Photos From The Backroads and a New Bike

The new bike, a Specialized Vado
That’s my Giant 24 speed. That turned out to be a heck of a good bike. Aside from a few broken spokes and replacing the tires when necessary it’s worked perfectly for thousands of miles.

The new bike first: When I started bicycling when I retired it surprised the family a lot. They all figured the bike I bought would end up gathering dust in the garage. Here we are several thousand miles later and I’m still at it, and it was time to replace my old bike with something a bit better, and that’s it up in the first photo. It’s a Specialized Vado and it is very, very nice. Hydraulic disc brakes, built in lights, great front suspension, a fancy built in computer system, a cargo carrier on the back I can strap stuff to. And best of all, a motor.

Yes, it’s an ebike. I still have to pedal, I still get my heart and respiration rates up, I still get back from a long ride with my legs pleasantly tired. I have the thing set up so I do most of the work but when I get to a steep hill the motor gives me a boost to help me get up the hill, or gives me an extra burst of speed to get away from dogs that want to eat me. I’m no spring chicken. I’m sixty-eight this year and while I’m in pretty good shape I’ve been getting twinges in my knees trying to power up hills and I’ve been having to drop down a gear or two to get up ’em.

The Vado is, frankly, amazing. And it is well suited to the type of riding I do which is, I must admit, pretty leisurely. I make a lot of stops to take photos and I’m out there not so much to get exercise but to enjoy nature. I watch birds and animal life, look at the vegetation, watch the sun coming up, stop to take pictures and that kind of thing. The Vado is perfect for me. I’ve had it for about a week and I have over a hundred miles on it now and I love it. I did a twenty mile ride the other day that would have left me exhausted on the other bike. I’ll take a closer look at the Vado later after I’ve lived with it a while long.

When I’m out on the road on the bike I’m constantly stopping to take photos of stuff I find interesting, things that you don’t see when you’re zooming past at sixty mph, so here are a few.

I live about a 4 mile ride away from an extensive trail system. It runs more than 20 miles north all the way to Green Bay, and from a little town called Forest Junction it also branches off to the east to the town of Brillion. This is the trail that runs to Brillion.

These grow wild in the ditches all over around here and I suspect most people don’t even see how beautiful they are because they’re zooming past at 80 mph or too busy trying to text, talk on the phone and eat a cheeseburger at the same time.
I found this stunning flower growing along the side of one of the trails. I took about a dozen photos of it from different angles.
This is another “weed” that grows all over around here. But up close it has one of the prettiest flowers I’ve ever seen.
I’d stopped at a small parking area for a nature reserve to get a drink and found this lonely little guy hiding in the tall grass. I thought it was one of the loveliest things I’d seen. There’s something about the symmetry of those petals surrounding that central pod that I found very striking.
And of course I had to include queen anne’s lace. The stuff grows everywhere in the ditches along the roads around here. Those intricate little flowers that make up that lace like structure are amazing.
Another “weed” you’ll find growing along the roads around here.
A thistle, one of several varieties that grow around here. They’re considered a “noxious weed” around here but the flowers are this rich purple-lavender color and so beautifully delicate that I find myself photographing them a lot.

This is, I think a verbascum or mullein. Maybe. My father called it wild tobacco which seems to be a fairly common name for it. When I was a kid I’d see this stuff all over the place. On the farm it would grow along the makeshift roads we had around the farm to access the fields and sometimes along cattle trails. It can be a spectacular plant, growing up to three or four feet tall.
This is the river down by the old stone bridge and that white thing you see out there is a pelican. I watched this guy swimming around feeding for several minutes.

And that’s it for this time. Hope you enjoyed the photos.

BTW: You’re more than welcome to leave comments in the comments section. Or you can reach me at old.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com.

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.

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…

Drought Is Over (at least for now), Gardens Going Crazy And a B Movie?

The drought, at least for us here in east central Wisconsin, is over following a week or so of pleasantly damp and relatively cool weather. We got some significant rainfall that’s kick started everything out in the gardens. Unfortunately that also includes weeds, but that’s the way it goes.

We don’t have a lot of raspberry plants, just a fairly small corner of the garden behind the garage. They’re so loaded with fruit this year we had to put up support posts with twine to hold the dopy things up. They’re just starting to ripen right now. This is probably the best crop of berries we’ve had since we put them in a few years ago. We won’t get a lot, but we don’t need a lot. I’m not supposed to eat them because of the seeds, but I can’t help but snagging a handful when I’m working outside. They’re beautiful this year, and sweeter than usual as well.

