Harvest Time at Frying Pan Park
By Todd Brown, Frying Pan Park Farm Manager
When people think of fall, they usually think of leaves changing, going back to school or enjoying cooler weather. Not me--I think of corn. I'm a farmer, and fall is harvest time.
Corn is one of the most important crops grown every year. A farmer worries more about his corn than about any other crop planted. It is a valuable food source for horses, cows, sheep, goats, pigs and fowl. It provides an energy source for animals, helping them gain weight or produce milk, depending on the animal’s purpose on the farm.
A good farmer is a businessman trying to minimize expenses while maximizing profits. Growing a large portion of his animals’ yearly feed decreases feed purchases. So corn is why farmers get worry lines. Corn is the biggest feed expense, yet growing it depends on many unpredictable factors, like weather, for success.
A farmer is often heard complaining about the lack of rain or the excess of rainfall. Or that it was not the right type of rain or that it came at the wrong time of the day. A farmer is often seen out in the middle of the cornfield staring hard at the clouds to figure if rain is coming, or maybe just praying for rain or for one more dry day.
A farmer also has to fight an annual enemy: weeds. Weeds can take over a cornfield just like a loudmouth person takes over an enjoyable dinner party. No one invited him, and you don’t know how to get rid of him. A farmer looks down the row of corn like the dinner host looks out the front window, hoping the unwanted guest doesn’t show up. But if weeds do show up, at least a farmer can spray them to make them go away.
But after all the cultivating, pulling of weeds and desperate pleas for the "right" rain throughout the spring, summer, and fall, a farmer gets to see if all the worrying paid off. It is harvest time! The stalks have turned from green to light brown and they make a crackling sound as you walk from row to row. Now it is time to drag out the harvest equipment, grease it up and head to the field.
A farmer spends a lot of time asking and answering his own questions. First the farmer has to decide what piece(s) of machinery are needed in the field. Then he has to figure which animals will be corn fed. The species, age, state of production, and type of animal all determine how the corn is used. For example, a young pig that is growing should be fed "ground" corn while a mature sow can be fed "ear" corn. A young calf might have corn "flaked" in his feed while a cow wants to eat "corn silage." Flaked corn is compressed kernels that are almost flat. Silage is ear corn and stalks that are chopped up and placed in a sealed area to ferment before it is ready to feed.
Many different pieces of equipment harvest the corn and prepare it for feed. Corn pickers, corn choppers, combines, grinders, corn shellers, shredders, and binders are used. These may be modern or antique equipment. A farmer uses wagons and trucks for hauling the corn to the corncrib or corn bin for storage.
Corn also is harvested at different stages of its maturity based on future use. Corn is chopped when the stalk is partially green so there is enough moisture to make it cook. Shell corn is harvested and stored when it is dry to preserve it so it does not spoil in storage.
Each fall Frying Pan Park’s Harvest and Fun Days encourage visitors to take part in harvesting the corn. The event will be held on September 28 and October 19, from 10 am to 4 pm. There is a $5-per-person charge. Visitors can find their way through our corn and hay maze and take a hayride with our draft horses pulling them around the fields. A petting zoo and apple pressing are also planned, along with other kids' games and fun.
The maze and other farm happenings are open from September 3 to November 3. Groups of 10 or more can make reservations to go through the maze by calling 703-437-9101. The cost is $2 per person in the group.