Stinging Nettle, Scything,
And Plagues

Dateline: 10 June 2006

It is turtleneck cold here in central New York State. And we continue to get lots of rain. My sandy, well-drained soil takes the rain nicely. The garlic is thriving. The rest of the garden is doing okay. A little sunshine and it’ll take off.


“It’s like a plague.” That’s what Robert said to me as we were driving home from Moravia today and I pointed out to him the full-grown maple trees without a single leaf on them. Caterpillars are eating them. Acres of hardwood forest are being stripped of foliage with maniacal efficiency. Portions of the wooded hillsides near our house are brown when they should be green. The devastation is in pockets. It has not reached our property. I am praying that it will not. Can a tree without a single leaf on it survive? I don’t know. It is a plague.


My dad called today and asked me to help spread some fertilizer on his lawn. His health is not the best and he doesn’t ask me to do much. Robert and I headed right up. A friend had loaned him a push spreader. The stuff he wanted me to spread was fertilizer and herbicide! The bag of little pellets proudly proclaimed that its contents would kill “200+ different weeds, including dandelion and clover.”

Personally, I don’t have anything against dandelions or clover or, for that matter, any other kind of plant in my lawn. And spreading a pellitized chemical killing agent on the earth is antithetical to everything I believe in. And I don’t think my dad has ever spread herbicide on his lawn before. But his friend told him it was the thing to do and I really didn’t want to make an issue of it with my dad.

So, I’m sorry to say, I spread 96 pounds of manmade plague on the lawn. I wasn’t happy about it but if I didn’t do it, he would, and he’s really not in any condition to do that right now.


On the brighter side..... I picked a big batch of spearmint and it is in the dehydrator now. Our house has a powerful minty-fresh smell. Marlene will use the dried herb in her soaps.


Marlene visited with our friend and organic market gardener, Rose Ryan, yesterday. Rose picked some stinging nettle and made a batch of nettle tea for Marlene and herself. What a coincidence. Just last week I ordered some nettle seed from Johnny’s. Rose spaded up a bunch of nettle for me and I planted it in a bed in the garden this evening.

I grew nettle a few years ago and dried it. It is very good for you. Once dried, the stinging action is no longer there. The nettle leaves can also be cooked like spinach.


I spent part of an afternoon last week scything the tall grass in my neighbor’s field. I scythe for fun and because there is something deep inside of me that yearns to cut grass with an ancient, razor sharp tool. It is very satisfying work.

I have a European-style scythe. I have had it for several years and have taken very good care of the blade. I’ve kept the blade sharp. I’ve never hit a rock. And I’ve never let anyone else use the tool.

Last week, James (my 11-year-old) used it. He hit a rock. He put a divot in the paper-thin, carefully-honed, razor-sharp blade. When I discovered the damage, I was upset. I could have really lost my cool. It was close—I was on the edge. But, thank God, I didn’t. I worked out my emotions with myself before I spoke to James about it. I told him I was glad that he wanted to use the scythe (which I was) but that it is a delicate instrument and the sharp blade is fragile and if the tool is not used properly, it can get damaged. I told him I did not think he was old enough to use my scythe properly. I told him that I wanted him to use the older, American-style scythe that I bought years ago (the one that I don’t care about any more because the European style is so much more superior). He knew I was upset, even if I didn’t loose my cool. Marlene was there. She told me later that I handled it well. There have been times, in years gone by, when I did not handle such things well. And my children suffered as a result.

So I got on the internet that night and bought a peening hammer and an anvil made for sharpening and repairing scythe edges. They came in the mail today. I watched a man peen a scythe blade at the Common Ground Country Fair in Maine two years ago. I’m pretty sure I can do it too, now that I have the right tools. has everything you need to get into scything.


It appears that several women are buying my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian, to give their husbands and fathers for Father’s Day. What a great idea!


Lynn Bartlett said...

It was a few weeks ago that I first heard about eating stinging nettle. We have an overabundance of it up here, and it was explained to me that you can take the leaves, saute them in butter, sprinkle on a little salt, and eat it. They are supposed to be delicious, but I was affected by the stuff once and it will take me a while to even think seriously about eating it!

It's very cold here as well; we have been running the wood stove for 2 days now.

Marci said...

Your story about your son and your scythe is something that has happened all too often here. Not with a scythe but with other things. When things happen, I am oftn reminded of a little poem I once heard.

My son helped me snap beans today.
He kept the bad and threw the good away.
I think how patient God must be
When I help Him like my son helps me.

Anonymous said...

Do you dry any other herbs in the dehydrator? How do you dry the peppermint for tea? I was searching the archives for your post on tea and could not find it, could you tell me where it has gone? Looking forward to more pictures of your homestead...nice to be able to put a picture with your writings. Keep up the good and very encouraging work!

Herrick Kimball said...

I guess they call it stinging nettle for a reason. It's stung me pretty good too.

Thanks for the poem. I'll remember that!

Yes, we dry all kinds of herbs and such in our dehydrator. Tonight we are drying catnip. The story about peppermint tea was removed from my blog because it is one of the stories that I used in my new book (Chapter 27). Just snip off the clean, fresh top growth of the peppermint and put it in the dryer. It dries surprisingly fast.

Anonymous said...


My Dad and I just got back from a trip up your way to help an old guy clean out a barn he sold. I saw all those bare trees, wow. There are whole mountian sides bare as bare can be. Chunks of forest 200 acres or more naked as they are in the winter. It was a sight to see.

Anonymous said...

Why are the trees bare? I must have missed the reason.

Anonymous said...

Great blog with lots of good info! Believe it not, I take about 2 grams of Stinging Nettle everyday with Ginger. It seems to help my hayfever. I used to be on two prescriptions, Allegra and Nasalcort, but now I am free from both of them.

As far as putting plant killer chemicals on your lawn, the "perfect" lawn is only a thing of the last 20 years. When I was growing up, picking clovers and dandelions was a common thing. I prefer having a "mutt" yard instead of a "purebred". The wild bunnies and deer prefer it too!