With the weather having been a mixed bag of sun and rain this Spring, our fields have benefitted immensely and the wildflower meadows have now made way for metre high grasses. Beautiful to look at, especially when the winds blow through them, and Pipkin (yes, we’ve named our resident hare) loves to run through them and we can often just see the tops of his ears twitching as he finds a particularly tasty patch to stop at – but they really do need cutting (the grasses not Pipkin’s ears) if we are to get fresh green growth before the dryness of the Summer really hits us. With that in mind, Marcus set to the ‘fasce’ along the front of the house last week with his ‘falce’ and soon made light work of a large area, reducing the grass to its previous undulating glory. The cut grasses were then left in the sun for a couple of very hot days to dry whilst we thought of what to do with it all.
With no animals in need of hay (I think I’m right in calling it hay rather than straw) and a ‘fienile’ that we are gradually trying to empty ready for some building works, we had the idea to bale what we could, to store in the field under a cover of some sort. Rather than having to lug huge piles of loose stuff around our land in the wheelbarrow and risking losing it all to a gust of wind, we could bale it and move it around much more easily. However with hay baling machines being far too expensive to even consider, we were back to another DIY project and quickly came up with a cheaper option – well it only cost us the price of some string, as we had everything else we needed!
Firstly we lay the string in the dustbin and secure it at both ends to make sure it doesn’t come undone as we push the hay into the bottom.
Then, with our trusty pitchfork, we fill the dustbin with the cut grass. Once filled to the brim we put the Gorilla tub in the top and either one of us gets in whilst the other provides a bit of support (I mean to hold on to – not to shout ‘Go on … you can do it … squash that grass … it doesn’t stand a chance!’) This process is then repeated until the dustbin can take no more compacting … or one of us falls over.
Finally the ends of the strings are undone from the dustbin then brought together and tied tightly (unless they’ve come undone during the compacting process and are now curled up under the straw and we need to redo the whole thing after a short outburst of ‘Mannaggia!’ or other suitable Italian words of frustration). Finally the dustbin is turned upside down and a tight(ish) bale of hay appears.
We’re still unsure what to do with these bales but we have some friends with animals who may be happy to take them off our hands this Summer. If not we can use them in the ‘orto’ as raised bed retainers next year, or dot them strategically around the land in threes and fours so we can create benches to sit on, as we take a breather from pulling logs from our wood. Maybe we’ll go all ‘Grand Designs’ and build our new haybarn out of hay bales, or maybe just have a huge November 5th bonfire, probably to the absolute horror of all our ‘contadini’ neighbours!
But we’re already exploring a better option for next year and have put a couple of scribblings on paper for a homemade hand baler – basically a box made out of wood with a lever to compact the material inside (and hopefully a secure string holder). The floor of the ‘fienile’ is made up of ideal pieces of wood for this little project so once we’ve uncovered that, we’ve no need to visit the local builders’ merchant for materials either.
So next year our bales should be square, compact and more uniform at the pull of a handle, with no need for Cirque du Soleil balancing abilities and hopefully a lot less swearing. And if we can’t find anyone who wants them, then we’ll set up a few hay bale sofas in the field, string up some lights amongst the trees, invite a band with the compulsory accordion player and have ourselves a hoedown!