Woman Powered Mowing: Using a Scythe

My Grandmother calls me her “old fashioned granddaughter” what with my love for handspinning, felting, sewing, gardening, etc. She really hit the nail on the head as i can’t help but be attracted to old timey things and activities. But, i’m not a romantic type. I don’t lust after the ‘days of yore’ without refrigerators or cars or electric stoves. I do, however dislike the overuse of motorized tools when woman powered tools can do the job just as well or better. The birdsong surrounding our quiet country farm is often accompanied by the drone of the neighbors truck, weed eater, tractor, firearms and chainsaws and they chuckle when they see me along the fence line with my scythe or scalping my future garden space by hand. But you know what? When i mow, i can STILL HEAR THE BIRDS.

Let me introduce you to the ‘old timey’ and still massively functional scythe:

First and foremost, let me thank Scythe Supply in Perry, Maine for my custom made scythe. Built to my measurements, my scythe is the perfect size for me. Unlike that old, rusty ‘grim reaper’ scythe you might find on Craigslist or in your great uncle’s barn, my scythe is made of the highest quality materials but genuinely wonderful folks who care about your enjoyment of your scythe. I spent about 30 minutes on the phone with the owner yesterday asking him a few questions and clarifying some problems i was having my technique. That’s what i call customer service!

Using a scythe doesn’t necessarily come naturally at first. One may be tempted to ‘chop’ at the grass, raising the scythe up and hacking at the ground. Bad! Scything should be a sweeping motion, following the arc of the blade, creating up to 180 degrees of a circle around yourself. You can stretch out to widen the circle, or sweep less for a smaller path.

The key i’ve found to successful scything is to NOT bite off more than you can chew. You’re not stepping forward, exactly but rather shuffling baby steps forward with each pass. Your arc is much wider than you’d ever get with a mower or weed eater, but you grab only an inch or two forward as you go. You can tell you’re doing it right when you hear that lovely cutting sound and see piles of hay being discarded to your left.

Another key is to mow TALL grass. Fine, dry or short grass are all more challenging than broad, damp and tall grass. My pasture is full of bent grass which is nearly impossible to mow with the scythe. The orchardgrass and fescue i was cutting in that video are just right – just after some rain, tall, and broad.

The other, and perhaps most important thing to learn is how to sharpen your blade correctly. I use a ditch blade as i frequently encounter large weeds and baby scotch broom/blackberries. I’m tempted to pick up a grass blade as well, but the ditch blade works well for me for now.

The videos by this chap on YouTube are the most excellent and proper videos on how to scythe on the ‘net. After watching his ‘how to hone a scythe blade’ video yesterday i realized that for the past year i’ve been sharpening my blade incorrectly! No wonder i was having problems getting a clean cut! Sharpen your blade correctly and often. Depending on the type of grass you’re cutting, you may be stopping to sharpen every 20 feet or so. I stop to sharpen when i notice more little blades sticking up behind me than i’d like, or when the sound of the cutting doesn’t sound quite as fresh. You’ll learn to sense the change. Those first few cuts after honing are extremely satisfying!

I also have a ‘bush blade’ more suited for clearing thick weeds. The technique for mowing with this blade on thicker brush is a bit different than mowing grass – and much more work than the gentle sweeping motion of grass mowing. Satisfying to cut so many nasty weeds in one fell swoop, though!

I’m still a newbie scyther, but i’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about this beautiful, quiet, and surprisingly efficient tool. I encourage you to watch Botan’s video’s and to visit ScytheSupply.com when doing your research. Becoming familiar with using a scythe means you can cut a stand of weeds in the middle of your pasture without leaving tire tracks, can clear your fence line without the use of fuel or risk of catching grass on fire and can enjoy the sound of birds and discovery of mushrooms while getting your chores done.  Best of all: humans don’t need oil changes or fuel filters!

Have you ever used a scythe? How was your experience?

Thanks, also to EatMoreKale.com for the sweet shirt that i’m wearing in the video -You might have heard about their battle with Chick-fil-A over the slogan they coined way before the restaurant ever did… i love supporting a small business/artist, and my shirt is really comfy! Check them out.

