Monday, July 20, 2009

Whether it will or won't...

The endless Maine spring rains this year have finally given way to dryer air and an early version of the kind of dry heat we often get in August -- a dry windy 80 F during the day, and cool nights around 50 F. The weather scheme this year seems to have skipped over the high rolling humidity we usually get in July, with those sunny, wringy-wet, hazy days, low visibility and sweltering nights non-existent this year.

The best measure of this is that we have only used the bedroom fan twice this year.

The extra moisture and less sunlight hasn't created too many difficulties for us. I've been able to switch between insulation work, school work, community wind power work, and motorcycle tinkering as weather and whim allow. Some tomato plants are unhappy, a combination of blackfly and mold which should clear up this week, allowing them to get a second wind, hopefully in time for harvesting berries. The bloody sheep stuck their heads through the fence and scoffed the first row of onions. There's still one more full row, though. Pigs are all sold now and getting fat, boy lambs are almost full grown, fool-grown and ram-bunctious, and could probably go to the butchers anytime now, new potatoes are available, as is broccoli by the pound. The pigs get all the broccoli and lettuce and potato plants after we're done with them. Happy pigs.

Fat city. Despite the rain.

Our only problem is hay. I've been checking in almost daily, doing drive-bys of our hay farmer's fields to see where it's at.

Not so good, is where it's at.

The grass is knee to thigh-high and all gone to seed. Some species, like reed canary grass, are way past their prime. The timothy is holding, just, another week and it'll be gone too. There's plenty green leaf mixed in with all the stem, but a lot of stem.

But it's fodder. There's certainly plenty of it, a really heavy crop this year. It has to be cut. It's still worth cutting, and I think we have to buy it because there's nothing much else we can do. Who knows whether we'll get a chance to buy second cut? The sheep will eat the leaf and drop the stem and that will be their winter bedding. There'll be too much ripe seed in the bedding, and the compost we eventually make of it will make the garden weedy.

And the garden is always weedy.

Maybe next year will be the year we skip composting the garden. That wouldn't hurt, to let the compost mature another year and kill the weed seeds. The garden has a reserve bank of fertility at this point, after three years of heavy composting. Or we could till a couple more times in the spring, after the grass has germinated, but before we plant.

There's a way around every problem.

There's even a way around the hay problem, if this plan of waiting for dry weather had failed, but now it seems we won't have to struggle with balage or silage or round bales that we're not set up for.

It was probably a mistake to set our system up so it was so dependent on old fashioned square bales, but it is what it is.

With rain every other day it simply has not been possible to make hay, but this break is what the hay farmer and I have both been looking for. He started cutting yesterday, and I agreed to get the crew and big truck in hand by Tuesday afternoon for baling.

Hay day is our biggest longest workday of the year. The hay fields are five miles from our farm, not very far, but still requiring a lot of shuttling back and forth. We pick the hay off the fields as soon as it's baled, stack it and truck it, throwing it into the barn through the hay door. We sweat like stevedores, or at least I do. As we drive back and forth, we re-hydrate, drinking fluids by the gallon. We generally get all 300 bales of hay thrown up and stacked in less than five or six hours of late afternoon and evening labor.

The next day, I usually move very slowly indeed.

The sheep never seem particularly aware of all the work we do on their behalf, ungrateful buggers. But in winter they do love their hay, crowding around the mangers, getting their heads stuck in the bars. The chickens eat the grass seeds that are in the hay and lay their eggs in hay, the pigs re-use the sheep's winter bedding. The bedding-made-compost fertilizes the garden. The mice nest in hay and the cats eat the mice. Apart from the grass and clover we grow ourselves, which is summer fodder, winter fodder in the form of hay is the ecological foundation of everything everybody does around here.

Most essentially, we truck in these 300 bales of fertility from five miles away, and with them we bring in enough additional nitrogen and other nutrients to run the farm without artificial fertilizers or chemicals. The only artificial input is the gas taken to run the truck and the diesel that runs the tractor.

Hay is the basis of our fertility, the base of our food chain.

Each year we import from a few miles away the natural fertility created each year by around ten acres of only lightly-managed Maine grassland, a more or less self-cycling mix of grasses and legumes that is not itself fertilized artificially, not even reseeded often if ever. We concentrate this fertility by running it through sheep and pigs, taking a share of the biomass that results in meat, and then use what's left as compost to grow other food and build our soil.

Which makes hay day the most important and vital day of our farm year.

In the past Aimee and I have done this all alone with our small pick-em-up truck which only takes 31 bales at a time, fully stacked according to the patented technique we worked out a few years ago. This is tiring and inefficient.

This year I'm trying to get some help from some friends who are also farm animal customers. And a bigger truck. We'll perhaps trade labor for one of their projects, insulating a rental. Or we'll pay in extra produce. Or they'll just do it for fun and exercise.

And together we'll bring in the hay.

If the rain holds off, that is.

So far, so good.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Welcome to our Farm Blog.
The purpose of this blog is for Aimee and I to communicate with friends and family, with those of our students, and other folks in general who are interested in homesteading and farming activities.

The earliest posts, at the very end of the blog, tell the story of the Great Farm, our purchase of a fragment of that farm, the renovation of the homestead and its populating with people and animals. Go all the way to the last post in the archive and read backwards from there to get it in chronological order.

After getting tired of spam comments (up to a dozen or more per day), I required commentators to be Google "registered users". You can write me at if you have a serious comment or question and are not a registered user.

Spammers -- don't bother writing -- there's no way I will post your spam to my blog. Just go away.