Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Making Hay

Yeah, yeah, I never update this blog. I could give you all the same old excuses, or make hay to use the subject line of this posting. Suffice it to say that I've come up with many grand ideas of all the things I would get done and all the soul searching and expanding of horizions I would do while on the farm. Ideas that have been sown like seeds and have sprouted into cute little seedlings with so much potential to be plants and provide vegetables and fruits for people. But like the little seedlings, some ideas don't always germinate, some ideas make it into seedlings but never get transplanted, some get transplanted and die out in the field, and only a precious few of these seeds actually become the food we eat. Or the ideas we, uhm, put into action.

To continue this seed/idea analogy, every week we sow 6 flats of lettuce. Each flat of lettuce has about 250 cells so we're talking 1500 transplants of lettuce. Thats 1500 transplants AFTER we've thinned out all the doubles, triples, quadruples, etc from the cells because often two or more seeds are inadvertently planted in a cell and germinate. So 1500. Then we take these flats out to the field and "prick them out" (my favorite farm term) onto boards to be transplanted into the beds. Today we planted two 100 foot beds with 4 rows each of lettuce at 8 inches apart. Doing the math with lightning speed, that makes, uh, 1200 plants....80%. Hmm, I wonder if I did that math right because 80% is actually a pretty good rate of usage. I would say, a lot better rate than my rate of idea usage. My grand plans to crochet up a storm and read all of the important books that I've been meaning to read and do yoga every morning in my yurt are kind of falling by the wayside. Wow, if my brain were a farm I'd be spending a whole lot of money on seed with not a lot of produce to show for it. And if I were farming analogies, they'd be the dinky little ones that would probably get fed to the cows. The analogy eating cows, of course. I certainly wouldn't be winning any blue ribbons at the 4-H fair.

Speaking of bad ideas, I don't want to use this as a political forum, but last week CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement passed the House with 2 votes. For those of you who don't know this is another shitty free trade agreement that gives corporations free reign of resources in other countries without any accountability for jobs, the environment, and local economies. I mention this because big food corporations who are capitalizing on organics in a totally unsustainable way are looking at Central America as a way to grow this kind of produce with cheap labor and ship it to the US where the can charge more than conventional produce, but less than it costs farms like the one I work on, and make a ton of money. Even though a pound of salad mix from my farm costs $8 wholesale, the farmers I work for make a really modest income, pay their workers a livable wage, and work really hard to remain environmentally sustainable. CAFTA has put small conventional farmers out of business, and small organic farmers are next on the chopping block. I am writing this bit because I really believe small scale family farming is an important way of life to preserve and would be really sad to see it go away because of the greedy Bush Administration and the corporations that run it.

Anyhow, making hay. Why am I about to write about making hay? Well, to tie it into my previous rant, hay is part of the circle of sustainability that we are working to preserve here on the farm. We feed hay to the calves, we use it to make compost, and we mulch the gardens to prevent weeds from coming up. Hay is a very useful thing. Yay hay. But before I continue glorifying hay, I should mention right now that, despite its resourcefulness, hay has its downsides as well. I appreciate hay, but I don't like it. For one, it makes me sneeze. For two, it's kind of painful and scratchy, especially big bales of it that are pressed up against your knees. For three, critters like rats and mice like to live in it, which makes Suka the dog really happy but I have a fear of busting open a hay bale only to find a rodent carcass tumble out and graze my leg as it falls down on the ground to be snapped up by Suka while I run shrieking to the nearest water source to cleanse myself from the ickiness of dead rotting mouse. Suka usually stays really close to the hay bales when we're using them in the hopes of getting a decomposed afternoon snack.

But there are few things on the farm that make me feel as farmy as baling hay does. Feeding the calves does. Hanging out by the corn does (even though we have only 4 beds and it's sweet corn). Driving the tractor (the 4 times I've done it) does. The fact that our hay baler is about 50 years old helps. The fact that we throw the hay bales onto a big wooden wagon, the kind that hay rides are given on also helps. And also when we're done haying, my hands are usually so red, and dry and have a few blisters on them that I get a taste of what real manual labor must be like, the kind where people come home with, uhm, blistery red hands to dinners that are fried in lard. Usually I imagine these people working in factories with heavy machinery. Which I'm not doing.

