We have a grass track running through the Trust. We maintain parts of it with a scythe, usually using the clippings to mulch the vegetable gardens. The edges to the tracks are left to grow longer and bramble tries to creep out from the hedges. Periodically the edges need managing too.
The balance of grazing land to hay fields on the Trust is not ideal. With the hay meadows shut up, the spring grazing is adequate but only just. Whilst we tweak grazing rotations and stocking levels I have, in true Permaculture style, been turning the problem (overgrown edges) into the solution (an extra bite for the cow).
We can’t currently graze the track so the trusty Austrian scythe has been at work, mowing the edges which can then be transported to the field. I do a section every day but the time when I manage to get out to mow varies.
Just after milking, with the dew on the grass, the mowing is easy. The grass falls easily and neatly as the scythe swishes through. The experience is similar in the evening cool or anytime on a damp and drizzly day. Even the more challenging short grass in the middle of the track can be mown neatly.
But at noon on a hot and sunny day I find myself wondering why the mowing is more challenging. The grass is hard and tough, and crackles rather then swishes. The difference is so marked that I start checking the blade isn’t loose and out of position, sharpening the blade….then sharpening it again. No, everything is in order, the difference is in the grass.
It doesn’t seem to be entirly clear why the grass behaves like this. It is initially counter intuitive for many new scythers because machines such as lawn mowers prefer to mow dry grass. Wet grass clogs the machinery.
It is known that the sap pressure in the grass rises during the day, making it stiffer and therefore easier for the powerfully driven but relatively blunt (compared to a scythe blade) mower blade to cut. The slicing motion of the finely sharpened scythe blade manages the softer, more flexible early morning grass with ease. A blunter blade runs the risk of pushing over such grass rather then cutting through it, especially if it is short. Perhaps also, the lubricating aspect of dew or moisture on the grass is an aid to the scyther, helping the blade slip through the grass.
Interestingly, beginner mowers who are struggling to keep a scythe blade sharp often find taller, stiffer grasses or bracken and brambles easier to mow. Scything a lawn, with it’s short, flexible stems of grass is a real challenge and an excellent show case of a mowers ability to obtain a good cutting edge.