Haymaking at Flåret in Lier

by admin on 21/08/2018

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For the last 3 years, I have been helping with haymaking at Flåret near Sjåstad in the commune of Lier. During the haymaking course at Ryghsetra, I met the chairman of the Friends of the Earth in Lier and the son of the present owner of Flåret. Since they intended to do haymaking at Flåret one week after the haymaking course, I naturally joined them. The local Friends of the Earth association had also got a botanic survey (in Norwegian) of the meadows where 76 different types of plants were found and about 40 of them were characterised as typical for meadows.

As far as I know, Flåret was a small farm which became part of the big farm called Sjåstad, relatively speaking, in 1801. Thereafter, the land was cultivated, animals were raised and various kinds of vegetables and fruits were cultivated until the 1950s when marginal farmland was abandoned. For the next 60 years, the place was inhabited, but not maintained. However, from 2014 onwards, the most biologically diverse meadows at Flåret have been cut with scythes, while the ones with less diversity have been cut with a machine, and the hay has been put on hay racks for drying.

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When the hay has dried, we return and pull the hay from the hay racks to the ground. Next, we gather it in rows by means of rakes. Then, a tractor pulls a machine which turns the hay into hay bales. Finally, we carry the hay bales up to a road passing through the property. After we have left, the hay bales will be brought to a barn where they will be stored and sold to farmers with domestic animals, which love eating this diverse type of fodder.

The first two years, we harvested hay on the second week of July, that is one week after the haymaking course at Ryghsetra, but this year it was deferred to the second weekend of August in order to ensure that the plants on the meadows had produced seeds.

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The first year we started, the meadows were completely overgrown and garden flowers like lupinus were abundant. This year, they were all gone and lots of trees had been cut down such that more sunlight could enter. By continuing this work, we should be able to create a biologically diverse “island” in a forest where commercial forestry prevents it from occurring. In fact, there have been many meadows in the forest above the valley of Lier where people have raised animals and used the hay on the meadows to feed them in winter. However, since the 1950s, these places have, in general, not been maintained such that they will gradually disappear if nothing is done.

This year, 2018, we only put hay on hay racks, while the owner used a machine to cut the hay. A recording of the manual work can be listened to here. For the first time, I have pulled hay down from the hay racks and this work was surprisingly tiring. First, we had to grab a large piece of hay and throw it to the side of the hay rack, next we had to to do the same again along the whole length of the hay rack and we had to do the same on the other side. Next, we used rakes to get any hay, which had been left behind and we had to shape the two rows of hay more less regularly such that the hay bales would be regular. We also needed to pull the hay apart since it seemed like the individual parts were attached to each other.

The week before we were haymaking at Flåret, I was doing haymaking at another former homestead, called Myresetra. It was abandoned more than 100 years ago, but animals had been grazing there until the 1970s. More than 40 years with no grazing had led to that the meadows were being overgrown and trees had started turning the meadows into forest. Fortunately, the commune of Drammen recently bought the meadows and the surrounding area. In addition, locals are welcome to join haymaking on the meadows in August. On a rainy day, a small group of volunteers filled two hay racks with hay and used scythes to cut even more. Since the hay racks were full, we spread the excess hay evenly on the ground in order to let it dry.

After we had finished haymaking, the leader of the local history club told us about the last family who had been living there. A Swedish man, who had just arrived in Norway, was told that he could stay there. He and his wife brought up their children in this somewhat remote place and the children had to walk to school and back again daily. The family had some cows and they also cared for other people’s cows for payment. Since a brook is passing the meadows, the Swede set up a water-powered lathe on which he made various wooden products, which he could sell. Afterwards, he moved to the U.S. where he stayed for the rest of his life.

This year, 2018, I went back to Myresetra to cut hay again, but first we had to listen to another history lesson. We were told that this meadow had been in use at least since 1704 because there is a document from a trial regarding this place from that year. It was inhabited until the 1920s and livestock were grazing here until the 1970s. During all the time it was inhabited, it was common to let cattle stay on the meadow for a small charge.

