Hooters Hall

Learning to Scythe

My Austrian Scythe

When I booked a place on the Emorsgate Seeds learn to scythe course a few months ago I was expecting a lot of people to ask me why or roll their eyes at me but instead the overwhelming response was one of excited interest and requests for more details. It seems a surprising number of people have a hidden desire to be a haymaker swooshing their way through a field of grass under blue skies on hot summer day. Maybe they’ve all read Tolstoy and want to find their own blissful moments.

“The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt the moments of unconsciousness in which it seemed that the scythe was mowing by itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, and as though by magic, without thinking of it, the work turned out regular and precise by itself. These were the most blissful moments.”

Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina

Covid-19 threatened to put a stop to my scything plans but fortunately lockdown restrictions were relaxed to enable outdoor gatherings of 5 people just in time to allow the social distanced learn to scythe course to go ahead on 24th June.

24th June was a perfect hay making day, blue skies, sunshine and an occassional gentle breeze. We started the day off under the gazebo discussing what had brought us to scything and going over a plan for the day.

Then it was time for a walk around some of the meadows, which were beautiful and inspired us all to be meadow makers. There was a lot of discussion about when is best to mow and what wildflowers you might see in a meadow.

Full of enthusiasm to create our own meadows we then got to know our scythes. Like the other course attendees I had bought a scythe online to collect at the course. You have a choice of 1 or 2 blades and the scythe comes with all the accessories you need including a peening jig, 2 whetstones and a holder. You can also borrow a scythe for the day rather than buying one if you prefer.

Scythe’s come in different sizes and at 5’8″ I was technically a size 2, which is what I had ordered, but on the day I found the size 3 more comfortable and it wasn’t a problem to change up size.

After a bit of a safety talk we set up our scythes ready for mowing and then did a bit of Tai Chi to practise the movements we would be using to mow, a gentle transfer of bodyweight from the left to right foot while slowly moving forward.

We had a quick test mow on some shorter grass and then we were ready for the meadow. Spread out in a line we staggered our start to avoid getting in each others way, and we were off, swooshing our way to blissful moments.

There was plenty of meadow so we could mow to our hearts content or take a break to discuss technique and meadow management. We also perfected our blade sharpening techniques.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of scything is that you automatically pace yourself because you have to stop every so often to sharpen your blade and of course admire your mowing. If the next person in the line catches up with you, just move to the other end of the line. There’s an easy rhythm to mowing a meadow that you can lose yourself in.

My first mow

After a break for lunch we sat out the midday sun under the gazebo learning about meadow management, how to peen a blade and set up our peening jig. Peening is the hammering of the cutting edge of the blade to make it thin before honing it with a whetstone. The jig helps you get the right shape. Here’s my peening jig mounted on my peening log.

peening jig mounted on a log

Then there was time for a bit more mowing, meadow chat, discussions about the use of the scythe throughout history and the benefits of membership of SABI, the Scythe Association of Britain and Ireland.

It was one of the most enjoyable and educational courses I’ve been on. If you have even a passing interest in wildflower meadows and fancy learning a useful skill I would definately recommend booking yourself a place.

You can find for details for all the Emorsgate Seed courses at https://wildseed.co.uk/articles/2020/01/08/scythe-and-grassland-courses-and-events-2020

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