I Like Autumn But…

Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 7.03.55 AMI really do like autumn, but even I have to admit it gets a bit dull around this time of year, visually speaking. The rich greens, the brilliant flowers, the bright sun of summer is rapidly fading into the dull browns and dreary cloudy skies of fall.

It’s been very cloudy and rainy here of late, which hasn’t helped much. That means I can’t get out on the bike as much as I’d like. Biking in temperatures in the high 40s and icy cold rain isn’t exactly my idea of fun, you see. I suppose it’s time to dust off the treadmill and start pounding out miles while binge watching Netflix or Amazon. It’s exercise, yes, but it’s not really the same as biking through the countryside.

Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 7.01.00 AMI am fortunately not one of those people who suffers from Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) but I know quite a few who are, and it’s easy to tell who they are this time of year. They tend to start to get grumpier and more irritable as the days become shorter. But even so I still find myself digging through my photos and lingering on things like bright, sunny scenes and and brilliantly colored flowers. Especially on days like today when it’s 7:30 AM and it looks like it’s going to be another one of those dull, cloudy days with rain. Ick…

We’re currently ramping up to the annual insanity that is Halloween around here. I have nothing against the holiday. I rather enjoy it. But it does seem to have gotten totally out of hand. Mrs. GF and I are convinced that they’ve started bussing kids in from the entire midwest and releasing them on our little town every Halloween, because we know there aren’t that many kids in town. Heck, the entire school district doesn’t have that many kids as we get running up to our door.

Anyway, I was at the local Walmart to get a prescription filled and while I was waiting I thought I’d see if they had some deals on Halloween decorations. It’s a little over two weeks away and I figured they’d be running closeouts on the stuff.

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Let’s stick another flower in. No real reason why. Just feel like putting a flower here.

I was wrong. The entire Halloween decoration section was gone. It was replaced with Christmas decorations. The only Halloween stuff they had left were those massive bags of cheap, crappy candy that is apparently made out of flavored chalk.

Christmas decorations? Really? It’s October 15, for heaven’s sake!

I really should have expected that, though. Retailers don’t live in the same universe you and I live in. In their world time is a strange and mysterious thing that has no basis in reality. A couple of years ago I needed to get a winter coat. It was January, it was -20 degrees out, and I’d just ripped my heavy winter coat by snagging it on something. So it’s January. In Wisconsin. It’s -20 out. You’d think that here in Wisconsin you could buy a winter coat, right? Good luck. Swimwear? Yes. Shorts? Yes. Sandals? Yes. Winter clothes? No. I finally made the 25 mile drive to the “local” Fleet Farm and got one there. Sheesh…

I suppose I should wrap this up and go do something. We’re still in the process of cleaning up the gardens. The non-producing peppers got yanked yesterday, I need to take down the old sunflowers outside the kitchen window. The birds have pretty much gotten all of the seeds out of them and they’re looking pretty bad. It’s raining right now but maybe the weather will cooperate later.

Oh, almost forgot. We have email now! If the nice Mr. Google cooperates and everything is working, you can reach us at   wis.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com

If I remember to ever actually check the account. If it actually works because I haven’t actually tested it yet.

Yes, you really need to put the “wis.” part in there.

 

Garden Clean Up Time

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One of the issues with the iPhone camera is it doesn’t give any kind of sense of perspective. That pile of vines is actually about waist high and the bed behind it is 8 feet deep and 12 feet long.

Although you sure can’t tell it from the weather (70 degrees here at 7AM) it really is autumn and we’ve been working on cleaning up the gardens periodically for a while now. The weather this morning was great, cloudy and kind of drizzly but warm and shirt sleeve comfortable, so by 7:30 I was out working on cleaning up some of the remaining beds, including the squash.

We’d put in acorn and butternut, only about 4 plants, and we were curious to see how it would work because we’d never tried to grow them before. And the location isn’t ideal, either. Tucked away behind the west end of the garage they really only get sun in the afternoon and evening, plus there’s a tree back there that does some shading.

They started out beautifully, turning into big, healthy plants sending vines everywhere and setting a lot of squash. Alas, I think a combination of the shady IMG_0747conditions plus the very damp weather we had this season kept them from producing as well as they could have. We’ve been eating squash from there for a few weeks now. Very nice stuff and very tasty. But the squash themselves were small, and then because of the damp conditions and shaded location they started to get what MrsGF thinks is powdery mildew, which together prevented them from doing as good as they should have.

