Category Archives: Rural Skills

Mowing without noise – the power of the scythe

As a lad growing up on a market garden in the 60’s I was often given the task of mowing the grass that grew along the path beside our field to make a small quantity of winter hay for our goats. The tool for this job was an English scythe, a heavy beast with a long steel blade that seemed to only stay sharp for about three cuts. In my dads hands this contraption seemed to glide through the grass with only moderate effort, but as I was 6″ shorter and significantly lighter I certainly earn’t my tea every time I used it. I now own this scythe which has for many years gathered dust at the back of a shed but I confess I had no real inclination to rekindle our relationship, but things change.
With the help of volunteers we have planted over 400 trees, creating Cemetery Wood and these little saplings need some help in the battle for light and nutrients with the well established meadow plants sharing their new home. Hence my thoughts returned to the scythe as a low energy solution to this problem, but with a bit of research I found an alternative to my dad’s old scythe – an Austrian scythe.2014-05-24 14.27.26
I do not remember this type of scythe being available when I was a lad but they are very popular now and I was intrigued to find out more. With a bit of research I found the Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust were holding a short training course in the use of the scythe and also sold the approrpiate equipment to make a start. With a place on the May course booked and the piggy bank raided I headed for Penyboyr yesterday morning where I met eight other trainees and Phil, a champion mower and our instructor.2014-05-24 14.37.42
I soon realised that the simple scythe is actually a highly sophisticated machine that requires a careful set up and precision tuning. We all practised this and built our mowing machines, gaining a healthy respect for the near metre long razor sharp blade before we made our way to a hay meadow. Phil had set it out so we could work in threes cutting six foot swathes across the field. With a little practise under Phil’s expert guidance the lush grass, wet with earlier rain cut as easily as a hot knife through butter and progress accross the field would easily outstrip a strimmer. With only the gentle noise of the blade swishing through the grass it was easy to maintain a conversation and I found the the whole experience very therapeutic.
Which brings me back to Cemetery Wood where you can help with mowing and mulching and learn a little more about the ancient magic of the scythe. If you would like to help please ring Jo on 01978 821869 or contact us through Facebook. Mowing3 25th May 2014

Let the mulching begin – many thanks Gary.

With the Woodland Trust trees (420) now all planted our attention has shifted to mulching the ground around them to suppress weed growth and retain moisture in the soil. Hopefully with less competition for nutrients and water this will allow them to get established and make strong growth.
2014-05-17 13.13.53
Mr Gary Billington has very kindly given us some wood chip and yesterday delivered a big pile of it to the top of the field where we have made a small start.
2014-05-17 13.15.06
2014-05-17 14.53.54
This spring with no grazers in the field it is a riot of colour, firstly with a carpet of dandelions and now another yellow carpet of buttercups providing a veritable feast for wildlife. Purple clover and white daisy flowers are coming out and we are hoping that we are able to record all this diversity and would love your help – email or ring Jo 01978 821869
2014-05-17 14.54.08

2014-05-17 14.54.14

Hedge Laying – Welsh style

Despite more than half a century of living in the countryside yesterday was the first time I have actually had a go at hedge laying. My father had been taught to lay hedges as a lad but had not had the need nor felt the inclination to practise this ancient art. So it was a delight to be booked on to a one day course as a Christmas present from my good lady wife. The course was scheduled for the 15th February at Kate Humble’s “Humble by Nature” Penalt Farm, near Monmouth. A farm rescued from obscurity when the last tenant retired and in the process of being turned into a rural skills centre of excellence by Kate and her team. Humble By Nature
Hedge laying - work in progress
Hedge laying is an ancient craft going back centuries and long before fencing was used. A process of working with and using nature to create stock-proof barriers, wind-breaks, shelter and wildlife habitat with little more than a billhook a saw and a wooden mallet created from a wood off-cut. Intensive agriculture and mechanisation over the last seventy years have resulted in the practise of hedge laying virtually dying out, but with a growing realisation that our current energy intensive systems are ultimately unsustainable interest is growing again.
The journey from Ruabon to Penalt early Saturday morning, through Hereford and Monmouth was picturesque as usual but extremely wet with frequent heavy rain showers, however the weather forecast was reasonable, particularly if you are an optimist.
Arriving without incident exactly on time at 9.45 I, together with nine other willing hedge layers enjoyed a coffee and an excellent slice of flapjack and listened to the safety briefing before we were led across sodden meadows to our hedge.
A previous course had already laid a section of about fifty metres and it looked good, we were to do the next section which had a number of worrying gaps.
Tim and Paul our tutors for the day skilfully demonstrated the process of pleaching using a billhook. Thankfully we were today learning a Welsh style of hedge laying, which is in my opinion more functional and less fussy than some of the numerous other styles. The Welsh style uses significant quantities of old brush wood to create a dense thorny bottom to the hedge protecting new shoots from hungry sheep’s mouths and giving the hedge time to regenerate – and help bridge gaps.
Divided into three groups, each group set about a section, selecting what to keep and what to cut out, with posts hammered into the soil every half metre or so progress was steady. The day passed all to quickly with break for an excellent hot lunch back at the farm and at five o’clock when our sections joined and we were able to add the bindings to the top, holding it all firm and even if I say so myself, looking pretty good.
Hedge laying - ready for the binding
If you are interested in learning new rural skills or indeed can share your knowledge of rural skills please contact any of the Growing Ruabon team and lets see what we can do locally.