First Harvest! Rhubarb

The first actual harvest out of the garden here every year is rhubarb. The plants are

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It only started to break through the soil about two weeks ago and it’s already over a foot tall with dozens of stalks.

ridiculously hardy and are always the first to spring up. After the chives, which pop up as soon as the snow is gone, rhubarb is the first real thing we harvest. As soon as the goofy looking red bulbs of the sprouts

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Sprouting rhubarb looks like some kind of emerging alien eggs or something. Creepy

pop up we start thinking about rhubarb custard pie, rhubarb and strawberry, rhubarb sauces of various types. In some parts of the world the more tender stalks are dipped in sugar and eaten raw.

Oddly it seems a lot of people I know have no idea what to do with the stuff. Granted, it is utterly horrible if you try to eat it raw. But once it’s cooked a bit and has some sugar added — well, okay a lot of sugar added, it’s delightful stuff. Well, to me at least. For a lot of people it is definitely an acquired taste, and one which some have no desire to acquire, I fear.

Rhubarb does have one “gotcha”, and that is it’s leaves. They are fairly high in oxalic acid, which can cause serious problems or even death if you eat enough of them. (I read that you’d have to eat something like 11 pounds of leaves to build up a fatal level of oxalic acid.) The stalks have very little oxalic acid so those are safe to eat. Some people have claimed that you can only eat rhubarb early in the season, and that after the plant has come to full maturity, the level of oxalic acid in the stalks rises and makes it dangerous to use. This is not true. It’s safe to eat the stalks all through the growing season. If you let the stalks get too thick, it becomes woody and even hollow. But if you harvest it regularly and only select the new growth the stalks will remain tender all season long.

You want a fast and easy way to make a sauce? Sure. Here you go:

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Take about six or ten stalks and cut them into very small pieces. Put in a pan and add about a quarter cup of water. Turn up the heat until the water begins to bubble, then turn it down to low and let simmer. Stir every few minutes. After a very short time the pieces will begin to disintegrate and turn into a kind of pinkish mush. At this point throw in some sugar to taste. Start with a couple of tablespoons and taste, then add more as needed to get it to a level you like. Then serve hot, or throw it in the fridge.

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What do you use it for? Put it on ice cream, use it on pancakes. Use it instead of strawberries on shortcake. Or use it with strawberries. The two go together very well indeed. I put it on cereal.

Wisconsin Public Radio

I’m a huge fan of Wisconsin Public Radio. I’ve been listening to it since, well, almost my whole life, really. I first learned about it in grade back in the early 1960s when the nuns would occasionally put on some educational program for us to listen to. It is one of the finest news, information, music and entertainment services out there, and there really isn’t anything else like it left on radio any longer. WPR has been on the air 100 years now. It is widely considered to be the first broadcast radio service in the country.

Their pledge drive is coming up next week. A lot of people are under the impression that WPR and other public radio services are funded by taxes. While they get some money from the taxpayers, most of their funding comes from grants, corporate donations, and donations from people like you and me.

This is the second year I’ll be doing a challenge grant on one of WPR’s shows as part of the 9XM leadership circle. This year it’s the Kathleen Dunn show at 1 PM on May 2. If you call in around that time and pledge to make a donation, I’ll match it up to maximum limit. So if you listen to WPR and want to make a contribution, tune in between 1 and 2 PM on May 2 and take advantage of the challenge grant.

Wet. And Jazz

Wet is what describes the weather here. Wet and cold. We had almost 24 hours of rain IMG_0187IMG_0188and everything is completely saturated around here. The gauge indicated we had about 2 inches. And the temperatures plunged as well. High temp yesterday was around 45 degrees, a good 20 degrees colder than the day before. If anyone thought winter was over, this will disprove that. Up in the Bayfield area they actually had to cancel schools the other day because of ice and snow.

Jazz – Last Sunday I worked for the high school jazz band’s spring concert. The students did a great job but the turnout was disappointing.Screen Shot 2017-04-28 at 6.55.47 AM.png I don’t think we had more than 50 – 60 people showed up for it, even though it’s a free concert. Most of the parents showed up, but that was about it. I suppose the scheduling was part of the problem. Because of scheduling conflicts they could only do it at 4 in the afternoon which is a fairly awkward time for a lot of people.

