Before we dig into today’s topic I’d like you give a quick update for those following our progress. I wish I could say there was good news on the selling of our city home, but unfortunately I cannot. For whatever reason the house remains on the market and we are anxiously awaiting a buyer. The longer this drags on, the further out our moving date will be due to the added expenses of paying for two homes. Now, with that out of the way, here is today’s topic:
Baling Hay by Hand
Our goal has always been, and probably will be for quite some time, to operate the farm as frugally as possible. Without a big purse available for purchasing things such as tractors, implements and the like, our intent is to look to the past for solving today’s challenges. One item we know we will need on the farm is fresh hay, cut and baled from our own field. Without fancy contraptions such as sickle or disc cutters and tractors, the natural solution is a hand powered solution. A suitable degree of research online yielded two devices that appealed to us. These are a hand-held scythe and a home built hand baler.
There are surprisingly numerous options available, even today. Choosing a particular style of scythe wasn’t easy but the choices were narrowed to either the American Scythe or the European Scythe. Ergonomically, the European Scythe appears to have the advantage between the two, but weight was also a huge consideration. Knowing that I am not in the physical prowess of a full-time homesteader, I believed the most important factor was to find the lightest weight, yet best rated scythe out there, that we could afford. Through my research I settled on an American Scythe composed of the Seymour SN-9 Aluminum Snath and the Seymour 2B-42G30 30 ” Grass Scythe Blade. Combined, these two items are about 9 pounds lighter than their traditional wooden counterparts.
While on the farm and just after a hearty breakfast, I headed out to a section of our pasture that had the most consistent area of good, tall grass and set to work. Let me say that the YouTube videos out there that show people using a scythe make this look deceivingly simple. Either that or our grass is much stronger than the grass harvested in those videos. I will also attest that the sharper the blade, the easier the task. I currently do not have a nice wet stone grinder to sharpen my blade and thus had to rely on the hand-held scythe stone. The more attuned I became to the simple nuances of the stone and blade, the sharper it became and the easier it cut. Still, once I had cut about a 50×50 foot area of grass, I was done for the day. We spread the hay out to dry for several hours, then began piling it up for the next stage in the process.
The Hand Baler
Choosing a hand baling method was another interesting research project, but in the end I settled on building a version of the Pine Straw Hand Baler. This version appeared to be the prominent choice of the numerous hand baling videos and discussions I found. It also helped that the website that describes this baler included a link to plans on how to build it. I downloaded those plans and coming from a background working with engineers and designers, what they provide as plans aren’t necessarily just that. They include a picture of the baler and an incomplete list of materials needed.
Because this was to be a prototype of what is to come, provided the trial was a success, I opted to use materials I already had on hand, which included a few sheets of OSB planking. I wholeheartedly do not recommend building a hand baler from the particular parts I chose, especially if longevity is the goal, but the materials I had helped me decide how to better build a later design I have in mind.
Overall, the hand baler worked like a charm with a few caveats that have been noted for version 2.0. We piled in the hay (even our 2 year old got in on that action), compressed it with the plunger and tied it off. The very first try yielded what actually looked like a bale of hay! It wasn’t as compact as I thought it should be though, so for the next bale we added even more hay. I was concerned that perhaps the plunger might not hold up under that amount of pressure, but in the end there was actually room for more, should we so decide later.
I didn’t do a good job of videoing the action because I was more focused on whether or not this idea would work, but here are some pictures to give you an idea of the fun we had this weekend baling hay by hand:
Cutting the Hay
Sharpening the blade
Baling the Hay