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Scything: But What Will the Neighbors Think!  RSS feed

 
Destiny Hagest
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Location: Little Belt Mountains, MT
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Since we're doing a promotion for Ian Miller's book this week, I thought I would bring up something we've had to deal with living with neighbors, and using a scythe. There was kind of this funny thing that happened - we went to one of the workshops and wheaton labs (my husband and I), and saw Tony and Emily's demonstration on proper scythe usage and maintenance. We spent months looking for own, finally got a couple at a local junk store, and got them in working order.

But then the time came to scythe, and there a couple of things we realized:

1. You have to grow your grass above what many neighbors would deem to be the acceptable height.
2. Your neighbors might see you scything, and think you're super weird.

We live in a super small town - maybe 150 year round residents - but we have neighbors on all sides of us that live here all the time.

Now, we're not ones to generally give a shit what people think of us - landlords on the other hand, maybe just a tiny bit. And we do like our neighbors, so them not hating us for having tall grass and cutting it with some big grim reaper thing was a teensy bit on our radar.

But not enough to stop us from doing it.

We still get a chuckle from our older neighbors from time to time about how long it's been since they've seen 'one of those things' used, but our landlord lives in Georgia, and the hedges hide most of our tall grass from the neighbors with well-manicured lawns.

Once in a while the highway department will come through with their mowing equipment, and find the column of grass outside of our hedge line too irresistible not to make a few passes over with their riding mowers, and we shake our fists a bit, because dammit, we were going to bale that!

My husband proudly sharpens and peens the blade in the spring, and then eggs the grass on with great enthusiasm as he waits until it's time to scythe. It's a labor of love, and we've decided we rather enjoy the shock and awe that comes from using a tool like this in today's day and age.



The moral of the story? Don't let people's stupid opinions and standards for the height of grass hold you back from trying something really fantastic. I'm really excited about this book - scything is a long lost skill that desperately needs to make a comeback.
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Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Destiny Hagest wrote:2. Your neighbors might see you scything, and think you're super weird.


Or even worse... Too poor to afford a mower!
 
Devin Lavign
pollinator
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Hopefully some of those neighbors will consider buying and using scythes too after seeing how much fun you have with yours.
 
Craig Dobbson
master steward
Posts: 1996
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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When I was living in the burbs I owned a reel mower.  You know, the ones from back before gasoline? Big spinning cylinder of knives on wheels?  yeah... one of those.  Only this one was a modern version and actually did a pretty good job for the time I had it. So anyway, one day I'm out mowing the lawn and my neighbor comes out in a sort of a tizzy (modern kids call it a bitch-fit).  He's asking me all sorts of questions about my mower and commenting about how hard it must be to do things the old way.  He seemed really worried that I wouldn't be able to keep up with the neighborhood mowing schedule (as if there is such a thing).  In some places, people do actually concern themselves with how your lawn looks.  In extreme cases there's sort of an unwritten agreement that they will all look nice  by saturday morning or you're not invited to the next neighborhood BBQ.  So anyway I actually had to calm this guy and his wife down because they thought my lawn wasn't always gonna be up to par. Oh if they could see me now!  LOL

Long story short- One day his lawn tractor broke and he was too fat to push my reel mower so the lawn didn't get done on schedule.  That weekend he had a couple neighborhood kids "mow" his lawn, because he was too proud to hire me to do it.I probably would have done it for free.  He had many complaints from the other neighbors, but not me.  I just pushed my little reel mower and listened to the birds.  I moved that fall and until now, never thought of how silly that whole situation was.  

Don't worry what the neighbors think... keep your eyes on the bigger prize.  They'll come along eventually.




 
Destiny Hagest
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Posts: 1295
Location: Little Belt Mountains, MT
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
Destiny Hagest wrote:2. Your neighbors might see you scything, and think you're super weird.


Or even worse... Too poor to afford a mower!


