Frogs, Cactus and GF Makes A Thing

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

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

Mr. Spiny is in full flower again!

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

Anyway, we now have three more of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough of that. How about a flower?

GF Makes A – A Thing

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

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

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

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

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

Before – After. And even more Stuff!

Hey, I’m bored, so how about a few before/after pics?

Before
Now
Before
Now

I don’t have a ‘before’ photo of the squash for some reason. They’re looking great right now. They’ve just about tripled in size in the last week. The squash didn’t do well last year. They got powdery mildew which pretty much decimated them. But so far so good this year.

I had to throw in a photo of Mr. Spiny, our cactus because it just flowered yesterday and, well, look at that thing! Mr. Spiny is our “rescue cactus”. We found it laying on the town compost pile a few years ago. It had been a potted plant probably in someone’s house. We stuck him in the ground in a south west corner of the house, and he apparently loves it here.

I finally got the motorcycle out the other day. It had been sitting parked in front of the car for ages. Had to get a new battery for it and it started right up so I ran it around town for a while. MrsGF and I used to really be into motorcycling, especially long distance touring. We used to have a BMW that we spent weeks on every summer. Then we traded that off on a Goldwing. But around that time she started having problems with her knees and it was really hard for her to get on and off the bike, and well, we put a whopping 5,000 miles on the Goldwing in three years so it didn’t make sense to keep it. So I worked out a trade with my son and he’s got the Goldwing now and I have this VTX to run around on when the urge strikes me.

That’s the BMW we traveled on. We put about 50,000 miles on that thing traveling from Maine to Montana. Loved that bike. I suspect that if BMW hadn’t discontinued that model we’d still have one.

That’s it for now!

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…

 

Mr. Spiny Blooms: Cactus in Wisconsin

Mr. Spiny, the dopy cactus we rescued off the town compost pile is now doing this:

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 8.39.43 AM.png

He’s been absolutely thriving since we brought him home about three years ago, he’s more than tripled in size and this year he’s absolutely loaded with blossoms.

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 8.39.59 AM.png

I know absolutely nothing about cactus but apparently we’re doing something right if he’s growing like this.

Miscellaneous Stuff & Retired?

IMG_0375Cactus

I think Mr. Spiny the cactus is about to bloom! The cactus has been doing really well out there tucked up against the side of the house but it hasn’t blossomed in two years. It is currently loaded with new pads, but I noticed some of the new buds looked different, and may be flowers, not pads. I really hope so. The flowers on this plant are absolutely spectacular.

Whitefish Dunes State Park has become one of my favorite places. It has about 880 acres of shoreline along Lake Michigan up in Door County, and it’s well worth the price of admission. I’m not sure what the cost is because I get a yearly pass as part of my conservation patron license, but I think it’s about $8 for a day pass.

It’s hard to pick out a single photo from the park that is representative of how beautiful it is, but perhaps this one will do:

IMG_0343.jpg

People seem to think Wisconsin is a rather dull place, with flat land, corn, cows and football. But we have more than 14,000 lakes, plus Lake Michigan. We have cliffs, rivers, forests, water falls… Well, you get the idea.

Alas, I’m not sure how long the state park system is going to continue to exist, though. The current administration down in Madison has cut off all state funding for the park system. It’s only funding now is what it can generate from entrance and camping fees.

Lichen

I continue to be fascinated with lichen for some reason. If I’d ever actually gone to the botany class I signed up for in college I might actually know something about it. But I find the colors, the forms, and everything about it fascinating, and if you’d look through my photo library you’d find a lot of images of lichen and mosses. Most people find the photos rather dull, without the splashy colors of my flower photos, but I think lichen has it’s own unique beauty. Like this, for example

IMG_0362.jpg

The subtle shadings of greens and yellows and browns, the amazing shapes. Like I said, I’m fascinated with it.

Storms

We’ve been getting a lot of them of late. We’ve had severe thunderstorms roll through here two or three days in a row now, and we’re getting a bit tired of it. Here at the house we’ve avoided the worst of it, but there have been trees taken down, power outages, minor flooding and building damage all over the area with every one of these. It’s kept the SkyWarn people busy, as well as the utility crews trying to keep up with the damage.

