Beautiful Mornings and Silliness

IMG_0723

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

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

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

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

Banging Your Head On The Table Dept: Windigo Fest

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

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

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

Oh brother…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strange Weather

IMG_0711
It may look like early fall, but it doesn’t feel like it. Temperatures are running into the mid to high 80s

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

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

IMG_0708
We got lucky. Storm damage was mostly limited to blown over plants and a lot of tree branches down.

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

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

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

IMG_0709

Catching Up With Stuff

I’ve been procrastinating terribly with a lot of projects around here because, well, because summer! I’m sorry, but when the weather is reasonably nice outside I want to be outside doing stuff; puttering in the garden, biking around the back roads, walking

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.54.10 AM
That’s one of the most perfect flowers I’ve ever seen growing out in my backyard. My wife picked up these seeds for almost nothing on sale, just threw them out into one of the gardens, and this is what we ended up with. Wow. That woman can grow anything.

around town, taking pictures of flowers and plants and trees and birds and… Well you get the idea. So indoor projects and hobbies take a backseat to outdoor stuff this time of year. When the temperature starts dipping below freezing and the snow begins to fly, that’s the time to work on those indoor projects. Maybe.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.53.24 AMSpeaking of flowers, I really, really wish I’d put in more of these guys. We only have two or three of these and they are absolutely amazing. The brilliant red color, the shape. They just shot up through the white alyssum with that amazing contrasting red. Make note to self to put in more of these next year.

We finally admitted that we planted a lot of stuff way too close together in the vegetable gardens and did some serious weeding out of the pepper plants last weekend. This wasn’t much of a sacrifice because we just pulled out all of the “cherry bomb” hot pepper plants which were just nasty. I suspected they were going to be a bust when I brought one in, cut it in half, and almost immediately my eyes began burning. I like a bit of heat, but these things? I gave one to my neighbor who loves really hot peppers, he took a bite, and about five minutes later put down a half gallon of milk to try to stop the burning.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.55.05 AMSo out they went. And it’s resulted in an almost immediate improvement in the other peppers we had planted in there.

The poblanos and banana peppers began looking much healthier and started to set a lot more fruit as soon as we thinned things out.

I don’t know why we can’t learn this lesson. Every year we end up crowding things too close together in the beds, and at the end of every season we promise ourselves we won’t do it again. But the following spring there we are crowding things in again.

We really like the poblanos (ancho) peppers and the banana peppers. MrsGF and I both think they have far more flavor than the more common sweet bell peppers that are more commonly grown around here. But we did put in a few bell peppers as well and they seem to do be doing pretty good. We were a bit worried about them for a while there. The plants looked good but they were late in putting out blossoms and Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.53.35 AMsetting fruit, but now they seem to be making up for lost time.

We’d never grown squash here before, and since we love acorn and butternut squash, we put some in just to see what would happen and this is what we ended up with.

That’s only four plants in there, and they’ve taken over that whole garden on the west side of the garage. Loaded with squash now. I don’t know how they grow that fast. The other day I mowed the lawn near there, and the following afternoon there were vines running three feet out onto the grass. How does a plant grow that fast?

Some are just starting to come ripe. We had one of the acorn squash last night. Just cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, put some butter and brown sugar in the empty seed cavity and bake until tender. Then just scoop out of the skin and eat.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.53.14 AMThe cucumbers have been disappointing. I’m the only one who eats fresh cucumbers around here, so I only put in two or three plants and that usually gives me enough to satisfy my craving for fresh cukes, plus a few extra to make refrigerator pickles or something. But this year they haven’t been doing all that well. The plants themselves are doing just fine, they’re putting out flowers, but actual cucumbers? Not so much. I think I’ve gotten maybe six cucumbers off three plants so far this year.

