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Monday, March 1, 2010

Chronicles of a New Garden: a timeless tool

by Francesca

My single greatest gardening discovery is the sickle, which in fact folks around here have used since prehistoric times. I bought my sickle about 10 years ago, after noticing that all the village women carried one when they headed out to their fields and gardens. My elderly neighbor taught me how to use it and keep it sharp, and it's been my faithful gardening companion ever since: it's the one tool I always have with me when I'm out in the garden (I already posted about this ancient tool here).


The sickle is one-handed tool with a wooden handle and a long curved blade that is primarily used to cut grass, but can be used in weeding and to cut other vegetation, even brambles and small branches. The curved blade is handy for gathering up whatever you've cut and carrying it away in bundles, while its point is useful for digging out tough roots.

The most efficient way to use a sickle is simply to slice through the vegetation with a one-handed stroke, but I've never quite mastered that, so I typically hold the vegetation at the top with my left hand (shielded for safety by a leather work glove), while swinging the sickle with my right hand.


This weekend, I used it to clear the back wall of our new garden plot, which had been overgrown by ivy that was also invading the terrace. The sickle goes hand in hand with a sharpening stone: the sharper the blade, the easier the cutting. To cut ivy, which is relatively woody, I needed to sharpen my sickle quite frequently as I worked.


ivy cut back

It took me about 20 minutes to cut the ivy back to an acceptable level. I don't plan to remove it completely, though: my aim isn't to destroy the natural landscape with my gardening. Using a sickle instead of a power tool allows me to cut selectively, preserving a healthy relationship between garden and nature.


Tameson said...

Sounds like a great tool. I've gotta see if I can find me one of those.

Julze said...

I recall my dad using a sickle when I was a child (in the 70's) I wonder if he still has it...

nicola@which name? said...

oh my goodness, francesca. i know of the sickle, but don't own one, and don't even know if they sell them readily here. but i certainly could have used one as i tackled my yard today. i should have taken a "before" photo. i didn't realize it was quite the disaster it indeed was. and the compost is overflowing.

Joyce said...

The sickle looks like a very cool tool. We have a vine out back that comes back every year no matter what we do with it the year before. Hmmm... I wonder if this little sickle will take care of it once and for all. xo

Goddert said...

Great to see someone using a sickle. We used to call it a "reaping hook" and used it on the farm when I was a kid (in the '50s) in Australia.

You don't seem to have mentioned how one usually uses it to cut grass, and I'm wondering whether the technique is different there. People here used a backhanded motion, bending over or squatting, and swinging away from their bodies (from left to right if you are righ-handed) in a wide sweeping arc that could cut a whole lot of grass in one swing.

Is that how it is used there?

Francesca said...

@Goddert - that's very interesting, it didn't even occur to me that there might be different ways of swinging a sickle! We use it the opposite way, towards the body, from right to left if you're right handed. When I cut vegetation close to the ground I squat, but my neighbors bend at the waist, leaning their left elbow on their left thigh for support.

Angie Muresan said...

I remember my Tante having sickles in her shed. We weren't allowed to play with them. She scared us by telling stories of it being the companion of Death, and if we picked it up, Death would present itself to us, and it was indeed scary to see Death.

Barbara said...

I am such a klutz I would probably slice my leg open!
But when we lived on a farm, I seem to remember there being one with a nice long handle.