I Like Autumn But…

Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 7.03.55 AMI really do like autumn, but even I have to admit it gets a bit dull around this time of year, visually speaking. The rich greens, the brilliant flowers, the bright sun of summer is rapidly fading into the dull browns and dreary cloudy skies of fall.

It’s been very cloudy and rainy here of late, which hasn’t helped much. That means I can’t get out on the bike as much as I’d like. Biking in temperatures in the high 40s and icy cold rain isn’t exactly my idea of fun, you see. I suppose it’s time to dust off the treadmill and start pounding out miles while binge watching Netflix or Amazon. It’s exercise, yes, but it’s not really the same as biking through the countryside.

Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 7.01.00 AMI am fortunately not one of those people who suffers from Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) but I know quite a few who are, and it’s easy to tell who they are this time of year. They tend to start to get grumpier and more irritable as the days become shorter. But even so I still find myself digging through my photos and lingering on things like bright, sunny scenes and and brilliantly colored flowers. Especially on days like today when it’s 7:30 AM and it looks like it’s going to be another one of those dull, cloudy days with rain. Ick…

We’re currently ramping up to the annual insanity that is Halloween around here. I have nothing against the holiday. I rather enjoy it. But it does seem to have gotten totally out of hand. Mrs. GF and I are convinced that they’ve started bussing kids in from the entire midwest and releasing them on our little town every Halloween, because we know there aren’t that many kids in town. Heck, the entire school district doesn’t have that many kids as we get running up to our door.

Anyway, I was at the local Walmart to get a prescription filled and while I was waiting I thought I’d see if they had some deals on Halloween decorations. It’s a little over two weeks away and I figured they’d be running closeouts on the stuff.

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Let’s stick another flower in. No real reason why. Just feel like putting a flower here.

I was wrong. The entire Halloween decoration section was gone. It was replaced with Christmas decorations. The only Halloween stuff they had left were those massive bags of cheap, crappy candy that is apparently made out of flavored chalk.

Christmas decorations? Really? It’s October 15, for heaven’s sake!

I really should have expected that, though. Retailers don’t live in the same universe you and I live in. In their world time is a strange and mysterious thing that has no basis in reality. A couple of years ago I needed to get a winter coat. It was January, it was -20 degrees out, and I’d just ripped my heavy winter coat by snagging it on something. So it’s January. In Wisconsin. It’s -20 out. You’d think that here in Wisconsin you could buy a winter coat, right? Good luck. Swimwear? Yes. Shorts? Yes. Sandals? Yes. Winter clothes? No. I finally made the 25 mile drive to the “local” Fleet Farm and got one there. Sheesh…

I suppose I should wrap this up and go do something. We’re still in the process of cleaning up the gardens. The non-producing peppers got yanked yesterday, I need to take down the old sunflowers outside the kitchen window. The birds have pretty much gotten all of the seeds out of them and they’re looking pretty bad. It’s raining right now but maybe the weather will cooperate later.

Oh, almost forgot. We have email now! If the nice Mr. Google cooperates and everything is working, you can reach us at   wis.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com

If I remember to ever actually check the account. If it actually works because I haven’t actually tested it yet.

Yes, you really need to put the “wis.” part in there.

 

Garden Clean Up Time

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One of the issues with the iPhone camera is it doesn’t give any kind of sense of perspective. That pile of vines is actually about waist high and the bed behind it is 8 feet deep and 12 feet long.

Although you sure can’t tell it from the weather (70 degrees here at 7AM) it really is autumn and we’ve been working on cleaning up the gardens periodically for a while now. The weather this morning was great, cloudy and kind of drizzly but warm and shirt sleeve comfortable, so by 7:30 I was out working on cleaning up some of the remaining beds, including the squash.

We’d put in acorn and butternut, only about 4 plants, and we were curious to see how it would work because we’d never tried to grow them before. And the location isn’t ideal, either. Tucked away behind the west end of the garage they really only get sun in the afternoon and evening, plus there’s a tree back there that does some shading.

