Exciting times around here – the harvester has finally arrived! This year, and for the next few years, we have spuds planted all around our house (for those not playing along at home, we live on my family’s sheep and potato farm here in our rolling Gippy hills).
This paddock is one of the last to be planted, and therefore harvested, so we’ve waited and waited for all the machinery and hullabaloo of harvest to arrive on our doorstep. There was much anticipation on Tuesday morning from Farmer Eleanor, she had her trusty ride-on John Deere out there ready to oversee proceedings, hooking and unhooking her trailer, checking under the hood, telling baby ‘Tom’ all about it. Preparation is key…
And then they were here! Des, Colin, Thorpy and Darren in their big tractors, with the new harvester – schmaaaancy! I tried my best to explain to Eleanor (and Harriet) what was happening, how the potatoes are dug up and travel up into the harvester, over the elevator and into the bin trailers that are driven alongside the harvester. It’s a tricky business co-ordinating it all, not overfilling bins, actually getting the potatoes in the bins, judging distances and speed and steering a big tractor up and down hills all at once.
There were not many waves out the window or rides in the tractor like when they were planting back in Spring, Des has to concentrate with bin trailers coming and going. Once their bins are full they take them up to the packing shed to be graded and packed – one tonne bulk bags, traditional hessians, cardboard boxes. Then onto the trucks and off to markets in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisb3ane. Here at our house we’re close enough to the packing shed that the bin trailers just run up and back, but when they’re harvesting further afield they use the farm truck to load the bins on and run a full load back to the shed.
Our shiny new harvester arrived this year, imported from the UK and made in Belgium. Eleanor is a fan as it’s “greeeeen” like her tractor! Don’t ask me too many technical questions though…I’m no harvester driver. But to get a general idea of how it works you can view a video here. The tops of the potatoes die off (after being sprayed, although they do die off naturally also if you’ve got some spuds in your veggie garden). We generally harvest 120 days after planting, although these ones have been in the ground a bit longer I believe – some of them in this paddock are huge! I weighed one the other night, after being peeled, 800g – whopper! A tractor goes over the rows before the harvester to pulverize the tops, making the work for the harvester a bit easier, but the tops and the potatoes are separated as they are harvested. Here you can see the paddock before and after it’s been harvested…
When I was growing up we didn’t have a harvester – all our potatoes were handpicked by dozens of spud pickers that would arrive in Thorpdale every spud season. I have vivid memories of hearing the ‘thud thud thud thud’ of the spuds hitting the bottoms of their buckets as they picked in the very early morning dawn before the heat of the day, watching them out my bedroom window in the front paddock.
Our girls will grow up with different memories of harvest time, but still the same idea in the end: growing our produce and getting it the markets in the best possible condition. Eleanor has been asking what happens to the potatoes after they go to Grandad’s shed: “Then we eat them? In our tummies?” Yes, Blossom, and everybody else too! If you’re wondering what’s for dinner tonight, grab some fresh brushed spuds from your local supermarket (Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, grocery shops…) Chances are between the months of January-June they will come from Thorpdale – and maybe even our farm! Grown with love and hard work and waved off by a little blonde girl on her green tractor.