Learning the Art and Science of Scything: How to Beat a Weed Whacker

| 7/9/2017 12:23:00 AM

NC Wyeth The Scythers Painting

The Scythers by N.C. Wyeth (public domain)

There's been quite a bit of buzz about sycthes and mowing lately. People may want to get outside more, burn less oil, do things by hand, and spend less money but they still need to mow lawns, make hay, and harvest what they grow. If you're one of those, you might be interested in a new book about the European tradition of using scythes.

Ian Miller wrote The Scything Handbook, based on experience that began with a two-year stint on a biodynamic farm in Austria where he learned to mow, peen, and sharpen. While developing a 20-acre, scythe-based homestead near Decorah, Iowa, where he grows grain for bread and makes hay by hand, and after studying historic German scything texts, he decided to write a book to try and make it easier for folks to learn about this marvelous tool.

(Full disclosure: I have known Ian since he translated a book I wrote into German, and was honored to write the forward for his — Ian and I will be teaching a one-day class after the Oregon fair. More about that below.)

When I moved to the country and suddenly had more space to tend outside than inside, there was no way I was going to spend a lot of money on a lawn mower that would require more money every time I used it — and I had a lot of blackberries to deal with, and they weren't going to succumb to any grass-cutting machine that I might be able to afford.

Finding the Right Scythe

So when I read a brief piece in Mother Earth News about mowing with a European-style scythe, I was intrigued. I'd always admired those long blades and curvaceous handles, and had even borrowed one from a friend, but it didn't seem to work — or I just failed to get the technique. The author of the Mother Earth News article, however, Elliott Fishbein of ScytheSupply, said the European blade was lighter, sharper, easier to use. Hmmm.

I called the number, steeling myself against the hard sell, to see if I could learn anything useful before I decided to buy.

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