I was really glad we had the backup generator yesterday. Power was out for about 45 minutes and if I hadn’t been able to use the generator we’d have ended up with about a foot of water in the basement because of the heavy rains. We got over an inch and a half of rain in about half an hour here. The sump pump was kicking in every 2-3 minutes all the while.

We actually have 2 generators. One is a little 2KW Yamaha inverter that was originally intended just to run the radio equipment for field day or in emergencies for ARES operations. The other is a big Generac 9KW that was intended to power most of the house. The intention originally was to put a big connector on the outside of the house going to the Generac and using it to run the whole house. As long as we don’t use the ovens, turn on every light in the house, etc., it would have enough capacity to keep everything going. But we never got around to installing the bypass switches and connectors necessary. And when we do have a power failure, the little Yamaha can keep the sump pumps going as well as the radios and a few lights. It’s also much, much easier to move around and get started. It also uses a hell of a lot less gas and is much, much quieter.

IMG_0377Roses! The first roses of the season have popped open at last. I’m not a huge rose fan. I like them, but generally I find them a bit fussy and fiddly to deal with. The one we have in the front of the house takes care of itself pretty much. It just keeps coming back year after year, surviving drought, wet, cold, heat…

That’s my kind of plant – just stick it in the ground and ignore it and it takes care of itself.

Oh, and while I’m on the subject of plants, we found this incredible tree up in Door County as well when we were up there on Monday. Neither of us had ever seen anything quite like it before. Covered with these beautiful red, white and yellow flowers.. Absolutely breathtaking. I don’t know what it is. Have been too busy (i.e. lazy) to actually do research to look it up.

IMG_0372

Retired

I turned in my resignation at work last week and I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I am unemployed. Willingly unemployed. It doesn’t seem right somehow.

Well, it isn’t like I was putting in a lot of hours at the job anyway, to be honest. The position I’ve been in for the last two years or so was part time, and more or less on an “as needed” basis. I worked for events at the theater, filled in when one of the day guys was out sick, or there was a situation that required extra help, that kind of thing. A lot of weeks I didn’t work at all and it was rare for me to put in more than 20 – 30 hours a month.

Still, not having a job? It feels — strange. Feels, oh, not right somehow.

 

Gardens, Flowers and Mr. Spiny

I never thought I’d have a cactus growing outside in my garden here in Wisconsin, but this is the third year we’ve had Mr. Spiny and he really seems to like it here.

IMG_0302.jpg

When we pulled this guy out of the compost heap and brought him home I never thought he’d survive more than a single summer. Instead it’s been thriving back there against the wall of the house. When we got him, he wasn’t in real good shape to begin with, but he showed his appreciation for being rescued by putting out brilliant yellow flowers, then embarked on more than doubling his size by shooting out new pads. Then last year he put out more new pads, and this year I counted 40 new pads sprouting off him.

I admit I know nothing about cactus, so him surviving and thriving is due more to him and dumb luck, but I’m pleased. Since we got him, I’ve found the same type of cactus out in Wyoming (found the hard way, I knelt on one. OMG did that hurt!). So if they can survive Wyoming winters, it makes sense that they could survive here.

IMG_0303.jpg

These guys put on a brilliant show in early summer, but to be honest I don’t really like this plant all that much. The long, pointed leaves flatten down to the ground and look shaggy and unkempt and kind of ratty. But when they flower they do look pretty for a while.

IMG_0304.jpg

These — I love the flowers, but they’re annoying. The flower stalks are spindly and very tall and tend to fall over. And they’re rather aggressive, getting into everything. Still, they’re really cheerful looking

 

IMG_0305.jpg

I’m eagerly awaiting the lilies. They’re loaded with buds this year. Ours are coming a bit late. Some of the neighbors’ are in full flower already, but they’ll be here soon enough.

IMG_0306.jpg

This guy, he popped up out of nowhere, a “volunteer”, as they call them, I guess. We didn’t plant him. It’s always fun when surprises like this pop up in the garden. Well, sometimes. Sometimes there is stuff you don’t want, like creeping jenny and ragweed, etc. But when something this pretty pops up? It’s delightful. Our maple tree in the back yard was a volunteer, springing up from seed in one of the vegetable beds one year, so we let it grow there for a couple of years, then moved it to a more hospitable area before finally putting it in its permanent location. It’s about 8 inches thick now and 20 feet tall.