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College Garden Update by Jane Gleeson

I confess that despite being committed to sustainable garden practices I love the look and smell of a freshly cut lawn…..terrible for wildlife I know.

Luckily at Schumacher my guilt is limited since we have a lot of long grass; in fact a grass snake was spotted by one of the apprentices working in the veg garden this summer. In the evening there are abundant areas of serenading grasshoppers that have made the long grass their home.

Grass management is an important part of tending the land around the college. There are several pushes and pulls. I am drawn to the least fuel thirsty ways of managing the grass and need to balance this with time constraints around regular mowing; noise pollution; favouring wildlife habitats and weed control. Furthermore there is the satisfaction with the finished look, and how this varies depending on tools used, people’s skills in using them and general expectations of what mown grass should look like.

sustainable horticulture students tending the lawnIn the absence of grazing livestock we are dependent on mowing; but by what means? 
The areas we do mow we have managed this season by scything or hand propelled mowers and grass shears. It has been hard work but rewarding. The freedom from cables, which are too easy to tangle around ones feet whilst mowing, has been great; as well as the lack of noise pollution and fossil fuel consumption.

I have been very impressed with the two hand propelled mowers and what they can achieve. They are quiet too – though as they start to wear they are getting noisier; but it’s all relative. We ask terrible amounts of our two mowers and not surprisingly after one season they are not cutting as well. Having enquired about the cost of sending them off for sharpening I was somewhat aghast at what would need to be regular maintenance costs. However help was forthcoming in the guise of and experienced tool sharpener Eric Hodges.

Eric came to the College to show our Apprentices in Sustainable Horticulture and myself the skill and craft of tool care, in particular sharpening. It is clear that Eric loves good workmanship and demonstrated that thoughtful and informed care of tools makes working with them more efficient and enjoyable. It is so refreshing in a world of built in obsolescence to be taught to do something that helps counter this – and to feel empowered in the process.

I am looking forward to mowing now that the machines are back to razor sharp cutting.

We had a similar experience while being taught scything and peening by Alistair Inglis – who turned me from an awkward clumsy hacker into a smoother more efficient mower. I have a good way togarden tools in the schumacher college garden go but again feel so much more confident and enabled to scythe.

As for noise pollution, Scything makes the hand mowers seem loud – the gentle swish of the scythe blade cutting the grass is hypnotic and soothing to the soul.

The grass we do cut is all collected and much of it ends us as part of the deep litter system in the chicken run. Our flock love it and jump enthusiastically and impatiently up onto the barrow before you get a chance to empty it. The deep litter system is one of permaculture’s many elegant ideas. It makes the quality of life for the chickens better since they are not roaming in muddy bare ground and the litter attracts a host of invertebrates for them to feed on. It allows us to make great manure enriched compost when the litter is raked up as the chickens alternate between runs.

One decision we have to make soon is how we will manage the grass in the new field we are taking on – in it we will be developing a food forest and agroforestry system with alleys of crops between fruit trees. Trees take time to grow and in the meantime we will have a lot of grass…

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