At Large : Haymaking
The weather's given us a lot to whine about this month, in fact all spring long. No, actually, during the winter too. It's a long time to whine, but we're practiced at it, and we take the job in stride. Ordinarily, we also have the pre-seasonal weekend crowds to whine about, but that hasn't been true this spring, so we've whined about their absence. We Vineyarders can make a silk purse out of a rainy spring.
Dan Cabot reports this morning that, unlike most of us for whom whining is just fooling around, some of our neighbors have had good reason to whine in late May and June. But, being farmers, even ephemeral farmers (Dan's description), they've learned that farming's not for whiners, so they've quit the habit.
For these folks - hybrid farmers, considering some are in retailing like David Douglas, with whom Dan spoke, and some are in chickens, eggs, pigs, transportation to the slaughterhouse off-Island, and custom fieldwork like Elisha Smith - it's time to make hay.
Putting thousands of bales in his barns, as David does, for his Charolais cattle and for sale to horse people, or putting up round bales for his and others' livestock, as Elisha does, this is the moment when some of the hardest, weather-critical work on the farm gets done. It's torturous, for sure, but, as I've written before, it's fun too.
Beyond fun, there's great beauty in haying, though not so much when it rains every day. And there's the fragrance of the newly mown grass and of the hay when it makes properly and timely. And finally, there's the teamwork that gets the work done. Despite the advances in agricultural machinery, without question astonishing in its contributed efficiency, there are still some bales to be toted, and all that machinery demands maintenance. You get your hands dirty making hay, and your hands and back will certainly be sore.
The time for the 2009 first cut has passed. Poor quality hay is likely. But, with luck - and farmers depend on luck - second and third cuts later in the summer will rebound. The Island's few good hay fields - big, flat, with a respectable overlay of topsoil, tilled smooth and fertilized and planted with the good alfalfa, clover, timothy mixes - have lost their May promise. Still, the work has to be done, and one morning soon, the moment will arrive.
Hoping for a string of hot, dry days, the haymaker will set off to mow a few acres. Not too early because the sun has to get up and dry the overnight moisture. There's a lot of drying that needs to be done after a month of drizzle and sunless days. But, not too late because the windrows that the mower/conditioner creates have to be tedded out so the sun can get at every bit of the plant.