The Grass Mowing Season Begins

The grass mowing season began for us yesterday, with Phil taking his scythe out with him to mow the grass in an extensive garden in a nearby village.

A Low Impact Gardener's Bike

A Low Impact Gardener’s Bike

Phil gardens for several people around us, all within walking or cycling distance which suits our generally car free lifestyle perfectly. Above is a picture of his bike, loaded up and ready to go to work. Note the trick of carrying the scythe snath and a rake strapped along the top bar!

Phil manages all of these gardens by hand, using a scythe in place of a lawn mower or a strimmer. In the garden he was mowing today, the versatility of the scythe allows him to mow around patches of wildflowers, allowing them to bloom and be enjoyed by the owner, and to cut paths into wilder corners, opening them up for exploration.

Unfortunately, gardens can come with hidden obstacles – a buried piece of concrete took a fair sized chip out of the edge of a Styria blade that was freshly peened. Looks like it is back to the peening anvil for a bit of repair work for this one! I’ll let you know how the repair goes.

Damage to blade edge caused by a piece of concrete

Damage to blade edge caused by a piece of concrete

Posted in Bicycles, Scythes | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Apple Tree Grafting Workshop

Yesterday we ran our second Apple Tree Grafting Workshop. The day started off with Phil looking at the reasons we choose to graft apple trees onto different root stocks. He went on to look at the principles of grafting, including sourcing root stock and grafting material, the grafting processes it’s self and aftercare of the grafted trees.

Freshly grafted Apple Trees

Freshly grafted Apple Trees

The participants had a chance to practice the techniques on some spare apple prunings, before having a go at the real thing after lunch.

Selecting root stocks and varieties to graft on

Selecting root stocks and varieties to graft on

There was a buzz of activity as people selected their root stocks and scions of the varieties of apple they wanted to graft on. The scions had been collected by Phil over the winter, and are varieties that he recommends as being likely to grow and crop well in West Wales.

Grafting the trees

Grafting the trees

It was a successful day, with everyone going home with at least two trees. Several participants expressed the intention to use grafting techniques to graft more productive varieties onto existing un-productive apple trees they already have, an interesting extension of the basic grafting technique.

Posted in Grafting, Permaculture | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Establishing Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor)

Spring is well underway, the grass is growing and the Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor is germinating in the hay meadows. It is also germinating in profusion in many of the areas that we mulched with grass and hay from Cae Mari Jones last summer and autumn.

Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) seedlings germinating in hay mulch

Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) seedlings germinating in hay mulch

There has been a lot of interest in the role Yellow Rattle can play in the establishment and maintenance of wildflower meadows. It is semi-parasitic on grass, reducing it’s vigour and allowing the establishment of a wider range of flora in the meadow.

We have found mulch a very successful method for establishing Yellow Rattle in new areas, all be it unintentionally!

We aim to cut the majority of Cae Mari Jones (with a scythe of course) every year, starting in early July after the flowers have set seed. This management is necessary for the benefit of the wildflowers, but provides much more grass then we need to make into hay for our livestock and spring hay mulching needs. The excess grass is wilted for a day or two, then used very productively as a mulch, often on areas of perennial edibles (more information on how we use various mulches to follow).

Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) in one of the Trust's hay fields

Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) in one of the Trust’s hay fields

The mulch is, of course, full of seed from the meadow. Yellow Rattle establishes best from fresh seed and needs a very short sward or even clear ground in Spring to germinate in.

The mulch comes complete with fresh seed and creates the open conditions that the rattle needs. Seedlings in the centre of the bed seldom thrive but those on the edge, that are able to parasitise the grass on the bordering path/track grow away strongly if allowed. The Yellow Rattle can then seed and spread into the adjacent grassland, providing it is managed in such a way as to encourage it.

It is important to note that Yellow Rattle seed needs exposure to the cold temperatures of winter whilst in the moist soil to break dormency and germinate. We do not find yellow rattle germinating in beds mulched with hay in the spring, only in those where mulch has been in place since the previous summer or from hay mulch in the autumn.

We haven’t tried to use this method to establish Yellow Rattle in grassland where it is absent – we have plenty of it! If you have grass in which you would like to establish Yellow Rattle I can imagine the following method working.

