Lentils Are In

The Lowery Family Massey Ferguson 510, bought new in 1976.

Since not all the pods on a lentil plant mature at the same time, it's a balancing act to know when to swath and when to wait. If you cut too early, you may not get as many lentils. If you wait too long, the early pods may be bone dry and shell out onto the ground. Also, generally speaking, the early pods will hold 2 lentils per pod while the later pods may only have one lentil per pod. So, you want the early pods to be ready, but not overly dry.

A week ago I swathed the lentils and it was only a matter of waiting for the swath to dry. Lentils are poor competitors with other plants, so my swath also included quite a bit of volunteer emmer, wild mustard, some alfalfa, peas, grass, and lambsquarter. The whole swath pile needs to dry down before picking it up with the combine. We had a couple of nice hot days last week - in the mid-90s - but were faced with unruly weather for the weekend - cold temperatures and rain. My father-in-law Clyde had a break in his harvest schedule, so he came over on Friday to help me get the combine ready. It took us most of the morning and part of the afternoon, but we managed to loosen rusted parts (the combine probably hadn't been used in 15 years or so), fix a fuel line, and adjust the sieves and concaves. By early evening, I was in the field picking up the swath and watching the lentils fall into the hopper. It was pretty satisfying and I feel we've come a long way since last year on our grains and seeds.

Picking up the swath.

I've said this before, but one of our challenges as small-scale farmers growing grains is the equipment needed to handle them. We're piecing it together and will only get better and better at it. Our next challenge is to successfully market our specialty crops directly to customers. We're too small for most seed handling facilities to bother with (i.e. seed cleaners) and given our scale, it makes no sense to sell to the local commodity elevator where farmers get pennies per pound for their crop. Besides, were not growing undifferentiated commodities, we're growing high-quality, nutritious food.

Dumping the crop into the truck.

I harvested the first variety, Red Chief, and dumped it into the truck. After harvesting our second variety, Petite Crimson, the chain on the unloading auger broke, so the lentils had to sit in the combine hopper until the next day when I could fix it (and only a few hours before it started raining). The truck with our lentils is now safely backed into the quonset waiting to be cleaned, likely the subject of a blog post since it's bound to be an adventure, as I discover just how effective our little seed cleaner will be in removing all but the lentils (is it folly for us to try to accomplish the entire grain chain - plant, grow, harvest, clean, package, and sell?).

The harvested field.

Peas, alfalfa, mustard, emmer, and yes, lentils.

On another note, if you notice in the photo, our lentils are rather bland looking, unlike the bright and beautiful lentils you find in the grocery store. The reason for this is because ours contain every part of the seed. Many lentil varieties are decorticated, where the outer skin is taken off. This reveals their bright color and helps them cook faster. Unless a part of the seed is toxic (as is the case in quinoa seeds which are coated with the chemical compound saponin that has to be washed off before eating), removing something also removes important nutrients. There is good reason why whole-wheat flour is nutritionally superior to white or all-purpose flour (which also explains why white flour has been "enriched"). Our goal is to grow good food, not grow good food only to strip away half its nutrients.

Next up: bronze barley, black barley, Sonora wheat, and Khorasan wheat.

The Days

Lentils ready.

Lentils swathed.

Swath drying.

Turkeys gobbling.

CSA Shareholders eating (more later).

Garden growing.

My lovely wife with baby growing and due very very soon.

A Lion of a Tractor

My mother dug up one of my brother and my old childhood toys and brought it to our baby shower. It's a big one, I'd guess 250 horsepower, with an articulated back end. The funny thing is, though I'd forgotten about it until I saw it again, it's the very kind of tractor that I've been thinking a lot about lately, as we try to figure out if we'd be able to farm to entire place in the future (260 acres - we're currently farming 15 of it). It's too bad she wouldn't let us play with a real 250 hp tractor when we were kids. Then she could have brought that to the baby shower. And if it came with a doe-eyed lion to help out around the place, even better.

Heading to Pick Up the Pickup Header

The header heading home.

Last Saturday after the Farmers' Market I took a bit of a trip. I drove about 230 miles and never left the Golden Triangle. I borrowed a trailer in Dutton, cut across to Carter, picked up some kid with a pocketful of change trying to get to Fort Benton, drove down into Fort Benton on the Missouri River, drove north to Big Sandy and loaded a pickup header from a farmer. I then drove to Tiber, over the dam, and connected up to the Ledger Road just north of Conrad. For hauling something on a trailer, it was remarkably painless. There were no problems on all the dirt roads I traveled, and loading the trailer was easy with the header fitting perfectly. I'm guessing I will be hauling many a piece of equipment in my lifetime as a farmer (and I can only hope it will be a lifetime). We may only get one flawless haul during that time, and I'm worried I just spent mine.

Some farmer in the middle of nowhere harvesting winter wheat.

One big sky.

I traversed some incredible country - wide open, huge sky, vast expanses (read This House of Sky and High, Wide, and Handsome by Ivan Doig and Joseph Kinsey Howard, respectively). Some places I drove by, Lewis and Clark walked past over 200 years ago. In particular, the Marias River was one notable landmark for the confusion it caused the party (was this the Missouri or a tributary?). Silly explorers - I knew exactly where I was.

Tiber in the background.

The Marias River after the dam - nothing like what Meriwether saw.

The pickup header will fit onto a 60s-era Massey-Ferguson 510 diesel combine. As opposed to a straight-cut header, which cuts the grain standing in the field, a pickup header is narrower and picks up windrows that have been left behind by a swather. I expect to swath again this year since there will be some green material in my fields that will need to dry down before I run them through the combine. I asked the farmer I got the header from what he wanted for it and he said nothing. I offered him my first born (only 7 more weeks!) but he said no thanks, he has enough kids. He said to donate the profits from our grain to poor people. That will work out just fine. I can just donate those assured profits back to us.

The Sweetgrass Hills in the background.

The Generosity of Friends

Our good friends Patrick and Abby drove out from Wisconsin for a visit. They put in some good hard hours at the farm and we got a lot done. Essential work, actually. I can't even fathom accomplishing what we did if they had not come. In addition, on Saturday they helped us with the farmers' market. Patrick is a talented photographer. Following are a few of his photos.

Baked bread Friday evening.

Bread and hands.

Opening up the greenhouse before sunrise.

Abby in the window.

Loading the pickup for market at 4:30 in the morning.

Lydia sharing my breakfast on the drive to market.



Market table.
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