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Crop Rotation | Cultivation | Weed and Insect Control | Harvesting

Farmers have almost always practiced some form of crop rotation, varying what is planted in a field from year to year to preserve the soil. A crop like the
potato absorbs more nutrients from the ground than certain other crops, such as hay or grain. To prevent the land from becoming depleted, the farmer rotates the crop he plants in each of his fields, making certain that the demanding ones are not grown on the same parcel of land for several years running. Besides conserving soil nutrients, crop rotation is an effective means of combating weeds.

When farmers adhered to mixed farming practices, they used a longer crop cycle known as the 'seven-year rotation'-- a cycle which, despite its name, could last anywhere from four to eight years. Under this rotation, a year of potatoes would be John William Murphy ploughing.followed by a year of grain, a clover crop, and then two years as hay. The field would then be put out to pasture for another one or two more seasons, and finally a root crop-- such as potatoes or turnips-- would be planted in the field again. There was an unwritten, widely respected rule that potatoes were not to be cultivated in the same field two years in a row.

However, as farms expanded in the twentieth century, crop rotations became more and more attenuated. While mixed farmers had another immediate use for the land where they grew potatoes last season, it is more difficult to convince farmers who specialize solely in potatoes to leave a field fallow for several years between plantings, especially when they have large commercial contracts to meet. Nevertheless, most commercial farmers do not discount the wisdom of the past, and maintain some system of crop rotation in the best interests of their land. Olden days cultivater.

Believing that deep cultivation would ruin the land, traditional farmers paid close attention to the depth at which they were breaking the soil. Perhaps they need not have worried as much as they did; the spring-tooth harrows they used were light and only dug into the ground four to five inches. Since the ground was not loosened very deeply, the farmer could cultivate more often, ensuring that the land remained soft and able to retain moisture.

The farmer had a whole raft of different strategies for keeping weeds out of his well-tended fields. Early spring cultivation and early fall plowing exposed weed seedlings to sunlight and killed a significant portion of them. On other occasions, weeds were simply physically removed, perhaps the only surefire method of preventing their spread. The problem of couch grass was combated by plowing buckwheat over the affected field. Today, weeds are causing more difficulties than they ever have before, and many blame this problem on the increased use of fertilizers and soil degradation.

For early farmers, insect control was none too complicated. For instance, to rid their gardens of earwigs, they tried dousing them with dishwater. The Colorado Potato Beetle was undoubtedly the greatest insect threat for potato farmers. The first pesticide used to battle this beetle was called Paris Green, Clifford MacLaurin (kneeling) and Earle MacKay.and farmers had to shake it on the leaves of their potato plants manually. Later, there appeared on the market a sprayer which consisted of a wooden cask on wheels, where the spraying pump was driven by a bicycle-style chain attached to the axle. The contraption sprayed faster or slower, depending on how fast the horses were pulling it or whether the field went downhill. Before potatoes are harvested, the potato plant must be killed; most farmers today use herbicides to assist in killing the tops. In the past, some farmers did not bother with killing the tops themselves, waiting instead for the heavy fall frosts to eventually do the job for them. But when DDT was introduced after World War II, the widespread use of chemicals quickly replaced traditional means of weed and insect control.

Farmer at work.Early farmers cut their fields of grain using scythes and sickles. But the real job did not even begin until after the grain was cut. The most difficult task was 'threshing,' or separating the kernels of wheat from the chaff. At first, the grain would be threshed using hand-held flails, beaten on the wooden floor until all the wheat had fallen from the stalk. Later, a horse-driven machine was adopted, where a team rode on a treadmill to drive the threshing action. Early potato harvesting was done by hand, filling baskets that were left along the side of a row and picked up by a horse and cart. These methods of harvesting were extremely labour intensive; when potato diggers and combines arrived on the scene, few objections were heard from weary farm families.

Potatoes | Other Crop Varieties | Fertilization