While every uber-shed in the countryside contains a ride-on mower, in contrast our equipment of choice is the sycthe.
Edward Budding invented the lawnmower in Stroud just a mile from here, a machine that would put gangs of skilled scythemen out of work the world over. And so scything today is a relic craft. One we are slowly re-discovering, through skill sharing, self teaching and YouTube videos.
Sharpening stones are out for honing the blades. Fingers are feeling the burr and gingerly checking for ‘keenness’. It has been sunshine and heavy showers but Nigel has managed to get the job done with some helping hands.
Why do we scythe? – to avoid chopping up the insect population, huge numbers of crickets and grasshoppers here. Our petrol mower cannot manage waist high grass. The key to good wildflowers is annual cutting and removal of hay to leave low fertility conditions.
When? – from early August onwards having given the wildflowers, especially the orchids time to set seed.
With what? – a Simon Fairlie standard Austrian scythe with wooden handle and 60 cm steel blade. (he is Mr Scythe in the UK).
The hay? – gets placed 15cms deep in wide circles around the bases of trees and hedge plants as a feeding mulch mat.
Then? – once the hay is off we use the mower to run over the meadow and these grass clippings are picked up and used as mulch in the garden.
And then I need a cup of tea and a long lie down!
Stroud is so much fun and full of totally wholesome people. Among my crafty circles we have been knitting for the Wool Against Weapons protest this Saturday – my friend Roma has done 12 metres of pink, I did 1 metre and contributions have been arriving from all around the world. It is making a seven mile long pink scarf for the protest and then we are turning it into blankets for refugees.
The hot topic among the meadow aficionado ladies is Yellow Rattle, and little packets of seed are getting passed around among those of us who ‘do’ grass. Why do we all want yellow rattle in our handbags? Well, it is the ultimate ‘must have’ for the scythwoman’s wildflower meadow – it suppresses coarse grasses and lets the wild flowers flourish. It’s my best friend plant. Yellow Rattle is an annual and I will be sowing it over my wildflower meadow after scything. I mentioned in May that this is the first year I have had the plants in my field, seed having been gifted to me by Sheila last year. The plants have grown well in isolated patches and I have carefully collected a good quantity of seed from these new plants which I can now distribute around. A great result.
I have also been out collecting seeds of cow parsley, greater knapweed, quaking grass and cowslips. This way I can spread round the local seed bank population, rather than bringing in an imported gene pool with commercial seeds. Fine tuned local adaptations/variants are really common in flowering plants. Also fresh seeds are much easier to get to ‘take’ – sprinkled freshly collected from their dispersing pods is what nature intended after all, and this leads to ideal conditions for germination. It reminds me of being a child, collecting little packets of nasturtium and marigold seeds – I have always loved it. I never leave home without a freezer bag in my handbag – I might see some collectable seeds!
It is not illegal to collect wild flower seeds as far as I know, but I never would take them all from a particular place, or from a rare plant. Usually I find I have to wait longer than I expect for seeds to be really mature and ripe. It is no good collecting while they are soft and green, they must be hard and dry. Hence the Yellow ‘Rattle’ when the seeds are ripe they do indeed rattle! It is also known as ‘hay rattle’ and traditionally would have been spread around in hay bales.