I had a non-optimistic day the other day…

Harvesting just as late as you possibly can. Photo: Anne Riordan.

It takes awhile for your equipment to thaw out on frosty mornings. 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.

Remember how my last journal enry was entitled something like "waning harvest"?  well, HA!  JUST KIDDING.  In my wildest dreams. So far, it seems to have still just started. In an interminable, mammoth-style way.  I have still the majority of beans and about 60 acres of corn to bring in.

I started to harvest out white corn for Finger Lakes Distillers today.  It started out really well – there are some issues, such as that the corn is too high in moisture. It's not a corn that should be grown in New York, but we took a chance on it (note: this journal was written over a couple of days and the white corn is now harvested and the distiller's comment on it was "well this proves global warming is real").  But, the ears are gorgeous, long, kernels plump and full and dented, and it's not going to get any drier, especially not in this ridiculosuly cold and bare weather. The deer absolutely love it, and as long as it stands, they knock down more and nibble as much as they can get. And it was so tall to begin with that when it's knocked down, it makes a holy hell to harvest.  All I can see from the combine bay is stalk and more stalk and more stalk, sliding through the corn head, popping each ear off neatly.  Which is a very fun view, but very busy as well.

White corn and the combine. Photo: Anne Riordan.

White corn and the combine on Thanksgiving Day. Photo: Anne Riordan.

The sub-zero windchill temperatures also added to the fun of this harvest- the combine was frozen (literally) and there was some serious dethawing to do before she decided to kick into motion.

Of course, corn can stay in the fields here much later than other crops (although I have heard soybeans are the same, but I don't grow those so I wouldn't know).  Corn can be picked in January! Of course, it's not ideal – the deer go nuts on it, it's frustrating and freezing to combine in January. And on a local note, of course, let's not forget the hunters around here, who would honestly prefer most of the corn to be cut because standing corn offers a lot of protection. At least, that was the lecture I got at our local bar last Wednesday.

The locals around here like to have a lot of say when I harvest my crops.  My favorite lecture to date is "hey! you, come on over here. You work for that Smith fellow, right? [my boss – Erick Smith]  When are you gonna harvest that corn across from my house? It looks like crap!"  Actually – he's right. It's the shortest popcorn i've ever planted. But by golly there are two long ears on each stalk! Corn is miraculous.

But back to the harvesting in January – unfortunately that's not applicable to beans. Dry beans can't be harvested when it's frozen. They split, and customers buying beans don't want splits. They want whole, beautiful, colorful, clean beans. So you can imagine I'm feeling a little bit frantic right now. Last night was 9 degrees!  Does anyone else think it's unseasonably cold??

Right now, it's sleeting. I have things in fields, combine bins tarped, trap doors open to let out any water, and fingers crossed. Sometimes I think that I am so optimistic becuase if there is a crack in the facade, reality could slowly and sadly slip in, making you contemplate the worst instead of placing yourself in that empowering context of "yes, I WILL get it all done".

Nearly misjudged the wagon size. Photo: Anne Riordan.

Nearly misjudged the wagon size. Photo: Anne Riordan.

I had a non-optimistic day the other day. We've all had them.  The days are so short that when things go wrong, you are really pressed for time to fix them.  And then all eight hours go by of true daylight, and you've accomplished 2 hours of work because every hour you worked, you fixed something for the other three.

In fact, the last two days were like that. I combined beans for one hour and then the front roller in the bean combine snapped off and had to be welded together. So I left it for our welder friend with a portable generator (because this field is a 40 minute tractor drive from the house and the bean combine is NOT easily transportable) and went to use the International Swather. This is a modified hay forager that we use to swath the beans, rather than using the traditional method of pulling them and raking them into windrows. We lose less and it takes much less time (or, is supposed to).  But I was merrily swathing along at about 2 mph and the left big belt, which piles beans in the middle, stopped working.

The only way to tighten this belt is to unscrew the 3/8 bolts which hold the belt together (it's about four feet wide), remove the belt, tighten it up, put it back together and try again. That took about an hour and  a half.. I got another 30 feet.. and it stopped again.  So, repeat the process (add travel time to drive back to the machine shop to replace the old rusty tiny bolts because they snap), and then try again. The belt started up like a charm. I moved forward back into position and immediately blew a hydraulic line.  So, remove line, back to shop, run out of daylight.  I know that I should have tightened it down more the first time. But it's all a learning experience. I'll know the correct tightening next time, right?

But today it feels that I spent that time learning when I should have been already harvesting. And the next day was even worse!  Half a bin full of white corn, frozen unloading auger.  I shoveled out about 6,000 pounds of 38% moisture corn into a wagon ten feet below the bin. There is just no good way to shovel out a combine bin.  And next time, I'll know to unload it earlier. And I'll know that this combine is particular about where the shields over the unloading auger should be set. And I'll know what to check if the auger stops working mid-way. All these things, they make me a better, more efficient, dirt-smart farmer. But I wish – and I know that it's useless to wish – that these lessons had come at a particularly early time. Because now I just feel very strapped for time!

Anyway, I guess that's enough moaning for now on my part. You all must be rolling your eyes at me by now. I'm going out to swath and combine beans, damnit! It's 34 degrees and that's good enough for me. I'll let you know how it all goes.

On an un-related (field) note, the beanery plans are slowly and slowly coming along!  The trenches have been dug for the septic (it looks like a battlefield around the farm these days) and the stakes have been placed outlining the building. Machinery is slowly accumulating. I'm looking forward to the day that I can put up some pictures of the actual building going up, but i'm sure it will really happen.



Tags: , , , ,