My job at these events is basically to keep things running smoothly and deal with emergencies if they turn up. But they aren’t making it easy. I found out last weekend that they pulled the control computer that operates the HVAC systems at the high school. Now if I have to make changes to the heating/cooling settings, I have to make a 20 minute trip to the downtown building to get on the computer there, then drive back to the high school…

I imagine it saves them money. They probably have to pay a license fee for that software at the high school, plus the cost of the equipment itself, but come on, really? If something goes wrong, I have to drive 20 minutes one way to read the diagnostics, drive 20 minutes back to the HS to fix the hardware problem, then drive 20 minutes back to downtown to check the diagnostics again and reset the systems, then drive 20 minutes back to the high school…

Oh brother… This is not going to work out well for them, I can see that. If we have a HVAC problem at the high school during a special event and I can’t get it fixed quickly because I have to run downtown just to get at the control systems, there are going to be a lot of very angry people at the event. Last year I got a panic phone call on graduation day that the temperature in the gym was 97 degrees and climbing. If I hadn’t had the control computer at the high school itself at the time and would have had to run back and forth between the two buildings just to do diagnostics, I wouldn’t have gotten the problem fixed until after graduation had been over. Hmph….

 

Sedum!

DSCF3709.JPGIf you could see my yard and house you’d find out quickly that I really, really love plants, but there are some plants I love more than others. Hostas are one, and we ripped up the little patch of grass in front of the house and have been turning it into a hosta garden.

Another I love is sedum. When the FFA had their plant sale a few years ago they had a lot of stuff left over that didn’t sell that they gave me a whole flat of young sedum plants that immediately came to live in our back yard, and they’ve been thriving ever since. They are all up now and looking very well. They’ve tolerated an amazing variety of conditions in the years we’ve had them, ranging from near flood to drought and are still hanging in there.

Caboose?

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I have a small railroad yard about a block away behind the house and this beastie is parked back here again. It turned up on a siding up by the old depot a few weeks ago, then disappeared, then reappeared at a siding down by Lunda Construction about two miles from here, and now it’s back up here again.

Speculation is that the former owner of Lunda bought it. He already has one fully restored caboose on his property just north of town, so we figure this one is destined for restoration as well.

Farm Round Up

Lettuce Shortage

MrsGF works with the state’s various food service operations, including monitoring food purchases, and she tells me that the state’s prime food vendor has put out a warning that it may not be able to fulfill orders for lettuce because of adverse weather in California. Those poor buggers out in California — first a years long drought, then they get so deluged with rain that they can’t get their crops planted on time…  They just can’t seem to get a break. She’s put out warnings to the state’s food service operations that they’re going to need to change menus, switch to different types of greens, etc. until the situation is resolved. Kale and cabbage haven’t been hit quite as hard, but they’re seeing some serious shortages for various types of lettuce. Apparently it’s hitting the consumer market hard as well and prices are going up fast at the retail level. The Chicago Trib had a story about it just the other day here. (warning: may be paywalled) I was just at the local grocery store this morning and noticed iceberg lettuce is now around $2.50 a head, a dollar a head more than what it was what it was a couple of weeks ago, and they’ve put a limit of 2 heads per customer on purchases. Romain lettuce has also shot up in price. Pre-cut salad mixes containing lettuce have also gone up in price.

If you’re really desperate for leafy greens, fresh spinach looks like a bargain, going for about one third of the cost of lettuce at our local store. It also tastes better and is significantly better nutritionally than iceberg lettuce.

Over Supply

The biggest problem with agriculture right now seems to be over supply. There’s just too much corn, soybeans and milk being produced. Here in the US I’ve heard of co-ops, large farmers and grain dealers renting abandoned airport runways to pile up corn because they don’t have anyplace to put the stuff. Corn prices on the futures market are sitting at around 3.63 right now, and haven’t moved more than twenty cents up or down for months. And with the US looking at a seriously huge corn harvest in 2017, barring some kind of disaster, about the only direction that price is going to go is down.

Low soybean prices have made farmers in Brazil hang on to their crop, storing it rather than selling it in the hopes of higher prices. But now the corn harvest is going to start in June, and with the bins full of beans, there’s no place to store the corn. The Ukraine is predicting a huge increase in corn production to further destabilize things.

And as for the milk market, oh brother… The market is so glutted right now, especially in the US, that they don’t know what to do with the stuff. I’ve heard of processors pouring milk down the drain because they can’t deal with all of it.

