More Spring

The cactus we rescued from the town compost pile was immediately named Mr. Spiny, IMG_0156and much to our surprise he seemed to actually like being out doors and in the corner garden. He doesn’t look too good at the moment after this winter, but MrsGF tells me he’s going to be just find once the weather starts to warm up. I hope so. I’ve become rather fond of the thing.

Then there is this thing, which I do not like. It’s a pretty bush, I’ll admit that. But dear lord it’s nasty. It has some of the worst thorns I’ve ever had to deal with. They’re so sharp they go right through even my heavy leather welding gloves. I’d like to get rid of them but MrsGF likes ’em for some reason, and they’re on the north side of the house IMG_0159where it’s hard to get anything to grow anyway, so it looks like I’m going to be stuck with the damned things for another year.

I never have to worry about these guys. They just keep going, and going, and going…

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I don’t know what they actually live on. There’s no soil here, just rock.

I got myself seriously chastised the other day because I’ve had this dopey thing for about 4 years and in that time have only 3,200 miles on it.

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Odd, really. I put something like 13,000 miles on my BMW the first season I owned it. But as soon as I picked up the Goldwing, which is far more comfortable to drive than the BMW was, I seem to have lost interest in motorcycling. Strange.

Enough. It’s supposed to start raining this afternoon and I have a lot to get done yet today!

 

Spring Prep

I dug the tiller out of the garage this morning and started doing some work in some of IMG_0148the beds here. That old tiller… It is literally almost as old as I am, probably dates to about the early 1960s. It’s exactly like one we owned when I was a little kid. The dopey thing is the most reliable piece of equipment we own here. It just plain works, and always has. Pull it out of the garage, fill it with gas, check the oil, and pull the starter a couple of times and it starts. It’s an ancient Briggs engine, the brand name, Gilson, is put on with stickers, but the thing is built like a tank.

I’m afraid I was a bit sneaky. Every year MrsGF agrees that we really, really need to work up some of the long established beds because the soil has deteriorated so badly. But when I finally get the tiller out and start to actually do it, ah, well… This flower is so neat and it will come back again this year, and the cone flowers are going to come up there, and this plant is in there and she doesn’t want to do that. And to be fair, there are some nice plants in there, but in order to save those few nice plants, it means the ground is so bad in those areas we can’t plant anything else but weeds.

So I got her to agree to do it yesterday, and while she’s at work this morning I got out there quick and worked everything up before she could change her mind.

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This area here was first an herb garden, then we tried strawberries, which didn’t work that well because, well, the soil was so bad. So the oregano more or less took over everything except for one patch where the cone flowers had established themselves. It’s a fantastic spot, sheltered in the “L” of the house, with exposure to the south and west, so it’s warm, sunny, etc. But the soil… Oh dear lord it was bad in there. When we first put this bed in we hauled in a lot of compost and worked it in, but that was something like 20 years ago and nothing has been done in there since. The soil was so hard I had to go over it four times with the tiller.

We call this spot the Stump Garden because that’s what it was, originally. It was a big old stuIMG_0151mp when we bought the place about 20 years ago. We could have hired someone to come in and grind it out, but why pay good money for something like that? My solution was to build a retaining wall around it, fill it with dirt and compost, and plant stuff on top of it, my thinking being that sooner or later the stump will take care of itself by rotting away.

And it did, and in a remarkably short amount of time. Within about three years there was nothing left of it under the dirt. We decided we liked having a raised bed there, so we lowered the retaining wall a half foot or so and kept it in place. We’ve found this is an ideal place for growing lettuce. It’s well drained and in partial shade which helps keep the lettuce and greens from bolting. We re-seed it a couple of times during the summer so we have a constant supply of fresh salad greens well into the fall of the year.

IMG_0152The heart garden is called that because it’s sort of heart shaped. My only regret is that I didn’t make it bigger. Much bigger. Because I hate lawns. No excuse for lawns. None at all. I keep trying to kill mine off, but it keeps coming back no matter what. But I’m still working on it…

It’s not far from the herb garden area and I’m seriously considering linking the two up and turning it into the “Shapeless Blob” garden as an excuse to get rid of more grass.

This is another one that desperately needs work, but MrsGF was reluctant to let me work up because there were some plants in there she liked. Even though she told me to work it up last night, I suspect now that I’ve actually done it I’ll hear about it, especially if whatever I plant in there doesn’t work out well.

One year we put the entire thing in alyssum, a variety with an incredibly intense smell. When you’d walk out the back door of the garage the entire area was covered in this incredible scent. I’m tempted to do that again. Maybe. Not sure. The area is shaded from about noon on by our pear tree so whatever we put in there has to be able to deal with that.

Then there’s the garage garden, which is by the garage. Well, of course it would be, IMG_0149wouldn’t it. Garage. Garden… We really worked this one over last year. The soil was terrible in there. I covered the entire area with about six inches of compost and worked it in last year, and that has helped enormously. I have high hopes for this area this season.

 

 

Catching Up

Time to catch up again, so let’s get on with this, shall we?

Lots of stuff has been going on in the farming world, some of it unpleasant.

Canadian Milk Export Headaches

Grassland, a large milk processor, sent notices to 75 dairy farmers here in the state that the company will no longer accept their milk as of May 1, leaving the farmers scrambling to try to find someone, anyone, to buy the milk they’re producing. Over the last couple of

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Ooo, butter… Yummy yummy butter

weeks Canada has rejiggered its milk classification/pricing system which has effectively prevented Grassland from exporting up to 1 million pounds of milk a day to Canada, and apparently with only 2 days notice. Grassland had no choice but to notify the farmers that they could no longer buy their milk because the company has no way to sell it now. A lot of people in the US dairy industry are claiming that Canada’s actions are nothing but a way to try to curtail the imports of US dairy products and are actually illegal under international trade law. Where are those farmers going to go with their milk? I have no idea. This is a bad time of year to try to find a milk processing company because we’re about to enter into what’s known as the “spring flush”, when dairy cows normally begin to produce even more milk, so there’s going to be a glut of milk coming on the market as it is and few processors are looking for more.

Corn Finances are Wonky

A recent survey by the Farm Journal indicates that the average cost of raising a bushel of corn for most farmers is about $3.69 per bushel. Corn briefly flirted with the 3.70 range for a while, but mostly it’s been in the 3.50 – 3.65 range for months and months now. It makes one wonder why anyone bothers to raise corn in the first place. Granted, some have lower costs than that and do make a bit of money off the crop, but still.

Sometimes the farming business reminds me of the old joke about the two guys from Milwaukee who decided to go into the fruit business. They bought a truck, ran down to Georgia and bought a load of peaches for $1 a pound, and came back to Milwaukee to sell them at $1 a pound. When they realized they hadn’t made any money on the deal and were trying to figure out why, one of them looks at the other and says “I know! We need to get a bigger truck.”

Some days I feel like the entire agricultural system is being run by those two…

Chickpeas

love chickpeas, or garbanzo beans as they’re sometimes called. I use them in salads, soups, but they’re mostly known for their use in hummus and in middle eastern cooking. A member of the legume family, they’re tasty, very nutritious and high in protein and, well, they’re just yummy and very useful in most types of cooking.

Chickpea planting in the US has more than doubled since 2013. We’re only planting about a half million acres, almost insignificant when compared to corn and soy acres, but interest in the chickpea has been climbing steadily. They’re being grown mostly in the north western states. Farmers are always looking for an alternative to low profit crops like corn and wheat, and right now chickpeas look pretty good, profit wise. They aren’t that easy to grow, though, mostly because they’re susceptible to disease. But the prices have gone up about 23% over the last year, and with consumption and interest increasing, and farmers looking to try to find some way to make a profit, I won’t be surprised if acres planted keeps on growing significantly.

Butter Butter Everywhere

Butter consumption in the US is at 50 year record high, and there seems to be no end in sight. Butter price is one of the few bright spots in the dairy industry right now, with the price creeping up despite a decrease in butter exports and an increasing stockpile sitting in warehouses. Wholesale prices for butter were pushing $2.23 at one point and have only declined a few cents since then, despite increases in milk production.

Butter has become a marketing tool for a lot of food companies. A lot of restaurants, even the fast food ones, are switching out margarine in favor of butter, and a lot of companies that make processed foods are now hyping that they’re using real butter instead of margarine or vegetable oils.

Why this increase in demand for butter? Part of the reason is that dairy products are no longer linked to increases in cholesterol levels. Over the last five or eight years new studies indicated that contrary to previous beliefs, moderate consumption of fats from dairy products seems to have little or no effect on cholesterol levels. And there have even been some studies that indicate moderate consumption of full-fat dairy products may even have some health benefits.

Another thing that’s been driving an increase in butter consumption is that it’s been found that hydrogenated vegetable oils, long the primary ingredient in most margarines, are utterly horrible for you, health wise, causing significant increases in risk of heart disease and other problems.

But despite all of that, we’re still producing way too much milk. In many areas of the country there isn’t even the plant capacity to handle all of the milk being produced. There are reports of milk being dumped or being used for animal feeds in some states. With the ‘spring flush’ now arriving, a lot of milk processing plants are at full capacity already. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to milk prices over the next month or two.


Amateur Radio Stuff

If you’re interested in agriculture and don’t give a fig about AR, you can stop reading now if you like.

QRZ

Just got the notice that my subscription to QRZ.com is about to expire. QRZ is known as being the place to go if you’re looking for information about a particular call sign, want to buy or sell radio equipment or if you’re a grouchy old fart who likes to complain a lot, hang out in the forums and, well, complain a lot. Most people just use it as a way to easily look up information about an amateur radio operator. If you have the person’s call sign, you can find names, addresses and other information about them on QRZ’s database. You don’t absolutely need to be a paid subscriber, but it’s helpful. It gets rid of the annoying advertising, gives you access to things the freeloaders don’t see, that kind of thing. You get your own web page, email, log book and other goodies. It’s not an essential service by any means, but it is indeed handy to have.

Just stay out of the forums unless you have a thick skin.

Terminology

The other day someone I was talking to remarked that I never, ever use the terms “ham” or “elmer”. And they are right, I don’t. While the term “ham” when used to refer to an

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A ham. Not an amateur radio operator

amateur radio operator has been in common use for probably a hundred years, that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I have no real desire to be referred to by a term that means “cured pig meat” to 99% of the population of the country. Am I being ridiculous? Pedantic? Of course I am. Don’t care.

I also loathe the term “elmer” when used to describe describe someone who assists a newcomer to amateur radio learn about the technology.

Now, before you go off the deep end and launch into a rant down in the comments section about the tradition behind the term “elmer”, I understand that “elmer” refers to a very nice fellow who once helped newcomers to the hobby learn about it. I’m sure he was a very nice person. He was an utterly delightful and nice fellow I’m sure.

But I don’t care. There is already a perfectly

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An Elmer. Not a mentor.

good term for that: mentoring. And to be perfectly frank, the term “elmer” is not exactly complimentary outside of the amateur radio community. It refers to the character Elmer Fudd from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. An “elmer” for a large percentage of the population is a person who resembles Elmer Fudd, someone who is a bumbling, idiotic fool. It is not a complimentary term.

Use both terms if you wish. I don’t care. I won’t object or even comment. But as far as I’m concerned, a mentor is a mentor, not an “elmer”. An amateur radio operator is an amateur radio operator, not processed pig meat.

Signs of Spring

Despite the cold, rainy weather we’ve been seeing signs of spring outside in the gardens as a few things start to peek their heads up out of the leaf litter, mulch and debris left by the winter.

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Not the best photos in the world but I took these with the iPhone 7. I’ve only had it for about three weeks and I haven’t used it much for photography and I’m still trying to get used to it’s quirks.

It’s certainly better than the camera in the iPhone 6 was, but it’s still not even close to what something like a, oh, a mid-range Nikon or Cannon pocket sized camera could do for about a third of the price.

