Mowing in the rain

Learning how to sharpenMowing in full waterproofs, not what you might imagine when you are thinking about using a scythe.

Nine brave folk happily took on the challenge on Tuesday during our wettest scythe course of 2016. The wet grass was cutting nicely though and there was the Red Barn to shelter in for tea breaks, lunch and peening discussions. We were impressed with the general level of aptitude, given that the majority of people had not used a scythe before.

Now we are faced with the interesting challenge of turning the cut grass into hay in, shall we say, unconventional haymaking weather?  We’ll let you know how we get on…….

Practice the mowing action around the May Pole

Running through the warm up exercises before practicing the mowing action on short grass

Mowing in the field, hay racks in foreground

Out in the field mowing, hay racks from our last batch of haymaking in the foreground.

Mowing grass with an Austrian Scythe

The rain eased off after lunch – mowing with hoods down!

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Making Hay while the Sun (briefly) Shines

We sneaked in a  bit of hay making in the last little patch of good weather. The hay, cut on Wednesday morning, was racked last night to protect it from the showers that arrived over night.

I didn’t get any photos, but have come across this interesting film from 1942, shot I believe in Switzerland. I only understand a little of the commentary but the film is clearly demonstrating various techniques for racking hay (and grains), on quite a scale too!

Phil and I are particularly interested in the section where they are using hay “fences” (from 3.53), something we have been wondering about trying since seeing them in the Faroe Isles and hearing stories of their use in the Western Isles of Scotland.

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Mowing a Meander in the Meadow

Every year I mow a labyrinth into the top hay field for Summer Solstice. Here is the one I mowed last year.

The labyrinth is useful in that it gives people a chance to walk and play right in amongst the flowers WITHOUT trampling our valuable hay crop. Our children have been raised with the idea that unmown grass is sacrosanct and wouldn’t dream of running through it (you wouldn’t trample a wheat crop would you?). Other children (and adults!) have not been raised with these ideas and trampled grass is much harder to mow.

Meander in the MeadowWhen researching ideas for this years labyrinth I came across the concept of a meander. These are repeating geometric patterns, related to labyrinths. Inspired, I went off for a meander, scythe in hand, in the hay meadow yesterday morning.

Further into the meadow The result is quite different from previous offerings but I hope it will be enjoyed none the less. Mowing paths through standing grass like this is a little tricky as there isn’t a neat place for your windrow of cut grass to fall. Usually you would arrange your mowing such that the grass fell onto the area previously mown by the scythe.

While I was in the field, Phil was tidying up around the barn ahead of this weekend’s event, including trimming in the willow sculpture and around the fire pit.Mowing under the willow

As well as meandering in the meadow, we will be setting up a moth trap and using bat detectors as part of a solstice camp. More details can be found on Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust website.

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Poldarking vs Mowing with Ease

“Poldarking”  is one of the latest words to have entered the scything lexicon.

No, it’s not mowing with your top off. Rather, it refers to that style of mowing that seems to be more akin to golf‎ then scything. You know the one, the scythe rises into the air to the right of the mower, sometimes several feet, then swings down fast and hard, cuts some vegetation for a few feet in front of the mower then rises in an arc to an equivalent height above the ground on the mowers left. Great effort is put in as the vegetation flies…..

‎In contrast, here’s Phil mowing hay in the Top Field a couple of weeks ago. The blade stays on the ground for the vast majority of the stroke; only lifting very slightly at the beginning of the stroke because he is making an effort to mow wide and fast (practicing for the Scythe Festival at the weekend). Attention is paid to using the body well to avoid strain and excess effort. Even after more than 10 years of scything, Phil is working on his technique, learning and improving.

What’s wrong with Poldarking I hear you ask? The grass gets cut doesn’t it? ‎Is it worth striving to mow better?

Here’s some reasons to give it a go:

It’s More Efficient  The scythe blade ‎only cuts grass for the time it is on (or near) the ground, so a big swing up on the right and left  is wasted movement and energy. When the scythe blade is kept running along the ground there is no energy expended lifting it’s weight unnecessarily

It Conserves Energy Only the movements needed for the scythe to do its work are performed. Movement‎ and energy beyond this is not needed to scythe effectively and makes scything much harder work then it needs to be.

horseshoe-created-in-the-grass.JPG

“Horseshoe” created after practising the scything action in short grass.

It’s Effective While swinging away may be acceptable in a bramble patch it’s not going to give you a neat finish on your lawn, or give you maximum harvest in the hay-field. Most vegetation, especially grass, cuts best at the base. Running the blade along the ground in an arc in front of you ensures the blade meets the vegetation at the best angle for cutting, giving a neat finish with the least effort.

