Cleaning Up, Snow, Evaluating the Gardens, And Stuff…

MrsGF and I set aside Saturday to clean up the last of the gardens around here. We’ve had several hard frosts now and almost everything has died back so there was no reason to put it off any longer. So, of course, this happened…IMG_0056

Yep, that’s snow. Saturday was pretty miserable. Temperature around 38 degrees, 30 – 40 mph winds and then it started snowing. Oh, well. Ah, Wisconsin weather…

 

IMG_0055We got out the winter coats, hats and gloves and went at it anyway because, well, it has to get done. It wasn’t exactly a fun job in that kind of weather, but we did get it done. There was no point in putting it off because this time of year the chances of the weather being much better are pretty slim.

We ended up filling the entire back of the old truck. It’s amazing how much debris we ended up with after cleaning everything up. And this is just half of it. We already had taken out the remains of the tomatoes, squash and a lot of other stuff over the last few weeks. Good thing we live just down the street from the town’s compost site. That makes this a heck of a lot easier.

The snow didn’t stick around. It was too warm for that. But the wind did, with gusts of up to 40 mph all day. That kept us from raking up the leaves in the yard, but we got that done on Sunday. So we have just about everything cleaned up outside now.

All things considered, the growing season was pretty successful this past season. The tomatoes and peppers were ridiculously prolific. Our little lettuce bed kept us supplied with greens when we needed them. Some things weren’t very good, and some of that was our own fault.

We keep trying to plant onions and they never seem to make it to maturity for us. They start out good, but as they mature they seem to just stop growing before they get anywhere close to full sized. I don’t really mind that too much because my main interest is in having fresh green onions, not in full size bulbs for storage. So while that crop might look like a failure, it really isn’t because I get what I want out of it.

The squash disappointed. The acorn squash never developed fully at all and were a total loss, and while we did get a few absolutely beautiful butternut squash (wow, they tasted good!) they didn’t produce as well as they should have. We aren’t sure why because they were in the same place they’d been last year where they’d done really well. We’re going to have to reconsider planting squash. The stuff takes up a huge part of the garden and if all we’re going to get for it is three squash, well, there’s not much point in planting them and we need to look for alternatives.

Our rhubarb plant wasn’t looking too good towards the end of the season, but we think that’s the fault of the squash which were planted nearby. It was getting shaded by the huge squash leaves and wasn’t getting enough sun, so we’re hoping it will come back.

I raise that rhubarb more for nostalgic reasons than because I like it. For me, a little bit of rhubarb goes a long, long way. But I have fond memories of playing under the huge rhubarb plants we had when I was a little kid on hot, summer days, and whenever I see that thing in hot, summer weather it brings back memories that make me grin. So yeah, I’m going to grow rhubarb if I can even if I don’t particularly like eating it.

Let’s see, what are we planning on changing — I’d like to put in more raised beds if I can find a good location for them. Those two 4 X 8 raised beds I put in a few years ago are ridiculously productive. If I’d known how good they were going to be I would have built them long ago. Just those two beds provide more vegetables than the rest of our gardens combined some years. The problem is where to put more of them. We just have too many trees so finding a spot where there will be direct sunlight for more than 4-5 hours a day is difficult here. About the only decent location is on the south side of the house and there isn’t much room there any more.

Of course that could change if the pear tree doesn’t survive the damage it suffered. I figure about a full third of the canopy of the tree went down because the limbs were too loaded with fruit to be able to handle a thunderstorm that rolled through here. I’d hate to lose that tree. We planted that, oh, about 17 years ago, a couple of years after we bought this place. It’s not a very good looking tree, it leans at a crazy angle, but wow, it produces some of the most delicious pears I’ve ever had.

But on the other hand, if we do lose it, it would open up a very large area that could be garden with full sun. So if it does have to come down, well, it wouldn’t be the worst thing.

With MrsGF retiring in March she’s trying to figure out just what the heck she’s going to do if she isn’t working full time any longer. Right now it looks like as soon as she pulls the plug on her job she’s going to be dragging me along into the Master Gardener classes. Well not dragging, to be honest. I’m rather looking forward to it. We’d talked about getting into the Master Gardener program for a long time but we never had the time to do it. So now is the ideal time for it. She’s been on-line looking to get us signed up for the classes next year. And being able to tack on “certified master gardener” on the byline up at the top of this website is an added incentive because, well, hey, I’ve got an ego too, you know <grin>.

The other thing that is (probably) going to happen after she retires is all of my electronics gear, test equipment, radio equipment, etc. is going to get moved out of the office/library/workshop and moved into what used to be eldest son’s work area in the basement, and the office space is going to be her’s. She loves sewing and craftsy kinds of things but she’s never had much time to actually do it. Right now her work area for that kind of thing is in a small room upstairs. But it’s hot up there in the summer, cold in the winter, and she has difficulty getting up and down a lot of stairs because of her knees. So the solution to that is turn the office on the main floor over to her and have me move my stuff out.

I am not looking forward to moving. Eldest son’s work area down there is still crammed full of old computers and other equipment that somehow never got moved when he moved out years ago. So all of that has to be moved somewhere. Hopefully out of our house and into his house. Then I have to buy or build suitable work surfaces for all my stuff. Then tear down all of my equipment, move all of it down to the basement. Then I have to re-route all of the antenna cables, ground cables and other stuff to the new location down there. Then install a new electrical system down there including 240V lines to run some of the equipment like the amplifiers. Then try to figure out how to set up all of the equipment again because by that time I’ll have forgotten how everything was set up originally. Move all of my computers… Like I said, I am not looking forward to it.