The vines were almost completely withered so I cleaned everything out this morning and gathered up the remaining squash.

As an experiment I think it went pretty well, all things considered. Yes, there was a mildew problem and probably too much shade in that spot, but we still got some delicious squash out of the deal. They are so good when roasted with some brown sugar and butter.

IMG_0750The peppers — holy cow have they taken off! They struggled all summer long, those poor plants, and that was largely our fault because we crowded them too much. I did some drastic thinning, taking out more than half the plants, and almost immediately the remaining ones responded with ridiculous amounts of fruit.

We plant mostly poblano (which is my personal favorite), sweet banana peppers, and sweet bell, along with the “mystery” peppers, which turned out to be habanero which are so bloody hot no one we know will touch the things.

Interestingly enough, no one will admit they planted habaneros. MrsGF swears she didn’t raise them. I certainly didn’t put them in there. So where did they come from? Crazed hot pepper fiends sneaking around late at night and slipping them into people’s gardens?

The ones I picked this morning will get washed, diced up and frozen for use later. We generally just mix them all together, with the poblanos more intense flavor helping along the more bland sweet bells. The mix is great in fried potatoes, mac and cheese, soups, etc.

MrsGF is off this morning to her sister’s place to get “a lot” of grapes. I’m not sure how many grapes are in “a lot”. Could be anywhere from a few quarts to a 5 gallon bucket full. If there are enough of them, she’s going to make jelly out of them. The vines these come from are probably close to a century old, and they’re still producing like crazy most years.

Yes, I know, grape jelly is dirt cheap in the stores. But comparing Welch’s to the jelly that comes from these grapes is sort of like comparing Busch Light to, oh, New Glarus Staghorn Octoberfest. They are both technically beer, but the difference in quality is several orders of magnitude apart.

 

Streets, Autumn, Photos and Barns Abandoned

They finally finished paving the street in front of the house the other day! We were very glad of that. The dust from the trucks rolling past over the unpaved sections was getting onto everything. We couldn’t open the windows on that side of the house. For a few days I couldn’t even get the Corvette out of the driveway because after they did the final grading there was a 5 inch drop at the end of the driveway that would have ripped the front splitter off the nose of the car.

We have an open front porch tucked into the side of the house which is a great place to sit and have a coffee and read on warm days, which is now covered in a thick layer of dust. I’m going to have to get out there with the car wash brush, a big bucket of soapy water and the hose and give it a good scrubbing. There’s so much dust you leave footprints when walking across the decking, the window sills are thick with the stuff, and even the poor plants out there should get hosed down.

IMG_0744Colder weather and rain have slowed things down as far as biking is concerned. I manage to get out most days still, but I know the time is coming when the bike is going to have to hang up in the garage and it’ll be back to the treadmill (ick). Still, when the weather does cooperate, it is absolutely beautiful out there in the countryside.

These crisp, cool autumn mornings are amazing. Now that it’s cooler there is less moisture and haze in the air, making everything seem more crisp and clear and brighter. There’s something about the quality of the light as well that changes because the sun is at a lower angle in the sky. The result is that on some mornings everything just seems to glow with this lush, rich, golden light that seems almost impossible to capture with the camera.

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There is something magical, mystical about being out in the woods on mornings like this, at least for me. The sounds, the smells, the crystal clear air. Everything seems more — more alive, more vibrant. With the brilliant greens now fading into browns and reds and dull orange, the woods begins to transform itself in that endless cycle of life, dormancy, rebirth…

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It becomes a place of wonder and takes on an almost spiritual quality. It makes you wish you were a poet because only a poet could adequately express what you are seeing in mere words.

But then time presses, and you have to leave and you know, hope, you will be back soon to feel that breathtaking beauty, the astonishing complexity of nature, that golden light…

IMG_0746Gads, after writing all that guff switching to this is going to be a jolt. Going from the beauty of nature to, well, to this… Yet another abandoned, collapsed barn. This one is just outside of town and it caved in about a month ago, and I decided to take a picture of it when I was out on the bike the other day.

It hurts when I see this happening, but it is happening more and more often. The whole countryside around here is dotted with abandoned barns in various states of collapse. I keep thinking of the pride, the hope, the joy the original farmers who put it up had as they watched the timber frame going up, the roof being put on, the side boards being nailed into place. A new home for their cattle, storage for the feed. The barn was the center of the farm, it’s heart.

But I know why it happens, why they are abandoned. Farming has changed drastically in the last few decades and these old barns are completely useless for modern farming. They’re the wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong, well, wrong everything when it comes to modern farming.

And they are incredibly expensive to try to maintain as well, and even more ridiculously expensive if you want to restore one. The wood they are made of was once so abundant it wasn’t worth much. Even if you could find a 10X10 oak beam these days, you couldn’t afford it. And the long, wide, solid wood boards the siding is made from? You can’t afford those, either. So they don’t get repaired because of the huge cost, and there’s no incentive to repair them in the first place because they aren’t useful any more. So they sit, empty, the roofs leaking, timbers rotting, boards falling off, until, at last, this happens.

The big, red barns that dominated the countryside around here are, within another few decades, going to mostly be gone except for the few that are being maintained by people who can afford to do it.

It’s sad, but at the same time it is, I suppose, natural evolution at work. I still wince and shake my head when I see it happening, but I know why it is happening. So there is a feeling of deep nostalgia, but understanding and acceptance as well. Life moves on.

 

Beautiful Mornings and Silliness

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We’ve had some breathtakingly beautiful mornings here recently, and I took full advantage of it, getting out on the bike whenever I could.

We had some very odd weather here recently. Well, to be fair, the weather all spring and summer was a bit odd. The summer was remarkably cool and wet, and when fall finally hit, that’s when it seemed summer finally arrived. We had mid to late September temperatures well into the high 80s and flirting with the mid 90s here away from the lake. We ran the air conditioning more in late September than we did in July and August put together.

But then things started to get back closer to normal with daytime temps around 60, and night temps down in the low 40s, which makes for great biking weather.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do when the weather starts getting really cold and the snow flies and I can’t get out on the bike. Back to pounding the treadmill I guess. Ick.

Banging Your Head On The Table Dept: Windigo Fest

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 6.58.03 AMThe city of Manitowoc, in its never ending quest to try to get someone, anyone, to come to town and spend some money, is putting on a Windigo Festival on Oct. 6-7. It looks like it could be a good time but I doubt if I’ll get over there because I have stuff on the schedule for both days.

But in a classic example of “why we can’t have nice things”, someone, of course, had to take offense at the town’s attempt to have some fun and drum up some business. Why? Because of, well, Satan apparently.

This person, who owns a very small and utterly insignificant shop in downtown where the festival is going to be held, has gone totally ballistic over this thing. Apparently the person harangued the city council for a considerable amount of time about how this festival was evil incarnate, was a satanic plot to corrupt the youth of the city, how it would lead to the evils of witchcraft and plunge the city into the corruption of sin, bring a host of demons down upon us, God would curse us and the Chicago Bears would beat the Packers…

Oh brother…

It gets worse. The “windigo” is, supposedly, a Native American monster of some sort that would run around and eat people. This person claims it is actually satan himself, and went on and on about satanic worship, demons, etc. for quite a while.

According to this person, pretty much everything about the fest is “satanic”.

The parade they’re going to have is running north to south down the street. That’s “satanic” because normally traffic runs from south to north. Exactly why having the parade route go in that direction is “satanic” is something I’m not really clear about. I mean I’ve read the Bible and I don’t really recall there being any verse that says “And lo, the City of Manitowoc shall route all traffic on Eighth Street from south to north, for routing traffic from north to south is the devil’s work”. And since 10th street two blocks over runs from north to south, does that mean 10th street is satanic and everyone who drives it worships the devil? They weren’t real clear about that one.

Even the dates of the festival are “satanic”. October 6 and 7? Yep, that’s satanic too, it seems. Six plus seven is thirteen, you see, and thirteen is the devil’s number.

The only reason I know about this is because the local paper decided to spend way, way too much time on this nonsense. And while I admit I found it mildly amusing, come on, really? This nonsense should have gotten exactly zero press coverage.

Anyway, if you go to the festival, make sure you say “hi” to Satan. He’s supposed to be hanging out over there. Haven’t seen him in a while. Last time I saw him was when he was in his guise as a state legislator and he sat down next to me at breakfast at a local restaurant.

Farm Catch Up

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so let’s take a look at what’s been happening in the farming world.

Dicamba Herbicide Fight Continues: The fighting over the new Dicamba blends of herbicides continues. BASF and Monsanto continue to argue that their newly approved blends of herbicides containing dicamba are completely safe and aren’t a problem at all, while the farmers who have had thousands of acres of soybeans ruined by the herbicide after it drifted long distances, argue that it isn’t safe for use.

