Saskatchewan – Harvesting, from a simple mind.

Before reading this  blog there is a lot of refernces to the Gryde family, you can read all about them here.

Saskatchewan Family

Theres a squillion logistics, fine tweaks and kinks that could be knotted out when sharing ones experience with helping on the Grydes 4000 odd acre family farm. But it would be a crime to have learnt the ins and outs over the last couple of weeks and not share the experience and educate you kids on whats what in your cereal. So here I shall give you a brief overview in what I have come to know as “the harvest”, broken down into easy to chew alphabet soup.

Shop Talk.
The Harvest is an important time of the year. Everyone is finiky and anxious to get the wheels turning. You’ve researched which crops are worthy of your soil, sewed the seeds and its time to make bank! But harvest is only a short season, anywhere from a fortnight too a month. And how the harvest goes illustrates a years success or can plunge you head first into financial ruin. So the question might be asked, what happens the rest of the year? Well you can google that! But other than seeding, spraying and praying. Theres a gosh dang amount of time spent weilding a spanner and sporting spandex gloves! Maintenance is probably the most timely process and a big chunk of the year. And if you havent the clue about how your machinery runs then you’ll be forking out huge amount of grain profits to a greasy greaser in overalls. Alternatively you may choose to sink hundreds of thousands of dollars into new machinery hoping the warranty on your playdough dont dry out. And you can mold as much flow into dough in its warranty life as possible. But when were talking millions of dollars in New Holland, John Deere big name equipment you better bring big fame. Luckily the gryde fellas know a thing or two about thier gear and humble beginnings have lead to nice harvest rides they know their way around. The Gryde shop is a treasure trove of manly toys dying to claim an arm or prod out an eye. Theres a laser cutter, make shift flamer, torque gun and pretty much a whole artillery of “tools” in which I see as potential weapons of mass construction to aid them on the quest to keep these big boys chugging. While the list of problems you could run into is endless. But with the tools and know how, the chaps (oh and Shirley) can tackle any problem. Me personally, I am mechanically retarted, I might look good under the hood of Evelyn. But best only be a flat battery or tyre, otherwise im using roadside support. Even then they would question why the jumper leads are connected to the tyre. I was often found useful as a “Good Indian” the silent observer who knew to let the teepee of chiefs ponder the issue. And with a “Yes Sir” would blaze out on a quad bike to collect a part. Keep your mouth shut and flex the guns, your time will come!

Dick and Kirk working on changing the teeth on a header.
Greg with brother Chris, Shirley checking teeth on header
Kirk working on connection between header and combiner

Cheerios, Wheatbix or Bagels
Whatever your breakfast, they are more than sugary goodness and have too start from some place. And grains not only limited to the breakfast table as you are about to learn. The Grydes harvest many types of seed. Its all about predicting the market and knowing the weather. Okay so its pretty hit and miss what you put in the ground. But like my pal Kirk says, its best to stick to what you know and do it well. And what they know well is Wheat, Barley, Durum and Lentils. 

Wheat grows tall and long and is easy to cut. Its a pretty staple food in our western bellies. For those unawares its what we make flour from, pretty much what puts the bun in buns. On the Gryde’s sewed these seeds last, so in the time I spent on the farm it wasn’t a grain I worked with. But talking with Dick, he will tell you its easy work. 

too grows long, it sits seed sits tall and proud. The combiner can sweep swiftly through, they cut it down like crazy. Dust flies in all direction and it carries an ugly itch. It makes for scratchy business on these hot sticky harvest days. If your buttering your bread, chances are slim it will contain barley, but it does exsist. Plenty of the seed will make its way into your steak, the grain feed American style beef industry loves the stuff. And while your downing a piece of back rib, how about washing it down with a budweiser! Yup, the mojority of barley is snapped up by the brewers. And thats how you go from morning poridge to dutch courage. 

