Needle in a haystack?

    DOVER-FOXCROFT — Four scythe, rake and pitchfork enthusiasts gathered on Jericho Bicknell’s and Jean Paul Calderone’s small hayfield in Dover-Foxcroft last Saturday and Sunday (July 13-14) to experiment with making hay by hand, from start to finish.  

lo-hay-dcX-po-30Contributed photo

    HAY THE OLD FASHIONED WAY — Eric Laser and Jean Paul Calderone of Dover Foxcroft fork hay onto a small rick as part of a human powered haymaking event on July 14.

    Mowing with scythes into swathes is the first and most physically demanding step, so it’s done in the cool early morning while the grass is still wet with dew and easier to cut. After the mowing is over, the swathes are spread back out over the area using wooden hay rakes, so that the sun can begin drying the cut grasses. Later in the day, another pass over the drying grasses with the rakes helps expose any green stems and also fluffs the hay to allow any breezes to swirl in, around and under. 
    Depending on the heat and sun and wind and thickness of the grass, the hay may be ready by the end of the first day for gathering, but the group decided to wait another day to complete the process.  So, Sunday morning after the dew was off, Bicknell and Calderone re-raked the area into rows and then small piles.   The rest of the crew gathered in the afternoon to fork the finished hay onto a rick, which is a simple wooden structure made to keep the hay off the ground when there’s no barn available and is conveniently near the hayfield. 
    Sometimes the loose hay is difficult to keep neatly on the rick, so an occasional long thin wooden stick or “needle” is inserted to hold the recalcitrant stems together, hence the origin of the term “needle in a haystack.” Once the rick was completed, a small tarp laid across the top finished the haymaking, until Bicknell and Calderone feed it this winter to their sheep and goats.
    This event happened out of curiosity about how did our ancestors actually get their hay made up and stored,  back before tractors, mower-conditioners, tedders and balers, or even horse drawn sickle bar mowers and dump rakes.
    Muscle power is a lot more tiring than using a motor, but as crew member Sam Brown said, “My scythe runs on oatmeal,” a locally growable fuel. Without the noise of motors and working in close proximity to each other, the group could easily converse and get to know each other better, a pleasant and unexpected byproduct.
    The small-scale haymaking group plans to meet early every Saturday morning for the rest of the summer at a different participant’s field to spend a few hours helping each other, and invites any other interested persons to join.
    Dexter Dover Area Towns in Transition (DDATT), the East Sangerville Grange and the Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District are local organizations dedicated to increasing the area’s natural resource productivity, especially in ways that decrease dependence on imported fossil fuels, and sponsor occasional workshops on these topics.
    For more information and to get on the DDATT e-mail list, call 277-4221 or e-mail

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