Tree Update, Gardens a Lily, and Heat

Let’s start out with heat. Yesterday it hit 95 here and today it’s supposed to be even hotter. The only thing we did outside yesterday was water the gardens in the evening. It was too hot to do much of anything except huddle around the air conditioner and today is going to be even worse. I know Wisconsin is known for things like ice fishing and snowmobiling, but we do get hot weather here, but only rarely does it get this hot. (Edit: I wrote the above at around 7 AM and it was already in the low 80s. It’s now late afternoon and my recording thermometer tells me we hit a high today of 101. Sheesh…)

Do I need to tell you that I am really, really glad I’m not farming any more when we get weather like this? Remembering what it was like to be out working in the fields or, even worse, milking cows in that crowded old barn, makes me shudder. I don’t know how the hell we managed to do it back then. We’d rush through milking as fast as we could and quickly get the cows down into the woods where there were springs with plenty of water and a lot of shade and it was much, much cooler. Of course today they can’t do that. The majority of cattle these days are crowded into feedlots and never see actual real grass or natural springs and streams in their entire lives.

I’ve been slowly working on cleaning up the mess that was left after they brought the trees down. That picture up there shows what I was left to deal with after they were done. And the picture below is what it looks like now.

As you can see considerable progress has been made in reducing the pile of wood. Considering I’m just one old guy with a chainsaw nibbling away at it when I get some time, I think I’ve made pretty good progress. There’s actually less now than what you see. Pretty much all that’s left out there is just the main trunk from the ash tree.

My neighbor came over with his little Oliver and hauled out three good sized logs that will hopefully go to a friend of his who has a small sawmill. The idea there is to slab them to eventually make table tops out of the slabs.

The gardens are looking good, but things are getting dry again. We’ve been watering all of the vegetable gardens almost on a daily basis, especially now that it’s got so hot and breezy. That hot wind really sucks the moisture out of the soil.

The carrots are looking absolutely amazing. We need to get in there and start thinning them out again so they have a chance to grow to a decent size. Why so many carrots? Well, why not? They’re tasty. The home grown varieties always seem to have much better flavor and are much sweeter than the ones we get in the store. And they’re easy to harvest, clean and freeze.

The beets are looking just as good. MrsGF and I both love beets. We like them roasted or made into harvard beets or just cooked up on a stove top with a bit of butter, salt and pepper.

And you can see that the onions to the right of the beets are looking good as well. We put in a lot of onions this year because I want to can pickled onions. We have a mix of white, yellow and red onions out there. And they’re delicious right now, young, tender, sweet but with a delightful spiciness to them.

We only put in three tomato plants this year because we still have a lot of tomato sauces on the shelves down in the basement. They’re looking pretty good and are just starting to blossom.

We put in pole beans again this year. We had good luck with them last year and they looking like they’re going to be just as good this year.

We also have some bush beans planted in the corner garden, along with some squash. The stuff does really well well but we really have to watch the moisture levels in the soil. This corner dries out very, very quickly. Those squash plants you see behind the line of beans will rather quickly grow and totally overwhelm that whole area if we don’t keep them trimmed back. It’s amazing how fast those squash vines grow once they get started.

We’re trying to plant pepper plants along the south side of the house this year. This is another area where we have to watch the moisture levels. that area dries out very quickly as well so they have to be watered every day as well. We were thinking of expanding this area out to about the end of the downspouts, more than tripling the size of the bed. We might do that this fall after the peppers are done.

Ooo, and I can’t forget the lily! They’re just starting to pop open and they look amazing!

Let’s see, what else…

We still haven’t really decided what we’re going to do in the area where the tree was. We’re still thinking of making a large decorative raised bed back there surrounded by stone or brick. It’s going to depend on how much work and money we want to sink into that area. We probably won’t do anything until at least this fall, maybe not until spring next year.

Woodworking projects are all on hold as I’m doing some major remodeling in the workshop. The 25 year old fluorescent lights, along with the entire ceiling, are coming down. Lights are going to be replaced with LEDs and I am not going to put another drop ceiling in there. The ceiling is pretty high in there and I’m thinking about building a lumber storage area up there. Right now my spare boards and things are sitting on pallets in the other part of the basement taking up a huge amount of floor space and it’s always in the way.

Chainsaw, Trees, and What Happens to that Wood?

Chainsaw Stuff

Let’s start off with chainsaws. I talked about the little DeWalt 20B Max SR 12 inch chainsaw back in March of last year when I first got it. It’s small, lightweight, and runs off the same battery packs my other DeWalt cordless tools use. It’s currently selling for around $240 on Amazon. Up until recently it’s been lightly used for cutting fallen branches, trimming small tree limbs, cutting up firewood to fit into the outdoor fire ring, etc. I like it. It’s light weight, well made, and basically it’s a tough little saw that does what it’s supposed to do. But when the trees came down in the backyard, I became even more impressed with the little saw. It works much, much better than I ever thought it would.

Battery life is impressive. Just look at that trailer load of wood up there. It cut up all of that on just one battery. And those aren’t little two inch branches, either. Those are ash and maple logs about 10 – 12 inches thick. The motor is surprisingly strong. It had no trouble at all dealing with 10 inch thick hard ash. It just kept going, and going, and going.

I am really impressed with that little saw. It does have its limits, of course. If I push it too hard it will over heat and shut itself down until it cools off, but that’s only happened to me twice, and both times I was really pushing the saw’s limits. Otherwise it’s been great. The only thing it needs other than electricity is standard chainsaw bar oil.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a small chainsaw to hack up fallen branches, trim trees and other light use, take a look at it.

While I’m talking about saws I have to mention the Husqvarna 440. That little saw has been working well beyond expectations as well. It’s a standard 2 stroke gasoline engine (requires gasoline mixed with oil). It’s done the vast majority of the work of dealing with the two trees. This is actually my son’s saw so it was already used when I got it from him. I had to replace the bar and chain and it was running a bit rough and he complained that it was hard to start. I’ve had no problems with it, though. It is a bit quirky to get started. When the engine is cold you have to follow the recommended starting procedure exactly. If you do that it’ll start right up. When it’s warm you don’t do anything except pull the starting cord. If you fiddle with the choke or throttle when it’s warm it isn’t going to start.

