Weather, gardens, and Stuff

We’ve been on a sort of weather rollercoaster here. We went from high temperatures in the low fifties to 91 degrees and humid on Tuesday, then back down to a high of about 60 on Wednesday, and today we’re supposed to be back up in the steam bath again today with temperatures up in the 90s. Sheesh. It’s been an odd spring.

I’m back out on the bike on a regular basis at least thanks to the warmer weather. It looks like farmers are a bit behind in planting this year from all of the unplanted fields I’m seeing out there.

It’s dry out there, folks. According to the statistics we’re reasonably close to normal rainfall, but actual ground conditions are not good. The entire state is under a burning ban and we’ve had wild fires popping up all over the state. Some parts of the state got some decent rainfall but it skipped around us. We’re going to have to start watering the vegetable beds here today or tomorrow if we don’t get some rain.

Now that I’m back on the bike again I’ve been down to the river at the old stone bridge about 4 miles from here and things look unusually dry down there as well. Water levels in the river are unusually low for this time of year. This branch of the Manitowoc River usually isn’t this low until mid to late summer.

The old stone bridge is a great spot to stop and get a drink and just watch nature. There’s almost no traffic on that road. I’ll stop there for ten or fifteen minutes, get out my water and stand on the bridge and just watch nature. There are at least two families of geese out there, a few muskrats swimming around, turtles and birds everywhere.

Here at the house the early spring flowers are popping up everywhere. The tulips are coming up now that the daffodils are coming to an end.

Out in the raised beds everything is coming up; onions, lettuce, carrots and beets and even the garlic is emerging now. The garlic we planted last fall didn’t make it through the winter, so we planted a different variety and hopefully we’ll get some by fall. We’ll see how that works out.

We talked to the tree service and let them know that it’s dry enough out here now that they can get in with their equipment so they’re going to be coming over next week to take out the two trees you see in the photo up there. The one on the right is a big old ash tree that’s starting to rot from the top down. Every time we get a good wind it sheds branches all over, some of them big enough to cause damage or injury if someone happened to be standing in the wrong place. The one on the left is an old maple that belongs to our neighbor. Almost the entire right side of the tree up in the canopy is dead so that one has to come down too. I hate to see trees coming down but these two are at the end of their lives and they need to come down before they do some serious damage or even hurt someone.

Removing the big ash gives us a lot more options for gardening as well. It shades out a huge amount of space in the yard making it difficult for growing anything except grass and weeds back there. Once that’s gone we’ll have a large area back there with full sun that give us a lot more opportunities for growing stuff. We have some general ideas about what to do with the space back there but nothing firm as yet. I’ll keep you posted.

With those trees coming down I also had to take down my OCFD antenna (off center fed dipole) and it’s a good thing I did because I found this:

Well, that’s not good, now is it? The antenna was just hanging on by a thread. Fixing something like this isn’t hard to do but it’s annoying. The problem area is only a few feet from the end so I could have just fudged it by cutting it off at the frayed bit and attaching that to the insulator. Cutting a couple of feet off of a 130+ foot long wire antenna isn’t going to screw it up too badly, especially since I use an antenna tuner anyway.

What caused the damage? The antenna was running to the cedar tree behind that small shed in that photo of the trees up there. It looks like my line sagged letting the wire down far enough so it was rubbing on the roof of the shed.

I really need to look into a different antenna configuration. That OCFD is just too long to fit completely in my yard. Fortunately both of my neighbors don’t mind if I run a line into trees on their property, but I need to try to figure out a different way of setting it up to try to keep it entirely on my property. I do have a vertical antenna which works fine, but that OCFD gives me more options. And it’s also my NVIS antenna for semi-local communications down on 75 meters and I don’t want to give that up.

