If you were there, you would probably be as impressed as I am. A bit of background about haymaking…
First of all, I am no farmer’s wife, girlfriend, daughter or sister, but I have a few farmer friends and neighbours. After lots of Googling and advice taking, we more or less came up to the following conclusions.
In order to make hay first you need some sunshine, so the fresh grass can dry correctly… which is a rarity in this part of the world and this time of year. Moreover, you need at least a good ten consecutive days of sunshine. If you live in the UK, you’ll know as well as me what a crap summer we’ve had, hence why this haymaking business happened in September and not in July.
In our naivety, we did not apply any fertiliser (understand dung), which turned out to be in our favour. You see, the more and the longer you let the grass grow, the stalkier it gets, as all the energy and the goodness in the grass is then used to produce flowers and seeds. So you would want to cut your grass before it reaches that stage, so it keeps most of its nutritious contents.
If we had applied fertilisers, this would have accelerated the growth of the grass and would have resulted in very below average hay if cut that late in the season.
Ideally, you would want a good two or three days of dry weather before you can cut your grass, so there is not too much water in the grass itself, but also in the ground (if you cut it 24 hours only after the last rain, the roots will still be absorbing the water that’s in the ground). Then you need to make sure you have at least four or five days of dry weather (and ideally very sunny and a bit windy) after you cut your grass, so it can dry. You’re looking to achieve a moisture content of below 20%, so it doesn’t rot in storage (and you also avoid dangerous rises in temperature when stacked, which can cause fires). In July, due to the longer daylight hours, the grass will probably dry quicker. The problem in September is not only reduced daylight hours, but also the dew in the morning, which is present until at least mid to late morning. So the grass may require an extra day or two to achieve the same level of dryness.
In any case, you have to turn the hay at least once if not twice a day during the drying process, to make sure as much of the cut grass as possible is exposed to the sun. If those days are windy, even better!
Look out for the next rainy day, and make sure your hay will be baled in taken in before that, otherwise all your hard work will be wasted.
So we watched and watched the weather in August, but it was never dry more than four days in a row. And then the opportunity came early September. Taking the few points above into consideration, it was now or never. So we cut the grass last Sunday, turned it everyday day and watched it gradually turn into this lovely pastely green colour. By Thursday morning we had hay. Although it could have done with an extra day drying, rain was forecasted for Friday evening, and so we couldn’t wait any longer. In all fairness, if it hadn’t dried by now, an extra day wouldn’t have made a lot of difference…
We baled it Friday afternoon (not lunchtime as originally scheduled, the baler having given us a fair amount of grief…), as the skies turned a very dark grey… we’d only baled a few when it started to rain… Our hearts sank, there was no way we would be quick enough, it was all wasted!! Luckily the spell was short-lived and did not go past the drizzle stage. Phew! We resumed work at pace and got the last bale in by 7pm, just as the real rain drops started to fall. Victory!
All in all, there are about 250 bales, which for a field between 2 and 3 acres in size, isn’t bad… No pesticides, no fertilisers, completely organic. No money exchanging either as we did most of the work ourselves, and “hired” the machinery by trading favours. It is a lot of hard (hard) work and takes a lot of time, and all things considered, we would have probably been better of buying it…
But that’s not exactly the point though, is it… 😉
“Make hay while the sun shines” Never up until now realised how true this is.