June is just around the corner. In the Middle Ages, that meant not only a change in the weather, but a shift in daily labors, and in what was on the menu to eat.
While most crops were harvested much later in the summer, hay was the first to be cut in June, though it was typically poor quality. In a society so dependent on animals for survival, haying was a vital community activity, with the lord’s fields taking priority over all the others. This was a labor carried out by men, women, and children. They worked in groups under the supervision of a reeve that had been elected by the peasants themselves. The men cut the hay with long scythes, each going through about one acre per day. Women and girls were responsible for raking and turning it. If the hay was not able to dry out, it would rot and be of no use.
On the edge of the field, there would be a man with a whetstone who could make quick repairs to dull and broken scythes as needed throughout the day. A horn would be blown at dusk to signal the end of the work day. Sometimes a lord would provide the laborers with a meal and ale, or allow villagers to take home as much hay as they could carry home on their scythe. Anyone who tried to pile on too much was likely to lose their load on the way and go home with nothing.
At the end of June, it was time to pull weeds from the wheat fields, plow fallow fields, and uproot thistles. However, it was considered unlucky in England to pull thistles before June 24th (St. John’s day). Anyone who did would find they would only multiply three times over.
Bee keeping was another important activity of June, which was when they were expected to begin swarming. Watching a hive was typically children’s work, as they could do so while spinning or doing some other household task. When a swarm formed, it would be followed by villagers banging pots and making other loud noises to “help the bees settle” and also stake their claim on the swarm.
During the month of June, sheep would be taken to a pond or a stream to be washed before shearing. Running water was preferred because their wool tended to be so filthy. Other tasks for June included repairing barns and outbuildings, clearing away brush, digging hop plots, fixing broken carts, gathering hemp and flax, and making salt.
7 thoughts on “Medieval Monday: The Labors of June”
Reblogged this on The Scholarly Scribe.
My daughter will be studying the Medieval Ages soon. I’ll definitely be using these posts as a reference. 😀
Great! If she gets really interested I can tell you some good books to look for.
That would be awesome. Her assessment project for the unit is to put together a medieval banquet. We’ll be doing that in October. It’s going to double as her birthday party. Should be a lot of fun. 😀
Oh wow, that is so much fun!! Take a look at this site http://www.godecookery.com/goderec/goderec.htm. You can get all sorts of authentic recipes there, but adjusted for the modern day kitchen. There is historical info on that site too about medieval feasts, etc. The SCA is another good resource because they put on medieval feasts at their events.
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Awsome! Thanks 😀