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Old Timey Fun

May 22nd, 2012

Last fall I planted Fall Green Manure Mix from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. It was ready to cut a week ago, but I was waiting for Mr Chiots to do a little maintenance on my scythe.

I got this scythe from my dad, who got it from his grandpa Hatfield (his mom’s dad). He said that as a little boy he loved watching my great grandpa use it to trim the ditches and other areas on the farm.

It took us a while to get it adjusted to what we thought would be a good fit. Then it took us a few swipes to figure out the best method for cutting. All in all, it is much quicker than using a weedwacker or other power tool. 500 square feet was cut in about five minutes.

It was a great time figuring out how to adjust and use this old tool. It’s very old to be sure, quite a treasure to still be using it.

One of the reasons I garden is for peace and quiet, so I’m rather old fashioned when it comes to the tools I choose. I love using a push mower when I can, everything is watered by hand, soil is turned with a shovel not a tiller, leaves are raked with a rake. I also don’t really find that it’s faster to use power tools and they can cost a pretty penny.

What’s your favorite garden chore to do manually?

If you’re interested in reading more about Scythes, how and why to use them, etc. Head on over to Scythe Connection for some great reading!

20 Comments to “Old Timey Fun”
  1. kristin @ going country on May 22, 2012 at 5:42 am

    We still mourn the loss of our scythe. It was one of the many really old tools that have lived at Blackrock since my husband’s great-grandfather’s time. My brother-in-law used it one Halloween to dress as the Grim Reaper and left it at a friend’s house. Despite repeated nagging, he never got it back.

    I may be sort of bitter about this still (obviously), because we have LOTS of places where I could use it. I like hand tools better, too. I hate anything with an engine. Not just the noise, but the smell, the vibrations, and the fact that they seem to break with unpleasant regularity.

    Reply to kristin @ going country's comment

  2. Kathi Cook on May 22, 2012 at 6:30 am

    How and when can you plant in the bed after cutting a green manure? I was always curious about that. Do you have to pull it all out by hand now or do you let it decompose a bit? The timing of it always seemed to me to interefere with planting time. That scythe is awesome! Love old tools.

    Reply to Kathi Cook's comment

    • Susy on May 22, 2012 at 7:34 am

      Usually you want to cut about 2 weeks before planting time, so you can cut it anytime really – as long as you schedule in the time to let the roots decompose. I plan on planting through the mulch from the top growth.

      One of the greatest reasons to use cover crops is for weed control. If I hadn’t planted this cover crop in this new garden area it would have been 5 feet tall of briars, multiflora roses and other tough weeds. The cover crops will also improve the soil.

      You can also use specific cover crops to mitigate specific disease problems in the garden (like rye for root knot nematode) and mustard for potato blight/rust.

      I have read that rye will inhibit seed germination, so you want to plant actual plants after growing it. That’s one of the reasons to use rye in a newly made garden area, to help keep weeds from germinating.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • tj on May 22, 2012 at 8:40 am

        …You’ve piqued my curiosity now. So when you’ve cut it then it doesn’t grow back, the roots decompose and all is done? And maybe I missed the post or possibly don’t remember but when did you plant the Green Manure? I am interested in doing this as well but would like step by step guidance in exactly how to do this.

        …We too have a scythe and a wheat/grain cradle hanging on our screened porch. I will have to so some reading up on adjusting and using the scythe. So interesting and it looks right at home in your hands Susy. :o)

        …Great post & photos!

        …Enjoy your day!

        …Blessings :o)

        to tj's comment

      • Kathi Cook on May 22, 2012 at 4:37 pm

        thank you! that was a very helpful explannation.

        to Kathi Cook's comment

    • Joshua on May 22, 2012 at 12:16 pm

      I’m certainly not an expert on green manure, but I have used it as a winter cover crop on my garden for the last three years, and here’s what I’ve found.

      I have read that you maximize the likelihood of killing the plant by cutting it just as the seed heads are filling out, but before they fully ripen. You definitely don’t want the seeds to drop, of course. I have never really trusted the plants not to grow back after cutting–especially grasses like rye, and I typically mow the cover crop just a few weeks before I’m going to be planting, so I always follow up with tilling. I mow the cover crop down with a string trimmer because I don’t want to throw it all to one side like a mower would. I could see a mulching mower also working well. After the material has had a few days to dry out, I till it under, which works up the roots and completes the kill-off. Usually there is some regrowth, even after tilling, so I end up tilling again, lightly, a week or so later.

      I have read about techniques that use a rolling “crimper” to roll down the cover crop and “crimp” its stems in places, killing it off. Then the cover crop is left in place to act as a mulch. I’m not sure what prevents regrowth in these scenarios, and I suspect that many no-till approaches like this rely on chemical treatments that I prefer to avoid.

      Reply to Joshua's comment

      • amy on May 22, 2012 at 12:21 pm

        Thank you~Joshua~for a detailed description of what you do to effectively deal with a cover crop. Like others have stated here I have always wanted to give it a go but have been unsure of how to get rid of it completely so that it just did not keep popping back up and become an evasive nightmare. I am going to copy this so that I can refer back to it!

        to amy's comment

      • amy on May 22, 2012 at 12:22 pm


        to amy's comment

      • Susy on May 22, 2012 at 12:31 pm

        I have used this method before and have not had trouble with any of the crops regrowing. You do have to cut before any seeds appear, I have read most cover crops should be cut right as they start to bloom. I leave the growth in place to smother any remaining plants underneath. Two weeks later I rake it away in the rows I’ll be planting and leave the cut growth in the walkways as mulch.

        to Susy's comment

  3. Heather on May 22, 2012 at 7:51 am

    I do as much as possible by hand. My brother was horrified that I was hand cutting the weeds around my beds, so he gave me his weed whacker. It sits in the shed while I continue to use my hand trimmer. Gardening is my quiet, meditation time. I have no need for noise and smell from the gasoline. It makes no difference if it takes me more time.

