Harvesting Fertility with the Scythe
Here at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust, as in any garden or small holding, some areas need to have higher fertility then others e.g. to enable growing of hungrier crops. One way we achieve this is to move fertility from areas were it is not needed (paths, tracks) or even actively not wanted (wild flower hay meadows) to those were it is more useful (annual veg beds, forest gardens).
The scythe allows us to collect mulch material from many areas and use it to improve soil and fertility in the gardens. There are many types of mulch that we collect, each useful in different ways. Lawn clippings and clippings from frequently cut paths are fine and generally weed free as the grasses do not get to seed before cutting. They make a good mulch around small, newly established plants such as these parsnips.
Parsnip with grass mulch
Longer grass and weeds are mown from less frequently used paths, tracks and garden edges. They are more useful around more established plants, such as brassica and squash family.
Sometimes the mowings don't even have to be moved – by mowing anticlockwise around a fruit tree the mowings will naturally fall in a ready made mulch “doughnut”. Comfrey can be grown around fruit bushes and fruit trees, then mown down and left in place. Paths can be mown into the edges of beds to mulch and create a neat finish.
Sometimes mulch collection can double as weed control. We scythe areas of bracken in late summer / early autumn, removing the cut material to winter mulch garden beds. If left on the field, bracken is self mulching. Removing the material allows competitive grasses to establish and exposes the bracken to penetrating frost which can weaken the plants.
The scythe is also involved in hay making on the Trust's wild flower hay meadows. To maintain the fields in a low fertility state that benefits the wild flowers over the grasses, the fields need to be cut annually in mid summer and the arisings removed. Some of this is made into hay for winter animal feed. Hay also makes excellent mulch material for no-dig potatoes. We have successfully used mowings from the hay fields in thick (several feet) layers to establish and maintain developing forest garden areas, either fresh or as hay, something worth noting if you are establishing or managing an area of wild flower meadow but have no need to make hay.
Now we have more livestock more of our hay will be processed through them before the fertility arrives where it is wanted. The ducks forage around the farm, the goats eat grass, browse and hay then both are housed overnight on comfy beds of old hay. In the winter, fertility from the cow will be similarly collected. Once composted, soiled bedding is a valuable addition to the system.
For more information on how we manage a permaculture small holding by hand, see www.scythecymru.co.uk