  • Cut the grass short in July (as if it had been cut for hay).
  • Place patches of fresh grass cut from a meadow containing Yellow Rattle amongst the grass, thick enough that they will suppress the grass and provide a bare spot for the rattle to establish in (we mulch our bed with up to 2ft of hay, although this may be more then necessary for rattle establishment).
  • Manage the grassland to encourage the rattle (cut/graze the grass short in the Autumn such that it is short going into the Winter. Leave it to grow long in the spring then cut short in July after the rattle has seeded. Whenever the grass is cut the arisings should be removed, either as hay or otherwise.)
  • Of course, you would need to find a farm that has rattle in it’s hay fields to source grass from. Certainly in our area of Wales there are more such fields about then you might expect. Let us know if you have a go – I would be interested to hear if it works!

    Rattle Seed Heads. The sound of the seeds rattling in the seed cases may give the plant it's name.

    Rattle Seed Heads. The sound of the seeds rattling in the seed cases may give the plant it’s name.

Posted in Ecology, Grassland Management, Hay, Permaculture | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Get Ready to Mow” Peening Workshop 2014

Yesterday was International Peening Day. For our part, we held a Peening and Sharpening Workshop. The rain came in steady waves all day, so I was very glad that the day was mainly spent in the comfort of the Red Barn, where Phil described and demonstrated the process of peening in detail.

Peening with a Jig

Peening with a Jig

Participants had plenty of time to practice with both the peening jig and freehand peening with an anvil. Some choose to gain confidence on some reject blades we have from the Fux factory before moving onto working on their own blades.

The aim of the day is to send participants home with one of their blades that they have peened themselves and a renewed confidence in their ability to peen. As well as people picking up the hammer for the first time, the workshop is very useful for people who have been peening already but would like to increase their skill level, perhaps moving on from the jig to freehand peening or learning how to use peening to mend damage to the blade edge.

Phil freehand peening with an lovely Fux deluxe anvil

Phil freehand peening with an lovely Fux deluxe anvil

Our experience shows that getting to grips with peening and sharpening can make a big difference in your mowing ease and quality. It took Phil several years of practice to raise his peening skills. The biggest improvement was marked by a big jump in the speed and quality of his mowing, leading to the first occasion on which he won the Quality Cup at the West Country Scythe Festival in 2008. Since that time, the peening and sharpening ability of the UK scythe community as a whole has risen, indicated by an increasing number of people mowing fast and well in the various UK mowing competitions.

The competitions are of course just the visible part of UK mowing. Across the country there are people like us, using the Austrian scythe as a working, living tool on their farm, small holding, garden or allotment and finding that the ability to get a blade sharp and keep it that way makes a great difference to the effectiveness of the tool.

It is extremely pleasing to see this general increase in skill level in the UK. After all, we started from a very low base. Peening is not a traditional skill in th UK, as it is not the way the English scythe is maintained (more discussion of the different ways of maintenance to follow perhaps!). When we first started using the Austrian scythe in 2005, it was an uncommon tool. Now, there is a vibrant and growing community of mowers showing increasing skill level. The Scythe Association of Britain and Ireland Website(SABI) will give you an idea of the varied activities that are happening on the UK scythe scene.

Phil would say that while his skill level is high and improving, he has still not mastered the art of peening. It is a subtle art and can be used with great effect to alter the mowing quality of your blade to suit the conditions that you are mowing in, be it clearing nettles or mowing hay. Any attempt at peening is likely to improve your mowing and, as with any skill, your ability will increase with practice. The important thing of course is to begin!

If you missed this workshop, there will be another opportunity to hone your peening skills with Phil during a Peening and Sharpening Workshopon Wednesday 23rd July.

The peened edge! Lines of peening can be seen as a dark line along the edge of the blade.

The peened edge! Lines of peening can be seen as a dark line along the edge of the blade.

Posted in Courses, Peening and Sharpening | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Peening Workshop on International Peening Day

Sunday 6th April is International Peening Day. For our part, we are holding a Peening and Sharpening Workshop at the Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust.

Perhaps your blade is not cutting as well as it used to or it has picked up a few nicks and dents? Or maybe you want to move on from the peening jig and have a go at freehand peening?

This workshop is the ideal chance to get to grips with all aspects of the art of peening and sharpening and give your blade a thorough service before the mowing season gets underway. Practice blades will be available if you feel a bit nervous about making your early attempts on your own blade!

As we have discovered over the years, knowing how to get your blade truly sharp and keep it that way can make your mowing experience much easier and more effective.

More details about this and other workshops at the Trust can be found on http://scythecymru.co.uk/courses/
our courses page.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Making our own Laburnum fence posts

We are gradually working towards using hedges as the stock proof boundaries of the Trust’s fields, both through an ongoing programme of laying and restoring existing hedges and by planting new ones, as detailed in the previous post.

