Depending on the year, we may have to water some of our grass seed fields. This requires the use of metal pipe irrigation system. Basically, long pieces of pipe hooked end to end, that form a line from one side of the field to the other side. Each section of irrigation pipe has a riser, a smaller piece of pipe, that has a sprinkler on the top of it. We'll usually have two or three of these irrigation lines running in a field we need to water. They are usually moved once a day and that is all done by hand. Thankfully, we usually get enough rain each year to not require hand irrigation.
During the summer, usually mid-July, we harvest the seed. Harvest is done using a swather and a combine. Our swather is a larger machine with a big wide front-end that has a rotating drum like affair and wide set tires. It steers with its back tires, which can be tricky if you've never tried that.
The “drum” is actually a large metal-framework cylinder used to grab the tall grass and pull it towards the machine. There are many sharp plates that run just above ground level, that act like teeth to cut the grass. These teeth look something like a sharks tooth, triangular with serrated edges. They move back and forth, just like a scythe-arm on grass mowers that are used in some areas.
As the grass is cut, the swather pulls the stalks back and drops them in a windrow. Wind-rowing in this case is taking a wide path of grass, cutting it and bringing it together to form a narrower row of it. We do something similar with hazelnuts using blowers to form smaller compact rows of nuts for the hazelnut harvesters to pick up.
To pick up the cut grass, the combine is used; again, very similar to what is used in grain harvesting. Our combine looks basically like a big box on wheels. A box with a low front mouth and a big adjustable tube that comes out the back side. The combine has a rotating belt with catcher prongs attached to the front that draws the grass into the combine. Once inside the combine, the grass seed is separated from the grass stalks. These stalks are ejected out the back of the combine, again in windrows for bailing.
The seed is moved from the combine to one of our belly-dump trailers. This can be done while the trailer is just setting in the field or we can do it while the combine is still harvesting. Once the trailer is full, we cover them with trailer tarps and the seed is hauled in to which ever grass seed company that load is destined for.
Gingerich Farms has grown many things over the past years, but for the last 25 years Hazelnuts, Grass Seed and Blueberries have been our mainstay.
What exactly is grass seed farming you may ask? Well, it's pretty much just what it sounds like. Fields of different kinds of grass are grown until they form seeds at the heads, similar to what happens in wheat, barley or oats. Once those heads are ready, we harvest them before they break apart into individual seeds.
As the grass grows, we go through the fields a couple of times and do hand dobbing weed control. Hand dobbing is what it sounds like, using something like a sponge on a stick to place herbicide directly on the weed we want to kill. It's time consuming to walk all the fields, but it pays off in the end. It makes for a cleaner seed harvest and also every weed that grows is just that much less grass seed we get out of that field.