MrsGF and I both love beets but we’ve had trouble growing them. This year we decided to fill one of the raised beds with them and wow, that worked amazingly well. They’re about 1.5 – 2.5 inches across now and we’ve been harvesting them periodically for over a week now. We just clean them, throw them in a pot, bring them to a boil and then simmer for a few minutes, then plunge into cold water. That lets us slip that outer skin off easily and they’re ready to either freeze or cook up for dinner. They are so good when they’re fresh. Much richer, sweeter flavor. Mostly we just simmer them in water until tender and top off with a bit of salt and pepper. We both love harvard style with a sweet sour sauce as well, but these are so good you don’t need a sauce to perk them up.

We have one bed that’s just assorted peppers. I didn’t think these were ever going to amount to much. They looked healthy enough but just weren’t growing. But now that we’ve had the rainy weather they’ve started to take off. They’ve almost doubled in size in the last 10 days and are starting to blossom. We eat a lot of them fresh off the plants during the season, but most end up diced up and frozen for use during the rest of the year. They get used in tomato sauces, egg dishes, chili, curry, etc. I’m hoping we’ll have enough that I can put up a few pints of pickled peppers as well. I wish I could tell you exactly what’s all planted in there, but not even MrsGF remembers what she all planted in that bed. Which is okay. They all taste good.

Speaking of peppers, I have two jalapeno plants in pots on the front porch again this year. I only grow two because I’m the only one who seems to like them. Last year I put in a ‘no heat’ variety that they claimed tasted like jalapeno but didn’t have the heat. That was sort of true? Kind of? They did taste like jalapeno peppers and they were a bit milder, but I thought they were lacking a bit in flavor. This year I put in normal jalapenos and as you can see they’re starting to fruit. I picked a few for use over the 4th holiday when we had our sons over for a picnic. I’ve been eating them diced up in things like omelets or thinly sliced on a burger. I think they’re delicious. They are definitely not mild but I didn’t think they were that hot until I got my eldest son to try one and he nearly went through the roof. He loves spicy food but he turned bright red, started gasping and had to go walk it off. So a couple of observations. First, apparently I can handle hot peppers a hell of a lot better than I thought I could. Second, I’ve now been told by people who know these things that these peppers are really, really hot, a lot hotter than a normal jalapeno should be. So I’m going to need to be really careful with these when I cook with them so I don’t end up with MrsGF throwing things at me when she recovers from eating them.

The tomatoes have gone absolutely bonkers. In the last two weeks they’ve just about tripled in size and if you could peek in there you’d see dozens of tiny green tomatoes. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing them coming ripe in a week or two the way they’re going. BTW, there are only 3 plants in that bed up there. I am really glad we didn’t put in more.

It’s hard to see now but there are onions all the way around the edge of that bed. We’ve been doing that for a few years now, sort of double cropping. The onions get a head start and get fairly mature before the main crop in the bed gets big enough to compete with them, and by that time the onions are big enough to hold their own and keep growing slowly through the season.

Why grow our own onions when they’re so cheap in the store? Flavor, of course. Most of the commercial onions are decent, but they just don’t have the intensity of flavor that our home grown ones have.

Those are wax beans in front, with some squash plants in the back. The perspective of this photo is kind of weird. The leaves on those squash plants back there are literally as large as dinner plates or even larger.

This is our “super” garden. It is in a corner of the house where the living room meets the kitchen, and faces south and west. We’ve put hundreds of pounds of compost in this garden over the years and that, together with the good drainage and protected, sunny location generally means things grow like crazy in there. And this year is no exception.

Those beans… Dear lord, what are we going to do with all those beans? There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of flowers on those bean plants in there. If half of those turn into beans we could probably fill up the entire freezer with the things. We love wax beans but I suspect we’re going to end up giving away half of these to anyone who’ll take ’em because we’ll never be able to eat all of these.

We also have pole beans in another bed and those look like they’re going to be just as crazy as the wax beans. That’s only about six bean plants in there. Sheesh…

We were only going to put in two cucumber plants because I’m the only one who really likes cukes. The seeds MrsGF planted out here didn’t sprout so she bought a few plants at a local nursery and put those in. And then, of course, the seeds sprouted as well, so it looks like we’re going to have an overabundance of cucumbers as well.

MrsGF is trying to grow blueberries because, well, why not, eh? We had two originally and haven’t had a lot of success with them though. First because we stuck them in a poor location, and when we transplanted them to a better location one didn’t survive so she bought another one. Then the original survivor had some kind of rust that was covering the leaves. We trimmed all of the infected branches off and didn’t think it would survive, but it did and looks pretty healthy. And the new one that we put in this spring has actual fruit on it. Not a lot but heck, even a few dozen berries is better than none.

On the decorative side of things we have these cute little dwarf sunflowers coming up now. along with a few other types in there including one variety that is such a dark purple it looks almost black.

