May has sprung and you know what that means? It’s rhubarb and asparagus season, moral mushroom hunting has commenced, farmers are finishing planting in the field, and now picking up rock is underway. Wait… rocks? Now some of you may be familiar with this concept and others may not be so much. But let me tell you, I am a seasoned rock picker who has had their fair share rock picking. I swear if I had a quarter for every rock I picked up I could pay off my college education already. I have spent the past 9 spring seasons picking up rocks for local farmers in the area after planting season is through. Why do we do this you may ask, well follow along and learn more about what ROCKING is all about!
Years ago, glaciers cut through the land and created the topography and landforms we now see today. What is a glacier? Glaciers are masses of flowing ice and today, they only cover about 10 percent of the Earth’s surface. These landforms we see created a map for scientists to observe and learn about the glaciers that came through the area. Looking at these landforms we can tell the direction a glacier flowed and how far it advanced across the land.
Now glaciers not only carved out the landforms we see today, but they also left behind deposits of rock. According to IPTV, four different glaciers came through Iowa leaving behind four different deposits of rock. Each year new rocks come to the surface, some the size of massive boulders and others the size of a baseball. Frost heaves are one of reasons rocks surface each year, to learn more on why rocks come to the surface check out this link.
Now you may be wondering why we have to “pick up” these rocks—well to insure a smooth harvesting season this is where rock picking comes into play. You see, farming is a unique process—there are a lot of inputs that are put into growing a crop including special machinery to plant and harvest the crops grown. The machinery to do the job is a valuable asset to a farmer’s operation and a rock the size of a baseball could cause a lot of damage and stop harvest until the machine is repaired. In this situation, time and money is lost which are two factors that play the biggest role in a farming operation, which is why removing rock from the field is an important task.
Like I said earlier, I am a seasoned rock picker. I have worked the past 9 years picking up rock for my dad and local farmers. It really is not a hard job to figure out, but it can be tedious work. That is why it is important to assemble a crew that is hardworking but can make the job fun. Picking up rock is all centered around the weather—if it’s too wet we won’t be able to drive through the field. For many summers, I worked for a lady named Bev, and depending on when the weather hit I would get a text message saying if “Rocking” was a go or not. If we were set to go, I would then get sent a location of a particular farm that we would be rocking at the next morning. Half the time the biggest struggle with rock picking was finding the right field. It’s not like it was a set address I could type in my GPS. Bev would send a name of that the field like, the Berry Farm located 2 miles East of Highway 93 and North on gravel 3 miles, if you hit the fork in the road you’ve gone too far. One thing for sure is that I was able to master gravel road travel and specific places up in Northeast Iowa fairly well.
We usually would arrive around 7 am and rock until 12 or 2. Some times we would start rocking at 5:30 am to beat the heat. We usually had 3 or 4 rigs going at once. That made for some great ground coverage as we made passes through a field. When I say rig that consists of one Ranger or Kubota to two people in each and each rig would be in charge of looking for rocks 10 rows out on each side of the Ranger. Bev would also pack necessary snacks to keep our energy up like rice crispy bars, Little Debbie cakes, water, and Gatorade. I would usually bring some of my mom’s banana bread to share and that was usually gone by our first break.
There are alternatives to picking up rock by hand that farmers can use. There are attachments that farmers can add on to machinery to manually pick up rocks. If a farmer is going to do this then he has to rock pick before planting begins. Once planting is complete and the crop emerges picking rock by hand is the best way to go about removing the rocks. To see rock picking attachments used by farmers and how they work check out this link for more information.
Being out on the open field, rock picking not only taught me a strong work ethic but also helped me learn more about what is going on in the world and contributed to my education. Conversation is key in these situations and sometimes we had to get creative with our conversation, otherwise it would make for a long day out in the open field. We talked everything from politics, to future plans, to the markets, to Laffy Taffy jokes, to summer plans, to current weather conditions, to favorite music concerts, to just about any thing and everything. I even learned how to identify primary noxious weeds in the field and how to remove them–I was just gaining life skills one rock at a time. The conversation and the people are the ones that made rocking fun and some of the best summer memories.
Picking up rock may seem like a small job, but it can prevent some pretty big issues for farmers in the future. So the next time you hear of someone picking up rock now you’ll know what its for and how those rocks got there. So my question for you is, “Are you ready to ROCK?”