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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

LittleField Notes Hay

LittleField Notes Hay

LittleField Notes

by Ryan Foxley of Arlington, WA
photos by Joe D. Finnerty and Laura Littlefield

All was silent as before —
All silent save the dripping rain.
– H.W. Longfellow

July 7

As I sit and watch rain fall on new mown hay I can’t help but think of the experiences of farmers of yore. I think in particular of the Hjorts, George and Kristina, who100 years ago lived in the house where I now live and mowed hay in the same river-bottom fields I now mow. I wonder that an accurate weather forecast was not available to them, a fact almost unbelievable to a culture grown accustomed to computer generated weather models, satellite images, 24-hour TV weather channels and hourly smart-phone updates.

Over the last couple of weeks I have almost obsessively checked the weather — waiting for five sun icons in a row to appear on the computer screen. That would be enough time early in the season to get a few acres of mixed meadow grass cured and stored in the haymow.

The 4th of July dawned sunny and beautiful and the next several days looked favorable. June tends to be gloomy, but July typically turns lovely in the Pacific Northwest and our farming forebears in this region made hay in that month. So I greased up the John Deere Big 4 and, in deference to tradition, celebrated the 4th with my family and friends and waited to mow until the 5th. As predicted the sun was shining and summer seemed to have finally arrived. We tedded the hay each day, aerating it with the old machine’s lifting and fluffing action, very nearly approximating a man working through the field with a pitchfork.

Incidentally, the term “ted” comes from the Old-English “tend.” Haying around here really does require a lot of tending. Grass simply won’t cure itself just laying there on the ground the way it does in arid climates. Despite the favorable forecasts and with only a 20% chance of rain called for, seemingly out of nowhere the clouds rolled in and the rain fell for two days.

Thinking of my forebears, I reasoned that George would also have cut his hay on the 5th. I imagined him, like me staring out the kitchen window at the pouring rain, coffee cup in hand shaking his head at his misfortune. Or would he? Perhaps he would have been more resigned than I? More accepting, more at peace with the unpredictable nature of the weather and the way his and his family’s life was bound up with its fickle disregard for human needs and desires. Would his lack of up-to-the-minute weather forecasts have affected his choice of tools and techniques?

LittleField Notes Hay

I know from the jaunty old photo of George’s sons Torvald and Conrad that they made haycocks here on the farm, so I imagine they must have just expected it to rain — cut when you can, but expect rain and hope the sheltering effects of a properly made hay cock will get you through. I, however, am addicted to the labor saving action of the loose hay loader and so don’t build haycocks. I’d like to think that our modern forecasting tools can let me do my haying at opportune times and thus avoid the work of building hay cocks and in turn hand loading them on the wagon.

July 8

After a day of rain the sun has returned and as I write this I can hear Joe out driving a Fjord team on the tedder, the machine clacking and clanging away, tending to the wet grass, which we still hope to turn into cured hay. Even when it is humming along that old machine sounds like a runaway and not infrequently makes my heart skip a beat. Rain is much more destructive to three or four day old cut hay than to one or two day old and I think this crop, with ample fluffing still has the potential to be surprisingly good considering the amount of rain that fell yesterday.

This evening I raked the hay into windrows with the side delivery rake. Inevitably when the rake picks, folds and flips the hay we find that there is always some on the bottom that is seemingly untouched by tedder or sun and looks as green as the day it was cut. The rake does a nice job of bringing this green hay to the top of the windrow for further curing.

The forecast does not look promising. Looks like we have two more days of dry weather before the rains return once again.

LittleField Notes Hay

July 11

After a couple of decent days I made the decision to hook up the hayloader and get some hay in the barn. It has cured nicely though in a perfect world I would wait one more day, as there are still a fair number of slugs in it. In the Northwest not only do we have multitudes of garden slugs that like to munch on crisp lettuces, but we also encounter slugs of another kind. A hay slug is a little green wad of hay tucked in with perfectly cured hay. A few are ok and in our loose hay system always dry down nicely in the barn. However, loading the hay this afternoon there were more of these hay slugs than I like to see so we will have to limit the amount of hay that goes into the loft. Loose hay fluffed nicely and not stacked too deeply will finish curing beautifully in the barn. Seeing the amount of green still in the field I know that I have more than I dare safely put in the barn.

July 12

With more rain forecast and inspired by the old picture of Thor and Conrad amongst the haycocks I decided if we were to save the three acres right around the house we had better go old-school and try making haycocks. I gathered all available help, distributed pitchforks and commenced making little haystacks out of the windrowed hay. With the hay virtually cured and little fear of heating, we made stacks as large as we reasonably could. We aimed to build a cock with good straight sides and a moisture shedding, rounded cap on top. The idea is to get as much of the crop as possible under a protective outer layer of sacrificial hay. The outer six or so inches will be wet and turn brown while the hay inside stays green and dry. The job went surprisingly quickly with the whole field cocked by noon. By four o’clock it was raining.

LittleField Notes Hay

July 15

The haycocks withstood two days of solid rain. This morning, reaching a hand into the stack, I was pleased to find the hay inside perfectly dry with a pleasant fresh odor. With rain once again forecast for tomorrow we decided to peel off the spoiled outer layer and load the preserved inner hay on the wagon and haul it to the barn. Unsure of how much rain a haycock can take before the inner layers start to moisten, and with such an uncertain forecast I decided to put the good hay in the barn while we had the opportunity. We peeled off the spoiled outer layer, evenly distributing it over the field stubble and hauled the good hay to the barn. Overall the haycock experiment was a big success. Had we left the hay in the windrow it would have undoubtedly spoiled beyond saving.