Next, we cut hay and put it under trees because no farmers wanted to collect it. In order to keep the meadow open, it’s necessary to cut it every year and remove the cuttings, else they will fertilise the meadow.

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Hyllest elderflower farm

by admin on 15/07/2018

Drawing by by Olga Lobareva, bought from Shutterstock

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Elder or elderberry is a bush  with a rich variety of folklore as is shown here, here, here and here. Elders were considered the habitat of Freyja  in Norse mythology and it was protected by the Elder Mother. Actually, this inspired the great writer H.C. Andersen to write a story called The elder-tree mother. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote a book about Germanic tribes  for whom the elderberry was holy. Moreover, the Greek physician Hippocrates  and the Roman historian Pliny the elder both wrote about elderberry as a herbal medicine.

Quotation from Edda: If you have elder, honey and cabbage, the doctor will be a poor man.

The Latin name Sambucus for elderberry is purportedly derived from a Greek string instrument, which was called sambuca and was made from elder wood.

My first encounter with elderberry was at a farmers’ market in Drammen where we could sample elderflower juice, making me buy a bottle. Ever since I have bought bottles of elderflower juice occasionally since they are quite dear, but the taste is delicious. Next, having found that someone needed money for planting elderberries on a field in Bø in Telemark on the crowdfunding site culturaflokk, I donated so much that I could have a guided visit with the owner Mie Dahlmann Jensen on her farm.

We met at the chuch in Bø from where it was a short drive to a field near Moland farm where 400 elderberry saplings had been planted in 2017. Before, the field had been used for organic growing of oats and grass for 20 years and it was ideal for growing elderberries. During my visit, I could see some of the saplings, some of which had the same height as the surrounding grass due to a drought which have lasted more or less continuously since May 2018. Unfortunately, this makes it more difficult to make the elderberries growing, but Mie remains optimistic.

She told me that roe deer were free to enter the field, but they didn’t like the elders. In addition, there were brown rats nearby, but by planting garlic around the saplings, they stayed away. Really brilliant to fight them with plants and not poison!

Next, we went to Akkerhaugen where Mie has planted 160 elders in cooperation with Rinde farm. Three rows of elders were located among rows of apple trees and all cultivation was organic. Sitting in the sun, drinking elderflower juice and eating strawberries with sour cream was a very nice experience, contributing to making slow pix worthwhile and enjoyable.

The owner of Rinde farm cuts grass around the elderberries and apply fertiliser to them since they require a large amount of nitrogen in order to thrive.

Mie has her first memories from her native Denmark where she hid behind elders when she was playing hide-and-seek with other children. As an adult, she had been to farms where elderflower juice was being produced and after having moved to Norway and working at the local agricultural office, she contacted Innovation Norway and local apple farmers regarding cultivation of elders. Since everyone was positive, she founded her company Hyllest in 2013 and this year is the fifth anniversary. Hyllest is a Norwegian pun on hyll, which means elder, while hyllest means homage. That is, Hyllest is a homage to hyll.

Harvest of elderflowers is done in June and July, always manually and always early in the morning until about 10 in the morning when all dew has evaporated. In addition to domestic elderflowers, Mie also picks elderflowers from wild elders, which have “escaped” from various nurseries and gardens. Having collected elderflowers for up to a month, Mie turns them into juice at Epleblomsten, a local apple press. She has developed her own way of doing it, but she is aided by the workers at Epleblomsten with the production. Fortunately, this occurs so early that no other activity takes place at the apple press such that all attention can be turned to the elder flowers.

After having bottled the elderflower juice, it is distributed to various well-assorted shops and it is sold at farmers’ markets. A nice addition to elderflower juice is beer with a taste of elderflower since a brewery called Eiker ølfabrikk started making beer with elderflower syrup this year.

Finally, it remains to wish Mie good luck with persuading more Norwegians to start drinking elderflower juice, which apparently is little known for now.

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