Side note: Husqvarna recommends you use their branded premixed gasoline in their saws. And at the time I bought the 440 they were claiming that if you promised to only use their premixed gas they would double the saw’s warranty. (Exactly how they’d know you’d used only their gas in the saw is something I don’t know.) The problem is that their branded gas sells for an eye watering $8 per quart. Per quart. That works out to $32 per gallon. Seriously? All it is is premium non-ethanol gasoline with a couple of ounces of oil and a preservative like Stabil mixed into it. That’s it. Let’s say premium non-ethanol gas is selling for $6 a gallon. You need to buy a premeasured little bottle of oil for $1, then a splash of Stabil if you feel you really need it. Total cost for a gallon of fuel if you mix it yourself is about $7 per gallon for exactly the same stuff Husqvarna wants to sell you for $32 a gallon.

Trees and Wood

So let’s talk about wood and trees for a minute. If you live in a town like I do and you have trees, eventually you will reach the point where one or more of your trees needs to come down for a variety of reasons. Getting a tree taken down by a professional tree removal service is not cheap and you may be tempted to do it yourself. Do I really need to tell you to very strongly resist that temptation? Just look up “tree fails” on YouTube sometime and you’ll see why. I’ve dropped a lot of trees in my lifetime but even I wouldn’t try to bring down a tree near buildings, gardens, sheds, garages, power lines, etc.

So what happens to all this stuff after a tree comes down?

But one thing I always wondered is what happens to the wood when one of those tree services brings down a tree in a city or a town? A lot of these trees aren’t all that big, true, but some of them are massive, like the ash and maple that were taken down here a couple of weeks ago. Now wood is a valuable resource. As anyone who’s been doing remodeling or who builds furniture or does anything that requires wood these days can tell you, lumber prices have skyrocketed in the last two years. Prices have moderated somewhat but they’re still high. So I always figured that the wood from all those trees was being used for, well, something. Firewood if nothing else, but I was really hoping all those nice logs were going for something useful. But I was curious and did some digging and found out that more often than not, I was wrong.

The small limbs are fed into a chipper which shreds them up. That stuff I assumed was going for mulch or compost. Sometimes it is but generally, no, it isn’t. Landscapers don’t want the stuff for mulch because they want only wood chips. This stuff has lots and lots of leaves shreded up in it. Landscapers are also (with some justification) worried about plant diseases being spread. It can be composted, but that’s time consuming and often expensive to do, especially on a large scale. Sometimes it’s sent to a power plant that burns it as fuel. A lot of the time it just gets dumped somewhere where it rots, or it ends up in a landfill.

I thought that here in Wisconsin where a lot of people burn wood for heat a lot of the bigger limbs would be going for firewood. That doesn’t seem to be true either. The firewood market has a glut of wood right now because of all the ash trees coming done because of the emerald ash borer. They don’t want the stuff. The tree service guy talked to several, even offered to bring it to them for free. They don’t want it. Every individual I talked to who burns wood has more than they can use already. And Wisconsin has a regulation prohibiting the movement of firewood across county lines in an effort to the contain the emerald ash borer. A regulation that has done absolutely nothing to even slow down the movement of the ash borer in the state, I should add.

What about the logs then, the wood that could be turned into lumber for construction or furniture or whatever? The commercial sawmills around here won’t touch urban wood. And once I found out why I can’t say I blame them. The stuff that comes out of towns and cities is often full of metal – nails and screws from people attaching birdhouses or whatever to it, steel cables and even massive bolts that were used on the tree if it started to split, and things like that. They don’t want risk damaging their saws.

What about these guys you see on YouTube with portable sawmills who will come to you to cut up your old tree into lumber? Good luck trying to actually find one.

So what’s happening to my trees out back? I’m setting aside some pieces that might be useful for my lathe, but mostly they’re getting cut up for firewood and I’m stacking it up in the backyard as I get it cut. I have a couple of people who are interested in some of the bigger pieces to use for lumber but that’s not certain at the moment. I have one guy who says he’ll take the bigger logs, but I know for a fact he doesn’t have a way of getting them out of here to his facility. His equipment can only handle stuff weighing up to 1,500 lbs and I know for a fact that the one ash log weighs more than his loader does. I’ll get the bigger stuff cut up into more manageable sizes, roll it into an out of the way spot in the backyard and see what happens. If none of these guys get here to deal with it, it’ll get cut up too. I know enough people who burn wood for heat that I’ll get rid of it eventually.

Trees Come Down

Aspen Tree Service from Chilton was here Thursday and Friday of last week to take down the ash and maple trees out back. The ash tree he’s working on in the photo looks fairly healthy but it wasn’t. About a quarter of the branches he’s taking out up there were already dead or dying. He found evidence of a fungus infestation up there as well as some rot starting in the crotches where the main branches attached to the trunk. The maple tree was in even worse condition.

To give you an idea of how bad that ash tree was that pile of firewood in the foreground to the right of the chairs are just from branches that fell down in the last few months

I’ve dropped a lot of trees in my life but there is no way I would try to bring down two full size trees near buildings and decorative landscape features like these two are. In cases like this I let the professionals who have the equipment and experience deal with these situations. These guys are good. They’ve been in the business for years and know what they’re doing.

And down comes the ash. That tree was pretty massive. All of us underestimated just how big the thing was. The main trunk ended up being almost 36 inches thick. The maple was smaller, about 28 inches thick at the base.

Normally when these guys get done with a job you can hardly even tell there used to be a tree there. They clean up everything, haul it all away, take out the stump, repair any grass that was damaged, seed bare ground, etc. But I complicated things for them because I wanted to keep the wood, or most of it. They chipped the brush and hauled it off but I got everything else. And now I have a massive pile of wood to deal with.

Why would I keep all that stuff? I hate to see anything go to waste, especially trees. I love trees, but I know that eventually all trees die and have to be taken down and I’d like to see them used for something useful rather than ending up being chipped for mulch. Even going for firewood would be better than having them just dumped somewhere and left to rot. We have friends and family members who use wood for heat so a lot of the smaller stuff might go to them.

We’re contacting a couple of local guys who have small sawmills to see if they can use anything in that pile up there to make some usable lumber. The problem with urban trees is that the big lumber companies don’t want to deal with them. Running their equipment into a town just to pick up one or two logs isn’t cost effective for them. Plus the logs are often too short for them to get commercial sized lumber out of them. They want logs that are over 8 feet long and most tree services cut them up much smaller than that to make them easier to remove. And the firewood dealers around here don’t want to deal with 36 inch thick logs, either. It’s too big for their equipment to handle. So as often as not those logs end up being dumped in an old gravel pit somewhere and just rotting away.

I want to keep a lot of the wood myself. I’m going to make bowl blanks out of as much of the wood as I can for future projects. Ash and maple are both great woods for making wood turnings. I figure I’ll end up with enough material to keep me busy for the rest of my life.

There’s a stump in there too, somewhere. We’re going to keep that too. That’s going to become some kind of centerpiece for a decorative feature we’ll be putting in back there. We’re kind of tossing around ideas for how to deal with it. Right now we’re leaning towards the idea of using the stump as a base for a bench in the center of a decorative garden. We’ll see how that goes once we get the mess cleaned up back there.

On The Silly Side…

On the silly side of things I’m making allegedly humorous “artwork” for a brewpub down in Milwaukee and then using one of the lasers to engrave it on stuff for them. Drinks coasters seem really popular. People just sort of start giggling over these things when they find them under their glasses at the bar. I either draw the images myself or, as is the case with the one on the left, I find public domain images and add suitable captions. Hopefully people steal them and take them home. They’re cheap to make and if people pass ’em around it’s good PR for the pub.

Spring Means Gardening! Plus Dr Who and more Stuff!

After a brief bout with unusual heat where temperatures pushed into the 90s (Appleton school district actually canceled classes last Friday because of heat) we’re back down to daytime temps in the 60s and low 70s, which is close to what we should be getting. The gardens are coming along nicely. We decided to put off increasing the size of any of the planting beds or making other major decisions until after the trees come down so we can better decide what we want to do out there.

The big decorative bed out towards the back of the yard is doing well. The irises are looking beautiful and so are the other plants that made it through the winter. It doesn’t look like MrsGF’s blueberry made it though, alas. We just haven’t had any luck at all when it comes to blueberries. Either they succumbed to some kind of fungus, even though they were supposed to be resistant to that, or they didn’t survive the winter.

The raised beds are looking very good indeed. Carrots and beets are all up and looking good and the garlic and onions are doing quite well. We put in a lot of onions this year. We use a lot of them, both for eating fresh, as an ingredient in tomato sauces and other recipes, salads, etc. And they just taste better than what you get at the store. Most of the varieties you see at the grocery stores seem to be moving towards types that don’t actually taste like onions any longer. They’ve decided that consumers don’t like tangy, spicey onions and they want varieties that are more mild, lack flavor, and even are sweet. If you like sweet onions, good for you. Everyone has different likes and dislikes. But I want an onion that smells and tastes like an onion. We had one bag of store bought onions come through here where I swear I thought I had Covid because I couldn’t smell them when I was cutting them up. They were so mild you could have eaten one like an apple.

The hostas in front of the house are looking really good this year. They seem to do quite well up in front even though the soil up there is really, really nasty.

And the goofy little Hens and Chicks up there that we scattered around the fence posts are doing pretty good too. They’re now moving all along the area between the cedar fence and sidewalk. They’re fun little things and seem to do good up there.

We have pole beans in this one. They did pretty good last year so we decided to plant them again. Along with more onions and some lettuce that I think we’ll be able to start eating in another week or so.

The corner garden has squash again this year, with parsley planted along the outside edge and, of course Mr. Spiny the cactus back there on the right.

Things are really dry here right now. We had to start watering the gardens yesterday. Our weather patterns here seem to have really changed a lot over the last few years. We’re getting more long periods without rain at unusual times of the year, unusual periods of extreme heat, less snow during the winter. Weather is highly variable, of course, but this seems to be a trend moving towards less predictable weather events.


Dr. Who – I must confess I’m something of a Dr. Who fan. Sort of. Or was, rather. My affection for the Dr. goes way back to the era of rubber monsters, all the “alien” worlds being filmed in the same rock quarry, and the utterly silly fellow with the long scarf and an addiction to jelly babies. Basically it was a kids show with a skimpy budget, often ridiculously silly plots, bad acting and, well, you name it. It was juvenile. It was fun.

But then came along Colin Baker as the Dr and he and the writing just rubbed me the wrong way. Baker came off, IMO, as utterly arrogant and, frankly, an asshole. And his sidekick, Perry, played by Nicola Bryant, quickly became known around the family as “Miss Cleavage” because of the often ridiculously low cut shirts she was dressed in to show off her, well, cleavage, for basically no reason 0ther than trying to “sex it up”, so to speak. I suspect they were trying to push up sagging ratings as high as the outfits pushed up Ms. Bryant’s anatomy.

That was the end of my watching Dr. Who until the reboot when Eccleston popped up as the new doctor and, well, wow. All of a sudden the show had an actual real budget with actual real special effects and actual real plot lines and good acting (mostly) and good writing (sometimes). And it stayed good for quite some time. But then the show started to suffer from what I call The Topper Syndrome. The writers weren’t satisfied with just writing good stories. Every new episode had to top the last one, they had to get bigger and more exciting and cover more and more crazy monsters and conspiracies and have bigger explosions and you just can’t keep that kind of thing up for very long without ‘jumping the shark’, as they say. That phrase means a show has so worn itself out that it has to resort to ever more bizarre and ridiculous stunts and gimmicks in order to try to keep it’s sagging ratings from sinking even further.

Then along came Jodi Whitaker as the first female doctor and I thought that, finally, the show was going to refresh itself, become more interesting, more entertaining, focus on story and plot and… And no, it didn’t. They utterly wasted Ms. Whitaker’s talents by bogging her down in one endlessly dull, and even insulting story after another. A lot of people attributed the flagging ratings and increasing criticism of the show to misogyny on the part of the Who fans, and even to racism and prejudice because the story lines now included persons who experienced physical and mental challenges and dealt with racism. I don’t think that’s true, though. I do think the show went over the top occasionally because it seemed it was going out of its way to be “inclusive”, but I think the real problem was that the writing was just plain not very good and the directing was even worse. As often as not Ms. Whitaker was made to look like some kind of overactive, over excited child hopped up on espresso and sugar instead of a thousand year old Time Lord.

So now we’re about to get a new Dr. Who, Ncuti Gatwa and I am very much looking forward to seeing him in the role. He’s young, just 29, and IMO he’s an excellent actor who I think can bring new energy, new poise and a new interpretation to the role. He’ll be the first black actor to take on the role.

What I find a bit curious is that they’re bringing back the Rose Tyler character, but she is not going to be played by Billie Piper who was the original in the series reboot. Rose Tyler is now going to be played by Yasmin Finney. Exactly how they are going to explain Rose Tyler changing from a young white female into a young black transgender woman is going to be interesting. I’m rather looking forward to that too.

Rumor has it that the “multiverse” is going to be involved. The multiverse has become just one of a long series of deus ex machina plot devices writers turn to when they write themselves into a corner. Dr. Who has already dabbled in that nonsense early on when the Rose Tyler character became too intensely involved with the Dr, so they conveniently trapped her in a different universe that she couldn’t escape from. Well, couldn’t escape from until the writers decided that she could.

One of the issues with the rebooted series is that they constantly introduce story lines that focus on the Dr’s companions, and the companions start to become more popular with fans than the Dr and they can’t have that so they have to get rid of companions or the show isn’t about the Doctor any more. So Rose Tyler ends up trapped in another universe. Amelia and Rory get trapped in the early 20th century for reasons that are never adequately explained and die of old age, Clara outright dies, but then is resurrected again immediately and somehow is still out there, somewhere, running around in a stolen Tardis, still dead but somehow still alive, Donna Noble, they had to get rid of her because she got too popular and somehow absorbed all of the knowledge of the Time Lords, so they erased her memory… But then plot holes big enough to drive a truck through and unsatisfying loose ends (like Clara, and the the Dr’s daughter (technically a sort of clone but that’s what they called her)) are, alas, rather common.

Here’s a lesson for you, if some dude in funny clothes shows up in a Tardis and wants you to go traveling with him, don’t go. It doesn’t end well.

Weather, gardens, and Stuff

We’ve been on a sort of weather rollercoaster here. We went from high temperatures in the low fifties to 91 degrees and humid on Tuesday, then back down to a high of about 60 on Wednesday, and today we’re supposed to be back up in the steam bath again today with temperatures up in the 90s. Sheesh. It’s been an odd spring.

I’m back out on the bike on a regular basis at least thanks to the warmer weather. It looks like farmers are a bit behind in planting this year from all of the unplanted fields I’m seeing out there.

It’s dry out there, folks. According to the statistics we’re reasonably close to normal rainfall, but actual ground conditions are not good. The entire state is under a burning ban and we’ve had wild fires popping up all over the state. Some parts of the state got some decent rainfall but it skipped around us. We’re going to have to start watering the vegetable beds here today or tomorrow if we don’t get some rain.

Now that I’m back on the bike again I’ve been down to the river at the old stone bridge about 4 miles from here and things look unusually dry down there as well. Water levels in the river are unusually low for this time of year. This branch of the Manitowoc River usually isn’t this low until mid to late summer.

The old stone bridge is a great spot to stop and get a drink and just watch nature. There’s almost no traffic on that road. I’ll stop there for ten or fifteen minutes, get out my water and stand on the bridge and just watch nature. There are at least two families of geese out there, a few muskrats swimming around, turtles and birds everywhere.

Here at the house the early spring flowers are popping up everywhere. The tulips are coming up now that the daffodils are coming to an end.

Out in the raised beds everything is coming up; onions, lettuce, carrots and beets and even the garlic is emerging now. The garlic we planted last fall didn’t make it through the winter, so we planted a different variety and hopefully we’ll get some by fall. We’ll see how that works out.

We talked to the tree service and let them know that it’s dry enough out here now that they can get in with their equipment so they’re going to be coming over next week to take out the two trees you see in the photo up there. The one on the right is a big old ash tree that’s starting to rot from the top down. Every time we get a good wind it sheds branches all over, some of them big enough to cause damage or injury if someone happened to be standing in the wrong place. The one on the left is an old maple that belongs to our neighbor. Almost the entire right side of the tree up in the canopy is dead so that one has to come down too. I hate to see trees coming down but these two are at the end of their lives and they need to come down before they do some serious damage or even hurt someone.

Removing the big ash gives us a lot more options for gardening as well. It shades out a huge amount of space in the yard making it difficult for growing anything except grass and weeds back there. Once that’s gone we’ll have a large area back there with full sun that give us a lot more opportunities for growing stuff. We have some general ideas about what to do with the space back there but nothing firm as yet. I’ll keep you posted.

With those trees coming down I also had to take down my OCFD antenna (off center fed dipole) and it’s a good thing I did because I found this:

Well, that’s not good, now is it? The antenna was just hanging on by a thread. Fixing something like this isn’t hard to do but it’s annoying. The problem area is only a few feet from the end so I could have just fudged it by cutting it off at the frayed bit and attaching that to the insulator. Cutting a couple of feet off of a 130+ foot long wire antenna isn’t going to screw it up too badly, especially since I use an antenna tuner anyway.

What caused the damage? The antenna was running to the cedar tree behind that small shed in that photo of the trees up there. It looks like my line sagged letting the wire down far enough so it was rubbing on the roof of the shed.

I really need to look into a different antenna configuration. That OCFD is just too long to fit completely in my yard. Fortunately both of my neighbors don’t mind if I run a line into trees on their property, but I need to try to figure out a different way of setting it up to try to keep it entirely on my property. I do have a vertical antenna which works fine, but that OCFD gives me more options. And it’s also my NVIS antenna for semi-local communications down on 75 meters and I don’t want to give that up.

Other stuff going on:

Now that the weather has turned nice I can finally finish up bringing down the dropped ceiling in the woodshop. I’ve been procrastinating on that because there is a lot of dust up there above those ceiling tiles and I wanted to put a couple of exhaust fans in the windows to suck it out of the house instead of having it plug up my air filters in the shop. That ceiling is getting bad. It’s been up for more than 20 years, and incorporates old fashioned fluorescent tube lights which are terribly energy inefficient. I already have new shop lights waiting to go in, LED versions which will use about a quarter of the energy and give better light.

I reviewed the LaserPecker 1 laser engraver a while back, and I now have its big brother, the LP2 sitting on the shelf and in use and I want to do a review of that. The hardware is very, very nice. It’s much, much faster, more powerful and has a lot more options, including a roller system that should be very useful. Unfortunately it shares the same major problem the LP1 had: the software is horrible. This is a professional quality engraver that is badly hampered by amateurish cell phone based operating software. There is PC based software for the LP2 which is what I’ve been using which makes it easier to use, but the program riddled with bugs and odd quirks. It’s sad, really, because the LP2 is a fantastic gadget. I’ve been doing custom artwork and engravings for a craft brewer and pub owner in Milwaukee and it does a great job.

On the wood lathe side of things I’ve had a really nifty bowl hollowing system sitting around for months now that I’ve never had an opportunity to really talk about here, so I need to put that in the que one of these days.

And one of these days I want to talk about the “metaverse”. What’s his name over at “Meta” as they now call FaceScam, uh, excuse me, Facebook, has stumbled across an idea that is at least 25 years old and has been done before with varying degrees of success (and more often failure), they’ve stolen that, claimed it as their own, and is now are hyping up a storm. Meta’s “vision” of this metaverse is, frankly, silly, childish, badly implemented, laughably cartoonish and doesn’t even take into account basic human nature. It’s really kind of sad, to be honest. I’ve seen Meta’s “virtual world”, which they call Horizons, and to be honest it looks like a badly rendered version of The Jetson’s cartoon show from the 1960s. To call it cartoonish is insulting to cartoons

I want to talk about cameras too somewhere along the line. I want to talk about “cryogenic” tools… Egads, look at that list… Sigh… I’d better get to work.

Well, maybe I’ll get to work later. Right now it’s sunny out, warm, there’s a bicycle sitting in the garage waiting for me…

Spring At Last!

The weather has finally started to turn! After one of the nastiest Aprils I can remember with almost perpetual clouds, cold, rain, mist and snow, it looks like we’ve turned the corner.

Daytime temps have been up in the mid to high 50s, even pushing a bit over 60. And we’ve had bright, sunny days. MrsGF and I have been spending a lot of time outside cleaning up after winter and things are starting to shape up nicely. The daffodils are all up and it’s delightful to see those bright yellow flowers out there.

We’ve even planted some stuff already, although that’s a bit chancey this time of year. We have a lot of onions out this year. One whole raised bed is all onions and some garlic this year.

And this…

That’s lettuce. Yes, lettuce. MrsGF said what the heck and put in a bit of lettuce just to see what would happen. I thought the ground was still too cold for the seeds to sprout but damn, look at that up there. Lettuce growing. In Wisconsin. In the first week of May. Outside. Sheesh…

Rhubarb is well on its way as well. It’s always the first thing to pop up out of the ground.

The irises are all up as well and looking beautiful. They’re early risers as well, so to speak. They’re about 8 inches or more tall already and looking very good.

Thanks to the old ash and maple trees back there we’ve had to clean up a lot of branches and twigs. Most of them went down to the town compost site where they’re chipped and turned into mulch but some of them went to feed the stainless steel fire thingie we picked up early last year. That thing was one of the best investments we made. It wasn’t cheap but it’s well made out of thick stainless steel. Beats the heck out of something like a firepit or one of those cheap sheet metal ones you get at the big box stores that rusts through within a year or two. Because of the clever venting system it has there is little or no smoke, and fires are fully contained so the chance of starting the grass on fire is virtually zero even in dry conditions.

Hopefully our big ash tree and the neighbor’s maple will be coming down soon. The two of them are definitely at the end of their lives. Large amounts of bark are coming off the maple along with branches and there is significant rot up in the ash tree where some of the main branches come together.

With the trees coming down soon I had to take down my OCFD wire antenna, and discovered significant damage on it where it must have been rubbing against something. Sigh… Always something. Fortunatley I found that before it got bad enough for the wire to break completely. I’ll have to fix that before it can go back up again. Grr…

So I only have the vertical antenna in operation right now and that has some issues as well, it seems. I’ve noticed that the SWR is fluctuating a bit. The meter indicates it’s fluctuating from about 1.12 to 1.16 during transmissions. I’m not sure if that is being caused by the antenna itself or feed line, or if it’s something in the meter on my Palstar antenna tuner. If I look at the SWR meter built into my transceiver I don’t see any fluctuations at all, but then that is a tiny, tiny flutter in the first place and that meter might not “see” it. I might be worrying over nothing but it still makes me a bit concerned.

The improvement in the weather means I can get out on the bicycle again. I love biking but not when the temperatures are down in the 40s. For the last few days I’ve been getting out every day for a half hour or 45 minutes to try to build up my endurance after a long winter of basically not doing much of anything as far as exercise goes.

That’s it for now. Time to get back out into the gardens!

Addendum – just got stung by a wasp. Damn that hurts! Wonder what I did to make him mad at me?

Spring Cleanup, Antennas, Tree, Gardens, Laser Engraver and Stuff

It’s spring. Sort of?

This is sort of a catchup post because I haven’t really had enough material to justify doing an update to the blog until now, so let’s get started.

It’s spring cleanup time. Or at least that’s what the calendar tell me. Outside, though, well, it’s been bloody cold and nasty. We had about only three days here where the temperature got above fifty. Mostly it’s been in the 40s, even dipping as low as the mid twenties at night. Not exactly my idea of April weather.

It’s still a mess back here but it’s starting to look a lot better. Spent almost an entire day cleaning up the yard.

It’s a mess back there in the yard, alas. MrsGF and I have been working on cleaning up the debris left from the winter and it’s starting to shape up now finally. The old ash tree in my yard and the dying maple in my neighbor’s both have been shedding branches and bark all over. The smoke you see in the photo up there is because we lit the fireplace back there both to warm up and to deal with the twigs and sticks and bark that had come off the trees during the winter.

We’re probably going to do a major expansion of the corner garden in the photo up there. That’s prime growing area there in that corner. It faces the south west so it gets full sun almost all day long, with light being reflected off the white siding, and in that sheltered area it’s the first ground to thaw in the spring and the last to freeze in the fall, and it’s very well drained. We’re going to expand that area in a semicircle out past that post with the birdfeeder, and it’s going to extend along the right side of the house past the downspouts. That will more than double the amount of square footage we have there.

Back here hopefully within a couple of weeks that big tree will be gone. It looks relatively healthy but it really isn’t. It sheds branches like rain drops whenever there is a stiff breeze and up near the top of the tree it’s starting to rot where to large branches come together off the main trunk. It’s also an ash tree so I’m surprised the emerald ash borer hasn’t attacked it yet. If we don’t take it down soon a good wind storm will take it down for us. We already had a tree service come in to look at it, and as soon as it dries out enough for them to get their equipment in there without sinking into the ground it’s coming down, along with the neighbor’s dying maple.