The hot, dry weather didn’t do the hostas any good this year. The poor things look pretty beat up. They usually don’t start looking this poorly until September. Still they’re hanging in there and coming into flower which will hopefully attract the humming birds. I’ve seen a few humming birds but for some reason they aren’t coming to the feeder. I think they had a nest somewhere out back because I’d see them buzzing around back there, but I haven’t seen them for a while now.

Finally, how about a bee video because without bees none of this would even be possible.

Catch Up: Gardening, Flowers, Hollowing Tool, Logo Designs and Stuff

We’ve been getting rain! The drought finally seems to be over. We’ve received several inches of rain over the last week and will be getting more today. Things were getting bad, and not just for home gardeners like me. We’ve had enough rain now that the plants have completely turned around and things are actually starting to look lush out there. The tomatoes have tripled in size and in full blossom. We even have some baby tomatoes on them already. The squash are growing so fast you can almost see the vines getting longer. We have baby cucumbers developing. The raspberries are probably going to be ripe in a week or so. Wow, it’s amazing what a bit of rain can do.

Baby cucumber

The color on the lilies has been almost breathtaking this year.

The warm, damp weather has really jump started the tomatoes. They look beautiful this year.

The raspberries are so loaded with fruit this year MrsGF had to put posts with string to rest the canes on because the weight of the fruit was bending them in half and snapping off the canes. I’ve never seen that happen before.

Anyway, as you can see the gardens here have been doing very, very well of late. Yes, we were watering everything carefully during the drought and keeping an eye on soil moisture and all of that, but for whatever reason artificial irrigation never seems to give the same results as natural rainfall, at least not for me. Even though I was sure the plants were getting adequate water, once it started raining everything just started going crazy.

Possible Logo

I’m going to (well, maybe) start selling some of my wood stuff. I got an account with Etsy now, but haven’t gotten around to actually putting anything up for sale over there, and I’m thinking of putting up a separate set of pages here to showcase a few things for sale. Don’t worry, none of that will appear here in the blog except for a link to the sales site. I’m not going to spam you or anything like that.

But I needed to come up with a name for this for Etsy, and a logo or something to mark the bowls. Most of my bowls have a 2 1/8 inch mortise (basically a shallow hole) in the bottom. This is how I attach them to the lathe with a four jaw chuck. I like using a mortise rather than a tenon because unlike a protruding tenon which has to be removed, I can leave the mortise in place. That means that if something goes wrong with the finish or something else happens, I can easily reattach the piece to the lathe to rework it or refinish it. And as for the remaining hole, I thought why not use it for a logo? I got these thin, 2″ wooden disks which work really well with the laser engraver, so I came up with a name and logo that looks pretty good when burned into the disk.

One of the experiment logo tests

Then just glue the disk into the mortise on the bottom of the bowl. I’m not sure if this is going to be the final version, but so far I’m fairly satisfied with it.

Hollowing Tool

One of the issues I’ve run into with wood turning is dealing with objects that aren’t actual bowls, but instead are what are generally called “hollow form vessels”, things like, well, this one down below here.

This thing is supposed to be hollow, and it is. Sort of. Kinda. But not much. I ran a 2″ hole into it with a forstner bit and then fiddled around with the tools I had to try to hollow it out, but it’s a damned poor job because trying to reach in there to hollow it out without damaging the small opening and without hurting myself is a pain in the neck, even with special tools. I have tools that claim they are for hollowing out forms like this, and for whatever reason they just don’t work well for me. I see guys on YouTube doing this stuff effortlessly. How the heck do they do that? I’ve tried using their techniques and tools and what I’ve ended up with is dangerous catches, broken bowls, broken tools, and a real mess.

So I spent way more money than I wanted to for this:

This is the “Simple Hollowing System” from Harrison Specialties. Harrison markets a line of lathe tools under the “Simple Woodturning” brand. I have some of their carbide tools and they are very, very good indeed. This system is supposed to make it relatively easy to hollow out even something like the bowl in that photo up there. This version comes with just about everything you need, including the system itself, the tools, cutters and even a laser guide system to prevent you from accidentally cutting through the side of a bowl as it is being hollowed out.

As you can see I haven’t even had a chance to set it up yet because it’s been so busy here, but hopefully I’ll be able to give it a try in the next week or two and I’ll talk about it then. I also want to cover the laser engraver in some detail as well in the future. So keep an eye out for both of those coming up.

Car Stuff

Let’s see, what else… Oh, almost forgot. I sold the Corvette. It was a very, very nice car, it was huge fun, but, well, even I had to admit that it wasn’t exactly practical. Basically it was a vehicle that I could only use about 5 months of the year, was a two seater, had very little cargo space. Oh, and did I mention that new tires for that thing were $500? Each. Yeah, it was over $2,000 to put a set of four tires on it because it ran high tech, high speed, run flat racing tires.