While this work is in progress we need to maintain the fences we currently have. Inevitably posts break and need replacing. We are finding that some modern tanalised soft wood posts are lasting less then 5 years, depending on the strain they are put under.

Led by a desire for the farm to be an increasingly self-sustaining system and to avoid using chemically treated posts and all the industrial processing and environmental impact that goes with them, we are experimenting with making our own Laburnum fence posts.

Lengths of Laburnum selected out for making fence posts, also showing a Silky Fox hand saw.

Lengths of Laburnum selected out for making fence posts, also showing a Silky Fox hand saw.

We coppiced several stools of Laburnum earlier in the winter, as is detailed in this post on the Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust website. Laburnum has a very hard heartwood and it lasts a long time in contact with the soil, making it very suitable for fence posts.

We put aside the thicker lengths for use as straining posts and selected out a dozen or so that could make decent fence posts. These were cut to length using the Trust’s new Silky Fox hand saw. These saws are rather expensive compared to a bow saw but are wonderful to use, with a comfortable hand grip and a good cutting action. The ends of the posts were then pointed with a bilhook.

Laburnum fence posts, cut to length and pointed

Laburnum fence posts, cut to length and pointed

As can be seen in the picture above, there is quite a variation in the posts. It will be interesting to monitor how long the various thickness of post last in the soil and how they compare to tanalised soft wood posts.

The picture below shows one of the fence posts in place in the fence. All but the thickest or most awkwardly shaped posts were put in with a post knocker. They went in easily, with two of us working the post knocker together, and look interestingly organic in the fence compared to the more uniform tanalised posts. Two thick posts that were knocked in with a fencing maul split at the top. In future, it may be worth considering splitting thick post into two or more smaller posts if they are straight enough. They should then be less susceptible to splitting and could also be knocked in with the post knocker which is much less likely to split posts.

A Laburnum fence post in place in the fence

A Laburnum fence post in place in the fence

Using Laburnum to make fence posts is probably nothing new in this area. Sometimes, Laburnum will take root when large branches and trunks are pushed into the ground (limbar cuttings). In our area, it is said that Laburnum was imported by the Cawdor estate for use as fence posts, many of which took root, leading to the multitude of Laburnums now seen in local hedgerows. We have recent examples of this happening on the Trust land, including a tree in our garden which was originally a support for a washing line! Perhaps some of these fence post will become trees that will, in their turn, be coppiced to produce more fence posts.

Posted in Hand Farming, Hedges and Fences, Permaculture | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Shark’s Fin Melon Seeds

Cucurbita Ficifolia “Shark’s Fin Melon” grown at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust

Our Shark’s Fin Melon Cucurbita ficifolia seeds that we jad avalible for exchange were very popular last year and we are pleased to be able to offer them again this year.

The seeds we have are from Sheffield (our original source of seed) as we did not have a good crop in our garden this year. Our seed donor grows Shark’s Fin Melons on an allotment in Sheffield. The plants seems to like the micro-climate offered by the city as she and her neighbours have had a bumper crop. A friend who lives down in the valley near us also had a good crop, so perhaps we are just a bit too high up at the Trust!

See this post on the Trust website for more information on growing and using Shark’s Fin Melons

Seed is avalible in exchange for a suggested donation of £2.50 to the Trust. Money raised through donations will be put towards extending the forest garden / agroforestry planting at the Trust, as well as covering post and packing costs. If you do not live locally to us we can post a packet to you (UK only)

Donations can be made through the Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust website , or you can contact us via the Trust contact page to make a donation via bank transfer or cheque.

Posted in Seed saving | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Edible Hedgerows

We are in the process of developing Edible Hedgerows along some of the fence lines that are not along existing hedge lines. The hedges will function something like a linear forest garden, allowing us to create a higher yield of edibles than in a standard hedge, whilst also carrying out several more usual hedgerow functions.

Front: Hugal bed filled with wood. Behind is the next section, dug ready to receive more wood.

Front: Hugal bed filled with wood. Behind is the next section, dug ready to receive more wood.

The yields we are aiming for from these hedges are:

  • A stock proof hedge to support the fence, then replace it when the fence reaches the end of it’s life
  • A harvest of edibles – berries, leaves, fruit.
  • Shelter for livestock
  • Supplementary forage for livestock. Herbs and leaves to provide health promoting micro-nutrients to supplement what is available in the pasture. Stock will only have access to one side of the hedge (currently through a fence), the other side being along a track way.
  • Wildlife Habitat

We are establishing the hedgerows gradually – it would be expensive to buy in all the interesting plants we would like to have in sufficient quantity to create a hedge. Some plants we are propagating ourselves from existing plants, eg gooseberries. For others, we are buying one or two “parent” plants from stockists such as Martin Crawford of The Agroforestry Research Trust with the aim of propagating them on ourselves.