July 26

As I sit here typing up the rest of these notes, and with an SFJ deadline looming we are still waiting for the arrival of summer. We have not yet had more than three consecutive days without rain. The temperature has rarely exceeded 70. We have several tri-pods in the field attempting to cure green hay using techniques that peasants have used in extremely wet climates the world over. I will tell this tale in full in the next issue after it has finished unfolding. In the meantime I will be grateful at least that we are not dealing with the extreme heat that much of the country is facing.

LittleField Notes Hay

Humility

So is weather-knowledge power? Does having a computer with 24-hour forecasts make me a better farmer? Looking back on the last month I would answer with a resounding NO. Not only have the weather forecasters been wrong more than right, but also I find that I generally put too much stock in their predictions often making choices that prove costly.

Farming is about choices. Choices that at times feel like a Faustian bargain. If I mow too soon my efforts may be spoiled by rain. If I wait I may not have adequate curing time before it rains again. If I delay longer still, waiting for that perfect run of good weather, I run the risk of having nothing but rank, stemmy and overly mature hay with ever diminishing nutritional value.

Haying with horses either simplifies these choices or makes them more complicated depending through which lens one chooses to look. No doubt haying with horses takes more time: fewer acres cut in a day, fewer tons gathered to stack or mow in a single day. I view this as a way of spreading risk, a guarantee that I will never have all of my hay on the ground at the same time. If I have three or four acres of hay on the ground and lose it all- at the end of the day that is still only 3 or 4 acres, not 30 or 40. Of course the big tractor farmer will tell me that when he gets a good stretch of weather he can get all of his hay cut and cured at once. That is his advantage. I, of course, am a horse farmer — I don’t even own a PTO mower, or baler. I choose to see the side of the coin that tells me I may lose a little hay here and there as I go, but that I am better off not putting all my hay-eggs in one speedy tractor-basket. That is to say nothing of the value inherent in this slower way of working.

Farming never fails to dish up one lesson in humility after another. Despite having all the weather knowledge the information-age has to offer, farmers will still lose hay to the rain, apple blossoms to frost, winter wheat to drought… If we are slow to learn humility in Nature’s presence we can be sure that another lesson is never far off.

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

by:
from issue:

Heretofore potato production in this country has been conducted along extensive rather than intensive lines. In other words, we have been satisfied to plant twice as many acres as should have been necessary to produce a sufficient quantity of potatoes for our food requirements. Present economic conditions compel the grower to consider more seriously the desirability of reducing the cost of production by increasing the yield per acre.

Onion Culture

Onion Culture

The essential requirements of a soil upon which to grow onions profitably are a high state of fertility, good mechanical condition, properties – that is, if it contains sufficient sand and humus to be easily worked, is retentive of moisture and fertilizers, and is capable of drainage – all other requirements can be met.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

by:
from issue:

The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

Mullein: Indigenous Friend to All

by:
from issue:

Mullein is a hardy native, soft and sturdy requiring no extra effort to thrive on your part. Whether you care to make your own medicines or not, consider mullein’s value to bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, who are needing nectar and nourishment that is toxin free and safe to consume. In this case, all you have to do is… nothing. What could be simpler?

Prairie Grass A Jewel Among Kernels

Prairie Grass: A Jewel Among Kernels

by:
from issue:

Years ago, my brother advised against plowing the patch of prairie on the back forty of our Hubbard, Iowa farm. “Some day,” he predicted, “that prairie will be as valuable as the rest of the 40 acres. We know how to grow corn; but that prairie was seeded by the last glacier.” Left untilled by generations of my family, the troublesome treasure has now become a jewel among a cluster of conventional crops on the farm.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

by:
from issue:

Any claim about winter production of fresh vegetables, with minimal or no heating or heat storage systems, seems highly improbable. The weather is too cold and the days are too short. Low winter temperatures, however, are not an insurmountable barrier. Nor is winter day-length the barrier it may appear to be. In fact most of the continental US has far more winter sunshine than parts of the world where, due to milder temperatures, fresh winter vegetable production has a long tradition.

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Syrup From Oregon’s Big Leaf Maple

by:
from issue:

There is a great potential in establishment of a seasonal “sugarbush” industry for small farmers of the northwestern states, particularly western Oregon and Washington. Five syrup producing species of maples are found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Box Elder and the Big-leaf Maple are the only syrup producing maples of the Pacific Northwest. Properly made syrup from these two western maples is indistinguishable from the syrup of maples of the midwestern and northeastern states.

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

This is the account of how one farm put more horse power into the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of its potato crop. Ever since we began farming on our own in 1994 one of our principle aims has been the conversion of our farm operation to live horse power wherever feasible. This has meant replacing mechanized tools such as tractors and rototillers and figuring out how to reduce human labor as we expanded upon the labor capacity of our work horses.

Henpecked Compost and U-Mix Potting Soil

We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

by: ,
from issue:

If you were visiting Earth from some other planet and had to describe its inhabitants upon your return, you might say that the average person eats rice, and grows it as well, usually on a small scale. You’d be accurately describing the habits of over a quarter of the world’s population. Rice has a special story with an exciting chapter now unfolding in the northeast USA among a small but growing group of farmers and growers.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

An Introduction Into Plant Polyculture

An excerpt from What’s Wrong With My Fruit Garden
Companion Planting for Beginners

Walki Biodegradable Mulching Paper

New Biodegradable Mulching Paper

Views of any and all modern farming stir questions for me. The most common wonder for me has been ‘how come we haven’t come up with a something to replace plastic?’ It’s used for cold frames, hotbeds, greenhouses, silage and haylage bagging and it is used for mulch. That’s why when I read of this new Swedish innovation in specialized paper mulching I got the itch to scratch and learn more. What follows is what we know. We’d like to know more. LRM

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT