Thursday, August 17, 2017

Unusual Crops

Before I leave my crops update for this month, let me share a few unusual crops we've seen this summer.  See if you can recognize them!

Recognize this one?  We saw this field about two hours to the south.  They obviously do multiple plantings, in order to ensure a continuing supply of cabbages over the season. 

How about this farm?  It's about 45 minutes south, so we pass it every time we go back and forth.

It's garlic, and they pick it manually, hiring local families to come and work for a week or two.  The harvest is usually in late July.  That's a lot of garlic bulbs to pick up!

How about this one?  Big leaves with small white flowers, and sometimes they grow this for honey production.  This is buckwheat, not a wheat at all, but a relative of rhubarb.  It does have seeds though, and you can buy buckwheat flour.

I saw this band of bright yellow in the distance and thought I had found a field of sunflowers.

But when I found some close to the road, they weren't a crop at all, but an infestation of bright yellow Sow Thistles!  For whatever reason, this field didn't get planted this year allowing the thistles to grow.

Finally a hay rake.  I should have added this to yesterday's post.  It's a stage between cutting hay and baling it, when farmers use a hay rake to combine individual swaths of the hay and fluff it up to dry it.  Then it gets baled.

That's enough of crops for now!  Thanks for sticking with me.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

When is a Hay Bale not a Hay Bale?

As I've been following individual farm fields this summer to see how the crops grew, I've come to realize that there is a lot of variety among 'hay bales'.  In fact, not all those big round bales that I have dozens of pictures of are 'hay' at all.  So here's what I understand after watching all these fields, and talking to a few farmers.  Just come back tomorrow if this level of detail doesn't interest you, but I want to sort it out in my own mind.

The simplest answer to my question is that a 'hay bale' is not a hay bale when it's a bale of straw.  When wheat as in this field is harvested, the combine takes the grain, but it does not take the stems and leaves of the plant.  These are left in long windrows in the field and later baled.  Without the grain included, this makes very poor fodder for cattle because it's not nutritious, but straw is widely used for bedding, for horse farms as well as cattle farms.

You can see the fine plastic mesh that the baling machine wraps the bale with, keeping it looking nice and tidy.

This is another example of bales that are not 'hay'.  In this case a grain crop has been cut and baled while it's still green, and wrapped in plastic to preserve it.

This is the field when it was being harvested.  This is a mixture of barley, oats and peas, which will provide a very nutritious food for cattle in the winter.  Increasingly farmers are trying an option like this here, in order to get higher quality feed.

As we get half-way through this story, this is actually a field of hay.  In the normal sense here hay is a field of grasses of various species.  In this case it was harvested very early in June, to maximize the nutrition value, because this is a dairy farm.  All the seeds of the grasses are simply included, and that's where the nutrition is.

Because the first cut in this field was so early, they got a second cut recently.  In a well managed hayfield like this, the growth beneath the grasses is alfalfa, which grows more slowly, so the second cut is composed more of alfalfa than of grasses.

Because it's a dairy farm, both of these harvests were baled in the white plastic, to preserve it for next winter.  Like the peas/barley/oats mixture above, this will be very nutritious for the cattle, who like the moister fodder than really dry hay bales.

Finally, this is a good old ordinary hay bale, grown for beef cattle.  Beef cattle are not nearly as demanding as dairy cattle, so their fodder doesn't have to be so nutritious.  Often beef farmers also have another job, and stay on the farm because they love the lifestyle.  With some pasture and a few days 'making hay' over the summer, you can raise beef cattle with less work than dairy cattle.  Often the hay doesn't get cut until quite late in the summer.  That's not to say there aren't some very talented full-time beef cattle farmers around.

This is that white mesh that holds the bale together.

Some balers use a green mesh, and other use a very sparse line of plastic cord rather than mesh.

And a few older balers don't wrap the bale much at all, though there are a few cords around these bales if you look really closely.  All of these hay bales that are unwrapped are probably stored under cover, either under big plastic tarps, or in canvas roofed farm shelters.

