The Mode of Cultivating and Dressing Hemp / Detached Observations on Hemp

[ The Mode of Cultivating and Dressing Hemp / Detached Observations on Hemp ] Abbe Bralle

Contributor Role
Contributor Name
Abbe Bralle

Date: 1790/05/18

Publication Format


black soap

Nova Scotia

Source: Royal Gazette and the Nova Scotia Advertiser.
Institution: Nova Scotia Archives | Source Origin: Nova Scotia Newspapers on Microfilm | Reference: Microfilm Reels 8162, 8163, 8165, 8167


A detailed discussion of the best methods for planting, cultivating, and dressing hemp, with an account of costs and potential profit, followed by observations on the usefulness of hemp in making fabric and employing the poor. Vol. 2, No. 61. Microfilm Reel 8163. Under the name Abbe Brulles, both were also published in Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts, Vol. 14, pp. 359-72 (London, 1790) by the Arthur Young also credited with "Receipt for Making Parmesan Cheese."


                                  THE MODE of
                    CULTIVATING and DRESSING
                                      H E M P.
                             By ABBE BRALLE.
Printed by Order of the Lords of the Committee of Council
             For Trade and Foreign Plantations.

IT is sufficiently known, that land intended for a crop
of Hemp must be well manured, well ploughed, clean-
sed, and gotton fine; and the season being arrived;
which varies much according to the soil, weather, and
conveniency of the cultivator, extending from the 25th
March to the 15th June; sow the Hemp seed, which
ought always to be new seed, thin, not exceeding two
bushels to an acre, and if you have the advantage of a
drill plough, still less will do. After the land is sown,
go through the whole with a shovel, and with it make
little paths at seven feet distance from each other, the
lengthway of your piece, so that at the proper season you
may reach the Female Hemp, which you will have oc-
casion to pull out, without trampling on the Male, which
must stand at least a month longer to ripen its seed. The
Female Hemp (which is that which bears only flowers
and no seed) is known to be ripe by the flowers fading,
the farina foecundans falling, and some of the stems turn-
ing yellow. You must then draw out carefully the whole
of the Female Hemp, breaking as little as possible the
stems of that which you take, or that which you leave.
    IMMEDIATELY as it is gathered, take it in as large
handfuls as you can, and either cutting the roots off or
leaving them on, as you like best (I prefer cutting them
off) hold the root end uppermost, and with a wooden
sword dress off the flower and leaves, which you leave on
the field, since they assist in manuring; pick out any
weeds or spoilt plants; put twelve handfuls or gripes to-
gether to make a bundle; then lay the bundles in water:
tt is much the best to be a running and clear water, and
if shaded and overhung with trees the better: lay poles or
planks, or whatever else you have that is suitable, across
a large number together, so as to keep them at least two
inches under water. Take particular notice which you
lay in first, and how you lay the bundles, in order that
you may be able to get them out again successively as they
were laid in, without breaking or tangling. At the end
of six days visit the hemp, and see whether the reed will
draw out from some of the bundles. The time required
for soaking depends very much on the nature of the hemp,
the weather, and of the water it is soaked in -- from six
days to nine, or even eleven. It is a trouble that is not
ill bestowed to sort the Hemp for soaking, if it is of un-
equal sizes, the slenderest generally requiring most soa-
    WHEN you find any quantity sufficient soaked, take it
with care, putting the hands under it to prevent breakage,
and transport it to a trough or to a table; for there are
two methods of working it. If you work it in a trough,
you must be provided with one somewhat longer than any
Hemp that you mean to work in it--twelve or fourteen
inches deep, and of what width you think proper, accor-
ding to the number of persons you employ at it, as one,
two, or four. To this trough must be fitted two pieces
of plank, of about a food length, but of such width as to
stretch over a bundle of the hemp as it lies opened in the
water: these planks must be set on one side with teeth
of brass wire, and when the Hemp is ready for drawing,
must be laid on it as it lies in the water, to keep it strait
and immerged.
    IF you work the Hemp on a table, you must, before
taking it out of the water, open a little the bundles, and
rub the stems between your hands to get off what you can
of the slime, and to loosen the rind. You must likewise
push the bundle along in the water, with the root end 
foremost, to loosen the rind at that end where the opera-
tion is to be begun. If you do not thus rub and scour
your Hemp in the water where you soak it, you must do
it in the trough. But in the either case you must be careful
to keep an even and steady hand to avoid breaking the
reed, which, as many times as it happens, renders the
operation of getting the reeds out tedious. If it is wrought
on a table, the bundle must be frequently but slightly
wetted. If any suitable method could be taken to make
water drip gently on it, it would be best. A plank must
be laid on the bundle to keep it steady.
    ALL matters being properly disposed, either on the
table or in the trough, you must begin at the root end to
push back a little the rind from the stem, then taking
hold of one stem at a time, and rather near the outside
than the middle of the bundle, keep your hand and the


