This year was the first we carried out the plan to make our own hay. Way back, when the layout for The Patch was drawn up, one quarter acre was always meant to be left to grass. In theory, this quarter acre would give us around 20 small bales, enough for a couple of sheep over winter. Now, not having sheep that need feeding, and the grass still being quite new, we have grown grass for hay before.
However, last year we made around 10 bags by necessity – a long rainy stretch at the start of the year meant our grass was too long to cut, in the chicken paddock at the back of the house. When we finally did manage to cut it, it was around 8-10″ high, just about manageable with the push mower, held at an odd angle. From this we made hay, very mulched as it was, and the rabbits had good food for winter!
So, after that experience, this year it was decided that we’d have a bash at our first hay! The grass grew, the clover started to peek out amongst the rye grass seed heads, and a week of sunshine was forecast. The fly in the ointment was how to cut it! We’d been lent an old scythe a few months prior, but the blade was in a pretty bad way. Not having the first clue about how to use one, and looking at a week of sun but also a good load of normal day-time job work, meant I couldn’t afford to take the time to learn and do, and risk losing the grass. We needed someone to cut it for us, after which we could turn it and bag it.
And therein lay a problem. No one wanted to do it! More to the point, no one was capable of doing it! All the local farms are large scale, no one is geared up to squeeze between 8′ gates anymore. Even if they were, to cut a quarter acre is not economically viable. Luckily Farmer John next door put us in touch with a chap who would cut it for us, but into a semi-mulch state – around 6″ long pieces. The day arrived, and my task was to follow him with a garden rake, and rake the missed stalks upright, for the second pass, and rake the cut grass into rows that he could go over again. After three passes of the field, trying to keep up with the cutter, I have to say I was exhausted! A full day outside, in the hottest sun we’d had all year. Once he’d left, as the pieces were quite short, the windrows needed turning more frequently than normal hay as wind had a struggle getting into the piles. So a full week later and we were ready to bag the hay. Of course, not managing to find a small-scale hay cutter was a precursor to also not finding a small-scale hay baler. We needed to improvise, and in such a short term I decided on recycled refuse bags. If left open they would hopefully breath enough, although the hay was pretty dry when we finally came round to bagging it up.
All four of us spent half a day bagging it all up, then we needed to transport it to a small barn that Farmer John said we could use – a life saver as the garage was almost full as it was, and we needed space for storing our produce! It was a satisfying sight to see it all brought in, and enough in our garage for the pet rabbits. The best thing was the quality – I hand weed the quarter through the first part of the year, pulling out anything that’s not meant to be there. No chemicals are use, and so we can have complete faith in using it, or passing it on.