MrsGF thinks it’s because we’ve seen so few bees around this summer. I hadn’t noticed it until she mentioned it, but she’s right. Aside from a few bumble bees, I haven’t really seen any. I haven’t seen any honey bees at all. Usually this time of year we have a many different types of bees busily working away at the flowers. I have yet to see a single honey bee here this year. That’s very troubling.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.52.49 AMThen I ran into this yesterday. A single, lone raspberry. We only have a dozen or so raspberry plants tucked away in a corner of the garden behind the garage. I love raspberries but I’m not supposed to eat them because of the seeds. Still, it’s interesting how none of the berries ever seem to make it into the house. They seem to mysteriously vanish before they get in the door. Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

The raspberries were done producing fruit long, long ago, so I was surprised to see this lone berry out there when I was puttering in the garden yesterday. I’m surprised the birds didn’t get it.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.51.44 AMGetting out of the garden and into the countryside, some people around here are wondering what in the world this stuff is. Fields of this have been popping up around here for the last couple of years now. It sort of looks like badly stunted corn, no more than three or four feet tall. It isn’t corn, though, it’s sorghum, or milo, and it’s being grown for Kaytee, the bird seed company. Their headquarters is in Chilton, about six miles from here. When I was a kid it used to be fairly common. It was grown as cattle feed or to make syrup. Looks like they have a pretty good crop of it this year.

Let’s see — The Old Timers are claiming we’re going to have a really, really nasty winter based on the proverbial “signs”. They’re also claiming winter is going to come early as well.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.52.14 AM
A few maple trees have started to turn color. This is supposed to be a “sign” that we’re going to have a miserable winter. A safe prediction because in Wisconsin we generally always have a miserable winter.

The “signs” — ah, yes, the signs… I’m told the Old Timers can predict the weather based on the signs provided by nature, if only we were smart enough to interpret them. Things like the width of the band on fuzzy caterpillars, how and when birds flock together in the fall, how fat the bears are (well, not that any of them have ever actually seen a bear because they’re sitting down in the restaurant lingering for hours while nursing a cup of coffee while the waitstaff go crazy because they’re taking up a seat that a paying customer could be sitting in), maple trees starting to turn color early, that kind of thing.

Exactly how these mechanisms work is something they never explain, of course. I would be very interested in knowing how a caterpillar knows we’re going to have three weeks of -20 temperatures in January, or the geese know that we’re going to have a blizzard right after Christmas so they’re flocking up in August so — so they can what, exactly? Why would the geese even care? They’re not here when it happens so a blizzard in January isn’t exactly something they care about in the first place.

Of course the Old Timers don’t care about accuracy. By the time winter comes, anything they said will be long forgotten. Unless, of course, they hit a home run and actually manage to predict something, in which case they will remember and make sure you do too. It’s harmless and they get a kick out of it, so I just sit there and nod.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.55.31 AMLet’s see, anything else? Oh, almost forgot. I hit 500 miles on the bike last week. When I turned up with a new bicycle on the back of the truck everyone was thinking yeah, right, he’ll ride it once or twice and it’ll end up hanging on the wall gathering dust until he drops dead and then we’ll have to sell the damned thing at the estate sale. If I keep up my current pace and the weather cooperates I should hit 1,000 before winter shuts things down.

And that is about it.

Bikes & the Ever Popular Stuff!

IMG_0398Even before I retired I knew I needed to seriously ramp up my level of exercise or I was going to end up looking like a blimp in very short order. At first I was just walking around town twice a day, but that got old pretty fast. So Sunday I went and got myself a bicycle and much to my family’s surprise, I actually enjoy it enormously and I’ve been doing about 10 – 15 miles a day.

We’re fortunate enough to live in a fairly rural area with a lot of paved back roads that have very little traffic. I’ve found it’s a great way to just get out and enjoy nature because some of the roads run through undeveloped land around here. I’m not exactly a power rider because I’m having too much fun stopping and looking at birds, trees, turtles, streams, taking pictures… You get the idea. Great fun

I end up in places like, well, this:

IMG_0406

IMG_0404

Or this:

IMG_0411.JPG

Or this:

IMG_0405

What surprised me most about all of this was the smells. I can smell cedar, spruce, flowers… Along the trail I kept smelling an almost intoxicating floral scent that turned out to be this bush:

IMG_0414

The air was thick with the scent. It was amazing.

But then there’s stuff like this…

IMG_0403

Yes, more rain. We got 2 1/2 inches overnight according to the rain gauge in the backyard, and except for an hour or two this afternoon we’ve been getting light rain most of the day.

There are bright spots, though. Like these guys.

IMG_0402

Another of the lilies is starting to bloom. The color on these guys is spectacular.

