Friday, March 30, 2012

Potato Harvest

October 22, 2011

The weather has been very wet for the last two weeks, preventing harvesting from taking place.
Finally the harvesting crew and equipment 
can get into the fields and work.

The ground is very soft and also wet in places, 
making it more difficult to travel without getting stuck, especially with a full load of potatoes in the trucks.

The crew on the potato harvester;
a tractor driver, a truck driver and three people 
on the harvester in the cab, to grade (sort) the potatoes 
before they go into the truck, to remove rocks, 
potato vines, and any cull (bad) potatoes.

Beautiful new potatoes!
The soil is sticking to them somewhat 
because it is quite moist.

Two windrowers.
The windrower on the right is digging four rows of potatoes and letting them drop into the V of the two rows to its left.
The windrower on the left is digging two rows and 
letting them drop in the same V to its right.

The harvester will follow and dig these two rows 
and at the same time, pick up the potatoes in the V,   
thereby harvesting eight rows at a time.

You can see the wide swath of the four row windrower and the narrower swath of the two row wind rower.

You can also see the wet area in the track 
left by the four row machine.

In wet spots like this the farmer will leave 
these potatoes behind on the ground, 
because they will cause problems of rot in the warehouse
as they will not keep well due to having been 
exposed to too much moisture.

The two windrowers have reached the end of the rows...

...and have begun another set of rows, 
coming back down the field. 
They have reached the end of the rows 
and are moving back up the field  again...

...both windrowers discharging potatoes 
into the same V space between two rows.

The windrower has steel "shoes" that slide underneath the rows, and lift the potatoes with the soil.

The potatoes, vines and soil move onto the pickup chain and are carried backwards up into the machine.
A lot of the soil falls through the pickup chain
onto the ground while potatoes and remaining soil 
are discharged to the side through a chute...

 ...that drops them carefully on the ground.

The two row windrower - 
you can see that everything! gets picked up -
weeds, grass, vines, soil, potatoes.

 A very large size bicycle chain to run 
all the gears and shafts for the chains!

The devining chain carries away the vines and 
drops them out at the back of the machine.

The rear of the tractor that is 
hooked up to the harvester.
The round black shaft is the P.T.O. or Power Take Off.
It rotates at 540 R.P.M. (revolutions per minute), when the tractor motor is revved up to full throttle; 
so do NOT stand close to a rotating P.T.O. shaft!
It has a guard on it, but it should not be approached 
unless it is shut off.
It is what powers all the moving parts on the harvester;
the gears, chains, etc.

The black hoses are the hydraulic hoses
which run oil from the tractor transmission 
to the hydraulic cylinders.
These cylinders lift and lower the chain elevator 
that loads potatoes into the truck, and they also assist in steering the harvester into the rows to be harvested.

As well, there are lines for the monitor and for the lights 
for night work.

The potatoes are picked up and fed onto a pickup chain
which is moving upwards into the machine, 
to carry the crop up into the back of the harvester. 
The two metal discs cut the soil and vines and weeds, 
so that the crop moves smoothly into the harvester 
without snagging or catching or dragging.
The harvester is picking up the 
windrowed potatoes - eight rows at a time. 

See these stars below 
four photos down, 
to come back to this part of the harvester.

One of the hydraulic cylinders
this one raises and lowers the elevator and conveyor chain
that carries the potatoes into the truck.
This one is covered with a mixture of oil and soil;
the oil is under very high pressure and sometimes 
there is a slow leak of oil from the seal where 
the silver shaft comes out of the cylinder as it works. 

Any small amount of oil leak attracts soil, especially in this case where the soil is falling through the chain above.
The seal will be replaced when it is leaking too much. 

Another cylinder
this one is used to help steer 
the machine in the row.
No leaks here!
Each cylinder has two lines (black hoses)- 
one to carry the oil to the cylinder and the other to 
take the oil back to the tractor transmission 
where it is stored until needed.

This is a monitor located in the tractor cab
so that the operator can observe what is happening 
at the back of the harvester, and shut off the P.T.O
if there is an overload of potatoes.
The operator can regulate the ground speed of the tractor according to how the crop is moving through the harvester.

A closer view of the monitor screen shows 
the back of the harvester, where the potatoes are moving 
(on the left side) to another chain belt.
Sometimes the second chain belt 
(on the far left, where the potatoes drop down) 
will not move the potatoes up fast enough, 
and they may pile up here.
Then the harvester has to stop and everyone works 
to clear up the backlog of potatoes, 
before harvesting can continue.

Back to the front of the harvester! 
The crop is being moved up on the pickup chain
soil is falling through the chain; 
the crop then moves onto the next devining chain
which lets the potatoes drop through this wide-spaced chain, but carries the vines out to the back of the machine. 

At the back air is blown from underneath 
the devining chain to keep the vines from falling 
through the chain into the potatoes.

This is an extra engine that is used to power the blower mentioned in the previous photo.

The soil falling through the pickup chain.

Here the potatoes from under the devining chain 
  have been picked up by another chain. 
 They drop onto an elevator chain that moves them... 

 ...up to the harvester cab.
This is where pileups can occur;
the monitor helps the operator to know 
how the crop is moving through through the harvester, 
and he can adjust the speed of the tractor as needed.

 This is the camera for the monitor in the cab.
Can you see it in the photo above?
...on the green metal bar.

  The potatoes move from the elevator chain 
into the harvester cab... 

...and onto the grading chain 
where two or three workers... 

 ...stand or sit! on each side grading 
to remove rocks, cull potatoes and any other debris.  

From there, the potatoes 
are moved out into the truck.

If you were standing here grading
 below your feet you would see potatoes, soil and all, 
coming up into the harvester 
on the pickup chain.

Lights are for working at night; 
when the weather is good it is often necessary 
to work long hours to get the crop safely harvested 
before the frost hits.

The chute where the rocks and debris 
are sent out from the grading chain.

Looking down to the P.T.O. shaft and the pickup chain
from inside the tractor cab.
Another hydraulic cylinder is located here on the right 
to assist with steering the harvester in the row.

A truck has just arrived to be loaded - 
the side is lowered so that the elevator 
from the harvester ...

...can reach down into the truck 
to reduce bruising of the crop.

The truck driver uses his rear view mirror to watch the potatoes unloading into the truck box.
The tractor driver watches as well, and signals to the truck driver when to move ahead more or to drop back a little.

A cable is kept on the front of the tractor 
in case it gets stuck in a soft spot in the field 
and will need to be pulled out.

The tractor straddles across the two rows 
with the six windrowed rows between.

The truck box is filling up.

This is a measuring stick marked off in inches.
It slides back and forth in the metal loop,
and shows how deep the shoes on the harvester 
are in the ground.
The tractor driver can see it from the cab.
Digging too deep would allow too much soil to be picked up;  
too shallow could result in 
 the harvester cutting into the potatoes, 
or leaving some behind.

Getting fuller.

Here the shoes are lifted out of the ground 
as the harvester has completed a row 
and is being pulled into the next set of rows.

Another full load...

 ...heading to the warehouse to unload.

In front of the warehouse are large piles of rocks 
that have been graded out of the potato crop 
as it gets unloaded from the truck and 
is piled into the storage area.

The truck backs into place...  

...for unloading...
...while the second truck that has just been emptied 
heads back to the field.

An electric motor (in the yellow cage) is attached 
to drive the belt to unload the potatoes 
into the chute of the bin piler.

As the potatoes move up into the bin piler
the crew checks them over, 
removing rocks, and culls.

The potatoes are moving into the warehouse
to be piled in the background.

The truck is on the left, the pile of potatoes is...

...right here!
The very long arm of the bin piler extends 
to the top of the pile, where the potatoes drop off and roll down the pile.

The operator of the bin piler can control the arm 
with a remote, that allows him to swing it 
from side to side, raise or lower it 
and extend or retract the arm as needed.

The potatoes are now safely stored 
for the winter months until 
it is time to ship them to market.

A very large potato!
This variety of potatoes is a kind of Russet
which makes a very good eating potato 
as well as good for making french fries.

A few oddly shaped potatoes.

Potatoes ready to be picked up by the harvester,
Do you see the rock among them?

Potato fruit.
Two green ones that were not frost-damaged.

 They are quite small, less than one inch 
(2.5 cm.) in diameter.
They are the fruit of the potato flower.

They resemble tomatoes, (and are related to tomatoes) 
but are much smaller, as are the seeds, 
which are about one-sixteenth of an inch.

Potatoes and tomatoes belong to the Nightshade family.
Parts of the plants of this family can be poisonous, 
including this potato fruit.

 These did not survive the frost.

In the harvested part of the field the seagulls come... 

to search for worms in the freshly disturbed ground.

There are also some potatoes that you can collect 
for the winter, but you have to do it 
within a day of them having been dug, 
before they turn green from exposure to the light.

Once they turn green they are not good to eat.

The harvest was completed about the October 28, 2012.