We are using a technique inspired by Hugel culture to establish the hedges. First, the turf is removed and carefully placed aside. Next the topsoil is removed and placed on strips of black plastic (to make it easier to shovel it up again afterwards). Branches and sticks (produced during laying an existing hedge) are then piled into the bottom of the hedge. These will gradually rot down and provide a long term source of fertility. The turves are then put onto the wood, vegetation side down, and then the top soil is placed on the top. The plants are then planted into the top of the “bed” and generously mulched with old hay.

Turves are put on top of wood. Top soil is on black plastic on the right, ready to go on next.

Turves are put on top of wood. Top soil is on black plastic on the right, ready to go on next.

Plants we are using include various Elaeagnus umbellata varieties, various Hawthorn craetagus spp which have larger berries then the wild type, Berberis, Mahonia, Chaenomeles, Aronia and others combined with lots of Gooseberries and Worcesterberries.

The top soil is replaced and then the plants planted into the top of the Hugal bed

The top soil is replaced and then the plants planted into the top of the Hugal bed

We are planting blocks of each variety to facilitate harvesting. Eg gooseberry cuttings are grouped by variety – a stretch of hedge will become ripe for harvesting at one time and can be picked without having to move between scattered plants. The hedges we are planting at the moment are along the boundry between a field and a trackway, meaning the hedge will only be fenced on one side as it establishes and there will be easy access to one side of the hedge for harvesting.

The Hugal bed finished off with a mulch of old hay

The Hugal bed finished off with a mulch of old hay

Posted in Hedges and Fences, Permaculture | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Mole Hills on Cae Mari Jones

Mole Hills on Cae Mari Jones

Mole Hills on Cae Mari Jones

I don’t think any scyther enjoys meeting a mole hill while mowing a good crop of hay. It interrupts the flow of your scythe strokes, and worse still, blunts your blade!

We obviously have a very healthy population of moles on the farm if the quantity of mole hills is anything to go by. Cae Mari Jones, our main hay field, has a particularly rich crop, as can be seen in the photo above.

Now, while the weather is dry but before the grass is really growing away, is the time of year to flatten them. This year I have been doing it by hand, armed with a stout garden rake. The work went faster then expected and I have already levelled about half the mole hills in the field.
The industrious moles will of course throw up more, but hopefully I will have reduced the number that will be lying in wait for the scythe.

And mole hills are not all bad news. Phil uses the fine crumbly soil to make a potting mix for filling larger pots. 2 parts mole hill : 2 parts compost : 1 part well rotted manure plus a handful of powdered seaweed works well and helps stretch out the bought in compost. It provides longer lasting fertility than the organic compost we use, which is particularly valuable for plants that will be staying in the pot for longer eg perennial plants. The pots filled with the mix are topped off with a layer of sterile compost to prevent weed growth.

Flattened mole hills! A Warre bee hive is visible in the hedgebank, top right.

Flattened mole hills! A Warre bee hive is visible in the hedgebank, top right.

Posted in Grassland Management, Hand Farming | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

SABI Winter Meeting and How Scythes Travel By Bike

Phil's bike, loaded with scythe equipment, in Norfolk Square, London

Phil’s bike, loaded with scythe equipment, in Norfolk Square, London

Phil went to the Scythe Association of Britain and Ireland (SABI) winter meeting at the end of January, hosted by John Letts in Oxfordshire. With a mix of business and socialising, a good time was had by all. Simon Damant has a nice report on his blog, here with some great pictures.

While meeting up with Simon Fairlie, Phil took the opportunity to stock up our scythe shop. We don’t have a car so Phil took his bike up on the train to transport the equipment back. Gill did wonder if it would all pack in, but Phil is a master of the art. With an impressive amount of metal work packed into those panniers, including blades and peening jigs, it was a pretty heavy load, see picture above.

The first leg of the journey was a short cycle from John’s place to the local train station. Then into London on the train and a cycle from Marylebone to Paddington station. The discovery of Transport for London’s cycling maps a few years ago has made bicycle transfers across London much more pleasant, perhaps even enjoyable, though a world away from the cycling we are used to doing! The picture is taken in Norfolk Square, near Paddington Station – a nice green space to hang out in while you are waiting for a train.

Then the bike was stowed in the guards van of the First Great Western train bound for West Wales. All that remained was the hilly 15 mile cycle home from Carmarthen………

Posted in Bicycles, Scythes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment