Buzz Cut, Please: Etseri, Svaneti


We never got wind of their passing through last year. But recently, a father and son scything team from Samegrelo made a return visit, and we saw their excellent work in a small field just below our house. 60 GEL for 1000 square meters of work! Good price! I resolved to hire them.

Now, scything takes good timing, especially when your yard is being taken over by the horrible Giant Hogweed, a single specimen of which in the USA makes international news, especially when someone has unwittingly come into contact with its sap and been badly burned some time later by the photochemical reaction which ensues in sunlight. You can even be blinded this way… and I have thousands of the awful, deep-rooted things invading! One wants to catch the plants before their flowers start to drop seed: any time before then, even if they’re already blooming.

I looked into homemade weed killers, not wanting to go the chemical route. The top of the list is a mix of vinegar, salt and liquid detergent, said to be able to dry plants to death in sunlight if you spray it on their leaves. Fine for small applications, but again, I’ve got too many plants to cover to make this economical. Oh yes, then there’s the ancient way of sowing a field with salt to permanently kill its plant life; but our land is on a slight slope, so the devastation (which we don’t want to be pan-species anyway) would eventually kill my lower neighbor’s fields too. So that’s out.

My scything looks like a barber with a chainsaw went crazy on a disco queen, but theirs is fast, smooth and close to the ground, the army haircut of grim reaping. Worth every Lari. They tore through my land in a couple of hours or so, and I gave them lunch into the bargain.

You’re also playing a dice game with the weather, hoping and praying for enough sunshine to let you rake the cut stuff into rows after the morning dew has dried, then turn these over a couple of times to dry them out fully. Now, in the evening as I type this, ominous thunder has given way to spitting rain, which I’m really wanting to blow over as it’s unscheduled and some visiting friends and I did the raking twice today already, hard work! A quick shower can undo all of that precious drying; you just have to turn it again and wait, or if you put it into the barn too damp, it’ll rot there and be wasted. We don’t even have cows anymore! But we still have the greens to cut, and we can store and sell them to the neighbors for winter feed. At least, I’m told, hogweed is a favorite bovine menu item, so it’s good for that if nothing else on earth.

Along with the hogweed there’s clover and hay, both much harder to scythe because of their relative density; thistles, fortunately not many; and something with a really tough woody stem and burrs which must be the precursors of Velcro, they’re sticky enough to jump onto bare skin, even. A few wildflowers, chamomile for tea; the enclosed fruit tree seedlings and other obstacles to avoid. But the scythe guys did such a great job that I’ll certainly hire them from now on, every time they’re back. If I was going to be a good reaper, I would have had to start in my early teens, not my late 40s as has been the case. I’ll gladly pay the professionals to do it without a murmur of complaint. And now I have their number, so let those who can, do.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1900 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

19 July 2018 19:28