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  • Writer's pictureMarsh Farm Glamping

Chapter Two continued... Land Management 101

Once the interior decoration was complete, we put our thoughts to how to tackle the land, which by now was beyond out of control. We had no gardening experience let alone anything resembling land management skills. And I mean none. When friends would visit they’d walk around the garden exclaiming,

‘Oh! How beautiful! Is that a lilac?’

          ‘Umm, no idea.’

'And that - that's a Japanese anemone, right?'

‘Nope, still no idea.’

            ‘Isn’t that echinacea?’

            ‘Dunno.’

            ‘Oh look at that gorgeous flower. What is it?’

            ‘Look Love, I really have no idea. If it’s a dock, nettle or ragwort we’re golden. Otherwise, forget it.’


But we made a plan. Leon decided to start by mowing the extremely small patch of garden outside the house with the electric mower. Really, out of nine and a half acres, it’s about five metres squared. An hour later he stormed past me into the house, hit the computer and ordered an all singing, all dancing, self-cleaning ride-on mower. This was duly delivered and he set to work transforming the large flat field at the back of the house into a thing of beauty. We renamed it 'The Bowling Green'.


This had worked fantastically! Problem solved, how easy is this?! we thought. Ahahahaha, sorted!


'Take the ride on and go sort out the Donkey Paddock, the orchard, the tree walk, the ‘other’ paddock and the remaining eight acres,’ I told him. ‘Then we can sit back and admire our beautiful, well maintained land whilst sipping a glass of wine.’


All our fears and been for nowt. We could mower the fields in no time at all. Why on earth were people talking about mini tractors, toppers, tillers, flail mowers and all those other pieces of expensive kit, when a ride-on mower could do it for you! Seriously, we’d been here a week and we’d worked that one out already. We’d had to, really, as we had no idea what a topper, tiller or flail mower actually did.



A mown field with trees in the background
The Bowling Green in all its glorious green glory

It turned out, however, that we hadn’t worked it out, not so, not at all. Madam, you are in fact quite erroneous in your assumptions. The grass had grown to such a length, and I’m talking waist height here, that there was absolutely, just not happening, forget it, no way that the ride-on could get anywhere near it. This was a disaster. We needed to cut the grass to a level that the ride-on mower could cope with. The irony. Proper, old-school, irony too. Not like ‘a black fly in your Chardonnay’ irony. That’s not ironic. That’s just irritating.


How on earth were we going to cut the grass to the relevant height though? It was then that an odd conversation that I'd had a few months back popped into my head. I had been at an auction house and the chap labelling my rug, no comments, it was an actual rug, mentioned that they hold the annual Green Scythe Fair just down the road from us. This annual event aims to honour and extend the glorious art of scything. They have a scything championship and even a 'scythe versus brush-cutter' competition where the scythe always wins (check out the awesome video here: SCYTHE vs BRUSH-CUTTER VIDEO). At the time we had a bit of a chortle about his. How Bohemian. How Somerset. How ignorant of us.


I had in fact read about scything as an efficient method of land management in John Seymour's seminal tome, The Complete Guide To Self-Sufficiency, but at the time I had been picturing a sickle and couldn't for the life of me work out how one could sickle five acres on one's hands and knees in anything approaching an efficient manner. Coincidentally, a couple of weeks after moving in, a post popped up on one of the smallholders’ pages online about a free scything workshop that was being held locally.


I immediately signed up for the course and then spent the next two weeks strutting around the farm, and whilst Leon would shake his head over the impossible task of clearing the orchard, the Donkey Paddock and the 'other' paddock, I would announce, 'No problem, I'll scythe that,’ to his great amusement and barely disguised scepticism.



A scythe leaning up against a shed with pink roses to the right.
Not a sickle, a scythe!

A week later and I had completed the course, bought a shiny new scythe and some bits and pieces (still not entirely sure what they’re for but ho hum they looked cool at the time), had promised to compete in the women’s scything championship the following year and, arriving home, had set to work in the orchard.


It turns out that scything is not only enormously enjoyable, but  also an incredibly therapeutic way to spend a few hours. It's much more efficient than the strimmer, and doesn't require fuel, goggles, a face-plate or steel capped boots. You could do it dungarees and flip-flops. If you owned any dungarees. It’s virtually silent, apart from the gentle, recurring swish swish of the blade, and much more wildlife friendly as having more warning of your approach their chances of being brutally severed in half are, well, halved.




A woman standing in an orchard holding a scythe
Me and my shiny new scythe, tackling the orchard.

I was hooked. I started getting up at the crack of dawn, just to scythe the paddocks. In no time at all (a mild exaggeration) I had scythed the whole of the orchard, the Donkey Paddock and, lo and behold, the 'other' paddock too.


‘Do you think we could turn the grass in the orchard into hay?’ I asked Leon once it was all chopped and laying haphazardly in non-uniform and embarrassingly irregular piles in the orchard.

         

  ‘I guess so,’ he said, ‘it’s hot enough, you could give it a go.’

 

Note the careful use of the word ‘you’ in that sentence. So I did. But it meant dragging all of the cut grass in the orchard, of which there was more than grains of sand in the ocean, into as thin a layer as possible and leaving it to dry. After a day or so it needed turning, and then turning again a few days after that. We only had a garden rake and a spade at this point. Oh, and a wheelbarrow. A small one. With a wonky wheel.


After a few days I gathered the whole lot up by hand, tied string around piles of it, wheelbarrowed it into the field shelter and stacked it against some pallets. This sounds like menial, nay trivial, work but it wasn’t. It was exhausting. Rewarding, but totally exhausting. But it was done! Hoorah, we had hay! And quite a lot of it. We had no livestock to feed it to, but still, we had a lot of hay (and I had a nasty case of tennis elbow. A pure coincidence, I'm sure...)


A man and a dog in a field shelter with piles of hay
Leon pitchforking some of the beautiful shiny new hay into the field shelter with Mack as Chief Supervisor

I then discovered that unless it was bone dry, and stacked correctly, it could spontaneously burst into flame and burn the surrounding shelter down. Another two hours later and I had restacked all of it, whereupon I set to, diligently testing the internal temperature of each stack, each day, to make sure it wasn’t over heating.


About a week later we discovered some hemlock in one of the fields. Deadly. If eaten by livestock it can be fatal. I couldn’t, hand on heart, be one hundred percent sure that there had been no hemlock when I had scythed the orchard, as we hadn’t been aware of its existence or potential toxicity at that point. Newbies. Tsk! The result. We had to burn the hay. All of it.


A close up of a hemlock flower
Hemlock - looks VERY similar to cow parsley but it's really rather poisonous. Image by dference from Pixabay

The good news was, though, that we could finally get the mower in, neaten up my less than straight scything efforts, and get the pasture under control. Now we just had to tackle the other eight acres.


N.B. If you are interested in foraging for wild food, do make sure you know what you're doing, and learn how to identify hemlock from all the other umbellifers such as cow parsley that are out there. Here's a link to totallywild.co.uk to get you started



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