And unless I’m doing something wrong, the iPhone camera has some rather serious, for me anyway, issues. The color seems off to me. Color rendition actually seems worse than it was with the iPhone 6. Photos seem darker than they should be except under bright sunlight. The autofocus is constantly changing as it struggles to try to find something to focus on when taking closeups.

I’ve seen some spectacular photography that was done with the iP7, but I’m beginning to wonder how many of those photos were taken under ideal, artificial conditions or even had considerable post processing done to them. If I can work up enough ambition I should go out with the good camera and take side by side photos with both the Fuji and the iP7 so I can compare them side by side.

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This image was taken with the Fuji. I wish you could see it full size because the detail is so good at full resolution it would more than fill your entire screen and is so sharp you can count the hairs on the bee’s legs. And the Fujifilm camera I use isn’t exactly a high end camera/lens system and has been out of production for a few years now.

I suppose it comes down to the lens system being used. I don’t care what kind of optical systems they develop for these phone cameras, it comes down to basic physics. A lens that’s not much bigger than the head of a match isn’t going to produce results as good as what I get with something like my Fuji’s macro/zoom lens.

Catching Up

Catching up with what happened this past week.

Sleep

As in I wish I could. I occasionally suffer from insomnia and it’s been pretty bad the last Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 10.20.56 AMfew days. I’m not sure why. Which is why I’m writing this at two in the morning instead of being asleep. I know, I’ll try looking at photos of, oh, blossoming apple trees. That will put me to sleep!

Ah, well, apparently not. Didn’t work. Still it’s a really pretty tree.

Spring!

Spring is coming! I hope. Getting so tired of cold, wet weather, and especially the lack of sun. So I’m going to drop in some photos of spring and summer flowers in an attempt to lure spring a bit closer.

Agriculture Secretary Hearings

The senate ag committee hearings and questioning of the administration’s nominee

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Sunny Flower, not Sonny Perdue

Sonny Perdue finally took place on March 23. Unlike the hearings for most of the administration’s nominees, this one was relatively short, cordial and even pleasant for the most part. Mr. Perdue is perhaps the least controversial nominee put forward by the administration. He is also unusual in that he actually seems to know something about the agency he would be running.

Brazil Beef Scandal

The government of Brazil arrested 38 people involved in an alleged scam where inspectors were bribed to permit rotten and tainted beef to be passed for sale at a beef exporters JBS

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Wouldn’t you rather look at chive flowers than diseased beef? I know I would.

and BRF. Several countries have instituted temporary bans against beef imports from Brazil. Here in the US some government officials are calling for a ban as well but there is none as yet. USDA says it is stepping up inspection of meat coming from the country. But USDA also certified Brazil’s inspection system as being as good as that here in the US, so who knows…

Addendum: Since the US was forced to repeal the Country Of Origin Labeling law (known as COOL) US consumers no longer have any idea where their food comes from. But there is nothing to prevent beef processors, wholesalers, etc. from doing it voluntarily.

The Great Water Fight

It seems to have slipped under the radar of most media, but there is a rather nasty (and expensive) fight going on between the state of Mississippi and the city of Memphis, Tennessee. At the core of the fight is the question of exactly who owns the water being pumped out of wells.

Memphis sits on the Mississippi river but gets it’s water from wells that draw from the

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I wish I could remember where I took this picture

Memphis Sand Aquifer that stretches under Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. And like most aquifers, water is being pulled out of the ground far faster that it is being replaced.

Back in 2005 Mississippi demanded that Memphis pay for the water it was withdrawing from the aquifer, claiming that the city was actually sucking up Mississippi water. The state is demanding over $600 million from the city.

This has been dragged through the courts ever since, with Mississippi losing at every level. But now the state of Tennessee has been dragged into the case as well giving it new life, and it’s going to the Supreme Court.

This case has the potential of setting off a hornet’s nest of problems if the SC rules in favor of Mississippi. It could cause major legal problems wherever large aquifers are used for water supplies and could even extend into international disputes. it will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

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There, now I’m going to try to get some sleep!

 

Who’s Fault Is It?

