaff while the heavier grain fell to the ground. The grain was gathered, then roasted as is, or ground into flour.
Ruth worked hard during the harvest. She gleaned in the field, beat out what she gleaned, and split it with Naomi.