Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Contents of a Bale of Hay...

Hay bale pieces lined up next to the ground garden.
Did you know that there is an eco system in almost everything?  Yep.  The dirt all around us is alive with animals even though we can't see it.  There's creepy crawlies in our water, our food and everything that we touch.  All individual eco systems perfectly balanced by nature.

Take a bale of hay for example.  The second you drop a bale of hay on the ground, it becomes host to a brand new world.  A LOT of things can be jam packed in there and I found this out first hand last week.  Some of it was startling and some of it was a science lesson that I won't soon forget but all of it was extremely awesome to see.

It's no secret that if you have something that is still useful but you just don't need or want it, chances are I'll probably take it off your hands and either use it, turn it into something else useful or sell it.  So when I received an offer of a few bales of hay for free, I jumped on it since hay can be used for SO many different things and I had two uses immediately in my head for it.  For the chickens and as a replacement for mulch in the gardens.  Hay is a fantastic mulch.  Especially old hay like these bales are.

The bales are close to a year old which means they probably aren't all that great to feed to livestock but that's ok because I don't own livestock except for chickens and they can eat anything.  It had been outside so the inside of the bales were wet but it wasn't moldy or icky by any means.  It just needed dried out before it could be used and that was easy.

Now... when you are picking up hay that has been sitting on the ground for that long, the best thing to do is get it in pieces so you can look for one thing... an established ant colony.  That's the part of the hay bale you want to NOT get.  I didn't get the ant colony but I got quite a few other little critters and I'm telling you that the best thing to do is just close your eyes, think about something wonderful, tighten every muscle in your body and just grab it because if are squeamish or afraid of bugs, you won't want to touch it.  A good pair of gloves doesn't hurt either just to combat the ick factor.

Lizard eggs in the hay.
The first cool thing that we saw in the hay were eggs.  They were small like hummingbird eggs.  Problem is, hummingbirds lay their eggs in nests in trees and not in the middle of a bale of hay.  I went to cut one open to see what it was and the shell was leathery which wouldn't happen with a hummingbird egg either.  A couple of seconds later, the mama appeared from around the corner and it all made perfect sense.  It was a lizard.  A gnarly looking lizard that was a gray brownish color with a reddish colored head and about 5 inches long.  She popped up and then took off.  We moved the eggs and since reptile eggs don't have to be kept warm, chances are that they will make it.  From what I've been able to find out, I'm pretty sure this lizard was a Broadhead Skink.  There's a picture of one right here.

We saw a TON of ants, a few wood roaches (eww!), some black spiders carrying around their egg sacks and a lot of other buggy looking things crawling around in the bales of hay.  Yep.  It was like looking at a populated planet.  And it all went into my van to come to my house.  Minus the lizard eggs and ant colony of course.

The Chicken Garden after spreading hay.
Since I didn't get home until after dark, the hay bales spent the night in the van.  The next morning, I went out and started unloading it.  The first thing I did was "mulch" the chicken garden.  It looks goooood!  Well... minus the dead evergreen tree that I transplanted there earlier this spring.  Darn it!  I was really hoping that guy would make it.

Next I just pulled some pieces of hay out for the herb garden.  I have more tomato plants to go in there ASAP and I wanted the hay a little drier so the bale pieces are laying in front of the garden ready to go in the next time I make it outside to work.  I drove back to the ground garden and the chicken coop and as soon as I went to grab the next piece, a freakin' lizard jumped out and I admit I screamed like a five year old little girl.  I wasn't expecting that at all!

The chicken run got a layer of hay that's about 8 inches thick all the way through, until the chickens trample it down and they will.  They were happily eating the hay seeds and all of the ants, spiders and who knows what else that were crawling around in that hay's eco system.  I mean they were going gonzo on it.

That's one unhappy frog!
Now, putting hay down for the chickens will provide them with some great buggies.  The chickens will also poop in the hay and all the while they will be scratching at it and stirring it up.  All I have to do is add in a little dirt and I'll have some of the most wonderfully fertilized compost ever for my fall planting in the cold frames.  So... go chickens!

After spreading the hay in the chicken run, I went back to the van to unload the rest to be put over by the ground garden and I'll spread it at the same time I do the herb garden.  Guess what?  I don't know if it was the same one or not but again, the lizard.  This time I laughed instead of screaming.  Probably because after the first time I realized that those lizards are more afraid of me than I am of them.

Anyway... next thing I know I'm face to face with another critter.  A grumpy looking frog.  I guess I would have been ticked too if someone had disturbed my nap in the hay.  I let that one sit just outside the van until the frog disappeared on his own.

It's times like this that make me realize that we are so outnumbered as a species in this world.  There were thousands of little creatures in these bales of hay.  I'm not talking a dozen bales either, I'm talking about the 4 1/2 bales that made it to my house.  Bugs, lizards, spiders and a frog.  New inhabitants to my yard... as long as the chickens, one of the neighborhood cats or one of my dogs doesn't get them.

I'm one of the very few people on this planet that has to ask their friends if they are squeamish of critters like lizards before they get into the vehicle.  The possibilities of a renegade lizard running around inside my van are pretty high at the moment.  Not everyone can say that either but I can.  More often than I like to admit sometimes.  It occasionally makes me wonder... what does that say about me as an individual?

Maybe one of these days I'll tell you my opinion on why hay is better than straw.  There's a bit of a misconception about the differences between the two but since this is becoming a book, I'll save that for another day.

Happy Sunday my friends!



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