Harvest 2010, Days 1-9, Aug 9-17th

We started harvest for this year last Monday.

This year has seen an unusually damp and wet spring, so the wheat was a little bit behind when it usually get ripe. Typically we start harvest around the first week of August. But this year we didn’t start until August 9th.

Monday, we tried the wheat around the middle of the day and while it was still too wet in low spots in the field, it was dry enough on the sides and tops of hills. Thank goodness for the in-combine moisture testers that give the driver an idea of moisture content as they’re cutting. For combines without that, you have pick a likely spot, cut enough that there’s a bit to augur off into a truck, then stop the combine and wait while someone brings out a moisture tester and tests what’s in the back of the truck. And even if it’s dry enough to cut at that point, the combine driver might not be aware they’ve gotten into grain that’s too wet until the next time someone tests some out of the back of the grain truck.

So the real-time moisture testers built into the combine that the driver can see as they’re cutting are very nice, even if sometimes it’s not quite as accurate as a stand-alone moisture tester.

Here was what we had for dinner Monday, August 9th:

  • Iced Tea & Lemonade
  • Bread & Butter Sandwiches
  • Ham
  • Scalloped Potatoes
  • Salad
  • Blueberry pie

~~~

On Tuesday August 10th, we resumed cutting. Still just our one combine, no custom cutters yet. Still patching it out as some areas were wetter than others.

My brother William volunteered to bring over rib steaks he’d been marinating. I cooked those, sliced them up into strips, and we had steak fajitas.

Menu for supper Tuesday:

  • Iced Tea & Lemonade
  • Bread & Butter Sandwiches (which were still quite popular even with the rest of the food that was there)
  • Sliced marinated rib steak
  • Lots of sauted onions & green peppers
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Shredded cheese
  • Flour tortillas
  • Refried beans
  • Rice
  • Various toppings such as salsa, sour cream, sliced black olives, and quartered cherry tomatoes
  • Cherry pie

I can’t remember for sure, but I think there were some scattered showers in the area Tuesday night. Even if we didn’t get much rain right where we were, it was still cloudy and windy by the time we quit Tuesday night.

~~~

And on Wednesday August 11th, it was more of the same. Straw was a little bit tough in the morning until everything got warmed up and dried out a bit by 10 Am or so. Still just our one combine, still just patching away.

Wednesday’s dinner:

  • Iced Tea & Lemonade
  • Bread & Butter Sandwiches
  • Salad
  • Pork Steak
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • White Gravy
  • Oatmeal cake

Again, cool, cloudy and blustery by the end of the day.

~~~

And the same thing again Thursday August 12th. Although each day the weather forecast had been calling for more and more chance of rain. On the other hand, between weather systems coming off the Rocky Mountains to the west and heading east, weather systems coming south from Canada, weather systems coming from the south or east and being pushed up against the Rockies, and the occasional times the jet stream sits right over the top of us . . . yeah, weather forecasts here are not nearly as certain as a lot of other areas.

Thursdays dinner:

  • Iced Tea & Lemonade
  • Bread & Butter Sandwiches
  • Salad
  • Meatloaf
  • A thrown-together rice & vegetable dish (recipe follows)
  • Blueberry pie (we make other pies during harvest, but blueberry is always the favorite and gets made the most)

And here is the recipe for that thrown-together rice & vegetable dish. It turned out quite well.

Leftover Rice with Vegetables & Cheese

  • Approximately 4 cups of leftover brown rice
  • One package frozen peas, about two cups
  • 1 – 1-1/2 cups chopped parsley
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp Italian herb blend
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 6 slices Swiss cheese

Spread the rice out in a shallow baking dish. Microwave on high for a minute or two until starting to warm.

Take out of microwave, stir in frozen peas and chopped parsley. Return to microwave and microwave for 2-3 minutes.

If still cool in spots, take out of microwave, stir, and microwave again for 2-3 minutes.

Take out of microwave, stir one last time and spread out fairly evenly in the dish. Sprinkle with Italian herb blend. Top that with sprinkled parmesan cheese. Finally, top with sliced Swiss cheese.

Return to microwave, microwave until cheese is melted and bubbling.

And then Thursday night, it rained.

~~~

And Friday morning August 13th, it was still raining. And when it wasn’t raining, it was cool and cloudy.

And no, I didn’t realize it was Friday the 13th until a friend mentioned it to me. 🙂

Overall, we got about 0.4″ of rain Thursday night.

So no, we didn’t cut Friday.

~~~

And then Saturday August 14th it rained some more, maybe about 0.05″. And while 1/2 of 1/10th does not sound like a lot, when the ground is already wet, it just makes it wetter for a while longer.

Saturday was cool and cloudy, with highs in the 60s.

(Yeah, that’s right, middle of August and the daytimes highs are in the 60s. That’s why I said weather forecasting here is a bit more uncertain than in some other parts of the country.)

~~~

Sunday August 15th was warmer, and things started drying out. But while driving around a bit, I realized the rain had knocked down a lot of the wheat.

The last few years, this area has had a lot of problems with a pest called Sawfly. Sawflies are very small, and the females lay eggs in the wheat stem. The larvae hatch in the stem, slide their way down to the ground, and stay there until they are adults. Then they emerge from the stem and the process starts all over again.

All this drilling and emerging, besides stressing the wheat plant and lowering yields anyway, also weakens the wheat stem. Not a big deal when the wheat stem is still green and flexible, but it does become a very big deal when the wheat ripens and the stem is dry and brittle. Especially since sawfly mainly travel on the wind, so whichever side of the stem they drill on is the side the wind was blowing from that particular day, and the height is a bit random too.

