Flower and Harvest - The Queen of Useful Plants

”Hemp is, alongside flax, one of the most useful plants with which the good Lord has blessed earth,” it says in a German ”Text and Reading Book” for girl´s schools from the year 1807, and explains: ”Male and female flowers of this vegetable bloom on two different plants; male hemp blooms first and is, after it withers and has ripened, pulled from the ground. Female hemp is left standing until the seeds are ripe, after which it is pulled from the ground, too.”

 

In Rumania the harvest of hemp means, now as before, a lot of manpower and manual labour.

The hemp plant´s gender is equally distributed, and, similarly to human beings, the ratio is almost exactly fifty to fifty. Unlike with humans the difference can not be seen from ‘birth’ on – only in the last stage of growing when the flowering begins, the ‘small difference’ becomes visible. Male plants form little pollen sacks from which the hairy and resinous ‘feelers’ of the female flower are pollinated. In pre-industrial times the faster ripening of male plants caused a doubled harvesting effort, since the male plants had to be picked out by hand. Had they been left growing till the female plants had ripened, their stems would have turned wooden and thus become useless for the production of fibres, especially so for the production of fine threads for garments and clothing, where the early ripening and tender stems of male plants were preferred.

With the industrialisation of hemp cultivation and the introduction of harvesting machinery the methods of harvesting changed: Fields were set aside for the production of seeds, while for fiber production female plants were harvested together with the males even before the ripening of the seed. Often the hemp farmer would go for double utilization: They put up with a smaller yield in fibers and also with partially unripe seeds, but could harvest both products from the same field.

We can see here that the numerous methods of hemp utilization also had their problems – like the plant´s powerful growth, which made hemp harvesting in pre-industrial times a very labor-intensive job indeed.

After mowing, the hemp-stems are left on the field for drying. During this time a retting process sets in and the fibers begin to loosen themselves from the stems. For drying, the stems were either set up in yarrows or turned over on the ground a couple of times. Once their rich green has turned to a darkish brown, the crop is ripe for gathering.

What a challenge the green jungle of a hemp field means even today could be witnessed in 1996, when after decades of oblivion and prohibition, for the first time in Germany, hemp was cultivated again. The first harvest in our time was covered by photographers and television crews, but the harvester, fitted with a regular cutter beam got stuck after a few meters: its cutters were not able to deal with the strong hemp stems and broke. Meanwhile the problem has been solved, after half a century of stagnation hemp research and technology are back in business. With reinforced and doubled cutter-beams nowadays up to five acres of hemp per hour can be harvested, with special machinery even up to seven or eight acres.

 

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