Farm Journal: take a sledgehammer and whack it

Swathed rows, ideally left to dry in the warm. dry sun. Photo: Anne Riordan.

Swathed rows, ideally left to dry in the warm. dry sun. Photo: Anne Riordan.

This is part of a series of Farm Journals, farmers writing regularly about life on the farm, week to week, through the season. Anne Riordan is field manager at Cayuga Pure Organics outside of Ithaca. Read all her journal entries here.

What did I do this week?

I tried to do lots of things.  I tried to harvest things. I tried to fix things. I tried to build things..
There are lots of stories to go along with all of these above scenarios

1.  Harvesting.  Let me give you a run-down on what happens when the weathermen are wrong (yep, i'm blaming somebody for this, and by golly it's not me) and say there's 10% chance of rain for the next four days. Rejoicing at these news, I promptly go out and swath my rye crop that the last rain storm decimated.  Swathing is a method of prepping for harvest that entails cutting a 15-foot swath and neatly piling it in a row for the combine to come pick up. I do this if the grain has fallen down (happened), if the grain is too weedy (happened), or I don't have the correct head on my combine to harvest it any other way (has happened in the past, but luckily not this year).

Swathing makes me nervous for lots of reasons.  Firstly, no matter how well you try to time it, you lose a little bit of grain because as the machine jostles its way through the field, the grain shakes out of the head. You can harvest it when it's wetter and thus the slightest shake won't dislodge the grain, but then the swather doesn't work as well and you spend just as much time getting out and unclogging the head as you do going through the field.

Once it's swathed, you pray for two days of hot, gorgeous weather to dry out the weeds that you cut along with the other, drier grain. The unfortunate part about grain farming is that once your grain has dried down, your weeds do not stop growing.  And it's not only weeds!   I am irritated to report that my gorgeous stand of clover, which I frost-seeded in March to control weeds, has succeeded in becoming so tall that my rye which has fallen over is now pointing straight into about 4 inches of clover. And clover does not dry down fast. Not only that but combines really hate moist clover.

I have unplugged my combine (from the front, and from the back) eight times in the last three days, and i nearly sent Erick a text telling him I was quitting for the week.   I'll have great seed next year from the clover, but right now i don't want to see another pink flower until next August.

Where was I?  Ah right, watching the beautiful piles of grain dry down in preparation for harvesting.  I wake up in the middle of the night to hear rain. Not a mist, not a sprinkle, not a shower – a MONSOON! A bona fide monsoon. What do I do?  I turn over and yell at my pillow in frustration.

I have finally figured out when the sky looks like this to bust ass for home. Photo: Anne Riordan.

I have finally figured out when the sky looks like this to bust ass for home. Photo: Anne Riordan.

When this happens, you hope that it was a fluke, and the next day after the sun you rake your crop and turn it over so the bottom of the pile gets the sun the day after.  If this only happens once, you're good to go.  If not… well, you rake, and you rake, and you try to combine, and you rake some more, and ultimately all of the rye sitting on the bottom of the swathed pile molds or starts sprouting (happened) and the rye in the middle thinks about sprouting (happened) and the yield you get is about half of what you should have.

I feel guilty saying that luckily, I'm not the only one in this boat.  A revered and much more experienced farmer told me this year it's the worst year for rye he's seen in a long time. He only got ten bu/acre. That makes me feel much better. I take these things very personally. Especially in this intimate group we have at CPO, if there's some type of crop failure, I heap all of these "what I should have dones" on my shoulders. I know every farmer does this.

Anyway, my basic point is that all the worst things that could have happened in the CPO swathing story DID happen. Murphy's law.  I have my fingers crossed for the rest of the rye crop.

2. Fixing things.  Since during rainy days, there is no fieldwork, there is fixing things. I told you about Harlan last week. This year, I have tried to utilize my growing experience to call Harlan out of the shop less often (since he has enough to do).  This usually means taking a selection of what I hope/think/expect to need to bring to a field (usually very far away) and brute-forcing my way through the repair.

I tell you, you look at this and laugh, but it's really true!  There is so much more brute force needed than I ever would have expected.  The first time I saw Harlan swich out a bearing, I was flabbergasted. He literally took a sledgehammer and whacked it (I was holding a punch…terrifying!) until it slid off. (A little warmth from the torches helped too).  So from then on, my basic premise has been if it won't come off, hit it harder. It's astonishing how well this works.  😀

Pink blue sky sunset. Photo: Anne Riordan.

Pink blue sky sunset. Photo: Anne Riordan.

Now for all you literalists out there, I'm not being totally serious, so don't worry. I've learned some prudence with my sledgehammer.  I had good luck fixing things until today, when I got lazy and dropped a wrench while holding something very heavy in a weird position. Since I couldn't bear to put it down and re-arrange it again, I just flailed around until I could pick up the wrench and pulled something in my back at the same time.

I don't get a lot of injuries so this was very surprising to me…and debilitating. This may be a stupid statement, but your back is insanely useful. I can't even sit down correctly right now.

3. Building things!  This is the fun part of the list.  In my spare time, I like to build model cars. Only specific model cars; the ones I want to own. So that's a 1977 Corvette Stingray, the Night Rider Trans Am T-top, and at the moment a 1970 Dodge Charger which I do believe is the Vanishing Point car.

Everyone out there has seen Vanishing Point, right???  This is probably one of the best movies of all time.  That and Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof… (NOT the double feature.. just the kick-ass car movie).  If you haven't seen those, you need to go do that instantly.

I said I would talk more about my community locavore-ness this week, but unfortunately, due to my insane schedule, (and I am sure, hers, too) Erica Frenay of Shelterbelt Farm and I didn't manage to connect so I'll have that on the back burner for another blog.

Instead, I want to briefly touch on GMO crops again. I posted about an article in Elle the other day about how a lady realized she was allergic to GMO corn (which, of course, is everywhere.)  This article was counter-attacked by Slate, which was then counter-counter-attacked in Elle.


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One Comment

  1. "If it doesn't fit, get a bigger hammer."

    On the Elle GMO article, the woman's health issues might have been due to GMO corn, but it could well have been something else.* We don't know what she was eating prior to her health problems, but her solution was to drastically overhaul her diet:
    "I had to restrict my diet, Mansmann said, to vegetables, grains other than corn, grass-fed beef and dairy, wild fish, and game (if I was game). My husband and I threw ourselves into the corn-free diet with gusto: We began baking all our bread, we learned how to make our own flour tortillas and sweet treats like muffins and cakes. By luck, we met an intrepid farmer raising corn-free chickens… We eschewed anything premade and began gathering foods from local sources we could trust."

    In other words, wholesome, homemade foods did the trick for her symptoms. Yet, a couple of paragraphs later, an allergy researcher tells her that for the most severe cases they "give them a medical food that’s been so chopped and sliced and diced that there are no proteins in it, that it’s just amino acids, simple sugars, and small fats and stuff—there’s nothing their immune system can react to—95 percent of the time, the disease goes away as long as they stay on that simple, horrible smelling, tasting formula.”

    So, which is it – a clean farm diet, or food that has been processed beyond recognition? I have no idea, but I am hesitant to buy into the food allergy trend without better controls.

    *The author mentions at the end of the article that she had almost convinced herself that she had chronic Lyme disease. Why would she believe that? It must be frustrating to be sick and to not know what the cause is or how to treat it, but randomly slapping a label on your symptoms is not a good way to get to the truth.