Reed harvest with the scythe

A project by the Styrian State Bird Guard, ARGE natur & land and scythe teachers

NATURA 2000  Furtner Teich area, Neumarkt in Styria

In the Furtner Teich European Protected Area, five men are embarking on an unusual project. Two scythe teachers, the European conservation area supervisor (Office of the Styrian State Government) and two from the ARGE natur & land. You will test which scythe models are well suited for the winter harvesting of reeds.

Reed is a geophyte and occurs in the reeds of standing and flowing water, but also in bogs and broken forests. It is very vital and multiplies vegetatively via rhizomes or rooting stalk knots.
The removal of the previous reed stalks takes place here in the mouth of the Adendorferbach for ecological reasons to keep muddy banks open, which are otherwise no longer available at the Furtner Teich.
In earlier times, reeds and sour grass were often harvested as bedding material for livestock farming, thus ensuring that flat bank areas or swampy meadows were kept open. As a result, the birds had open floors for foraging. Today reeds are also harvested. Mainly for privacy mats or plaster bases in earth building. It is also becoming increasingly important as a renewable insulation material that is abundant in the region.
The dead stalks are only harvested in winter when the ground is frozen and a sufficiently thick ice cover has grown on the water or the ground is frozen. As a rule with machines, which, however, harbor the risk of severe environmental damage in the water and represent a not inconsiderable noise pollution and irritation for the local fauna. Overwinter at the Furtner Teich e.g. Common snipe, snipe, kingfisher, moorhen, and waterballs were observed until late in December. Therefore, open water areas or river sections should not be disturbed too much in winter.

Reeds recycling and high ecological standards are not a contradiction in terms

A project report by Erwin Zachl, scythe teacher and certified permaculture designer

The Idea ...

Everyone and everything ready to start!of the two scythe teachers, to move the reeds with scythes, was enthusiastically received by the head of the bird protection center at the Furtner Teich, Peter Hochleitner. Hochleitner and Erwin Zachl had originally exchanged an old Scottish engraving in which reeds and cattails were mowed with a scythe. This gave rise to the idea of ​​optimizing the necessary reed mowing work with scythes from a technical and ecological point of view.
At the end of January the ice sheet was about 20cm thick and perfectly stable. The trial project was started.
An area of ​​about 350m² was to be mown, the reeds brought to the shore for further use and stored temporarily.


The Base

Preselected types of scythesTwelve different scythe models were selected. They should be subjected to an endurance test. The old reed stems from the previous year are between three and eight millimeters thick and woody - but very brittle.
This woodiness and the diameter of the stalks are a challenge for the scythe leaf. A normal garden scythe can't do that.
ASo different, more or less heavy scythe blade models were selected, but also a normal grass scythe.
Mounting the scythes on the reflecting iceMowing was carried out using the adjustable standard throws. An unusual situation for the two scythe teachers. It is a first to go out with the scythes at the end of January. Both have a bit of experience mowing very long (over two meters) rye straw.
Reeds are usually higher than two meters. The stalks are not as narrow as grass or grain, between eight and twelve centimeters between the stalks. After it hadn't rained for weeks and there was no snow, it was completely dry. However, the reeds do not lignify very hard, are brittle and are relatively easy to mow.
The mowing sounds are new. Hard rattling of the scythe through the crop is audible.
Initially, spreading the stalks for a reasonable mowing was a bit tedious. Accustomed to maintaining a very wide mowing of two meters and more, the creation of rows of crop turned out to be impossible. Narrow mowing lines, about 1/2 - 1 meter wide, proved to be practical. From then on, the creation of rows of lines worked to some extent. Nevertheless, the entire crop was lying on the ground in a mess.
The intended mowing performance of around 300-350 m² was accomplished by the four mowers in less than an hour. So four man hours!
The reeds are well above man heightWith the brushcutter, one person needs around 1.5 days, or 12 man hours, for the same area output. The comparison is somewhat inaccurate because there are no exact records of working hours.
Apart from the enormous time saving, the mowing with the scythe was very quiet and ecologically completely harmless.
If you compare the costs and maintenance of a brushcutter with the maintenance costs of a scythe, the scythe is a clear winner!
A good scythe costs around € 130.00, with appropriate service equipment a maximum of € 200.00. With proper care, a scythe can be used for several decades.
A good brushcutter costs at least € 500.00. In addition, there is the appropriate protective equipment, which does not cost less than € 300.00. Even with the best care and expensive maintenance, a brushcutter is defective after 50 working hours.

Ice, snow & warmthTool transport over the reflecting ice

The weather was at its best for the trial. Bright sunshine and pleasant temperatures. Temperature measured at around 12 noon, one meter above the ice: 24°C.
Another advantage for the work was the complete absence of snow, the very dry reeds and the smooth ice surface. This fact made it easier to collect the crop and transport it to the bank.

Preliminary conclusionMower breakfast at the ornithological station

Overall, reed mowing was a relatively relaxing activity. If several people take part, nobody is overwhelmed or stressed. The completely flat work surface did the rest. Except for the smooth ice, where there were problems when mounting the scythes or sharpening (there was no iron pin at the top of the throw - to stand on), as well as when walking over the ice, there were no restrictions when working.
Another advantage was that there was no snow at the time of the mowing and therefore sections that were not under water could be worked down to the ground. The reed mowing was basically a lot of fun for all participants. A fact that the scythe teachers also know from other mowing projects, where it can be exhausting (mountain mower).
The traditional mower breakfast had shifted a bit backwards. Therefore it tasted all the better. The findings of the morning were discussed in a very friendly manner and the important parameters were recorded.

