26 June 2012

A sea of green

It is the height of the grasses season at the moment. Often overlooked in favour of the more colourful meadow flowers like ox-eye daisy, buttercup, sorrel and orchids - the grasses put on a more subtle display. Yet look closely and they are just as beautiful and varied. (Picture to the left  - from left to right - wall barley, sweet vernal grass, red fescue, false oat grass, cock's foot, soft brome, rough meadow grass, Yorkshire fog, perennial rye grass, quaking grass, yellow oat grass - note: not all 'hay' grasses)

The grasses are also the 'main stay' of the meadows. Without them there would be little or no 'keep' (grazing or hay for livestock). Broad leaved herbs are of course an important part of hay/grazing providing variety and flavour, but it is the grasses that have the main feed value and best storage qualities. Well made hay is very much sought after and its ability to be stored makes it a vital for feeding livestock during the winter.

The timing of hay making is all important and varies around the country, depending on local climate and soil.  Ideally the hay is cut just as the grasses begin to flower, but before all the 'feed value'  and energy in the stem  has been used up by the grasses forming seed.

We are just entering the stressful time of year when hay-making begins, with anxious hay makers constantly looking to the skies to see if there is any dry weather on the horizon.  Harvesting and making hay requires several days of good dry weather - to cut, turn and allow the hay time to 'make' before it is baled and safely stacked undercover. Whilst the high rainfall in recent months has resulted in good hay growth - some fine weather to 'make hay whilst the sun shines' is now much needed. Fingers crossed!