Tuesday, September 17, 2019
The Shrewd King 9.2: Cutting hay Part II
Wesley knew that cutting hay when the dew is still on it was stupid.
The whole point of making hay is to dry the grass and standing grass dries much faster than grass that is on the ground.
Wesley knew that cutting hay when the dew was still on it was stupid. He also knew he was looking at hell on earth if his dad caught him not cutting hay at first light.
Wesley cut it a little bit close, he was only a few hundred yards out in the field when he looked back and saw his dad glaring at him. Wesley was going at the speed of a slow walk and cutting the hay a foot off the ground.
Wesley’s plan was to cut along the west side as that is where the sun would hit first and to let the grass stand as long as possible on the east side.
Unfortunately, the west side of the field was the side that was closest to the river. Wesley quickly figured out he could watch the left front wheel of the old Ford 3000. When muddy water started pushing out like the bow-wave of a speed boat, Wesley quickly jogged away from the river toward higher ground.
Wesley knew that he was in for criticism for the sawtoothing of the path from his father. It could not be helped. He would take his ass-whipping at the end of the day when he came back to the barn, but for now he had a full tank of gas and an additional ten gallons in jerry-cans strapped to the drawbar of the three-point-hitch.
Wesley was unaware of the hydrology of the Grand River valley and the dynamics driving it.
The valley was “bathtub” shaped. The sides of the valley were steep and the actual river looped from one side of the valley to the other over most of its course. Over the centuries, the river bed would fill with sediment and during a flood the river would pick a different set of channels to follow.
Where Wesley was cutting hay, the river made an uncharacteristically long straight run along the west side of the valley and there was a wide, flat area only slightly above the level of the river along the east side of the river.
East of the valley the land was slightly rolling and approximately forty feet higher in elevation for the next twenty miles. Rain falling on that higher land percolated down into the ground and found seams of gravel and sand left when the glaciers melted nine-thousand years ago.
Those same seams of gravel also ran beneath the bottomland that Wesley was mowing and the pressurized water could start bubbling up anywhere in the flats given the slightest provocations. Consequently, the soil was always saturated, which was one reason that ants had to build their nests up, to get out of the water.
At four-feet-per second, running a five foot cutter bar, it was going to take Wesley at least another sixty hours to cut the hundred acres.
Five thousand pounds of dry matter per acre meant that Wesley was laying fifteen-thousand pounds of green grass on the ground. The tall, rank grass created a springy mattress” five inches thick.
It also meant that the sun had to evaporate 10,000 pounds of water per acre out of that grass to turn it to hay.
The sun struggled to penetrate more than one inch into the “mattress”.
The third day Wesley was cutting, Denny Blastic checked out the swath of hay Wesley had cut two days earlier. He found the bottom of the mattress as green and as juicy as the day it had been cut. It did not occur to him that the ground it was resting on was oozing water and, in time, the grass would have struck roots and started growing again.
Denny Blastic was hot and sweaty by the time he got to the corn field where Vernon’s crew was pulling weeds (and young corn plants). He was in an exceptionally foul mood. He did not care for physical exertion, at least when it involved him sweating.
Ten minutes later the entire crew was trotting toward the hay field. Denny directed Vernon to cut forks from trees for the crew to use to flip the swath of hay over to expose the bottom of the swath to the sun.
Vernon’s fifty member crew, crippled by dysentery and wielding ten pound, two-tine forks, was just barely able to keep up with Wesley’s cutting. Not only were the workers frustrated by the crude tools, they were also frustrated by the fact that the grass had settle down into the 12” tall stubble. It was not a simple matter of sliding the fork beneath the swath and a quick flip. The stubble fought the forks and dragged and tugged at the drying grass, trying to tip the forks and pull it off the tines before it was high enough to flip over.
Many times, the best the workers could do was to fluff up the mattress and bring wet, green grass to the top. The workers pretended to have flipped the grass over. Vernon pretended to not have notices and everybody kept an eye out for Denny.
At fifteen thousand pounds of wet grass to the acre, the workers had to lift 1.5 million pounds of grass to fluff the entire hundred acre parcel.