Hemp Nettle

OBSERVATIONS on the raising and dressing of HEMP
Edward Antill

Transactions of the American Philosophical Society
2nd Edition, 1789, pp267-273

HEMP is one of the most profitable productions the earth furnishes in northern climates; as it employs a great number of poor people in a very advantageous manner, if its manufacture be carried on properly: It may also furnish a ready remittance to the mother country, and become a reciprocal advantage to both; and therefore it becomes worthy of the serious attention of the different legislatures of the northern colonies, of every trading man, and of every man, who truly loves his countryl

But as the people of America do not appear, from their present management, to be acquainted with the best and most profitable method of cultivating and managing this valuable plant, I beg leave to inform them of some things that may be of advantage to them.

Whoever would raise hemp properly and to advantage, should set aside two pieces of ground, of such dimensions each, as he shall be able to cultivate every year, and sow the one whilst he is manuring and preparing the other for the succeeding year's crop; the higher and dryer the ground the better, provided it be well dunged and made strong and mellow; the ground should not be too sloping, least the good soil be washed away with hard rains; if it droops toward the south, it will be an advantage; low, rich, warm, dry grounds will also produce good hemp; but wet land, though never so rich will by no means do. The ground being prepared and made very mellow, I now come to that part whidh must be particularly and exactly attended to, since the success of the crop greatly depends upon it. Sometime in May, the ground being moist and in a vegetating state, but by no means wet, it must be well ploughed, the furrows close and even, the soil lying light and mellow it must be sowed very even with two bushels of seed upon one acre; a man with an iron tooth harrow follows the sower, and harrows in the feed with two horses without any balks, for the less the ground be trampled the better; if harrowing one way be not sufficient to cover the seed, though it would be best if that could be done, it must be cross harrowed. The ground being moist as I said before, but by no means set so as to clod, which would ruin the crop, the seed will all start and come up together, which is a sure sign of a good crop, and nothing after that, but too much wet, will hurt it; for hemp thus come up, bids defiance to weeds and grass of every kind; its growth is so quick and it so effectually shades the ground, that nothing below can rise or shew its head, and it so preserves all the moisture below, that the hotter and dryer the weather the faster it grows Whereas if the seed be sown, when the ground is dry, the seed that lies deepest where the moisture is, will come up first, and these will shade and starve those that come after, by which means the first comers will be too large, and the last will be much too small, so that the crop will be greatly damaged every way: So much depends upon this one circumstance, of sowing the seed when the ground is moist and fit to receive it: The drop thus rightly managed will stand as thick as very good wheat, and be from four to six feet high, according to the strength of the ground; and the stems will not be thicker than a good wheat straw; by this means the hemp will be the finer, it will yield the greater quantity, and it may be plucked from the ground like flax, which will be a very great saving: But if it be sowed thin, that is one bushel to an acre, which is the common practice, it grows large, the hemp is harsh and coarse, and then it must be cut with hooks, which occasions great waste, for four or five inches just above ground is left, by way of stubble, which contains the best and heaviest part of the hemp.

Hemp in Field

When the hemp has got its growth, and is fit to be plucked which you will know by the under leaves of the carle, or he hemp, turning yellow and falling off, the sooner it is pulled the better; it must then be bound up with straw bands, in single band sheaves, rather small than large, and each sheaf must be bound in two places; and the sooner it is carried to the water to rot the better: Water rotted hemp, if it be rightly managed, is every way better than that which is rotted on the ground; there is less waste in it, when it comes to be dressed; it looks brighter and fairer to the eye; it is esteemed to be stronger and more durable, and it always fetches a better price; besides it is much sooner done, and it is rotted more even and alike, and with great certainty and exactness. Many people in America are acquainted with the method of rotting hemp in water, but as many more are not yet acquainted with it, I shall, for their information, set down the method of doing it Hemp may be rotted in stagnated or standing water, such as ponds, pools, or broad deep ditches, and in such water it is generally four or five days and nights a rotting, and sometimes longer, according to the heat or coolness of the weather; it may also be rotted in running water as in a brook or river; and in such water three or four days and nights are sufficient, according to the weather; to know whether the hemp be rotted enough in either case, take a middling handful, out of the middle row, and try with both your hands to snap it asunder, if it breaks easy, it is rotted enough, but if it yet appears pretty strong, it is not, and must lie longer, till it breaks with ease, and then it must be taken out and dried as soon as possible; in handling the sheaves, take hold of the bands, and set them up an end against a fence, if one be near, or lay them down upon the grass, for the water to drain off, and then unbind them carefully, open and spread them to dry thoroughly, then bind them up again and house them in a dry tight place: the reason of handling the hemp in this careful manner is, that when it is well rotted, whilst it is wet the lint comes off with the least touch, therefore if it be handled roughly, or if while it is wet it be thrown into a cart and carried to a distance to be unbound and dryed, it would be greatly hurt, and the owner would receive great damage by it, but when it is dry, it is handled with safety.

If the hemp be rotted in a brook or running water, the sheaves must be laid across the stream, for if they be laid down lengthways with the stream, the current of the water will wash away the lint and ruin the hemp: It must be laid down heads and points, two, four, or six thick, according to the depth of the water and the quantity of hemp; if the bottom of the river be sand, gravel, or mud, three good strong stakes must be driven down at each end, above and below, and three long strong poles must be laid on the hemp and fastened well to the stakes, in such manner as to force down the hemp under water, where it remains till it be rotted enough; though if a muddy stream could be avoided it would be best, because it is apt to foul and stain the hemp. If the bottom of the stream be rocky or stony, so that stakes cannot be drove down to secure the hemp under water and from floating away, then a rough wall must be made at the lower end of the hemp, and along the side, to keep it in, and strong poles or rails must be laid upon the top of the hemp, and pretty heavy stones upon them so as to sink the hemp under water, where it must lie 'till it be rotted enough.

