A Garden Sickle for Effective Wilderness Control

A simple garden sickle will help you to control your wilderness!

The humble sickle is an effective aid against nettles and docks and other encroaching weeds from the wild. In my view, a simple garden sickle is an under-rated tool. It's actually one of the very best garden tools and deserves a place in the garden shed.

This tool has been around for millennia; flint sickles have been found in Palestine and Jordan, dating from more than 10,000 years ago. The development of the sickle played a key role in the agricultural revolution of neolithic times when grasses such as wheat and barley became staple foods for the people of the "fertile crescent".

Most gardeners who try to cultivate more than just a few square metres of land find that the task multiplies overnight almost. In springtime all the hedges and garden borders quickly become over-run with various weeds and grasses. They appear as if from nowhere - and if you live in the countryside, near to real wild spaces, the problem can be severe. Some kind of wilderness control becomes essential, therefore.

Garden strimmer or garden sickle?

The favoured solution for many people is to break out the noisy strimmer and whiz the garden back into shape. This may be OK for some purposes and the results can be impressive.

But many people find that snagged lines and constant breakages make the task less than straightforward. There's also a danger of running through a favourite plant hidden in the long grass. Strimmers can do quite a bit of damage to young trees and shrubs.

Most grass trimmers and strimmers are noisy and quite hard work to operate if the garden is already rather out of control. Brambles and other large plants can snag the line, wrapping themselves around the strimmer's stem, even pulling the garden worker off balance.

If the garden is already pretty tame, then a trimmer or small strimmer can complete the job to a high standard. But if wilderness control is what's needed, then one solution is to buy a large strimmer or even a brush cutter.

Brush cutters

Many people will probably not want to buy and use a full blown brush cutter. These machines are like big strimmers, and often have blades instead of plastic line. They need the user to wear protective gear in order to be safe - gloves, stout trousers and boots and eye protectors. (Even for small garden strimmers you are normally advised to use safety goggles and wear stout boots.)

Some large strimmers also need a special belt to be worn so that the machine can be balanced properly by being attached to it.

And of course, all these modern machines consume energy in the form of petrol or electricity. If you are interested in green living, a garden sickle makes a lot of sense as an alternative to modern powered tools.

Is a strimmer better than a sickle?

While a strimmer is a fast and effective way of clearing scrub and large weeds, it can be a bit unsubtle, to say the least. It is very easy to blast through things which you would rather have preserved. For this reason it is often unsuited to close garden work.

A petrol strimmer or brushcutter is invaluable if you have a large area to tame and not a lot of time to do it. Most tool hire shops can supply this kind of equipment.

At the other end of the range, a small electric strimmer can be useful for tidying edges and around immobile objects. I now have a rechargeable Bosch strimmer which is moderately useful for trimming and tidying. It is not powerful enough to take on the kind of weeds that a sickle will make short work of.

Personally, I prefer the peace and serenity of working with a sickle and other hand tools compared to the noise and hassle of using a strimmer. My electric strimmer is relatively quiet but I'm usually glad when it runs out of charge and peace resumes!

Clearly a strimmer or decent brushcutter is a valuable tool if you have lots to do and do not have the luxury of time. But a garden sickle is certainly worth considering and is a cheap and efficient solution to the thorny issue of wilderness control.

Here are some of the benefits of using a garden sickle or a scythette.

A sharp garden sickle - quick and easy!

A sharp garden sickle can do most of the jobs a medium sized strimmer can do. It's easy and surprisingly quick - and you get some exercise, too!

You will not usually be able to get that neat, razed to the ground look that comes from using a strimmer but otherwise you will get an effective start on your wild, out-of-control areas. Some sickles have an angled blade which makes close trimming easier.

Most herbage can be effectively chopped down in seconds with a few deft strokes of the blade. You can work around precious items such as apple trees and even small plants with reasonable precision. The work is quite good exercise and you can use your hands alternately to spread the fatigue. As you practise, you become more adept at targeting the weeds and leaving the good stuff.

Long-handled sickles are also available. When I was very young we sometimes used to try out using the scythe - under supervision. This can be a good option if you have a lot of grass to cut and don't want to use a mower. It does take perseverance to develop the necessary skills. There has been a small renaissance in scything and short courses are now available in many areas. A good quality scythe is a pricey buy on spec; better to do a course and develop an understanding of your needs before you invest.

An intermediate option is what is sometimes called a scythette. This is shaped like a scythe but is much smaller and lighter. There are also grass whips which are very similar but often have a more straight blade.

Beware of cheap tools! They are very often not worth the money as they perform poorly and break easily. I once bought a scythette which looked promising from a well-known online outlet. It was pretty much neither use nor ornament as the blade was too flimsy and did not sharpen up properly. Modern tools are often milled in such a way that getting a sharp edge is next to impossible. I now often seek out old tools for cutting and chopping as they are so much more easy to sharpen and they are usually cheaper too.

Developing your skills with the sickle

The blade should be kept as sharp as possible and you need to sharpen it up regularly as you work. A carborundum stone is easy to use to sharpen the blade. A circular motion is probably the easiest way - on both sides of the blade. People quickly develop their own individual styles when it comes to sharpening tools.

Chopping can be done with either hand, and in either direction in an arcing movement - always well away from the body.

For long, bendy grasses and the like, hold the tops with one hand while chopping low down the stems with the other.

Health and safety

Always remember to keep the blade well away from arms and legs as you work. Practise your skills so that you are not a danger to yourself or others. Keep your garden sickle out of reach of children when it is not in use. Some come with safety guards for storage.

Using a sickle can be very safe once you get the hang of it. You need to develop an acute sense of where all your limbs are in relation to it! You also need to develop your ability to cut accurately and finely, so that you chop exactly what you want - and not what you don't want.

Usually, chop low with the sickle and avoid large movements, for safety's sake.

It's best to wear strong boots and trousers and stout gloves are advisable.

When carrying the garden sickle between parts of the garden, keep the blade down and pointed backwards, away from your body.

Older children sometimes actually enjoy using a sickle! They feature in some computer games, so this may be part of the reason for their allure. It's great exercise, too, so probably should be encouraged in kids that are sufficiently mature. They can make fast work of clearing an area - and learn some skills, too.

Make sure they get adequate supervision and instruction and understand to keep well away from people and pets when using the tool.

Store sharp garden tools such as sickles and scythes in a secure place, preferably with safety guards on the blades. Never leave such tools lying on the ground where they could be tripped over. A well-sharpened blade is as dangerous as a knife.

Tough plants

The garden sickle can be sharpened again and again with a few strokes with a grindstone, so that a fast and accurate cut is achieved. A quality sickle will slice through grasses, nettles, cow parsley, docks and even brambles. It's good to have a lopper or pair of secateurs handy for cutting through larger branches and young trees.

A machete makes a useful tool for similar work. Because the handles and blades of machetes are relatively short, a garden sickle is often the better option, depending upon the nature of the task.

Once the bulk of the work is done, you can always tidy further with a strimmer or a lawn mower, if that suits you.

Where to buy a garden sickle

You can find sickles in most decent hardware or gardening stores. Car boot sales are good for used garden sickles and older designs. Amazon has sickles and garden whips available in a variety of styles. Garden whips and scythettes have longer handles and are more suited to dealing with grasses.

Most sickle blades are angled to get a closer cut to the ground. If you are strongly left-handed it may be worth seeking out a left-handed blade.

It's always worth looking for quality brands if you are buying a new sickle. Fiskars have a good reputation.


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