This little corner of grass at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum is not going to win any ‘perfect meadow’ awards – at least not yet. This is only the second year that we’ve cut the grass by hand for hay in this corner and with the weather this year the wind and rain has pushed it over until it’s lodged in a big tangle. Definitely something of a challenge especially when you are doing it as a demonstration.
The intention is to cut this area for hay late in the summer so that we encourage traditional meadow wildflowers to gradually develop. By cutting and removing the grass the soil fertility should fall allowing the wildflowers to compete better with the grasses and by cutting later, after the annual flowers have seeded we should encourage the flowers to germinate and spread. How long this will take depends upon the state of the soil and the species already present – it could take many years.
But back to the present and the window of good weather is only scheduled to last a couple of days so there is no time to waste, tangled or not, I have to get the grass cut and laid out in the sun to dry.
Along the way I managed to avoid field mice and a grass snake and even managed to mow around what I think is the wildflower ‘self heal’ though I am far from an expert and happy to be corrected. If so, it’s a good find, typical of a traditional pasture and encouragement to keep up the management.
By late afternoon I’ve cut around 1/6 of an acre. Not a lot, but with the temperature close to 30C, tangled rough grass and plenty of interested visitors to chat with it feels like a lot more!
There is an old tradition of Scythesman’s wages – which includes unlimited cider, it’s a tradition of which I thoroughly approve – and I plan to make sure its a tradition that doesn’t die out if I can help it. We’ve yet to discover whether the museum’s barrel will give out before I do, but having been born and brought up in Somerset I do have a head start. And before you mention it, yes I do realise that the plastic bottles are not traditional – but they are recycled, several times, and I’m not against all progress.
The eagled eyes scythe spotters amongst you will notice that the scythe in the picture is an old English scythe, it’s a Nash Crown blade and a snathe which is not as adjustable as I’d like but I’ve been using a lot this year and grown to like it, though I cut most of this grass with an Austrian scythe as lodged grass and heat favoured it.
Thanks to the brief spell of hot weather the grass dried quickly and after turning all Saturday and Sunday the hay is dry and ready just in time before the weather breaks.
Dealing with loose hay can be a problem – both to move and to store – as everyone is used to working with bales. It’s really not worth using a mechanised baler for such small areas – but it’s a problem to move it without baling it. So for next year I plan on making a wooden hand baler. But for this year with no time to bring it in I am left with only one option – to cock it up – that is to build it into 5 large haycocks which should allow the water to run off for a few days until the weather improves, the haycocks dry off and it can be moved inside.