Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Originally uploaded by Contrary Goddess.

I’ve been doing a lot of scything lately. Mostly late at night, almost in the dark, after milking. Although if we decided to, say, scythe a hayfield we’d of necessity get up early and work as long as possible until the heat got too bad. But that’s not what I’m doing, at least not right now.

I guess I’m sort of testing out the scything thing. Oh, we’ve always HAD a scythe, and I’ve used it quite a bit, but I sold my mower early in the spring with the idea of scything instead. The possibility of scything. Because the mowing thing just wasn’t working well anyway, and because the ideal would be to not use those infernal combustion engines anyway.

I’m scything at a time that I’m seriously investigating what it would take for me to be able to rotate my pastures more. I know all about how you can graze insanely small areas with insanely large numbers of stock by frequent rotation. This works primarily for a more industrial food model than I subscribe to. So because it all seemed insanely over-managed to me, and because I frankly had other things to do (have babies, raise them, get a garden in good order, build a house, you know, priorities), I was supremely happy with my large back pasture and using the front pastures primarily as organic material resources for the garden.

But now I’m itchy about fences again. More of them. And also wondering about hay. I’ve been content to buy it from a neighbor. We don’t use much, it is cheap, it brings even more organic material onto the farm. But we’ve toyed with the idea of making hay, how it could be done. Husband remembers haystacks but I’ve never seen them. I have a horse drawn mowing machine but it would need rehabilitation, and probably two horses to draw it. And more acreage than my front pastures (my likely hayfields) offer to be efficient.

Ah, but what about scything? And hay stacking? I don’t know at this point. It is a thought.

It is a thought that actually seems possible. That you could actually manage to have animals and feed yourself and have some small excess on just biological power. Which seems in itself revolutionary. People buy can openers that require power for goodness sake! Imagine a whole life wherein “power” was optional.

I’ve never been an off-the-grid worshiper. I figure using radically less (not a token little bit less) is plenty. But this “power-less-ness” is intriguing. It seems a spiritual matter, the same sort of idea as my favorite J.D. Salinger quote, “[Have] the courage to be an absolute nobody.” Open heart. No fear. Power-less.

And besides, scything always reminds me of my father. His very first job was scything old man somebody’s field. He was about 13. The two of them would start at the top of the hill and scythe down, walk back up, repeat. Forever. He said when they finished that first pass, he looked at that field and didn’t think they’d ever get done.

And isn’t that just the way it is -- if you aren’t using other-than-muscle power, nothing ever gets done, as in finished. As in, there are always dishes to wash. There is always some dirt on the floor. There are always a few more weeds that could get pulled in the garden. There is always the next milking, the next meal. One doesn’t dance in order to get done dancing. Why should one live one’s life trying to get to the end of it?


barefoot gardener said...

Thanks for the reminder. I popped on over to check out your blog already irritable because I have so much I want to get "finished" today, and I am already behind. I needed to be reminded that the work will still be there no matter how fast or long I work. I should just enjoy the process.....

El said...

Fascinating. And very small-minded of you in the best way! I've long been intrigued by the idea of permaculture, and with as much land as you have and the scything and haying as you might just do, you may want for nothing.

I enjoy scything. It has a great rhythm to it that is very much like dancing. I even have a hay fork that I inherited with my first house (a city house, natch; what use was it there?). But you've definitely hit on it in that it has the potential for being a task you needn't do all at once, despite the aphorism of doing it while the sun shines.

Would you consider a solar hookup to your new pasture fencing? That is, if yours isn't already. I would think the idea of rotating pasture would be very appealing to you, if it were a priority.

the Contrary Goddess said...

el, no doubt the hay fork was a decoration! Makes me laugh. I am just not a very decorative type of person.

I'd certainly consider solar. I'd be a long way from adopting it though.

Teri said...

Do you know about Small Farm Journal? It's got great information on using horses and lots of good info for small farms too.

patsy said...

my father made hay stacks. they were very large and i think what made them work was the fact they were large. some of the hay might ruin because of wet weather but the inside was perserved. he made small shocks for cane. they keep better.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Do you know Rural Heritage? A fine magazine and excellent info on the website too. (anything you need to know, just ask in the forums)

And Logsdon is talking about doing small stacks. Much more intriguing. Also in making them along, not all at once. Getting out of an industrial mindset (like "get-r-done") is not so easy. There is Lynn Miller's (is that his name?) book "Making Hay with Horses" but I expect it is rather industrial scale too but worth a look when the library gets it in for me.

arcolaura said...

I enjoyed the scything I used to do in my parents' orchard. Probably abusive to the scythe, because I was cutting suckers regrowing from the aspen forest that stood there before. It amazed me what a thickness of wood that scythe could slice through. The whole project was ultimately futile. I don't remember if the forest got the better of us, or if the critters got in, or if it was frost, or what; there's a new orchard now, where we used to stack up about two thousand 40-pound bales of slough hay to winter 40 cows. Anyway, I still remember working into that rhythm that would bring the brush down steadily. I can imagine cutting hay. I wonder how much area you would have to cut for two thousand pounds, to winter a cow here.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Oh, I abuse the scythe mightily! On ironweeds mostly. But a brush blade (shorter, not as good of steel) is made for trees like that!

Ren said...

I read this a few days ago and picked up my Lehman's catalog again, to look at those dang scythes that have tickled my fancy since reading "A Handmade Life".

So what do you all think of the American vs. the European styles? That curve seems like it would "fit" better, but what do I know of scythes?

I'm enamored with tools lately and which ones seem to make the most sense for this city-girl trying to turn 3/4 of an acre into food.....veeeerrrry slowly I might add. Perhaps too slowly.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Well, don't get one from Lehman's -- their stuff, if you can find it ANYWHERE else (which you can't always, like their amish hoe), is much cheaper ANYWHERE else. There is something like scythe supply online. But before that, go to the feed store in JC, the big green one (trying to remember name), Mize. That's where we bought our last one. Generally, my understanding (and I'm not looking this up at this moment) is that European is a grass scythe and American is a brush scythe. Both can be useful, but grass with a long blade of finest steel, is most useful. A good snath too. We had one aluminum one which was just AWFUL. Couldn't use it at ALL. Finally pawned it off on someone, who also gave up on it and bought a real one! LOL!