Friday, October 9, 2009

A bullrake

In the old days, you cut your hay with a scythe. The scythe is a marvellous tool. See, for instance, the videos and pictures on :: Scythe Supply :: Scythe blades, snaths, equipment.
I have no hay to cut, but I do have a great deal of brush. So, after much soul-searching I bought a scythe with a brush blade on it (45 cm long) from the above link. Their kit comes with scythe blade, custom-fit European-style handle, a peening kit (anvil and dies, you supply the hammer), instructions, and The Scythe Book by David Tresemer and Peter Vido. This was definitely a Good Idea (tm). Oh, yes, a whetstone and a waterproof sheath (called a Steinfass in Drew Langsner's book Handmade). The stone is a wet stone, so your sheath must be waterproof.

It takes a bit of doing to master the thing, and I do not consider myself an expert scytheperson. See some of the videos that are lined form, above.
But I will say this: I have tried everything to remove brush, short of a brush hog (USD 5000, more or less) mounted on a tractor. I have tried machetes, or what passes for a machete in this country. They are not real machetes, they are long flat knives with no backhook. After half an hour my back aches. I have tried the motorized trimmers with Lexan blades. After half an hour I feel like a milkshake. They vibrate, make an awful racket, and run out of gas all too soon. And one big sapling breaks the blade. A lawn mower is totally outclassed by the Alaska brush, a mixture of fireweed, small birches, small aspen, and the never-ending alder. And you have to push the blasted thing. No way.

With a scythe, I can go for two hours and feel tired but not exhausted. So far so good, but what's this bullrake thing? Well, the scythe piles the brush up in neat windrows. Now you have to do something with the windrows. For this we use a bullrake.

A bullrake is just a very large rake. This one was made up out of bits and pieces of logs I had lying around, shaved on the shaving horse, of course, and whacked into holes drilled into the crosspiece. I have a double handle on this thing, because it is heavy; I also left lots of room on the tines on top because I thought it would behave like a garden leaf rake. It didn't.

What it does instead is to roll the brush windrows up onto cylinders. So I don't need the tines on top; I will cut them off. Sometime. So now I had these long tubes of "straw." What to do with them? Why, build a compost pile, of course!
According to Eliot Coleman, straw is the best material for a compost heap, because it decomposes eventually and all the air space promotes circulation, and I think this is pure serendipity.

The bullrake is another example of a tool that has been (almost) lost. In the old days you would have had many of them, for your crew to get in the hay. Nowadays nobody knows what a bullrake is, because hay is made with giant tractors and equally gigantic equipment that produces vast amounts of low-quality hay. It is low quality because it is not allowed to dry properly ("tedded" is the word). It is not allowed to dry properly because the machinery doesn't always work if you do. The more old-fashioned your equipment, the better the hay.

In my case I'm after brush clearing, but it's nice to get straw for free. Oh, yes, and you can use your bull rake to gather your grains, such as oats, after you harvest them with your scythe. Plans for the future. My plans (unlike Darth Spader's) are not yet complete.

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