 

 

Farm Catch Up

Catching up with the week’s farm news

Local Alfalfa Die Off

The weather this spring has caused significant damage to the hay crop around here. I’ve been seeing large areas of stunted and even bare ground in a lot of the hayfields here in this county and in Manitowoc county when driving around. But you know it’s really bad when it makes the AP news. According to one report Manitowoc County has lost 10,000 acres of alfalfa, well over half of it’s hay crop due to the weather. From what I’ve seen around here I wouldn’t be surprised if we were almost that bad in this county. The main culprit was February daytime temps climbing into the mid 60s, then plunging down to the low 20s at night.

Addendum: After writing the above new info has been coming out that indicate the losses are as high as 80% here in Calumet County and in neighboring Manitowoc Cty. When you add everything up; increased labor costs, poor milk prices, and now a severe hay shortage, it doesn’t look good for the dairy industry around here, alas.

Manure, Manure everywhere and not a drop to drink

Kewaunee County is trying desperately to find a fix for it’s well contamination problem. Dumping massive amounts of manure from CAFOs (mega-farms) has polluted almost half of the wells in the county. The geology of the county is such that contaminants quickly flush through the soil, through the cracked bedrock, and into the groundwater in the area.

The county is proposing a new ordinance that could change how the farms are allowed to spread manure. Right now they can dump manure only in the spring and fall.

Some have been using high-pressure irrigation systems to spread manure, basically something similar to giant lawn sprinklers. There has been a huge stink about this. Literally, because this stuff doesn’t exactly smell all that appealing. There are also health concerns about the practice because the locals are afraid the vaporized cow poo could also be causing pathogens to get into the air as well.

The county is thinking of changing regulations. The new rules would forbid using high pressure irrigation type spraying of manure, but allow low pressure spraying, under the canopy of plants. It would also allow spreading manure over a 6 month period of time rather than restricting it to just spring and fall.

Will this do any good? Well, maybe??? If farms can spread out the application of manure over six months rather than having to dump all of it in just a few weeks, it might help.

In the long run though, no. It won’t. The problem is too much manure in one area.

When you have grazing cattle on pasture, the situation is entirely different. When a cow drops a pile on grass, it doesn’t just sink into the ground. It sits there on the surface. Insects lay eggs in it, insect larvae burrow through it. Birds and small mammals dig through it to eat the larvae, scattering the manure over a wider area. It naturally rots and decays and it gradually gets absorbed by the soil to be taken up by plants. It takes many days to go through this process, and almost none of the material ends up in the ground water.

But the process CAFOs use? The manure from thousands of cows is dumped into pits, liquified, churned up, allowed to bubble and ferment and cook for months, and then all of that muck is dumped on fields, at one time, tens of thousands of gallons of it dumped in just a day or two… It isn’t surprising we have problems. What’s surprising is that the situation isn’t far, far worse.

US Regains Beef Export to China

In 2003 China banned the import of US beef because of a case of BSE. It didn’t import US beef even after the ban was lifted a year ago. But a new trade deal may change that. In exchange for being allowed to ship cooked chicken to the US, China is going to allow the import of US beef, apparently starting in July.

China has seen a large increase in the consumption of beef in the last decade or so, but most of it’s beef imports have been coming from South America and Australia.

While the beef industry in the US is delighted, exactly how much China will import from the US remains to be seen. China, like the EU, bans the import of meat that was raised with the use of hormones and other growth promoters, a practice that is widespread in the US. It is unlikely China will change this requirement and, at the moment anyway, the production of hormone free beef in the US is very limited and it’s unlikely that will change very  much.

Donkeys? Really???

In the WTF department, I ran across this item over at AgWeb reprinted from Bloomberg. Donkeys are really popular in China. Not as pets or work animals or even for food, but for something called e’jiao. They take the skin of the donkey and render it down into a gelatin that some believe will enhance… Oh, come on, really? That? They think it does that?

Yeah, they do. “Libido enhancers” as the article delicately puts it. Or as those of us who are a lot less delicate would put it, dick pills.

Apparently the demand is so strong that it’s decimating the donkey population in some parts of the world.