Other stuff going on:

Now that the weather has turned nice I can finally finish up bringing down the dropped ceiling in the woodshop. I’ve been procrastinating on that because there is a lot of dust up there above those ceiling tiles and I wanted to put a couple of exhaust fans in the windows to suck it out of the house instead of having it plug up my air filters in the shop. That ceiling is getting bad. It’s been up for more than 20 years, and incorporates old fashioned fluorescent tube lights which are terribly energy inefficient. I already have new shop lights waiting to go in, LED versions which will use about a quarter of the energy and give better light.

I reviewed the LaserPecker 1 laser engraver a while back, and I now have its big brother, the LP2 sitting on the shelf and in use and I want to do a review of that. The hardware is very, very nice. It’s much, much faster, more powerful and has a lot more options, including a roller system that should be very useful. Unfortunately it shares the same major problem the LP1 had: the software is horrible. This is a professional quality engraver that is badly hampered by amateurish cell phone based operating software. There is PC based software for the LP2 which is what I’ve been using which makes it easier to use, but the program riddled with bugs and odd quirks. It’s sad, really, because the LP2 is a fantastic gadget. I’ve been doing custom artwork and engravings for a craft brewer and pub owner in Milwaukee and it does a great job.

On the wood lathe side of things I’ve had a really nifty bowl hollowing system sitting around for months now that I’ve never had an opportunity to really talk about here, so I need to put that in the que one of these days.

And one of these days I want to talk about the “metaverse”. What’s his name over at “Meta” as they now call FaceScam, uh, excuse me, Facebook, has stumbled across an idea that is at least 25 years old and has been done before with varying degrees of success (and more often failure), they’ve stolen that, claimed it as their own, and is now are hyping up a storm. Meta’s “vision” of this metaverse is, frankly, silly, childish, badly implemented, laughably cartoonish and doesn’t even take into account basic human nature. It’s really kind of sad, to be honest. I’ve seen Meta’s “virtual world”, which they call Horizons, and to be honest it looks like a badly rendered version of The Jetson’s cartoon show from the 1960s. To call it cartoonish is insulting to cartoons

I want to talk about cameras too somewhere along the line. I want to talk about “cryogenic” tools… Egads, look at that list… Sigh… I’d better get to work.

Well, maybe I’ll get to work later. Right now it’s sunny out, warm, there’s a bicycle sitting in the garage waiting for me…

Spring At Last!

The weather has finally started to turn! After one of the nastiest Aprils I can remember with almost perpetual clouds, cold, rain, mist and snow, it looks like we’ve turned the corner.

Daytime temps have been up in the mid to high 50s, even pushing a bit over 60. And we’ve had bright, sunny days. MrsGF and I have been spending a lot of time outside cleaning up after winter and things are starting to shape up nicely. The daffodils are all up and it’s delightful to see those bright yellow flowers out there.

We’ve even planted some stuff already, although that’s a bit chancey this time of year. We have a lot of onions out this year. One whole raised bed is all onions and some garlic this year.

And this…

That’s lettuce. Yes, lettuce. MrsGF said what the heck and put in a bit of lettuce just to see what would happen. I thought the ground was still too cold for the seeds to sprout but damn, look at that up there. Lettuce growing. In Wisconsin. In the first week of May. Outside. Sheesh…

Rhubarb is well on its way as well. It’s always the first thing to pop up out of the ground.

The irises are all up as well and looking beautiful. They’re early risers as well, so to speak. They’re about 8 inches or more tall already and looking very good.

Thanks to the old ash and maple trees back there we’ve had to clean up a lot of branches and twigs. Most of them went down to the town compost site where they’re chipped and turned into mulch but some of them went to feed the stainless steel fire thingie we picked up early last year. That thing was one of the best investments we made. It wasn’t cheap but it’s well made out of thick stainless steel. Beats the heck out of something like a firepit or one of those cheap sheet metal ones you get at the big box stores that rusts through within a year or two. Because of the clever venting system it has there is little or no smoke, and fires are fully contained so the chance of starting the grass on fire is virtually zero even in dry conditions.