Getting that tree out of there will also open up a large part of the yard to full sun so we can grow a lot more stuff. We aren’t quite sure what we’ll do with the area but we’ve been sketching out some preliminary plans for a large decorative feature. Maybe. Depends on how ambitious we get.

Antenna stuff: I finally got the new off center fed dipole up when we had a rare warm, sunny day. So I was up on the roof of the garage, then about 20 feet up a couple of different trees and, well, let’s just say it was an interesting experience.

Those of you who are amateur radio operators will undoubtedly note that it is not exactly the ideal configuration for an OCFD. It’s way too low to the ground, the two legs are running in a rather tight ‘V’ configuration instead of running out straight, etc. It’s only about 12 feet off the ground and it really should be something like 30 – 40 feet up. But you work with what you have. I don’t have a tower, don’t have tall trees, and I don’t have the space to string up a 140 foot long antenna in what is supposed to be the “ideal” configuration.

And guess what? Despite all of that, the antenna works just fine and dandy, thank you very much. According to the good ole boys I sometimes listen to down on 75 meters pontificating about antennas and other things, this antenna shouldn’t work very well in this configuration. Only it does. Since I put it up I’ve had contacts in California, the Carolinas, well, all over the continental United States and Canada, and according to PSK Reporter I’ve been heard in Europe and Australia as well.

Would it work better if it were in the “ideal” configuration, up above 30 feet with the legs extended properly? Probably. Don’t care. You work with you got.

Looks like I got this one up in time because my vertical antenna is now doing weird things. The thing got whacked by a fairly good sized branch from one of the trees and I think it knocked something loose so I’m going to have to pull that thing down one of these days and check that out.

Laser engraver: The nice delivery driver who brings me goodies from time to time just dropped off the Laserpecker 2 the other day. I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on this one after playing with the Laserpecker 1 for a few months. I have the LP2 up and running and it is very, very, very nice. It is much more powerful than the original, much, much faster, offers much higher resolution. The version I have here comes with the roller system in the box on the right. That allows it to engrave cylindrical objects like water bottles and the like. And most interestingly of all, the roller mechanism can be reversed and turned into a drive mechanism for the LP2 allowing it to travel along a board or tabletop or other smooth surface to make continuous long engravings. I haven’t set up the roller system yet and I’m looking forward to trying it.

And best of all, for me anyway, it is no longer tied to a stupid phone app to run it. You can still use a phone app, but there is actual real PC software that will control this thing. It looks like the PC software gives much better control over the engraver than the phone app did. Best of all I don’t have to fiddle around trying to get artwork I make in Photoshop imported into the stupid phone app. I can do everything right on the computer now.

Unfortunately the PC software has some serious problems with it. It’s riddled with bugs, odd quirks, difficulties in connecting the PC to the LP2 and other issues. Most of those can be worked around but frankly the PC software looks like it was never properly tested before being released.

The LP2 is most definitely not cheap. I can see a hobbyist spending $250 on the Laserpecker 1 to do the occasional engraving on an art project. It’s a fun little gadget that works pretty well and at that price you don’t need to use it a lot to justify the expense. The Laserpecker 2 package that you see here with the roller system will set you back $1,200. IMO this pushes it well outside of the hobbyist level product. In order to justify that kind of expense you need to have a serious application for something like this.

Anyway, look for a full review of the LP2 in the near future.

And that’s about it for this time. Now if only the weather would start to warm up…

Farm Catch Up: Still More on Ethanol, Glyphosate Shortage and more

Ethanol

If you’ve followed this blog over the years you already know that I’m not a big fan of biofuels in general, and ethanol specifically. Since the ethanol blending mandates were first instituted, big agriculture, the government and the proponents of ethanol haven’t exactly been honest with us. Diverting a source of food for both people and animals, corn, into the production of fuel was never a good idea for anyone except, of course, the ag industry, its lobbyists, and the politicians they’ve bribed (cough cough, excuse me, slip of the fingers there) influenced to push ethanol fuel mandates. Ars Technica, of all places, has an interesting summary of the findings of a study just published last Tuesday in Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences.

The corn industry and ethanol industry, of course, immediately struck back by simply claiming that the whole study is, basically, a lie. And Monte Shaw, the head of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association said he is “not interested in spending time on silly stuff like this“. So basically he is condemning the entire report without having even read the thing.

What the study discovered was that the biofuels industry is nowhere near as “green” as they’ve been claiming it is for decades. What the study showed is what a lot of people have been claiming for years now, that when all of the factors involved in the production of the corn used to make ethanol are added into the equation, ethanol is, at best, no better than using gasoline, it’s actually worse in some areas.

What’s ironic about the whole thing is that the whole ethanol fuel industry is doomed in the first place as we transition to EVs. Whether we like it or not the internal combustion engine is on it’s way out and is being replaced by electric vehicles. The ethanol industry can rant and rave all it wants, push for higher and higher percentages to be added to gasoline, and it all isn’t going to matter in the slightest because the market for the stuff is simply going to vanish along with the internal combustion engine.

Glyphosate Shortages

Glyphosate, the generic name for the active ingredient in the herbicide RoundUp, is suffering from severe shortages, to the point where a lot of farmers aren’t sure if they’re going to be able to get any or not for the upcoming growing season. The manufacturer of a key ingredient has had a mechanical failure that’s shut down production. The product was already in short supply for several other reasons, most of them not related to the virus, I should add. The biggest problem was Hurricane Ida shutting down Bayer’s primary glyphosate production facility for an extended period of time.

Perfect Storm

There has been a sort of ‘perfect storm’ of garbage being dumped on farmers in the past few months and it looks like that isn’t going to ease up any time soon. It isn’t just glyphosate. There are shortages of fertilizers like potash and anhydrous ammonia causing prices to sky rocket. The craziness between Russia and Ukraine is causing fuel prices to increase, and putting pressure on the commodities markets because Ukraine is a major producer of wheat, sunflower seed, and rapeseed for canola oil. Prices on corn and soybeans are going up and up, which is great for the people who grow the stuff. But for dairy and beef farmers, it is causing serious problems.

What it all amounts to for us consumers is don’t look for food prices in the grocery stores to come down any time soon.