The ag industry is going to have to get a grip on the problems with over production or the whole system is going to come crashing down around our ears.

Herbicide Resistance On The Rise

Weeds resistant to commonly used herbicides are becoming a massive problem. Glyphosate resistant waterhemp, a type of pigweed, has been spotted in at least 17 counties here in Wisconsin, and its cousin, a resistant Palmer amaranth, has been spotted in the state as well. Pigweed is especially difficult to deal with because it produces massive amounts of seed.

This is just another indication that we really need change the way we deal with weed problems. We can’t just keep trying to come up with ever more toxic chemicals to kill off weeds and GM modified crops. That scheme will always result in weeds eventually developing resistance to the herbicides and the cycle starting all over again.

Climate Change

It’s interesting to note that while we have an administration that continues to deny climate change, everyone else seems to have just accepted it and is trying to deal with it. Even Wal-Mart, which isn’t exactly known as a bastion of liberal policies, is trying to deal with the situation and is putting pressure on its suppliers to do likewise. While the politicians bluster and bluff and bloviate and grasp at straws to try placate whoever writes them the biggest check that week, out in the real world a lot of major companies have realized that if anything positive is going to get done, they’re going to have to do it themselves. Even some of the oil companies have started to admit that something has to be done.

GIPSA Rules Delayed

I don’t blame you in the slightest if you don’t know what the GIPSA rules are. If you raise poultry or pigs for one of the big meat packers, you know all about this and are quite possibly pulling your hair out. But almost no one outside of the business does.

The rules were intended to protect farmers who contract to raise meat animals for a meat packing company from abusive and discriminatory practices. “because the processors own the birds, the feed, and other inputs, they can unfairly disadvantage or preference one grower over another as a way of forcing the growers to do things against their will or shut down dissent.” is how critics put the behavior of the processing companies in one article. The basic idea is that the rules would have given farmers who raise animals on a contract basis some minimal rights without having to jump through a lot of hurdles that are basically impossible to jump. The rules were changed by court interpretations about ten years ago so farmers now have to prove that a company’s actions harmed not just them, but the entire market, before they can try to take any kind of legal action against the processing company. As one representative for farmers put it: “We can’t overstate the level of fear and intimidation felt by poultry growers that contact us or our partner organizations,” says Harvie. “If they choose to speak up, they risk everything—their contract, their land, their homes.” You can read that whole story here.

The administration has delayed the implementation of the rules and right now it looks like they will be eventually be abandoned entirely and the meat packing companies are already celebrating a victory.

Vomitoxin

A nasty name for a nasty mycotoxin. Vomitoxin is nasty stuff and it seems to be getting more common in US corn. It is a toxin caused by mold in corn, and generally hasn’t been much of an issue in the US, but it seems to be getting worse, especially because of wet conditions during last year’s corn harvest. The toxin makes corn unfit for consumption, even as animal feed.

It isn’t even suitable for use for ethanol, because the ethanol makers depend on dried distillers grain (DDG) to make a profit. DDG is what’s left over after the ethanol making process. It’s a fairly high protein cattle feed. The ethanol making process concentrates the mycotoxin, making the resulting DDG even more toxic than the corn originally was.

 

Wisconsin Public Radio

Wisconsin Public Radio’s pledge drive is coming up May 2 – 5. I’m a big fan of WPR and it’s news, entertainment and music programming, and if you listen to WPR I am going to encourage you to kick in a few bucks to help keep the service going. Contrary to what you may have heard, the majority of WPR funding comes not from the taxpayers, but from sponsors, foundations, and people like you and me who are willing to throw them some money to help them keep going.

In an effort to help convince people contribute, certain individuals, foundations and companies do something called a challenge grant during the drive. For every dollar a contributor pledges during a specific time slot, the challenge grant will contribute a dollar. So anyone who pledges during that time essentially doubles their contribution. I’m doing a challenge grant again this year, this time during the Kathleen Dunn Show. So if you listen to WPR and want to support the service, this is a good time to do it. Not only will you be supporting an excellent radio service, I’ll double your money up to a certain limit.

When, exactly? Not sure yet. They’re still doing scheduling and planning but they’re going to let me know when the challenge will take place and if there’s any interest here I’ll pass the info along when I get it.