Hopefully our big ash tree and the neighbor’s maple will be coming down soon. The two of them are definitely at the end of their lives. Large amounts of bark are coming off the maple along with branches and there is significant rot up in the ash tree where some of the main branches come together.

With the trees coming down soon I had to take down my OCFD wire antenna, and discovered significant damage on it where it must have been rubbing against something. Sigh… Always something. Fortunatley I found that before it got bad enough for the wire to break completely. I’ll have to fix that before it can go back up again. Grr…

So I only have the vertical antenna in operation right now and that has some issues as well, it seems. I’ve noticed that the SWR is fluctuating a bit. The meter indicates it’s fluctuating from about 1.12 to 1.16 during transmissions. I’m not sure if that is being caused by the antenna itself or feed line, or if it’s something in the meter on my Palstar antenna tuner. If I look at the SWR meter built into my transceiver I don’t see any fluctuations at all, but then that is a tiny, tiny flutter in the first place and that meter might not “see” it. I might be worrying over nothing but it still makes me a bit concerned.

The improvement in the weather means I can get out on the bicycle again. I love biking but not when the temperatures are down in the 40s. For the last few days I’ve been getting out every day for a half hour or 45 minutes to try to build up my endurance after a long winter of basically not doing much of anything as far as exercise goes.

That’s it for now. Time to get back out into the gardens!

Addendum – just got stung by a wasp. Damn that hurts! Wonder what I did to make him mad at me?

Spring Cleanup, Antennas, Tree, Gardens, Laser Engraver and Stuff

It’s spring. Sort of?

This is sort of a catchup post because I haven’t really had enough material to justify doing an update to the blog until now, so let’s get started.

It’s spring cleanup time. Or at least that’s what the calendar tell me. Outside, though, well, it’s been bloody cold and nasty. We had about only three days here where the temperature got above fifty. Mostly it’s been in the 40s, even dipping as low as the mid twenties at night. Not exactly my idea of April weather.

It’s still a mess back here but it’s starting to look a lot better. Spent almost an entire day cleaning up the yard.

It’s a mess back there in the yard, alas. MrsGF and I have been working on cleaning up the debris left from the winter and it’s starting to shape up now finally. The old ash tree in my yard and the dying maple in my neighbor’s both have been shedding branches and bark all over. The smoke you see in the photo up there is because we lit the fireplace back there both to warm up and to deal with the twigs and sticks and bark that had come off the trees during the winter.

We’re probably going to do a major expansion of the corner garden in the photo up there. That’s prime growing area there in that corner. It faces the south west so it gets full sun almost all day long, with light being reflected off the white siding, and in that sheltered area it’s the first ground to thaw in the spring and the last to freeze in the fall, and it’s very well drained. We’re going to expand that area in a semicircle out past that post with the birdfeeder, and it’s going to extend along the right side of the house past the downspouts. That will more than double the amount of square footage we have there.

Back here hopefully within a couple of weeks that big tree will be gone. It looks relatively healthy but it really isn’t. It sheds branches like rain drops whenever there is a stiff breeze and up near the top of the tree it’s starting to rot where to large branches come together off the main trunk. It’s also an ash tree so I’m surprised the emerald ash borer hasn’t attacked it yet. If we don’t take it down soon a good wind storm will take it down for us. We already had a tree service come in to look at it, and as soon as it dries out enough for them to get their equipment in there without sinking into the ground it’s coming down, along with the neighbor’s dying maple.

Getting that tree out of there will also open up a large part of the yard to full sun so we can grow a lot more stuff. We aren’t quite sure what we’ll do with the area but we’ve been sketching out some preliminary plans for a large decorative feature. Maybe. Depends on how ambitious we get.

Antenna stuff: I finally got the new off center fed dipole up when we had a rare warm, sunny day. So I was up on the roof of the garage, then about 20 feet up a couple of different trees and, well, let’s just say it was an interesting experience.

