Scything in an Urban Labyrinth


The curved multipurpose tool we keep talking about, the one that once was the fundamental apparatus used to harvest hay in many nations (and in some still) to feed livestock to provide food for people, slowly is making its way from rusting in old barns to appearing in the modern urban garden.

With that transition, the simplicity of swinging the scythe from side to side, in open fields with wide swaths, creating long straight windrows and shearing tall grass in a rhythmic, organized way has transformed to complicated contortions and fine movements due to the narrow paths common to urban community gardens. What we have here is more of a labyrinth, and clearing in it requires a totally different technique.

In tight spaces, I find myself cutting the grass in both directions, using a sawing motion, or what could be called a backstroke. I use quite often this technique. I find that the backstroke is very useful to cut tufts or patches of grass that gets missed in the first pass. Honestly I don’t know why this works. I suspect that is because during honing, the forward motion of the stone produces micro serrations pointing forward, but less resistance in the reverse.


The good news is that even with a little complication, the job can be done. And it is very pleasant to walk back through the labyrinth (if you don’t get lost) and see clean paths where the grass is no longer climbing into the peppers or tomatoes.

I was using a 26-inch blade. For a field, that is small-medium. For a tight garden space, a 24-inch blade would have been more nimble.

Some of the gardeners stopped their weeding to ask questions about the “sickle.” But while they were slightly confused about the two blades, they didn’t hesitate to ask if I could clear around their box. For whatever complication, the scythe was still quicker than pulling grass by hand.

IMG_20150606_200530 After drying all that grass it lit that beautiful fire …

to warm this bird

IMG_20150616_162817Stay warm my friends…