Arkansas is pushing for a ban on all dicamba use except for those uses that were permitted before the new blends came on the market. The ban would last until October, 2018, and would halt the sale and use of both Monsanto and BASF’s new dicamba based products, and probably halt the sale of Monsanto’s dicamba resistant soybeans as well because if the herbicide can’t be used, there’s no point in paying a premium for Monsanto’s new beans, either.

Monsanto is, of course, not happy about any of this since they stand to lose millions of dollars in sales of both their herbicide and seed. The company is blaming anyone and anything for the problems that have been going on, claiming that there is no “scientific” basis for the ban, that “scientists” have discovered that even if their product does drift outside of the application area, it doesn’t really hurt anything anyway, that some of the experts testifying in favor of the ban are prejudiced against the company, blaming the people who apply the herbicide, blaming the equipment used.

It isn’t just Arkansas that’s having problems. In Missouri it’s estimated that up to 22% of the soybeans planted in the Bootheel area were damaged by dicamba drift, along with acres upon acres of tomato, watermelons, vineyards, pumpkins, organic vegetables and even trees, shrubs and people’s home gardens. The product isn’t just moving a few yards, in some cases there are indications the herbicide is drifting for miles according to the Missouri Extension weed specialist Kevin Bradley.

Farmland Partners Makes Major Buy: Farmland Partners is an investment company that buys up farmland for no reason other than to rent it to actual farmers. The company now has about 160,000 acres of farmland. They just bought over 5,000 acres of nut orchards for $110 million from Olam, a Singapore based company that ventured into the nut business.

My feelings about this kind of thing? I find it extremely concerning. Companies like this are, well, to put it bluntly, parasites. They insert themselves into the process, competing against actual farmers for a scarce resource, farmland. They artificially inflate demand for that resource, driving prices up. They rent the land back to the farmers at ever increasing prices because the shareholders demand ever increasing profits, and at the same time the company itself provides absolutely no value at all to the whole process. It exists only to skim off profits from the whole system while contributing nothing itself, while at the same time destabilizing the whole system and actually degrading its health through it’s manipulation of the market.

Seed Terminator: Combines are great at two things; harvesting wheat, corn, soybeans, Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 5.53.30 AMetc., and spreading weed seeds all over your fields. The problem is that a lot of weeds are coming ripe at around the same time as your crop. So when you combine your crop, you’re also combining the weeds and blowing the weed seeds out the back of the combine and scattering them all over the field. A lot of people have worked for a very long time on this problem, with various attempts at a solution.

This one which is now going into production it seems, adds a screening system and high speed flails that pulverizes the weed seeds before they get blown back onto the field. If you click the link up there you’ll jump to the article about it. Apparently it works pretty good, and I’m always in favor of anything that helps farmers reduce the need for herbicides.

The problem is that this puppy costs about $70,000. Even when we’re talking about combines that cost a quarter of a million dollars or more, that is a pretty significant amount of money. Is it worth it? No idea.

Pork Cheap, Beef getting more Expensive: Beef prices at the consumer level haven’t been all that good for some time now. Pork is almost ridiculously cheap right now. Pork futures have fallen like a stone since July, dropping some 30%. Pork bellies, where we get bacon from, dove straight into the dumper, falling 60%. Although I note that hasn’t helped the price of bacon in the store. That keeps going up and up, it seems.

Beef on the other hand… Sheesh. Prices on some cuts have moderated a bit, but not by much, and they’re claiming prices are going to go up significantly over the upcoming months. We generally buy a lot of beef from MrsGF’s brother and sister, but because of logistics issues they aren’t going to have any ready to go for probably a year now. So MrsGF and I are looking into seeing if we have enough freezer space to get a quarter or half of beef from the local butcher because we can get that dressed, cut, wrapped and frozen, for $3.90 a pound which is less than what hamburger is going for in the grocery stores around here.

Syngenta Lawsuit Settled: Syngenta, a seed company, was sued a while back over one variety of it’s corn. The corn, a GM variety, was heavily marketed by the company and a  lot of farmers planted it. Only to find that when it came time to actually sell their corn to China, the country rejected it because Syngenta allegedly hadn’t told told the farmers that China had not approved that type of corn for import. In addition, it was alleged that the company deliberately misled farmers by claiming the corn variety had been approved by China when it had not.