So next time you see a field of straw bales, don't confuse them with 'hay bales'!  Big round bales are more varied and complex than I thought at first.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Crops Update #4 - Other Grains

While the winter wheat has been mostly harvested now, other grain crops planted this spring continue to mature, some of them starting to turn golden brown like the winter wheat did 6 weeks ago.  Our rain has helped the growth, but I'm not sure we've had the heat to bring on a high yield of grain.  Here they are in early August.

The corn crop is looking really good, towering over your head, and starting to tassel.  You can see the early stages of the developing corncobs too.  Each of those thin strings leads to a single kernel of corn.

This field that I couldn't identify early in the season, turned out to be barley, with it's very long 'awns' distinguishing it from wheat.  This field is starting to turn golden.

This field is mixed grain, both barley and oats, and starting to mature too, but still showing a lot of green.

And this is the field of spring wheat I found, also starting to turn golden.

The beans are looking a rich green, and have started to form beans,  The little tiny seeds inside those beans will be the final harvest.

And finally the canola fields have lost their yellow blooms, and started to form seed pods as well.  The product here is the oil made from the tiny seeds in these pods.

And now you're up to date, except for one more post on 'Hay Bales - when is a Hay Bale not a Hay Bale?'  I'm working on getting photos to illustrate that one.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Crops Update #4 - Wheat Harvest

One of the big season-marking events I notice in our rural community is the winter wheat harvest, usually in early August.  Winter wheat, planted last fall, has matured and turned golden brown.  Among our big grain crops, it's the first to be harvested.  Others will follow right through to late fall.

This year it's been a real challenge to get that dry sunny window of weather for the harvest.  I've kept an eye on several winter wheat fields nearby waiting for this to start.

I spotted the start of the harvest on the way into town nearly two weeks ago.  This is a spot I've stopped to get several pictures over the season so far.

When I went by, there was a big combine sitting waiting for people to arrive to continue the work.

As well as a tractor  pulling a grain wagon for transferring the grain to the big trucks that haul it away.

A week or two later I spotted this very similar combine hard at work, taking down a long wide band of wheat.

The combine takes heads of grain, and leaves the straw stems lying in swaths for baling.

At the end of the field was a tractor and baler, waiting to start baling, while a grain truck is parked in the background.
And the next day when I went by, the entire field of straw had been baled.  A lot of hours put in, and a lot of both grain and straw ready for market.  One of the big turning points of our entire summer season.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Perseids

I almost forgot that last night was the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower, created by fragmented debris of the Swift-Tuttle Comet.  Depending entirely on the weather and cloud cover, this is usually the brightest meteor shower of the year.

Visibility was threatened by the moonlight, but at 11 p.m. we remembered and discovered that the moon hadn't risen yet.  So we went out and sat on the deck for 10 minutes until our eyes got used to the darkness, and the stars started appearing.  I put the camera on the tripod and tried some exposures to see if I could remember how to do it.  These exposures are taken on a manual setting, with the ISO set to 6400, and a 30 second exposure

I pointed the camera toward the corner of the sky where the Perseids are centred, and waited for action!  I aimed just below the constellation Cassiopeia, the 'Big W' (albeit distorted a bit).  It's a little hard to pick out in this exposure.  The camera is picking up FAR more stars than our eyes saw.

By reducing the ISO to 3200, the photo is darker, fewer stars show up, and Cassiopeia shows up much more easily.

Then I sat there and took 45 pictures of this part of the sky, hoping for meteors to appear.  Quite a few did, but not in this part of the sky!  We each saw about a dozen white streaks across the heavens in 30 minutes of watching, but the camera didn't catch a single one!

This was a passing plane, heading into Toronto.

This is the Northern Cross, part of the constellation Cygnus.  My dad always referred to this one when he was teaching navigation (with the stars) during WWII.

And here's the Big Dipper, part of the constellation Ursa Major.  It's a handy one to know because the right hand two stars point to the North Star, which unfortunately I missed.  It's just off the picture to the upper right.

Then the moon rose, and washed out the entire show.  I may try again tonight.

Just for good measure, here are two photos from last year, the first showing a bit of the Milky Way, and the second showing a Perseid Meteor!  It really is possible to photograph them - if you get lucky!

Go sit in the dark outside on a clear night and wait til your eyes get used to the dark.  The sky puts on quite a show!