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Lawn and Garden

Little Boy Blue Asleep in the Hay

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08/01/2011 - Well I have to admit I am unusually happy to be writing this August's article. After going a little off subject last month I wasn't sure if they would let me write again this month. Hopefully my writing again for them means that Joe and Mary didn't receive too many complaints. (Editor's note: Are you kidding? No complaints -- We have aways only received favorable comments regarding Andy's helpful garden column.)

As I said last month, growing hay at my house is my hobby and there are two main components to producing a bale of hay, cutting and baling. As I recall, I had just finished telling you about my swather, Frank. (Yes I did steal the name from the cars movie, and I took full responsibility last month.) Then I left you on a cliffhanger ending saying that I wanted to tell you about some new toys tools I had gotten to help ease the pain of transferring the duties of piloting the swather on to my wife.

Before I tell you about them I had better give you some background on the baling end of the hay-making process. The first part of the baler the hay comes in contact with is the "pick-up". As you can probably imagine, the pick-up picks up the dried hay from the windrows the swather made. It does this using spring loaded wire teeth that rotate around at ground level. It's a lot like the spinning brush under the vacuum. The difference is it hovers high enough to miss the dirt, but low enough to grab the hay.

Once the hay enters the machine it is grabbed by long metal spear like teeth. These teeth push the hay into the main body of the baler where the plunger runs back and forth, pounding the hay into bales. The ka-chunk, ka-chunk sound you hear when someone is baling is the sound of the plunger packing the hay into bales.

Behind the plunger on the baler are the knotters, this is where the magic happens. The knotters tie the strings around the bales. How do they do it? Well just like any other good magician, they aren't giving up their secrets. I have watched them for hours on end and I still don't know how they work. They do it right in front of my eyes… and I still can't figure it out. Once the string is tied around the bale it falls out the back of the baler, and the process starts over.

The first baler I had was an old one, but a shiny one. The previous owner worked at a body shop, so it had a fresh coat of fire engine red on it when I bought it. Had he known me, he would have known there was no way I was going home without it once I saw that new shiny paint. My wife is pretty sure I am part raccoon. That baler looked great. Running it was a little tough though. It still baled pretty well, but since it was older it needed a little help doing the things it had done on its own before. Like keeping its bales a regular length or getting the strings tied every time. So I would help it out. It was self-propelled so the driver actually sat right above the action. On that one, though, it was better to stand because there were always so many things to be doing, like helping levers move here and making sure things didn't plug up over there.

By the time I finished a thousand bales I felt like I was part of the machine. The Hay Cruiser (that is its factory name) and I got along great for the first couple years, but then last year it decided to become cantankerous. During first cutting it broke down so many times baling it took almost a month. We were able to finish, but the damage had been done, the love affair was over. I sold that baler right after that cutting. That is where the new tools come in; I went a little overboard and bought a much newer baler. The bad thing was they do not make self-propelled balers anymore, so I had to get a tractor to pull it too. Don't tell my kids but we might have to hold off college for a few years.

Now baling is a cinch; I mostly just get to sit there. But don't think that new equipment can't have its problems too. I assumed that and I found out I was wrong. One night not too long ago I was up baling pretty late. It was about one in the morning and I was getting really tired. On the old baler this didn't happen because it kept you moving. But now I was just piloting, and I began to nod off as I was running down the rows. Since the baler was new and I was waking up for the corners I figured it couldn't hurt anything. This went on until about two o'clock, and then I noticed that one of the bales I was passing seemed awful long. I shrugged it off and continued on. Then I noticed that the bale next to it was even longer. Again I decided my eyes were playing tricks on me and I kept going. Finally when I saw the third bale in that row was even longer yet I decided to stop and check things out. As I got out of the tractor in the stillness of the night I had the feeling that something was watching me. Then as I walked around the back of the baler I saw it, the biggest bale I have ever seen was sticking out of the back of the machine. It turned out that the adjuster bolt on the bale length metering rod had come loose, and now the baler was making bales as long as it could, which happens to be about 10 ft. I was so tired I decided it was time to hang it up for the night. (In hindsight I should have done that an hour before) The next morning I saw the damage, there were over a hundred whale size bales swimming around out in my field. It took half the day to get them cut and re-baled.

Next time I feel tired I'll sleep in my bed, and not the hayfield. I hope you all have a good month and a good harvest this fall.

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