Those of you who are amateur radio operators will undoubtedly note that it is not exactly the ideal configuration for an OCFD. It’s way too low to the ground, the two legs are running in a rather tight ‘V’ configuration instead of running out straight, etc. It’s only about 12 feet off the ground and it really should be something like 30 – 40 feet up. But you work with what you have. I don’t have a tower, don’t have tall trees, and I don’t have the space to string up a 140 foot long antenna in what is supposed to be the “ideal” configuration.

And guess what? Despite all of that, the antenna works just fine and dandy, thank you very much. According to the good ole boys I sometimes listen to down on 75 meters pontificating about antennas and other things, this antenna shouldn’t work very well in this configuration. Only it does. Since I put it up I’ve had contacts in California, the Carolinas, well, all over the continental United States and Canada, and according to PSK Reporter I’ve been heard in Europe and Australia as well.

Would it work better if it were in the “ideal” configuration, up above 30 feet with the legs extended properly? Probably. Don’t care. You work with you got.

Looks like I got this one up in time because my vertical antenna is now doing weird things. The thing got whacked by a fairly good sized branch from one of the trees and I think it knocked something loose so I’m going to have to pull that thing down one of these days and check that out.

Laser engraver: The nice delivery driver who brings me goodies from time to time just dropped off the Laserpecker 2 the other day. I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on this one after playing with the Laserpecker 1 for a few months. I have the LP2 up and running and it is very, very, very nice. It is much more powerful than the original, much, much faster, offers much higher resolution. The version I have here comes with the roller system in the box on the right. That allows it to engrave cylindrical objects like water bottles and the like. And most interestingly of all, the roller mechanism can be reversed and turned into a drive mechanism for the LP2 allowing it to travel along a board or tabletop or other smooth surface to make continuous long engravings. I haven’t set up the roller system yet and I’m looking forward to trying it.

And best of all, for me anyway, it is no longer tied to a stupid phone app to run it. You can still use a phone app, but there is actual real PC software that will control this thing. It looks like the PC software gives much better control over the engraver than the phone app did. Best of all I don’t have to fiddle around trying to get artwork I make in Photoshop imported into the stupid phone app. I can do everything right on the computer now.

Unfortunately the PC software has some serious problems with it. It’s riddled with bugs, odd quirks, difficulties in connecting the PC to the LP2 and other issues. Most of those can be worked around but frankly the PC software looks like it was never properly tested before being released.

The LP2 is most definitely not cheap. I can see a hobbyist spending $250 on the Laserpecker 1 to do the occasional engraving on an art project. It’s a fun little gadget that works pretty well and at that price you don’t need to use it a lot to justify the expense. The Laserpecker 2 package that you see here with the roller system will set you back $1,200. IMO this pushes it well outside of the hobbyist level product. In order to justify that kind of expense you need to have a serious application for something like this.

Anyway, look for a full review of the LP2 in the near future.

And that’s about it for this time. Now if only the weather would start to warm up…

Fall Catch Up

Cleaning out the squash plants

Gads, I just realized how long it’s been since I posted anything and I am feeling a wee bit guilty. Where in the world did the time go? I was going to talk about gardening and working with resin and the new camera and a lot of other things but lots of other things always seemed more important… Anyway, let’s get on with this.

One of the things that’s been keeping us busy here is the usual autumn cleanup. The squash plants went absolutely bonkers this year. We’re enormously pleased with the production we got from the squash this year. MrsGF got some organic butternut squash seed in early spring. I think we had about 6 plants all together and conditions must have been perfect for them because we ended up with an entire wheelbarrow full of massive squash. I’ve only rarely ever seen butternuts this large before. And as for quantity, well you can see we for yourselves. I filled a wheelbarrow completely full with the things and there are about a half dozen more not in the photo up there. Quality is excellent too. They taste fantastic. MrsGF is saving the seeds from a couple of these guys for planting next spring so hopefully we’ll get the same results in the future.

We’ve scaled way back on the amount of vegetables we planted but we still had more than we could deal with. Nothing went to waste, though. Excess went to neighbors and family or we give it away at the local St. Vincent de Paul store.

