Hay is magical. You can climb and play on it, you can feed it to animals, you can use it for bedding, you can compost it, you can mulch with it, you can build houses with it!
I am in love with hay. It smells like childhood and country. Like cows and horses and a sunny day.
When I first set out to start our own organic vegetables farm, I knew I will be using hay. One way or another, there must be hay on my farm.
I also knew I will need compost. Lots of it.
I decided to build my compost piles from hay bales (something I earned from Elliot Coleman). The hay allows for air flow, it is fast and easy to build with and eventually it will decompose and become part of the compost pile.
I didn’t want to pay $6 a bale so three month ago I posted an ad on Craigslist saying I need bad hay; moldy, wet, old, whatever…. The condition of the hay didn’t really matter since I am not going to feed it to animals. I knew someone has to have bad hay laying somewhere.
But no one responded to my ad. I was busy working on the RV and the other farm equipment we bought so I didn’t even reposted the ad.
Then, last week a lady called me saying she has many bales of hay she has to get rid of. The trailer they were stored in leaked and some of them got moldy. She didn’t want to take a chance feeding it to her animals so she decided to get rid of it all, clean the trailer and get new hay.
I was excited as a 4 years old girl on her Frozen theme birthday party.
First, I got to know another one of my farmer neighbors. Karen and I hit it off within second, talking cheese, goats, corn, horses and so on. We were on the phone for 45 minuets! We will get to visit her farm and fish her brain for important information.
Second, we get to take the kids to play on hay bales.
Third, we can start making compost and with the amount of bales she said she had we can keep some bales aside for mulch.
Forth, We get to spend a day in the country.
So, we woke up early Sunday morning ready for a day of hard work. The girls were in heaven the minute they stepped out of the car. They were running around between the goats, the horses, the lama, and the dogs.
After lots of talking my husband and I got busy loading the trailer. Do you see the little black kid on the left? There were few of those little ones running around. They are curious and playful like toddlers.
You put the bales on their narrow side, making sure to leave a small gap between them so more air can go through in addition to what’s going through the hay bale itself. When building the second layer, make sure to cross the bales over so they lock together.
To make the compost we will layer dry ingredients (in our case hay, since we have a lot of it), on top of the hay we’ll throw horse manure (you don’t have to add manure if you don’t have it but it makes super compost so it worth getting. We pick up manure for free from farms in the area), and the third layer is green, moist plants. The material for the green layer will come from mowing the field and from harvesting some of the buckwheat I planted a while ago. You just keep layering dry, manure, green, dry, manure, green and so on until the pile if filled all the way to the top. It will take it about a year to become good compost. The compost is ready when it looks like dark soil and you no longer can recognize the plants you added in there. Once the compost is ready, it is important to cover the pile with tarp so it doesn’t get wet from the rain. The hay walls will probably last 2-3 years.
We built three large piles that we will try to get filled as fast as we can so by next Fall we will have good compost for the farm. Make sure not to add dry leaves to your compost. They stick together and it takes them a long long time to decompose (2-3 years). Pile dry leaves in their own pile and shred them if you can (drive over them with the lawn mower), then mix them in your soil every Fall or use them for mulch. They become moldy and the mold is very rich in magnesium and calcium and it retain lots of water.
After we unloaded the first load we went for lunch at a restaurant in town. Everyone was wearing their best Sunday clothes while we were filthy and hay was sticking out of our hair. But they didn’t seem to care much.
Then we drove back to Karen’s farm and loaded the rest of the hay. We made this big pile you see in the picture above. We will use it to fill the compost piles and for mulch. It will probably be better if I go back there to cover it with tarp.
We got a total of 93 bales and paid a dollar for each.
My husband didn’t seem affected much by the physical labor, but I was totally exhausted by the end of the day. I think I fell asleep before the kids. It was a great day.