“Poldarking” is one of the latest words to have entered the scything lexicon.
No, it’s not mowing with your top off. Rather, it refers to that style of mowing that seems to be more akin to golf then scything. You know the one, the scythe rises into the air to the right of the mower, sometimes several feet, then swings down fast and hard, cuts some vegetation for a few feet in front of the mower then rises in an arc to an equivalent height above the ground on the mowers left. Great effort is put in as the vegetation flies…..
In contrast, here’s Phil mowing hay in the Top Field a couple of weeks ago. The blade stays on the ground for the vast majority of the stroke; only lifting very slightly at the beginning of the stroke because he is making an effort to mow wide and fast (practicing for the Scythe Festival at the weekend). Attention is paid to using the body well to avoid strain and excess effort. Even after more than 10 years of scything, Phil is working on his technique, learning and improving.
What’s wrong with Poldarking I hear you ask? The grass gets cut doesn’t it? Is it worth striving to mow better?
Here’s some reasons to give it a go:
It’s More Efficient The scythe blade only cuts grass for the time it is on (or near) the ground, so a big swing up on the right and left is wasted movement and energy. When the scythe blade is kept running along the ground there is no energy expended lifting it’s weight unnecessarily
It Conserves Energy Only the movements needed for the scythe to do its work are performed. Movement and energy beyond this is not needed to scythe effectively and makes scything much harder work then it needs to be.
It’s Effective While swinging away may be acceptable in a bramble patch it’s not going to give you a neat finish on your lawn, or give you maximum harvest in the hay-field. Most vegetation, especially grass, cuts best at the base. Running the blade along the ground in an arc in front of you ensures the blade meets the vegetation at the best angle for cutting, giving a neat finish with the least effort.
It’s Gentle on your Scythe When a scythe is well set up and sharp, the mower is able to achieve the necessary work using less power. Should the scythe hit an obstruction or snag on heavy vegetation the risk of damage is less as less force is being applied. A “golf swing” style of scything often starts to develop because the blade is not sharp enough. The mower puts in more effort to cut, puts more force behind each stroke, starts lifting the blade at the start of the stroke. Should the blade be badly set up as well, the risk of damage to the blade or snath increase further.
It is Gentle on your Body When done well, mowing can be gentle on the body. It is still work and some effort is required but it should not hurt! Awareness of how the scythe works and how to create a good approach to the vegetation can be used instead of brute strength. The body can be moved in such a way that the power needed comes from areas well suited to supply it eg such that the legs can contribute power to the stroke instead of relying mostly on the arms.
Good mowing technique is not just about field mowing. The same basic principles apply no matter what kind of vegetation you are mowing. You may choose sometimes to break the rules eg float the scythe above the ground when topping nettles growing out of a stony corner to avoid damage to your blade; but even in this case understanding of how the scythe works will ensure the job is approached in the most effective manner.
How can we move towards this kind of mowing?
Attending a scythe course is a good way to get help with good mowing technique. If you are starting out, an Introductory course may be the best. If you already have a scythe and would like to explore mowing techniques with us further then our Tai Chi mowing course is the ideal opportunity.
Watching You Tube videos of good mowers can also be helpful. We are starting to develop a number (see here) and intend to add more showing mowing in the large variety of situations in which we use the scythe. This You Tube channel is also good.
Learning to keep your blade really sharp will also help a lot. Sharpness is often considered to be at least half the battle. Peening Workshops or You Tube can be useful.
P.S This style of mowing is not a modern idea, or one that is only relevant to the Austrian style scythe. In the leaflet below, supplied by the British Phoneix Works factory with their English pattern scythes, it clearly states that “A scythe should not be used as though it were a golf club or a sickle”. To read the full leaflet, see this post