There’s nothing like a warm September day for haymaking. If we could do it the old-fashioned way, we would – with scythes, haycocks and plenty of cider! We get pretty close, in that a good amount is cut bit by bit, patch by patch, ensuring wildlife has a chance to move out of the way. Then the main meadow is cut with an old tractor, rowed and baled, this work being done by local farmer Michael Gibbs, to whom we are enormously grateful!
This year, although the meadow went to seed a good few weeks’ earlier than usual, we were able to leave the mowing later than we usually do. In part, this was because the lack of rain meant the dried vegetation remained standing, where rain and wind would have flattened it, making it look untidy. In part, however, it was a determination to leave it as long as we could, allowing the wildlife, mammals, birds, butterflies, moths and other insects, to make the most of it before it was cut.
For the benefit of these little creatures, it may seem better not to cut at all. However, managing a wildflower meadow means that it is essential to mow, and remove the ‘arisings’ (the cut vegetation, the hay). Where they are left to fall, matt and mulch into the ground, they gradually improve the fertility of the soil. Because the wildflowers we are striving to nurture prefer a poor soil, leaving it unmown would mean fewer flowers, and fewer species of flowers, each year.
A ‘meadow’ is defined as grassland that it is cut once a year, traditionally the hay being used as winter fodder for livestock. After the mowing, those animals (usually cows) would be put onto the land to graze the late summer and autumn grasses, and taken off between November and February depending on weather and soil. From spring onwards, the meadow would be left to grow another crop of hay to be mown in August.
Our hay bales are indeed used as winter fodder, but not for farm livestock – they are taken off to Redwings horse rescue sanctuary at Oxhill. More of that in my next post …