weed under water (if you work in a trough) and draw it
out from the bundle as strait as possible, you will find it
come out clean as a sword from its scabbard. As you 
proceed you may take two, afterwards four, and up to
six or more reeds at a time, which will draw out still
more easily. When you have drawn out all the reeds
that you can find at the root end, lift up the spiked plank
which was at the upper end, leaving on that which was
in the middle, and draw out such pieces of reed as you
may find at the upper end, and which have remained af-
ter drawing out what you could at the root end, because
they were broken. Lastly, take off the plank which laid
on the middle, and take out all the relicks of reed you 
can perceive. If your Hemp was in good condition for
drawing, you will now find all your reeds perfectly clean
on the floor, and the rind, which is the Hemp, lying in
[flat] threads, in the water on the table.
    You will perceive that among the Hemp there is a 
great quantity of gum left looking like a jelly; this you
will wash out as if you were washing any long strait
piece of cloth, observing not to displace or twist the
threads, which would thwart the future operation of
dressing or heckling. The finer and whiter you desire
the hemp to be, the more waters you will run it through,
squeezing it out at each time of washing; but I think it
always right at the last to run it through a water in which
a slight quantity of soft soap has been beat up, after the
rate of an ounce of soft soap to three pounds of the Hemp
when dry. Do not squeeze it out from this soap water,
but hang it to drain, and when a little stiffened, open a
little the bundle, and lay it to dry on a grass plat or
floor; the former is preferable. This soap water is not
absolutely necessary, but is certainly of great use for soft-
ening the hemp, and rendering it pleasant and easy to
dress: but may be dispensed with where it is very in-
convenient, and where the Hemp is intended for coarse
purposes. It is obvious that all these operations would
be carried on to the most advantage near to some runn-
ing stream or large lake, if it be a standing water, on ac-
count of the great use that is made of that element, and
to save a great deal of the trouble of transportation.
    WHEN thus dried, the Hemp is proper either for
dressing or storing: if the latter, particular care must be
taken that is be thoroughly dry, it will otherwise heat
and spoil. As the Hemp peculiarly intended to be hit-
herto spoken of is the Female, or Flower-bearing Hemp,
which is intended for fine uses, it is to be observed, that
it must be worked with heckles or hatchels, such as are
used for Flax dressing, and may be brought to an extreme
fineness; and the Shorts, having no pieces of straw or
reed among them, may be carded and spun, and brought
into use for all the same purposes as Cotton, and the same
methods used for bleaching and softening. It is likewise
requisite to work this Hemp as soon as pulled, without
which the greatest softness and whiteness cannot be ob-
tained; and as this sort generally falls ripe between hay
time and harvest, when the weather is warm and fine,
and the women most at liberty, it will be a suitable oc-
