Learning to Scythe
Those of you watching The Village on Sunday evenings will have seen quite a bit of scything lately courtesy of John Simm. So, it was with great timing Beth Tilston had kindly offered to teach me to scythe on Saturday. The picture shows Beth in action in the sunshine. Yay, sunshine!
I'd always thought scything must be a difficult thing to do. Well, it's not difficult, but to do it well takes some practice. After Beth's lesson I'm confident I'll get there. The key is to keep the blade low on the ground and to keep the arms relatively close to the body (as you can see in the photo) when making the cutting swing. This conserves energy (and muscles!) and makes it easier to keep the blade in the right position. Hacking away isn't the right thing to do!
The scythe is easy to assemble and much lighter than I was expecting. Though of course a light scythe makes sense when you've got a meadow to mow. We scythed in three main areas. The first was newly emergent grass (not much of this because of the recent cold weather), which was akin to trimming an area that's looked after regularly or clearing an area which has lots of fresh growth.
The second was topping (as shown in the photo) which clears off the top layer of dead grass ready to trim back fresh growth. This technique will be useful on my allotment, not only for clearing neglected areas, but also for clearing back the mounds of grass which typically appear over the winter and a regular lawn mower really struggles with. I also used this technique to clear the grass surrounding the raised beds you can just see to the right of the photo. A smaller blade was used for this latter task due to the narrow space.
We also cleared an area of brambles close to the hedge you can see in the photo. It was most satisfying. It's also interesting to see how the scythe blade is used to turn over and trace the brambles to their source before chopping them off in their prime. Beth had cleared this area a couple of times last year and noted how the brambles' re-growth is getting noticeably weaker. Ha - take that you brambles! Something to remember for those coming over to us from the public land methinks.
As well as using the blade to turn over the brambles, Beth also showed me how it can be used to pile up the scythed grass or brambles ready for disposal. All this without any bending over - much easier on the back and legs :)
Beth also showed me how to sharpen the blade. This needs to be done every 10 minutes or so. I was surprised at first, but quickly realised how right she was. When you feel your technique's got a bit rubbish, then that's the time to sharpen the blade and find all is right with the world again. The blade also needs peening from time to time. This is a special kind of hammering technique which levels the blade out again into its optimum angle for scything.
I had a fab day - Beth is a great teacher and her enthusiasm for scything has taken her to many interesting places. I could tell you lots more, but they're Beth's stories to tell, not mine.
If you live in the south-east, or are visiting the Sussex area, it's well-worth checking out Beth's website for details of her courses. She teaches individually, or in groups of 6-8, so the latter's a great option if you can get a group together. It's a rural craft that's well worth reviving; it's eco-friendly and a useful technique to have in one's gardening armoury. A scythe is the ideal partner for anyone with a wildflower meadow and how about us starting a campaign for quieter lawn mowing on Sundays?
My thanks to Beth for her time and patience and to her friend Caroline for allowing us to use her smallholding for the day. She also provided the yummy wild garlic pesto and pasta we had for lunch :)
- A great post from Beth about scything on the Guardian Gardening blog last year.
- There is just one UK supplier of the Austrian scythes we used on Saturday.
- If you're in or near Somerset on June 9th, then the West Country Scythe Festival and Green Fair looks well worth checking out.
- The Scythe Association currently has around 100 members. More are welcome :)