It's Too Hot to Hay

Recently we farmers decided that it would be a fine time to take a break from the Marvelous Year of Maintenance. We thought we might attend to some other minor farming matters, such as weeding, harvesting, haying, and fall planting.

However, the farming spirits seem perfectly happy to tailor maintenance issues to our every activity. Take haying, for example.

Early in July, we had a stretch of sunny haying weather. Unfortunately, it was also a stretch of 95 plus degree heat. We knew we ought to make hay, but we were feeling mighty hot. Plus we discovered we had a lot to do just to get ready to make hay.

First, as my fellow farmer was cultivating the broccoli with the horses, the team suddenly swerved out of the pathway. Crunch! Crunch! went the broccoli plants as the horses stepped merrily on them.

“Whoa, whoa!” my fellow said urgently.

“Everything all right?” I called worriedly from across the garden.

“The lines broke again,” answered my fellow. “I couldn't steer. But the horses stopped right away. I think we only lost maybe five plants. Hey, will you get the duct tape?”

Oh, geesh. Duct tape. By the time I got back with it, the teamster and the horses were at the end of the row, and the rest of the broccoli was nicely weeded and hilled. I was surprised.

“I just stuck the old tape back together,” said my fellow. “It worked! But I'll still take that roll.”

I handed him the tape, wondering what he was planning.

With a flourish, my fellow hung the roll on the hames of the harness. “There!” he said. “Just in case I need it!”

I couldn't help laughing. A roll of duct tape hanging from the harness: what a perfect symbol of the Marvelous Year of Maintenance!

It was funny, but I was worried. My fellow was planning to mow hay the next day, which is not an easy task for the horses, and involves a 6 foot long razor sharp sickle bar. I didn't relish the idea of the driving lines breaking yet again.

“Did you order the new lines yet?” I asked.

“Not yet. I keep meaning to.”

“Let's do it right away. Maybe they could be shipped today, in time to mow tomorrow.”

We ordered the lines, and then my fellow looked the mower bar over. “I guess I have to replace the pole,” he sighed. “The end of it is rotten.”

But we had used up our last home-cut pole, when we replaced the pole on the spreader earlier in the Marvelous Year of Maintenance. “Maybe I could just shift the neck yoke back a little, to a better part of the pole,” my fellow said.

“I thought you already did that last year.”

“I did, but maybe I can do it again. I looked it up, and you only need 9 feet 6 inches between the neck yoke and where the evener is attached to the pole.”

“Did you measure it? Do you have that much?”

“More or less,” he said, not very reassuringly.

Meanwhile, it was getting hotter and hotter. Even discussing the potential repair made us break into a sweat.

Then we remembered that it was going to take a morning's work to clear out the barn floor so we could get the haywagon in the barn. The hay wagon itself was loaded down too,with all the wood we bought to replace the baseboards in the greenhouse, which we hadn't yet accomplished. Plus the wagon needed a repair, as it broke on the very last load of last year, in preparation perhaps for the upcoming Marvelous Year of Maintenance.

We stood in the shade, doing nothing, wiping our brows. Our horses stood in the barn, doing nothing, wiping their brows.

“It's too hot to breathe, let alone hay,” I said.

“Let's check the weather again. Maybe now it's going to rain?”

We checked the weather again. Still very very hot, for the next three days. But there was a slight chance of thunderstorms the next day!

And there were the broken lines. And the rotting pole. And the clearing of the barn, and the unloading and repair of the hay wagon.

“And our horses are getting pretty old,” I suggested, “to work so hard in this heat.”

“And we are getting pretty old,” my fellow suggested, “to work so hard in this heat.”

My fellow farmer looked at me. I looked at him.

“Let's not mow,” he whispered. “Let's wait.”

“All right!” I whispered back, guiltily, gleefully. Of course, it is not wise to miss any haying weather, as we never know when, or if, we'll get some more. But fueled by our tremendous relief at not haying in the terrible heat, we get an enormous amount of weeding, harvesting, and fall planting done in the terrible heat. And we might even get to those haying maintenance tasks before the next stretch of sunny, yet cool and breezy, haying weather . . .

Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Aug 1- Aug7,  2018

Fair Weather Friends

“Gee, I hate to be a fair weather friend,” says the voice on the answering machine, “but I can't help you with haying today.”

“What ? What?” say the farmers, not sure if we are hearing correctly. “That's exactly what we do want! A fair weather friend!”

Haying of course, is all about fair weather, three days of fair weather in a row, in fact. One day to mow the hay, one day to rake it, and one day to load it up and then unload it safely in the barn, away from the rain.

My fellow farmer pays close attention to the weather reports this time of year, looking for the magic three days. 10% chance of rain? That's not much. 20%? 30%? “What do you think?” my fellow asks me, hoping my growing-up-on-a-dairy-farm-my-whole-childhood-was-about-hay wisdom will kick in.

“Oh gosh,” I waffle, as I weed the beets, “I don't know. Maybe, but we've got so much garden work to do: weeding, harvesting, mulching, planting fall crops, the CSA, the Farmers Market. Maybe we should wait . . .”

“Can't wait! Can't wait! Can't wait!”' says my pepped up farming fellow. He loves haying. I, on the other hand, come to the project with a little more trepidation. After all, my whole childhood was about hay: hay mowed, raked, baled, loaded, unloaded . . . mower broken down, baler broken up, loads of hay tipped over . . .hay dry, hay half-wet, hay all the way wet, hay ruined . . .

“Four horses,” says my fellow, “only four! Only four nice horses munching on the delicious nutritious hay from our own farm all winter!” He is trying to remind me how very different this present haying is: hay put up loose for four horses, using a sickle bar mower, a wheel rake, and a hayloader, to make 800 bales of hay, more or less, as opposed to tractors, mowing machines, balers, and 150 head of stock eating 10,000 bales of hay over a winter on my home dairy farm.

“Oh, okay,” I sigh. “I guess we should get started. Or it'll get too late in the year.”

“Great, I'll get the horses harnessed,” says my fellow, tearing to the barn. He harnesses the team and is on his way to the field with the sickle bar mower before I can consider changing my mind.

He returns cheerfully two hours later, the field mowed, the mower still working, and the horses sweaty, glad to return to their cool, dim, fly-free stalls.

My fellow checks the weather again, “Uh-oh. Now they're saying 40%,” he says. “What do you think?”

“Well, it;'s too late now,” I could say, but instead I muster up a few words of encouragement for my good-hearted fellow: “Sky's clear right now!”

“Yeah,” my fellow says happily, and the next day he rakes the hay, turning it over so it can dry on the other side, and making windrows.

On the third day, it is overcast. “Uh-oh,” says my fellow again. “Forty percent. We'd better hurry and get it in. Don't you think?”

“Well, is the hay dry? Did you check it?” Now I am weeding the carrots, trying to get some garden work done in haying-time. It makes perfect sustainable sense to make hay from our own fields to feed our own horses who plow our gardens so we can raise vegetables to eat and sell and make a living so that we can keep making hay from our own fields to feed our own horses who . . . But gosh, haying-time sure takes a lot of time in prime gardening time.

“I haven't looked yet. Come check it with me, please? You know all about it,” he pleads. “Please?”

We go up to the field to check, both of us hoping my fellow farmer's faith in my childhood haying is not entirely misplaced. The clouds seem to press down more heavily as we walk around the field, massaging clumps of hay through our hands. Is the hay dry? Kind of. Mostly.

My fellow looks worriedly at the sky, at me. Heck, I don't know. It's practically dry. It's got to be dry, considering the clouds. “I guess, “ I say finally, and my fellow heads for the horses and the wagon and the hayloader.

“Great, let's get it in, before it gets wet!” he hollers enthusiastically to the sky and the field and the hay and any fair weather friends that might happen by.

“Let's,” I say. “Let's try!”

Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, July 8-14, 2015