I have two basic questions:

First of all, what idiot first said “Hey I’m going to rip the skin off that cute little donkey and boil it down and eat it and I bet it’ll turn me into one of those porn star dudes.”?

And second, who the hell is dumb enough to actually believe that first idiot up there?

Well, apparently a lot of people do believe, to the point where it’s having serious economic impacts on some communities in Africa where work animals are being sold off to be boiled down to make dick pills for impotent rich.

Anyway, if you want to know more click the link up there and read the article over at AgWeb.

What the hell is the matter with people? I mean, really? Boiling down donkeys, killing rhinos for their horns, cutting out bear gall bladders and I don’t know what all else, just so some fat, balding, aging jerk with an overinflated ego can…

No, I won’t go on or I will descend into vulgarity.

Got Milk? Increasingly the Answer is No

Sales of liquid milk for drinking have been falling for years now despite heavy advertising and marketing by the dairy industry. A brief but informative article over at NPR’s The Salt goes into the history of milk in the US and it’s worth clicking the link and taking a couple of minutes to read it.

Milk, as a beverage, has been falling out of favor for decades now. In the 1970s, as the article says, average consumption was about 30 gallons a year. Today it’s about half of that. If you go into the history of milk marketing in the US, it’s fascinating how the dairy industry turned a product that no one really needs, into an “essential source of nutrients”. And it is. If you’re a calf. Yes, milk does provide necessary nutrients, but it doesn’t offer anything that you couldn’t get from other foods.

The problem is that often milk is being replaced by stuff that’s a hell of a lot worse; soft drinks, juices, stuff that looks like juice but is really a blend of sugar water and fruit flavorings. Or with expensive and useless products like water fortified with vitamins you don’t need or herbal concoctions that have never actually been tested for safety.

Probably a more accurate slogan for marketing milk would be something like “Milk: It probably won’t kill you, but some of the other crap your drinking could.”

NAFTA

It’s official. The administration has formally announced it is going to renegotiate NAFTA. But before you get all giddy with anticipation, or full of dread or whatever your opinion is on the subject, don’t hold your breath waiting. From what I’ve been seeing going on in DC I get the feeling that this administration doesn’t have a clue as to how government actually works, doesn’t know what it itself is doing most of the time, and doesn’t understand how treaties like this actually work. Perdue’s earlier claim that the administration would completely renegotiate NAFTA in just a couple of weeks is especially troubling, giving more indications that they don’t know what they’re doing over there in DC.

 

 

Wet. And Jazz

Wet is what describes the weather here. Wet and cold. We had almost 24 hours of rain IMG_0187IMG_0188and everything is completely saturated around here. The gauge indicated we had about 2 inches. And the temperatures plunged as well. High temp yesterday was around 45 degrees, a good 20 degrees colder than the day before. If anyone thought winter was over, this will disprove that. Up in the Bayfield area they actually had to cancel schools the other day because of ice and snow.

Jazz – Last Sunday I worked for the high school jazz band’s spring concert. The students did a great job but the turnout was disappointing.Screen Shot 2017-04-28 at 6.55.47 AM.png I don’t think we had more than 50 – 60 people showed up for it, even though it’s a free concert. Most of the parents showed up, but that was about it. I suppose the scheduling was part of the problem. Because of scheduling conflicts they could only do it at 4 in the afternoon which is a fairly awkward time for a lot of people.

My job at these events is basically to keep things running smoothly and deal with emergencies if they turn up. But they aren’t making it easy. I found out last weekend that they pulled the control computer that operates the HVAC systems at the high school. Now if I have to make changes to the heating/cooling settings, I have to make a 20 minute trip to the downtown building to get on the computer there, then drive back to the high school…

I imagine it saves them money. They probably have to pay a license fee for that software at the high school, plus the cost of the equipment itself, but come on, really? If something goes wrong, I have to drive 20 minutes one way to read the diagnostics, drive 20 minutes back to the HS to fix the hardware problem, then drive 20 minutes back to downtown to check the diagnostics again and reset the systems, then drive 20 minutes back to the high school…

Oh brother… This is not going to work out well for them, I can see that. If we have a HVAC problem at the high school during a special event and I can’t get it fixed quickly because I have to run downtown just to get at the control systems, there are going to be a lot of very angry people at the event. Last year I got a panic phone call on graduation day that the temperature in the gym was 97 degrees and climbing. If I hadn’t had the control computer at the high school itself at the time and would have had to run back and forth between the two buildings just to do diagnostics, I wouldn’t have gotten the problem fixed until after graduation had been over. Hmph….