Well, I’ve bored you long enough with this. Time to go.

 

Autumn

Autumn is finally here. With temperatures in the low 80s or even higher and high humidity for large parts of September, we were beginning to wonder what the heck was going on. But we’ve had a couple of hard frosts now and daytime temps are about where they should be for this time of year, around 45 – 50 degrees, and at night down in the mid 30s. It’s something of a relief after the hot, humid summer we had.

And the mosquitoes? OMG — they were horrible this year, especially starting in August and going through September. We’ve never seen anything quite like it. Walking through the grass would cause clouds of the little blood suckers to rise up around you. Getting close to any kind of bush would result in an immediate attack by swarms of the things. The bug repellants did no good at all. Deep Woods Off and the others we tried didn’t seem to deter them in the slightest. My wife’s sister and her husband started to wear their bee keeping suits just to go out in their garden to pick berries or tomatoes. Even the hard core environmentalists I know were so fed up they were resorting to chemical warfare and fogging their bushes and yards to try to get any kind of relief.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 6.24.53 AMAnd while it seems we’re finally getting a dry spell, it was raining almost every day for the first two weeks of October. There is still water standing everywhere. Down by the old stone bridge where the river is usually almost completely dry this time of year the water is 4-6 feet deep and running fast, and it’s well over it’s banks in some places. But at least the farmers have been able to get out and get their soybeans off around here.

We still haven’t gotten all of the gardens cleaned up yet, but there’s no rush on that. We’ll probably get most of that done this weekend unless something comes up or the weather gets nasty.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 6.23.36 AMThe sedum — what amazing plants those are. This time of year the color is absolutely astonishing, running from a brownish red to a deep, rich burgundy. And if you get out right after sunrise in the morning and see the flowers covered with frost crystals, wow, they look absolutely magical.

Speaking of mornings — My body and I have this argument going… I want to sleep until about 6 AM. It wants to get up around 4:30 for some stupid reason. It isn’t a big deal, more annoying than anything else. But, well, why? MrsGF thinks it’s because I spent so many years having to be up around 4:30 or 5 AM to do chores on the farm, but that’s silly. I haven’t actively worked in farming for ages now. In my last job I worked 2nd shift, working until 11 PM and not getting up until about 8 in the morning, and I had absolutely no problem at all with that. I liked it, in fact. But now that I’m retired and could sleep late if I wanted to, my body decides it needs to be up at 4:30 again? Sheesh… My doctor says maybe that’s all I need to sleep. Everyone is different. Not everyone needs 8 hours of sleep. If I’m healthy, which I am (sort of) and I’m not getting tired during the day, and I’m waking up feeling refreshed and comfortable, well, don’t worry about it.

Let’s see, what else — Oh, someone asked me about the new iPhone XS Max and was wondering if it was worth all the hype and what it was like to actually use. After living with this thing for a month or so now, it is a pretty slick piece of equipment.

The camera is quite good. Not up to the standards of a dedicated mid-range or high end camera, but for a phone? Yeah, it’s good. It has a semi-decent real telephoto lens, up to 4X. Color rendition still seems a bit off to me, but that’s a personal opinion.

As a media device it’s excellent. The sound quality out of those tiny little speakers is, frankly, astonishing to me. I have no idea how they get sound like that out of something that tiny. I sprung for the AirPod thingies, Apple’s wireless ear buds. I find those astonishing as well. To me the sound quality is amazing. They were ridiculously easy to set up. Just bring them near the phone and they automatically link up. I didn’t need to do anything. No issues with those as well. But whenever I use ’em I’m always worried one of them will fall out of my ear and I’ll break it or lose it so I’m always nervous when I wear them outside. Are they worth $150? Hell no. The sound quality is good, but not that good. To my ears the sound quality isn’t any better than the $40 wired earbuds I used with my old iPod.

The screen is absolutely fantastic. Crisp, clean, outstanding color rendition, incredibly high resolution. Streaming movies or TV on this thing is a joy. It isn’t as nice as, oh, a 40 inch high-def monitor, but for a device this small it’s wonderful. I find myself reading my Kindle books on it all the time now because I don’t get eye fatigue from trying to read a fuzzy display. And for the first time the auto-brightness functions that are supposed to adjust the brightness of the display to suit viewing conditions actually works on this phone.

So it has a good camera, it’s a fantastic portable media player, how does it work as an actual phone?

Badly. I’m sorry, but as a phone it just isn’t very good. Cell reception is horrible. And I’m not the only one who’s been having this problem. There have been a lot of reports that cellular reception with the XS models is pretty poor. Frankly if the phone didn’t have WiFi calling I probably wouldn’t be able to use it as a phone at all here in the house. But that being said, WiFi calling is amazing. Just flip a switch in the settings and it turns on, and talking to someone on the phone is as clear as if they were in the room with me. But still, it isn’t, well, a cell phone then, is it? It’s using VOIP and damn well should sound that good.

Face ID – everyone knows by now that the new iPhones starting with the 10 series unlock by facial recognition. This seemed to freak some people out for some reason, but I’m not going to go down that road. The question is does it work, and the answer is definitely yes. Even wearing my bike helmet and wrap around sunglasses it recognizes me. Occasionally there will be an issue for some reason, but then it just goes to the standard PIN number unlocking system.

