Wonderful Scythe

by Jenny Hanna

In the PermacultureWest Enews of November 2020, three years ago, my husband Sol wrote about his reflection on using a scythe to do things the hard, slow way of cutting grass. It was a good reflection and I agree. This time, I am writing my reflection on this wonderful tool. 

We bought a decent size block to grow a big food garden but we had not thought about the reality of big weeds and tall grass! When we moved here, it had no garden and the soil was mostly clay.  What it had was an acre of mixed weeds and grass. True with the season of birth, weeds just grow prolific during Kambarang. I wasn’t sure how to tackle it yet but we did observe and interact in the early days. I let all the winter weeds grow in this block for as long as possible as I wanted to see what it would look like if left alone with minimal intervention. I realised it had so many benefits and it did look beautiful like a wild meadow.

Overgrown winter weeds and grass in our front yard in 2020 and Sol scything.

In late spring of 2020, the neighbours kindly offered to spray our overgrown grass and weeds on the boundary fence as a tiger snake had been wandering. I politely declined and promised to cut the next day. At that time, we didn’t have a mower, no whipper snipper and the only tool we had was the scythe which I had not learned to use. I bought, in a rush, an electric whipper snipper thinking it would be faster. I regret buying the tool as it wasn’t doing the cutting and the nylon kept messing up, it’s noisy and my shoulder was not taking it. Worst, I am a hay fever sufferer so cutting grass is not for me. I was ready to abandon the job but I didn’t want to break my word.  Not knowing how to use it yet, I opted for the scythe as the last resort. I have seen YouTube videos about it and Sol doing it so I thought I’ll have a go.

I sharpened the blade first, then got on with a scything stroke. Wow!  Exciting! I had a good feeling about this tool. It’s quiet,  It didn’t need a battery or fuel to run. It doesn’t smell of petrol – no combustion.  It didn’t need those nylon strings to fill and replace. It’s like doing taichi but more advanced.  It cuts the grass and cuts it clean which means no hay fever allergy. This tool is so lightweight it doesn’t cause any compaction to the ground as opposed to machinery. It was not a tidy finish like a lawnmower cut but it did the cutting job. And it was hard to stop scything. I kept going until the whole boundary area was done. At that moment, even if it was a slow solution, I appreciated the tool and I think it was wonderful.

Not long after, my mum-in-law handed us down her 2nd hand push-on mower and whipper snipper. We have been hesitant to buy one but the tools are good freebies and of good quality that can be useful during summer when the weeds are so fast at growing. I agree that the mower does a tidier and even better job than my scything skills but mowing is loud and it’s my least favourite garden job.

Three years on, I still like the scythe tool very much – I am getting the hang of it. It’s a peaceful workout in the form of cutting your grass. I was fortunate to get some coaching from Tim Boykett. Tim has completed an Austrian scything educator certification and is the go-to if you want Austrian scythe tools and lessons. Tim helped me with the scythe techniques as well as maintaining the blade. I found my flow, the breathing, the strokes, the pace. I still have a long way to learn but still, I am just grateful to discover this wonderful Austrian tool exists. I wish more people would give scything a go and reap the benefits of physical exercise as it is best for the soil and the environment. I highly recommend it.  Such a wonderful tool, it looks simple yet it is so clever.

Before scything in 2023

After scything in 2023. Tricky to cut near corners and close to the fence line but the curve scythe blades help

I managed to scythe a 4 meter x 32 meter size area in less than 15 min. A good workout. Me and my scythe with a stone sharpener in the pocket ready as needed.

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