It's high hay season. Hay season is somewhat late this year due to unseasonable cold and rain in June. Good weather in mid July set everyone to haying, and we laid in the year's supply and enjoyed the beautiful sights and smells of hay season (Poor Man's Hay Elevator, Hay Season Again).
Friday, July 29, 2011
I had thoughts of haying our small front pasture - the half acre that used to be lawn when the last owners took care of it (The Lawn Chronicles) but which under our policy of benign neglect had reverted to a very nice mixed-species pasture. Several of my neighbors have haying equipment, but I haven't had much luck in approaching them. On one side there is the J. family, with whom we have a long history of marginal relations, for which I take full responsibility. If anyone is so inclined, they can search the sidebar and find a rich and amusing saga of escaped chickens and badly-behaved dogs wreaking havoc on a sweet little old lady's garden. We are utterly and completely at fault for the state of affairs that makes it impossible for me to ask Mr. J. to hay our small field.
The neighbors across the highway, the K. family, have about a hundred acres and haying for them is a deadly serious affair that provides some not-inconsequential share of their income. Their equipment is very large and I doubt their tractor and rake could even turn around in our piddly little field. I'd feel ridiculous asking them.
The other neighbors I know who do their own haying are Mr. and Mrs. B., who I know from church and who I am sure I have mentioned here before as really nice people and wonderful neighbors. Mrs. B. is the lady who just recently brought me fifty pint sized canning jars - just because she likes to see members of the younger generation who still can. When I dropped by their house to thank them for the jars (with a few of those same jars filled with jam and pickles, of course), I asked if Mr. B. might be willing to let us hire him to hay our small field.
"I'm sorry," he said, "but I can't. So many people ask me, and I just have to say no to everybody. If I said yes to anyone, I'd have to say yes to everyone."
"I understand," I said. "Of course."
I gave up. The small field would just have to do whatever it did. The grass grew taller, grew top-heavy with seeds, and then laid down flat after a summer downpour. I wrote a blogpost about grass. I doubt that Mrs. B. reads my blog, so it must be a coincidence that she showed up here the next day, and asked me, "is this the field you wanted hayed?"
"Well yes," I said, "but isn't it a little late? I mean, the rain laid it down flat."
"Oh that doesn't matter," she said. "The mower will cut it just the same. Mr. B. will be here in ten minutes. There isn't any trash in the way is there?"
Quickly I pulled up the extension cords that ran from Homero's shop to the house (a hard job, with the grass grown over them). Mr. B. came by and mowed the grass, and told me if the weather held he'd be back to rake and bale in a few days. "There's not much here," he said, "so don't worry either way."
The weather held - we've had a beautiful few days with nary a cloud in the sky and the mercury hovering near eighty.This afternoon, as I was sitting outside reading a magazine and watching the goats browse on the blackberries, Mr. B. came up the road and turned into the field with the baler attached to the tractor. I waved, and he waved, and he ran over the field and in twenty minutes there were seventeen lovely bales of hay sitting on the grass.
"Do you know how to stack these?" Mr. B. asked me.
"Um," I said, "probably not the right way..."
And in fact I did not. As Mr. B. showed me, there is a right way to stack hay to avoid mold. A bale of hay is a three-dimensional rectangle, and therefore has four long sides and two short ones. If you look at each of the four long sides, you will see that three of them have folded over grass, and only one of them has the cut ends of the grass showing. Stack your hay, Mr. B. told me, with that cut side up. That will allow the natural moisture in the bale to escape. Any other side up will trap the moisture inside the bale and it may rot.
There's so much to learn.
Mr. B., of course, would not accept any money for his time and trouble. I didn't expect that he would, but asking "what do we owe you?" is part of the neighborly ritual. As is the ritual response "Oh don't mention it." I can't, obviously, leave it at that. Last year Mr. B. asked to borrow our apple press, and I leant it to him rather reluctantly - but when he returned it he had serviced it and repaired a few little things that it needed. Today after he refused my offer of payment I said "well, when apple season comes around, just come and get the press whenever you like. No need to call ahead."
That doesn't feel like quite enough. I ran the numbers in my head and the hay off the field is worth approximately $100. It represents one fifth of our yearly hay expenditure. Mr. B. said it was no big deal to him, but it's a big deal to us - quite apart from the monetary value, it just gives me such a good feeling to see baled hay from my own land. I never thought I'd see that - we certainly can't invest in our own haying equipment, nor would it be worth it to do so. But just knowing that push comes to shove, we actually produce enough hay here to keep a couple of goats alive through the winter - well, that's very good to know.
Tomorrow I will put together a thank you basket for Mrs. B. She has been by recently to buy eggs so I know she could use some - a couple dozen eggs, a half-pound of cheese, a big bunch of peppermint, and maybe a jar of applesauce.
Good neighbors are worth more than gold. I have to figure out a way to be a good neighbor to them.