Catching Up: Wow It’s Been Busy

The late summer is always a busy time for us because it seems that all of the vegetables we’ve been nursing along since early spring all come ripe at the same time and all have to be dealt with right now. We probably have enough wax beans and green beans to last us two years, and enough various tomato sauces to last us almost that long. On one Saturday alone MrsGF and I processed more than 40 pounds of tomatoes to turn them into tomato soup. Plus we did salsa, chili sauce and spaghetti sauce. And that was from just three plants.

Food made with our home grown vegetables always seems to taste better. We don’t buy any canned tomato products any more because the flavors of the grocery store stuff seems flat, insipid and often just plain nasty when compared to what we make ourselves. And often way, way too salty and way too sweet.

But the beans have been done for weeks now. We probably could have gotten another couple of weeks of production out of them but we were so sick of beans we just pulled them out. Tomatoes are pretty much at an end now as well. But the peppers are still going strong and will probably keep going until we get frost. We put in a variety of sweet bell and banana type peppers. We thought we’d have enough to make pickled peppers, but almost all of them have been going into various sauces.

We were only going to put in 3 cucumber plants because I’m the only one who likes to eat them fresh. But somehow we ended up with 6 plants and they went a bit goofy on us and took over the whole garden behind the garage. MrsGF made four different kinds of pickles plus some relish, enough to last us more than a year, and now we’re giving the things away. They’ve started to slow down but they’re still blossoming. I hate to pull out and compost plants that are still healthy and producing but I’m thinking of just pulling them out this week and being done with them.

It’s hard to see in the photo but there are also a half dozen tomato and pepper “volunteer” plants hidden in that mess of cukes somewhere and now those are bearing fruit.

MrsGF and I both love squash but our attempts to grow the stuff haven’t been all that successful. Last year we had powdery mildew that pretty much wiped them out. This year, though, wow… We planted in a more sunny location, worked in hundreds of pounds of compost before we planted, made sure they were well watered during the drought, and it paid off beautifully. The plants are starting to come to the end of their lifetime now, and we’re seeing dozens of massive butternut squash under the leaves. And I mean massive squash. Some of these things are a foot and a half long, and they all look absolutely beautiful.

We picked one yesterday and we’re going to make that one this week and see what it tastes like. Hopefully they’ll taste as good as they look. We’ll probably end up cutting them up into cubes, roasting them and freezing them for use later.

All the sunflowers got knocked down when we had a storm roll through here, but the other flowers and decorative plants made it through the summer fairly well. We’ve had no shortage of flowers out in the gardens this year.

It was a struggle to keep some of this stuff alive during the drought. We were careful to keep the vegetable gardens well watered but we occasionally neglected the ornamental plants. Still most managed to survive and even grow reasonably well until the rains finally came in August.

We have three roses out there in the gardens now and all of them came through the drought and even looked pretty good. We had something, we aren’t sure what, trying to eat the climbing rose, and MrsGF finally resorted to dusting it with something and that seemed to take of that problem. She only had to treat it once.

The hot, dry weather was not kind to the hostas out front, though. Some of those poor guys are looking pretty rough.

This poor guy looks pretty rough but it will survive just fine.

The giant large leafed varieties did a lot better than the more traditional looking narrow leafed types. The variegated varieties seem to have fared worse than the solid colored ones. This time of year the hostas start to look pretty rough anyway. They’ve all flowered now and are going to seed so there is no need for them to keep putting energy into the foliage, I suppose. They’re getting ready to go dormant for winter anyway.

With all of the gardening and harvest stuff going on I haven’t had a lot of time to putter in the woodshop. I haven’t done any wood turning since I produced these two bowls down below…

I love the grain on padauk, and it’s wonderful stuff to work with. It’s not cheap but I think the results are worth the expense.
More padauk. Once it’s finished this stuff almost glows.
this is MrsGF’s favorite. This little one was made from wood salvaged from the old pear tree in the backyard.

I do have some projects in mind, though. I picked up this piece of wood down below at a shop a few weeks ago. Paid way too much for it but I loved the grain and color. I still don’t know what I’m going to do with it.