They think along the same lines for us not having a bed or a coffee maker, I'm sure
 
Ian Miller
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Location: Decorah, Iowa, USA
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I like hearing these stories of your real-world experiences, especially on this topic. It can be challenging enough to deal with the learning curve of a new technology/approach/paradigm, but social pressures can be even more difficult. Anyone else out there mowing the lawn in a more-or-less urban setting? The pressure of that tacit assumption that everyone is to mow their lawn "on schedule" is not nothing. Here in NE Iowa, where I've lived over half my life, I'm aware of several cases of people having the authorities called on them for grass that wouldn't have occurred to me was "too long."

On the flip side, haying--or just mowing--your lawn with a scythe is a potential opportunity to get to know your neighbors. Approaching your nearest neighbors with, "here's what I'm planning on doing, here's what the local ordinance says is OK in terms of grass length, so don't worry when you see the lawn getting longer than you're used to. And if you think it's getting too long, let me know and we'll assess the situation together," can break the ice and let them know that you're not just thinking, "f*ck them" (that is, that you're considering their needs). If things are too icy between you and your neighbor, write them a letter, leave them a note or send a text or email stressing their advantages (reduced noise & pollution/smell), what your rights are (check your local ordinance about maximum allowed grass length) and that you'd like to work together on this, giving them an extremely easy way for them to let you know if they're concerned (a number they can text, permission to just come knock on the door, where they should put a note if they want to write one), because who wants a cop showing up at the door?

Reel mowers are, environmentally speaking, wonderful things if you're willing to not only put in the human power to move the thing across the lawn (not that all gas mowers are easy to move!), but also mow more frequently, because they get a LOT harder to push when the lawn is even a little bit too long. (Maybe some models are better than others...anyone aware of a reel mower that does well in relatively long grass?) With the scythe, on the other hand, it's ideal to let the grass grow to the maximum-socially-acceptable length, which means less mowing than reel and gas mowers.





 
Devin Lavign
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Ian, great points on using the situation for outreach and education. That is a wonderful way to look at it as well as important for us to remember to make an effort to secretly instill our wacky ways into others.
 
Craig Dobbson
master steward
Posts: 1996
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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I would also assume that if you walked up to your neighbor with a scythe in one hand and a sharpening stone in the other, they might be less inclined to want to have a pissing contest about your grass length.

Inversely, they may be less inclined to approach you with such a formidable lawn tool in your hands.  If they think you're crazy... all the better.      Probably 
 
Destiny Hagest
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Such great points Ian - I think so much of permaculture education's success depends on honing our communication skills while we work on so many other skills, like scything.

I'm really blessed to have neighbors that, for the most part, are very understanding of our ways - we all work quite amicably together, albeit their amusement at how we do things at times. We've had similar laughs over their bewilderment at our hoop coop.
 
Peter Ellis
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My wife and I live in a suburban New Jersey bedroom community, on a cul-de-sac, four houses pretty much can't avoid looking at our lawn.  A couple of years ago I stopped using the lawn mower and switched to a scythe. On Saturday mornings when the lawn services are roaring through the neighborhood, nobody notices that I have already mowed our yard while they slept in without disturbing anyone.

I enjoy the exercise and quiet meditative time while I'm mowing.
 
David Livingston
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I know exactly what most of my neighbours would say - mooo thats cause they are cows nice dog incidently

David
 
David Graber
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I watched my uncles when I was a kid harvesting and shocking oats with scythes finishing up a field on our farm-- the horse drawn sickle bar broke a tooth. I grew up using the scythe as commanded  on weeds around outbuildings and machinery. I obeyed, and competed with cousins swinging those things. Now at 74 and farming again after almost 50 years teaching, I enjoy showing a 16 year old how the scythe works better than weed whackers to mow irrigation lateral ditches so the water can flow.  It doesn't leave residue in the ditch to pile up and block the cuts. And it doesn't leave a stench in the air, that gift from God very worthy of being protected by us humans... So much to be gained back starting with those simpler technologies that turn out to be superior to those requiring so much more complex tech, energy investment, and fossil fuel emissions. I'd rather breathe longer.
 