Then once the wheat field ripens and dries out, if the wind blows from approximately the same direction as it did the day the wheat stem was initially cut into by the female sawfly, the wheat stem breaks.  And it creates of mess with wheat stems all falling over.

Sawfly were first seen in this area for a few years back in the mid 1990s — prior to that, they had only been documented once in California for one year in the mid 1950s or 1960s. In the 1990s they were mostly an edge effect, which means they mostly affected the west-facing 20 feet of a field. (While we can have wind blow from any direction, it most commonly blow from the west and southwest.) At that time there were a lot of narrow fields around here that ran north-south on the long direction, which creates a lot of west-facing field edges. Sawfly in the mid-1990s led to a lot of those strips of narrow fields being consolidated into much fewer larger fields.

Then the sawfly went away, right about the time a bunch of researchers had finally gotten geared up to start studying it again.

Then sawflies came back a few years ago, and this time they’ve been sticking around. And this time they are no longer just an edge effect, but will infest a field throughout the entire field. Depending on . . . well, a lot of factors that aren’t completely understood yet, sometimes a field will be completely infested with almost all the plants having weakened stems, and sometims only a fraction will be infested.

So, if about 30% of the plants are infested and it’s a thick stand, the remaining intact stems might hold up the broken stems until you can cut the field. If it’s a thin stand, then however much of the crop has weakened stems will probably fall to the ground. A couple years ago on one field of ours that had a medium stand, the custom cutters estimated that because of sawfly damage and fallen stems they probably left 10 bushels an acre on the ground. That field ran around the low 40s in bushels to the acre so that 10 bu/acre loss was just a little bit under 25% yield loss.

There is a lot of research going on with sawflies now, but so far a lot of it is discovery with not much into mitigation, control or suppression yet. It has been found that solid-stem wheat varieties seem to be less affected than hollow-stem varieties. Which is good to know, but also a shame since in areas with lots of rain hollow-stem varieties typically produce about twice what the solid-stem varieties do.

(My understanding is that until sawfly came along, most breeding efforts were focused on hollow-stem varieties which have a bit of higher top-end yield anyway because the less energy the plant is putting into making a stem the more it has available for kernels in the head.)

However, this area we are in does not get “lots of rain”. It gets little enough rain that the difference between highly-infested-hollow-stem and lightly-to-modeerately-highly-infested-solid-stem is not that great. And once you factor in the damage to the combines from trying scrape up a field with a lot of wheat laying on the ground, and dockage you get from having bits of rock and dirt in your wheat because so much of it was scraped off the ground, then the difference isn’t that great at all.

So, the last couple years we’ve been planting solid stem wheat varieties and it’s been working a lot better. But with the rain, there are portions of a lot of our fields that were highly infested this year and with the rain are now looking much flatter.

But not absolutely flat, and not the entire field. So, it’s still better.

And yes, pesticides for sawflies have been discussed a number of times. They don’t really work out because most pesticides only have a 12-24 hour (maybe 48 hour max) effective time once they’re applied. And that works fine for most insects since most insects all fly, molt, hatch, etc. in a short time frame and if you catch it right, the pesticide application window overlaps the insect pest vulnerability window.

But sawflies emerge and fly over the course of about a month. So there’s no way economically (or really even environmentally) you can do anything but hurt yourself by applying 15+ applications of pesticide over that whole month.

Anyway, enough about sawfly. Maybe I’ll right a longer piece about them another day.

~~~

Monday August 16th was warm and dry. Some neighbors tried their field around 10 AM and had 19% moisture. Which is much too wet, for wheat it’s better to have 13% or maybe tops 14% moisture when you cut it.

But by 3 PM it had dried out enoughwe could start again. Still just our one combine, the custom cutters we’re planning on using are in the area but finishing up the last few hundred acres for another farmer off by Geraldine.

Dinner Monday night was . . . well, if I’d had more confidence and experience in how it would have all turned out, it would have been a type of sheperd’s pie. But as it was, I wasn’t sure until it was done if the meat part would be thick enough, so it was a disassembled sheperd’s pie.

  • Iced Tea & Lemonade
  • Bread & Butter Sandwiches
  • Salad
  • A very thick meaty stew, with some onion and parsley and cabbage thrown in (sounds odd, but got rave review)
  • Mashed potatoes and hash browns, mixed up and browned a bit in a frying pan
  • Shredded cheese
  • Banana Bread Cake

Also Monday an article appeared in the Great Falls Tribune (no, I’m not going to link the article or the newspaper, their website is HORRID for trying to find articles on, even if you know the exact title and date of publication) about a local farmwife who cooks dinner for all her family and hired hands and custom cutters too.

In the article, it described how that farmwife would sit down a couple days before harvest started, plan out her entire harvest menu, with no dish ever repeated, and do most of her grocery shopping then too. It even showed the laminated recipe cards she’s made over the years.

No, I am not that organized. Even in my wildest daydreams and most unrealistic fantasies I don’t even dream of being that organized. So my menus are much more impromput and often consist of “what’s in the freezer, what’s currently in the fridge, and did I serve it yesterday?”  🙂

~~~

And that brings me up to today, Tuesday August 17th (and yes, I do plan on posting this a bit more regularly from now on).

Still just our one machine, but supposed to have custom cutters with two more combines and another grain truck show up tomorrow.

Cutting went well, even the down areas haven’t been too bad. Or at least, not so far.

Dinner was:

  • Iced Tea & Lemonade
  • Bread & Butter Sandwiches
  • Pot Roast
  • Gravy
  • Rice (yes, I know it’s more typical to serve potatoes with pot roast, but I don’t like serving the same starch multiple days in a row).
  • Blueberry Pie

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