Nature Notes: A look at haymaking

Jim Gilbert

When the first ox-eye daisy flowers open along the Waconia area roadsides (June 6 this year), we can then expect many farmers to be out cutting their first crop of alfalfa hay. I saw fresh-cut alfalfa down and the first ox-eye daisy blooming on May 15 last year.

Usually each year during the last few days of May or the first week in June on a sunny, warm day mowing machines will be out in numbers.

Farmers are already thinking about the cold days of winter and fodder to keep animals fed, so if three to four cuttings are to be made during the growing season the first cutting of alfalfa needs to come early.

Clear, dry weather is what farmers want for haymaking.

After cutting, the hay is left lying in the sun for a day of curing before the farmers rake and bale it. If a farmer is caught with a field of hay cut, but not yet cured and baled, he or she is in trouble. One day of rain can be taken in stride. But a slow, persistent two-day rain followed by damp, cloudy weather for another couple of days means that any hay that is down can probably only be used for bedding.

It may be mildewed, and even if it can be dried it is not good for feed.

Alfalfa is believed to be native to Iran, where seeds have been found in archeological deposits dating back to about 4,000 B.C., and Persians later raised it for their chariot horses about 500 B.C.

When the Spaniards explored Central and South America, they brought alfalfa with them to feed their horses. It has contributed to the prosperity of farmers since its introduction to our country about 1791. In 1859 Wendelin Grimm purchased 80 acres southwest of Lake Minnetonka in what is now Carver Park Reserve and began developing a strain of alfalfa that would winter over in our cold climate. Grimm alfalfa, a significant forage crop, was the result.

Alfalfa is what most farmers grow for winter hay. It is a plant belonging to the pea family.

When the violet-blue flowers appear, the plant’s protein content is at its highest, so that is when the hay should be cut.

Alfalfa is grown as a crop to harvest, so animals should not be allowed to graze on these artificial meadows because the vegetation is too rich and plentiful which could cause the animals to bloat.

Instead, livestock spend the growing season grazing on pastures planted with grasses.

Grasses are plants with long stems with flowers or seeds in spikes at the top of the stem. Among the grasses found growing in pastures are Kentucky bluegrass, timothy and foxtail.

Like the alfalfa of the artificial meadow, the many grasses of the natural, naturalized or planted pastures are also cut, dried, and then stored ready for the winter.

These cut, dried and stored plants are all considered to be hay.


What’s happening outdoors now?

Today we have 15 hours and 34 minutes of daylight. Between June 17-24 we will have 15 hours and 36 minutes; the longest eight days of the year. Enjoy the daylight! Expect lake surface temperatures to soon warm up to 70 degrees — the lowest temperature for safe swimming. Canada geese are losing their flight feathers and most will be flightless very soon. It’s their annual molt, but the geese will be flying again about July 20. Rugosa roses and golden mockorange shrubs have very fragrant flowers.


On June 13 a year ago

We had a low temperature of 55 degrees and a high of 76 degrees, under mostly cloudy skies. Garden raspberry picking was beginning, and Donna Frantz, At The Farm, reported that new potatoes were first dug.

Farmers started the second cutting of alfalfa. Some field corn was close to knee high.

Fireflies were out in the evening. I saw hundreds of these tiny lights over meadow areas on the north end of Lake Waconia. Green frogs and common tree frogs called through the night.