When we lived in the Netherlands, we often watched village-dwelling farmers wearing wooden shoes bike out to their well-tended fields carrying some long-handled tool over their shoulder (yes, really). The Netherlands is a food exporting country, demonstrating that monster-sized agribusiness is not the only productive game in town. Those Dutch villagers were onto an ideal and timeless way to farm.
Last Saturday as we made the 40-minute drive from Madison to our land, we planned the next steps toward farming we could take that day working on the greenhouse growing boxes, and by the time we pulled off the big road a few miles from our place, we knew exactly what we would do.
But that brilliantly sapphire-skied, balmy day was a play-hooky day, if ever there was one. So I’m not surprised that a new and compelling project occurred to us out of the blue.
We slowed down along the quarter mile of our property that fronts the county highway, talking again about the recent pass and heavy hand of our township’s mowing crew. All the grasses and wild flowers lay in sad, drying drifts.
Then we had a sudden shift of perspective.
The plants that the Township had chopped down were now a potential crop. We could stack it and use it for mulch this fall and next spring on beds that are starting to appear around our barn. All summer we had scythed out of the unwelcome plants along the road just because scything is so much fun – and after all, it is our “front yard” — so this free hay is also free of weed seed.
We have raked up piles of plant material before, and it tends to turn into a moldy mess. The solution? Build a hay stacker like the one we saw at our friend Larry Cooper’s place.
Larry is a blacksmith who makes and loves to use traditional hand farm tools. Check out this you tube to see his wonderful broad fork in action.
We have learned a lot from Larry, and two summers ago, he showed us his hay stacker. It had a wooden base to keep the hay up off the ground and dry, and four poles that teepee together at the top to give loose hay structure.
We were thinking of Larry’s stacker as we turned into our drive and flashed on the exhilarating fact that we had all the materials we needed to build a stacker on the spot, right then and there.
(Take a number and get it line, growing boxes.)
Both the wooden pallets on which our metal roof had been delivered and a stack of supple trunks we had thinned out of our tamarack grove last winter were piled beside the barn within a foot of each other – like they were destined to work together.
So Doug sawed the pallets in two. We stacked them to make the base and tied up the tamarack poles.
Then I started raking up the pre-mowed grasses and hauling them up the hill with our wonderful little Power Wagon (see its praises sung at my post on the tractor question here). I can roll the power wagon downhill without turning on the motor and then use just enough gas to get me and my load back up hill.
We made a little progress on the growing boxes in the last hours of day. Then the sun set, and we had to stop and watch the show.
It will take me many more Power Wagon trips to the road to collect a full stack, so I’ve modified the plan again. Now that I have looked at a hay-making you tube Larry referred me to by Botan Anderson on Mystic Prairie Eco-Farm, I think I can probably transport hay more quickly (and more greenly) by dragging it on a tarp the way I move mountains of leaves around our yard in town.
Botan just shared with me that he builds two types of haystacks, at his farm.
He says: A Romanian haystack, which consists of dried, hay stacked upon a bed of branches (4 pallets would work) around a very tall, central pole, and stacked very high. The outside of the stack is then raked with a hayrake, to form a thatched outer shell. A very high and narrow, round shape, works best for this type of haystack. No need for a tarp covering. If formed and raked properly, the outer layer matts down into a very breathable, weather-proof shell. Hay stored this way, keeps a long time. The disadvantage though, comes when you want to use the hay. As soon as you break the outer shell, and remove only some of the hay, the rest of the stack is then vunerable to the weather. Traditionally, all the hay in the whole stack would be hauled away to the barn, when more hay was needed at the barn.
He also developed the tarp-covered, pyramid haystack system, because he didn’t have a barn to store loose hay. “I needed a haystack that was close to my goose and duck houses, I could remove hay from as needed, but that would still protect the rest of the hay,” he says. “Because of the tarp “roof”, this type of stack works best piled wide and square. I wish that there was some more ecological material (other than plastic tarps), to use for the covering, but haven’t been able to come up with anything yet.”
All Saturday I was almost giddy with joy to think that the pallets, the thinned-out tamaracks and the township-mown grass were coming together with the unsuspected purpose of enriching the hard, clay soil that was left around our barn after construction. (and I admit it, also intoxicated by that blue, blue sky)
I love these kinds of projects. We had a similar revelation in July. See my post Milfoil Mulch: turning crap into crop.
When the stacker is full, we will toss the tarp over the top to keep off the rain, and we will be rich in the stuff that makes a farm go.
Now I have truly made hay while the sun shines.
Categories: TALES FROM OUR 44 ACRES