Home & Shop Companion #0021
letter from a small corner of far away
Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,
There is a bucket sitting outside; I am not sure how long it has been there, over a week probably but less than a fortnight, and it has five inches of water in it, all from the rain. According to my approximate calculations that means we have had at least two months’ worth of rain in the last two weeks, and it is still raining now.
As I write this it is the middle of June, the earliest date we would traditionally cut hay. This year, however, a few farmers did cut some in the last week of May. I did think about it myself, but I have a bit of difficulty getting my head round the idea of cutting so early because there is still a lot of moisture in the grass to remove before the hay can be stored.
Anyway, I wasn’t quite ready, it being the very end of May before I found time to check over my No. 9 mower. This time there was a bit more to do than normal, as a couple of jobs had been neglected at the end of last year, because I had flu and had expected to take a late cut on the reseeded pasture, but I didn’t in the end. Despite having pushed the mower under cover, by the time I came to put the mower away in September there was already rust on the cutter bar, so the first job was to go over it with a wire brush and an abrasive cloth. I paid particular attention to the outer shoe and the steel grassboard because I know that smooth movement over the grassboard makes for fewer blockages, and then I rubbed it over with an oily rag. This last part took only a few minutes – if only I had done it after mowing last year! Then I checked all the bolts. Along the cutter bar they were good and tight, as they need to be, but others, including those going through the wood of the tongue, needed a quarter turn. I also checked the bolts holding the wheel centres to the hubs, because on this mower with pneumatic tyres the wheel centres are separate from the rims. Then I put some Shropshire air in them to add to the Illinois air that was already in there from when I bought the reconditioned mower a dozen years ago. Turning to the tongue, I did a visual check of the neck yoke, making sure both nuts securing the bolt through the neck yoke were tight, because the last thing you want with any piece of equipment is the neck yoke coming loose. Then I put the eveners back on, which I also use on the small plough. Swapping between implements is an extra job, but it is a good opportunity to check for wear on the bolt that holds the eveners, and through which all the force of the horses is directed.
After greasing and oiling all round and checking the oil level in the gearbox, I adjusted the tightness of the knife clips, tight enough to keep the knife snug against the guards, but loose enough to move freely. To make it easier to pull the knife past the inner shoe as I adjusted the clips, I made a small loop in the centre of some twine to go over the ball on the knife end, so I could pull from a distance. Finally, I put the correct spanners and a stick in the toolbox, along with two spare guards, a hammer and an oil can, so all I need is a penknife and two horses and we’ll be ready to go.
The other bit of preparation, which is also a tidying up activity, has been to take manure to the field. Because Lucy tends to get most of the work, I have been using Molly to get her fit enough for cutting hay. With a team, my four-foot six mower pulls without much effort, a moderate pull I would say, but those who used to work horses in grassland districts often referred to mowers as ‘horse killers.’ I am sure that the older, heavier and less efficient mowers, and those not adjusted properly, were one reason for this opinion, as well as the thick and fallen grass in wet grass-growing areas which is challenging for traditional sickle bars. Another cause was that without much cultivating and other arable work in spring and early summer the horses weren’t conditioned.
So Molly has been moving manure with the sled. I know it is not as quick of efficient as using a tip cart [what you might call a dump cart] but it spreads out the work, and gives a steady pull so is ideal for building fitness. My sled is the tool I use most often, for moving hay occasionally, for firewood, manure, fence posts, hedge cuttings, ploughs and harrows. It has a removable dashboard, so I can transport long stuff like the plough, and removeable sides and end board for loose materials. Over twenty years, it has had three or four sets of runners and a similar number of new floors. It is a handy size for a single horse, the floor is 3 x 4 feet, though if I were to make another, I would make it a bit longer. It also extends a foot in front of the dashboard, half of which is above the upward curve of the runners, so if you stand just behind the dashboard when the horse stops, it topples forward. It has never gone over completely, but it is disconcerting enough for me to stand at the back of the sledge, and maybe, now the sled is due for a new floor, I should extend it and move the dashboard back six inches, so I would have at least a foot of contact between the ground and the part of the runner in front of the dashboard.
In the vegetable patch, I have had to decide what to do with the two green manure sections, both sown to oats about ten days apart. The earlier one is already going to seed because of the drought during May, so I will cut it soon as a carbon rich green manure, cut it for hay or harvest the grain. The later sown section, however, has a lot of weeds which started to flower, so Lucy has been grazing it down, a small section at a time, though after the first couple of days the novelty of oats has waned and she tends to go for the grass first. What I do with it next, I am not quite sure, but I’ll keep you posted.
William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.