I’m also trying to adjust to a new computer. I have three main computers, an iMac, a very old Macbook that I use mostly for email and reading the news, and my primary computer, a “gaming” computer my son built for me which I use for just about everything else, including amateur radio, photo and video editing and video streaming and other stuff. The gaming computer was taken out during a severe thunderstorm a few days ago. I think the power supply got fried. I’d been having problems with it for some time and knew it was going to have to be replaced, so I already had a replacement ready to go for a couple of months. Still, it’s a hell of a lot of work to have to try to redo that whole system.

The new one is a fairly high end MSI 17″ gaming laptop which works great for things like video and photo editing and pretty much everything. But I still need to install all my amateur radio software, hook up all the radio gear to it, etc.

But it also gives me a chance to tear everything down and rearrange everything to make things more convenient and less chaotic.

That’s it for now.

Photography Stuff – New Camera, and some Thoughts on Technology

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time you should know I’m something of a photography nut, and that goes back many years, and at one time it was a pretty serious obsession. But let’s skip the nostalgia, at least for now, and talk about the present. My good camera, a Fujifilm, is a pretty nice camera, but it is now more than 11 years old which makes it probably three or four generations behind the times. Technology has moved on. It’s time to replace it. So I did a lot of shopping around and and research and finally ended up with a Nikon D5600. It is considered to be at the high end of the consumer grade DSLR cameras. It’s been on the market for a few years so all the bugs are worked out of it and it has a solid track record. It is generally considered to be a pretty nice camera, so I got one with 2 lenses, an 18 – 55 mm lens and a 70mm to 300mm telephoto zoom.

Notice the manual sitting there. It didn’t come with the camera. The only “instructions” that came with it was a single sheet of paper. I had to track down the manual on the internet and print it out. All 400+ pages of it. Sheesh…

It wasn’t… I was going to say it wasn’t cheap. But everything is relative. My first really good SLR camera was a Minolta XG-M with a 50mm lens that I got back in 1982, and I quickly added several other lenses to the package. Accounting for inflation the Minolta was actually more expensive than the Nikon.

I’ve only had the Nikon for a few days and I’m still trying to get it all figured out. The Fujifilm was bad enough with multiple menus, way too many buttons and knobs, and the ability to adjust just about everything. The Nikon is all that and a lot more. I can still just put it in one of the automatic modes and let its computers handle everything, but the fun part with cameras like this is when you shut off the automatics and venture out on your own experimenting with ISO, shutter speeds, light levels and other goodies. The automatic settings are fine for making fast snapshots of a family picnic or something like that. But if you want really good images, images that really show off the scene you’re photographing, that express moods and feelings, well then you need to shut off the auto modes and start fiddling around. And there’s a lot to fiddle with.

The biggest improvements over my old Fuji are the lenses and the image sensor. The image sensor is much, much larger, the pixels are smaller and packed more densely, giving a much crisper, more, oh, dense, let’s call it, image. That also means the size of the resulting photo is much larger. For jpg images that seems to be running about 7 – 10 megabytes. RAW files are even larger. And one mode produces both RAW and jpg files. So this thing needs a decent sized SD card.

The lenses – the Fuji had a really nice lens that was more than adequate for the job, but it was permanently attached to the camera and I wanted to be able to get other lenses for special purposes, like for macro photography, or bigger telephoto, that kind of thing. So far the quality of the two lenses I got for the Nikon seem excellent.

Of course the most important thing is does it make good photographs, so let’s look at a few I’ve taken over the last few days. You should be able to click on an image to see it in a larger size. Some of the images have been cropped but no other processing was done on them.

This one is my favorite

I should point out this flower is only about a half inch wide

So far I’m pleased with the camera. I’m going to need to experiment and learn how to tweak the settings to get the results I want, but overall it seems to be pretty nice so far.

Now let’s talk about technology for a moment, specifically about photographic technology. Once upon a time I was heavily involved in film photography. I went through several 35mm cameras including some fairly expensive SLRs like the Minolta in that photo up there. That was the first really good camera I ever bought, purchased in 1981 or 1982. And it was expensive. I paid about $350+ for that camera at the time, a bit over $1,000 after including inflation. It was a very nice camera for its day. Still is. I still have it and it still works just fine. If I could be bothered to buy some 35mm film and deal with processing I have no doubt it would still turn out very good images even today.