Transport of the crop

In the absence of empirical data, the reeds were initially transported to the shore rather stupidly.
There were not enough tools available. Mown reeds can hardly be mastered with rakes. Much better with forks.
At the beginning, a quantity of about 200kg was heaped onto a plastic tarpaulin and pulled to the bank. Thanks to the spikes that Hansjörg had put on his shoes, this was difficult, but still reasonably satisfactory.
However, moving the bulky crop several times was not an efficient solution for removal. Finally, a very large pile of reeds was piled up. Estimated about 400kg.
Two or three of these heaps could easily be pushed 200 meters up to the bank with forks. The mirror-smooth ice made the job a lot easier.Transporting reeds by shifting

Evaluation of the scythe leaves

The different scythe models were evaluated according to different criteria:

  1. Weight characteristics and flywheel mass
  2. Cutting behavior and cutting result
  3. edge-holding
  4. Handling of the model resulting from the length

A detailed evaluation can be requested from the author.
First of all, the different models were used as impartially as possible in order to determine the handling. Right from the start it turned out that the scythe leaves had to be placed very closely in the circle. At least 8-10cm inside! The longer the sheet, the smaller the compass must be. With some scythes, the hammers had to be trimmed to such an extent that this tight circle was even possible.
In the following round it became clear that shorter scythes gave better results.
With the exception of a very thinly forged Falci scythe, all scythes had a good edge retention, including the 60cm grass scythe.
The heavy, thick garden scythes from Ofner, which were not cut, but cut, as well as the broad leaves "German Reich format", with beard widths up to 12cm, cut very well. The large flywheel was positive here.
The Scandinavian scythe was definitely too long, although the cutting performance was excellent, but due to the length of 70cm it was not easy to control.
In the end, the two favorites of all four mowers were the “felt” light standard sprinkler with a length of 50 cm and a weight of 529 g, and the Posthorn grinding scythe with a length of 50 cm and a weight of 522 g, which was more likely to be “heavy”.
For the test, a brand-new sprinkler from Schröckenfux was used, the grinder was first pre-ground with a water-cooled circular grinding stone and then finely ground with a diamond pad. For the upcoming refinement of this test, the most curved grinding scythe is selected and made "sharp".

2nd test date, February 3

Three scythe models were therefore shortlisted:

  1. Scatter and perennial scythe 50cmThe classic scatter and perennial scythe 50cm, a robust, relatively wide scythe blade, which, thanks to its brevity, adapts very well to unevenness. However, it is important to pay attention to a very narrow angel.
  2. A short grinding scythe 50cm that is based on the American form. The bottom of the sheet is forged hollow. In the first case, a model that is relatively straight. The cutting edge is only ground and cannot be narrowed by hand.
  3. Grinding scythes 50 cmThe same grinding scythe as above, in this second case a model that is strongly curved. The cutting edge is also only ground and cannot be narrowed by hand.

The Test

First, all models were placed with the maximum adjustable compass inside.

  1. maximum inside
  2. neutral, almost to zero.

A wedge was used in all settings. Crops: reeds, sedge, cattails.

Scatter and perennial scythe 50cm:

  1. Good flywheel, bad threading. Rather poor performance, unsatisfactory mowing line.
  2. Well balanced flywheel. Very good tracking. Very good performance, nice line. Both times sharpened with Bergamasca natural stone.

Grinding scythe 50cm „straight model“:

  1. Good flywheel. Excellent cutting behavior, good mowing line
  2. As expected, no good cutting behavior - "it pushes".

Grinding scythe 50cm „curved model“:

  1. Good flywheel. Difficult to manage requires a lot of effort. Just doesn't fit. Unacceptable mowing line. However, the setting with the maximum compass inwards is an advantage when mowing in the undergrowth, especially if there is very little space to get out. This model is preferred in undergrowth or narrow clearings.
  2. Unexpectedly easy to use with little effort. Flywheel mass much better distributed. Very good mowing line. In the undergrowth and in narrow clearings, this setting shows clear shortcomings - "threading" badly.

Both models were sharpened with a Bergamasca natural sandstone.

Result and impression

All three scythe models are very well suited for use in reeds, sedge and cattails. Different settings and consideration of the purposes are a prerequisite. If these are observed, excellent mowing performance can be achieved.
The difference to machines/motor-driven devices is significant.

  • Better mowing performance (area)
  • Hardly any noise pollution (irritation of the fauna)
  • Kno environmental pollution (oil, petrol)
  • Significantly better price/performance ratio
  • Relaxed work, also possible in a group.

The Team:

  • Peter Hochleitner, Guardian of Europe, Office of the Styrian State Government
  • Gerhard Fötschl, Chairman ARGE natur & land (
  • Klaus Steinbrugger, Employee ARGE natur & land
  • Hansjörg Rinner, scythe Association Austria (
  • Erwin Zachl, Scythe Teacher (