The Prince and the Barefoot Mowers

Prince Charles loves scything according to the Daily Mail. In the article, Debs Goodenough, Prince Charles’ head gardener, says:

‘Some people even do it barefoot – although not the prince, I have to stress!

Over the years, Phil has experienced comment and surprise when mowing barefoot out in public. Here at the Trust we both generally choose to mow barefoot when conditions allow.

Bare foot mowing in the meadow

Barefoot mowing in the meadow

Mowing barefoot allows you to feel the ground under your feet much more clearly and how the mowing stroke is adjusting your balance and poise. This awareness makes it easier, for us at least, to work on our mowing technique and develop it to be as efficient and effective as possible.

It also feels nice. On a cool dewy morning I’ll often go out into the field in my boots for fear of cold feet. Within minutes of beginning mowing I have usually kicked off my clumpy boots and am enjoying the feel of the soft, cool damp earth under my feet.

It’s not as dangerous as it sounds either, as your bare feet are well away from the cutting arc of the blade. In fact mowers are unlikely to injure themselves whilst actually mowing; minor injuries are much more likely when sharpening (which is why some people choose to wear gloves, but we can go into that controversy another time…..).

It is possible to injure others with your blade when mowing in groups, so it is important to think about setting up group mowing in a safe and orderly fashion and advise mowers to keep a good distance from those mowing ahead of them. Injuries from scythes are included in these historical records of Everyday Life and Fatal Hazard in Sixteenth-Century England (look for the Discovery of the Month, July 2012 for a particular example). No need to add modern examples! When we are mowing with groups of beginners we advise shoes / boots. As people gain in experience they can choose for themselves what they prefer.

Ants, unhappy after unexpected loss of their roof.

Ants, unhappy after unexpected loss of their roof.

There are a few unexpected hazards to look out for when mowing barefoot. I didn’t notice that I had sliced the top off an ant’s nest until a few minutes later, when a number of angry ants were climbing up my ankles and biting me. I might still have got bitten if I had been wearing footwear, but being barefoot meant they got access to unprotected flesh a lot quicker!

The cut ends of hard stalks can be annoyingly painful to step on, as can plants such as creeping thistle. I would never mow bracken bare foot – the cut ends of the bracken plants can be hard and sharp enough to cut your feet – and a bramble patch is not a wise place to try either.

Working the hay bare foot

In the hay field without footware

Having said that I very rarely hurt my feet when mowing in the meadow, the slow low shuffle your feet take during the stroke seems to protect them. It can be more uncomfortable when going out barefoot to work the hay later in the day – the aftermath left by the scythe can be quite prickly, especially when it is hot and dry. I find my feet toughen up to fairly quickly  and for me the benefits of bare feet outweigh the disadvantages. And if it gets too much there is always the option to slip on a pair of sandals.


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There’s a new scythe book coming…..

scything-handbook_plc-3-juneIt’s called The Scything Handbook.

Author Ian Miller is based on a small homestead in Iowa. The American publishers of the book, New Society say:

“Written by a master of the scythe, professionally trained in Austria, and drawing deeply on research into original German texts, The Scything Handbook brings centuries-old scything techniques into the 21st century.

Detailed illustrations cover scythe assembly, perfecting the stroke, blade selection, honing, peening, and aftercare, as well as background on how scythes are forged. Also covered are the basics of making hay and mulch by hand, and how to grow and harvest gains at the home and homestead scale for self-sufficiency.”

The book is being released in the UK from 22nd September. I’m looking forward to having a look, particularly as Ian will be discussing subjects such as hand hay making and harvesting grains as well as scythe set up and mowing. We will be stocking it in the book section of our shop if you fancy a look too.

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Extra Introductory Scythe Course Added

Learn to ScytheDue to demand, we have decided to offer one more chance to come and learn to mow with us this year.

Our last Introductory Scythe Course for 2016 will be on Wednesday 14th September. See this page to book.

We still have places on the Peening and Sharpening Workshop on Sunday 18th September.

This is a great opportunity to get to grips with the art of peeninPeening a 75cm Profisenseg; both if you are looking for the confidence to take a hammer to your blade for the first time or if you would like to improve your peening skills, maybe moving from the jig to freehand peening.

Knowing how to get your blade really sharp can make your mowing experience even better! See this page to book.

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Wind blown windrows

Demonstrating the mowing action on short grass, the arc made by the blade clear in the grass

Demonstrating the mowing action on short grass, the arc made by the blade clear in the grass

Following on from good grass growing conditions in the spring we are doing well with our hay harvest. A heavier crop per acre combined with pushing the making during a good spell of weather in June means that the stacks have been pretty much full for a couple of weeks now.

There is still room to squeeze a bit more on the top as the hay settles and we have begun an outdoor stack (backup animal feed should we have a hard winter and a “mulch store” for the garden). So we are continuing to make hay from the grass cut on our courses, only grumbling slightly that we get to do the work of hay making without the fun of mowing first!

Austrian Scythes

Lunch Time

In fact, one of my favourite bits from Saturday’s course was one of the participants exclaiming that he had come to learn a useful skill, but was surprised to find he enjoyed it so much.

It’s been windy here, keeping temperatures down and making for pleasant working conditions in the field. The wind is great for hay drying but it’s strength made rowing up yesterday evening more challenging than usual, as the wind tried to blow over the rows as we pulled them up!

Practicing mowing. The green to the left is regrowth on vegetation cut in early July

Practicing mowing. The green to the left is regrowth on vegetation cut in early July. The brown haze on top of the vegetation being cut is mainly the flower stalks of Rough Hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus) and grass seed heads.







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A Good Scythe at Work

The Austrian scythe is a versatile tool which we put to many uses on our holding. Here is a nice video featuring Peter Vido, the man who first introduced us to the Austrian scythe, showing some of the types of work a scythe can be put to. Note his relaxed mowing style.

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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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