Durum, is the Italiano brother of the four. The etty spaghetti grain. The base ingredient in most pastas, mac and cheese your eating durum. It looks like rice in its grain form and it cuts super nice. A bit of cold weather can make the stalks tough to cut, but with harvest days sitting around 30deg its not a major issue. The dust while doesn’t irritate the skin too much! And it just looks darn pretty! I loved working with durum. 

Lentils, our middle eastern friends are lower and harder to cut. Had they grown green lentils this season not red they could have made some serious Rupees!! But its not so easy, planting green lentils on a crop where red lentils have been can cross contaminate the crop and leave you with a techni-coloured rainbow crop. A dahl curry worthy only for the cows.

Each crop is measured in bushels. Wheat, durum and lentil add up to 60 pounds per bushel while barley adds to 48 pounds per bushel . So your harvest can be calculated by x amount of bushels per square acre. Giving you mad street-cred down at the co-op depending on your harvest, for e.g. “Yo Farmer Joe! Im threading a 20 bushel lentil crop this year” which would be on the good side for lentils. A tad less than what the Hutterites are boasting, but everyone knows they full of shit! 

The Main Players

I’d say my color is green! John Deere has a sweet logo! I could picture my farm roaming in its equipment. Id own the hat and my pick up truck would have the bumper sticker. My kids Huck and Lonnie would sleep under the duvet cover. But other than the sex appeal of a JD thats as far as my knowledge of the brand and equipment goes. Choosing the right machine involves alot more! Greg and Kirk must have put pen to paper when they invested in there 2 New Holland Combiners and I bet they didn’t pick them cause the are yellow. Yellows a dumb colour! But what isn’t dumb, is what these huge house sized beasts are capable of. And because you the reader were just hoping to follow my travels and not sit through the woes and hoes of harvesting, ill describe their role in layman terms. But firstly I can’t forget the Honey Bee Header. Another yellow fellow, it 40′ long bucket is attached to the front of the combiner like an oversized fanny bag. It has sharp oscillating teeth thrash at the crop chopping it at the stalk. The bucket has more rotating teeth that smash it into the bucket, then a canvas escalator throws everything into the centre and into the heart of the beast! Its job is done! Kirk, Shirley or Dick who are driving the combiner controlling the heads every move ensuring the teeth on the header arent chomping rocks or dirt, solely good crop. Once the crop is inside the combiner a series of escalating platforms sort the seed from stalk and shell which is shot out the back to mulch back into the field. While the good seed is shuffled into elevators on either side and collected in a bucket on board the combinder. Whilst Dick only helps here and there and doesnt need to worry about the future, Shirley does and Kirk controls her fate. Technology is already at the point where GPS satellites steer these great beasts, drones roam the sky sending reports of the good, bad and ugly crops and even today driverless combiners are eating there way into an unknown industry for combine drivers looking to put food on the table. While I am sure Kirk wouldnt sack his own mother, however we may just see a revived culture of gleeners (those who pick up the leftovers). Before we continue onto the next step we cant forget our old friend Bill! He’s been driving since horse and cart. Now the cart has 480 horses pulling it and shes labeled Versatile! The red machine recently acquired for a more cushioned ride, so even Meryl can ride along. This dream team of Versatileons get radioed in when the combiners are full, an extendable arm graciously greets Bill in his cart as he rolls up alongside the combiner. They lock speeds and mirror each others movement! And while this dance of transformer worthy beasts embarks, the combiner continues to slice its crop and drop its load of harvest grain into the Bills cart. When the load complete they disembark and radio in “rolling out”! 