I bought, heaven help me, a Buick. Yeah, a Buick. It’s an Envision Avenir which is, according to Buick, at least, “the highest expression of Buick luxury” available. Here’s a photo swiped from Buick’s website because I’m too lazy to go out to the garage and take a picture of mine at the moment.

And I really, really like it. Well, of course I do or I wouldn’t have bought it. Duh.

The list of options on this thing runs two full pages of small type. Emergency braking systems (which I tested the first day I had it. Neighbor’s dog ran in front of the car when I drove into my driveway and the car stopped itself before I could even get my foot off the gas pedal. Wow), lane divergence warnings and even steering. Apparently if you wander outside your lane on the freeway the thing will actually steer itself back into the center of the lane you’re in. Automatic headlights, automatic cruise control that slows down or speeds up itself to match traffic, a 360 degree camera system along with radar systems to assist with parking. I won’t go into the whole list because it’s a bit ridiculous, really. Bumper to bumper warranty that covers everything, and I mean everything. With the package I got even the interior fabrics are covered. Tears, burns, stains, paint chips… All covered. Sheesh…

This thing is very, very nice. I absolutely love it.

And there’s another reason I went with it. It’s four wheel drive with good ground clearance. The roads here in Wisconsin are utterly horrible and getting worse every day. We have one of the worst maintained highway systems in the country. The roads around here are so bad you’re risking doing serious damage to your car if it doesn’t have enough ground clearance to get through the pot holes, cracks, gravel patches and other garbage we have to contend with. The Buick can deal with that a lot better than the Vette.

Why are our roads so bad? Go talk to our state legislature if you want the answer to that one. They can find billions to pay for building new freeways down around Milwaukee that no one wants, but they can’t find the money to maintain the highways, roads and bridges we already have. Those multi billion dollar freeway expansion projects are done by huge corporations that funnel enormous amounts of money into the campaign funds and PACs of our dear legislators down there in Madison. Meanwhile most road maintenance is done by local governments and small contractors who don’t have any influence at all with the legislature.

Let’s see, what else… I’m hoping to actually go fishing this year. Maybe. Every year I get my Conservation Patron license. That is an all inclusive license offered in Wisconsin that covers just about everything you can legally fish or hunt for in the state. At first glance it seems expensive, but when you consider that it includes almost everything, it is actually cheaper and more convenient than trying to get individual licenses. So I get the license every year and generally end up doing, well, nothing, because I don’t have the time. Spring turkey season came and went this year before I even remembered I had a spring turkey permit. Sigh… I think I went fishing exactly twice last year, and once so far this year.

I don’t deal with leisure time very well, I’m afraid. Heck, I’m retired for pete’s sake. I don’t need to constantly be doing something practical. But every time I start planning to go fishing there’s this little voice in the back of my head that’s saying things like “you know you really should be weeding the gardens, not wasting your time with this”, or “you should be spending your time finishing that jewelry box you started last week not sitting along a river waiting to catch a fish and wasting your time.”

Anyway, that’s it for now…

Tree, Spring Photos, Garden Tour, And Stuff

I’m not going to miss this tree too much. It’s been shedding limbs every time we get a 20 mph wind for years now.

The only big old tree we have left on the property is going to have to come down. I’m sad about that but it has to go because it’s rotting out from the top down where two of the major branches of the canopy come together. If we don’t take it down soon it will come down itself and quite possibly do some serious damage. So that will be coming down probably in August. That’s going to mean some big changes in the gardens around here. That tree is massive and it shades out a huge area which always meant what we could grow back there was seriously restricted because of the shade.

Right now I’m thinking of putting in another decorative feature like this one:

MrsGF looked at me like I was nuts when I first proposed it, but then she thought about it for a moment and said sure, why not. Neither of us want to end up with just a big area of nothing but grass back there. So we’ll see. Putting in that feature up there with the retaining wall blocks and all that was a hell of a lot of work and it wasn’t exactly cheap. I think I have about a thousand bucks sunk into that one garden when the costs of the retaining wall blocks, rock, plants and everything else is added up.

The two new raised vegetable beds are doing quite well. One of these days we’re going to get around to building a brick/stone wall around these to make them more decorative looking, but that’s in the future. We have three tomatoes in one, surrounded by onions, and pole beans and more onions in the other.

I highly recommend raised beds for vegetables. They work really well, are easy to keep weed free, easy to tend the soil, the height tends to discourage animals from getting into them. The biggest drawback is that they dry out rather fast and they need to be watered almost every day. Especially this spring because we haven’t had a decent rain in, well, a month or more, I think. It has been an exceptionally dry spring here.