Farmers in 10 states can join a possible class action lawsuit against Monsanto over the illegal use of dicamba that damaged their crops because of tine introduction of the company’s Xtend line of GM crops that are immune to the herbicide. AgWeb has a story about it here if you want to take a peek.

Source: Farmers File Class Action Against Monsanto for Dicamba Drift Damage | Agweb.com

The situation is a bit complicated so let me explain what’s going on.

A lot of weeds are becoming resistant to RoundUp and its generic equivalents. Dicamba is an herbicide that has been in use for quite a while already to fight broadleaf weeds, but it wasn’t used in this type of application because it was also toxic to the crops until Monsanto came out with it’s Xtend line which is resistant to it as well as glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp. Monsanto’s plan was to market Xtend seeds along with a new herbicide that blended dicamba with glyphosate in order to deal with weeds that were resistant to glyphosate alone.

The problem comes in because Monsanto started selling the Xtend seed before the new herbicide blend was approved for use by the government.

This is an important point. Dicamba is nasty stuff to work with. It vaporizes very easily while it is being applied, and the vapors can drift for long distances even on a relatively calm day, killing or damaging plants in fields far beyond the field being sprayed. The new herbicide blend contained dicamba in a form that was not as volatile and was safer to use as long as it was applied correctly with the right equipment. The new blend would help to prevent the herbicide drifting.

Even though the new herbicide wasn’t available, Monsanto started selling Xtend seed anyway. And you can see what’s coming, can’t you?

That’s right; now that they had a dicamba resistant seed, some growers drenched their fields with regular dicamba, ignored the application warnings and restrictions, and ended up with herbicide drifting all over the place causing damage to crops in the adjacent fields of other farmers. I’ve heard estimates that the amount of damage caused by drift is as high as 200,000 acres.

Oh, at least one murder that I know of. Yeah. Seriously. They actually shot someone over herbicide drift.

So, as the headline asks, whose fault is it?

The suit claims it’s Monsanto’s fault. They should not have released the new seeds into the market until the new herbicide designed to go with it was ready to go as well. They should have known that some growers would abuse the system and use dicamba herbicides off-label and illegally as soon as they had their hot little hands on the new seeds.

Monsanto says wait just a minute, we didn’t spray the stuff. We warned them not to, and to wait until the new herbicide was ready to go. It’s their fault, not ours.

The other side counters that any rational person should have realized that if the seed was put on sale without the herbicide some growers would use the unapproved and dangerous form of the herbicide…

And so it goes around, and around, and around. This will probably be lurching through the court system for years…

So what is the answer to that question up there? Whose fault is it?

This is one of those situations where I think both sides have a valid point. As Monsanto claims, it did not do the spraying. It’s recommendations for use indicated that Xtend seeds were to be used only with approved herbicides and approved application techniques. Once it sold the seed, it has no control over what the growers do afterwards.

On the other hand, why put seed up for sale where the primary benefit of using it is to enable the use of a herbicide that was not yet legal to use? Monsanto knew there was no reason to buy the new seed unless the growers were going to make use of the seeds capability of withstanding dicamba…

What do I think about all of this? My issues with the whole thing are at a more fundamental level. I think we’ve become locked into methods of food production that are basically unsustainable over the long haul.

And we know that. We know that eventually herbicides are going to fail. They just are. We can’t keep up this endless cycle of having to develop new and ever more toxic herbicides as the old ones fail. It’s the same with insect control. The insect population eventually becomes resistant, and we have to start all over again. BT corn is a good example of this as the insects that are controlled by BT become resistant and begin to spread, and within a few more years we are going to have a root worm problem that was just as bad, if not worse, than it was before BT corn was introduced.


Side Note: I’m going to start trying to move away from talking about agriculture so much in the future. I’m not involved in the business any more, sold the farm a couple of years ago, so why do I still go babbling on and on and on about it when there are other things I’m interested in?

But then I’ve told myself that before and I keep coming back to it for some reason. Oh, well.

I’m going to try to push this onto other things I’m interested in; amateur radio and electronics, amateur astronomy, building furniture and fiddling with wood, photography…

This was never intended to be focused on a single topic in the first place, so I’m going to try to get back to that.