Medieval Monday: Labors of February

B.11.4, ff.i verso-ii rectoFebruary’s labors varied depending on where in Europe one lived. In the northernmost regions, where the ground was still frozen and additional snow and frost was anticipated, tasks continued to focus basic necessities like chopping wood and anything that could be done indoors. A common image in medieval art for February showed people warming themselves by the fire, or spending time in church.

feb-labors-spreading-manureHowever, in European regions further south, it was already time to start field work. Manure and marl (a soil mixture of clay and lime) could be spread on fields, and furrowing and planting would begin for early growing grains like barley. Larger fields would be turned and furrowed with plows pulled by horses or oxen. Households with smaller fields and gardens did the same back-breaking work by hand with spades. These were made of wood, with just the tip of the spade fitted with an iron piece referred to as a “shoe”. Spade handles varied in length, from short to long.

Willow was also planted at this time of year, and once grown was used to make wattle for fences and housing, or anything else that required wicker. For those keeping animals, February was the time when calves and lambs were born and needed to be cared for through the remaining cold weather. By the time they were weaned (usually 4-6 weeks later) the meadows would be green again and ready for grazing.

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