The other two raised beds are doing well also. One has a variety of pepper plants in it. You can see that the plants have #10 cans with the bottoms cut out surrounding them. Those will be coming off this week yet. The cans are a great way to give the plants protection when they’re first transplanted into the garden. The other bed is all beets with more onions planted around the outside. We really, really like beets. We like ’em roasted, sliced, pickled, etc. They freeze pretty well also so we figure we’ll have enough to hold us through the winter with all of these.

Mr. Spiny, our pet cactus is still doing fantastic along the foundation wall. It’s hard to tell in this photo but there are three other cactus off to the left, started from pads we took off Mr. Spiny and stuck in the ground. The soil right along that wall is absolutely horrible and normally almost nothing will grow there. The cactus seem to love it, though. Makes a great conversation piece because people can’t believe that a cactus will thrive here in Wisconsin for some reason, even though Wisconsin does have some native cactus, including this one. There are some other types that are hardy here as well. You don’t need to live in the southwest to have cactus in your gardens.

If you want to grow your own, go for it. I will warn you that in early spring they will look absolutely horrible and you’ll think it’s dead. At least this one does. It’ll be laying flat on the ground, the pads looking all brownish and nasty. It isn’t, though. Once the weather gets a bit better the pads begin to turn green again and start filling out again.

The hosta garden in the front of the house came through the winter quite well and is looking pretty good. They still haven’t reached full size yet but will be getting there pretty soon at the rate they’re growing.

And then the flowers – holy cow have we got flowers this year!

Other Stuff

Yes, I’m still doing the wood turning thing. Below is a tiny little bowl I cranked out the other day from a piece of scrap walnut I had laying around. It’s only about 3 inches wide and 2 inches tall. Cute little thing. Useless for just about anything, but cute.

This one down below is a rework. This was a rosewood bowl that started to show microcracks on the surface about a week or so after I made it. So I put it back on the lathe the other day and reworked it.

It turned out that the cracks were surface defects that only extended a few millimeters into the body of the bowl. So I reshaped the bowl, put on a finish, and we’ll see what happens this time.

My experience with rosewood has been puzzling. I’ve made four pieces with Indian rosewood, and three of them exhibited what I’ve been calling microcracks, very, very thin, sometimes lengthy cracks that do not follow the grain of the wood and seem to be confined to the surface of the wood. I’m not sure why, either. The wood was dry and stable, didn’t exhibit any other defects. Someone said that rosewood is very oily and that perhaps the oils were evaporating from the surface causing the wood to shrink, and I suppose that’s possible. We’ll see what happens with this one.

Solar Power, Lathes, Bats and Snakes

I don’t recommend equipment here unless it is something I bought and use myself and I find genuinely good. That’s the case with this, the Rocksolar battery and folding solar panel. I finally had a chance to give the Rocksolar battery pack and solar panel a good workout the other day and the whole package worked quite well. MrsGF was gone for the day and I was bored so I set up the FT-818 up on the front porch with the mag loop antenna, running off the Rocksolar battery, and tried making contacts on CW for a few hours, with it’s high intensity LED lights turned on just to give it an added load, and plugging a cell phone and my bike’s GPS/odometer into it’s USB charging ports to recharge them at the same time. I should add that just to make things more interesting I’d had the battery pack’s lights turned on for over eight hours the day before. The battery pack hardly even noticed the load. When I got sick of not making contacts (ah, the “joy” of QRP!) I gave up on that, dug out the laptop and switched to FT8 and finally made a few contacts. That got boring after a while (well, it was about 95 degrees out there) so I quit to retreat into the air conditioned house.

The Rocksolar battery pack with the Rocksolar folding solar panel.

I threw the folding solar panel out on the ground and hooked it up to the pack to recharge it and that worked well too. About as easy as it gets. No need to buy charging controllers or extra cables, everything needed is included. Just plug it into the charging port on the battery pack and lay it out in the sun. After charging up a cell phone, running the lights, powering the FT-818, etc. the panel brought the battery up to full charge in about 3 hours according to the meter on the battery.

So overall I’m really rather pleased with the battery and the matching solar panel. It takes, the documentation says, about 9 hours to do a full recharge using the included AC charger, and about the same using the solar panel if you have full sun. Of course recharging with the solar panel depends on conditions. The documentation claims it will run the dual high intensity LED lights for 189 hours. Heat is always an issue with battery packs like this, so this one includes a cooling fan that kicks in automatically if it starts to get too warm. And it has a 200 watt AC inverter to power AC equipment. But it doesn’t provide a clean AC sine wave so it isn’t suitable for some AC equipment. It has 4 USB charging ports and 4 DC ports in addition to the 3 prong AC outlet.

So if you’re looking for a solar charged battery system to run your gear, take a look at the Rocksolar stuff. You can find it on Amazon. It isn’t exactly super cheap, though. This particular battery is going for $178 at the moment, and the folding solar panel is going for $165.

