Scything on Countryfile

Cats-ear.JPGThis enjoyable piece on the Austrian scythe and hand hay making featured on Countryfile last night, with prominent UK scythers Andi Rickard and Simon Fairlie.

Countryfile – Meadows  – The scything starts at 30.35.

The linking shot from the previous piece looks like it could have been filmed over our meadows!

Matt Baker asks Simon if his scything is better than Poldark’s (you just can’t escape him…).  Simon offers no comment, I’ll leave it up to you to judge.

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Peening to Keep Mowing

Peening a 75cm ProfisenseWhilst mowing this morning both Phil and I were sharpening more frequently than usual to keep our blades mowing well – time for a peen. Here is Phil working on my 75cm Profisense ready for tomorrow morning’s mowing.

Permaculture Magazine are featuring an article by us on peening in their latest issue. We want to encourage more people to experience the benefits that peening can bring to mowing, whatever kind of vegetation they are cutting.

A quick hay update. With the forecast relatively settled we are making hay on the Top Field from grass cut on Sunday and Monday, both by us and the Tai Chi mowing course. If we get a decent amount of sun tomorrow (Thursday) we hope to bring in this quarter of an acre in the evening. Otherwise we will have to make hay-cocks to hold it over a possibly drizzly day on Friday.

All the hay racks made from the grass cut on this scythe course have been brought in; taken apart and spread in the morning of a sunny day, then carted in in the evening.

Spreading the tops from the racks

Spreading the tops from the racks, the hay here has a bit of rain damage

Underneath, good dry hay

Underneath the top layer there is plenty of good dry hay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have also begun cutting on Cae Mari Jones. The vegetation on this end of the field is a great contrast to that on the top field, fine-leaved grasses and herbs in place of a predominance of broad-leafed plants. The hay mows and handles very differently….

Two morning's worth of mowing spread on Cae Mari Jones

Two morning’s worth of mowing spread, Cae Mari Jones

Hay rowed up for the night on Cae Mari Jones

Rowed up for the night, Cae Mari Jones

 

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Saving the Hay

National Meadows Day last Sunday saw us spending a fair part of the day out in one of the Trust’s meadows, saving the hay.

This is grass that was cut in the rain on our last scythe course. We would not normally choose to cut hay in such weather, but it is an interesting challenge to save it despite the less then favourable conditions.

The day after the course it rained all day. Freshly cut grass is relatively unaffected by this kind of soaking. The following day, Thursday, the cut area was split into thirds. The following days were showery, but with a useful drying wind.

The bottom third was worked reasonably intensely, aiming to get it dry enough to rack relatively quickly. The area was small enough that the work needed did not take too much time, given other commitments, and we could quickly row it back up again should showers threaten.

The other two-thirds were minimally handled to hold it in a greener state that is less vulnerable to damage from rain, with the aim of finishing it once the first third was safe and so avoiding having to rack all the hay in one day.

Here is the rest of the story in pictures. Click on a picture enlarge it.


The bottom third on Thursday. It was spread in a dry spell, then rowed up into narrow rows in which the hay could continue drying but had less surface area exposed to passing showers.

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The top two-thirds on Thursday. The windrows were flipped over to expose the cut stalk ends. This allows the grass to starting losing moisture in the wind and any sun.

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Thursday evening. Phil and I worked together to double up the narrow rows for the night, Phil pulling one up and myself following along pulling one down to meet it.

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The doubled up rows.

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Spreading the bottom third on Friday.  The change in the grass is already visible. The weather reports were closely watched for dry periods and the hay re-rowed when the shower threat was higher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All spread.  The racks visible on the right were built a week before during a previous haymaking session.

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Saturday, final drying before racking the bottom third. The hay was rowed up over night, here we are flipping over the rows.  Flipping rows is a very fast way to handle the hay and can easily be done several times in a day.

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Flipping the rows exposes the greener underside and fluffs the grass to increase wind drying through the row.

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The top two third was spread for the first time on Saturday. Although the grass still looks very green, once spread it will dry fast as it has been wilting for several days.

 

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A stack of racks ready for work

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Racking up the bottom third, Saturday afternoon. As it turned out, Sunday was a much nicer day then expected and we may have got this hay to barn dry if we had left it down. As it was, we were able to take apart some older racks and get them into the barn in the time in which we would have been hauling this hay (see last photo)

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A closer picture of the grass to give an idea of how cured it is.

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The bottom third on racks, with the older, paler racks behind. The next third up has been worked in rows for the afternoon. Note how the hay is beginning to look twisted into the rows. To avoid the same green hay staying in the middle every time the row is flipped these rows will need spreading and re-rowing or fluffing up.

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Sunday – the remaining hay is spread on the first sunny day this batch has seen.

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Sunday evening. All the hay from the course is up on racks and the sky is blue! It poured down the next day. The hay on the ground in the foreground is from the older set of racks that were taken apart and spread in the morning, freeing up the racks for re-use. We were out in the field until 10pm bringing it in, but experience shows that we get the best quality hay if we bring it in off the racks at the first opportunity, especially on this field which has a high proportion of broad-leaved herbs that do not thatch well into long-lasting racks.

 

 

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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.

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“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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