I have previously borrowed or hired a reciprocating blade cutter and turning and baling equipment. The hired kit is no longer available locally and borrowing has proved impossible this year. I have several small areas within a garden that I try to get small bales off and our new warden would like to do areas within the parkland. Bearing in mind environmental, conservation and wildlife benefits, I would be grateful for any information regarding pedestrian, or possibly small tractor-mounted, haymaking equipment.

 Your prime consideration should be a review of your objectives for each area. With wildflower-meadow areas it is necessary to clear material annually but, being contaminated with many species, the material may not be suitable for use as hay. In this case the objective is just to remove and dispose of the cut material or, possibly, compost it. In such circumstances, baling may not be the answer. Bales may be easy to handle, but they will take forever to rot.

If you need to simply remove the material and the area is small, the basic way of doing so would be to use a reciprocating scythe or any two-wheel tractor with a finger-bar mower. Growth from larger areas can be removed using a flail collector, such as those supplied by Amazone, Wessex Machinery and others.

The smallest flail collector from Amazone is the GH120. It has a 1.2m working width and 1,200-litre hopper that empties at ground level. The machine is three-point-linkage mounted and requires a 24hp tractor. Expect to pay about £5,960 ex VAT. Wessex offers a smaller machine with 3mm flails - just 98cm width and requiring a 16hp tractor. These units can also be used to scarify and collect leaves in the autumn. And there is plenty of potential for composting the gathered materials.

It is also possible to flail and collect with pedestrian machinery. BSG Tractors of Marks Tey, Essex, imports the Goldoni range of two-wheel tractors and supplies flail collectors to fit. Expect to pay £3,000 to £4,000 for the two-wheeler. Add the flail/collector to it and you could be paying around £8,000 ex VAT.

In other situations, the grassland may be sufficiently clean that it can be baled and sold as hay. Haymaking is a three-part operation: cutting, turning and baling. The simplest route would be to buy hay-turning equipment and a baler for your compact tractor.

Two-metre-wide kit for turning the cut hay would cost around £1,600 ex VAT. Then you need a baler. Typically, to produce bales twined or net-wrapped, the baler will cost £7,500 to £8,000. DW Tomlin of Boston, Lincolnshire, supplies a mini-round baler for around £7,700. It produces bales 50cm in diameter by 70cm long. But don't forget that you also need the means to cut the grass in the first place.

The process can also be achieved by some two-wheel tractors. Rekord, supplying the Rapid two-wheeler, has a good reputation for its baling machines. To go down this route you would need to start with the Rapid Euro. It's a lovely machine to use, but has a starting price of £7,650 ex VAT. Then there's the finger-bar mower at £2,470 to £2,700, depending on width (from 1.32m to 2.16m). You will need a rake - approximately £1,500. Finally, there is the baler at £5,750 ex VAT. On the plus side, you would have a great two-wheel tractor to power all kinds of kit, from cultivators to woodchippers. Sally Drury has reported for HW and its forerunner GC&HTJ for 25 years, and has spent more than five years testing machinery for HW and What Kit? The advice in this helpline is independent.

Email your questions to sally.drury@haymarket.com.


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