They started out beautifully, turning into big, healthy plants sending vines everywhere and setting a lot of squash. Alas, I think a combination of the shady IMG_0747conditions plus the very damp weather we had this season kept them from producing as well as they could have. We’ve been eating squash from there for a few weeks now. Very nice stuff and very tasty. But the squash themselves were small, and then because of the damp conditions and shaded location they started to get what MrsGF thinks is powdery mildew, which together prevented them from doing as good as they should have.

The vines were almost completely withered so I cleaned everything out this morning and gathered up the remaining squash.

As an experiment I think it went pretty well, all things considered. Yes, there was a mildew problem and probably too much shade in that spot, but we still got some delicious squash out of the deal. They are so good when roasted with some brown sugar and butter.

IMG_0750The peppers — holy cow have they taken off! They struggled all summer long, those poor plants, and that was largely our fault because we crowded them too much. I did some drastic thinning, taking out more than half the plants, and almost immediately the remaining ones responded with ridiculous amounts of fruit.

We plant mostly poblano (which is my personal favorite), sweet banana peppers, and sweet bell, along with the “mystery” peppers, which turned out to be habanero which are so bloody hot no one we know will touch the things.

Interestingly enough, no one will admit they planted habaneros. MrsGF swears she didn’t raise them. I certainly didn’t put them in there. So where did they come from? Crazed hot pepper fiends sneaking around late at night and slipping them into people’s gardens?

The ones I picked this morning will get washed, diced up and frozen for use later. We generally just mix them all together, with the poblanos more intense flavor helping along the more bland sweet bells. The mix is great in fried potatoes, mac and cheese, soups, etc.

MrsGF is off this morning to her sister’s place to get “a lot” of grapes. I’m not sure how many grapes are in “a lot”. Could be anywhere from a few quarts to a 5 gallon bucket full. If there are enough of them, she’s going to make jelly out of them. The vines these come from are probably close to a century old, and they’re still producing like crazy most years.

Yes, I know, grape jelly is dirt cheap in the stores. But comparing Welch’s to the jelly that comes from these grapes is sort of like comparing Busch Light to, oh, New Glarus Staghorn Octoberfest. They are both technically beer, but the difference in quality is several orders of magnitude apart.

 

Streets, Autumn, Photos and Barns Abandoned

They finally finished paving the street in front of the house the other day! We were very glad of that. The dust from the trucks rolling past over the unpaved sections was getting onto everything. We couldn’t open the windows on that side of the house. For a few days I couldn’t even get the Corvette out of the driveway because after they did the final grading there was a 5 inch drop at the end of the driveway that would have ripped the front splitter off the nose of the car.

We have an open front porch tucked into the side of the house which is a great place to sit and have a coffee and read on warm days, which is now covered in a thick layer of dust. I’m going to have to get out there with the car wash brush, a big bucket of soapy water and the hose and give it a good scrubbing. There’s so much dust you leave footprints when walking across the decking, the window sills are thick with the stuff, and even the poor plants out there should get hosed down.

IMG_0744Colder weather and rain have slowed things down as far as biking is concerned. I manage to get out most days still, but I know the time is coming when the bike is going to have to hang up in the garage and it’ll be back to the treadmill (ick). Still, when the weather does cooperate, it is absolutely beautiful out there in the countryside.

These crisp, cool autumn mornings are amazing. Now that it’s cooler there is less moisture and haze in the air, making everything seem more crisp and clear and brighter. There’s something about the quality of the light as well that changes because the sun is at a lower angle in the sky. The result is that on some mornings everything just seems to glow with this lush, rich, golden light that seems almost impossible to capture with the camera.

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There is something magical, mystical about being out in the woods on mornings like this, at least for me. The sounds, the smells, the crystal clear air. Everything seems more — more alive, more vibrant. With the brilliant greens now fading into browns and reds and dull orange, the woods begins to transform itself in that endless cycle of life, dormancy, rebirth…

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It becomes a place of wonder and takes on an almost spiritual quality. It makes you wish you were a poet because only a poet could adequately express what you are seeing in mere words.

But then time presses, and you have to leave and you know, hope, you will be back soon to feel that breathtaking beauty, the astonishing complexity of nature, that golden light…

IMG_0746Gads, after writing all that guff switching to this is going to be a jolt. Going from the beauty of nature to, well, to this… Yet another abandoned, collapsed barn. This one is just outside of town and it caved in about a month ago, and I decided to take a picture of it when I was out on the bike the other day.

