Sunday, October 10, 2010

"The Best Laid Schemes o' Mice an' Men / Gang Aft Agley."*

In some areas of the country, schools still shut down during fall harvest so the kids can help bring in the crops. Hay is one crop truly weather dependent. You need several days of warm dry weather to cut the grass, dry it properly, then gather and store it.

I took 2-1/2 days vacation this past week to get my hay in. My goal was 150 bags. 250 will get the horses and goats through the winter when supplemented with leaves and plenty of grain. I already had 50 bags put up. With a small farm and no fancy equipment, I just mow with a brush hog then use a pull-along sweeper to gather the cut grass into piles a couple of days after it's been drying in the sun. Then I stuff the grass into large lawn-and-leaf trash bags that are easy for me to lift and transport.

It isn't terribly hard work, but it is time-consuming. And it's always a race against the rain -- and sometimes other things.

This time my haying was halted by two water leaks.

I have over 1/4 mile of water pipe on the property that I'm responsible for. With joints every 10 feet, that's a lot of potential for joint failure. Most of the PVC pipe -- which has a 25-year life expectancy -- has been buried for 26 years. Plus the ground moves. A lot. Luckily, PVC is easy to repair. Unluckily, the ground here is black clay -- the nastiest, gummiest kind of soil to work in, especially when it's wet.

The hardest part about repairing a leak in general is finding it. The pipes are 1 inch or less in diameter and run at least 18 inches underground. By the time I know one of the joints is leaking, there's generally a very large puddle in the area. If there are no bubbles to clue me in, I have to find the highest wet point and start digging there, hoping to at least run into the pipe so I can track back to the leaking joint.

After the first two or three spadefuls, the wet clay starts sticking to the shovel head. I use a trowel to scrape the clay off each time I bring the shovel up. Normally, I find the pipe on the first hole and the leak on the second hole, but it's slow, vile work to get there.

There are special compression joints you can buy to fix an inline leak that are quick and simple to use. If you have one handy. And if it's the right size. I try to keep an extra one on hand, but when I have 2 leaks in 3 days, the second leak means a 30-minute trip to the hardware store. When I'm covered in mud. Then there are the trips back and forth to the water main to cut it off and turn it on to test the fix. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries to get it right.

I then leave the hole uncovered for two or three days so I can watch the repair and be sure it's not going to have problems. Also to give the dug-out clay time to dry some so it's easier to shovel back into the hole. Meaning I have to put something over the hole so dogs and horses don't break a leg or a pipe. And hope it doesn't rain in the meantime, although I've had to fix leaks in the sleet and on 100-plus degree days. Assuming all goes smoothly, it ruins only the bulk of one perfectly good afternoon.

Two such afternoons when I've only given myself 4-1/2 days for haying means something gives. As the mornings are too damp for mowing and I have to wait into the beginning of the afternoon for the grass to dry enough to start sweeping or bagging it, I was really defeated before I started.

I'll likely have about 60 or 70 bags put up this weekend before the rain moves in late Sunday. I have perfectly good cut grass lying in a second pasture that will likely stay there now since the rain will ruin it and I'll soon need to turn my attention to bagging leaves for the goats (not that the leaves have started turning yet -- it's a true Indian summer here: almost mid-October and we're still near 90 degrees F [32 C]). The upshot is that I'll still have to buy hay to get the beasties through the winter.

Next year, things should be different. While I'll never be anywhere close to self-sufficient, I hope to be able to increase my self-sufficiency from the 2% mark I seem to be at now to about 20%. I think that's a do-able goal. That is, barring an increase in water leaks, drought, monsoons, equipment failure, ill health and any number of obstacles lurking around the corner.

At least I'm doing this because I want to and not because I have to. I have the fall-back of being able to afford the things I need. How folk ever manage now or have ever managed in the past to make a livelihood out of small-scale farming considering all the fickleness of fate is beyond me. I have new-found respect for all those who do.

*Robert Burns, "To a Mouse"


Kay said...

You are indeed Wonder Woman.

fairyhedgehog said...

It looks like a heck of a lot of work.

Matt said...

When I was a boy, I lived in the countryside. It wasn't a farm, but we did have horses, birds, a dog, and a wandering society of cats that claimed the hay loft as their home base. Of course, I'm a city-slicker now.

I used to get tired when I was told to sweep the barn.


I suddenly feel lazy.

Phoenix said...

Alas, Kay, WW would have got the job done ;o)

FHH, yes, it is a lot of work! But do-able once I don't have to work 60 hours a week for HP any longer.

Matt: Ha! I still grumble when I have to clean the barn. At least you're a city slicker with memories.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Are you planning a vegetable garden or do you have one already? Do you have any fruit trees? Raspberry canes? I love reading about your farm life.

Whirlochre said...

I'm fairly close to a rural paradise, but we don't stop everything for harvests in the UK.

Maybe there will be a brief traffic jam thanks to some farmer in a slow moving tractor, or maybe a child will get his finger caught in the blades of a combine harvester, but that's about it.

Right now, the problem is dodging falling apples.

Sylvia said...

Wow, that's a *lot* of work. And I pat myself on the back for my tiny little vegetable plot!

I love these posts even if they do make me realize how easy my life is!