You may have been wondering where I have been for the last few weeks. I took a short break from the Common-Tater to get started on many different home projects that all had to wait until the harvest was finished. The guys have been very busy catching up as well. There is equipment to clean and winterize, buildings to maintain, potatoes to pack and deliver, and of course there is more field work to do before the snow flies. These pictures are of an implement called a soil saver cultivator. Despite my previously unspoken thoughts, I have been informed that this is not just a piece of equipment invented for farmers who want to keep driving tractors once the harvest is finished!! The cultivator plays an essential role in improving our soil. It loosens the ground that has been compacted by heavy equipment, improves water drainage, works up the organic manure and is invaluable in preventing wind erosion over the winter. If you would like to have a more in-depth look at our fall field work you can visit “Fall Field Chores.”
So what’s REALLY like to work on a farm during the harvest? Here’s a 10 second video of our crew unloading a bulk truck full of potatoes. They are hard at working making sure that any rocks and weeds picked up by the harvester are not put into our storage. If you watch this video 100 times you will see how long it takes to unload one truck. Multiply that by 10 trucks per day and then multiply that by 7 days a week for 6 weeks and you will have a good idea of what we have been up to! (Give or take a few rain days and this year even extreme heat days.) To learn more about the function of the bin filler is you can visit “Journey From The Underground Part III” or watch a video at “The Potato Bin Filler.”
They say it takes an entire village to raise a child. In our case, it takes an entire dedicated team to raise potatoes. Here is a closer look at some of the people who have been working hard at #harvest17 (although we are missing a few key players who were busy at other jobs off the farm when I took the pictures yesterday.) After his morning job of delivering potatoes to our customers, Curtis keeps the bulk trucks rotating so there is always one truck getting unloaded and one truck getting loaded in the field. John and RJ have logged hundreds of hours operating the windrower and the harvester (with a little help yesterday from our office assistant Shelby!) Alfonso works beside the harvester all fall driving the bulk truck. The crew back at the storage run the bin filler which keeps the potatoes moving out of the trucks into the storage. Every once in a while I escape the office and the accounting to travel around on a photo shoot. And as for Murray, he keeps a watchful eye over the whole process! With a little luck and some decent weather we hope to finish the harvest by the end of next week. If you would like to learn more about the potato harvest process you can visit “Journey From The Underground Part I” “Journey From The Underground Part II” and “Journey From The Underground Part III.”
Our battle with Mother Nature continues here at the farm. If I were to review the weather this year, I guess I could say “it could have been better…but it could have been worse.” An overly wet spring left us with flooded sections and drowned out seed potatoes. The summer saw severe thunderstorms rolling in one after another. Dramatic fluctuations in temperatures created foggy conditions continually for the early morning starts. Now this unseasonal heat has halted the harvest until temperatures return to somewhat normal. And the tough reality is that despite this surprise mid-summer weather, winter is coming and we must get the crop harvested before the snow flies. Yet there is always hope with a rainbow (or two!) To hear more about potato farming in York Region, you can click on “BJ’s Radio Interview.”
It’s funny how things can change so much yet remain completely same. These photos were taken approximately 30 years ago in the mid 1980’s. To my untrained eye I am surprised to see how similar some of this equipment looks when compared to what we are using today. In fact, the bulk truck still resides at our farm as far as I can tell. (Of course, I could be wrong since distinguishing between different makes and models of vehicles has never been one of my strong points as RJ and my sons could tell you!) While today’s equipment is more sophisticated, the basic work flow is still the same. In these photos of the potato harvest of yesteryears, RJ is using the windrower to dig up potatoes. Don follows with the harvester to pick them up along with a few extra rows. The potatoes get loaded into a bulk truck and taken to the farm for storage over the winter. To have a closer look at some of the equipment we use today you can visit our "Photo Gallery.”
The cavalry has arrived! Let the fall harvest begin! Over the next 5 to 6 weeks everyone at the farm will be working together to bring in the potato crop. I wanted to post this funny little video before everyone gets too tired to appreciate the humour in it. I debated for quite some time whether to call it “The Cavalry Arrives” or “The Almost Crash.” I leave it up to you to decide since I still cannot make up my mind. Stay tuned for harvest updates broadcast directly from my back porch! To see a video of the potato harvester operating at actual speed you can visit “The Potato Harvester.”