Lathe Going to Junk Yard

I’ve had it with that Harbor Freight lathe. The bearings are starting to go after just a few hours of use, it’s made of cheap stamped sheet metal that flexes and shudders and it’s just – just nasty.

This thing is basically an industrial accident waiting to happen. So it’s going, and is going to be replaced by a Delta mid sized lathe that’s made out of actual real steel and iron, with a motor that won’t stall all the time. Good lathes aren’t cheap. The new Delta is going to set me back about $800. But this Harbor Freight monstrosity has reached the point where it just isn’t safe to use any more.

We Got Bats

Now I like bats. They eat bugs and all that fun stuff. But I only like bats as long as they aren’t actually in my house. Which they have been. We’ve had two of the little buggers in the house in the last three weeks, and, well, enough is enough. We’re getting a bat removal specialist in this week to figure out where they are, how to keep them out, put in bat excluders, etc.

Uh, I have a confession to make. I said I like bats. That’s a lie. I only say that because I’m supposed to say I like bats. I don’t. Bats really, really creep me out. I’m sorry, they just do. When I see a bat in the house I want to run and scream and hide.

Snakes, on the other hand, don’t bother me at all. I think snakes are kind of neat. Which is good because…

We Also Have Snakes

This little guy has a rather indignant look on his face because he was trying to get into the wax beans and MrsGF wasn’t going to put up with that. She grabbed him and put him in the flower bed and he sat there and pouted for about ten minutes before slithering off.

We have three of these guys hanging around. They’re garter snakes and they’re amazingly beautiful creatures. They’re harmless. Well, unless you’re a frog or a mouse or bug or something else they like to eat.

I suppose I should wrap this up with a picture of a flower because holy cow we got flowers this year!

A Little Bit of Everything

I have a ton of stuff going on around here, but none of it is important enough to make a single post so I’m just going to shovel everything into this one [grin].

Cheap crappy lathe

I’m working on another lathe project, this one a bit larger than the last two, and that cheap Harbor Freight lathe is showing the strain rather badly. I got this as a gift so I shouldn’t complain… Oh, hell, sure I should complain. This thing is just plain nasty.

Harbor Freight has a reputation for selling cheap, cheap tools of questionable quality. My experience with HF tools has not been good, and this lathe certainly hasn’t improved my opinion of their stuff. While it worked fairly well for tiny stuff, putting a substantial chunk of wood on it has brought out all of its faults. I already knew it was made from cheap, thin, stamped sheet metal, including the base. In a real lathe, the bases are made from heavy, cast and carefully machined cast iron or steel. So this thing flexes and vibrates and shakes and rattles. The bearing are worse than awful. The motor is woefully underpowered. According to the label on the motor it’s rated at 1 HP. I’d be willing to bet it’s not even a quarter of that.

So I have to decide now if I like woodturning enough, and will do it enough, to justify dropping about $500 – $700 on a good lathe. I still haven’t made up my mind.

MrsGF tried something new this year, pattypan squash. We really like squash, but we haven’t had much luck growing it here. Last year our acorn squash was overcome by powdery mildew, and other years we had other issues. So she thought to try this. And it seems to be working beautifully. The plants are ridiculously healthy and absolutely loaded with fruit. We’ve never eaten this variety before so we’re looking forward to trying it. We have about three now that are ready to eat so this week we’re going to try them.

Biking as Meditation?

Everyone thought I was nuts when I dropped about $600 on a bicycle after I retired, figuring it was something I’d do for a couple of days and then it would end up hanging in the garage and getting in the way. Instead, several years and about three sets of tires and three thousand miles later, I’m still at it. And I have to admit that even I am a bit surprised at how much I enjoy it. But I’ve always been a bit of an outdoors person. I spent most of my childhood at the farm down in the woods, watching tadpoles in the streams, sitting in the woods watching chipmunks gathering acorns, watching frogs, listening to birds and trying to spot them in the trees… It was a journey of learning, amazement, wonder, and beauty. Well, except for the mosquitos. And somewhere along the way I lost that, only to have rediscovered it now. I get out on the country roads around here, especially down on the trail, and I can start to lose track of time.

And birds everywhere! Especially down along the river by the old stone bridge on Irish Road. Herons, ducks, egrets, even pelicans come down to the river. Yesterday I was watching a belted kingfisher perched on a telephone line running across the river, eyeing the water, and every once in a while diving down to try to snatch a small fish. I can hear the cardinals calling in the trees, but rarely see that flash of red. I see more of those in town where the trees are more sparse and it’s easier to catch sight of them.

