Photos Along The Trail

I generally don’t take the good camera along when I’m out on the bike because it’s awkward and heavy and I already am carrying a bag with a tire repair kit, tire pump, tools and other things to deal with a breakdown, so I make due with the cell phone. But yesterday I lugged it along for some reason and I’m glad I did because without the telephoto lens I never would have caught this guy sunning himself.

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 5.52.50 AM.png

There are a lot of turtles around here, but you just don’t see them very often unless one makes the mistake of trying to cross the road. I found this fellow sunning himself yesterday morning down by the old stone bridge. Beautiful little guy, maybe about 8 inches across. If I hadn’t had the telephoto I never would have been able to get this picture. Took it from about 25 feet away. You can see he’s already looking back to see what the heck is going on, and he slipped off into the water just a few moments after I got this picture.

This guy, though, wasn’t going anywhere.

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 5.53.19 AM.png

He was happy, sunning himself, and was entirely content to just sit there even with me perched on the bridge above trying to take his picture. I can’t believe the number of frogs we have this year. It’s amazing. They’re everywhere this year. Great to see them because without them and other creatures like them we’d have so many mosquitos, biting flies and other nasties it would be impossible to even go outside around here this summer.

I finally got a photo of the kingfisher! Well, sort of. This one below is the best I’ve been able to get.

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 5.54.12 AM.png

There are about a dozen of these guys down by the stone bridge area this year, and they’re beautiful birds, enormous fun to watch, but it seems every time I have a camera, they suddenly have the urgent need to be somewhere else. Been trying for over a month to get a photo and this is the best I could do. Sigh…

And, of course, we have to have some flowers, right?

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 5.54.40 AM.png

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 5.54.55 AM.png

Not technically from along the side of the trail. Found these when I was going through the Ledgeview Nature Center just south of Chilton yesterday. We are very fortunate to have Ledgeview and the Brillion nature center. They help to restore the area’s native plants and animals, work with educational programs with the local schools, and provide everyone with an opportunity to just get outside and enjoy life. Some of them are open year round, with cross country skiiing and hiking during the winter. Ledgeview even has a snowshoe program, teaching people how to use snowshoes to get out onto the trails when the snow’s too deep for normal hiking.

Photos and Stuff

It’s been busy here and it’s kept me off the computer. Between biking, gardening, trying to set up a new photo printer (more about that in another post), sitting down with ES to spec out a new gaming computer and other stuff, I haven’t had a heck of a lot of time, so let’s see if I can get caught up here.

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 6.43.06 AMWe weren’t really sure what kind of production we were going to get from the old pear tree. At first it looked like there wasn’t going to be much fruit. With the cold, wet weather we had when it was in blossom we were afraid it didn’t get pollinated, and we didn’t see many fruits on it. but immature pears are almost the same color as the leaves so it’s hard to tell. Now that the fruit is getting bigger it looks like there are going to be fewer than last year, but more than enough for our use. This variety doesn’t ripen until usually about mid-September, and when they ripen, they all ripen at the same time and we have to deal with a sudden rush of fruit to can or freeze. This variety is best eaten fresh. When ripe they are incredibly juicy, ridiculously sweet and absolutely luscious, with a buttery, creamy texture. That also means they aren’t really suitable for canning because the fruit is too soft to hold up well. We tried freezing some last year and that worked out pretty well so we’ll probably freeze them rather than can this year.

I don’t know exactly why, but the flowers have been absolutely spectacular this year. Maybe it was the wet weather, maybe all the compost we hauled in last year. In any case, they’ve been absolutely amazing. Right now the lilies are still putting on one heck of a show. The colors on some are so brilliant they almost glow in the dark.

DSCF3811Ah, the lowly thistle… It’s a weed, true, but it can be such a pretty one when it’s in flower. We have a lot of different varieties of thistle around here, and almost all of them are classified as weeds, and they can be pretty invasive and difficult to deal with. But my, they can be pretty…

DSCF3805DSCF3804DSCF3803

And then there are the grasses. I love taking pictures of grasses for some reason. There’s something about the complexity of the image, the different textures, the browns and greens, the developing seeds.

DSCF3814And fruit — lots of wild plants are fruiting right now and it drops a bit of color into the scene.

DSCF3821

How about some ducks? I’ve been keeping an eye on this family of ducks down by the stone bridge all summer now and they look like they’re thriving.

And last but not least, this guy…

DSCF3817

My main camera right now is a Fujifilm camera I picked up about 4 years ago, and I love it, not so much because of the camera itself but because of the lens. It has this wonderful zoom/macro lens that lets me use it a variable telephoto lens up to 30X, or get close ups of tiny, tiny things like this bug, all with the same lens.

That’s all for now. I want to get out on the bike while it’s still relatively cool out. I’ll tell you about the new photo printer another time

 

Queen Ann Lace and More Stuff

IMG_0489.jpg

Queen Ann’s Lace (Wild Carrot)

Queen Ann’s Lace grows along the roadsides, along lanes and trails, and while a lot of people treat it like a weed I’ve always thought the flowers are absolutely beautiful. We had it growing on the farm when I was a kid. It would pop up along the lanes, on sunny, sandy hillsides in the woods. It was very common. Still is.

It’s actually a wild carrot. Supposedly the roots are edible, at least when young, and taste like, well, carrot. Apparently some people claim they eat the leaves and flowers, and other people claim it’s poisonous and will kill you. I certainly am not going to volunteer to try it and find out which is true.

My mother loved them too. She’d collect them during the summer, tie up bunches of them and hang them in the garage to dry the flowers. She also told me that some people apparently made tea out of the stuff. According to the stories she’d heard as a kid the local Native Americans made an herbal medicine out of it by steeping parts of the plant in water. Years later I learned that apparently the stories were more or less right, although not in the way she thought. A local historian told me that it was used as an abortifacient and contraceptive.

Then along one of the bike trails this stuff is popping up:

It’s a striking plant, can get very tall, and the flower head is spectacular when it’s in full bloom. This stuff used to grow along the trails and fence lines on the farm too. My father called it “Indian tobacco” or wild tobacco.

It’s actually the common mullein, and isn’t native to North America. It’s fairly common. It isn’t a nasty plant, but it can harbor some nasties, like cucumber mosaic virus and powdery mildew, so you probably don’t want it growing in your garden.

And it seems my father wasn’t really wrong because while it is not tobacco, the Native Americans apparently did smoke it as a treatment for breathing problems. it’s also been used in a wide variety of other allegedly medicinal preparations.

It’s interesting how I seem to have come full circle. As a kid, seven, eight years old, I’d spend hours wandering around the more wild areas of the farm, watching the animals and insects that congregated around the stream, walking through the woods examining the plants and wildlife with intense curiosity, and now that I’m retired I find myself doing the same thing and enjoying it just as much as I did when I was a kid.

Farm Catch Up

Stories you might have missed about food, agriculture, and the ever popular ‘stuff’, along with occasionally snarky commentary.

Coffee Linked To Not Dying!

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 2.14.11 PMOoo, coffee — that delightful, delicious beverage that both pleasures the taste buds and enlivens the brain, oh I feel so sorry for those of you who drink tea. (Come on, you tea drinkers know what you’re drinking is lawn sweepings soaked in tepid water, right?)

Anyway, now that I’m done annoying the tea drinkers out there (you know who you are), let’s get on with this.

That headline up there is not clickbait. It’s true. According to a study published actual real live doctors from an actual research facility and published in an actual science journal (not the Flintstone’s Institute for Advanced Studies of Sciency Stuff and Flat Earth Society where most of the congress apparently gets its science information) you have almost a 20% less chance from dying from just about anything if you drink coffee. Well, probably not getting hit by an asteroid or something like that. They mean heart disease, stroke, cancer, that kind of thing. If you click the link it will take you to an article over on The Guardian and you can get the links to the actual study from there.

Missouri Bans Dicamba

Missouri joined Arkansas in issuing an emergency ban on the sale and use of herbicides

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 6.29.22 AM

soybeans damaged by dicamba

containing dicamba after it was learned that more than 200,000 acres of non-GM soybeans were allegedly damaged by the product. The Arkansas ban was approved by the Governor’s office and will go into effect on July 11, and is in effect for 120 days. The Missouri one doesn’t seem to have a specific time limit, but the agency involved in Missouri said it hoped the problems could be resolved and the ban lifted yet this growing season.

Dicamba has always been difficult to work with. It turns to vapor and can drift for extremely long distances. Non-GM soybeans are extremely sensitive to the product, and even a tiny amount can damage the crop, so any kind of drifting is a serious problem. Monsanto has claimed that it’s “VaporGrip” version of the product cured the problems when used properly. But it doesn’t seem to be working very well.

So, you ask, what dos Monsanto say about all of this? Glad you asked.