I’ve been adding more compost to the raised beds to get them ready for next spring.

Cleaning up the gardens at the end of the season is a pain but it has to get done. We try to get that finished up as soon as we can because once September comes we never know what the weather is going to be like. We’re lucky enough to live just down the street from the town compost site. They do a great job of composting here and the end product is fantastic. And it’s free to town residents so you can be darn sure we take advantage of that.

Garlic planted about 2 weeks ago.

We’re experimenting with growing garlic. We use a lot of the stuff in cooking but the quality of garlic we get from the local stores isn’t very good. Usually the bulbs we find in the stores have obviously been in storage for a long, long time and has lost a lot of its flavor. We’ve tried growing garlic before and we weren’t very successful. One batch of ridiculously expensive organic garlic we planted didn’t even sprout. One batch we tried did grow, but the bulbs were disappointingly small. The stuff tasted so intense and so good though, and so much better than what we were buying that we still want to try growing our own. So half of one of the raised beds is now in garlic. Once cold weather hits the bed will get covered with mulch to protect it, then that will be removed in the spring and hopefully in mid to late summer we’ll have garlic.

The rest of this bed is going to be planted in all onions next spring.

Onions are pretty cheap so why do we grow our own? Flavor, of course. In their never ending quest to breed vegetable types that have longer storage life, are easier to harvest and which look pretty even after sitting in a cooler at the store for weeks, what plant breeders have done is also eliminate a lot of the flavor and aroma from their crops. The veggies are still good, still nutritious, but a lot of the flavor and aroma has been lost in exchange for traits commercial producers want. The same is true for onions.

That onion you buy at the store looks perfectly good, is certainly fine to eat, even healthy. But the flavor and aroma? It just isn’t there. Take a garden grown onion and a store bought onion from one of those net bags and slice each in half, and as soon as the knife slides through it you’ll be able to tell which one you grew yourself and which one you bought. Our home grown onions are pungent, rich in flavor, juicy and spicy. Store bought ones? Bleh… We never have any home grown onions last until fall. They’re usually all used up long before the end of the growing season.

And they are ridiculously easy to grow. Just snag some set onions in the spring, shove them about an inch into the ground, make sure they get enough water, and that’s about it. In a few weeks you’ll have green onions for salads or cooking, and a few weeks later they develop into utterly delicious, pungent, luscious bulbs.

Okay, I have to stop talking about food. I’m starting to get hungry!

Let’s see, what else?

Oh, they’re finally tearing down the old cheese factory here in town. This place has been an eyesore for decades. The parent company shut it down ages ago and pulled out, and it’s been left standing there and rotting away ever since and the company refused to do anything with it. It was a blight on the whole town. It sits right across the street from a beautiful town park, and on the main highway so the first thing people see when they come into town is this rotting old building. Not exactly a good impression.

After many, many years of trying to get the company to do something, anything, with this nasty mess, the town finally convinced the company to sell the thing and bought it from them. We got state and federal grants to cover almost all of the demolition and clean up costs. Once that’s done the town will put it on the market as a commercial development property and hopefully recoup the expenses involved. It’s a big parcel, almost an entire city block, and right on a main state highway, so we’re hopeful someone will come in and do something useful with it. If nothing else we’d much rather have it as greenspace than sitting there slowly rotting away.

Otherwise I have lots of stuff in the “to do” que. I got quite a few questions about working with resin from fellow woodturners, so I’m putting together a sort of beginner’s guide to using resin. I want to talk about the new camera. I might wander into a sort of game/social media experience called Second Life, a kind of virtual reality system. On the electronics side of things I might talk about how to protect yourself from lightning after losing my gaming computer during a storm a few weeks ago. I’d like to talk about, believe it or not, Chinese television and entertainment. (Yes, I watch Chinese television, heaven help me). Chinese videos are entertaining, silly, puzzling and, frankly, kind of scary.