Kirks combiner, and the header revealing its teeth
Headers belt, moving chopped grain into combiner
Honey Bee header
Kirk combining, stalks and dust flying out the back
Old bill waiting for Shirley to dump a load
Dumping a load into the cart on the go
Harvesting into the night
Me and my Semi

Greg LOVES harvesting! Being out on the combiner makes him the happiest a chap can be. Unfortunately for Greg, the young guns don’t let him ride along anymore. He has been banished to the out skirts of the field. Scuffing up country gravel roads in his 18 wheeler semi or truck and trailer (for my New Zealand pals). But this season his task is way sweeter, with me riding along side. We make trouble on the radio waves, talk about the hoes and woes of life and conclude to our faith in Jesus! We wave out to old Bill as he meets Greg and I in his Versatile. His extendable arm now saluting the sky read to rain down a waterfall of seed. Were hanging five, until every last drop is dumped safetly in the back of the semi. Greg yunks a cord above his driver window. And a horn signals to Bill that its time to hit the road. Back to the yard we go. Its a sweet deal to be able to ride alongside a pal! For most our lives we are worlds apart but the harvest has brought us together to ride these roads, sing our country tunes and haul grain like bosses! Once we arrive back at the yard, we are greeted by a true Blue Case Tractor, definetly in the same class as the red Versatile, but a tad classer in its royal blue uniform. This time instead of there being a cart attached, there is a long 100ft steel tube that runs from the tractors behind to the tippy top of a grain Silo. This grand structure is called an ‘Auger’. It sits on trailer and can be manoeuvred with great backing skills by Greg. The auger also has an extendable arm attached, however this arm wears like a big baseball mitten of doom! Instead of a cushioned landing a baseball might expect, it would be chewed to smithereens as inside the steel square box mitten is 2 rotating augers. When Greg and I roll up next to the Auger on its trailer. It is my job to fire the Auger up, an electronic control box on the side of the arm is used to guide the mitten snuffly under the truck. And with the crank of a lever once again its raining grain! The augers fire the grain up the steel pipe and into the silo. Raining grain! Raining dollars! 

The lone ranger, waiting for a load
Bill dumping the cart into the semi
Close up of lentils loading into the semi
Greg singing
Tractor + auger setup into silo
Auger sending grains up to the silo
Lentils dropping from the semi into the auger

Rain rain go away! Come again another day! A chant I held so much faith in as a child. Like if I bellowed the verse hard enough, the skies would clear and sun would allow play to proceed. Never would any family chant or pray harder than one planting seed! Rain is good after planting, but if it rains too much harvest can be delayed months. If it rains during harvest it can ruin the crop, if it doesn’t rain at all you might not see a harvest. If it hails, your whole crop could be destroyed! I don’t know how the Gryde’s sleep at night! But God has found favour with Val Marie No.17 and while this year has been the worst in 10years. Its been raining toonies (Canadian slang for $2) for too long to let a loonies (Canadian slang for $1) season leave you shaking your fist at God! The weather is essentially what makes and breaks a harvest. But it can also have subtle effects too! Like today I am sitting twiddling my thumbs as the combiners sit in-active. A couple of days of light rain and a green crop means the moisture levels in the grain are too high! A 12.5 (lentil e.g.) reading or lower is required to sell. The closer to 12.5 the better, as drier grain is lighter and not worth as much. Its a total juggling act! Often I would be roaring back to the shop, a grain sample bucket hooping along the back. I measure out 250 grams and plump them in the reader. Take a temperature reading and my handy Canadian Govt standard handbook spits our a number. If we hit 12.5 or less were good to go!!! 

Temperature checking the lentils
Moisture checking machine, measuring 250g lentils

A good farmer could pick this post to pieces. But it dont take telekinesis to work out Im a simple mind. And while this individual experience may not be for all. I would really plead folks to step out and give farm life a try. Ive been fortunate and found a love for a place and people that most will not get to experience. But a great entry into this world would be to check out woofing online. A great website full of farming work positions. You mightn’t put coins in your pocket, but the knowledge, experience and character obtained is priceless. The two weeks spent climbing grain silos, driving tractors and sampling a communities best burger recipes is something that isnt taught in school. Thanks for sitting through what turned into a HUGE post. But its been such an insightful journey!

Usefull resources:

Help support Zanes blog:

Honey Bee Headers:

Wooff Website for working on farms:

3 Replies to “Saskatchewan – Harvesting, from a simple mind.”

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