Meat Monopoly Rakes In Record Profits

If you wanted to have a nice ribeye or T-bone steak for your Superbowl party, you probably looked at the prices and once you got your heart restarted you settled for grilled cheese. Prices of meat, especially beef and chicken, have skyrocketed over the last two years, and it’s all being blamed on, of course, the virus. Or is the virus only being used as a scapegoat by the meat industry as an excuse to bring in record breaking profits?

Tyson, JBS and Nation Beef more than tripled their profits during the pandemic, despite claims that price increases were due to increased expenses caused by worker shortages and supply chain disruptions. They had a 120% increase in gross profits, and a 500% increase in net profits. And profit margins, the amount of money companies make over and above their expenses, have skyrocketed as well, with margins climbing to up to over 300% in some cases. If the price increases were indeed due to an increase in expenses, profit margins would remain flat because increases in profit would be offset by increases in expenses.

The entire beef processing system in the US is a monopoly, controlled almost entirely by four companies, Cargill, Tyson, JBS and National Beef. Chicken is controlled by Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue, Sanderson and Koch Foods. The situation is pretty much the same with Pork, with the biggest player there, Smithfield Foods (owned by, drum roll please, China) being the major player there, along with a couple of others. For all intents and purposes, the entire US meat production system is controlled by just a handful of multinational companies.

A Convenient Scapegoat

While I’m on the subject of the pandemic, let’s look at some other areas where it is being used as a convenient scapegoat to try to explain away problems and/or massive price increases.

Trucking – You’ve probably heard that there is a massive shortage of truck drivers due to the pandemic. That claim is only partly true. There is a driver shortage, yes, but it isn’t because of the pandemic. In fact, right now we have more registered CDL holders than at any time since trucking started. The fact is that trucking companies have never been able to hire enough truck drivers, and driver turnover rates are sky high. The problem is that driving truck is hard, frustrating work, laden with sometimes utterly ridiculous regulations in some areas and not enough regulations in others, and drivers are often abused, short changed and treated like garbage by their employers, and they don’t get paid very well either. I know one company out of Green Bay that keeps teams of drivers on standby to do nothing but fly out to pick up trucks abandoned by drivers who got so fed up that they couldn’t take it anymore and just left the trucks and walked away. I would imagine that most of the bigger companies have to do the same.

Ports – The ports in the US are really the main choke point here. The US has some of the worst ports in the industrialized world thanks to years of neglect and a failure to upgrade port facilities because that would cut into their profits. Like the trucking business, this issue with US ports actually goes back decades. While ports in Europe and Asia have been upgrading their facilities and making major investments in them, in the US little or nothing has been done to upgrade materials handling capabilities or to streamline operations. Even before the pandemic the US ports were just barely functional and were already causing disruptions in shipping. The pandemic just made an already existing problem worse and showed just how bad the situation was.

Drought

If you look at the drought map up there from https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ you can see that things look a bit, well, scary, really. Right now more than half of the country is under drought conditions that range from mild to extreme. For a while there it seemed the West might see some relief from what is, according to some climate researchers, the worst drought they’ve had out there in 1,500 years. But that situation seems to be changing and things are starting to get worse again. Water use restrictions are already in place in many places out there and more are almost certainly going to be instituted unless they get significant precipitation. Even here in Wisconsin we’re well behind normal for precipitation. Last I heard our snowfall amounts here were running 16 – 25 inches behind normal. I’ve only had to use the snowblower once so far this winter. Most of the snowfalls we’ve had, and we haven’t had many, have been a light dusting that we’ve dealt with using electric leaf blowers.

Of course weather is, well, weather, and things can change rather quickly, but I haven’t seen conditions this bad in a long time. The drought is one reason why commodities prices have been pushing up over the last few months.

Farmland Prices Climbing

Here in Wisconsin farmland prices have always been less volatile than in other parts of the country. Prices here haven’t gone up much since I sold the farm. But that’s changing. Here prices haven’t shifted a lot, but they’ve been moving up gradually. In other parts of the country, though, prices have gone a bit, well, bonkers, really. I’ve seen some sales where prime farmland was going for as much as $20,000 per acre, an amount that seems completely crazy to me.

One trend that I find extremely troubling is the entry of investment companies into the farmland market. This has been going on for a while now but they have been becoming much more active now and there seem to be new ones starting up every year. They buy up farmland, often outbidding actual real farmers for the land, then turn around and rent it back to the farmers. Not only is this pushing the sale price of farmland up and up, making buying land unaffordable for a lot of farmers, it is pushing land rental prices up as well as these companies will gleefully gouge farmers for every penny they can get, even if it means putting real farmers in financial jeopardy.

That’s it for this time.

Stuff Coming Up

I have all kinds of things that might end up in the pipeline that feeds this blog, whether any of it actually gets in here is something else again. One thing that will be coming up is a look at a bowl hollowing system for wood turners that I’ve been using of late. It’s been on the market for some time now but it’s new to me and I like it rather a lot.

It’s February and snowing outside as I write this so this seems like an odd time to be planning gardens and buying seed but that’s exactly what we’ve been doing here. We’re thinking of expanding the garden areas yet again, perhaps adding another raised bed or two, and making one of the in-ground gardens considerably larger. We’ll see how ambitious we get once spring gets here.

A note about seeds – if you haven’t already laid in your stock of seed for spring planting, you might be out of luck. I’ve been hearing of serious seed shortages, not just for home gardeners but also for nurseries which produce seedlings and bedding plants for the home gardening market.

I’ve been seeing a lot of ads popping up over the last few months for what are being called household emergency power systems that use batteries instead of the traditional gasoline, natural gas or diesel engine powered generators. Some of them are being called “solar generators”, even though they aren’t. A lot of the ads are wildly misleading, even outright lies. There are problems with all of these systems, whether you go with batteries or the more common gasoline or other fuel powered systems. So if I can work up enough ambition you might see a piece about that in the future.

Frosted Roses and GF Gets Excited

I generally get up a little before dawn and just for the heck of it I went outside not long after sunrise and found our roses covered in frost and got these photos before it melted. Just cell phone images because by the time I’d have got in the house, got out the good camera and got back out the frost would have melted. These aren’t as good as they could have been I suppose, but I like them. You should be able to click or double click on the images to see a better resolution version.

Oh, the excited part? Once you scroll down past the photos I’ll tell you about that.