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Filed under About, Farming, The Homestead, Tools

Duckling Update: 3 weeks old

The ducklings are growing like adorable weeds! Their first feathers are starting to peak out of their baby fuzz and they’re several times larger than they were upon hatching. With all the hawks and ravens about, we’re keeping them in their little mobile brooder, but hope to let them out next week. Our other duckhen has begun laying, so we might end up with perfectly timed move out/move in of our lady ducks and their broods.

So far we have only had one casualty – a drowned ‘runt’ and everyone else appears healthy and happy. Let’s hope they stay that way after we let them out – Pocket has been practicing her ‘bark at the bird’ routine, but those ravens are tenacious!

Have you ever brooded ducklings or chicks? Isn’t it amazing how fast they grow!?

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Filed under Critters, Ducks, Farming

Breaking Ground – Part 1

The wood posts are purchased. The hoop house area of the garden is almost all scalped and ready to gently till with my supremely awesome new broadfork. The chickens spent several months fertilizing and a few weeks assisting the tillage. The ducks have eradicated all chance of slugs. A master plan is on the graph paper and fleshing out nicely. If all goes well, i should have a fenced garden ready for planting in a few short weeks.

It has been years since i’ve gardened. Folks who have known me for a while know i once turned a suburban yard of limestone and bermuda grass into a lush and productive garden. Getting my hands dirty keeps me going and sane. Standing amongst vegetables, flowers and pollinating/predatory insects is one of my favorite places to be. I haven’t had my own garden since 2010…. so it may take me a few years to re-hit my stride, especially as i’ll now be gardening in about the exact opposite climate as Austin, TX. I can’t wait – trial and errors in the growing of vegetables is much less heartbreaking than the trials of raising animals, though just as frustrating at times.

End of May in Austin, 2009 – When you live in a city, you bring the farm to you! When you’re me, at least. ;)

In Austin i had a tiny corner of a tiny yard and i stuffed it to the gills thanks to mass amounts of sunshine. It was a constant battle with pests and insects (and grackles and squirrels) but i had the most amazing ecosystem of predatory insects…. such a joy, so magical. But also a very limited amount of space. I dreamed of fields of onions and garlic along with tall rows of tomatoes. Now that i have a 17 acre pasture to plant into – how big will my new garden be?

This big!

75×150 feet to be exact. The chicken netting area is only about 1/2 the size of the finished garden. Plenty of room for cover crops between vegetable plots for grazing rabbits and hens. Plenty of room to lay 1/3 of the garden space to lay fallow between production. Plenty of room to space out the veggies further than i’m used to to maximize the efficacy of ‘dry farming’. Plenty of space to try out large crops now and again and to have extra produce to sell and put by for the winter. If i feel restricted with THIS amount of space….. i’ll just have to go work for my neighbor’s biodynamic vegetable farm – she has water rights and can irrigate all the garden she dares to dream for.

Get ready for lots more posts about vegetable gardening in the years to come… i might even have some useful posts (like this old Austin Homestead post) that can help YOU as a gardener. For now – dream with me! And get some seeds ready, even if you only have room for a pot of herbs. It’s almost planting season! (Or about 2 months in if you still live in TX – hurry up before it’s too hot!)

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Tommy and his Favorite Ball – Custom Needle-felted Corgi by Fiber Friends

Tommy just loves his big yellow ball. I’m amazed it still looks like a  ball – all of Pocket’s balls are just scraps of ‘i was once a ball’ strewn all over the yard. ;)

Tommy looks so proud of his new little Friend (though in reality he really wanted to eat him.) Add Ons like little Tommy’s ball are available in my add ons shop and balls can come with a hinged mouth for holding the ball, or a normal closed mouth. Thanks to Tommy’s mom for sending me these cute pictures! I enjoyed felting Tommy’s extra big ears and slender legs – and can’t wait to felt YOUR pet next :) Get your Fiber Friend at www.FiberFriendsOnline.com.



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