And the smells… I am blessed with (or cursed with, sometimes) a hypersensitive sense of smell. As I’m out riding I can smell everything – the chicory and clover along the side of the road, the corn, the alfalfa fields, people mowing their lawns or cutting hay, a whiff of tractor exhaust wafting across a field from a distant farm, the fuel the RC airplane guys use in their planes as I get close to their flying field off Hwy 57, the wood preservative on the wooden bridge over the river on the trail, the occasional dead animal in the ditch, the asphalt outgassing on a hot day. And more often than not, an undercurrent of manure from some farm emptying its storage pits miles away.

I took up biking originally for the exercise. I went from a job where I was on my feet all day, walking for miles a day, to essentially nothing, almost literally overnight. So I figured I needed to do something or I was going to blow up like a balloon. And while the exercise is important, yes, the other benefits of being outside, the sights and smells and sounds and all that goes along with it, probably does more to keep me healthy than putting on 10 miles or so a day.

Gardening Stuff

It’s been a spectacular year for growing stuff this season. Weather has been just about perfect so far. We’ve had an unusually high amount of rain so we’ve only rarely had to resort to dragging out the hose and watering cans. We’ve been blanching and freezing wax and pole beans about three times a week for a couple of weeks now. We’re rather sick of it, to be honest. MrsGF came up with a bean salad recipe that is absolutely fantastic, so she’s been using up the beans, along with some of the peppers and onions we’re also growing, and canning that. Holy cow that stuff is good.

The tomatoes are just starting to come in. Not enough to process into a batch of sauce or soup, so I’ve been dicing them up and throwing them in the freezer. Just wash ’em, core ’em, slice or dice them, throw them in freezer bags, and then pull them out whenever we need tomatoes for something.

Pretty soon though we’re going to be deluged with tomatoes, so we need to decide what we’re going to do with those.

And flowers. The whole yard is alive with flowers this time of year.

Anyway, that’s about it for now. Stay safe out there.

Crazy Gardens and Stuff

Well, it’s official. The gardens here have gone nuts. This is probably the best growing season we’ve had since we moved into this place twenty or so years ago. The ornamentals, the vegetales, fruit, everything is looking pretty much spectacular.

We put in a few raspberry plants a few years ago because MrsGF’s sister gave us some, or we wouldn’t have bothered because I can’t (or am not supposed to, anyway) eat raspberries because I have diverticulosis and seeds and nuts can cause it to flare up. They sit in a little 8ft by 8ft patch of the garden behind the garage and they never really did that well. Until this year. For about a week now I’ve been picking a bowl full almost every day. They’re starting to slow down now and will probably stop producing by the middle of next week. Beautiful berries. Just wish I could eat ’em. Sigh…

I wasn’t going to put squash in this year because we haven’t had very good luck with them. But MrsGF found a different variety and put in a few plants and they’re doing good too. So far no sign of powdery mildew which pretty much ruined them last year.

We cut back on the number of tomato plants we put in. Last year we put in 12 or 14 plants and even though it wasn’t a very good year for tomatoes we still had more than we could ever possibly use. We only put in six plants this year in the raised beds and, well, so far it looks like we’re going to get more off those six plants than we got off a dozen of them last year. They’re just barely starting to come ripe now and I’m looking forward to having fresh tomatoes again.

And dear lord, the beans… We put in two varieties this year, a wax bean and some pole beans and we over planted those as well, it seems. The picking season is only just getting started and we already are getting more beans than we know what to do with and are looking for ideas of dealing with ’em. We’ll probably be giving away a lot of produce this year.

We put in a few different varieties of peppers, and it looks like they’re going to be ridiculously prolific as well. I’m not really sure exactly what variety these are. They were labeled “hot pepper”, but no variety was listed. They aren’t really hot, though. They’re actually quite mild. There is a tiny bit of heat there, but they aren’t even close to jalapeno peppers. Nice flavor, though. I think I might try canning some of these as pickled peppers.

I’m a bit concerned about the pear tree. It’s so loaded with fruit that branches that normally are about head height are already being pulled down almost to the ground by the weight of the fruit. I think I’m going to have to start snipping fruit off the branches I can reach before we start having branches breaking off.

I call this the finch corner. The cone flowers and sunflowers are finch magnets, or will be in a week or two as the seeds start to develop more. In a fairly short time this whole corner will be swarming with finches coming for the seeds. Great fun to watch out of the windows of the house.

Let’s see, what else… Oh, I made a – a thing again!

Bottom part is cherry, top is… Well, to be honest I’m not sure what kind of wood the top is made from. It’s a piece of scrap I found down in the shop and thought it made a nice contrast with the bottom. You can see an indentation around the middle of the bottom part. That is going to be stained very dark, almost black, to add contrast.

