Category Archives: harvest

Onion Confusion

I planted onions in the spring…

So apparently I’ve been having a blond moment for the last several weeks now. I’ve been excited to collect seed from whatever garden plants I can. My onions sent up nice big flowers that now have thousands of seeds in them. I thought great, yippee, I get to save some onion seed. Ummm, no. Well, yes, I get some onion seeds. But no freakin’ onions!! I pulled them up today and the aren’t much bigger than the sets I planted.
Duh, I guess I should have thought about that. Apparently onions are not supposed to flower in their first year and if they do the bulbs will be very small. The bulbs also won’t store well since they have been pierced where the flower stalk pushed up. The only explanation I can find for this is extreme temperature fluctuations during the growing seasons. Yep, we’ve got that going on here in Michigan.
So what do you think? Has this happened to you? Am I missing something? Is this more likely to happen when you grow from onion sets? I’m so bummed.


My Take On Forward Contracting

This is a little more technical than most of my posts and refers to grain farming. Not sure how many readers raise grain but this is something I learned about that I’d like to share.

So basically, we grow the corn, we take it to the elevator, and then we either sell it right away (if prices are good) or we start to incur storage costs on it and don’t sell it until prices come back up. Supposedly, this is the first year in the last 10 where a farmer didn’t make money by storing grain until after the 1st of the year. Of course that would happen during our first harvest year, why not!?

So since we are beginning field work and need $$$ to buy fertilizer and seed, we really need the money from last year’s corn. Plus, we don’t want to pay to store it much longer. However, prices are still low enough that I’m not convinced they will even cover the cost of growing that corn. So, there is another option available: forward contracting. Basically, we sell the corn today and a check is mailed to us. The check is for the current price ($3.42/bushel) times the # of bushels we have minus any unpaid storage AND minus, in our case, $0.37/bu for this forward contracting option. This storage costs will stop the day we sell. The $0.37 gives us the option to “sell” again in the next 3 months in order to benefit if prices go up.

Say in June prices go up to $4.00. We could “sell” then and get a check for the extra $0.58 x # of bu. We can only do that once and then our “contract” is done. I think. The downside is that if prices don’t go up we would actually lose money. If prices go up $0.37 we would get back what it cost us to have the option but would come out the same as if we had sold outright at today’s current prices.

Is this understandable? I know it is a confusing topic, so I thought I’d share what I know. Maybe someone will Google it and find this post. Do you see what crop farming makes me batty!? I hate gambling, and that is what we do in this line of work.

Harvest, My First Farm Meal, & Pictures!

Okay since my memory card is full I think this is going to be picture week around here. I tend to snap pics with the intent to share and then never quite get there.

But first – guess what!!? We harvested our very first soybeans on the new farm! We had 30 acres of them and they went 61 bushels to the acre. For those who aren’t familiar with farm terms:

1 bushel = 60 pounds

61 bushels to the acre is a very good yield, we haven’t heard any higher in the area so far, but there are lots of soys left to come off. I can’t help but think of the part in Omnivore’s Dilemma about yields increasing astronomically in the past 100 years. I am breathing a big sigh of relief because the payment from them will cover about 1/2 of our mortgage this year. If all goes well with the corn we should be just fine.

So Saturday since Brian and the guys were working on our fields I felt obligated to make dinner for them. Normally the senior farmer’s wife provides meals for everyone who helps in the field. These meals range from ordering pizza to bringing out a pot of homemade chili and so on. I thawed 3 lbs. of hamburger from one of my father-in-law’s old cows and roasted some red potatoes from the farmer’s market. Everyone said it was good but they hardly stopped to eat, never mind taste it. Next time I won’t put so much effort in to it. Brian’s favorite meals come from Sylvester Farms. It is usually a brown bag with a good sandwich, chips, cookies, candy bars, etc. They must go to Sam’s Club and stock up on the snack sizes. Oh well, we’ll have to see how the guys like homemade granola bars!

I’m in kind of an odd position around here being the only woman on the farm at my age. Most of the farms are family businesses where the grandpa, son, and grandsons all work together. In that case the grandma does the cooking, bookwork, etc. and the other wives are free to work on or off the farm or be with the kids, etc. Lucky us – we get to do it all! I would really like to meet more young people starting out in the farming industry. There are not a lot of resources available that target us. Most farmers our age, at least in this area, would be in line to inherit a large operation someday. That is one reason I am so interested in going organic. Usually organic status allows you to produce a similar income as a big farm on much less acreage. I’ll save that conversation for another day though.

Here are some more pictures for you, on a cuter note:

I left the upstairs door open so Maci snuck up there for a nap…

Which Sam was very happy about because it meant he retained strict control of the TV remote!

