Something irritates me about this picture – I’m sure now it’s the colour. Everything is so green! The corn fields are dark green, the sugar beets a lush green, the regrowth on the pastures and hay fields – it’s all green, as is the germinating canola crop.
“Do you miss harvest in Canada?” Michelle asks me. I do. The expansive golden fields of wheat and barley under the deep blue Alberta sky; the long straight rows of olive-turning-brown canola laid on the swath. Those are the colours of September for me. There’s green too – of the John Deere 9600 combine I operated these last years. I have always loved harvest time in Canada – loved being an integral part of it. The smell of just chopped barley straw; the way the dust hangs silver in the still air just before sunset; suppers in the field with Teryl’s wonderful pies.
The whine of a corn chopper reminds me what September harvest is in Switzerland – corn silage time. But it’s all so different. The small fields (rarely more than five acres, and often on hills) are harvested in a few hours. Then it’s on to a new job – plowing down the green manure field, cultivating the plowed field in readiness to seed barley or wheat, mowing the third cut of hay, putting out the liquid manure.
Chatting with the mother of the farmer who bought our land 20 years ago, I wondered aloud what we would be doing if we hadn’t moved to Canada. She thought our then medium sized farm (30 hectares) wouldn’t be big enough for a viable business anymore. Her son now owns what used to be three farms. She says he runs all the time. The fields haven’t grown substantially in size – he just has more of them. When we say a farmer here has 100 hectares, we have to remember that means many small fields scattered throughout the community. That’s a lot of extra time.
Harvest in Schleitheim starts in late June with the first barley. Then comes wheat and canola in July, maybe into August. Corn is silaged in September, sugar beets harvested in October, sometimes into November. Some have potatoes or onions, which are mostly harvested now.
Seeding starts in August with winter canola, then the first wheat and barley in September. The last wheat is seeded after the sugar beets come off, sometimes in November. Sugar beets are seeded in March, and the last is the corn in early May.
It’s a very different routine from that of a western Canadian grain farmer, who seeds in May, sprays June-July, harvests in September and October. Farmers here in Switzerland often ask me what we do there all winter…