Wireless charging – the model I have, the XS Max, supports wireless charging and charging stations are available for well under $40. The one I have cost all of $24 and seems to work pretty well. Just put it face up on the pad, wiggle it around until you feel the phone buzz, and it starts to charge. The only issue here is that it won’t charge when it’s in a case, and who in their right mind doesn’t put a $1,200 phone in some kind of protective case?

But maybe the whole issue of needing a case is becoming unnecessary. I’ve seen tests where the XS phones have been drop tested and they’re pretty impressive. The ones that I’ve seen show the phone surviving drops of 4 feet or less on a concrete floor with no damage at all. In one test they kept increasing the height of the drop and it wasn’t until they dropped it from over 10 feet that there was any damage at all, which was slight. And the phone wasn’t actually destroyed until they dropped it from 20 feet down a stairwell to a concrete floor.

I’m sure as hell not going to try that, though. Nor am I going to test the water proofing. The XS is supposed to be pretty water resistant, but I’m not about to dunk it in a bucket of water to see if it really is.

The question is, is this thing worth the cost? This is, after all, one hell of an expensive piece of equipment. The model I have goes for around $1,200 retail. The only reason I can afford the thing is because I don’t buy my phones, I lease them and get a new one every 18-24 months under the leasing plan.  So is it worth it? Frankly, no. You can get a phone that does pretty much everything this one does for half the cost or less. It wouldn’t sound as good, wouldn’t have the beautiful display, wouldn’t be as fast, but it would work just fine and do everything you need a phone to do.

But that being said, despite the reception problem, holy cow it’s fun to play with. It’s so fast, the display is so good, the sound quality is so good, that I find myself using it more and more.

Catching Up

As you can see from that image up there, farmers around here are facing some serious challenges as they try to get their harvest in this fall. Right now they’re harvesting corn for silage and generally they have an extra tractor or two out in the field to help pull out the harvesting equipment or trucks when they get stuck. It isn’t like this everywhere. There are a lot of fields that aren’t this bad. But we have a lot of fairly low land around here and it’s still saturated with water from all the rains.

MrsGF and I were down in Madison last Friday and a lot of buildings in town were still sandbagged and there were work crews all over repairing the roads that had been damaged from the flooding down there. I’ve heard estimates of damage in excess of $200 million. This is nothing compared to those poor people in the Carolinas, of course. What they’re going through down there right now after the hurricane is horrifying.

IMG_0001Speaking of MrsGF, over the weekend she braved the mosquitoes to start cleaning up the gardens. She got a lot accomplished but we still have a lot left to do. All of the tomato plants were yanked out, finally. The squash were disappointing. We got a couple of nice butternut squash, but that’s about all. Hardly worth the effort of planting them, really. Not sure what happened there. We had a great crop of them last year. The acorn squash never really developed at all. All we had were a few very immature squash that ended up in the compost pile.

On the plus side, the tomatoes and peppers were wildly prolific this year. The freezer is full of containers of chopped peppers that will probably last us two years, and we probably have enough tomatoes, tomato sauces and soup canned to last us a couple of years as well. I’m really glad I picked up that big pressure canner. We can double stack jars in it and do about 16 pints in one batch.

The canning is finally done. We could put up more pears. The tree, despite the damage from the storms, was incredibly productive this year. We gave away 5 gallon pails full of the thing, gave boxes of them to friends and family, and there are still hundreds of pounds of pears out there. They’re mostly over ripe now. The problem there is when they hit the ground they are immediately swarmed by bees and wasps so anyone who is allergic to bee or wasp stings really needs to avoid our place until the weather gets cold.

IMG_1031There was some damage down along my favorite riding trail from the storms too. Some pretty good sized trees dropped right across the trail near the wooden bridge. The agency in charge of maintaining the trail works with some local people who harvest the wood from fallen trees, so hopefully this will be taken care of in the next week or so and the trail will be open again.

Other stuff…

The reason we were in Madison was so MrsGF could talk to the pension people about financial planning and insurance for when she retires in March. She’s very much looking forward to it, but she’s also nervous about it too despite all of the pre-planning we’ve done. But we’ve been planning this for a long, long time and we’re pretty sure we have everything set up right.

One of the very few perks left to her job after the state got done gutting the benefits and salaries of state employees is that she can convert her accumulated sick time to pay for Medicare supplemental insurance after retirement. The woman pretty much never takes a day off, so she has quite a bit of unused time on the books. Enough, it looks like, to cover our supplemental insurance for about five years after she retires.

The New Phone Story…

I haven’t actually bought a cell phone in ages. I lease the things for a small monthly fee, and at the end of the lease period turn them in and get new ones. The actual cost for the phone averages out to be about the same whether I buy it outright or lease it. So about every two years or so I get a new one and turn the old one in.

So when the lease on my iPhone 7 got close to ending, I decided to get a iPhone 10. Only they screwed up the shipping address and it ended up being shipped back to the warehouse because UPS couldn’t find me, despite the fact UPS is here about 3 times a week anyway.

Turns out this was not a bad thing, because meanwhile Apple came out with the iPhone XS, and I now have the brand new XS Max in my hot little hands for not much more than what the 10 would have cost me. And holy cow, is it nice!

I bought into the whole Apple ecosystem, as it’s sometimes called, long ago. It isn’t so much Apple’s equipment that’s so good, it’s the software and the thought that goes into the little details that makes the whole Apple system so addictive.

