Blackberry Picking & Hay Making

Again my living in the country got in the way of being able to work at the computer last week. Not that I’m complaining. I love being an author and a country gal. I’m the one who set out blackberry vines twenty years ago. I dug the starter plants out of my parents ditch. One more plant at my house that has a family attachment. It took a few years for the plants to get established and attached to the barb wire fence back of the garden. Now the vines are so thickly entwined we don’t know the fence is there until we come in contact with a barb. Then we can’t be sure if what punctured our finger was metal or a sticker.

My favorite pie and jelly are blackberry. I make a blackberry syrup for a revel to run through homemade vanilla ice cream. The vines are between a row of spruce trees and cherry bushes and a field of 8 feet tall corn plants. However, I consider picking the berries, in the hottest month of the year and in a spot where absolutely no air moves, worth the effort. This year’s crop has been overly abundant because of all the rain.

When I bat at the deer flies and mosquitoes, I think about what berry picking was like when I was a kid in southern Missouri. My brother and I picked blackberries with our mom every other day for two weeks until all the berries ripened. She sold what berries we didn’t need to pay for sugar, flour and coffee at the grocery store. July days are hot and humid in the Ozarks. We were made hotter yet, because Mom made us wear long sleeve shirts to keep from getting scratched. We wore our cowboy hats with the bead on the string to shade us from the sun. Mom bought vanilla flavoring from the Watkins Salesman. She believed that to be the best for baking. The salesman was good at the over sell pitches. He told Mom she could rub the vanilla on our ankles to keep chiggers from crawling on us. Mom thought the idea was worth a try. We smelled like raw cookie dough and still had bites all over us. The sweet smell probably attracted the chiggers to us.

In the early morning hours when the day was as cool as it would get, we had a quarter of a mile walk down a lane lined with Osage Orange hedge trees to the pasture where the milk cows grazed. It was about that far across the pasture to the blackberry thickets. Cattle didn’t try to eat in the thickets because of the stickers, but snakes like the grassy shade under the vines. So we got the usual cautions from Mom to watch where we stepped. We each had a pail. Once in a while, a popping bug would fall in the berries. I’d have to stop picking to get rid of it.

Back then, I liked the cobblers and jelly Mom made with the berries. She canned and stored the jars in the fruit cellar behind the house for winter use. Even so I was always glad when we had all the ripe berries picked for the day so we could go home for lunch. We were sweaty and tired. Usually Mom had a fresh pitcher of real lemonade waiting for us in the ice box which was something to look forward to. A glass of that lemonade and the shade of the maple tree was as cool as it got in those days.

Back to the present with hay making. We finally got the hay baled. That job always makes me nervous. Last year, the tractor had a smoking problem that turned out to be two wires rubbed together. The smoke came up in my face through the steering wheel. I panicked and jumped off the tractor just about the time the smoke stopped.

This summer has not been good hay making weather. We usually cut hay the first of June, in July and again late August. Almost every day in June, we had rain. We needed the days to be hot and dry. When we saw this last week was going to be rain free, my husband cut the hay on Sunday. The timothy, clover and alfalfa plants were tall, two cuttings in one actually. The windrows were thick which made them hard to dry. By Thursday afternoon, we were ready to bale. My husband warned me to go slow and watch not to plug the baler with the hay. We’d sheer a pin. Just what I needed to hear, but in three hours, we didn’t have any trouble and three wagons full of hay for our efforts. I thought a problem had by passed us this time and found out I was wrong.

It was 7 o’clock that night. The day had been perfect with a breeze and not too hot. My husband suggested we put a load in the barn right away while it was cool. I unload the bales from the wagons onto the conveyor which isn’t so bad with a breeze. My husband stacks in the loft which is hot any time. We were down to the last layer on the first wagon when the chain on our 40 year old conveyor broke. My husband fixed it. I put one bale in the loft and the chain broke. By then it was too dark to see how to work on the chain. My husband did repairs the next morning and about three other times after that. Only about six bales had gone up to the loft. Then a sprocket bent and a chain broke. I’d been trying to talk my husband into getting a new conveyor so I was relieved that the conveyor was finally unfixable. We spent the rest of the day putting 200 bales in the loft by hand. My husband threw the first wagon load in the loft window while I carried them back out of the way. The next wagon, he stacked 15 at a time on the tractor loader bucket and raised it up to the window for me to pull inside. What a relief when we had that last bale stacked.

Saturday, we checked on a new conveyor. The salesman is going to call on Tuesday to let us know the cost and delivery date so I have to keep my phone line free. I definitely want that call to come through so I’m making my blog posts today. By the next time we make hay, something else will have to go wrong. The conveyor is new and the tractor is fixed. That only leaves the baler.