Last of the Hay making

What a beautiful week of summer we have just had. Autumn activities were put on hold and we grabbed the opportunity to make hay while the sun shone. The shorter Autumn days meant we were often working out in the fields at sunset, sometimes finishing rowing up in the dark.

Highlights have been early starts on cool, dewy mornings, beautiful red sunsets, children chasing frogs in the windrows, interesting conversation whilst working together and a deep feeling of satisfaction when surveying the full barns.


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Late Summer Haying and Mowing Grains with a Scythe

The late summer weather has not been easy haying weather. If we waited for 4 or 5 days of sunny weather in a row, as is commonly suggested as needed for hay making, we wouldn’t have made much! In fact, there have only been two occasions which might qualify in the last two months, 7th – 10th July and 15th -18th August, and neither of these occasion were wall to wall sunshine. However, this is better then some parts of the country have been doing, so I hear. 


Racks and Haycocks

The weather has marginally improved of late and we are taking a second cut from areas we cut / grazed in May and early June. Using all the tricks at our disposal we are dodging the showers and making hay. We are aiming to get as much up on racks as we can manage, then bring it in once it is cured when we get a dry day or two. The grass is often only getting what we consider to be minimal field drying before further showery forecasts force us to rack it.


Rowing up the next batch of hay into fat rows for the night

While we are still hay making, others are using the scythe to harvest grains. SABI member and grower of ancient grains, John Letts featured in this episode of Country File on Sunday, mowing wheat with a scythe.

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Hedge trimming with a scythe

Today was one of the Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust’s regular workdays. One of the tasks on the agenda was trimming the hedge banks of the access track. The middle section of the track, already rather narrow, was beginning to worry car drivers with it’s luxorious growth of bracken, bramble, fern and saplings. 


Scythes Up!

Cue some rather unusual scything techniques. Standing with the hedge to our right, Phil and I used our scythes in an almost vertical plane to mow down the hedge bank. It was very effective, clearing overgrown vegetation quickly. The tough Styria blades we were using were capable of dealing with the odd small branch or saplings hidden in the vegetation. 

  The work became more comfortable when, after experimentation, Philip found an improved way of gripping the scythe. This meant there was less need to twist the body to keep the blade at the correct angle to the hedge bank. As can be seen in the pictures above, the left hand gripped around the snath, rather then on the left hand grip. The right hand held the stem of the right hand grip with the thumb close towards the grip itself. It was still not perfectly comfortable, but a vast improvement over trying to work whilst holding the hand grips in a conventional fashion.  


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Extra course dates added, Extra flowering in the meadow

Due to the demand we have had for both Introductory Scythe courses and Peening workshops this year we have decided to add two extra dates.

The additional Introductory Scythe course will be on Wednesday 16th September. The additional Peening and Sharpening Workshop on 30th August, a perfect opportunity to give your blade a thorough service, restore it to full sharpness and put right all those nicks and dangs picked up during the scything season.

More information on both courses and online booking can be found on the scythe courses page.

Here is Phil demonstrating the mowing action on our last Introductory Scythe course, 2nd August. In the background you can see a bright yellow patch of meadow. This is an area that was cut for hay late May / early June and is responding with a strong late flush of flowering in the re-growth. The area that Phil is mowing is receiving it’s first cut and is well into the seeding stage.

Staggered cutting of the meadow has meant that it has been in flower in various parts continuously since May. This is a much longer flowering season then would have been achieved if we had left the meadow until July then cut the whole lot at once.

The varied nature of the vegetation on this meadow is providing a continuity of habitat for wildlife. Pollinators can move from areas going to seed to those that are just coming into bloom. The various ages of vegetation also provide habitat for different creatures. As well as continuing to enjoying sheets of flowers and the insects they attract, adjacent seeded areas are attracting flocks of Gold Finches.

This is very different from the “feast or famine” of the surrounding farm land. There may be an abundance of food and cover for a while (although modern agricultural lays provide precious little in the way of flowering plants – a “green desert” as beekeepers call it). Then acres and acres of grass will be removed for silage in two or three days of sunny weather, leaving few alternatives for the creatures who may have managed to find a living in those fields. Around here we have the pleasure of regularly seeing Red Kites, perhaps more commonly then Buzzards now. It is notable that very soon after a tractor starts work in a neighbouring field a number will gather and follow behind, ready to clear up the casualties.

