The Scything Handbook – Book Review

I’ve recently been studying differently agricultural methods and a no-till approach where crops/vegetation are harvested or cut back but the remainder of the plant is left to decompose back into the ground was one method that I was particularly struck by – so much so, that I’ve actually done this using a sickle (a shorter one-handed version of a scythe) in our vegetable beds to over-winter. I’ve taken this a step further by using the vegetation as a mulch and covering with compost and sowing green manure seeds as well.

So I was delighted to receive a copy of Ian Miller’s The Scything Handbook to review, it felt rather serendipitous. Whilst I may not have a large meadow to mow or grain to harvest and the lawns are definitely Sandy’s domain, I’m very interested to see how a return to more traditional gardening methods can benefit both the gardener, the land and the wildlife around them.


The blurb: 

A book about how to use the scythe, why one should use it, and what it can be used for. A scythe is one of the most elegant and efficient hand tools available. it is ideal for harvesting many types of crops and beats a strimmer hands down in time tests. There is a graceful, rhythmic quality to scything that once mastered can provide the ultimate mind and body workout.

In this book, Ian Miller teaches you how to scythe from scratch. You will learn about assembly, perfecting the stroke, uses and blade care. A scythe can be used for mowing the lawn, harvesting small grain and cutting back wildflower meadows without disrupting wildlife. The hay and straw can be used in the garden for mulching and composting or for food and bedding for household pets while small grains can be used for making bread and feeding poultry.

This book will delight all gardeners, allotmenteers and smallholders who are tired of their noisy, heavy, fuel-dependent machines and looking for better ways to take care of themselves and their land.

  • Quiet, efficient way to cut grass and grain
  • Ideal for awkward spots that machinery can’t reach
  • Fuel-free and environmentally friendly
  • Rewarding mind and body workout
  • The first new book on scything in 35 years

Ian Miller was a professional musician before exchanging life in a punk rock band for organic farming. He has a degree in environmental science and was introduced to scything while interning on a biodynamic farm in Austria. He took a class at the Austrian Scythe Association and it’s been a big part of his life ever since. He has worked for the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa where he looked after rare cultivars of vegetables, grains, legumes and flowers and managed their historic orchard. He is currently building an off-grid homestead inIowa where he will continue to use a scythe for hay-making and harvesting grain.

How did I get on?

Whilst this book is neatly segmented into chapters that will allow the reader to dip in and out as required, this is a book that I’m going to read cover to cover. It’s full of lovely little nuggets from the Tolstoy quote at the start to the sourdough recipe at the back and all the other little gems in between.

It’s pretty comprehensive with plenty of diagrams and methodologies and all written in a simple easy to follow style that anyone can pick up. Not only that but it’s a truly educational piece from the history of scything through to it’s relevance in modern day agriculture on a domestic or larger scale.

I think I have a little bit of a lifestyle crush on Ian Miller and am very much looking forward to losing myself fully in his world.

The Scything Handbook on Amazon

An Introduction to Bee Keeping with Brian Pool

I’ve long been interested in beekeeping and although we don’t have enough land to have hives of our own I’d still been wanting to find out more so when we got the opportunity as part of our MSc Gastronomy course, I was on it like a buzzy bonnet.

Brian Pool is a commercial beekeeper and as it turns out he lives just a few miles from me in the Scottish Borders. As well as having hives across many sites including Edinburgh Zoo, on Edinburgh city-centre rooftops, at The Secret Herb Garden, Stobo, Biggar, on The Pentland hills and East Lothian, he also runs bee keeping classes. We visited him at Colstoun Cookery School just outside Haddington in East Lothian for an Introduction to bee keeping.

Photo'bummed' by a bee!
Photo’bummed’ by a bee!

Brian has been keeping bees since he was 5 years old and is a 3rd generation beekeeper and he clearly knows his stuff, the day was incredibly interesting as we were taken through the activity and life cycle of honey bees – wow, is all I can say! Some of it was pretty mind blowing:

  • A Queen lays 1500-2000 eggs a day & lives up to 5 years
  • A female worker bee lives 6 weeks & produces just 1 teaspoon of honey in that time.

We covered all aspects from the components of a beehive and different types of hives, different types of bees, best plants for foraging bees throughout the year, swarm control and colony management, disease and pests management.

Colstoun Cookery School whip up a great lunch
Colstoun Cookery School whip up a great lunch

We also got to get suited and booted to visit the bee hives where Brian prepared the hives for the Winter season and removed the honey crop so that we could take it back and try the honeycomb. There was something incredibly dreamy about the sound of the bees in the Autumn sunshine, it made me feel quite drowsy.

This was a really special day, made even more so by the spectacular al fresco lunch that Fiona at Colstoun Cookery School put on for us. I so wish we could have bees too, we really need a bigger garden…