The Time of the Grass

The end of August marks the start of one of the biggest jobs of the year: cutting the grass bank. The wild flowers are over, and may have had a chance to seed, and if I leave the cutting much longer, the grass will die back and collapse, making it harder to cut.

If I had a cow, I might be tempted to make hay (though it’s a rare year when it is dry and sunny enough). But I don’t, so I have to burn the grass. There’s only one way to burn tons of long, damp grass, and that is to make a smother. The theory is much like charcoal burning – you let the grass smoulder in a low-oxygen environment, so that it burns slowly at the bottom of the fire, while the heat dries out the layers above until they too start to char. They key is to start with a really hot fire.I’ve started with dry logs, and bolstered the fire with some bits of old dead spruce. These will burn slowly, a bit like charcoal, and keep a red hot heart to the fire. Now it’s just a matter of cutting enough grass to cover the fire and keep most of the oxygen out.When you first pile on the grass, vast clouds of smoke pour out (luckily there are no close neighbours). In fact, most of this cloud is steam, and by the time the fire is properly damped down, there will just be a harmless wisp.

With proper management, I shouldn’t have to relight the fire for the ten days or so it will take to finish the bank. It’s important to cut enough grass to have a 24 hour reserve, but not so much that the piles start to ferment. It’s useful if the grass is fairly damp – as it usually is. Too dry, and it burns faster than I can cut and rake. Too wet – and I have to wait for the fire to catch up with me.Four hours’ work, and my trees begin to look as though they are in an arboretum. I cut the bank using a blade on the end of my trusty Stihl. Strimming with gut just leaves a mess and has no impact on the moss. It’s slow, heavy work, but worth it.Plus it’s nice to have a tame volcano in the garden, and the air scented with the smell of grass smoke.

10 thoughts on “The Time of the Grass

  1. Good heavens I turn my back for one moment and you construct a volcano. But the slope looks lovely–the evergreen trees are beautiful and do stand out after your mowing. I think I would be making compost piles of the grass though. It would compost so quickly. Still, nice volcano.

    • I tried composting it once – but I didn’t work. The stalks of the long grasses didn’t break down at all quickly and I was left with a kind of black straw surrounded by mush. It was seriously unattractive. Also it didn’t generate enough heat to kill the grass seeds, so I had black straw and mush with germinating grass on top. There’s no known garden use for that!

  2. Now I understand that big white cloud I can see from Venice too… It’s you!
    Couldn’t you just mulch the grass you cut? It looks like a lot of work to do instead…

  3. We have similar work to do in the coming week. We are hoping the weather might permit the making of hay as we have a donkey and three goats who would be well pleased.

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