What the heck is it? Who knows? It isn’t useful as a bowl or anything. It’s a sort of, oh, art piece? Maybe? Kinda?

Frogs, Cactus and GF Makes A Thing

This little guy seems to wait for me to come and water the tomato plants in the evening. He sits there patiently watching me while I putter around with the hose and I swear he seems to grin when I shower him with the plants.

I went to a college that was focused on ecology and environment way, way, way back for a few semesters. I never did finish up with a degree, but that school did have an influence on me. One of the things I learned is that amphibians are sort of an early warning system when it comes to the environment. They are very sensitive to environmental degradation. If you have a thriving amphibian population, the environment you’re in is doing pretty good generally speaking. So the environment in our backyard must be doing pretty darn good because we have an abundance of frogs and toads. They can be a bit of a nuisance because I have to be really careful when I mow the law and watch out for the little guys. Usually they get out of the way but every once in a while one will hunker down in the grass and try to hide and I have to stop the more and move him.

Mr. Spiny is in full flower again!

That goofy cactus of ours has turned into a major attraction in the garden. I can’t believe how many people are amazed that we can actually grow cactus outdoors in Wisconsin and think we’re some kind of magicians or something. We aren’t, though. We just got lucky. This type of cactus thrives in the conditions we put it in. The soil in that corner is rather poor, and doesn’t hold water at all because both of the soil type and because there’s a drainage tile right under it. Almost nothing else would grow there at all and it turned into a dust bath for the local birds every summer. And to be honest, when we found Mr. Spiny on the town’s compost pile I honestly had no idea if he’d grow here or not. It wasn’t until later that I found out it’s a type of cactus that’s actually native to Wisconsin, although not usually found this far north and east.

Anyway, we now have three more of them.

MrsGF cut three pads off it, stuck ’em in the dirt, and guess what? Yeah, they’re growing too tucked away back there against the foundation wall of the house.

People seem to think we’re some kind of master gardeners or something. We aren’t. There’s no secret to growing plants. The right soil, proper amount of sunlight, proper amount of water, and compost, compost and more compost.

When we bought this place years ago, the soil here was utterly horrible. It was your typical backfill kind of stuff with a skim coat of topsoil that couldn’t have been more than a couple of inches deep. We were lucky enough to live two blocks away from the town’s compost site, and we can get as much as we want for free. So we’ve probably hauled literally a couple of tons of the stuff into the gardens around the house over the years.

Selecting the right plants is important as well. You can’t just find something that looks pretty, put it in and hope for the best. You have to carefully select the plants you use to suit the conditions they’re in. All plants have specific environmental conditions in which they thrive. Some, many, in fact, can survive in environments they aren’t really comfortable in, but they’ll never do as well as they should. If you’re careful to select plants for the soil, light and moisture conditions in a specific location, you’ve gone a long way towards having a successful garden.

And water. We just went through an extended dry period, together with extremely hot conditions. MrsGF and I were out there every single night watering everything in sight. We emptied our rain barrel in two days and had to resort to city water (I don’t want to see what our quarterly water bill is going to be) after that.

But you can overdo the watering too. Again it depends on the plants. Some can handle dry weather pretty well. Some thrive on it. Letting some plants get dry can improve the quality and flavor of the fruit. Some types of peppers for example will produce more flavorful fruit if they’re allowed to experience mild environmental stress like mild drought conditions. But it can be a delicate balance. Others can’t handle even slight drought conditions.

Enough of that. How about a flower?

GF Makes A – A Thing

If you’ve been following this blog or whatever it is for a while you know I do wood working. I build furniture and do carpentry and stuff like that. My oldest son got me one of those cheap Harbor Freight wood lathes ages ago and, well, to be honest when it comes to woodworking tools, you get what you pay for. So let’s just say it’s not exactly the best lathe in the world and leave it at that. But I got bored a few weeks ago and decided to see if it was good for anything at all and tried my hand at making a bowl out of some old scraps of white oak that were too small for anything. I glued ’em all up into a block, stuck it in the lathe, and this is what came out after I put a finish on it.

Considering this is the first bowl I’ve turned since, well, 1969 I think, I’m rather pleased with it. Especially since it’s made out of scraps of wood that otherwise would have ended up in the neighbor’s fire pit.

I should point out that MrsGF made the table runner it’s sitting on and the table is one I made out of white ash some years ago.

I’m encouraged enough to try again. I have a few chunks of really nice wood, cherry and black walnut, that would be suitable for turning into bowls, so I think I’ll keep playing around with this and see what happens. If things go well I might end up buying a good lathe and see what happens. But good lathes, even smaller ones, gets pretty expensive. A good quality lathe in the size I’d want runs somewhere around $700 – $1,000. Which is why I never bought one myself.

But enough. Time for me to get on the bike before the weather gets too hot!