I was pretty serious about photography. I also had my own darkroom and enlarger, developed my own film, made my own prints, etc. It was expensive, messy, I worked with potentially dangerous chemicals and I had to work in pitch black conditions or risk ruining the film or a print. It was a pain in the neck but it was also enormously satisfying.

A lot of semi-serious photographers complain about the decline of the use of film photography. They claim that digital photography lacks — well, lacks something. They don’t seem to be sure what it lacks, but for “reasons” digital just isn’t as good as film. The process isn’t as pure or something. Being able to manipulate images easily using Photoshop somehow makes images less real. That’s all BS of course. Film photographers like me always post-processed our prints to get the results we wanted. We just did it using chemicals, different types of photographic paper, dodging and burning and the like instead of tweaking settings on a computer.

I did pretty good with that old Minolta up there and my little darkroom. But I freely admit that the photos I produce today with modern equipment and software are so much better that there is simply no comparison. I would never, ever want to go back to the days of film.

I can understand why some people might feel that way, though. It’s like the people who think vinyl records are better than digitally recorded music. I share some of that feeling. I have a nice turntable and vinyl records and I love them. But even I admit that it is more a nostalgia thing than anything else. What I missed wasn’t some kind of ‘purity’ of the music, it was the process of playing the record that I missed. Getting out a record, putting it on the turntable, setting the tonearm down, I think it made me listen more attentively to the music because there was more physicality to the act. With modern streaming the music just plays. It’s almost like background noise, something you can ignore. When playing a record you couldn’t ignore it. You tended to concentrate more because you were physically involved with playing the record.

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.

Night Sounds, Lasers and Handles

Let’s start out with frogs with this little 30 second video. I put up a video a few weeks ago of some frogs singing when I was out on the bike, but this is in my own backyard this time. As soon as it starts to get dark here, this is what it sounds like here at the house. Turn up your volume and wait a bit. It takes about 10 seconds for the sound to kick in. You aren’t going to see much, it’s dark. It’s the sound that I want you to hear.

Frogs. Dozens and dozens of frogs singing their little hearts out. It one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard. As soon as the weather got warmer and we got a bit of rain this frog chorus started in and I find myself going out into the backyard a couple of times a night just to listen to these guys.

Lasers

So, let’s move on to lasers, specifically the laser engraver over there on the left. This is the “Laser Engraver laser engraving machine 3000mw laser class 4 Off-line Upgrade Version CNC Pro DIY Logo engraver” from a company called GanGou.

Now I’ve been interested in laser engravers for some time now. You all know by now I fiddle around with wood, and I thought it would be interesting to be able to burn artwork onto some of the things I crank out here from time to time. Especially now that I’ve been getting into this lathe stuff. If I am going to sell this stuff I’d like to put a logo, name, maybe a date, on the bottom of the bowls. A lot of people use custom made branding irons, but those are expensive and can’t be changed without buying a new one. A custom made branding iron with your own logo can set you back well over $100 or more, and then that is all it can do. This laser here costs about $250 and can engrave just about anything you can stuff into a .BMP file.

I never bought one before because they were way, way out of my budget. The good ones anyway. There were always really cheap ones on the market but every one of those I saw was utterly horrible in every single way. ES (Eldest Son) bought one of those a few years ago and it took him days just to get it running and it was utterly useless if he tried to engrave anything bigger than about 1 square inch.

That’s changed, though. Some of the cheap models are now very, very good, and this is one of them. It goes for around $250 on Amazon and it is a lot better than I expected it to be. The build quality on this thing is excellent. It is very, very well made. The hardware is all beautifully finished, the tolerances are excellent, the stepper motors are high quality. It is just very, very good.

This is what comes in the box. Don’t be intimidated. Everything is pre-wired. All I had to do was bolt it together. Four screws hold the arm with the pre-mounted laser to the main arm, 8 screws hold on the feet, and that’s it. It’s ready to go. I went from opening the box to making the first (successful) test engraving in less than 20 minutes.

