Tuesday, July 10, 2012


After a heavy early evening rain


It’s summertime and the living is pretty easy.  That’s because the major chores of our first summer don’t need to be repeated this year (planting, painting, and more painting).  Not so much, anyway.  Mostly the chores are outdoors:  mowing and weeding, mowing and weeding.  Repeat.  After a particularly hot day a heavy rainstorm is welcomed although it seems the direct and immediate result is another inch or more, mostly more, of plant growth since weeds as everyone knows grow at double the rate of all the desirable stuff.  And, as I have often mentioned, this ground is fertile.  How often do you see a 15 inch leaf span on a dandelion?  Or dock (rumix) that grows seemingly overnight to a height of four feet?  More happily this same force in the garden has already produced two early tomatoes, and we just ate our first squash.  Many more to come.

The easy living of summer.  Carly, Audrey and Ben getting ready to ride the current in the New Haven River.  When the current is slower with a snorkel you can see trout swimming below you.

Farmer Dan Kehoe arrived with his mowing equipment the other day to cut our field, the first cut of the season.  Our grasses had grown to nearly six or seven feet in places, but before it got this high Ken had to mow half a dozen paths through the fields for walking, creating almost a kind of maze.  It’s exciting to see the meadow change its appearance so quickly, from a tall grass prairie to low grass meadow.  Last summer the grass remained high until August.  We had been left with year-old hay bales, missed opportunities for mowing and picking up now decaying bales, and the remains of a messy cut in late summer, all owing to Dan’s incapacitating shoulder injury the season before.  

Farmer Dan starts mowing

We’ve been learning a lot about haying by watching.  It’s a tricky process.

Just before mowing the grass was from 3 to 7 feet high

Timing is everything.  Folk wisdom has it that farmers cut hay around the 4th of July when it’s said the grass is “stout and has some bottom to it.”  Quite a few local farmers cut in June this season, some as early as mid-June.  Maybe the too-early summer weather pushed the time.  Although the highest yields occur around the 4th the nutrient value is greatest earlier in the season when the plants’ energy goes into vegetative growth with high concentrations of starches, proteins, and minerals.  The second and third cuttings are leafy, also high in quality, and often harvested when the weather is hotter, making the hay easier to cure (read 'dry').  It takes about three days of good weather to cure hay. Sometimes farmers need to make a sacrifice in yield by getting an early first crop from the field during periods of rainy early summer weather in order to get the next crop growing.

The baler

Dan’s mower, from what we can see, is a rotary disk type pulled by his tractor and has small knives at the bottom that spin at a very high speed and can mow through thick hay. The surprise after mowing is that you can now see the contours of what had appeared to be an unremarkable slightly rounded field.  The cut grass looks flat and green at first, but turns light brown as the hay dries.  The next step is something called “tedding” which fluffs up the cut hay to promote curing.  Two days after our hay was cut it was raked by another machine into heaped fluffy rows.  I guess this machine combines tedding with raking.  The hay mustn’t sit in these heaped rows for too long, ideally only a few hours on a sunny dry day, before it’s baled.  Raking turns the hay to dry the bottom and shapes it into a windrow ready to be baled.  The windrows change the look of the fields from flat to lumpy.

The windrows after raking, lined up for baling

In the afternoon of the same day Dan’s son did the raking Dan arrived with his baler.  Balers cost about $40,000.  (Used ones run around $20K.)  Dan said he bought this one new, but I wonder just how new it was since it screwed up a couple of bales and they had to be re-raked and re-baled. He operates the baler by neatly driving over the heaped rows that vanish inside.  The hay is rolled around and around tightly until it forms a roll of the right size, gets wrapped in plastic netting by another roller, and then is disgorged as the baler cover lifts and tosses out the completed bale.  (Imagine chucking Christmas gifts into a big box and having them pop out all wrapped.)  The bale bounces on the ground once or twice which could make you think it was lightweight, but when it settles in place a strong adult wouldn’t be able to push it a single inch.  Believe me, we've tried.  When the baling is complete the tractor spears the bale like a marshmallow on a stick and carries it to the truck.  The new bales look very neat.  But now with the bales trucked away the meadow looks shorn like a GI’s fresh haircut, and brown, for the time being anyway.  

The back field after baling, with Buck Mountain in the background

Besides the fact that badly cured hay can lack nutrients, bad curing can be dangerous.  (I had no idea.)  Hay with a higher than 22 percent moisture content can heat up in a barn and cause a fire by spontaneous combustion.  (This sounds counter-intuitive.  I would have expected mold.  Although that can happen too.)  Our hay seemed perfect:  dry, sweet smelling, and slightly brittle.   One of Dan’s bales fell apart.  I climbed on the loose top of the mound and reached inside.  With the outside air temperature about 65 degrees by early evening, I felt the heat of the afternoon sun on the inside.  According to University of New Hampshire Agriculture Extension’s site on haying, “When the internal temperature of hay reaches 130F a chemical reaction begins to produce flammable gas that can ignite if the temperature goes high enough. At 150 F you enter the danger zone. Anticipate hot spots or fire pockets at 175F. At 185F remove the hay from the barn, with the fire department standing by to control flames as air contacts the hot hay.”  A potential cause of barn fires.

FIre in the sky, sunset

Sadly, after mowing there is some carnage, critters that didn’t get out of the way of the mower quickly enough.  Later mowings like this one spare the turkeys, blackbirds and other animals that nested in the grass and have long since fledged.  Nonetheless Audrey found a dead skunk and we came across a dead mouse or vole.  The dogs sniffed intently in a few places so we have little doubt there were more.

Fire in the sky, 4th of July

Our Local Miscreants

(complete reports from the Middlebury and Vergennes police blotters)

“On June 28 checked a report of a person lying down on the Settlers Park boat ramp and discovered a man napping and nothing wrong.

“Received a report about the alleged theft of some ducks from a Seminary Street Extension property on June 28.

“On June 29 checked a report of a man slumped behind a wheel on Green Street and discovered he was doing a traffic survey.

“On June 30 at approximately 11:44 PM received a report of a vehicle at the intersection of Routes 17 and 7 in New Haven that was running and had a male who appeared to be passed out in the driver’s seat.  The trooper said the vehicle was being held by two subjects in an attempt to keep it from rolling into the northbound lane of Route 7.  Police cited the driver, identified as Joshua Kelly, 21, of North Ferrisburgh, for DUI; the trooper said Kelly’s blood alcohol content was almost twice the legal limit.

“Took a statement on July 1 from a woman purporting to be a Native American who said she had dreamt that her friend had been poisoned by his girlfriend.”