Like setting up the new XS. I took it out of the box. I took off the protective covering. It turned itself on and immediately found my old phone, copied all of my data over to the new phone automatically, copied all of my apps over, everything. All I had to do was respond to a few prompts. In about 15 minutes the new phone had everything copied over; apps, phone lists, email, photos, everything, without me having to do anything. The only thing I had to do manually was get online to activate the cell phone itself to transfer my phone number over to the new phone.

The XS Max is, well, wow… Just wow… That display is amazingly good. I’ve been streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime video to it and that is without a doubt the best small video screen I’ve ever seen. And the sound? How the hell do they get sound like that out of those tiny, tiny little speakers in there?

I also ended up getting those dopey AirPod things, the wireless earphones. Yeah, they’re expensive but, well, also just wow…  The sound quality, especially the bass, is amazing. Again, I don’t know how they get bass response like that out of those tiny little things. Sorcery, I suspect.

The AirPods themselves are an amazing piece of engineering and Apple has made using them ridiculously easy. They paired with the phone by themselves. They turn themselves on when you put them in your ear, turn themselves off when you take them out. The case is also the charger. Just drop them in and they recharge. The case itself has its own battery to recharge the pods. Just remember to plug the case into the phone’s charger once in a while to keep it’s internal battery topped off.

And then there’s the camera. Or, rather, cameras, because there are three of them, one of the front and two on the back. That camera is probably going to completely replace my Fuji except for telephoto use. I’ve always been dismissive of cell phone cameras but even I have to admit that the camera in this thing is better than my dedicated camera.

People are claiming it’s too big, but it actually isn’t any bigger than my iPhone 7. What is bigger is the screen because it now occupies the entire front of the phone. There is almost no bezel at all on this thing.

The face recognition thing — As you may know starting with the iPhone 10 it uses face recognition to unlock the phone. Just pick it up, it instantly takes a look at your face and if it recognizes you it turns itself on. Otherwise you have to enter an unlock code. So far the system seems to work flawlessly. It recognizes me even when I have my biking gear on; helmet, sunglasses, etc.

I’m old enough that I am still a bit in awe of the technology that we have access to today. When I was a kid we didn’t even have a dial phone. You turned a crank that rang a bell at the telephone company office and an operator asked you who you wanted to call. We didn’t get a dial phone until I was in like third grade. Now I have what basically amounts to a supercomputer in my pocket.

Anyway, I want to experiment with the camera over the next few days and see what it can do. Watch for a post in the near future with more info about that.

That’s it for now…

Oh, almost forgot. I have a Q&A article in the works now to cover some of the questions I’ve received here, so if you have anything you want to ask about farming, amateur radio, gardening, etc. you can get hold of me at old.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com

 

Fall, Pears, Water, Cold (the sneezing kind) and Stuff

Alas, that photo up there was an all too common sight around here as we got bombarded with rain for a two or three week period. Things are finally starting to dry out, but a lot of rivers are still at flood stage, there’s still a lot of standing water, and that one storm spawned something like 17 tornadoes across the state. Damage estimates are still being made, but I wouldn’t be surprised in if they hit $200+ million between the flooding and the wind.

Here in Calumet County we got lucky. Things could have been a lot worse. Aside from soaked and flooded farm fields, damage here was fairly minor. Most of the more serious storms went to the north or south of us. Mostly south. The southern half of the state really got hammered.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 5.37.28 AMWe weren’t entirely unscathed, though. Our poor pear tree suffered major damage one night when two of the main branches came down. I’m going to wait until the pears are picked before I go up there to see how bad it really is. We’re hoping that the tree can recover from this, but I don’t know. It’s hard to tell right now how badly it was damaged because the foliage is so thick.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 5.38.03 AM.png
Nice weather at last!

Still, the weather had gotten much better, with sunny conditions and temperatures more typical of early September in Wisconsin. Daytime highs have been in the low 70s and night time temps have been in the 48 – 55 degree range. It’s been really quite pleasant after the extraordinarily hot and muggy weather we had all through August.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 5.38.25 AM.pngThe bees have certainly been enjoying themselves. We’re seeing them all over the place. Just about every flower at the house is covered in bees, mostly bumble bees and native bees, which is really nice to see.

Just as conditions change so I can finally get off the allergy meds, of course I come down with a nasty cold. At first I thought the symptoms were from going off the allergy meds. I’ll often get a rebound effect when I stop taking it. But no, definitely a cold. Coughing, sneezing, wheezing, sore throat from the coughing and congestion will be the norm for the next few days, it seems. I can’t take decongestants because I have high blood pressure, and the so-called cough remedies, well, they’re virtually useless anyway. So all I can do is wait.

I’ve taken to sleeping in the recliner to keep from bothering MrsGF otherwise I keep her up at night too. And in any case, when I lay down all the garbage from my head seems to drain down into my throat and makes the coughing all the worse. Still, it seems to be getting better. Only woke up once during the night last night and managed to sleep six hours. Would have been seven if the dopey siamese hadn’t started demanding breakfast at 5 AM.

The good news is the tomato plants are finally giving up the ghost and we can put the canning equipment away. MrsGF finished off the last of the tomatoes yesterday, putting up about 22 pints of chili sauce.

Well, we call it chili sauce but there is no actual chili in it. It’s a mixture of tomatoes, onions and bell and banana peppers with a bit of lemon juice and a pinch of salt. It tastes utterly amazing and we use it in almost any kind of dish that calls for tomatoes, either as  a base for the sauce, or as a flavor enhancer.