There’s a lesson to be learned here for amateur photographers. You don’t need to go traveling to exotic places to get really interesting photos. Just look around in your backyard.

Now, the fun part. One thing I’ve done for years now is fiddle around with 3D printing. I’ve had a Flashforge Creator Pro 3D printer for years now, although my son has had it for some time using it to print parts for a laser engraver/cutter and other stuff.

I’m getting a new printer, the brand new Flashforge Adventurer 4 that just hit the market this fall. Flashforge came out with the Adventurer 3 shortly before this one came out and this is basically the same thing only with about twice the build capacity as the 3 version. I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on this one.

This is supposed to be a more or less ‘turnkey’ printer, just unpack it, put in the filament and start printing right out of the box. The extruder can also operate at a wider range of temperatures meaning it can use just about any type of filament on the market. I liked my old Flashforge a lot but it is definitely showing its age and its inability to work at the higher temperatures that some types of filaments require limited it to using only ABS and PLA. The print quality of this thing is supposed to be outstanding from the preliminary information I’ve dug up.

Supposedly there are some issues with things like WiFi connectivity and cloud access. Neither of which I care about in the slightest. I don’t want a printer connected to the “cloud” in the first place and my preferred method of getting files to the printer is via a flash drive, not over the network.

Anyway, this puppy is supposed to be here within the next seven to ten days so keep an eye out for that in the future.

Fall Catch Up

Cleaning out the squash plants

Gads, I just realized how long it’s been since I posted anything and I am feeling a wee bit guilty. Where in the world did the time go? I was going to talk about gardening and working with resin and the new camera and a lot of other things but lots of other things always seemed more important… Anyway, let’s get on with this.

One of the things that’s been keeping us busy here is the usual autumn cleanup. The squash plants went absolutely bonkers this year. We’re enormously pleased with the production we got from the squash this year. MrsGF got some organic butternut squash seed in early spring. I think we had about 6 plants all together and conditions must have been perfect for them because we ended up with an entire wheelbarrow full of massive squash. I’ve only rarely ever seen butternuts this large before. And as for quantity, well you can see we for yourselves. I filled a wheelbarrow completely full with the things and there are about a half dozen more not in the photo up there. Quality is excellent too. They taste fantastic. MrsGF is saving the seeds from a couple of these guys for planting next spring so hopefully we’ll get the same results in the future.

We’ve scaled way back on the amount of vegetables we planted but we still had more than we could deal with. Nothing went to waste, though. Excess went to neighbors and family or we give it away at the local St. Vincent de Paul store.

I’ve been adding more compost to the raised beds to get them ready for next spring.

Cleaning up the gardens at the end of the season is a pain but it has to get done. We try to get that finished up as soon as we can because once September comes we never know what the weather is going to be like. We’re lucky enough to live just down the street from the town compost site. They do a great job of composting here and the end product is fantastic. And it’s free to town residents so you can be darn sure we take advantage of that.

Garlic planted about 2 weeks ago.

We’re experimenting with growing garlic. We use a lot of the stuff in cooking but the quality of garlic we get from the local stores isn’t very good. Usually the bulbs we find in the stores have obviously been in storage for a long, long time and has lost a lot of its flavor. We’ve tried growing garlic before and we weren’t very successful. One batch of ridiculously expensive organic garlic we planted didn’t even sprout. One batch we tried did grow, but the bulbs were disappointingly small. The stuff tasted so intense and so good though, and so much better than what we were buying that we still want to try growing our own. So half of one of the raised beds is now in garlic. Once cold weather hits the bed will get covered with mulch to protect it, then that will be removed in the spring and hopefully in mid to late summer we’ll have garlic.

The rest of this bed is going to be planted in all onions next spring.

Onions are pretty cheap so why do we grow our own? Flavor, of course. In their never ending quest to breed vegetable types that have longer storage life, are easier to harvest and which look pretty even after sitting in a cooler at the store for weeks, what plant breeders have done is also eliminate a lot of the flavor and aroma from their crops. The veggies are still good, still nutritious, but a lot of the flavor and aroma has been lost in exchange for traits commercial producers want. The same is true for onions.

That onion you buy at the store looks perfectly good, is certainly fine to eat, even healthy. But the flavor and aroma? It just isn’t there. Take a garden grown onion and a store bought onion from one of those net bags and slice each in half, and as soon as the knife slides through it you’ll be able to tell which one you grew yourself and which one you bought. Our home grown onions are pungent, rich in flavor, juicy and spicy. Store bought ones? Bleh… We never have any home grown onions last until fall. They’re usually all used up long before the end of the growing season.

And they are ridiculously easy to grow. Just snag some set onions in the spring, shove them about an inch into the ground, make sure they get enough water, and that’s about it. In a few weeks you’ll have green onions for salads or cooking, and a few weeks later they develop into utterly delicious, pungent, luscious bulbs.

Okay, I have to stop talking about food. I’m starting to get hungry!

Let’s see, what else?

Oh, they’re finally tearing down the old cheese factory here in town. This place has been an eyesore for decades. The parent company shut it down ages ago and pulled out, and it’s been left standing there and rotting away ever since and the company refused to do anything with it. It was a blight on the whole town. It sits right across the street from a beautiful town park, and on the main highway so the first thing people see when they come into town is this rotting old building. Not exactly a good impression.

After many, many years of trying to get the company to do something, anything, with this nasty mess, the town finally convinced the company to sell the thing and bought it from them. We got state and federal grants to cover almost all of the demolition and clean up costs. Once that’s done the town will put it on the market as a commercial development property and hopefully recoup the expenses involved. It’s a big parcel, almost an entire city block, and right on a main state highway, so we’re hopeful someone will come in and do something useful with it. If nothing else we’d much rather have it as greenspace than sitting there slowly rotting away.

Otherwise I have lots of stuff in the “to do” que. I got quite a few questions about working with resin from fellow woodturners, so I’m putting together a sort of beginner’s guide to using resin. I want to talk about the new camera. I might wander into a sort of game/social media experience called Second Life, a kind of virtual reality system. On the electronics side of things I might talk about how to protect yourself from lightning after losing my gaming computer during a storm a few weeks ago. I’d like to talk about, believe it or not, Chinese television and entertainment. (Yes, I watch Chinese television, heaven help me). Chinese videos are entertaining, silly, puzzling and, frankly, kind of scary.

But enough, time to wrap this up.