Friday, April 10, 2015
The Art of Mowing
This week began with a major advance in technology for us. As the cactus has been fading from the pastures, wickedly sharp-thorned blackberries have been taking over. While we very much enjoy the berries from these bushes for a short time during the year, they also tear our clothes, scratch us and the animals' udders, and clog up large swaths of pasture that we would rather have for grass.
The lime we put on in the fall should help, but meanwhile, we have found that mowing really helps the grass have a competitive edge. Last fall we payed our neighbor way more than we would have liked to for mowing the square pasture and a grazing line we refer to as "the goat wedge," although the goats have not been on it for over a year now. There are blackberries coming up this spring on those lines, but they are the young, tender ones that the cattle gobble up readily, and we are hopeful that a few passes with the ruminants will really help.
Meanwhile, there are 22 more acres that could use mowing, some desperately, not to mention the overgrown fence lines. The only mower available to us is an electric push one that really is designed for little lawns. So the more we thought about it, the more we wished for a functional mower.
Thinking and talking about it, we at last decided on investing in scythes. There are several reasons: A mower that would knock out the pastures would not do very well under the fences, and that job would require a different machine. Mowers break and use gasoline. And planting seeds and then scything the longer grass on top is a very effective way to seed crops that would otherwise require drilling, and is the primary way that farming genius Masanuobu Fukuoka grew barley, rice, and other crops. It would change what forages we could grow, and potentially give us the ability to easily grow staple crops.
A beautifully crafted tool that effectively does the job of a mower, weed-whacker, AND planting drill, and with care will last our lifetime? Not to mention that mowing by hand does not require fossil fuels and does not create stinky, polluting exhaust, and has a beneficial effect on grass, as opposed to the violent shredding of a machine. It was an obvious decision.
The scythes arrived on Monday, and by Wednesday we were taking our first awkward swipes at the pasture. Mowing is an ancient art, one that requires skill and balance more than strength. Still very much beginners, we are both enjoying diving into this new skill. Already areas we wanted for so long to clear are beautifully cut, and the orchard is half mowed, and therefore looks like it belongs to someone else.
The work feels grounding, flexible and energetic, a beautiful dance of gravity and blade. As Ethan said, if building garden beds is the Crossfit of farming, mowing is certainly the yoga.