The Wisconsin 55 tomato variety we tried this year was a bitter disappointment. Very few fruit, and the ones we did get were soft, often discolored and not a very good flavor. The Early Girl variety, on the other hand, were absolutely spectacular.

We put in 3 cucumber plants this year and, well, we might as well have not even bothered. I don’t think we got more than 6 cucumbers off them all season long and a lot were misshapen. They were disappointing as well.

The squash look pretty good. We’re going to get several nice sized butternut squash and I noticed that there are some acorn out there. But the acorn are very late this year and I’m not sure if they’re going to amount to much.

Let’s see, what else… I had to get new tires put on the bike. I have to admit I know pretty much nothing about bicycle tires. I got about 1,500 miles out of these and I don’t know if that’s about average or not. I ran it up to the bike shop to get them replaced. I could do it myself but I’m terrible with bicycle tires. I always end up wrecking the inner tubes when I’m installing them. Took the guy at the shop all of 45 minutes to change both tires, adjust the derailleur, adjust the brakes, lube it, etc. Would have taken me half a day to do all of that, and it would have involved the use of much foul language, I suspect.

That’s it for now. It’s 6:30 AM, the sun is finally up and I’m thinking of taking the bike out for a few miles despite the cold.

 

Stuff. And Nonsense. And Rain

Tariff Relief Plan Announced At Last. But Only If You Grow Soybeans

USDA finally announced some of the details of the tariff aid package and as a lot of people expected, for a lot of farmers they might as well not even bother. While soybean growers will get a pretty good deal, getting back $1.64 of the estimated $2.00 per bushel they’re losing, for a lot of others, the so called relief is almost an insult. Dairy producers are losing an estimated $1.10 per hundredweight because of the tariffs. They’re going to get a whopping $0.12/cwt. Yeah, that’s right, twelve cents. Corn growers are going to get $0.01 per bushel. That’s not a typo. They’re going to get one cent per bushel.

Why are soybean farmers getting almost all of the “tariff relief” while dairy farmers and corn growers get almost nothing? I have no idea.

Rain

IMG_1015Wow, have we been getting hammered! It’s been raining almost non-stop for days now, with one storm front after another rolling through here. That 5 1/2 inches showing in the gauge there was from just Monday evening. I haven’t heard yet what the grand total is for this whole event, but I imagine it’s going to be in excess of 25 inches for this area over the last few days.

They got hit even harder in the southern part of the state. One town down there reported 11 inches in less than 8 hours. Flooding all over, one person dead after getting swept away when trying to get out of a submerged car. Damage estimates were in excess of $100 million and I’m sure that number is going to grow dramatically because that was from two days ago.

IMG_1014.jpg
The town has good drainage, except for my backyard. It’s about 3 feet deep back there this morning.

We have pretty good drainage here because they re-did the entire town’s storm water system back in the late 1980s after we had a massive flood here that damaged just about every building in town, blew manholes covers off the sewers, and flooded every basement in town. The revised system obviously works or we’d be up to our necks in water by now.

Fortunately we’re looking at a dry spell now.

Tomato Stuff

Meanwhile I’m staring at about 30 lbs of tomatoes I have to deal with today… Not sure yet what I’m going to do with them. I’m thinking tomato soup? I’d better make up my mind soon because there are probably another 30 lbs to deal with out on the plants.

Still, it’s becoming obvious the season is coming to an end. The plants are starting to look like they’re coming to the end of their life span which, I have to admit, is something of a relief.

We put in two plants of a variety called Wisconsin 55, and they’ve been disappointing. Very little fruit from those two despite the fact the plants themselves are ridiculously healthy.

The Early Girl variety have been amazing. The fruit is small, about the size of a baseball, dense, brilliant color, not an excessive amount of seeds, and wonderful flavor and texture that’s been great for making into sauces and soups, which is exactly what we want them for. I’d say the texture is similar to that of a Roma tomato. And they’ve been incredibly prolific. I’ve never seen tomato plants produce quite this much fruit before.

The Early Girl variety is going to be on our “must plant” list for next spring.

Hmm, I’m also going to need to deal with about 20 pounds of banana peppers here in the next few days. I don’t remember what the variety is right now, but wow, they’ve been ridiculous too. The plants are 4 1/2 feet tall and they just keep producing more and more and more.

Most of those are going into the tomato sauces or are being diced up and frozen for future use. But we have so many now that I’m not sure what to do with them. We have more than enough in the freezer for use over the winter.

Amateur Radio Stuff

Not much going on there. I’m still playing with the FT8 mode. Well, I pretty much have to use it because my antenna isn’t very good and with band conditions the way they are it’s about the only way I can make contacts.

I’m closing in on the WAS (Worked All States) and while I claim I don’t really care, I find myself a bit excited by the prospect of having worked all 50 states. I’m only missing 7 states and I find myself keeping an eye out now for the ones I still need when I’m on the air. What do I get if and when I do it? Well, nothing, really. Just the satisfaction of having done it.

I really, really need to get that new vertical antenna up before the winter weather closes in…

 

What To Do With 20 Pounds of Tomatoes

We’ve been very fortunate in the tomato department this season, especially with the Early Girl variety that we planted. They’ve been ridiculously prolific. MrsGF already did plain canned tomtoes, chili sauce and we froze a lot for use later. But they’re coming on fast now and it’s getting hard to keep up. So Thursday I dealt with this:

That’s about 28 pounds of tomatoes in those two boxes,IMG_1003.jpg

So while MrsGF was at work I dealt with this situation. I made spaghetti sauce because, well, good lord this stuff is good. Once you’ve made your own you’ll never want to go back to the stuff you get at the grocery store. It’s fairly easy, although it does take some time.

