There are many lessons that we learn from life on Beekman 1802 farm, but the first and perhaps the most important is to make hay while the sun shines.

This proverb is first recorded in John Heywood’s A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue published in the year 1546:

Whan the sunne shinth make hay. Whiche is to say.
Take time whan time cometh, lest time steale away.

Medieval farmers would have been known this well.

Modern machinery and weather forecasting make haymaking more of a science, but Tudor farmers would have taken several days to cut, dry and gather their hay and would have had only folk rhymes like red sky at night to guide them. Forecasting the weather two or three days in advance wouldn’t have been possible, so all the more reason for them to ‘make hay while the sun shined’.

But making the most of sunny skies was about more than a desire to not get your woolens wet.

Wet hay favors the growth of organisms which generate heat and can increase hay temperatures up to 150 degrees F. Once hay heats beyond this point, chemical reactions take over and can increase temperatures to the point of spontaneous combustion. With “wet” hay packed tightly in bales and stacked together in large quantities, fires are very possible. Hay starts to burn depending mostly on the size of the stack and the material surrounding it.  Many old barns burns to the ground each year because the hay in the loft was put up wet.

If hay is stacked loose and sufficient cooling occurs at the same rate as the heat is generated, the hay may simply caramelize and turn brown or mold.  Moldy hay loses nutrients and may also cause bloat in the animals that consume it leading to less milk production.

Lesson learned.

We’re sharing these photos from America’s agrarian past as a reminder to get your chores done first.  You can’t roll in the hay until you’re done making it.




Last year, we were named to the Board of Trustees of the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, NY.  The mission of the museum is to cultivate an understanding of the rural heritage that has shaped our land, communities and American culture.

One of our favorite collections of the museum is the vast photo archive.

Plowline: Images of Rural New York is a collecting initiative. The Farmers’ Museum, with the generous support of the Gipson Family, is actively assembling original photography that documents changes in agricultural practice, rural life and farming families in New York State from the 19th century through the present.

Each week on Beekman 1802 we’ll highlight a photo from the collection that not only depicts where WE come from but where we ALL come from.


To learn more about the museum or plan a visit on your next trip to Sharon Springs, click here

by Josh and Brent

Reader Comments

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Roger Swayze

I still chuckle when I think of those boys (models) who went for “a roll in the hay” during a photo shoot, as described in “The Bucolic Plague”. Little did they know that the “hay pile” was actually the “waste pile” scooped up and moved outside by Farmer John after the goats had spent a whole winter living and peeing and pooping in it! Did they ever figure out what it was all about?

Kate's Daughter

Absolutely love the Farmer’s Museum. It’s nice to know you are part of the board! Thanks for the photos. They depict a life of hard work, and innocence.