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Traditional chores of the Swedish ommogens in April

Logging
1950s-1960s: Västergötland, Västra Tunhem, Härstad. Oscar Olsson chopping wood. Photo: Stig Olsson / Vänersborg Museum (CC BY-SA)

"In the second week of April the sun is in the Ox, and the farmer's spring is come." - Vilhelm Moberg

With these words Vilhelm Moberg begins the spring in his book The Year of the Farmer from 1966. In the sign of the Ox it was said to be good to have weddings and wean children, and also to sow and plant. Has the frost crawled out of the ground? Have the fields dried up? Is the earth ripe for the oarworm and the lamb's-quarters? These are all questions that Moberg believes should be answered in the affirmative before spring begins.

The grey, bare, shaggy old earth lies again naked and uncovered before the sun. It does not look much to the world, where it lies at the beginning of spring. It does not seem very profitable to move in its bare and desolate fields.

But the farmer, who owns this land, knows that it will green up and bear again.

Vilhelm Moberg in The Peasant Year (1966)

Here are some of the chores that the Swedish people have done in April over the millennia, Grass Month, right up to the present day.

In the field

When the frost began to subside, it was time to prepare for spring farming. J.L. Saxon writes in From the happy days of self-sufficiency (1933) on the work of a farm in Närke in the 1850s and 1960s, on how the "clearing" around the field, which was renewed every seven years, was first tackled. Later, farmyards and stone walls were repaired or built.

Agriculture in April
1968: "Record-breaking start this year for spring sowing in Tierp", Uppland. Photo: Arbetarbladet / Upplandsmuseet (CC BY-NC-ND)

"As soon as the soil clears, the preparation for sowing should begin", one can read in the second volume of The struggle for freedom of the Swedish Ommogens. The line core will be run once and the lobster cups will be repaired.

In the forest

In the forest, birch twigs are gathered into broomsticks before the birch tree strikes out. The birch saw was also collected for household use. You can read about it:

Fenugreek is collected in the full moon, it cleanses the bladder, kidney, lung, liver and spleen, will also fade stains, if you wash your face with it

Alfred Kämpe in The Freedom Struggles of the Swedish Allmog, volume 2, p 198
Manufacture of birch vests
1982: Production of brooms from birch bark in Edsbyn, Hälsingland. Photo: Hilding Mickelsson / Hälsingland Museum

April is the month of the birch, and the nutrient-rich sap flows from the time the frost leaves the ground until the tree develops its buds. The peoples of Scandinavia have been drinking birch sap for many hundreds of years, probably for millennia. One of the earliest mentions preserved for posterity is by the Swedish cartographer Olaus Magnus who in 1555 briefly described how fresh birch sap was drunk.

Att dricka färsk björksav är ett fint sätt att välkomna våren, men det kan också användas i brödbakning eller till att koka gröt, göra sirap, öl, mjöd, vin eller till och med sprit.Under den senaste hungersnöden i Sverige, 1867, användes björksav mycket i södra Sverige till brödbakning, gröt och som måltidsdryck. Då kallades visst björken för ”fattig mans ko” enligt en källa1. Det torde också ha druckits mycket björksav i norra Sverige där svälten var som värst.Björksav har också som sagt använts till att brygga öl genom att blanda det med malt och jäst. En beskrivning från Småland år 1749 säger att björksav ibland smaksattes med pors (Myrica gale L.).

Spring Market

The big spring market in Örebro was held in April. "'Oxagropa' then represented a multitude of animals. Buyers were also numerous. As a rule, there was a colossal turnover of animals. Seed was also a big item."2

Market in Skållared
1935-1955: The creator's hill at Skållared market in Västergötland. "Skållaremarten" was widely known for the cattle market. Photo: Kloar-Erik Andersson / Halland Museum of Cultural History (CC BY-NC-ND)

Any grain that was left over was turned into money, i.e. sold on the market. But they wanted to make sure that the grain in the fields was in good condition first.3

On the firewood hill

From Medelpad, Jämtland and Ångermanland the book tells Working life in Norrland in the 18th century the same story from all parishes. For the men, April was lumberjack month. The custom was that all woodcutting had to be finished before Maundy Thursday. Anyone who was not finished got a bad reputation in the village, and also extra work because the wood was said to be tougher to cut after this day. At the time, it was thought that this was because "the wizards had something to do with it - they rode to Bluebell with the logs."4

On the firewood hill
1973: Striving couple on the wood hill in Sjukarby, Tolfta, Uppland. The picture was published in Arbetarbladet on 23 August 1973 with the following caption: "Carl-Arvid Gustavsson and Elin Persson are 185 years together, but there is nothing wrong with their activities. Carl-Arvid saws wood and Elin crochets lace, there have been many meters of stretch in recent years.". Arbetarbladet Tierp / Upplandsmuseet (CC BY-NC-ND)

Today we know that it is easier to split wood that is frozen, so in April when the weather gets milder and the wood thaws, it will actually be a bit tougher to split.

At home and on the farm

When there was time at home, they tied brooms from the birch boughs. It was also important that roofs were inspected and repaired to withstand the coming rains, and even the courtyards were looked at.5 For the womenfolk, the main activity in April, as in March, was weaving and spinning from morning to night6. The looms were also added to the bleaching.

Halmtak
1923: Straw roofs are laid in the Gothenburg area. Photo: the Technical Museum

Animals

About animal husbandry in April you can read in The struggle for freedom of the Swedish Ommogens:

4. Pigs and calves are 'culled'. The lambs are well-groomed, the pigs are ringed before they are released. The bulls are released to the cows.

5. Concerning the care of pregnant mares: 'If necessary, the horses should also be put in the mouth below'.

6. Chickens, ducks and geese laid on eggs. Pigeons are looked after, because they already have young, 'and find little or nothing to eat on the ground'.

7. You have to watch out for the fish spawn.

Alfred Kämpe in The Freedom Struggles of the Swedish Allmog, volume 2, p 198

I conclude with some wisdom from the classic Bondepraktikan, 1875 edition:


Sow and cut in due season, Till the earth with great zeal...


Sources

  1. Uses of tree saps in northern and eastern parts of Europe, s 345
  2. Saxon, J.L., From the happy days of self-sufficiency
  3. Kämpe, Alfred, The Struggles for Freedom in Sweden, volume 2, p 198
  4. Saxon, J.L., From the happy days of self-sufficiency, s 66
  5. Kämpe, Alfred, The Struggles for Freedom in Sweden, volume 2, p 198
  6. Working life in Norrland in the 18th century (1968)

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2 thoughts on “Svenska allmogens traditionella sysslor i April

  1. Björn Engström says:

    Written for southern Sweden and I think the descriptions are too elementary and too general. I myself am very familiar with all the general tasks and have often done them myself. I have read probably many hundreds of thousands of pages of judgement books and other cultural-historical documents mainly from my areas in north-eastern Dalarna. I guide, educate, give courses, lecture, write articles on various cultural history topics and know our Swedish cultural history. But also quite a lot of research on Finnish, Russian and Baltic cultural history. In addition to cultural history, I research the history of cultivation and use of various plants for different purposes.

    • Daniel Sjöberg says:

      Hi Björn and thanks for your comment! Yes, it is always possible to develop the descriptions. This was an extremely quick overview based on a few sources. Which publication or website do you write articles for? You are always welcome to share your knowledge by publishing your articles here on Allmogen.org, if you wish.

Comments are closed.