casion to draw and cleanse the Hemp--the dressing may
be reserved for winter.
    I now proceed to speak of the Male Hemp, which bear-
ing a more considerable crop, cannot all be worked as 
fast as it is pulled or cut. It is known to be ripe enough
by the stems becoming pale; for if you stay till the tuft
containing the seed appears ripe, or the stem turns brown,
the Hemp will be in a great measure spoiled. When it
is come to a proper maturity, you must get a good num-
ber of hands, so as to expediate the business, because such
as remains standing after it is ripe, will have its rind fix-
ed to the reed, the gum turned hard and dark coloured,
and the whole operation of drawing becomes difficult,
troublesome and ungrateful. The leaves are to be strip-
ped off with a wooden sword, in the same manner as those
of the Female Hemp, as are likewise the seed, the bran-
ches which grow literally, and even the tuft bearing seed
at the top: but if this latter should not come off clean, it
must be chopt off with an iron instrument. All this
must be done over a cloth, or on a spot of ground in the
field, well levelled and smoothed, to avoid losing any of
the seed. And it is proposed, and said to be successful,
to leave the seed abroad, covered with the leaves, &c. to
preserve it from birds, in order that it may heat and be
thrashed in the field, and the leaves and chaff brewed on
the land. This certainly saves trouble, and is practiced
in many parts, but seems to me slovenly, and I should ra-
ther take it home to a barn; but I would certainly burn
all the roots, and such parts as are too hard to rot easily,
and strew the ashes as well as the leaves, and such other
parts as will easily rot, up[o]n the ground, as these matters
are reckoned to go half way towards manuring the land
for next year’s crop. The Male Hemp, thus stript of
leaves and seed, will generally dry for storing in 24 hours;
but at any rate must not be left long abroad, but rather
taken into sheds to dry, which, when thus stript, it will
speedily do. Sun and rain would soon spoil it. That
which can be wrought green must be treated as before
set forth for the Female Hemp; and it is obvious that is
is a great advantage to work it in this manner, rather than
to dry and store it, which causes much trouble and ex-
pence, and produces less and worse Hemp; but where
the crop is considerable, and the hands few, it is una-
voidable. --If, however, much rain comes, it is imprac-
ticable to dry it for storing without spoiling, as every
year’s experience shews in the present received method;
whereas the working the Hemp green entirely avoids
this disadvantage and inconveniency, and the hands en-
gaged may continue their employment under the shelter
of trees, or of a temporary shed made of a few rough poles
and hurdles, covered with straw, reeds, &c.
    ALL the same procedure is to be used with the Male as
with the Female Hemp, as to drawing, scouring, &c.
but as the reeds of it are less brittle, and the rind coar-
ser, it requires more soaking, but is easier to draw, and
produces much more and stronger Hemp. What is sto-
red must, when wanted to be wrought, be soaked, pee-
led, washed, and in general treated as before said. In
cold weather it takes long soaking.


