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Archive for July, 2013

Image0044Roundabout is a traditional hay meadow which hasn’t been ploughed for well over 20 years (though it’s the youngster amongst our fields as most haven’t been ploughed up since WWII). Without any chemicals or fertilisers the wildflowers are getting better each year. As the fertility of the field slowly reduces the wildflowers can compete better with the grasses and the right time to make hay is a tricky judgement – too early and you cut the annual flowers before they seed, too late and the grass becomes old and rank. So with an unusually good spell of weather in late July it means we can go ahead and make hay whilst the sun shines.

Well I did start cutting the field by hand. But let’s face it I’m not going to get a 10acre field mown with my scythe before the weather breaks. So after he’d had a quick go with my English Scythe Nigel went home and came back early in the morning with one of his mowers.

DSCF9964It’s a bit faster than I am – but then it’s got a lot more horses under the bonnet and they all need to be fed – but not with hay or cider.

DSCF9983Nigel went off to do some more mowing leaving me to turn the mown field which I managed to do with ‘Peter’ my little  Massey Ferguson 135 and the old Acrobat rake/turner. It’s a little short at 6ft to turn the rows from Nigel’s modern 8ft mower but I managed it with some careful concentration and the great thing about the Acrobat is that it’s not powered so I can potter up and down the field on tickover.

P1020017After a few days in the good weather the hay is ready and with Thunderstorms forecast for the evening Nigel came back to help me with the rowing up. In the 30+ degree heat it was great to be able to work the tractor at tickover and even if a little slower than Nigel’s tedder I managed to row up most of the field while Nigel went to fetch the baler.

DSCF0071-003A quick rest while Nigel starts the baling . We’re baling with small traditional square bales rather than the modern round and wrapped monsters.  But there is still a good market for these small bales as you can handle them without needing a loader and we’ll be selling them to local stables, graziers and small holders.

Slowly it dawns on us that that there are a lot more bales coming of this field than we’d expected. By the time Nigel finishes we have 830 bales spread over about 9 acres of the field. Oooops. We’re going to need some help to shift them before the thunderstorms arrive!

P1020045Luckily everyone seemed keen to join in with the haymaking – even with just a couple of hours of notice. And it rapidly turns into a giant game of It’s a Knock Out with Hay Bales!

P1020046Almost a full trailer load – but it’s tricky lifting the last bales while people are still standing on them!

P1020035That’s a very fine looking trailer I see there. Is it new? No – it’s got an old wooden frame but it does look like it’s freshly painted! Landrover Masai Red and Bronze Green if I’m not mistaken – goes very nicely with the tractor and ready just in time for the hay making. I like it when a plan comes together.

P1020036The team building the stacks are working at full speed as the bales come off the field on the trailers.

P1020039We somehow manage to fit in the odd delivery to local barns – in fact just about anywhere we can stash some more bales. These horses carried out some quality control while we unload into the barn – looks like they’re quite happy with the hay!

P1020041One last load off the field and we’ve managed to move 830 bales in just a few hours and it just started to rain gently as we shifted the last of the bales.

edontrailerWhat no bales?

P1020055Must be time for a party then.

P1020058Hard work – but there is something very satisfying about shifting and stacking hay bales – there is very little doubt about what you’ve achieved, you can see it, feel it, lift it, climb it, smell it and you can even try chewing it. It’s certainly very tangible. I think  everyone did a great job – well done all!  The cider certainly tasted good after all the work.

I think it’s great to be able to involve people in hay-making, after all it was very much a community event for centuries. But modern farming practices and machinery don’t allow people to join in very often. In fact they are designed to minimise the involvement of people, but as this field is being managed as a traditional hay meadow it seems appropriate to make it more of a traditional event.   I hope everyone will be back to do some more before long!

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Warning: A long post – so you might want to just flick through the pictures! Otherwise put the kettle on, get yourself a mug full and settle down to read on

In case you are wondering I do still have a polelathe – several in fact – and I used one yesterday. But summer has finally arrived, the wildflower meadows are in full colour and on the commons the bracken is growing as if there’s no tomorrow –  you could be forgiven for thinking that I’d forgotten all about my lathe at this time of year.

So with my  Scythe over my shoulder grim reaper style I set off for Wimpole Hall again for the Eastern Counties Scything Championships and some spoon carving to boot.

DSCF9324I’d been asked to run a spoon carving course again for beginners. Spoon carving is great fun and it doesn’t need a lot more than an axe and a couple of knives and once again the polelathe was left behind. I am getting polelathe withdrawal symptoms – occasionally my leg starts quivering uncontrollably – but moving on swiftly.

The spoon course seemed to go well and as often happened turned itself into a freeform afternoon/evening of whittling wood for all comers. And I use the term whittling advisedly and specifically. Not everyone seemed to have got the idea of a spoon, especially our Albanian friend Ded who seemed more focused upon removing wood quickly rather than the form and shape of the wood thats left behind.