Anyways, I digress. The process is really simple. We cultivate about 8-plus acres (4 1/2 of which are usually under green manure), there are about 10 or 12 acres that are used for haying and grazing for the 2 cows, and the other 100 acres that Chris and Dave own are wooded. (My yurt is in these woods.) So you got your grass on the 10 or so acres growing real tall. Like several feet tall. Then you got your 3 days of dry weather. At the beginning of these 3 days, you take your bush hog mower (which attaches to the back of a tractor - please don't try this at home) and mow the heck out of your 10 or 12. Then, 3 days later, after it's all dry, you go out with your tractor and some other piece of equipment and tetter it. I don't know what that means, but apparently it's crucial to haying. Then you got to go back out and rake the tettered hay into rows, so that the baler can bail it easily. Then the baler, attached to the tractor, has this thing that picks up the hay, puts it through this thing that forms it into bales, and, here is the most amazing part -- it ties it up with twine. I have no idea how it does that. It confounds me. I have tried on many many occasions to tie a cherry stem into a know with my tongue and have succeeded a precious few times. I am imaging the baler maybe works like that, but really, that's a stab in the dark, and a not very good stab I imagine. Then the bailer drops out these neat, tied up squares of hay onto the ground.

Do you know what we humans do during all of this? Aside from driving the various vehicles that are tugging these machines around, the only other thing that we do is run around and pick up the bales of hay and put them on the wagon. Granted, stacking bales is somewhat of a science, as the bales have to be crosshatched so that they're more stable, blah blah blah, but really, it's the machines doing all the work. The machines cut, tetter, rake, and bail the hay. It's kind of like we humans are working for the machines. Kind of reminiscent of Asimov's I, Robot trilogy where the robots take over the world, or universe, or whatever. A forewarning of things to come, I think.

Anyways, we've got this tractor with this big wooden wagon attached to it, and a field scattered with bales of hay. And the tractor meanders around the field and probably watches with amusement as little (compared to a tractor, at least) humanoid Tracy runs back and forth from the wagon hauling bales of hay. By this point, I'm usually pretty red-faced, dripping with sweat, and my arms, hands, and other exposed skin are dirty and scratched up from the hay. Also, the sweat makes my face itch, and so I usually have streaks of dirt on my face from scratching it with dirty fingers. And hay has this nasty habit of getting Everywhere. Like, in my bra, and between my toes, and sticking out of my pants, in my pants cuffs. For most normal people, farming in general and hay in particular is somewhat of a messy operation. I feel kind of like Pigpen from Charlie Brown after a day of work. Please refrain from calling me that, by the way.

So there you have it. Another installment of the chronicles of Farmer Tracy. Maybe next time I'll write about the zucchinis that are bigger than my forearm. The excitement never ends here.



Armando said...


I want to feel farmy!!!! Sounds like a blast! Keep the posts coming they are cracking me up!! Can you posta pic of Suka? I think this dog is totally cool...


delaney816eddie said...
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Walter Jeffries said...

Hay Tracy from another farmer. I'm over in Orange, Vermont. I hope you're not really using a bush hog to cut hay... :) Maybe to make flaffle, shredded wheat or chop forage!

It is fun reading your blog. We raise pigs on pasture. I've hayed for others, old equipment and bale tossing, so I sympathize with your tired hands. But just think how strong it is making you!

We unfortunately can't hay much at our place, soil's too thin and the hills are too steep - but that makes it good for pasturing livestock. So I end up buying winter hay. Six hogs of it - we measure things in how many pigs it is going to cost, or chickens for small change. :)

Going with the flow - it's all down hill! :)

in the mountains of Vermont

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