Monday, July 21, 2008

Hay Season

I love hay season. The timing of the season varies from farm-to-farm, but usually the local farmers cut and harvest in late June or early July, and again in September. Much depends on rain. In some seasons, central Pennsylvania farmers may get three cuttings of hay, and in a very dry year, the second cutting can be a great disappointment.

Making hay is a simple task. You begin by having a field of grasses and other plants that your livestock likes to eat. Popular plants include Timothy grass, Orchard grass, Alfalfa, and Clover. When the grasses are mature, but not fully gone to seed, you “mow” the field, cutting the plants close to the ground.

After mowing, you leave the cut plants on the ground to dry… and you might even revisit the field after a few days to flip the clippings so they dry evenly. Before the cut plants dry out completely, you gather them into bales or piles, depending on your preference—or the equipment you have available.

Of course, this is a gross oversimplification of hay-making. A farmer must prepare and plant a hay field; work the cutting, drying, baling, and storing around the weather (drying hay during a rainy month can’t be easy); evaluate when a field must be revitalized (it’s possible to get several years of good hay from a single planting); and deal with the baling equipment.

I have nothing to do with any of this. In fact, the only part of hay-making that makes me love the season is the cutting. Here’s why: when the local farmers cut their hay fields, the smell of onions fills the air. This is because wild onions grow in the hay fields—enough to produce a cloud of sweet onion aroma that hangs over the land for a day or two. This same onion smell can drift off of a freshly cut soy bean or corn field as well… but the harvest for those is still a month or more away.

If I simply craved the smell of onions, I’d go to the kitchen and cut one open. But I love the hay season not for the onion smell itself, but rather because of the smell. I’d never have expected it: a farmer harvests a crop, and the neighborhood smells like onions for a few days. It’s unexpected. It borders on absurd. I love it.

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