Haymaking

I spotted a grey squirrel at the top of the hazel coppice a couple of days ago. They’re often around the house, stealing the bird feed, but I haven’t seen them up the hill before. That’s probably because I’m not up there enough to observe them but I guess we’ll have to start trapping if they get a taste for the bark. Still, the kestrel was patrolling the same area yesterday; perhaps Nature will lend a hand.

Using my recently-made shave horse, I carved a nice handle on our new hand-powered hay baler. A month ago, I asked Calderdale Wildlife Association to survey the grasses around the farm; they identified sixteen species with wonderful names like Yorkshire Fog, Creeping Soft Grass, Crested Dogs Tail and Sweet Vernal Grass. The idea was to understand whether we need to re-seed to establish a viable meadow ecology and the conclusion was to, “Just mow it.” An improved pasture would have only half a dozen species so we were happy to confirm that Warland hasn’t had any modern farming attention. Based on their advice, I shaved the field below the farmhouse with my scythe and Monica, her brother Kevin and her Daddy helped with the tedding and stacking. In a 1950’s YouTube video, I saw a Swiss farmer carry a mountain of hay home from his steep pasture on his head, using only a length of string to hold it all together. When I had successfully hoisted my first load, Monica exclaimed, “I’m living in a f…ing Breugel painting!”

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At this point we had no real use for the hay with only one pet rabbit and one pet ferret to keep bedded and fed. My best idea was to lay it between the orchard rows to suppress the grass there. Thinking things through, though, I realised that bales of hay, straw etc would be a valuable resource for building in the garden and for insulating against frost. A quick Google later and I was gathering offcut lumber to construct the hay baler. We tested it on Saturday, before the weather changed, and it’s a simple joy: the bales are sound and solid and we got seven out before M got bored. I’d already improved the design to make it safer and efficient for one-person operation so, when the sun peeps out again, I’ll be back in the field, squashing grass.

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I’ve also mown half of the forest garden, at first with the idea that the mowings—mainly soft rushes—would stay in place under the plastic mulch but now there’s a demand them to be baled. In Monica’s allotment, we’re thinking of shuttering along the contour and then dropping in bales to create a level base for planting into. As the material rots to compost, we’ll throw more bales in to build up terraces. Hopefully this will be easier than cut-and-fill digging.

Once again, the Smithy is cleared out. Three times, it has been the convenient dumping ground for junk in transit but now all that junk has found its proper home. Not only that, all the rusty tools that I inherited from Ralph and the in-laws have been cleaned, waxed and filed away and the shelves in the wood shop are getting tidied. I’m at the point of ordering 3 phase wiring and getting the wood shop machines into place. I also have two clear workbenches in the wood shop, two more upstairs in the loft, one in the smithy and one in the barn. Why all this non-productive, preparatory work? Because my head has been processing a ton of information and impressions generated at my cousin’s wedding a fortnight ago and I had no spare cycles for project thinking. Instead, I’ve been treading down my bed like an old dog.

We got the invitation after visiting my Aunt Margaret, near Canterbury, in the spring. It’s she who found me after, I discovered, years of trips up to Yorkshire in search of the long-lost cousin. I got to meet a brother and cousins I’d never seen and I got to pick up threads with a sister and a few other relatives whom I’d met only once, sixteen years ago. Poor old Monica, who has always been the one with the family events, had to meet them all in one sweep. Needless to say, she coped and has all their life stories already. The wedding itself consisted of a very traditional C of E affair in the oldest church in the country (580 AD) followed by a very modern Jain Hindu ceremony. This was all in the grounds of the college where Uncle Michael was Principal for decades.

My sole contribution to the event was to put a stone against the coconut the Indians had placed under the limousine’s tyre, so that it would break rather than shooting again out to injure more members of the throng. It was fun, though, being a man of mystery for the day. I doubt if I would have enjoyed it, even a few years ago before I mellowed into the Warland that I am today. I look forward to becoming friends with my young cousins, both of whom are London lawyers.

On the way home, we paid am impromptu visit to a brother I hadn’t met, near Reading. I was told by Neil and Gillian, when I first met them sixteen years ago, that this brother, Chris, and another, Jonathan, had refused to meet me and so I left them alone until now. Again, it was Aunt Margaret who made the link and, so far, we’re very grateful.

While wending through the Kentish A roads, we saw piles and piles of sweet chestnut logs which made me wish I’d brought he truck. After building my shave horse I’m in the mood to build a chair or two, just to keep me from getting bored. I was so enamoured that I checked to see if I could buy some roundwood off the Internet and, blow me down, all that we saw was for sale and we could have loaded up the roof rack. I have agreed to help Margaret plant a windbreak over the winter so perhaps I’ll be able to bring some timber home, after all.

Monica is keeping on, keeping her bees. The new hive appears to be well into storing enough honey for winter but her original swarm still struggles. She surprised us both by developing an instant passion for foraging, making jam and brewing country wines. This is a very good sign for when we start producing our own fruit.

I’ve just, this morning, moved my desk so that my computer and the server are in different corners of the living room. The server is also our telly, you see, and I need to be able to work while it’s on. I have the building designs to research and draw up; plus I have a budding photography hobby/business with cousin Chris that needs attention and space. If this works out, I hope Chris will be able to give up his trips to North Sea oil rigs on dodgy helicopters and we can make up for a lot of lost years.

After a long, dry summer (hooray!) autumnal showers are sweeping the valley, interrupting my hay-making. It’s dry for a moment so I must step out to check that our amateur haystacks are staying dry.

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