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Lawn and Garden

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

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07/01/2011 - As I sat down to write this article I felt like I should go over some watering tips since it has been so hot lately. Then I looked over my July articles for the last 4 years, and I noticed that I have written about watering every July since 2007. Needless to say I feel like maybe I should avoid that topic this year just to change things up a little. But if you are wondering what I might have written about watering, I think I can sum it up as follows: Water in the morning, water thoroughly, and check for water often.

What I would really like to write about this month is my hobby, growing hay at my house. I know you must be thinking this guy has a really one track mind -- all he thinks about is growing things. But that is not true, I think about a few things other than growing and plants. Just ask my wife… she'll tell you I can't stop bugging her about tractors. Truth be known, the machines are one of the biggest reasons I love growing hay. I thought there might be some of you out there that think they are interesting too. There are two main parts to making hay, cutting it and then baling it. To cut it we use a self-propelled swather (some people call them windrowers). Imagine a huge version of the hairstylist's clippers; that is pretty much what a swather is. The teeth hover just above the ground, and cut the hay as you drive over it.

Frank (I stole the name from the "Cars" movie) is a marvelous machine, before we met I thought it couldn't get any better than cutting the grass with a riding lawn mower, boy was I mistaken! Frank is an animal! I still remember the thrill I got the first time I tested him out on our field. I climbed up the steel steps into the cab. The cabs on swathers are neat because they are set high and forward to give the operator a good view of the hay coming into the cutter. Their placement makes it feel like you are floating over the cutting head.

I had seen people cutting hay many times, and from a distance it looked pretty tame and slow. As I engaged the cutter lever and about 50,000 moving parts came to life below me I remember thinking, How on God's earth did some person come up with this contraption 50 years ago, and how am I ever going to fix it if it breaks?

As the header on the machine came up to speed and there were no fiery explosions, I began to relax. I am sure that many of my neighbors got a good laugh if they were watching because I eased into that first patch of hay so slowly that I think I could see each individual piece of grass being cut. As I became more comfortable in the driver's seat I began to realize that the person who designed this machine really did know what they were doing. Frank cuts hay, FAST! Holy cow, our swather will cut hay so fast it will buck you right out of the seat if you are not carefull. The header cuts so well that the only reason to slow down is to keep the rear wheels from breaking off on the bumps. One of my neighbors commented that I was going so fast that I was going to plug up my swather with hay. I didn't slow down and it never plugged up. Later I found out that Frank was built for speed. At the factory he was outfitted with an unusually small 12ft header, most machines of the same size were getting 14 and 16ft headers.

Being blessed with a smaller header makes it so that you can run a higher ground speed without overloading the machine. Although It looks like I am cutting fast to my neighbor it takes me just as long as him to cut an acre of field because one of his passes is 50% larger than one of mine.

Last year I passed the cutting duties on to my wife. She had never driven anything nearly as big as that swather so she was pretty nervous. Last June to try to help her get more excited to drive for the first time the kids and I put together a little production. We gathered up some Aviator sunglasses and the "Danger Zone" song from Top Gun. We put on those glasses and cranked up that song on the trucks radio as she climbed aboard. I still don't know if having a soundtrack helped her get the courage to drive for the first time, but it sure made me want to. Since then she has been doing well, many (okay most) of our customers say she cuts the hay way better than I ever did. I am glad to have her helping make the hay, so I don't let it get to me.

I still miss driving Frank, but I have gotten a couple of new "tools" to help me ease the pain, and I will tell you about them next month if you will let me. Until then I hope you enjoy growing whatever it is you decided to grow this year, and that it is your best crop ever.

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