Just to finish off, here are some of the course participants having their first go at mowing a meadow with an Austrian scythe. More hay to make in the rain then……..

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Phoenix Works – How to use an English Scythe

A week ago, fellow Scythe Association. member Chris Riley posted a link to an interesting article on the history of the Phoenix works on the group list.

Like Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Phoenix works was based in the Sheffield area and were manufacturers of English scythe blades and sickles. The article is fascinating and can be read in full here.

One of the best bits of the article is photographs of a small instructional leaflet that was sent out with blades from the factory. The photos are reproduced below, with thanks to Ridgeway History for allowing us to use them.

“In order for purchasers to make best use of the scythe, the Company published a small booklet describing the fitting, cutting and sharpening of their number 10 and number 15 riveted scythe. The booklet is shown below and includes photographs of James Fisher demonstrating the various actions.” Ridegway History

What is fascinating about the leaflet is how similar it is to what we are doing and teaching now. “Before using a scythe it is important to fit the scythe to the actual man who will be operating it” the leaflet advises. The cutting action is similar, as is the advice to cut close to the ground when mowing grass.

The phrase “A scythe should not be used as though it were a golf club or a sickle” is something that perhaps TV’s Poldark should note (so I hear, I still haven’t seen him in action).

Lastly, the sharpening advice nearly exactly matches the technique we use. Perhaps it looks more glamorous to sharpen standing up with the scythe standing on the top of the snath, but it is much more controlled if the tip of the blade is placed on the ground. The blade can easily be held firm without needing to constantly readjust your hand position and the blade edge can be clearly seen.

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Ready for the rain – again

The haycocks made on Thursday were spread this morning to finish drying and then brought into the barn this evening. The green mowings from this morning and yesterday were spread and then rowed up again. All ready for the next lot of rain due to arrive by tomorrow morning…….

The newly mown hay rowed up, centre. Haycocks of older hay to the left

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Industrial Mowing

Phil was out on Thursday doing what is probably his strangest mowing job to date.
We had a call last week from a local weed management company asking if we could help them out. A local gas storage facility needed overgrown vegetation cut from within the compound as the ageing vegetation was considered a fire risk. However, the work inside the compound had to be done without using an internal combustion engine because of the risk of sparks. No mowers then, strimmers or brush cutters. Time to call in the scythe!

The storage facility turned out to be supplying a factory that makes edible food-like substances. Accompanied by the smell of, hmmm… barbecue beef favouring perhaps….the work got underway. Unfortunately there are no photos of Phil in action, cameras and phones were banned for security reasons. Despite challenging terrain the scythe got the job done. A group of men followed behind to clear away the rank grass.

Unfortunately, more followed behind them, spraying the grass with a growth retardant to lengthen the time before the next cut was needed. A dye in the spray turned the ground blue. Weed killer was sprayed around the fence line.

Phil had been thinking of sneaking in some yellow rattle seeds in his pocket to sow as he mowed – wouldn’t that have been a more pleasant and sustainable solution? A wildflower meadow would not grow so long and rank so would need less frequent mowing and would be beneficial and beautiful in the meantime. And surely it would be as cost effective to employ the occasional scyther than a team complete with sprayers and chemicals? And think about the “greeny points” the company could earn!

Back home, it was back to work in the Trust’s beautiful meadows. Phil mowed on Tuesday and Wednesday morning and the hay we are making needed to be made safe ahead of the rain that came as expected today. Cameras are allowed at the Trust, so here are a couple of pictures of what we did:

The hay mowed on Tuesday was almost cured. We put it into haycocks to hold it over the rain and plan to spread it, finish drying it and get it into the barn on Saturday.

The slightly wetter hay from Wednesday’s mowing was put up onto hay racks.

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At the Garden Party

We had a lovely time today at the Gardeners Question Time Summer Garden Party. It was held at the National Botanical Gardens of Wales, which were looking lush and beautiful in the summer sunshine. Much time was spent talking  – with established scythers, those who had heard of the scythe and were keen to know more and those for whom the Austrian scythe was totally new.
I also enjoyed a couple of chats with people who remembered using the scythe in their youth. Phil did some mowing demonstrations in the wildflower meadow. All in all, a good day.

