Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hay Day #3

Well, as promised here is the conclusion of our hay series. Putting in hay is a three step process. First, cutting the hay and next letting they hay dry. The last day of the process really has two big steps - raking and baling.

We bale hay from four different fields. Two of the fields are on our property and the others are up the road and belong to some friends. They don't use the hay, so if we're willing to bale it we can have it.

Before the baling took place this is what the hay loft looked like. We store the hay here for the winter and feed the cows in that area below. (If you look closely you can see a cow nose down there on the right.)

The first step of the day is raking the hay into rows. This starts in the mid-morning, once the dew has dried. Farmer John's Dad mans the tractor for the day. They attach this rake to the tractor and off he goes.

There are little tines on the rake that lift the hay and lay in in a row. Here is one of our fields raked and ready for baling.

While the hay in being raked, Farmer John gets the baler ready to go. I have to say that this baler is probably the most amazing piece of equipment on the farm. It has the ability to scoop up hay, compact it into bales, then knot and cut twine around the bales. It's fascinating to watch, and these photos really don't do it justice.

If you were sitting on the tractor and turned around, this is the view of the baler. The pick-up turns and pull the hay toward the auger. The auger pushes it into the bale chamber.

Here's the back of the baler. Farmer John is standing next to the bale chamber. The plunger compacts the hay in the chamber then the most awe-inspiring part of the process happens.

This is the knotter mechanism. It's one part engineering and two parts black magic. I used to think there were little men in the baler frantically tying knots around the bales, but it's really these little stainless-steel fingers. Farmer John is convinced that even the engineers that designed it don't know how it works.

After the knots are tied and the twine is cut, the bales come out at the back of the baler. This is Farmer John's Dad riding into battle against the heat and forage.The bales drop from the baler one by one and are spread throughout the field. It is my job to stack them in groups to make loading the bales more efficient.
The bales are packed soundly onto the back of the pick-up for transport back to the barn. Once back at the barn the crew unloads the bales from the truck. Farmer John got a new toy this year, a hay elevator. This wonderful contraption works as a conveyor moving the hay from the pick-up bed to the top of the loft. Before the elevator, the hay had to be thrown from the truck to the top of the loft.
The baler counts the bales as it ties them. Here is our total from day three.
Here is the barn after three days of putting in hay. Lots of hard, sweaty work went into filling the barn. Farmer John and I can't do this on our own and are very grateful for all the extra workers that come to help us.
There are few feelings as satisfying as looking into the loft and seeing all that hay. It's a whole winters' worth of feed that we harvested for our livestock. Our total number of bales now stands at 976.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Dear Farmer John

Dear Farmer John,

I know today didn't go as planned. We didn't get all the hay in that we wanted to. Equipment broke and we lost some of the hay crew. But, through it all I was thinking of what I wanted to tell you.

Thank you for working so hard for our farm.

Thank you for fixing the shear pins every time they break. Thank you for unclogging the baler. Thank you for running the baler when half the crew needed a break.

Thank you for having a smile on your face, even when you were hot and tired.

Thank you for knowing when it was time to call it quits.

Thank you for having faith in me to stack and load hay bales. Thank you (and all the guys) for being impressed that I could do it. Thank you for calling me "a strapping Norwegian farm girl" at the end of the day. Thank you for letting me shower first.

Thank you for going to town to get more supplies - including a frozen pizza.

Mostly, thank you for having the strength to do it all again tomorrow.

Love, your Norwegian farm girl

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Farm IT Guy Strikes Again!

Hello all!

While on taking a "workation" on the Jennings Brae Bank Farm, I made some updates to the blog.

Now you can easily email a blog post to a friend. Located next to the Comments link at the bottom of each link, there is a little picture of an envelope with an arrow on it. Click on this picture. A new window will open up where you can fill in your name, email address, and your friend's email address. Write a message, if you wish, and fill in the word verification. Click "Send Email" and your friends can also enjoy the splendor of the JBB Farm!