        ACRE of HEMP in this Country. [England.]
                                                                       £.    s.    d.
Rent 20s. per acre      -         -         -             1      0     0
Manure the first year more than others,
    But it is most advantageous to sow af       2     0      0
    ter a turnip crop--say 401.           -
Three times ploughing and harrowing           0     18    0
Seed a bushels--price unknown, but in
    France 5s.     -        -         -          -             0     10    0
Pulling the Female Hemp, and trimming       0     10    6
Cutting Male, and trimming for putting           0      7     0
    in water. -       -       -         -     
Getting from the reed, and washing the
    Female 7lb, per diem at 9d.--50 bun-         0     13     6
    dles containing 125lb--160d : 5 -
Getting the Male from the reed, and
    washing 14lb. Per diem at 9d--                   1       0      1
    375lb--241d   -           -           -      
Soap 10lb, at price in France 3d.     -              0       2      6
Thrashing feed   -         -         -         -             0       2      6
                             Total expence   -       -        7       4      1
Female Hemp, 125lb. At only 1s. but
    worth in the rough much more -                6        5      0
Seed 16 bushels, at 5s.--supposed un-
    dervalued.   -            -            -         -        4        0       0
Male Hemp 375lb, at 7d ½ per lb.     -          11      14      8
Faggots   -          -          -          -          -        1        0       0
                              Total produce    -        -    22      19     0
                              Total expence   -        -    7         4      1
                              Total profit        -        -     15      14     11
    Suppose the expences under-rated 20s. Per acre, and the
gain over-rated 4l. 15s. there still remains 10/. clear gain;
to which is to be added, that the further improvement of
the material in dressing and spinning, employs the poor,
and particularly women and children, who are a heavy
burthen to the farmer in all countries.
IT is capable of being cultivated on all kinds of land;
the poorer land producing the Hemp finer in quality,
though smaller in quantity, and the rankest land pro-
ducing strong and long, though coarse; and this fort
being the easiest to draw and work in the new mode, the
quantity of manure requisite in the first instance is not
above half of that for wheat, and the subsequent years
not above half of that half, and the Hemp still improv-
ing in quality. All the work in the new method, not
even excepting the dressing, is fitter for women than
men, and may be practiced advantageously by every cot-
    No bleaching is wanted for the linen made of Hemp
prepared in the new methods and it is nearly certain,
that if the Hemp be fine, well managed, and dressed with
the finest Flax, hackle, it may supercede almost all the
use of Flax, which Flax is a more uncertain and less
abundant crop, requires more culture and better land,
which it exhausts; whereas Hemp grounds increase in 
goodness. If the Male Hemp intended for cords has been
treated with little attention, and but little scoured or
bleached, the Shorts which come from it in dressing may
be scoured over again to render them more useable.
The hackle, and even the Hemp itself, may be a little
oiled in the dressing, which will much facilitate that
business, and instead of fouling, will rather assist in
bleaching the threads, when they come to be washed.
    The greatest injury that can befal Hemp is that of sun-
baking. But after all the greatest injuries that can be
done to Hemp, the new operation may be performed on
it; though with less success, yet sufficient to render it
better than that which is procured by any other opera-
tion, hereof I have, at this moment, the proof under
my eye. The greatest whiteness can never be procured
but by working it green. If stored, the greener it is got
in, the whiter it will be. The more the colour is 
changed, the worse will be the colour of the thread.
    Fifteen pounds of Male Hemp may be gotten off in a
day by one person; only seven pounds of Female. It is
It is [sic] necessary to pick the the Hemp plants over at se-
veral different periods, in order to avoid having any bad
stems among the good, which might spoil a whole par-
cel, especially if intended for fine linen.
    There is a great reason, from a slight attempt that has
been made, to think that a dye might be procured from
the water in which the Hemp is scoured, after that it is
gotten off from the reed.
    It is likewise thought that an instrument may be ima-
gined for drawing the reeds from the threads or rind,
or else the rind or threads from the reed, more expedi-
tiously. A few bundles have been cleared with a com-
mon rake.
    In France it is common, at the time of pulling the
female Hemp, to scatter turnip seeds in among the stems
of the Male Hemp, which are left standing, and these
turnips frequently produce a good deal of seed for sheep
or cattle after the Male Hemp is taken off. It is ob-
vious that whatever has this effect, has, besides the
benefit of supporting the stock of a farm, that of aiding
to manure the Hemp grounds, especially if it be sheep
that are fed on it; therefore if this method fails, it would
be prudent, immediately as the Hemp is off the ground,
to plow it up, and sow turnips, cole-seed, rye, or any
other thing proper for sheep feed, which can be gotten
off early in the next spring, so as to be able to till the 
land well in time for receiving the Hemp seed.
    It is a less injury to the Hemp to pull the plants be-
fore they are ripe enough, then to leave them too long
standing. It is a less injury, in soaking the Hemp, to


leave it too long in the water than to take it out before it
is sufficiently soaked.
    The more the Hemp is cleansed after getting off the
reed, the finer it becomes, and the finer dressing it re-
quires: nothing but experience can mark the degrees.
    The most advantageous time to begin the culture of
Hemp on any land, is immediately after a crop of
turnips; --exactly the same as if you were about to sow
    The coarsest black soap, which costs in France only
three pence per lb. will suffice for making the suds
through which the Hemp should pass.
    It is asserted from experience, that putting the clusters
containing the Hemp seeds to sweat and heat, causes
many of the seeds to come to perfection, which, in the
common method, would wither and become dead; and
that it of course improves both the quantity and quality.