What hemp is intended for seed, should be sowed on a piece of ground for itself, which must be made very rich and strong; it must be sowed in ridges six feet wide, and the seed must be of the largest and best sort and sown very thin, at the rate of a peck upon an acre, or rather six quarts; for the thinner it is sown, the more it branches, and the more seed it bears; it should be sown sometime the middle of April, and then the seed will not be ripe, till some time after the other hemp is done with. If you have no convenient place to sow your seed hemp by itself; then sow a border of six feet wide along the north and west sides of your hemp field; the reason of sowing your seed hemp in such narrow ridges or borders is that, when the carle or he hemp is ripe, and has shed its farina on the fimble or female hemp, byu which the seed is impregnated, and the leaves of the carle hemp fall off and the stem grows yellow, you may easily step in along the sides, and pull up the carl hemp without hurting the female, which now begins to branch out, and looks of a deep green colour and very flourishing, and when the seeds begin to ripen, which is known by their falling out of their sockets, you may all along both sides bend down the plants and shake out the seed upon a cloth laid on the ground, for as they ripen they scatter upon being shaken by a hard wind, or otherwise; then it must be watched, and the fowls and yellow birds kept from it, for they are immoderately fond of the seed; as the first ripe seeds are the fullest and best, they are worthy of some pains to save them; and the best way to do that is, to bend down the plants all along, on each side of the border or ridge, as it is said above, and shake them over a cloth spread on the ground to receive the seed; if one side of the plant be rooted out of the ground by forcing it down to shake out the seed, there will be no damage, for the seed that remains will ripen notwithstanding; and the plant must thus be shaken every two or three days, 'till all the seed be ripe and thus saved; and this is much better than pulling up the plants by the roots, and shaking them on a barn floor, and then setting them up against a fence, or the side of the barn, for the seed to ripen, and shaking them morning and evening on the barn floor; for by this method, which is the common practice, one third of the seed at least never comes to maturity.

Working hemp

It is well known to every farmer, that in the three bread colonies at least, the spring and summer seasons are of late years become very dry; so that a crop of flax is become very precarious, scarcely one year in seven producing a good one: This is a constant complaint in the mouth of every husbandman: Now hemp does not require half the rain that flax does; this is a circumstance that is well worth the notice and attention of every farmer; and therefore by his raising hemp in the manner before directed, and by preparint it in the best manner for spinning and weaving into good cloth, he can with greater certainty supply all the necessary uses of his family; and by selling the overplus, he can purchase such things as his wife and daughters may think convenient on extraordinary occasions. This however need not hinder him from raising some flax every year: But i think that it is more for his interest to fix his chief dependence upon his crop of hemp, as that is more sure, and every way more profitable, the general run of seasons considered. And let him not be disgusted and think that I am about to persuade him, his wife and daughters to wear oznabrigs, for I can assure him that I have seen dowlass, which is made of hemp, worth five and six shillings the yard, which no farmer need be ashamed to wear.

I shall now endeavour to instruct the honest husbandman in a few easy rules, for preparing his hemp, which he has raised and managed in the manner before directed.

Know then that the best preparation of hemp for the manufacturing of cloth is to render it as soft and as fine as possible, without lessening its strength, and the easiest and cheapest way of doing that, is certainly the best. This is to be found out by a variety of trials and experiments; but till a better way be discovered, which I hope will not be long first, and with which I should be greatly pleased; take the following method, which is the best I have yet been able to discover.

If you have a large wide kettle, that will take in your hemp at full length, it will be the better; but if your kettle be small, then you must double your hemp, but without twisting, only the small ends of every hand must be twisted a little, to keep them whole and from tangling; then first of all lay some smooth sticks down in the bottom of the kettle, so as to lie across one another, three or four layers, according to the bigness and deepness of your kettle; this is to keep the hemp from touching the liquor; then pour some lye of middling strength, half as strong as what you make soap of, gently into the kettle, so much as not to rise up to the top of the sticks, they being kept down to the bottom; then lay in the hemp each layer crossing the other, so that the steem may rise up through the whole body of the hemp, which done, cover your kettle as close as you can, and hang it over a very gentle fire, and keep it simmering or stewing, but not boiling, so as to raise a steem for six or eight hours; then take it off, and let it stand covered till it be cool enough to handle; then take out the hemp, and wring it very carefully as dry as you well can, and hang it up out of the way of the wind, either in your garret or in your barn, shutting the doors, and there let it remain, turning it now and then till it be perfectly dry; then pack it up in some close dry place, till you want to use it; but you will do well to visit it now and then, lest any part of it might be damp and rot. You must know, that wind and air weaken and rot hemp, flax and thread very much. Then at your leisure, twist up some of the hands, as many as you intend for present use as hard as you can, and with a smart round smooth hand beetle, on a smooth stone beat and pound each hand by itself all over very well, turning it round from side to side, till every part be very well bruised; you then untwist it, and hatchel it, first through a coarse, and then through a fine hatchel: And remember that hatcheling must be performed in the same manner, as a man would comb a fine head of hair, he begins at the ends below, and as that untangles, he rises higher, till at last he reaches up to the crown of his head. The first tow makes good ropes for the use of the plantation, the second tow will make very good oznabrigs or coase sheeting; and the hemp itself will make excellent linen. The same method of steeming softens flax very much.

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