At the bottom of the page, I added two new "gadgets." You can follow this blog by email. Simply enter your email address in the entry field and click "Submit." A window will open asking you to verify your email. If you choose to follow the blog, you will be sent an email each time Mollie posts a new entry. You can also follow the blog through your favorite RSS subscription service. Click on one of the subscription options and choose your service. Follow some steps, and you will be notified through that service whenever a entry or comment is posted.

Also, if you're new to the blog or are intimidated by the comment matrix but wish to comment, follow the steps from my previous IT post on commenting here:

Enjoy the rest of your summers! I'm off to visit some colleges!


Sam, the IT man

Monday, July 25, 2011

Weekend project

Whew, it's been a busy few days around here!

Things like this have been happening:Farmer John worked with a couple other guys to set the bridge abutments. They measured, dug, leveled, spread gravel and set concrete blocks. The process took longer than they were expecting, and the heat wave didn't help. But, look what we have now:

The driving bridge will sit on top of those blocks. There's still some adjusting to do to the abutments, but we are so much closer to being able to drive to the farm!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's a girl!

A calf was born yesterday evening. It is the first calf this cow has had.

The cow is being a good mom, and the calf appears to be healthy. She has two eyes and four legs, and for now we're grateful for that.

In case you were keeping track we've had five calves this year. Four of the five are healthy and with the rest of the herd. One is blind and under our care. The first four were born exactly a month apart (March 2, April 2, May 3, and June 3). Our newest one doesn't fit the pattern, but we'll take her anyway!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The first big harvest

This is what Farmer John brought in from the garden this morning:

Food preservation season has begun. It's time to start preparing our meals for the winter.

I'll cut the broccoli into stir-fry sized pieces then blanch and freeze it. Some of zucchini will be cut and frozen for stir-fries also. But, most of it will be shredded to use for all kinds of other good food.

Time to tie on the chicken apron, crank up the kitchen stereo and get choppin'. What's your favorite music to listen to while shredding pounds of zucchini...or cooking?

Monday, July 11, 2011

SH*T Happens

If there's anything we've learned in the five years of living here it's this: Expect the unexpected.

Cows get out of the barn as we're leaving for Christmas dinner, crows eat the corn, a day starts with three flat tires, the power goes out on a beautiful day, and the list could go on. Jon Katz named his farm "Bedlam". Some days I think, "Yup, sounds about right."

So tonight I was expecting to take a long shower, relax on the couch and write about Day #3 of hay. But then the chicken coop blew over. A storm rolled through this afternoon and flipped the coop onto it's roof and onto two fences. That was unexpected.

It took two chains, the "come-along", the four-wheeler and both of us, but we got the coop right side up. And at one point in the rainy, muddy process I thought "Wow, I'm thankful we both have health insurance."

Tomorrow repairs will need to be done to both the coop and the fences. For tonight we're both exhausted from the day.

I hope the next post will be about hay, but I won't count on it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hay Day #2

Today was the second of three days of putting in hay. The goal for today was to let the hay dry.

If the hay is damp then it will rot while it sits in the barn throughout the winter. In some barns the heat from the decomposing wet hay will start a fire. Farmer John says we don't need to worry about that in our barn though. We have good airflow - due to big open doors and some holes.

So what's a farmer to do while the hay dries?

Go to a baseball game!

It was a beautiful day in Pittsburgh - perfect for enjoying the view from the cheap seats and cheering on our favorite teams. I root for the Cubs...
...and Farmer John is loyal to the Pirates. It's a house divided.

Final score: Pirates 9 Cubs 1. Oh Cubbies...

We'll get back to the farm work tomorrow. It's going to be uncomfortably hot - perfect for haymaking.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hay Day #1

Finally it's time to cut hay! We had a very wet May and June along with a hay mower that needed some repairs, so it's taken us a while to get the hay in. This weekend the process begins. It takes about three days of hot and dry weather to cut, dry and bale the hay - and that's what in the forecast.