It hurts when I see this happening, but it is happening more and more often. The whole countryside around here is dotted with abandoned barns in various states of collapse. I keep thinking of the pride, the hope, the joy the original farmers who put it up had as they watched the timber frame going up, the roof being put on, the side boards being nailed into place. A new home for their cattle, storage for the feed. The barn was the center of the farm, it’s heart.

But I know why it happens, why they are abandoned. Farming has changed drastically in the last few decades and these old barns are completely useless for modern farming. They’re the wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong, well, wrong everything when it comes to modern farming.

And they are incredibly expensive to try to maintain as well, and even more ridiculously expensive if you want to restore one. The wood they are made of was once so abundant it wasn’t worth much. Even if you could find a 10X10 oak beam these days, you couldn’t afford it. And the long, wide, solid wood boards the siding is made from? You can’t afford those, either. So they don’t get repaired because of the huge cost, and there’s no incentive to repair them in the first place because they aren’t useful any more. So they sit, empty, the roofs leaking, timbers rotting, boards falling off, until, at last, this happens.

The big, red barns that dominated the countryside around here are, within another few decades, going to mostly be gone except for the few that are being maintained by people who can afford to do it.

It’s sad, but at the same time it is, I suppose, natural evolution at work. I still wince and shake my head when I see it happening, but I know why it is happening. So there is a feeling of deep nostalgia, but understanding and acceptance as well. Life moves on.

 

Beautiful Mornings and Silliness

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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.

Catching Up

IMG_0702The pears have just started to ripen, something we always look forward to. Alas, it hasn’t been a good year for pears. Normally we end up filling five gallon buckets with the things and giving them away to anyone we can talk into taking them, but this year we’re going to be lucky if we get more than a few dozen. The weather this spring when it was putting out flowers was not very good. We were getting cold days, lots of rain, and not a single bee in sight. I think it was the lack of pollinators that caused the drastic cutback in production this year.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. When that tree is in full production we have far, far more pears than we can deal with. We give away all that we can, eat what we can, and, alas, the rest end up as compost.

This particular type of pear doesn’t hold up well for canning or freezing. They are best eaten fresh, just after they turn ripe. And dear lord, they’re good. Sweet as candy, juicy, with a lush, melt in your mouth texture. The ones in the basket are still too green to eat but they’ll start to turn yellow in a few days.

One problem we have is trying to pick them before they fall. Wait a just a bit too long, and they’ll hit the ground and because of the soft texture they turn to mush from the fall. So you have to try to pick them just before they turn.

Now I love peppers, but I prefer the milder ones. Poblano peppers are probably my favorite. Just a touch of warmth to them, with a rich, slightly smokey flavor. I’m fond of jalapeno  peppers as well, but that’s about the upper limit of my tolerance for heat.

IMG_0703So how we ended up with these guys, I have no idea. The little red ones… Dear lord, they’re hot! When they were green they were tolerable and had a fairly good flavor, but now? Just cutting one in half sends out fumes that make the eyes water, and those little yellow ones are almost as bad. MrsGF, it seems, didn’t label the seedlings with great accuracy last spring, if at all, so we had no idea what we were going to get until they started to produce fruit.

The yellow ones are even worse. Just cutting one up makes my eyes start to water and my nose burn. I cut one of the yellows up last night and talked EldestSon and YoungestSon into trying them, after I took a bite myself to prove they weren’t all that bad. Apparently my tolerance for hot peppers has increased over the years because they both thought they were pretty bad. Not to the point where you’d run to the fridge for the milk, but darn close.

Addendum: I just found out that the yellow one is apparently a golden habanero pepper with a heat rating of up to 350,000 scovilles. Wow… Jalapeno is only about 5,000 scovilles. Yeah, that’s a bit hot.

I need to make sure we only put in poblano and sweet bell next year, and maybe one or two jalapeno.

MrsGF pointed out that it seems that the only veggies that grow really, really well here is the stuff we don’t really like, like the super hot peppers, eggplant and the like, while the stuff we do like a lot, gets eaten by bugs or doesn’t grow well. That’s an exaggeration of course, but some years it does seem that way.