Ah November. Crisp days and cool nights. Stunning sunsets and gorgeous fall foliage. A time to put our feet up and relax by the fire after a busy farming season. Or so you would think! Here at the farm it is actually a race against Old Man Winter.
We start by taking care of all kinds of jobs that have been put aside during the harvest. There is general clean up around the farm, equipment maintenance, equipment repair, and winterization of equipment. But the most important task at hand is field preparation for the spring. The more work we can do in the late fall, the better prepared we are to plant the new crop in the spring.
We use our dump truck to haul manure from a local chicken farm. We are a part of their nutrient management program. In a win-win situation, we get organic matter to enrich our fields while they dispose of unwanted animal waste.
The manure is stockpiled at the back of the farm. Spreading the manure is a time consuming job and of course somewhat stinky! Drive to the manure pile, use the loader tractor to fill the manure spreader, drive back to the field to spread the manure. Repeat the process many, many times. The disc harrow follows closely behind the manure spreader. It works the manure into the land for composting over the winter.
The last piece of equipment to work the land is the soil saver cultivator. It reaches deep into the soil to shatter the compaction created by heavy equipment. It generates channels to improve water drainage while leaving organic matter on the soil surface to prevent wind erosion.
Finally the field is prepared for the new crop next year. And off we go to the next field! To watch videos of some of the equipment at work, click on “Manure Spreader” and “Disc Harrow.”
Our potatoes are now at the end of their journey from the underground into storage for the winter. The fully loaded bulk trucks are driven back to the farm where our capable employees take over. The potatoes are run out of the bulk truck to the bin filler where they travel over a series of belts and rubber finger rollers until they reach the potato storage building.
The belts on the bin filler serve many different functions. The rubber finger rollers knock dirt and debris off the potatoes. Any small rocks, bits of dirt or tiny potatoes drop through the sizing screen onto the garbage conveyor. The bigger rocks and clumps of weeds are picked out by hand by our staff. Human eyes can differentiate many things the machines miss, which means our staff is essential at this point of the harvest.
By the time the potatoes have run through all the belts they have been sorted in two different grading areas by our staff and have run through two different machine grades on the bin filler. This means we are only using our storage buildings to store potatoes, not unwanted field residue.
The potatoes are deposited into separate sections of the building based on variety. They are separated by floor to ceiling walls. The building is temperature and humidity controlled to create optimum conditions for keeping our crop in premium condition over the winter.
Now we just sit back and relax all winter….but not really!
If you would like to see a video of the bin filler, you can visit the installment of The Common-Tater called “The Potato Bin Filler.”
Our potatoes travel out of the bulk trucks along the bin filler to be stored for the winter. To learn more about how the bin filler works, you can visit our installment of The Common-Tater entitled “Journey From The Underground Part III.”
The potato harvester picks up where the windrower has finished. Since the windrower leaves the potatoes lying exposed to the sunlight, it is essential that the harvester picks up the potatoes quickly. The operators of the two machines need to be in constant communication with each other.
The harvester digs an additional two rows of potatoes as it collects the four rows of potatoes left piled up neatly by the windrower. Much like the windrower, many weeds and large clumps of soil are sorted by the series of belts on the harvester. The sorting is somewhat more dramatic. The foliage is shot out of the back of the harvester and can travel quite some distance. I discovered this much to my sorrow when I got a little too close to the back of the harvester and was rained on by the dust and dirt!
RJ Thompson drives the harvester at our farm. As you can see in the photos, it is a huge piece of equipment. Driving the harvester required concentration and coordination with both the windrower operator and the bulk truck driver, as well as the ability to drive forward in a straight line while looking backwards. Once the bulk truck is filled with potatoes it is driven back to the farm to be unloaded into our storage. Stay tuned to learn all about the bin filler!
If you would like to see a video of the harvester, you can visit the installment of The Common-Tater called “The Potato Harvester.”
Thompson Potato Farm
Farming is fascinating!