Here's what the lower hay field looked like last night - look past the fenceposts and greenery in the foreground.

And here's what it looked like this afternoon. Farmer John's Dad mowed both our hay fields. In this photo the middle hasn't been cut, but the rest is done.

The yellow thing sticking off the back of the tractor is the hay-mower. The blades are at the bottom of the yellow guard. Farmer John and his Dad were working on a problem with the mower - and in the end it was a problem that could be fixed with a spud bar. (For the record, the spud bar is my third-favorite farm tool.)

After the hay was cut, Farmer John and I spread out the clumps of hay. This photo was from the upper hay-field, which had most of the clumps. If they don't get spread out then the hay won't dry.

After all the hay was de-clumped (yes, that's the official farm term!) we just hung out in the hay field. It was a very pleasant evening. The birds were singing, the creek was running and the fresh cut hay smelled so good.

Stay tuned for the next couple days as we finish the hay - also known as getting the cow's January dinner ready.

Friday, July 8, 2011

What we're eating

We're in the midst of berry season on the farm. The raspberries are almost done, although we'll get some more in the fall, and the blackberries are just getting started.
We are lucky to be able to sell some of the berries to our friends and co-workers. (Thank you!!) The rest of the berries stay with us. Some just get eaten plain. The rest go into tasty treats.

Here's what I made for breakfast yesterday:
In sticking with our Scottish theme around the farm I made raspberry scones. Not very pretty to look at, but they were pretty tasty. Here's the recipe if you have some berries you want to use for breakfast. Technically the directions called for blueberries and a lemon glaze - I used the berries we had and skipped the glaze.

I also made this cobbler for dessert early in the week. I used Pioneer Woman's Rhubarb Cobbler recipe. Normally I prefer crisps to cobblers, but this one was yummy. We had a little bit of rhubarb the first time I made it, so I mixed that with berries. This last time it was just raspberries.

It's been satisfying to eat all the good food we're getting from the garden. Every meal is rewarding when we know the work that went into growing that food. The hard work is starting to pay off.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Teaching vs. Farming

There’s a lot I could say about the difference between what we do at the farm and our “real jobs”. But, for today, let me say this: I love that farming is tangible.

I could work for hours at school and not have much to show for it at all. On the farm that’s not generally the case. Today I worked in the garden for an hour or so, and by the time I was done I had a pile of weeds to represent all that work. (Shown here with a Labrador for size comparison.)

True, no one learned to read today nor did they learn anything more about biology. But, look at that pile of weeds! (There’s some lettuce in there too that’s done for the season) That’s was a lot of work in the heat. I love that I have something to show for all that work.

What is great about the pile of weeds is that it will be transformed into another tangible thing. We’ll give those weeds and lettuce to the chickens, and they’ll give us eggs. So, in the end, when I was weeding the garden I was really feeding us. And for today, that’s a pretty good feeling.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Home again, home again

We're back at the farm after over a week of vacation. We got to enjoy the Wisconsin Northwoods, see Mollie's family, catch up with friends and spend a day poking around Ashland. Coco spent most of her vacation doing this:

The farm didn't look any worse than when we left it. The gardens did quite well in our absence. This is mostly because Farmer John worked very hard right before we left to get them in shape. Also, we are using straw mulch for the first time. It's workng like a charm and keeping the weeds at bay.

The lettuces are done, and need to be pulled. The broccoli looks good, as do all the MANY heads of cabbage. The tomatoes are in desperate need of being staked. (Not anymore! Farmer John got that done this afternoon.) Our newest patch of potatoes are up, and the pumpkin patch just needs another layer of mulch. Good food is on the way! We picked, and sold, lots of raspberries before we left. Farmer John's Mom was also able to get enough for a batch of jam. But the berries keep coming, and more were ready when we got home.

And, this little one isn't so little anymore. She got taller while we were away, and is very energetic.

It was fun to be away for a while, but it's nice to be home.
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