NS Scything Master Takes a Swing at Nasty Knotweed

By: Jillian Bellefontaine

Oliver Murphy, a 76-year-old West Chezzetcook man, has been perfecting the art of scything for as long as he can remember. Scything is the art of mowing and trimming grass and plants. It is done with a repeated swinging motion from one side of the body to the other while holding the blade of the scythe quite close to the ground.


Growing up, Murphy quickly learned this old art from his father, who had also been scything his whole life. They fed the hay they scythed to the family’s cattle. For about the last 12 years, Murphy has enjoyed participating in the scything competition every summer at the New Ross Museum here in Nova Scotia.

When asked if he had a preference between a straight-handled scythe and a curved-handled scythe, Murphy said he had never bothered to try a straight-handled one. He learned on a curved-handled scythe, and has stuck to what he knows his whole life. 

Oliver Murphy, one of Nova Scotia’s finest scything masters, took a whack at some Japanese knotweed at the Deanery Project in Ship Harbour on July 5th 2017. (Photo: Jill Bellefontaine)

He emphasized that a sharp blade was the key to successful scything. “When cutting grass, you can usually continue for about an hour before having to stop and sharpen your blade,” Murphy said. “But cutting anything thicker than grass, you will need to sharpen your blade every 30 minutes or less. Having a sharp blade is one of the most important things about scything. Without a sharp blade, the job won’t get done properly.” If you’re interested in taking up scything, Murphy said his go to spots for new blades were Lee Valley Tools and Halifax Seed.


Knotweed: According to the World Conservation Union, knotweed is one of the top 100 worst invasive species in the world. Quite often this aggressive and destructive plant is mistaken for a type of bamboo because of its thick and herbaceous stem. Although native to Eastern Asia, knotweed is in full force in many parts of Canada, and is widespread along the Eastern Shore.

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