They’re blaming everyone else, of course. In an interview over at CropLife, a Monsanto spokesperson blamed everyone and everything except, of course, it’s product. Farmers spraying at the wrong time of day, having residue from other products in the sprayer’s tanks, not following proper procedures, using the wrong spray nozzles, spraying in windy conditions. And all, of course, without offering any proof that any of this actually happened.

More Chlorpyrifos Controversy

Five states (and I’ve heard several more are in line to do it too) are suing the EPA over it’s decision to permit the continued use of Chlorpyrifos, a very nasty pesticide that is known to cause serious health problems, especially in children.

I mentioned this before. Last year the EPA determined that chlorpyrifos was dangerous, and public health organizations, doctors and other health care professionals have been pushing for it to be banned for years. The EPA was going to ban the stuff at last.

But then along came Pruitt and he claimed the stuff is just fine and dandy and that they had real actual “meaningful data and meaningful science” to prove it. Associated Press, other media, and health officials have repeatedly requested the EPA provide them with the data, but the EPA has refused to respond to any of the requests.

I don’t like being a cynical old bastard, but I get the feeling the EPA hasn’t provided it yet because they have interns locked in a back room somewhere desperately trying to write something sciency enough to fool the average reader into believing this stuff is “safe”.

Oh, I should point out that DOW, which makes chlorpyrifos, contributed $1 million to Trump to fund his inauguration, its CEO is supposedly good friends with him, and it has spent over $13 million “lobbying” various politicians in the past year.

Commodities Markets Are Weird

If you followed my old blog on Tumblr you know I’m fascinated with the agricultural commodities market and how it functions. Or, rather, how it doesn’t function, because it’s often so screwed up it’s laughable. Often what’s going on in the futures markets seems to have little to do with reality. Like right now.

USDA came out with it’s crop status report, and it’s the worst that they’ve issued since the 2012 drought, with only 65% of the corn crop rated at “good” or better, and only 62% of the soybean crop rated “good” or better.

Now during the drought, corn and soybean prices skyrocketed, with corn pushing the $8/bushel range for a time. So you would naturally think that a report that bad would push the prices up, right?

Well, no. After the report came out, corn prices fell by about 5 cents a bushel, and soybeans dropped more than 12 cents.

Apparently what drove the morning price down was that the report wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be.

Bureaucratic Run Around

More on the dicamba front: BASF, which has partnered with Monsanto to produce the special dicamba blend that was just banned in Arkansas and Missouri after enormous numbers of complaints about crops damaged by the herbicide, is trying to pull a bureaucratic end run around the ban by applying for something known as a “special local need label”.  This is a special permitting system that allows the use of a pesticide that normally cannot be used, because no other pesticide would be effective. Basically it was originally intended to help during emergency situations where there was an infestation of some pest that threatened to wipe out a crop, and only a non-registered pesticide would work. If you want, you can read the information about that whole process here.

Considering dicamba has damaged literally hundreds of thousands of acres of crops as it has drifted across the countryside, it seems that problem here is dicamba, not the weeds it’s supposed to control.

What The Hell Is Milk Anyway?

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 7.42.36 AMThere is a lot of fighting these days over the definition of the term “milk” when it comes to products being sold to consumers, specifically over the use of the term in describing drinks made with various nuts and beans. I.e. “soy milk” and “almond milk” and that kind of thing. Even USDA isn’t sure, and is using the word “milk” in much of it’s literature when referring to these products.

I can certainly understand why the almond industry wants to use the term. It’s because calling “almond milk” what it really is, isn’t exactly appealing. If they labeled it accurately, they’d have to call it “97% water with a few ground up almonds, emulsifiers, stabilizers, gums, flavoring agents, coloring, added vitamins and minerals and preservatives and you’d get more nutrition from just eating five or six actual almonds than drinking this stuff beverage”.

Try fitting that on the label on the bottle.

Rural Internet Access

For anyone living out in the country internet access is a major problem. There are various schemes and scams floating around that claim they will bring high speed internet to rural residents, but most of them are never going to get anywhere for various reasons.

Why won’t the ISPs connect rural customers? Cost, of course. It would take ages for them to make up the cost of connecting everyone outside of cities and towns. The same thing happened with electricity and telephone back in the day, the providers wouldn’t hook up rural areas until the government pretty much forced them to and paid a lot of the costs associated with it. And in this current political climate, well, a prominent Wisconsin politician (Sensenbrenner) is on record as saying that no one actually needs internet in the first place, thus illustrating that he hasn’t a clue as to what life is like out here in the real world.

