Friday, June 22, 2007

Three Birds, One Stone

The norm around here is "killing two birds with one stone," usually in the form of pulling weeds from the garden to feed the sheep or chickens.

This evening's brief targetted weeding session took that to a new level. I used the small serrated hand sickle to cut clumps of smooth bromegrass that was going to seed in the garden. The clumps really need to be meticulously dug, so that every spreading rhizome is removed. But that takes a lot of time and energy. Meanwhile, I'd rather not plant more brome in the garden by allowing it to produce seeds.

Throwing the handfuls of mature brome to the sheep not only feeds the sheep, it allows them to spread the seeds in areas where I WANT brome to grow--in the sheep pen where I threw the grass, or out on pasture if they eat the seed and it passes through them to be deposited on the pasture in little fertilizer pellets. I don't know for certain that grass seeds will pass in this manner, but I do know that feeding clover or alfalfa seed in the animals' grain ration is a time-honored way of overseeding a pasture with legumes.

The sickle is a fairly specialized tool that I don't use often. I bought it to help harvest wheat by hand at a friend's farm, with the idea that I'd grow some of my own grain someday. And I did grow rye grain one year, but harvested that with a home-made bow cradle on the long-handled scythe. The photo shows my "brush blade" Austrian scythe with aluminum snath, the much smaller sickle, and my Felco pruners for size comparison.

The sickle is not actually swung in order to cut. It is used to gently yet efficiently draw a cluster of stalks into my left hand. Then the sickle is held stationary while the left hand pulls the clump of stalks back against the sharp serrated blade, severing them. The handful can then be carefully placed in a tub or basket. Swinging the blade at the hand-held stalks would be far too dangerous. Even when used properly, a leather glove on the left hand is an excellent safety precaution...though for the very limited task of cutting brome heads, I didn't bother to go in search of the gloves.

A new tool on the farm that I'm enjoying very much in the context of hand-weeding or cutting grass seed is the fabric and spiral wire "barrels" that compress for storage. They are light and easy to carry through the garden as I cut or pull weeds.

The down side is having to break a long-standing habit: When rising from the kneeling position I use for hand weeding, or even just skootching myself forward a few feet to the next clump of weeds, I am used to leaning just a little on my usual 5-gallon plastic bucket. I didn't even realize this until I unthinkingly did the same thing with the collapsible fabric barrel--and landed flat on my face as it collapsed under my hand!

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