Luigi nibbled the fact that back in the UK Nettle Awareness Week started on Saturday 17th May. Who knew? He pointed to a lovely post at the CABI blog, which goes into nettles in more depth than many people might desire. We lapped it up, of course, and I am minded to share a couple of my own reflections.
The business about nettle fibres being spun into cloth I knew about. The ramification is that they are the devil’s own business to cut with one of those ghastly strimmer jobbies. I used to have one. I used to use it to cut down the nettle patch. Not to get rid of the nettles but to add their nitrogenous goodness to the compost bins, to feed to the sheep and, if there were any left, to brew nettle tea; for the plants, not for me. Anyway, fire up the strimmer, wade into the nettles, wave the thing about a bit and retire, fifteen seconds later, with the thing stalled and nettle stalks wound firmly and inextricably around the shaft. Put on gloves, get knife, cut nettle stalks from the strimmer and repeat. Total waste of time.
Then I discovered scythes and The Scythe Book. Stand in front of the nettles, swing from the hips, hear the blade rustle through the stems, watch the tops of the nettle stalks quiver ever so slightly then collapse silently to the ground. Step forward and repeat until it is enough.
The scythe truly is a tool fit for its purpose, and I used to be quite good at using one. The rhythmic step, swing, back, step, swing, back creates an intense focus on the moment undisturbed by the egg-beater scream of a little two-stroke engine, with a superimposed rhythm of short breaks to hone the blade and longer breaks to just admire the finishing task. Long grass is not quite so much fun and is best done very early in the morning when the dew is on the grass. Perhaps the reason it was less fun is that I knew it would have to be followed by good weather and lots of much harder work turning and fluffing the soon-to-be hay.
Dry grasses -- cereals, for example -- I never really had much experience of, although on one or two occasions when I was tidying up late in the season I did get to hear the glorious singing of the scythe through the dry stalks.
These are wonderful, important skills; those who have them and use them are blessed. Not to get medieval on your arses, but if the worst comes to the worst, those who can grow and process their own food are going to be well off, whether they are people or nations.