It does have its quirks, though. The manual is terrible. But then I expected that. Utterly horrible manuals, instructions, assembly notes, etc. are pretty much par for the course with a lot of equipment these days, and this is no exception. The instructions were in both English and Chinese, and interestingly enough the Chinese instructions were just as bad as those in English. (Google Translate makes life for us dabblers in oddball equipment much easier.) The instructions for putting it together are pretty clear, but the rest of the manual deals with the included software, not the engraver itself. And, well…

The software that comes with it, well, you might as well not even bother installing it. In my case I installed it on my test computer, a more or less bullet proof generic, business class Lenovo laptop that I picked up refurbed for $200, running Win 10. This computer will run anything because there is no speciality hardware, no oddball drivers, nothing. It is your basic, simple, 100% compatible Windows 10 computer.

It won’t run the Gangou software, though. The drivers installed. Well, I think they did but it was hard to tell because all of the prompts were in Chinese. The software installed. It ran, and then immediately locked up tight as soon as I tried to click on any of the buttons. As far as I can tell, clicking anywhere in the program, on any control, makes it lock up tight. Sigh… I’ll fiddle with it a while longer to see if I can figure out what’s going on, but I don’t have a lot of hope. I don’t know yet if the hardware will work with the other open source or commercial laser engraver programs out there. I only just got the thing and I haven’t had time to really look into it further.

Fortunately you don’t need the software at all to run this thing. You can do everything from that little touch screen. Plug a flash drive with your .BMP file into it, turn it on, select the file you want to use, set the laser strength, do the positioning test to make sure the object is in the right place, and hit start. Using it from the touch screen is about as simple as it gets. And as you can see from the results of a test run on a tap handle I cranked out the other day, it does a pretty darn nice job.

So far I’ve only done about a dozen engravings with it, including test runs, so I have no idea how long it will hold up under continued use, but considering how well made it seems I’m not too worried about that. And at around $250 the price is right. The reviews on Amazon are all over the place. But you have to be really cautious about reviews these days. And a lot of the really negative reviews seem to have been from, well, idiots, to be blunt, people who couldn’t figure out how to put it together, didn’t know anything about laser engravers in the first place and that kind of thing. One of these days I should really do an article about product reviews and how to try to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

Tap Handles

So I’ve been making handles for beer taps of late. A couple of very good friends of ours bought a tavern in a Milwaukee suburb and are converting it into a brewpub, and we might have invested a few bucks in it. The handles on their taps were left over from the previous owner, and all of those handles are left over from the usual big monopoly beer brands which sell stuff that tastes like their breweries are directly connected to the Clydesdale stables drainage ditch. So those handles have to be replaced with something that reflects what’s actually in the kegs they’re connected to. Hence the need for the laser engraver I’ve been talking about. I’ve done a couple of experimental efforts already. They’re dirt simple to turn out in just about any shape I want. The chrome ferrule down at the bottom consists of a threaded rod; a wood screw on one end to go into the tap, machine threads on the other end to fit into a chrome plated brass fitting that then screws onto the tap itself. Those are cheap. I got these for about $1.50 each from a company in India and they’re good quality.

So now that I’ve done some experimenting I am going to crank out about 8 of these for them, and use the laser to engrave their own company logo on them and even specific beer names if they want. And I can make ’em out of scrap wood I have left over from other projects, even glue up blanks with different types of wood like the experiment over there on the left.

Still Biking

Someone asked if I was still bike riding and I am indeed. As soon as the weather started getting warm enough to get out I was out on the bike every chance I had. I’ve had some issues with breaking spokes. I’ve had to have spokes replaced three times already this year and I only have a couple of hundred miles on the bike. I think it’s being caused by shock from going over the railroad tracks around here. The rail crossings have gotten really, really bad over the past year.

Anyway I am out and about, but I haven’t said much here because I figured you all were getting bored with it.