 

Farm Round Up

Lettuce Shortage

MrsGF works with the state’s various food service operations, including monitoring food purchases, and she tells me that the state’s prime food vendor has put out a warning that it may not be able to fulfill orders for lettuce because of adverse weather in California. Those poor buggers out in California — first a years long drought, then they get so deluged with rain that they can’t get their crops planted on time…  They just can’t seem to get a break. She’s put out warnings to the state’s food service operations that they’re going to need to change menus, switch to different types of greens, etc. until the situation is resolved. Kale and cabbage haven’t been hit quite as hard, but they’re seeing some serious shortages for various types of lettuce. Apparently it’s hitting the consumer market hard as well and prices are going up fast at the retail level. The Chicago Trib had a story about it just the other day here. (warning: may be paywalled) I was just at the local grocery store this morning and noticed iceberg lettuce is now around $2.50 a head, a dollar a head more than what it was what it was a couple of weeks ago, and they’ve put a limit of 2 heads per customer on purchases. Romain lettuce has also shot up in price. Pre-cut salad mixes containing lettuce have also gone up in price.

If you’re really desperate for leafy greens, fresh spinach looks like a bargain, going for about one third of the cost of lettuce at our local store. It also tastes better and is significantly better nutritionally than iceberg lettuce.

Over Supply

The biggest problem with agriculture right now seems to be over supply. There’s just too much corn, soybeans and milk being produced. Here in the US I’ve heard of co-ops, large farmers and grain dealers renting abandoned airport runways to pile up corn because they don’t have anyplace to put the stuff. Corn prices on the futures market are sitting at around 3.63 right now, and haven’t moved more than twenty cents up or down for months. And with the US looking at a seriously huge corn harvest in 2017, barring some kind of disaster, about the only direction that price is going to go is down.

Low soybean prices have made farmers in Brazil hang on to their crop, storing it rather than selling it in the hopes of higher prices. But now the corn harvest is going to start in June, and with the bins full of beans, there’s no place to store the corn. The Ukraine is predicting a huge increase in corn production to further destabilize things.

And as for the milk market, oh brother… The market is so glutted right now, especially in the US, that they don’t know what to do with the stuff. I’ve heard of processors pouring milk down the drain because they can’t deal with all of it.

The ag industry is going to have to get a grip on the problems with over production or the whole system is going to come crashing down around our ears.

Herbicide Resistance On The Rise

Weeds resistant to commonly used herbicides are becoming a massive problem. Glyphosate resistant waterhemp, a type of pigweed, has been spotted in at least 17 counties here in Wisconsin, and its cousin, a resistant Palmer amaranth, has been spotted in the state as well. Pigweed is especially difficult to deal with because it produces massive amounts of seed.

This is just another indication that we really need change the way we deal with weed problems. We can’t just keep trying to come up with ever more toxic chemicals to kill off weeds and GM modified crops. That scheme will always result in weeds eventually developing resistance to the herbicides and the cycle starting all over again.

Climate Change

It’s interesting to note that while we have an administration that continues to deny climate change, everyone else seems to have just accepted it and is trying to deal with it. Even Wal-Mart, which isn’t exactly known as a bastion of liberal policies, is trying to deal with the situation and is putting pressure on its suppliers to do likewise. While the politicians bluster and bluff and bloviate and grasp at straws to try placate whoever writes them the biggest check that week, out in the real world a lot of major companies have realized that if anything positive is going to get done, they’re going to have to do it themselves. Even some of the oil companies have started to admit that something has to be done.

GIPSA Rules Delayed

I don’t blame you in the slightest if you don’t know what the GIPSA rules are. If you raise poultry or pigs for one of the big meat packers, you know all about this and are quite possibly pulling your hair out. But almost no one outside of the business does.