Farmers, grain shipping companies, etc. lost millions of dollars on the deal and sued. Syngenta claimed they had told them that China hadn’t approved it. Lots of lawyers paid for their kids’ college education out of this one, raking in millions in legal fees, and the final result is Syngenta and the plaintiffs are apparently now going to settle out of court. I haven’t heard yet what the settlement will be, but you can expect that the company is going to have to pay a huge amount of money to make this one go away.

Addendum: Just ran cross another story that had more details. Syngenta is apparently going to cough up $1.4 billion to make this lawsuit go away. The company already lost a $218 million jury trial to a group of Kansas farmers about three months ago. There are still lawsuits pending in Canada against the company that will not fall under this agreement and will be thrashed out in the Canadian courts.

The Great Hosta Experiment

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I love hostas. I have one whole garden in front of the house that’s almost all hostas, and have several others tucked away in odd corners. They come in all different sizes and leaf shapes, with foliage colors that range from yellow to dark blue-green, even variegated. They range in size from small, compact plants to bloody huge. Once they came into flower this year I was sitting on the front porch watching humming birds coming in to feed on them. They generally tolerate low light conditions well. They’re a great plant.

They get a bit pricey, though. Depending on where you buy them, the variety, the size of the plant, etc, you can spend anywhere from $8 for a common variety on a late season sale, up to $40 or even more for some varieties at some of the more trendy (i.e. expensive) nurseries.

I’d like to add about ten more plants to the front hosta garden to fill in holes, plus I’d like to put in another bed of hostas surrounding the old tree in the back yard to make it easier to mow the lawn back there. I’d probably be looking at a couple of hundred bucks in plants if I have to buy them.

IMG_0716So we’re going to try growing them from seed ourselves. Once the seed pods started to dry on the plants, we snipped them off and kept them in a dry place until the pods did this:

IMG_0718Once the pods split open like that after they’ve dried, it’s simple to get the actual seeds out. Just use a toothpick or similar pointed object to slip the seeds out of the dried pod into a container.

About twenty minutes of seed shucking resulted in a whole jar full (well, okay, it’s a tiny, tiny jar) of hosta seed for future experiments and hopefully a hole host of hostas (note the clever use of alliteration as your author pretends he knows what he’s doing).

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Don’t sneeze while you’re doing this. The seeds are very small, about the size of fly wings, and about the same shape, too, come to think of it. One sneeze and you’ll have hosta seed all over the house.

Hmm, wonder if I can grow hostas in pots in the windows during the winter? Now that could be fun. Maybe I’ll try that too. Now if I can talk MrsGF into letting me tear out the walls in the living room and replace them with floor to ceiling glass….

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 6.20.35 AMStill, it gives me something to do with all those dopey little empty pimento jars we have sitting around for some reason. Where do those even come from, anyway? I don’t remember ever even buying pimentos. I think people are breaking into the house and leaving empty jars here.

 

 

 

Strange Weather

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It may look like early fall, but it doesn’t feel like it. Temperatures are running into the mid to high 80s

While Wisconsin is known for it’s occasionally odd weather, this past year has been a bit much. Tomorrow is supposed to be the first day of autumn, but you sure can’t tell from the weather. Yesterday’s high here was 84, today’s high was 87, and it could push into the 90s with heat indexes approaching 100 by tomorrow and Saturday.

We take a perverse pride in our weather extremes. This is a state where it can be below zero one day, and in the 60s just 24 hours later. We rather like that. Gives us something to talk about because, when it comes down it, we’re rather boring people up here and we get kind of sick of talking about the Packers all the time.

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We got lucky. Storm damage was mostly limited to blown over plants and a lot of tree branches down.

We had nasty storms roll through here last night, too. I braved the heavy rain and wind to get outside with my wind meter and I was seeing gusts of up to 62 MPH. Nothing compared to what those poor people who’ve gotten hit by the hurricanes have had to endure, true. But for us this is pretty extreme. Especially at this time of year.

Then we got nailed by the rain. Here at the house we got 4 1/2 inches of rain in just two hours. It was very spotty, though. A short distance away they got almost nothing.

IMG_0707And the poor pear tree… Well, so much for the pears this year. We had a small yield to begin with. The storm seems to have stripped every single fruit off the poor tree. Nothing can really be salvaged, either. When they hit the ground they hit hard, and the fruit is generally ruined, smashed, burst open, and immediately the insects move in. So all we’re going to get this year are the couple of dozen we picked already. Seems like such a waste, but there isn’t anything to be done about it.

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