Holy cow it’s dry out there. Thats the river down by the old stone bridge which is on my regular route. This time of year that river up there should be about 3 feet deeper and flowing along at a pretty good speed. Instead it looks more like it normally would at the end of August – completely stagnant, only about a foot or so deep.

We’ve been under fire warnings almost since the snow melted here, and we’ve already had several wild fires. They’re small when compared to those out west, but yes, we have them here too. We got a good shower last night but it doesn’t come close to making up for it. We’ve had to water the gardens here on a regular basis already, something we generally don’t have to do until mid to late summer.

But it still looks amazingly beautiful out there. The road and trailside flowers are in full bloom and I really look forward to getting out of town and into the countryside.

Let’s see, what else… The vegetable gardens are all in. We have the raised beds planted with onions, beans, a variety of peppers, etc. We have one that’s all beets this year because, well, we like beets so why not? We put in a couple of squash, a few cukes. I have two jalapeno peppers growing in pots out front. Only two because I’m the only one who likes jalapenos around here. We only put in 3 tomato plants this year because we still have a lot of canned tomatoes from last year.

The big ash tree in the backyard is going to have to come down. I noticed a large hole near the top of the trunk right where two of the main branches come together and it looks like it’s rotting from the top down. So that has to go before it comes down and damages something. We already talked to a service about doing that and they’ll be coming at the end of summer to take it down. I’m going to keep the wood, at least all of the big stuff, and we’re going to keep the stump and turn it into a decorative feature. That means we get a significantly lower cost for the removal of the tree, all they have to haul out is the brushy stuff.

And that, my friends, is about it for this time.

What’s coming up…

I’ll put up photos of the “official” tap handles once I get those done.

I’m doing some experimenting with the boxelder wood I got from MrsGf’s sister and that stuff looks really nice. If that turns out I’ll put up some pictures of that.

I suppose I should talk about the DeWalt battery chainsaw I picked up a few months ago. That has turned out to work a lot better than I ever thought it would and it deserves a look. I have a Poulan gas chain saw but it is very, very old, very noisy, very messy, leaks oil and is just nasty. So far the DeWalt has been working well. I use it for cutting up large blocks of wood that won’t fit on my band saw or table saw so they’ll fit on my lathe.

Diving Into the Photo Archive

I have about 7,000+ photos in the archive and I keep telling myself I really, really need to sort them all out somehow because there’s stuff in there I’d really like to keep and possibly make prints of, and stuff that should just be deleted. I got bored this morning and started doing some sorting, so here’s a few I dug up in no particular order because why not? Some I haven’t published before, some I have. They’ve more or less been selected at random for no real reason.

I’m a real sucker for roadside attractions. They’re often silly, cheesy, ridiculous, sometimes inexplicable. This place allegedly bought up all of the movie props from Dances With Wolves and then used them to recreate scenes from the movie. I haven’t seen the movie. My wife chased me out of the room when she watched it because I couldn’t stop laughing.

Everything in this place was covered with a thick layer of dust. It was really rather sad.

This was supposedly a recreation of a late 1800s classroom. What’s really sad is that those are exactly the same type of desks I had when I was in the 1st and 2nd grade. Seriously. That should give you a hint that either my school was really, really bad, or I am really, really old.

Not many people have a hot air balloon land on the road in front of them. I wasn’t in a hurry so I just pulled over and watched them recover the balloon. They were actually pretty lucky. They were coming in from the right and if they hadn’t hit the ground where they did they would have hit the power lines on the left.

Did I ever mention I’m an amateur astronomer? Technology has gotten so good that we amateurs now have access to equipment that even professional astronomers would have drooled over twenty or thirty years ago.

Alien cat from outer space with laser eyes.

Garden Update And Stuff

Weather here has been curious. After a few days of temperatures up near 80, it quickly dropped back down to more or less normal temps with highs in the 40s and 50s. And unusually dry as well. Until just a few days ago when we got a bit of rain the entire state was under a fire warning because of the dry conditions.

The irises and sedum are all leaping out of the ground this time of the year along with other assorted flowers and plants back there, including our one surviving blueberry bush, which actually seems to be doing fairly well at the moment.

