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Recently on a Basque TV channel from Northern Spain I saw a competition between two women scything a meadow against the clock. They were going almost as fast as a modern ride on mower, but were clearly exhausted by the end of the allotted patch.

Is use of the scythe a part of your local tradition in gardening? Do you keep a scythe in your garden shed? What use would it have in a modern garden context? Would you know how to use it? Is it one of those skills that we should make an effort to preserve?

  • Depends on whether you fancy shoulder/neck surgery later in life - I only ever had a sickle, but keeping it sharp was a pain...and I certainly didn't like to use it too often – Bamboo Feb 9 '17 at 16:48
  • Totally different animal, the sickle. Lots of stooping, not relaxed. – Ecnerwal Feb 9 '17 at 16:55
  • @Ecnerwal - true, more back trouble with a sickle, but did you not find neck shoulder trouble occurs with a scythe? Its why I never bought one, having tried it a couple of times... – Bamboo Feb 9 '17 at 16:59
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    None at all, personally. It's more like a relaxed form of martial art that happens to result in cut grass/weeds - I feel better, not worse, after an hour or two at it. Technique issues might be at the root of your pain? – Ecnerwal Feb 9 '17 at 17:03
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    @Bamboo you need to set up a scythe to match your body size and shape. If you just "borrow" one from somebody else to try it, that's a bit like borrowing somebody else's bike but not bothering to adjust the seat and handlebars before you ride it, and wondering why you have some aches and pains the next day! Once you get the technique right, you can keep going at a steady pace all day (i.e. for 8 or 10 hours, not 1 or 2). Much better cardio-vascular exercise than the alternative ways to mow stuff! – alephzero Feb 9 '17 at 19:56
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I have one, bought last year. It's far more pleasant to use (quiet, not covered with green goo from head to toe) than my string trimmer, and also much easier to be selective with. Works far better than either a string trimmer or a lawnmower on tall grass and small brush. Works well in wet material.

I don't concern myself with John Henry-eqse competitions with other equipment, but those who do do quite well, as is easily found on several pro-scythe propaganda sites. I don't concern myself too much with those, either. I did glean some mowing / technique tips from some of them when starting. Be advised that there's some serious snark between a few folks each of whom claims to have the one true right way...

I'd say sharpening with the proper tools is no more hassle on balance than keeping a string trimmer feeding correctly. I peen roughly daily (takes 5-10 minutes, might skip if the last time out was a short session) and whet every 5 minutes or so, which takes about 20-30 seconds.

  • Interesting, thanks. Clearly the reference to peening indicates that you chose the soft steel as opposed to the hard steel option for the blade. Did you ponder this choice at all? – Colin Beckingham Feb 9 '17 at 17:44
  • ... and how about small animals that stick their heads up at the wrong moment? Like the owl, death approaches silently. – Colin Beckingham Feb 9 '17 at 17:46
  • Really?? It's quiet. It's not silent. Never had a problem with them - they don't need a 120dB gasoline motor to know that there are people around. – Ecnerwal Feb 9 '17 at 18:47
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Until last year I have thought that scything is done only by old people in rural areas (in Romania, a country in Eastern Europe). To my surprise, when I got an awful allergy from some plant I didn't know, the clerk at the pharmacy told me that her husband got the same allergy when scything.

After two weeks, my boyfriend's boss got the same allergy after, you guessed, scything. It seems that in my area some of the young and middle-aged people still use a scythe, even if they live in the city.

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Harvesting grains

2000 square feet (200 sq meters) of wheat produces about 120 pounds (55kg) of wheat, which is enough for about 120 loaves of bread. We also buy wheat and/or flour to supplement this supply.

A scythe produces more uniform stalk lengths compared to using a sickle. The stalk tends to "lay down" softer and I have less loss in the cutting. This makes threshing the wheat to separate the wheat berries much easier and produces a better harvest.

I sometimes plant barley or different types of wheat (red vs white and hard vs soft) which makes for a larger harvest. In these cases, I would surely miss not having a scythe.

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The hooknosed long knife would be more traditional here. But you do see them on small farms for cutting rice, grass for animal feed water buffalo & goats. They cut the rice even for rice straw. Also straw saws are still here, but the large rototillers are moving in. Also people with yards here will let grass get knee high, then let goat herders come in & cut it for fodder for their animals. I do not think they are Asian but in use in Asia on small 1 to 5 hectare farms where they can not recover the cost of machines & small enough to do most all by hand.

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I use an old scythe from my neighbor (who has it from its grand father) in place of my mower, to mow a place that do not need to have "neat" grass over the year. Only to keep bramble bushes from growing.

I do this because I have to take care of a garden patch 300m away from home, so moving the mower that place takes time and effort, so why not taking this time and effort to use the scythe?

As a result, I get a lot of useful straw to cover and mulch the ground. Much healthier for the ground a mow-mulch is.

It is allegedly smooth and easy to cut a little patch with a scythe, as long as you know how to, and have a well sharpen, right one. Still must be proven on my side, since I use an old thing with buckled blade. It is much effort, but fun and quiet way to exercise.

Also mentioned in interesting answers here:

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