The problem with most of these schemes is that they rely on some type of radio communication, either types of cellular networks, microwaves, or some kind of extended wifi system. And the fact of the matter is that we don’t really have the spectrum available to make these schemes work. The radio spectrum is so severely overcrowded now that cellular companies are paying billions of dollars for access to a few frequencies to expand their networks and improve their systems. So exactly where they’re going to squeeze in these new services is problematic.

The other problem is that some of these systems are already being tested or are even already in use in limited areas, and they don’t really work very well and they aren’t really all that fast. We have a kind of microwave system in use around here serving residents that live outside of the wired system, and it has some serious issues. Heavy rain and snow disrupts service, speeds slow to a crawl during ‘prime time’ when many people are trying to use the system, and most of these systems are very expensive, have some very serious data caps, and have lots of other issues associated with them.

Yet another problem is that what the feds are calling “broadband” isn’t really broadband by anyone’s definition. The US has some of the most abysmal internet speeds of any first world country. The ISPs here have been concentrating on throttling back usage, restricting bandwidth, charging utterly ridiculous amounts of money for going over artificially created caps so they can cram ever more paying users into an already overloaded system, and not investing any of that money in improving the infrastructure or in extending their coverage. The result is that US speeds are about half of what they are in the UK, the EU, Japan, Korea, and even the metro areas of China.

The feds definition for “broadband” internet for rural areas is even worse than what it is in urban areas, about 10 meg/second. So you can forget about making that conference call to work if your kid is playing WOW or your dear spouse is down in the basement watching PornHub.

Manure Rules

Wisconsin is finally doing something about the very serious contamination of wells by

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 2.45.57 PM

Why is she wearing a mask? If you had to pose in a swimsuit with a bunch of cows, you’d probably wear a mask too.

manure from farming operations. I’ve mentioned before that we have had problems with well contamination from farm runoff, especially in Kewaunee County, were it’s estimated that 30% – 40% of the wells are contaminated. It hasn’t been widely reported, but the problem is so bad that local organizations, schools and others have been giving out drinking water to local families because of the widespread contamination of the wells up there.

The state is going to be issuing new rules that will finally put some restrictions on when, how and where farms can spread manure. Hopefully this will help.

Okay, okay — I know that photo has nothing to do with the story. But if I come across a photo of a person in a swimsuit, wearing a mask, standing with a bunch of cows, I’m going to put it up. I can’t help myself.

 

Stuff, Nonsense, and More Garden Photos

Mr. Spiny, the cactus we rescued from the town compost pile, has gone totally goofy this year. He now looks like this:

IMG_0485.jpg

I counted around 13 flowers, with about a dozen more buds ready to flower in the next day or two. I kinda, sorta knew that cactus flowered, but I had no idea they did this! We thought it was a really neat plant before, but now– Wow.

Mrs. GF picked up a packet of old seeds on sale for a few cents earlier in the season, threw them in one of the gardens, and then these things came up —

DSCF3787.JPG

I had no idea she did it so I was astonished and delighted when these brilliant orange poppies started to appear last week. The color on these guys is so intense they almost glow in the dark.

With some plants you don’t appreciate their beauty until you get up close to them and really look at them. Like the oregano we’ve been trying to kill off for years now. The stuff turned out to be horrifically aggressive, taking over the entire plot of ground, and even taking over the lawn in that area. And while it does smell amazing when I mow the lawn over there, we would like to grow something besides oregano there, so we’ve been rather ruthless in keeping what’s left in check.

But that very annoying plant, well, even it looks neat when it starts to come into flower as it is now.

DSCF3784.JPGDSCF3791.JPG

The Fuji camera I use has a pretty darn nice macro-zoom lens on it and while depth of field and focus is a pain to get right when I get this close to something, the results are worth it.

Heck, even the lowly cucumber looks pretty when you get close to it:

DSCF3794.JPG

Other stuff–

We’ve been going to state parks this summer. Wisconsin has one of the finest state park systems in the country. The places are absolutely beautiful.

Or perhaps I should use the phrase “had one of the finest state park systems”. The state government has decided, in its infinite stupidity, to cut off all funding for the entire state park system. It does not get any funding from the state any more and is going to have to survive entirely on entrance and camping fees, donations, and any other money it can scrounge up. I wouldn’t be surprised to find them out on the beaches with metal detectors looking for change people dropped to try to keep the parks running. The new paradigm down in Madison seems to be that if it doesn’t make a profit for someone who can funnel bribe money [ahem, excuse me] campaign contributions into their bank accounts or fund their PACs, it isn’t going to get any of our tax money. Sigh…