How You Can Use a Scythe on Your Property

Save money, invigorate your body, and diversify your property with a scythe.

| December 2017/January 2018

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Besides being an ideal tool for harvesting grass on a small scale, scythes can also be used to harvest small grains, such as wheat and rye.

Photo by iStock/roman023

Forms of the scythe have been in use since at least 200 B.C. The version of the scythe we know today originated in central Europe about 700 years ago. It’s interchangeably called the Austrian, European, or Continental European scythe, and is essentially a piece of steel that has been drawn out, curved in all planes, sharpened along its length, and attached to a long handle called a “snath.” It’s lightweight, encourages healthy movement of the human body, and can be peened to razor-sharpness with a robustness appropriate to the task at hand. When used properly and cared for competently, a scythe offers a shockingly high degree of effectiveness and efficiency for a hand tool. Adding one scythe — or, better yet, an assortment of them — to your arsenal of tools can enable you to diversify your farm, garden, or homestead to a degree you may not have thought possible.

Making Hay

Providing you with the ability to make hay cheaply and efficiently by hand is perhaps the most important benefit the scythe offers. Because it’s a tool that doesn’t require a huge capital investment (you should be able to procure a high-quality scythe for about $250), and because it’s so effective, it will put you in a position to make plentiful quantities of high-quality hay over the course of your lifetime, essentially for free.

A sizable supply of first-rate hay will allow you to perform a long list of agricultural practices you may not have previously considered viable for your small- to medium-sized acreage. Keeping backyard livestock will become possible because you’ll be able to grow and harvest enough hay to feed a milk cow or a small herd of sheep or goats through winter — thus adding milk and meat production to your agricultural activities.

Unless slugs make mulching truly impossible in your area, mulching your garden is immeasurably useful, with benefits ranging from moisture retention to erosion prevention to increased organic matter in your soil. If you’re a gardener, your plot is likely smack in the middle of a free source of mulch — your lawn. You can harvest tall grass for mulch with your scythe. You can also use a scythe to harvest materials for sheet mulching, which is the practice of making garden beds out of deep lasagna-style layers of mulch, compost, manure, and a weed-suppressing barrier, such as newspaper or cardboard. Simply place the mulch material that contains seeds — hay, for example — below the weed barrier. Above the weed barrier, use materials less likely to contain weed seeds, such as straw and leaves — both of which can be harvested with a scythe.

Hay is also beneficial when used in conjunction with chicken tractors. You can establish new garden beds by leaving your chicken tractor in place for a period of time and adding hay every day or so. The chickens will pick out whatever seeds are in the hay, add manure, and compact everything by walking on it. After a few weeks, a “mulch mattress” will be established, and you can then move the tractor to a new location and plant directly into your newly created garden bed.

Finally, making your own hay or straw can help greatly with composting. Ideally, kitchen scraps should be part of a bigger mix that includes carbon-heavy ingredients, such as manure mixed with hay or straw, a combination that’s also high in nitrogen and will add microorganisms to the mix. If you harvest hay and straw for your livestock using a scythe, you’ll also be producing all the necessary ingredients for incredible compost on a regular basis.

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