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Tai Chi Hay

On Sunday evening, the “Tai Chi hay” cut on the weekend course was rowed up to hold it safe over the forecast drizzly days. Monday was damp as expected and Tuesday was even wetter.

On Wednesday, Phil spread the hay to dry it as much as possible with the help of our volunteer. Rain was forecast for Thursday afternoon and the aim was to have the lot racked before then. We rowed back up Wednesday evening, aiming to keep the surface area exposed to dew as small as possible and so that it was ready for the racking mission the next day.

Rows at dusk

Rows at dusk

We also bought in the last bit of hay from Mari Jones that had been cut on the Introductory Scythe Course on 4th July. This had not been quite ready to cart before the damp weather. It had held very well on the field in a series of haycocks. We have been using haycocks much more this year as a way to temporarily hold hay that is too dry to rack well but needs more protection then that offered by rows when damp weather threatens.

Bringing in hay from Mari Jones

Bringing in hay from Mari Jones

Thursday started sunny and dry, but we knew change was on the way. So as soon as the dew was off the grass we were out building hayracks. We finished off the last two after lunch, just as the drizzle started blowing in.

Building racks from the Tai Chi hay as the weather changes

Building racks from the Tai Chi hay as the weather changes

Hay racks in the drizzle. The foreground is an area re-flowering that were mown in May / June

Hay racks in the drizzle. The foreground is an area re-flowering that were mown in May / June

This rack broke, the spilled hay was made into two haycocks

This rack broke, the spilled hay was made into two haycocks

Phil started mowing on Mari Jones on Thursday and mowed again this morning. The freshly mown grass held fine through Thursday’s drizzle in windrows. Today this grass has been spread to start drying and will probably be up on racks tomorrow ahead of our long day out at the Gardeners Question Time Summer Garden Party on Sunday then the forecast wet weather on Monday.

Windrows on Mari Jones. Much grassier then the Top Field!

Windrows on Mari Jones. Much grassier then the Top Field!

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Peening, Tai Chi Mowing and the rain

What a busy end to the week we had last week! Thursday and Friday were a mad rush to finish off and bring in the hay that we had saved from the rain last week and that which had been cut on the Introductory Scythe Course on 4th July.

Then we were busy preparing for the next round of workshops. Six people joined us on Saturday 11th for a peening workshop.

In many mower’s journeys there is a “wow” moment of realising what it is like to scythe with a well peened and sharp blade. One of the attendees related how he had come on the course after buying a second blade from us. He opted for a pre-peened Ready to Mow blade. The contrast when mowing with this blade was so great that the decision was made – time to learn to peen better!

The peening workshop was followed by a Tai Chi workshop running Saturday evening until Sunday pm. After supper round the fire, the mowers began with a evening Chi Gung session, looking at exercises to warm up and stretch the body in preparation for mowing.

Demonstrating the next mowing exercise

Demonstrating the next mowing exercise

An early start was made on Sunday, with more Tai Chi followed by guided mowing sessions in the field. Using the awareness of the body created by the exercises the mowers were guided through various styles of mowing in the meadow. The aim is to create a mowing style that is efficient (doesn’t excessively tire you out), effective (cuts the grass with a high quality of cut) and is strong but gentle (doesn’t create strains or aches in the body).

Practicing the action in the short grass

Practicing the action in the short grass

Horseshoe mowed in grass by the practice!

Horseshoe mowed in grass by the practice!

This is from one of the participants:
“The Tai Chi was a real bonus, my body enjoyed it rather than complained, so yes I feel energised & de-pained too”



The Tai Chi mowers have left us with plenty of cut grass to deal with, so we are hay making in the rain again. The hay was spread on Sunday afternoon, then rowed up again in the evening to keep it safe through the showers we had on Monday. More are forecast today, so we will probably just flip the rows to prevent the hay on the bottom sitting for too long in one place. Given the current forecast, the end of the week will probably be busy with spreading for more drying then racking the whole lot.

Spreading the grass Sunday afternoon

Spreading the grass Sunday afternoon

Our experience shows that green hay like this will stand a remarkable amount of rain, before drying into perfectly adequate hay.

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