Start with about 20 pounds of ripe tomatoes. If there are some that aren’t quite ripe yet, don’t worry about it, throw them in too. Wash them, then cut them in quarters. You don’t need to core or peel them, but do remove the stems.

Now get a big stainless steel stock pot with a thick, heavy bottom. Big because it has to hold at least 20 pounds of cut up tomatoes. You can’t use one of those cheap, thin bottomed stamped metal ones from the discount store because you will almost certainly scorch the tomatoes during the cooking process and ruin the whole batch. It must have a thick bottom, and must be stainless steel, not aluminum. The acid in tomatoes reacts with aluminum, and not only will it affect the flavor, it will stain the aluminum and even leach aluminum into the food, something you do not want. Aluminum, when ingested, has some serious health concerns.

Yes, a good, big stainless steel stockpot is expensive, but you can get good deals if you watch for sales and it’s worth it if you do a lot of this kind of thing.

And yes, you can do this in smaller batches if you can’t handle this much at one time. Nothing wrong with just doing 10 pounds and adjusting the recipe accordingly.

Dice up two whole onions and about a pound of green peppers or sweet banana peppers. No need to remove the seeds, they’ll be taken care of later.

Put about a quarter cup of olive oil (no, it doesn’t need to be the expensive stuff) in the bottom of the pot, put it on the stove, turn the heat up to about medium and put in the diced peppers and onions. Add about 6 nice sized cloves of garlic, crushed or finely minced. Cook them until they just start to soften a bit.

IMG_1004.jpgNow dump your tomatoes in. Yes, all of them at once. Bring the heat up to medium high. You’re going to have to bring this whole mess to a boil. You’re going to need a very sturdy, very long handled spoon or spatula so you can stir it up from time to time.

Bringing this amount of material to a boil is going to take time so be patient. And no, you don’t need to add any liquid. More than enough juice will come off of the tomatoes to turn it into, well, turn it into this:

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This rather nasty looking mess is going to turn into spaghetti sauce. Be patient. I know it looks like something the cat threw up at this point. Don’t worry and instead of thinking of how nasty it looks, concentrate on how good it smells.

You need to keep this mash boiling for about 20 minutes, stirring once in a while to make sure it isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning on. The long boiling process is necessary to make it easier to deal with the next step, putting it through a food mill.

IMG_1006.jpgThis is a food mill in case you’ve never seen one before. It is a heavy duty strainer with a crank handle, an angled plate that fits over the strainer part, and a nut on the bottom side with a scraper, usually a long, springy piece of wire, that holds the plate and handle in place.

It’s a simple tool that works quite well. The mash is put into the strainer basket, the handle is turned, and the plate presses the mash against the strainer forcing the juice and pulp through the holes while leaving the seeds and skins behind. to be discarded.

As you can see on the lower right, there are hooks on the side of the mill so you can set it on top of a pot to catch the juices and pulp that come out.

Put the mill over a clean, empty pot. Put about a cup of the tomato mash into the mill and rotate the handle. The good stuff that you want to keep will be squeezed out into the pot below, and the skins and other debris will remain on top. Once the juice and pulp is squeezed out, rotate the handle backwards to scrape the skins and debris off the strainer, and discard.

IMG_1008.jpgYes, it’s a rather messy and labor intensive process, and it’s going to take some time to deal with that entire pot full of mash.

Is there an easier way to do it? I suppose there is but we haven’t really found one. I suppose you could try running the mash through a blender to grind up the seeds and skins, but I’d think that might alter the taste.

It doesn’t really take that long to do it this way. Think of it this way, it’s a good opportunity to build up your arm muscles.

Once you’re done you’ll have a large amount of what is basically tomato juice and pulp. Bring out that big stock pot you used to cook up the tomatoes originally. Rinse it out, dump your juice into it, and put it back on the stove and crank the heat up to about medium high or high because you’re going to have to bring this back to a boil.

Now we add the spices. Everyone has different tastes, but this is what we use for this amount of juice: 2 tbl basil, 2 tbl oregano, 1-2 table thyme, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp ground pepper, 1/4 – 1/2 cup of brown sugar. The amount of sugar depends on your tastes and on how acidic the tomatoes are. You can adjust that after the cooking process is done.

Now comes the part everyone hates most, cooking it down. You need to bring it to a full boil, then reduce the heat until it’s at a nice, gentle rolling boil. You want it bubbling nicely, but not so hot that it scorches on the bottom. This part takes a long time. You want to reduce this down by at least half until it gets to the consistency you want for your sauce. You need to stir it every 15 -20 minutes, making sure it isn’t scorching on the bottom. If you find it’s building up a sludge on the bottom of the pot, turn the heat down a bit or stir it more often.IMG_1009.jpg

Everyone gets impatient during this process but there isn’t much you can do to hurry things along. Just keep it at a nice, gentle boil, stir it once in a while. You’re going to have to reduce it down by about half to get the right thickness.

Once you get it cooked down to about the right thickness, we’re not done quite yet. We add two small cans of tomato paste, not so much for flavor but to help with the texture. It gives it a thicker, more pleasing texture. You can skip this part if you like, but we think it helps. Once the tomato paste is thoroughly incorporated (it takes a lot of stirring, tomato paste is difficult to get to dissolve completely sometimes) give it a taste. This is where you can add more sugar or a bit more salt to compensate for the tomato paste.

