Monday, June 24, 2013

Old machinery

We have old machinery. I think of our tractor as new, because we bought it new – in 1985! We decided on a new tractor rather than an old one because the new ones have a wide wheel base in front as well as in back and because of that, are less apt to tip over. But from then on, we bought our machinery used, mostly at auctions.  I usually had Amber and Laurel with me. We’d look at the machine we needed and try to decide if it was in good shape (For me this was a challenge.  In the 1980’s I was able to use a socket wrench to tighten sparkplugs. I discovered that shifting the little lever back and forth for each crank made turning it much easier. It was frustrating though because the plugs didn’t tighten until Dave came over to see why I wasn’t making progress and explained that the lever is supposed to stay in one position for tightening and the opposite position for loosening). If the machinery looked good, We’d scan the wagons for interesting household items and things for the kids to bid on and then we’d stake out a piece of lawn or pasture, spread our blanket, get out books and toys and lunch and wait for whatever we were bidding on to come up. Once we bought a bale elevator, once several long extension ladders. Another time we came home with a hand cranked farrier’s forge and several auctions garnered us hay wagons.

I think all of our big machinery (three very old balers, two old haybines, an ancient chisel plow, a disc, a chopper and a windrow turner) we either bought from friends or found in ads in the newspaper.  Used machinery is good because the cost is much, much less than that of new machinery. Used machinery is bad because it needs more upkeep. A lot more. In fact, used machinery is more of a life style choice than an investment. If you’re really unlucky, the farmer is selling the piece because he can’t stand the thought of fixing it one more time.

Dave has learned to repair machinery – over and over and over. I can change tires and replace decking and structural supports on the hay wagons. I’m a specialist. Dave has to be a generalist and every year he proves his skill (gets by) on the haybine, the baler and the tractor. Every year, he has to learn something new. The people who ask us if we don’t find farming beneath us because we are so well educated have never tried it. A major part or our education is what we have learned (and continue to learn) about machinery and ourselves. Even more important is what we learn to appreciate, by farming. The value of old machinery is one of those things.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Two weeks ago, Kieran my three year old grandson, and I peered through the leaves and branches of  a bush watching his parents who were finishing their supper at the restaurant next door. I worried about broken glass, trespassing on the neighbors’ property, and losing sight of Kieran. He reveled in the entire experience. This last weekend, I tucked myself into a lilac and remembered what was so entrancing about the world from inside a bush. Leaves brushed my cheeks, branches crisscrossed my body, and the scent of lilac engulfed me.

The fragrance took me straight back to our backyard in Roseville Terrace  in the 1950’s, where for a few weeks every spring, the scent  of lilacs filled my head and my heart. My friends and I were given two sample size bottles of French Lilac eau de toilette. We thought the idea of dabbing toilet water behind our ears was gross, but the scent was wonderful.    Anytime during the year, we could open the little bottles, sniff, and slip right back into spring.  Perhaps that’s why I love lilacs, their fragrance is a direct line to my childhood memories.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Golden yellow violets bloom in the woods and bring joy to my heart. Golden yellow dandelions bloom in the hayfield and I worry.

Each dandelion plant can be as large as a foot in diameter, and although they are nutritious, they aren’t tall enough to be cut by the haybine, so everywhere a dandelion grows, we lose a square foot of our hayfield and as a result, feed for the sheep. Two years ago, because the dandelions were so bad, we dug our hayfield, sprayed it with a combination of herbicides, and planted it to oats. Last year we replanted alfalfa.

I had hoped that by now the alfalfa would have choked out the few remaining dandelions, but they hunker at the edges of the field and when they go to seed, as they are doing right now, they re-infect the hayfield. They are too short to cut with a scythe and there are too many to dig each plant individually. Dave remembers being paid 10 cents, when he was a kid, for each brown paper bag full of dandelion flowers. Nobody works for that kind of wages anymore (and that’s good.)

So here we are, two people who use herbicides sparingly and grudgingly, trying to decide which herbicide to try next. Even worse, the guys at the mill say that dandelions are becoming resistant to the herbicides normally used to control them. We will have to use nastier herbicides. Fortunately, we won’t have to make that decision for a couple of years. All of the herbicides that kill dandelions also kill the alfalfa plants. Each year, I’ll watch for the golden yellow flowers in the hayfield. I’ll measure the number of alfalfa plants per square meter and the number of dandelions. When the ratio gets too bad, we’ll spray our fields and replant the alfalfa.