The cool temperatures and lack of rain hasn’t prevented stuff from growing, though. The grass has greened up finally and things are sprouting all over the place.

Our parsley survived the winter and were some of the first plants to start to turn green, along with the chives. I was rather surprised by that. I honestly didn’t think the parsley would come back by itself but, well, there it is. I really need to learn how to use it better. Except as a garnish or to add color to otherwise colorless dishes I never really used the stuff. And to be honest I’m still not really sure if I like the flavor all that much. I throw it in scrambled eggs and mac and cheese to add some color. MrsGF tells me it’s good for you, lots of vitamins and all that fun stuff.

Chives, on the other hand, I do know what to do with that. Those end up in a lot of stuff around here, potato dishes, sauces, omelets, etc. They’re generally the first plants to pop up in the very, very early spring because they’re in a warm, sheltered corner with lots of sun.

I wasn’t sure the rhubarb was going to survive, but it came back too. I’ve been a bit concerned about it. It’s been in there at least 20 years now, and up until recently it’s been doing very good. But the last couple of years it starts out strong, but by mid summer it starts to look worse and worse. We don’t use a lot of rhubarb so if we do lose the plant it isn’t going to be any great loss.

I got the new raised beds built that will go where the old pear tree was. These are 8 X 4 feet, about 16 inches tall, about the same size as the other two. The plan is that eventually they’re going to be surrounded by decorative brick that matches that big oval shaped feature in the photo at the top of the page, but that might not get done this year.

We’re also trying to get a professional in to give us a bid on redoing the entire lawn. It isn’t so much that the grass is really bad, which it is, it’s because the surface of the ground is so rough, so full of pits and diviots that developed somehow, that I’m afraid I’m going to break the mower just mowing the lawn or that someone will twist an ankle.

The hostas in the front garden are just starting to peek out. It looks pretty ratty up there right now with all of the mulch exposed, but once the hostas fill out you can’t see any of that.

We put in a mountain ash up there about two years ago and apparently it really, really likes it. We grew that from seed from the tree in the backyard and it’s gone from a seedling to about 10 feet tall in just two years. Amazing things, trees. I think I may have to start to trim back the top to keep it from getting too tall.

And how about some color to finish up the photos? These guys are the first plants to show color in the early spring.

MrsGF started ordering seed a month ago already and we have all of that in. She has some seeds started already. Now if only it would start getting warm!

Let’s see, what else?

Oh, windows! We’re getting new windows in the office and dining room. The contractor should be here today to start that project. We actually started that late last summer but because of supply problems the windows didn’t come in until it was too late to put them in because of the weather.

Lumber prices – holy cow, when I went to get some lumber for the raised beds and some other projects, well, talk about sicker shock! I came home with an embarrassingly small pile of assorted lumber for $650, at least twice what it would have cost me a year or so ago.

Coming up: I want to talk about the DeWalt battery operated chainsaw I just got in the future. That turned out to be way better than I thought it would be for the price. And it uses the same batteries as the rest of my DeWalt battery operated tools.

Things have been slow in the woodworking department because I’ve been dealing with gardening stuff and other chores around the place, but I do have a bit of rosewood mounted on the lathe that will probably turn into something in the near future. That was actually already a bowl that developed some problems that I’m trying to re-shape to eliminate some odd cracks that turned up weeks after it had been cut the first time. That bit of rosewood was ridiculously expensive so I’m not going to give up on that. I’m also getting in what I hope will be some really neat looking boxelder from a tree MrsGF’s sister took down a few weeks ago. They’re going to cut it into easily managed chunks for me and once I get that I’ll probably talk about that.

I just got a new MSI gaming laptop yesterday that I’ll probably talk about in the near future as well. I spent a large part of yesterday afternoon removing bloatware, doing system updates and other housekeeping chores to make it useable so I haven’t had a chance to actually use it yet. We’ll see how that goes and whether it’s interesting enough to spend some time on here.

And one of these days I want to talk about Korean and Chinese television. Seriously. I watch Korean and Chinese television. Well, you already knew I was weird but you didn’t think I was that weird, did you?

That’s about it for now. The contractor’s here getting ready to start so I need to wrap this up!