Now I’m looking at about 5 quarts of delicious sauce, so it’s time to can it.

I pressure can sauces like this. I do not recommend water bath canning for this kind of sauce. I have a big Presto canner that can hold up to 12 quarts. It was fairly expensive, I think it was about $120 when I got it a few years ago, but it was worth it because we use it a lot.

Follow the usual recommended procedures for prepping the jars and lids (i.e. wash the jars, sterilize them and the lids, etc.). Put the recommended amount of water in  your canner, put it on the stove and bring up the heat.

You want to “hot pack” the jars. That means the sauce is still very hot, just off the boil, when you fill the jars. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in each quart. This isn’t for flavor, it’s an added safety measure to increase the acidity of the product. Put on the lids and rings (use hotpads or heat proof gloves because they will be hot!) and tighten down. Place the jars in the canner and attach the lid according to its instructions.

IMG_1010.jpgI did these at 11-12 lbs pressure for 25 minutes.  I should point out that how you process depends on the canner you are using, the product you are canning, and currently recommended processing techniques. Canning your own produce is a great way to preserve your fruits and vegetables, but safety is the most important thing to consider when canning. Please be sure to follow all of the instructions and safety recommendations. Don’t just rely on some recipe you find in an old cookbook because a lot of those techniques are now considered unsafe.

The University of Wisconsin Extension system has a good website for information about how to safely can foods. You can find it by clicking the link above.’

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And this is what we end up with.

A lot of work, yes, but consider this. When you can your own, you know exactly what is in that product. There are no strange chemicals with names you can’t pronounce, no corn syrup, no “flavor enhancers”, just your tomatoes, peppers, onions, spices, salt and sugar. You can adjust the flavor to suit your own tastes, you can reduce or eliminate the salt if you’re on a salt restricted diet, you can add additional spices or leave some out if you don’t like one. And there is something enormously satisfying about pulling out that jar of your own sauce during a blizzard in January and allowing that amazing flavor to take you back to those hot, humid days of late summer when everything was growing, tomatoes were glowing red in the sun, and letting that aroma from that sauce transport you back in time.

 

Farm Catch Up

It’s been a long time since  I did one of these, so let’s see what’s been going on in the farming world.

Bayer Acquisition of Monsanto Wraps Up — As of Aug. 17, Bayer had finished divesting itself of various businesses to satisfy regulators so it could complete the buy of Monsanto and it will fully acquire the company and Monsanto as an independent company will disappear. Bayer actually bought all of Monsanto back in June, but could not fully integrate the company until it satisfied the conditions set by various governments.

One has to wonder if Bayer is thinking this might not have been such a good idea. Monsanto just lost a $200+ million dollar lawsuit in California which claimed glyphosate caused someone to develop cancer and I’ve heard that there are many, many more lawsuits in the pipeline over the herbicide. And if that isn’t bad enough, Monsanto’s dicamba blend herbicides could actually end up being banned because of continued wide spread damage being caused by the herbicide drifting long distances and harming other crops, gardens, trees, bushes, etc. Despite stringent application requirements the problem has not gone away and there is a lot of pressure to ban the stuff entirely except as a pre-emergent herbicide that can only be used prior to planting. That would pretty much destroy Monsanto’s sales of dicamba resistant seeds.

You have to remember that the lawsuit mentioned above was in California where apparently just about everything causes cancer, even coffee. Which it doesn’t. Coffee, I mean. The slight correlation between drinking coffee and cancer appears to be due not to the coffee but to the temperature of the beverage. There seems to be a link (a very slight one) between drinking drinking hot beverages over 140 degrees and esophageal cancer and some others.

Milk Labeling Controversy Continues — The argument over what products can use the label “milk” continues. Despite the fact that FDA has, for decades, had an official, legal definition of what “milk” is, defining the term as the secretions of the mammary glands of animals, various makers of nut, grain and plant juices have been using the term “milk” in their labeling for years. Protests about the mislabeling and demands for enforcement of the existing regulations have been ignored for decades. But it seems the FDA is finally going to do something about it because of increased pressure, and it looks like the agency might actually start to enforce it’s own regulations in the fairly near future. I’ve talked about this before so I’m not going to repeat that.

The interesting thing is that a couple of senators tried to slip an amendment into an unrelated spending bill that would have kept the FDA from actually enforcing it’s own rules by prohibiting “the use of funds to enforce standards of identity with respect to certain food.” The amendment would not have altered FDA’s definitions, but would have kept the agency from actually enforcing it’s own rules. Exactly why these two tried to slip this through I don’t know. I’m sure they didn’t get, oh, large campaign contributions from people or organizations linked to the nut “milk” lobby. (Here is where I wish we had a sarcasm font)

Anyway, the amendment was shot down in flames by the Senate. The vote was something like 14 for, 84 against.

I’ve long believed that what we really need is a better definition of the term “bribery” and a law enforcement agency willing to enforce it.

Wisconsin Loses 382 Dairy Farms In First Half of Year — That number should give you some idea of how bad the dairy industry is doing right now. Last year Wisconsin lost about 465 dairy farms. If the attrition continue at this rate, we’re on track to lose more than 650 farms this year. It’s easy to look for scapegoats, of course. The dairy industry itself is a primary contributor to the problems thanks to massive over production. This administration’s nasty little trade war isn’t helping, of course. I’ve seen estimates that this trade war has knocked about $1.50 off the price of milk as countries that used to import our dairy products are now looking elsewhere.

