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Chopping Straw While the Sun Shines

Posted 6/15/2015 7:00pm by Jonathan Wenger.

So the rain forced us in for the afternoon.  Gave me a chance to catch up on bookwork and, more importantly, to sit down and talk with you!

I thought I would share a little about what my Dad and I have been doing over the last 2 or 3 weeks.  Last fall, we seeded about 10-ish acres of winter rye- a cover crop commonly seeded in the fall because it will overwinter and continue growing in the spring.  Our plan was to harvest the rye straw around the beginning of June.  Fortunately, Dad still had the necessary equipment from his previous farm life to make this happen.  The first piece of equipment is what is called (at least by us) a haybine.  It mows the crop, crimps the stems between two rollers, and lays the crop in a nice, neat windrow to either bale or chop.  Which brings me to the 2nd machine, the forage harvester- or chopper in our farm slang.  This machine picks the mowed crop up and chops in into little bits before blowing it into a trailing wagon or truck.

The "Chopper"The haybine

So the first step was to get the old farm equipment up and running again after 15 or 20 years of sitting in the shed.  We had to put new tires on both wheels on both the haybine and chopper, so 4 in total.  The haybine required some new knives and sickle bar parts, but was more or less ready to go at this point.  The chopper likewise was also relatively easy to prep, just adjust some things here and there and put it back together.  

Dad started mowing the winter rye at about the beginning of June.  After we mowed the rye, we waited for several days for it to dry out a bit more than before we chopped it.  I got the ol' 1970 Chevy dump truck going and put the tall sides on it.


Chopping goes like this- Dad drives the tractor, operating the chopper, and I follow alongside to collect all the crop that blows out of the machine.  When I have a load, I dump it to form a long pile.  Everything was going swell!


Until a bearing went out in the chopper.  And wouldn't you know it, the bearing was one the hardest and most pain-in-the-backside parts to get at!  I wish I had had the wherewithal to take some photos of the 2-day process to tear the machine apart, pound and cut the bearing off, put on the new part, and assemble the chopper back together.  A frustrating and irritating process indeed.  But, as my Dad said, I'd rather be irritated and frustrated farming than be doing anything else.

Now, the reason for all this extra work (cause you know, we could have just tilled the rye into the soil) is so that we have mulch and composting material.  I am using it as a mulch between our sweet potatoes, peppers, and in our hoophouses, among other uses.  It works great as a weed barrier, cools the soil to promote a healthy environment for soil fauna, and protects the soil from harsh rain and erosion.  

And that brings me back to today, when we were spreading this wonderful stuff as we got rained out!

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