IMG_0689We’re very fortunate in that the town has an outstanding composting program that it’s been running for years now. We’re even more luck in that we’re just a couple of blocks away from the compost site. The guys have been busy sifting the newest batch of compost and it’s ready to go. After cleaning out the garden spaces I’ll be making regular runs down here with my little trailer to take advantage of it.

IMG_0686Last weekend I proved to myself that I’m still a 6 year old at heart because seeing this thing in the parking lot at the grocery store made me grin like an idiot. Yes, the Weinermobile. Oscar Meyer has been running these for a lot of years, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen one of them close up.

I should point out I’m not a big fan of Oscar Meyer products. And the free hotdog I snagged reminded me why. A pale pink tube that tasted mainly of salt and artificial smoke flavorings and one of the most unappetizing colors I’ve ever had the misfortune to see.

IMG_0697Then we woke up to the sound of our street being reduced to gravel. Literally. Big road grinder moving slowly back and forth in front of the house grinding the pavement and everything else in it’s path into dust as they prep for repaving a section of the street. Loud? Oh dear… Sounded and felt like a 747 was landing in the backyard. They’ve been prepping for this for weeks now, replacing sections of curb and gutter and driveway aprons.

IMG_0699We’re hoping they get this done soon. Right now the road in front of the house is pretty much nothing but dust. We get a lot of big trucks through here and there is a patina of dust over everything. It’s getting more than a little annoying.

Let’s end this with some roadside flowers. Clumps of these have popped up along the backroads around here all over now and they make a brilliant display when you stumble over them.

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Changes. Enjoy the Flowers While We Can

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting noticeably shorter, temperatures are getting cooler. The leaves on the trees are beginning to change color. I’ve said before that I like winter, I love the fall. But I’m rather reluctant to let go of summer and embrace the change of season this year.

IMG_0678We still have brilliant flowers growing outside, but knowing that it’s only a matter of a few weeks before they begin to fade is kind of sad.

And the weather, at least this week, doesn’t have much of an autumnal flavor. After days of daytime temps not much more than the mid-fifties and night time temperatures down in the forties, it hasn’t been exactly summery out.

But yesterday it hit the high seventies, and for the next few days the highs are supposed to be in the low 80s. So we’re going to enjoy it while we can.

IMG_0679The gardens here are doing reasonably well for this time of year. Still lots and lots of flowers, the squash are amazing. This is the first year we grew squash and it’s been more successful than we could have hoped. It looks like we’re going to have a couple of dozen acorn and butternut squash from those few plants.

Alas, the same can’t be said for the tomatoes and peppers that were in the raised beds. Last year the raised beds were amazing. This year… The tomatoes; we know what happened with them. They picked up a fungus because of the wet weather we had all spring and well into summer. And we planted them too close together so there was poor air circulation. That combined to take out the tomatoes early this year. We got enough to make some soup and sauce, but less than a third of the production we should have had.

IMG_0680Not sure what happened with the peppers. I suspect some kind of insect damage plus the wet weather was too much for them. The sweet bells in that bed didn’t even flower. The banana peppers and hot peppers did have some yield, but not as much as they should have had. The peppers we planted in other locations did just fine.

Something in the soil? Don’t know. I may end up digging out all of the soil in both of the raised beds and replacing it this fall just to see what happens. They’re only 8X4 so it wouldn’t be a huge operation to do it. We’ll see.

This week I’ll probably get started doing the usual fall cleanup, starting with the tomatoes and the peppers that haven’t been producing. No point in keeping either of those. The tomatoes, well, they’re all pretty much dead anyway, and it’s pretty obvious that except for the banana peppers we aren’t going to get anything from the IMG_0681others, so there’s no point in leaving them there and we might as well haul them down to the compost pile.

One thing I’ve noticed all season long is a lack of bees. Until recently, I hadn’t seen a single honey bee around. A few bumble bees, but that’s it. That’s probably why the pear tree hasn’t produced the way it usually does. When it was in flower there were almost no bees at all around here. Probably also why the cucumber production has been so poor. The plants are doing well and flowering beautifully, but very little fruit.

One good sign is that yesterday the sedum were loaded with honey bees. Dozens of them were zooming down on the sedum flowers. A bit late, but still nice to see.

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