A fine day for mowing

We had a thick fog and light dew early this morning, followed by sunshine, temperatures of 18C at noon and a cool breeze. That made it a perfect day for mowing grass and topping weeds—although the high humidity made it a little less comfortable than I’d prefer. This lot will be going for silage, not hay.

We’ve been plagued by a serious outbreak of common hemp nettle this year so while it’s a useful plant that’s very attractive to bees, most of it has to go. It grows about two feet in a fortnight to three weeks, which means topping open areas with the scythe fortnightly or pulling it up by hand when it’s in amongst the potatoes. 

Despite what some guides say, hand hoeing hemp nettle is limited in effectiveness as the plants tend to uproot instead of being cut, then re-establish within a day or two. Hemp nettle is actually a member of the mint family and doesn’t sting, but the flower heads are very scratchy and can irritate the skin after 6-8 hours weeding them out. The most important thing is to cut the plants down or pull them out before they set to seed—if they do, we’ll have an even bigger infestation next year.

Using the field blade on the scythe, I can cut a 3m (10ft) swathe when topping weeds. Grasses are harder work due to the density and relative toughness of their stems so I restrict myself to a 2.5m (8ft) swathes. Grasses are cut lower as the field is now largely clear of stones, wire, horseshoes, iron spikes and the like. Cultivated ground, like this piece of land below the potatoes, is rather more hazardous and is cut higher.

6 Responses to “A fine day for mowing”

  1. Looks like a beaut day Stoney. Ideal for the work you are doing and for the satisfaction that you must feel to be out in the open air achieving your desires in life.

  2. What’s that growing in the field on the left? You must be seriously fit.

  3. Nice one! A friend has promised us a scythe but until it arrives I’ll keep on using the strimmer I’m afraid. I’m impressed but the lack of shirt – everytime I try that I’m devoured by clegs!

  4. Stoney, what do you mean by sileage? Why use it for that rather than as hay?

  5. Silage is essentially pickled grass. Grass is cut while wet, allowed to wilt a little and is then either ensiled in pits or baled and wrapped in plastic. The grass then goes through anaerobic fermentation that converts sugars to acids, exhausts the oxygen in the crop, and protects it from decay. It takes about two weeks to ferment. Silage is much more nutritious than hay, while the high moisture content means dairy cattle can produce more milk than if fed on hay. However, silage has lower energy levels as the fermentation process consumes some of the carbohydrates in the original crop.

    I found a good description of the process here (with pics).

  6. LittleFfarm Dairy Reply 2 August, 2008 at 09:40

    Funnily enough Susie –

    if you have the correct scythe, you don’t actually need to be super-fit to ‘mow a meadow’: as long as you invest in high-quality equipment!
    In fact, even a responsibly-supervised child of around eight years’ old, can healthily scythe with little effort if given the right tools & taught the correct technique (as in fact do many children, in Austria, Swizerland etc).

    Our own scything equipment consists of a short, adjustable Swiss snath with medium-sized, right-handed grip (not ideal for me as I’m left-handed but hey, I live with it & simply try not to cut my legs off, too often…!) along with two specific blades: a standard, 75cm meadow blade for a lovely, wide hay sweep & a more robust ‘ditch’ blade which is tailored for tackling tougher weeds. As long as the blade is correctly ‘peened’ (sharpened) it makes mowing as easy as sliding a hot knife through fresh butter.

    Having experienced of working on/with a variety of topography & vegetation; as well as considerations of stature, style of mowing, blade preference etc I’d neither recommend a fixed wooden nor ANY metal, snath: spend a few extra pennies & save yourself valuable time, effort & unneccessary muscle pain with an adjustable wooden snath. Then off you go….very therapeutic!

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