The rules were intended to protect farmers who contract to raise meat animals for a meat packing company from abusive and discriminatory practices. “because the processors own the birds, the feed, and other inputs, they can unfairly disadvantage or preference one grower over another as a way of forcing the growers to do things against their will or shut down dissent.” is how critics put the behavior of the processing companies in one article. The basic idea is that the rules would have given farmers who raise animals on a contract basis some minimal rights without having to jump through a lot of hurdles that are basically impossible to jump. The rules were changed by court interpretations about ten years ago so farmers now have to prove that a company’s actions harmed not just them, but the entire market, before they can try to take any kind of legal action against the processing company. As one representative for farmers put it: “We can’t overstate the level of fear and intimidation felt by poultry growers that contact us or our partner organizations,” says Harvie. “If they choose to speak up, they risk everything—their contract, their land, their homes.” You can read that whole story here.

The administration has delayed the implementation of the rules and right now it looks like they will be eventually be abandoned entirely and the meat packing companies are already celebrating a victory.

Vomitoxin

A nasty name for a nasty mycotoxin. Vomitoxin is nasty stuff and it seems to be getting more common in US corn. It is a toxin caused by mold in corn, and generally hasn’t been much of an issue in the US, but it seems to be getting worse, especially because of wet conditions during last year’s corn harvest. The toxin makes corn unfit for consumption, even as animal feed.

It isn’t even suitable for use for ethanol, because the ethanol makers depend on dried distillers grain (DDG) to make a profit. DDG is what’s left over after the ethanol making process. It’s a fairly high protein cattle feed. The ethanol making process concentrates the mycotoxin, making the resulting DDG even more toxic than the corn originally was.

 

It’s been a weird fall here in Wisconsin

This fall has been ridiculously warm. You’d think we’d like this unusually warm fall up here in the land of blizzards, frozen cars, burst water pipes and children frozen to flag poles. But we don’t. Not really. We’re not used to this.

img_0828It’s October 23, and I’m still harvesting eggplant and peppers, for heaven’s sake. I mean look at that box full I picked this morning over there on the left. And there seems to be no end in sight. The eggplant and assorted pepper plants are in full bloom, loaded with baby fruit. I’m harvesting dill for the second time this year. I have a second crop of spring onions about ready to eat. I planted those at the end of September. I have chives coming out my ears. I’d be drying those but we already have far, far more chives than we know what to do with. The greek oregano is going crazy. It’s over a foot tall and in full bloom, for the second time this year. Same with the sage. Some of my hostas have put out flower stalks for the second time this season. I was looking back in the tomato bed that I cleaned out at the end of September and found a dozen or more volunteer tomato plants newly sprouted, some six inches tall already. I’m tempted to pot some of them and see if they’ll grow indoors.

According to the recording thermometer the coldest night we’ve had has been about 41. Daytime temperatures have generally been up in the high 60s to low 70s. The only way we know it’s fall is that the days are much shorter and the trees are losing their leaves.

This isn’t a horrible thing, this extended warm streak. It certainly is keeping the heating costs down. But it’s, well, odd. It doesn’t feel right. And you can tell it’s bothering people. They seem nervous, edgy, waiting for the other shoe to drop. We all have this feeling of mild dread.

I don’t know if it’s our upbringing, or some kind of inherent human trait, but we all seem to share it. We all get this feeling that something is too good. Some malicious deity or force of nature or something is deliberately lulling us into a false sense of security, and then wham, drops ten feet of snow on us, or plunges the temperature down to -30, or — or something is going to happen.

The thing is, we like winter up here. We like the snow. We like the bone chilling cold. It’s part of our heritage. It’s part of our nature.

We complain about the cold, the winter, true. But if you listen to those complaints, you begin to realize that we also take a perverse pride in it as well, pride in our ability to deal with it. And an enormous amount of delight in laughing at the people down south when an inch of snow shuts down the entire metro Atlanta area.

Our complaints about the cold and snow are part of the fun, the bragging about how cold it was, the complaints about shoveling six feet of snow off the porch before we could even get outside to get to the outhouse.

Well, okay, the outhouse thing is a bit outdated. We’ve had real indoor plumbing here in Wisconsin for, oh, two or three years now. But you know what I mean.

What’s the point in living in Wisconsin if we can’t brag about the bad weather any more? Is it really worth putting up with living here if we can’t laugh at the people in Illinois because they don’t know how to drive in the snow any more?