Sharon Carson
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I grew up following my swiss grandmother in the garden and as she scythed the grasses around the outbuildings and would call me to come get the hay to feed by pony that my grandfather called hayburners . I inherited her scythes and my husband loved to use them before he died . I live a mile from that farm today which was sold years ago and let my grass grow I go out with my cart and rake the clippings beside the road within 1.4 mile and feed it to my horses . I don't scythe but I do have a push mower with a bagger and mow my paths and lawn areas and feed the clippings to the animals .I also rotate my animals onto grassy areas  Regretfully, I now haVE 5 MC MANSIONS ACROSS THE ROAD SO i HOPE THEY DO NOT TRY TO CHANGE MY WAY OF LIFE  at least it is not a bunch of those huge cafos(confined animal facility operations) that have goon up a mile from me . I was raised on a commercial chicken farm and i is a lot different now. I raise my own chicken and rabbit and do not eat commercial chicken.even organic unless I know the farm and how it is raised . 
 
michelle salois
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So anyone with scythe experience have back issues?  low back, bulging disk, SI joint etc?  I'd love to learn, but have been stymied by finding too much pain for some of my wishes. 
 
Destiny Hagest
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michelle salois wrote:So anyone with scythe experience have back issues?  low back, bulging disk, SI joint etc?  I'd love to learn, but have been stymied by finding too much pain for some of my wishes. 


I used to have lower back issues, but when I stopped sleeping on a mattress, they went away I've ranted and raved about that in a few places around here. But more importantly, I think with proper form, scything isn't supposed to be too hard on your back anyway.
 
Erica Daly
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As kids my father used a scythe when the grass on the hill was too tough for the reel mower. We started trying it ourselves to make paths for a baseball diamond, etc. It eventually disappeared (mother hid it for fear of bodily harm?) I'm surrounded by neighbors and my only chicken does not keep up with the grass trimming responsibilities. I go out when its cool and try to pull it like a cow or horse would. It's quicker than my weedwacker for my tiny plot. I save that for the difficult stuff. I try to not let it get too long because lyme disease is quite prevalent here and one reason I keep the old hen.  I save the seeds separately for her for the winter, and let her have the grass right away. I plan to try growing different types of grasses over the next years and when people complain, call it pollinator habitat and chicken predator protection. One neighbor thought they were helping and started mowing. Mowing smell makes me sneeze, but my way does not!
 
Hans Quistorff
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michelle salois wrote:So anyone with scythe experience have back issues?  low back, bulging disk, SI joint etc?  I'd love to learn, but have been stymied by finding too much pain for some of my wishes. 
I answered this question here. Scything with a bad back.
 
Charli Wilson
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I garden with a machete, it gives the whiny neighbour next door a shock when she looks over the fence to complain at me.
 
Levente Andras
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Location: Harghita County, Transylvania, Romania
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I'm lucky enough to live in a place where nearly everyone - including my neighbours - know how to use a scythe. As a minimum, people - even townsfolk - know what a scythe is and what it's for.  And I don't think they will think of the "grim reaper thing" when they see a scythe.

Having said that, no-one uses the scythe for mowing large areas any more. Scythes are reserved for awkward places, e.g., on very steep slopes which are inaccessible for machines.  In the old days, scything large areas was feasible because of the sheer number of men employed in agriculture back then - see the photo. Sadly, that's not the case any more.
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scything in Transylvania
 
Dennis Barrow
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Location: Columbia Falls, MT
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I have a scythe that came from my Mothers Uncles ranch in North Dakota in the the 60's.  I have never used it and kept it stored safely away from my 5 kids while they were growing up.... Could imagine what they would have done with it, like the son that shot a spear gun straight up in the air to see if the spin of the earth would make it come down further away from him. It did, about 6 inches.

I hope to have a place soon that I am able to use the scythe on.  Need to find a sharpening stone for it before then.  I have watch several video's on using it and think that it will not be a problem for my back and I had surgery for a herniated disc 3 years ago.
 
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