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Organic Gardening with Sue Robishaw

The Scythe and the Power Mower

Steve scything

Four decades of Growing Good Food in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
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Down to Earth Information, Experiences, Thoughts

Whether you're growing a small patch of grain, cutting some hay, or just wanting to keep an area mowed without a gasoline engine flapping in your ear, the scythe is a great tool. We managed to get a good one many years ago, and I recommend it enthusiastically it if you can find one similar.

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We first had one of those heavy, hardware store models -- which was a joke, though not a very funny one if you were trying to do any serious work with it. Then we splurged for a model made by Hand & Foot in Brattleboro, Vermont. After more than thirty years it is still in great shape.

The snath (the wood part) is straight with movable handles to fit different sized people. This part would be easy to make. The blade is of high quality steel, thinner and lighter than the hardware store monster. It sharpens well to a razor edge. This would not be easy to make, unless you were very, very skilled in blade making. Keep an eye open for a good one, new or used. It will be worth a hundred bad blades.

The tool is a real joy to use, even if you aren't that proficient, which I'm not. I've been tempted when I've finished mowing a section with the scythe to take the power lawnmower to it to hide the terrible haircut, especially when it is right next to Steve's neatly mowed patch! But I enjoy it anyway.

Learning to use the scythe is more a matter of loosening up and letting the tool do its job, joining its rhythm. Don't worry if you don't quite have the muscles for it when you begin -- they will come!

This is a tool for the grasses, not for sapling and brush. But it is very handy, even if you aren't cutting hay or grain. We've used it for what might loosely be called "lawn mowing", as well as for mowing mulch hay, cutting down green manure plots in the garden, knocking down various "weedy/light brushy" spots, around the fruit trees, and grain harvesting. It is handy, peaceful, fun. It's a very satisfying tool. Good exercise, too!

For years I'd read that you had to keep the area around my garden well mowed to keep the insects and weeds back. And for years I did just that. We had (and have) very little mowed area around our home and "yard" (actually fields between forest), but the area around the garden was well shorn.

When we had chickens they enjoyed this mowed area, especially as I was mowing (with a gasoline mower). They would come running when they heard the machine and would scramble all around after the grasshoppers and other insects that were flushed out by the roaring engine. You had to be careful not to mow a chicken a two. But when the hawks and owls came around, the chickens were much safer in the tall growth around the edges.

The chickens are gone many years now, and I don't mow as much. The field/lawn often grows tall around the garden and orchard. Sometimes it is cut it for mulch, sometimes left to flower for the pollinators, late fall I often mow to help with vole control (giving hawks and weasels easier access). Mostly I mow paths and patches -- around the garden, to and from the garden shed, the windmill, around the fruit trees, the gate. Where ever we traverse often, and areas where we work. We enjoy the varied vegetation. We had insects when I mowed more, and we have insects when I mow less. It all seems to even out.

I use an electric battery powered mower now, one that can be charged up from our solar electric system. It is certainly more pleasant than the gasoline mower, but it does have a noise of its own. These mowers have come a long way since our first ones. They are much more practical now, and the technology is getting better as they become more popular. I often ask mine to mow vegetation much taller than the manufacturer planned, and so far it keeps on going. I still use the wonderfully quiet scythe now and then. I enjoy using whatever tool fits my needs and desires at the time. 

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Copyright Susan Robishaw

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Have you read  "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener" ? A fun short read.

or "Homesteading Adventures"    Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.

and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun"   A journey you can use in your own garden.