Tariff Relief Program — USDA announced at the end of July it would be starting up a tariff relief program to try to make the hit farmers in the US are experiencing a bit less painful. It announced $12 billion would be funneled to farmers in one way or another using existing relief programs. The exact details are a bit muddy, and USDA seems to be in utter confusion about exactly how this is going to work, so if you’re a farmer who’s been hurt by this, don’t expect any kind of relief any time soon. Considering Perdue, the Secretary of Ag, claimed well over a year ago that the administration would renegotiate NAFTA in just a “few weeks” and they’re still fighting over it today with no end in sight, I wouldn’t count on seeing any actual money coming out of this program for some time.

Another big question is exactly where this $12 billion is going to come from because Congress hasn’t authorized any spending for this program.

Almond “milk” Recalled Because It Has Real Milk In It — HP Hood, makers of Almond Breeze nut juice, is recalling more than 145,000 cartons of it’s product because it may have actual real milk in it instead of it’s nut juice stuff.

Still More Tariffs — The administration will begin to levy 25% import duties on still more Chinese imports soon. This time it’s going to be mostly industrial products like chemicals, plastics and machine parts. China has promised it will strike back dollar for dollar by putting it’s own penalties against US products in place. And it could get worse fast, with the US apparently considering tariffs on an additional $200 billion of Chinese products. The administration has uttered threats of putting tariffs on all Chinese imports.

What a lot of people, especially those who blindly back what the administration is doing, don’t seem to realize is that this while this may hurt China a bit, the ones who are really paying for it are us, and not just in lost sales to China. A lot of these products that are being imported from China simply aren’t made anywhere else, or are made in such small quantities that the domestic makers can’t even come close to meeting the demand.

Let me point out one thing that people don’t seem to understand. That 25% tariff isn’t being paid by China.

That tariff is being paid by the people who buy the product here in the United States. We pay it. If a manufacturer makes a product that includes parts and materials that can only be sourced from China, it has to pay that extra 25%, and that’s what’s happening right now. Yes it will cut back on the amount of purchases from China, but in a lot of cases there is no choice. You pay that 25% tax or you can’t make your product.

That extra cost has to be accounted for somewhere. At the moment a lot of manufacturers are absorbing that extra cost in the hopes that this situation won’t last long. But eventually they aren’t going to be able to keep that up and they are going to have to increase the prices of their finished product. So in the long run, the people who are paying that tariff are us, the consumers.

Lost Valley Farm Saga Continues — A mega dairy in Oregon called Lost Valley Farm is in the news yet again. The farm has only been in existence less than two years, and it has already racked up an impressive list of operational violations that is unprecedented in my experience. Illegal manure disposal, illegal pumping of water from aquifers, illegal generation of wastewater, failure to obtain proper permits, violations of permits… The list goes on and on according to the Oregon Dept. of Ag. (ODA). Most recently the farm was ordered to produce no more than 65,000 gallons of waste water per day to meet permit requirements, but allegedly has continuously violated that agreement by producing as much as 375,000 gallons in excess of the limits.

Meanwhile, the farm’s bank has been going after them. They took out a $60 million loan from Rabobank to start this thing up and the bank is not exactly pleased with things. The farm agreed to sell off the cattle to try to pay down debt.

And then declared bankruptcy the day before the sale was supposed to happen to prevent the sale and keep the bank from foreclosing.

The attorney for the owner of the farm claims they are doing everything the ODA is asking, that they’ve made significant progress in meeting the requirements, etc. ODA counters by pointing out the farm has been in almost continuous violation of of the deal. And the judge handling the case is considering contempt charges against the owner.

Drinking Straw Bans — Oh, brother… Just about everyone seems to be jumping on this call to ban plastic drinking straws. Using data allegedly developed by a nine year old kid, everyone seems to now think that plastic drinking straws are killing the planet and have to be banned right now. Almost every time I look at a media outlet I’m seeing yet another article about some restaurant or town or university or some organization banning plastic drinking straws.

Look, has anyone actually thought about this? Hmm? I’m not sure about the exact numbers because they bounce all over the place because no one seems to know the actual facts, but it seems that straws account for something like 0.0002% of the plastic waste being generated by people. I’m all for reducing waste, especially plastic waste, but there are a heck of a lot more serious sources of plastic waste to go after than drinking straws.

Some places are talking about going to reusable straws made of stainless steel or some other substance that can tolerate cleaning. Have you ever tried to actually clean and sanitize a straw? Basically, you can’t. If put in a dishwasher, the water isn’t going to actually get inside of the straw to clean it. Some might trickle through it depending on how it’s oriented inside of the washer, but not enough to do a thorough job. And as for hand washing, you can run water through it, but that isn’t going to actually remove anything clinging to the inside of the straw. Or you can get, oh, a tiny, tiny brush and wash each one individually, but of course no one is going to do that. Then you’re going to have to try to sanitize it, perhaps by soaking it in some kind of bleach solution. But water is a tricky thing. Because of things like the surface tension of water, you can get air gaps in small spaces…

Do you really want to be drinking out of a straw that’s been used by someone with, oh, hepatitis, for  example, or norovirus?

Well, that’s enough for now. You’re probably getting as bored as I am. And the way the garden looks outside MrsGF and I are going to be busy processing tomatoes for a while. They’re starting to come on fast right now.