DSCF9331Making up for Ded’s savage assault on the wood was John, who had not carved a spoon before and came on the course. I think his precision metalworking background is more than a little revealed by the attention to detail of his first spoon. Well done John – a worthy winner of the Spoon category in the craft competition as well.

DSCF9395Somehow John also found time over the weekend to fix the backdoor of my landrover (thank you John), linish the axe that Magnus made me (thank you again John), compete in the mowing and also bring down his vintage Field Marshal tractor to demonstrate the finger bar towed mower.

DSCF9359Not before time we’re onto the mowing. Unlike the Somerset championships where the area of grass is strictly limited by the site, at Wimpole hall there is a 3 mile avenue leading to the hall which is all unfertilised flower meadow! Mower’s heaven – or it can be hell if you leave it too late in the day and it’s all going wrong.

Simon Damant has been pushing us to take advantage and mow 1/4 acre plots and not just the tiny 5x5m plots which we usually compete to mow. Chris Riley mowed 1/4 acre using his straight snathe – and if there was an award for sheer mowing style – Chris would have won in my opinion.  This year several of us stepped up to the 1/4 acre challenge – and I’m very glad that I took the opportunity – I learnt a lot about my scythe and myself mowing out mowing for hours in the gentle rain on the Friday evening. Three hours and three minutes to be precise.

DSCF9416Plenty of other challenges at the weekend. How about trying your hand at shearing a sheep – the traditional way with a pair of clippers or sheep shears. Not satisfied with his assault with a knife on a lump of wood Ded had a go and Simon showed him how to do it.

DSCF9418The weekend allowed me to catch up with Magnus the sword smith. Basically if it has a sharp edge – Magnus will have made it and if by some chance he hasn’t – it won’t be long before he has. You may have seen a lot of his blades alreadywithout knowing it as Magnus does a lot of work for film and TV programmes making reproduction or original designs. As a result Magnus has an approach to tool design which I find fascinating and which allows his creative bent a fairly free reign. It’s always interesting to see what Magnus is upto and this time was no exception – he’s been making some lovely little carving axes.

DSCF9430Here’s one with a traditional ‘Kentish’ style to the head but with some tomahawk influence in the weight, shaping and the tapered eye socket. Couldn’t resist buying it. He’s also made a small bearded carving axe – you’ll see more of it before long as I also bought it on the spot.

DSCF9439The problem with the Sunday afternoon competition plots, particularly the 5x5m championships is that there is a lot of nervous waiting around and then a couple of minutes of violent activity. I’m not a sprinter by nature and so the larger plots seem to suit me much better.

Nerves didn’t seem to worry Chris Earl much though. A retired farmer (if you can retire as a farmer) from Grantham, Chris brought along his Rumanian Scythe but I talked him into showing off his skills with my vintage English Nash Universal Scythe and he entered the competitions.

He also seems to have the knack of resting on the scythe. I think you’d have to agree that the English Scythe is so much better as a leaning post than the Austrian scythe?

DSCF9481A few more scything photos to prove that we did more than stand around photogenically resting on them. Arthur was a newcomer to the scythe at the start of the weekend but produced a good showing mowing in the competion being awarded best novice for his 10×10 plot.

DSCF9520 Andi Rickard mowing her 10x10m plot. Andi appears to be powered up by a secret weapon – home made pemmican. Rocket fuel for mowing I reckon. No wonder she’s the ladies champion, though it’s always a closely fought battle with the tricky grass at Wimpole. Having tried the pemmican I am converted and I just need to find some time to make some!

DSCF9488Richard Brown competes hard with his Austrian Scythe and has in the recent past been the overall winner at Wimpole. He gave it everything and produced a fast time with an excellent quality of cut. A time of 1:49 and a quality of 7.5 – which under the conditions is an amazing combination of speed and quality.

DSCF9489But in the end Wimpole’s evil little fescue grasses on a hot and windy Sunday afternoon brought him to his knees – literally.

DSCF9490Is Richard having a quick snooze or should we call an ambulance? Luckily Richard recovered swiftly just in time to take some more punishment.

DSCF9511Hard work all this standing around in the sun leaning on your scythe and waiting for something to happen.

DSCF9921So a great weekend, in really good company. Thank you everyone who made it so special! Oh and did I tell you I won a cup? I prefer the medals – but if there’s a cup on offer it would be rude to refuse wouldn’t it?

Having won the cup twice now, I am starting to look forward to somebody coming forward who can wield an English Scythe faster and perhaps more importantly with keep the quality at speed – though I don’t expect to yield without a fight.

Meanwhilst more scything ‘Bling’ to add to the collection, with a couple of spoons and the Magnificent Magnus Made small bearded carving axe. Come and try it and maybe Magnus will Make you one as well?

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