I am a non-farmer that is thinking of becoming a crop farmer and I'm doing some research on traditional and non-traditional crop farming methods on a small scale.. I'm currently making a seasonal graph of typical crop farming activities so I can get a better idea of the chores and work done on a typical midwestern small family crop farm (both in the past and the present). I currently have a few ideas sketched out on paper but could use some additional help and input.
What kind of work and chores do you typically do on a small family crop farm in the midwest through the four seasons- winter, spring, summer and fall?
Both traditional and non-traditional is valuable input for me. I'm especially interested in the four states of Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, but will find it interesting to see what other states are doing too.
As a vegetable grower and seedsman, my four seasons consist of:
Spring: ~March 20th to June 5th
Start planting the early spring crops: peas, onions, brassicas, potatoes. Wait for them to grow. Wait. Wait. Weed the garden perfectly cause so little is growing. Wait. Take photos of the garlic since it is thriving and everything else is still tiny. Wait. Drag 500 feet if garden hose to hand water with the culinary water to keep delicate crops alive because the rains are sporadic. Start the tomatoes, peppers, and okra in the greenhouse. Grumble that there is so little space in the greenhouse. Wait. Twiddle thumbs. Weed the garden perfectly looking for anything to do. First of May start attending the farmer's market. Harvest the day before. The market starts way too early in the season. Feel bad about having so little ready for market. Daydream about a bigger greenhouse or high-tunnel in order to get crops to market earlier. Struggle financially because it has been 5 months since the farmer's market closed. Work an odd-job here or there to make ends meet. Fix equipment. Fix irrigation system. Make unplanned trips to hardware store, cause irrigation really really needs to be fixed, and the irrigation district is 10 days later than usual getting the water in the lines. Fix fences. Start mowing. Wait. Too early to plant the frost sensitive crops. Twiddle thumbs. Plant the first crop of corn the 5th of May. Wish that things would start growing.
Summer: ~June 5th to September 5th
Weed. Plant warm weather crops: Beans, squash, tomatoes, okra, tobacco, and sweet corn on about June 5th. Weed. Plant third crop of sweet corn on about June 15th. Weeds are growing faster than the crops. Weed. Weed. WEED! Irrigate each spot in the field once per week. Since there are 7 lines of irrigation pipe, and each line needs to be on for ~12 hours it takes 3 days to water the fields. Weed. Give up on weeding and start mowing the garden. Weed. On Sundays bottle/freeze the left overs from the farmer's market, or visit friends to give them away. Harvest seed crops on Mondays. Thresh/Winnow/Clean seeds on Tuesdays. Wednesday is a free-for-all day, whatever needs to be done. Putter in the garden on Thursdays: Take photos. Make notes about variety trials. Mark plants to save for seed. See what needs harvesting tomorrow. Arrange for help. Harvest vegetables on Friday's and go to farmer's market on Saturday. Irrigate. Weed. Drop by to visit family and friends with vegetables. Leave soon after arriving to go weed or irrigate. Stop weeding about mid-August because the vegetables are out-competing the weeds. Maybe take weedy seed-heads out of the garden if it's not too much trouble. By late August corn and tomatoes are abundant. Enjoy the farmer's market. Sell things at low prices because all the farmers have an abundance of vegetables, and the farmers are competing with the home gardeners that give vegetables away for free.
Fall: ~ September 5th to November 5th
PANIC! Hard frost expected at the end of the current rainstorm. Harvest all day. Drive the truck into the field. Harvest by headlight. Sucks harvesting in the rain. Harvest. Rain is stopping soon and then the frost. Call in all outstanding favors to get help harvesting. Harvest some more. Fill the barn with squash and tomatoes. Harvest. Every available horizontal surface inside the house and barn and all shelving is filled with vegetables or seeds. Pile things in the field and throw tarps over them. Nothing to be done about the tomatoes that couldn't be harvested in time. It's clear the day after the frost so glean anything that is still good that couldn't be gathered in time. Tomorrow night's frost will be even harder. Finally, what's dead is dead and what's still alive will have another few weeks or a month to grow. Harvest seed crops. Pick for market. Attend market. Arrange bulk sales. Drop squash off at the food pantry. Glean, glean, glean. Dig root crops. Harvest flour corn and beans. Clean stakes and trellises from the field. Get ready for fall tilling. Harvest. Glean. Till fields about November 5th, the day before the winter snow cover arrives.
Winter: ~ November 5th to March 20th Farmer's market is done. Reclaim Friday and Saturday as family time. Do the projects that were put off during the growing season. Visit extended family. Attend training classes. Extract and clean seeds. Do germination testing. Attend seed swaps. Hate to waste perfectly good squash just for the sake of harvesting seeds. Skin turns orange from eating so much winter squash. Love eating many watermelons per day for the sake of seed extraction. Test pop each cob of popcorn to find the perfect ears for replanting. Make wine, vinegar, and sauerkraut. Sort through seeds. Feed the old ones to the chickens. Too much snow to do anything outside. Strip nude in the greenhouse on sunny days attempting to get enough sunlight to avoid winter depression. Gain 20 pounds. Grrr. Plan what to plant and where so that on a sunny day in April the plans can be thrown out because it's such a gloriously sunny day.