It’s Gentle on your Scythe When a scythe is well set up and sharp, the mower is able to achieve the necessary work using less power. Should the scythe hit an obstruction or snag on heavy vegetation the risk of damage is less as less force is being applied. A “golf swing” style of scything often starts to develop because the blade is not sharp enough. The mower puts in more effort to cut, puts more force behind each stroke, starts lifting the blade at the start of the stroke. Should the blade be badly set up as well, the risk of damage to the blade or snath increase further.

It is Gentle on your Body When done well, mowing can be gentle on the body. It is still work and some effort is required but it should not hurt! Awareness of how the scythe works and how to create a good approach to the vegetation can be used instead of brute strength. The body can be moved in such a way that the power needed comes from areas well suited to supply it eg  such that the legs can contribute power to the stroke instead of relying mostly on the arms.

Trimming a hedge with a scythe - breaking the rules withe awareness!

Trimming a hedge with a scythe – breaking the rules with awareness!

Good mowing technique is not just about field mowing. The same basic principles apply no matter what kind of vegetation you are mowing. You may choose sometimes to break the rules eg float the scythe above the ground when topping nettles growing out of a stony corner to avoid damage to your blade; but even in this case understanding of how the scythe works will ensure the job is approached in the most effective manner.

 

How can we move towards this kind of mowing?

Attending a scythe course is a good way to get help with good mowing technique. If you are starting out, an Introductory course may be the best. If you already have a scythe and would like to explore mowing techniques with us further then our Tai Chi mowing course is the ideal opportunity.

Watching You Tube videos of good mowers can also be helpful. We are starting to develop a number (see here) and intend to add more showing mowing in the large variety of situations in which we use the scythe. This You Tube channel is also good.

Learning to keep your blade really sharp will also help a lot. Sharpness is often considered to be at least half the battle. Peening Workshops  or You Tube can be useful.

P.S This style of mowing is not a modern idea, or one that is only relevant to the Austrian style scythe. In the leaflet below, supplied by the British Phoneix Works factory with their English pattern scythes, it clearly states that “A scythe should not be used as though it were a golf club or a sickle”. To read the full leaflet, see this post

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A Good Start Made

hay drying in the sunThis last week of beautiful weather has given us a good start on the seasons hay making.

Phil has mowed every morning from Saturday 28th May until Friday 3rd June. The cut grass has been spread and rowed daily, taking about 3.5 days to dry. The first hay was bought in on Tuesday 31st, with more bought in each day since then. Rain was forecast for today (Sunday 5th) so Phil finished mowing on Friday.

Air full of bees!Swarm making it's way into the hiveYesterday afternoon and evening we were concentrating on getting the finished hay into the barn and anything that was not cured up onto hay racks  to weather the rain.

The afternoons rack building was interrupted by the arrival of a bee swarm, which had decided that some Warré bee boxes left by the barn were the perfect home for them. When such a spectacle presents it’s self, there is nothing to be done but stop and watch.

Swarming bees are laden with honey making them unagressive. They are concentrating on the task in hand so hard that they virtually ignore you. This means you can safely get quite close to the action. The noise is incredible!

 

Despite heavy skies the threatened rain never materialised. We could have mowed on a few days longer but are still pleased with the good start made on the winter hay store.

Hay in the barn

Hay racks in the meadow

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The Summer of Hay Making Begins.

Orchid in budIt’s a weekend of firsts – we had our first beginners scythe course of the season yesterday and we started the first hay making of the year. Phil also found the first orchids in the hay field.

The first was in bud…….
and the second was starting to open.orchid in the hay field

The beauty of the scythe is that the mower is very aware of the vegetation that is being mown. Once spotted, the subtleness of the tool allows the mower to leave selected plants to flower on. You can see in the second photo how closely Phil is able to cut but still leave the orchid standing.

We will be hay making right through the summer now, in a “little and often” policy that keeps the work manageable and is beneficial for wildlife, with a variety of heights and maturity of vegetation being present at any one time.

This approach was being advocated by Bunny Guinness on Gardeners Question Time today (question starts at 24.30), although with 6 or so acres to mow this year our “small bits” will be bigger then the tenth of half an acre that she is discussing with the questioner!

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Falci Scythe Blades

Falci 106 80cm 90cm

Falci model 106 – 80cm and 90cm

Falci 128 70cm

Falci model 128 – 70cm

Following trials of blades from the Italian Falci scythe factory this spring, we are pleased to offer a limited number of these blades in our shop.

Available for the first time in the UK, these blades have a strong international reputation. See here for the blades on offer. More models may be added as trails continue.

To give you a taster of the blades in action, here is Phil mowing a with a 90cm Falci 106 early yesterday morning.

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