Preseason maintenance and repairs to the Harvester and Shore Conveyors are underway with the dump truck in getting service for the MDOT inspection sticker now. The Harvester will be launched later this week for a shakedown cruise. Harvesting will begin in the last week of May in Finley bay where Starry Stonewort is starting to appear.


Harvesting Strategy:

The main emphasis is on removing as much Eurasian Watermilfoil and Starry Stonewort from the lake as possible. Each harvesting season is a little different but generalizations can be made and the harvesting strategy is generally the same. Tactics may change due to weather or mechanical problems.

When harvesting, we first cut areas where weed growth is heaviest and causing problems for boat traffic. We then move to the bays and shallow areas, and lastly we do detail cutting. The goal each season is to have the lake in good shape by July 4, meaning most cutting zones have been cut and are fairly free of weeds. By mid July the harvester operators are recutting some heavy growth areas and are spending more time in the bays and doing detail work around docks. By early August most of the Lake will have been cut twice. By late August some areas are being visited for a third time.

I determine the areas which need cutting by regularly taking laps of the lake in my own boat, including all the bays, often accompanied by a harvester operator. The hotspots early in the season are usually both sides of The Point, which is the area between Watkins Lake East and West. Lakewood, Finley Bay and Watkins Lake Road all the way down to Covert Bay which  also grows quickly and needs early cutting. By mid to late June the rest of the lake will require cutting.

Harvester operators are instructed to cut following the shoreline whenever possible. This helps to reduce floaters by allowing the operators to follow lines through weed beds, especially when there is poor visibility. If an entire weed bed can be removed in a couple of loads or if the weed bed is far from shore then other cutting strategies are used. When cutting shallow areas we are often able do only a pass or two before being forced to move because of poor visibility caused by stirred up muck.


Harvesting Tactics:

Harvesting tactics are discussed weekly. Factors that influence where we cut on a daily basis are, weather, including rain forecasts, winds and cloudiness. Of course, any breakdowns and/or maintenance problems may put us behind.

Visibility is a big issue when harvesting. A calm sunny morning makes for great cutting. By late morning the wind generally picks up and visibility gets tougher.  Visibility is not as good when it is windy or cloudy. It is difficult to see when there are lots of boat waves and visibility gets worse most afternoons. Cutting on leeward shores in calm areas improves visibility and cutting efficiency.

There are many days or partial days when there is no visibility into the water. When the visibility is poor harvester operators will cut in areas that they know they can find weeds. It may be a shallow bay or a heavy patch of weeds in the middle of the lake or a shore line we have not been to in a while.

The lake is not like a lawn. The weeds do not grow in even patterns nor do they grow all at the same rate or in the same place each season.  There are often areas where weeds are very visible from the harvester but are too deep to cut.

The harvester is a large cumbersome machine and will not turn quickly. That is why we try to cut in straight lines following the shoreline. When the harvester is empty or has a small load we are able to cut in the shallows more effectively and the harvester is generally more nimble. With a big or heavy load it is less responsive and sluggish. Not a good time to be cutting near docks or in the shallows.

When traveling back to a conveyor site with a heavy load the operators will often not cut. If the cutting platform hits bottom with a full load on the harvester then damage to the cutter bars is much more likely to occur, especially if the platform is all the way down. When traveling with the front platform up the harvester goes about twice as fast as when we are cutting (platform down). If the operator drops the front cutters when they are going full speed it puts quite a strain on the boat, especially with large loads.

We try to do routine maintenance and repairs when the cutting conditions are not good. Major breakdowns are repaired as quickly as possible.


Pat Deibel