Pickle Farming – Part 1

Yesterday I was lucky enough to head out to the beach with a friend for the first part of the day. My fiance, Brian, was working for our friends that grow pickles so when I got home I decided to go ride in the semi with him. He was driving a semi with doubles behind it. That means it has 2 separate trailers behind it. The whole rig from front bumper to rear hitch is 70′ long. The set of 2 trailers is also known as “trains”. They aren’t too hard to drive but they are very tricky to back up. Brian drove the same setup for 4 years at an excavating company so he does great with them. I’m so proud of him! 🙂 Anyway, enough bragging, on to the story of pickles…

Pickle farmers try to schedule their planting so that they know exactly what day the pickles will be ready to harvest. If it is 90 degrees and humid out the pickles can grow very fast. They can be too small to pick in the morning and too big to pick at night. Our friends had a 30 acre field ready to be picked on Saturday and the 30 acres next to it was supposed to be ready for Sunday. The pickles had other ideas though and as it turns out the whole 60 acres were ready to be picked on Saturday.

This made for a lot of rushing around before a big rainstorm hit. These farmers have an 8-row harvester and a 4-row harvester. The 8-row does most of the work while the 4-row gets the headlands and the extra little corners and things. The pickles are loaded in to semis and hauled to the factory. On Saturday they were hauling to factory about 45 minutes away. They had 6 semis (5 singles + the trains) going nonstop to keep up with the harvester. It takes 20 minutes to unload a single trailer and sometimes the line at the factory can be a 2-3 hour wait. Each of the single trailers made 2 trips to the factory that day and the trains went once.

Whenever I ride in a semi I always get a little nervous about the traffic. I would love to learn to drive one but it can be so stressful, especially with all the people on the road who don’t appreciate trucks or know anything about them. We had the classic idiot who pulled out in front of us, making Brian downshift, then decided to slow down and turn just as we were getting up to speed again. Then, as we were navigating through the stoplights in town we met the driver who doesn’t know what the white line at the stoplight is for. Boy did she back up real fast when we made a right turn and almost kissed the front bumper on her Grand Prix!

Sorry for complaining but I get really sick of ignorant people. I hope that by sharing experiences like this maybe more people can learn about things like this. If you don’t know much about semis I would suggest taking it upon yourself to learn the basics. For example, don’t ever pull up close behind a semi at a stop sign or light. Even on the slightest hill the truck will roll backward as the driver let’s out the clutch to accelerate. It is big pain when they have to worry about rolling back in to you!

Okay, back to the pickles. So when we get to the factory the first thing to do is get weighed. We pulled on to a very large scale and the weight shows up on a little display so we can see it. The train weigh 160,000 lbs. when fully loaded. This is the gross, or total, weight and included the truck plus the pickles. The single trailer weighed in at 120,000 lbs. loaded. A women in the little trailer beside the scale logs your weight and gives you a paper for each load. After you unload you weigh the truck again to get the weight of the pickles. The single trailer weighed about 50,000 lbs. empty so that means we brought in 70,000 lbs of pickles in one load.

After weighing in, and maybe waiting in line, the driver backs to truck up to the “pit”. The pit is just what it sounds like, kind of a hole with metal sides. The dump box is raised up just enough for a big pile of pickles to come out. There is a big conveyor belt that takes the pickles away from the bottom of the pile. Eventually the driver can raise the box more and more until all the pickles come out. Like I said earlier, unloading takes about 20 minutes.

The conveyor takes the pickles in to the factory to be cleaned and sorted. It drops them from one belt to another so a lot of the leaves and debris fall off the belt. Then they are run through a tank where water is sprayed on them at high pressure to get a lot of the dirt off. The next tank has red hose-like belts that pull through the water. The pickles go between all these belts and get scrubbed clean. The conveyor takes them through several tanks like this and then rinses them with clean water.

Afterward the conveyor goes by workers that manually sort the pickles. Any that are not the right side or that are damaged go back on a separate conveyor and are spit out in to a bin near where the truck sits. The pickles that pass inspection leave the factory on another conveyor and are loaded in to clean trucks that belong to the factory. They go to another part of the factory grounds and are stored in big tanks of brine until they are needed for further processing.

When the last pickle slides out of the truck the driver puts the trailer down. The debris and damaged pickles are dumped back in to the truck to take back home. The scraps are usually dumped in a vacant field to compost. Since pickles are mostly water it doesn’t take long at all for them to breakdown. A pile 10′ tall could be almost gone after a day or two.

I hope some of you found this interested and learned a little something. I did get to walk around and see some of the factory for myself while the truck was being unloaded. I know a lot of people aren’t as close to commercial food production as I am so I like to share these experiences. This post is titled Part 1 because I hope to add more about pickle farming later. Next weekend maybe I’ll get to ride in the harvester and tell you how that works!