2009 is starting off as a great year for the garden. As you can see here, the plant babies are growing strong. We started the plants in the green house, rather than using plant lights, and you can see by comparing these photos, just how well they are doing.
My two youngest, inspired by the “Little House” books, decided to plant wheat. We had a section of yard where a tent was left out a little too long, killing off the grass. They cleared out the dead grass and had a perfect place to grow wheat.
Rather than purchase wheat seed, they used some un-ground wheat berries we already had. The wheat sprouted and is growing fantastically. The patch is just the right size for us to learn the entire process, from growing to harvesting, without being overwhelmed with work.
I’m sure that fresh ground, home grown wheat will make totally awesome sourdough bread.
Last year, after reading that roto-tilling is a no-no, we started looking for alternative ways to control weeds. In last years garden, we pulled the weeds and used them around the plants as green manure. While this worked, it was quite a bit of effort.
This year, we are trying some different methods. In one area, where we have bindweed, we planted buckwheat. It’s very competitive and should smother out the bindweed.
In other areas, we have straw from the chicken barn, PVO (Peas/Vetch/Oats) and black plastic. The chicken barn straw has chicken manure in it and works quite well, but the chickens only produce so much.
PVO is a ground cover mix from Fedco seeds. It’s planted in the middle section in the photo below. Later, when we are ready to plant our actual food crop, the PVO will be turned into the soil.
The last section has black plastic. The plastic blocks out the light and works well, but it’s not very sustainable. It also does not allow water to reach the soil and hard to keep in place. We had high hopes for this method, but it was looking like it would not meet our expectations. However, as you can see by the bottom photo, there were relatively few weeds. Also, turning the spoil was much easier than if we had not used the plastic. There were many worms and bugs, indicating that the soil was still alive.
I can’t wait to see how the rest of the year turns out.
I have a new page in the project section for a straight snath, made out of hickory. Since I was building my own snath, I was able to incorporate all the advice on snath design and make the just right for me and it works fabulously. This is a very straight forward project, taking a little bit of two afternoons. Tools used: bandsaw, drill, jig saw and router.
I used to have a hard time using the scythe for any length of time. These videos made it look so easy, so I did a bit of research, and tested my theories this weekend. Here is what I learned:
Allow the back of the blade to drag on the ground. All this time I’ve tried to hold to keep the blade from hitting the ground. With the blade in the air, If you hit a large clump of grass, the handle pulls against your hand and you have to fight to keep it up. If you allow the blade to brush the ground, when you hit a clump of grass, the blade pushes against the ground, so you don’t have to fight it, just keep pulling.
Use your legs to turn your body, pulling the scythe with your left hand, guiding it with your right. Being right handed, I want to do the opposite, pull with the right, but that is much harder. If you use your legs to turn and pull with the left hand you will be surprised how much more you cut.
Keep the tip of the blade down. As you turn, the tip of the blade wants to tip up. Keep it down, close to the ground. According to this page on www.scytheconnection.com, the snath (handle) can be adjusted so that the blade rests in the proper position.
Working first thing in the morning, while there is still dew on the grass is much easier. I found a few patches in the shade, that still had dew and compared it to dry grass in full sun, only a few feet away, and the difference was quite noticeable.
Proper sharpening makes a huge difference. I’ve always sharpened the blade perpendicular to the cutting edge. Once I started running the stone parallel to the cutting edge, it stayed sharper and cut longer. The odd thing is that when I first started sharpening this way, the blade got duller, then it began to get sharp again. Maybe, sharpening perpendicular gives the blade an rough edge like a serrated knife, good cutting some things, but not good at staying sharp.
The snath (handle) should match the user. See this page on how I changed my handle to suite me better.
This weekend, we harvested 12 1/2 pounds of tart cherries. It was our largest harvest ever, which is a surprise because the top half of the tree is dying. Maybe trees and plants set more fruit when under stress. Whatever the reason, cherry mead has always been the best and I’m looking forward to using these. I’m not ready to make mead, so I rinsed the berries and stored them in the freezer.
We built a house for the chickens a few years ago, similar to the cattle panel hoop house, except it was covered with tarps instead of clear plastic. Here in Michigan it doesn’t provide enough protection for a year round coop, but we let the chickens use it during the warmer months as a day house. They love the shade.
This winter, strong winds blew it over the fence and into the pond. Fortunately, the pond was frozen. Unfortunately, it was not frozen enough for us to go onto it.
The pond melted enough for the house to sink a few inches, then freeze again. Over a period of a few weeks, it did this a number of times. It didn’t look like it was coming out until spring.
Once the pond melted, it took three people to drag it out. It didn’t smell very good after that.
If you build cattle panel hoop house or chicken house, and live in a windy area, I suggest you use some strong ropes and tie it down.
I purchase a scythe from Lehman’s and found it a bit awkward. I ordinarily don’t have problems with tools from Lehman’s so I thought I just needed to learn to use the tool. After reading this page on snath making at scytheconnection.com I realized that it was the tool that needed to change, not me.
The snath is the wooden handle of the scythe. Being made of wood, it should be very easy to change or duplicate.
According to scytheconnection.com, the grip where you put your hand should be about 2 inches above where you hips bend. The grip on the Lehman’s snath was much higher than this and angled away from the blade. I took the snath apart and made a new piece to connect the grip to the snath. In the photo on the right, the piece on the left is the original. The one in the middle is my first prototype, made from plywood and the last was made from oak. Click on the image for a better view. You can’t see it in the picture, but the tenon on Lehman’s piece was only cut on one side. The new one I cut from Oak was cut on both. This should make it sturdier, and help it last longer.
Because of the curve, the grip was now placed forward by about 4 inches. This made all the difference. The scythe was easier to balance and it was easier to keep the blade parallel to the ground. If you click the image below, you can see how everything goes together.
I love wooden tools because they are so easy to change and improve.
I have used a scythe for a while now and thought I had learned all I needed to know. After looking at Scytheconnection.com, I can tell I have a lot to learn.
There is a buyers guide that is quite through, with information on where you can buy a blade and snath (handle). A good page on selecting the right blades is here. They recommend two blades, a longer blade for open fields and a shorter one for trimming work.
The blade and snath I ordered from Lehmans (brush blade / standard American handle) has always always felt a little out of balance and I thought it just took getting used to. It may be that it just isn’t quite right.
There is even a section on making your own snath (handle). I may give it a try, just to see the difference.
Here is an earlier post of mine on mowing with a scythe…
Erroll, of WashingtonWineMaker.com stopped by and recommended I put bird netting over the grapes. I had thought about putting up something to keep the deer out, but forgot about the birds.
I attached some boards to the top of the posts, then attached 1 inch deer fencing. The fencing is 7 feet wide and comes on 100 foot rolls. It took two pieces to fully cover the grapes. One on each side.
This reminds me of picking cherries earlier this summer. The Blue Jays were screeching at us and trying to chase us off. Blue Jays are very territorial and apparently have no idea just how small they really are.
Now that the grapes are covered, I can sleep easier. Thanks for the reminder Erroll. Now if I could find netting to keep out Japanese beetles…
A computer geek with a taste for sustainable living, organic food, green products, buying local, woodworking, bicycling, running, yoga, recycling and doing-it-yourself.