    Reply to Heather's comment

  4. Songbirdtiff on May 22, 2012 at 8:16 am

    My lopper is absolutely my favorite tool, I much prefer it to a chainsaw. Plus, it makes me feel strong to cut down a tree with my “almost” bare hands .:)

    Reply to Songbirdtiff's comment

  5. daisy on May 22, 2012 at 8:35 am

    What a wonderful way to spend meaningful, intentional time in the garden. A treasure, to be sure. I am not a fan of the noise, pollution and expense of power tools. Leaf blowers are a bane!

    Reply to daisy's comment

  6. amy on May 22, 2012 at 9:22 am

    I love weed pulling… is my therapy:) I inherited all of my grandmothers yard tools. Her old clippers with electric tape wrapped around the handles replacing their original covers still do the trick in trimming for me. I too have a scythe and a reel mower which I use in the spring before the grass gets too lush and again in the fall. I want to be able to hear the birds, frogs, etc……which one cannot do with power tools. They defeat the purpose I think. Lovely post~Susy:)

    Reply to amy's comment

  7. Justin on May 22, 2012 at 9:58 am

    I have a few tools from my grandfather. One of the things I really like about old tools is how much sturdier they are and how much better the maintain a sharp edge (where applicable).

    I have a shovel that’s probably twice my age or even older. I’ve twice purchased one with a longer handle (for different jobs) and both times, I’ve broken the handles on relatively simple tasks. The one from my grandfather keeps on trucking.

    What also stinks about the new ones is that they use welded rivet construction and glue, so I can’t even easily replace the handles when they break. And even if you can replace the handles, they’re often more expensive than buying a new tool.

    Reply to Justin's comment

  8. Maybelline on May 22, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Automation is great but each plant/tree has different requirements. My trees have below ground irrigation but I prefer to apply the water myself – filling the basins and watching the water intake. Plus, flood irrigating (not on a large scale) helps to drive the roots deeper.

    Reply to Maybelline's comment

  9. Daedre Craig on May 22, 2012 at 11:14 am

    I do nearly all of my gardening/lawn chores manually, but it’s mainly because I’m too cheap to buy expensive power equipment.

    I do use a self-propelled gas mower, but my hard is almost an I need as much help as I can get!

    Reply to Daedre Craig's comment

    • Daedre Craig on May 22, 2012 at 11:15 am

      Sorry “hard” should be “yard”.

      Reply to Daedre Craig's comment

  10. Caroline on May 22, 2012 at 11:42 am

    I have a grass whip that I like to use especially when it’s too hard to maneuver around the flowers that have taken root in the lawn. There’s something really relaxing about the manual and efficient movement.

    Sounds like the scythe is better for tackling the hairy vetch.

    Reply to Caroline's comment

  11. Joshua on May 22, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    I also don’t really find that it’s faster to use power tools and they can cost a pretty penny.

    LOL. If you can turn earth as fast with a shovel as I can with a tiller, you must give John Henry a run for his money. No offense intended. I appreciate the value of manual labor–both its physical and its mental and spiritual benefits–but I can’t tell you how often I’ve looked up after tilling the whole garden bed and thought, “Sheesh. That was fast. Thanks petroleum!” I tend to draw the line though. I manually plant, hill, and weed/cultivate almost exclusively, because I like getting down in the dirt with my plants and really getting to know them. But when it comes time to turn earth or mow the borders, I break out the tiller and the string trimmer. To each their own.

    I’m with Justin on the flimsiness of tools. We burn wood exclusively for heat in the winter, and I really enjoy splitting wood by hand. I bust smaller pieces with the maul, and have broken apart pieces up to about 60″ in diameter by working in wedges. I can’t tell you how many maul and sledge handles have broken on me, or the heads have come loose and come off. At first, I thought it was something I was doing, but all I’m doing is using the tool as its intended. I found myself wondering how people possibly accomplished these jobs back in the days before hydraulic wood splitters and chainsaws. Surely the heads didn’t come off their mauls, or the handles break, every two or three months of use! Likewise, I simply cannot keep the head on a pitch-fork. All I use it for is pitching hay into my sheep’s feeder, and the head inevitably works loose and then breaks off. Good thing they have a long warranty, because I keep taking them back and exchanging them for a new one! But it is tiresome.

    If anybody has suggestions for GOOD hand tools, like pitchforks and shovels, and so forth, I would love to hear them.

    Reply to Joshua's comment

  12. Donna B. on May 22, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Green Manure! THAT is what I needed to do in my new garden beds!
    What a wonderful thing, the scythe! I love old-timey tools~
    After reading your post about hand-watering with watering cans, I have now also adopted that method. Currently I only have one 3 1/2 gallon can, but I will either have to get another or create an extension on my water line.

    Reply to Donna B.'s comment

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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