Dr Dines’ Meadow Making Adventure: pt 5

Arrival of the meadow making machines...

September 25 2015 - 07:42

They say that fortune favours the brave. As the machines arrived early one morning, I had to take a very deep breath. “We’re doing the right thing” I told myself.  The big day had arrived. It was time to scalp our meadow.

The sheep and cattle had done a fantastic job grazing the grass down, but much more drastic action was now needed. Experience making meadows elsewhere has shown us that, as long as the soil isn’t too fertile and there aren’t too many ‘weeds’ in the soil seed bank, the harder you hit the pasture at the start of the restoration the better the results in the end. Over the years a thick layer of ‘thatch’ had built up in our field – a deep mat of interwoven dead grass forming a barrier over the soil. We needed to remove as much of this thatch as possible and break open the soil surface so that seed from the Coronation Meadow can find bare soil in which to germinate. So we moved the livestock into the ungrazed upper field, where they tucked into thick grass, and unloaded the machinery.

Boys love their toys, and so do many grown men. Andrew Kehoe of Kehoe Countryside – the contractors doing the work for us - certainly had lots of toys. There were shiny new tractors, a set of Einbock harrows, a mini-digger, a muck-spreader and quite a few trailers. The most important machine, though, was a bit of kit I’d not seen before – a Ryetec flail mower. Mounted on a tractor, this was manoeuvred into position at the top of the meadow. A few seconds later the peace was shattered as it roared into life, and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck.

The Ryetec is basically a large hedge cutter that sits on the ground. Pulled across the field by the tractor, a cylinder of heavy duty cast iron hammers rotates at high speed, ripping and cutting away the grass down to just above soil level. All the material is collected in a hopper. I was astonished at the job it did. The thick grass sward was replaced by what I can only liken to a heavily warn-out rugby pitch, with grass less than an inch high and lots of bare soil. Needless to say, the hopper was full after one length of the meadow and it tipped out a huge pile of dirty grass. I gulped. Where on Earth it would all this material go? There was no time to worry about that though – the Ryetec was off again!

As the Ryetech worked across one side of the field, the Einbock harrow was manoeuvred into place on the other. This did a slightly different job. Dragged behind a tractor, its sprung metal tines ripped at the ground, pulling out the thick thatch and tearing open the soil. On long grass it collected a huge amount of material, but didn’t quite get the effect we were after.

The harrow really came into its own though when it worked behind the Ryetec. Here, it left deep scratches in the earth, perfect for the seeds to drop into.

By the end of the day, our grassy field had been utterly transformed. “We want lots of brown earth” Andrew had said that morning, and that’s exactly what we had. Importantly though, the grass hadn’t been simply been stripped. The roots are still there, under the soil surface, and will grow back. It’s just that when it does, it won’t be as thick. There will be room for the wildflowers to grow now.


  • Andy Pearson
    September 26 2015 - 15:05

    What a terrific project Trevor and thanks for going to the trouble of writing it all up. I’m really enjoying reading the blog and look forward to each instalment. Good luck!

  • Mrs. j. Collier
    September 27 2015 - 04:48

    Wonderful story, I have really enjoyed reading it. It reminded of the very many days, some sixty to seventy years ago, when we holidayed on my relatives’ farm. AND an excellent project.

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