But enough, time to wrap this up.

Catching Up: Wow It’s Been Busy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s it for now.

Drought Is Over (at least for now), Gardens Going Crazy And a B Movie?

The drought, at least for us here in east central Wisconsin, is over following a week or so of pleasantly damp and relatively cool weather. We got some significant rainfall that’s kick started everything out in the gardens. Unfortunately that also includes weeds, but that’s the way it goes.

We don’t have a lot of raspberry plants, just a fairly small corner of the garden behind the garage. They’re so loaded with fruit this year we had to put up support posts with twine to hold the dopy things up. They’re just starting to ripen right now. This is probably the best crop of berries we’ve had since we put them in a few years ago. We won’t get a lot, but we don’t need a lot. I’m not supposed to eat them because of the seeds, but I can’t help but snagging a handful when I’m working outside. They’re beautiful this year, and sweeter than usual as well.

MrsGF and I both love beets but we’ve had trouble growing them. This year we decided to fill one of the raised beds with them and wow, that worked amazingly well. They’re about 1.5 – 2.5 inches across now and we’ve been harvesting them periodically for over a week now. We just clean them, throw them in a pot, bring them to a boil and then simmer for a few minutes, then plunge into cold water. That lets us slip that outer skin off easily and they’re ready to either freeze or cook up for dinner. They are so good when they’re fresh. Much richer, sweeter flavor. Mostly we just simmer them in water until tender and top off with a bit of salt and pepper. We both love harvard style with a sweet sour sauce as well, but these are so good you don’t need a sauce to perk them up.

We have one bed that’s just assorted peppers. I didn’t think these were ever going to amount to much. They looked healthy enough but just weren’t growing. But now that we’ve had the rainy weather they’ve started to take off. They’ve almost doubled in size in the last 10 days and are starting to blossom. We eat a lot of them fresh off the plants during the season, but most end up diced up and frozen for use during the rest of the year. They get used in tomato sauces, egg dishes, chili, curry, etc. I’m hoping we’ll have enough that I can put up a few pints of pickled peppers as well. I wish I could tell you exactly what’s all planted in there, but not even MrsGF remembers what she all planted in that bed. Which is okay. They all taste good.

Speaking of peppers, I have two jalapeno plants in pots on the front porch again this year. I only grow two because I’m the only one who seems to like them. Last year I put in a ‘no heat’ variety that they claimed tasted like jalapeno but didn’t have the heat. That was sort of true? Kind of? They did taste like jalapeno peppers and they were a bit milder, but I thought they were lacking a bit in flavor. This year I put in normal jalapenos and as you can see they’re starting to fruit. I picked a few for use over the 4th holiday when we had our sons over for a picnic. I’ve been eating them diced up in things like omelets or thinly sliced on a burger. I think they’re delicious. They are definitely not mild but I didn’t think they were that hot until I got my eldest son to try one and he nearly went through the roof. He loves spicy food but he turned bright red, started gasping and had to go walk it off. So a couple of observations. First, apparently I can handle hot peppers a hell of a lot better than I thought I could. Second, I’ve now been told by people who know these things that these peppers are really, really hot, a lot hotter than a normal jalapeno should be. So I’m going to need to be really careful with these when I cook with them so I don’t end up with MrsGF throwing things at me when she recovers from eating them.

The tomatoes have gone absolutely bonkers. In the last two weeks they’ve just about tripled in size and if you could peek in there you’d see dozens of tiny green tomatoes. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing them coming ripe in a week or two the way they’re going. BTW, there are only 3 plants in that bed up there. I am really glad we didn’t put in more.

It’s hard to see now but there are onions all the way around the edge of that bed. We’ve been doing that for a few years now, sort of double cropping. The onions get a head start and get fairly mature before the main crop in the bed gets big enough to compete with them, and by that time the onions are big enough to hold their own and keep growing slowly through the season.

Why grow our own onions when they’re so cheap in the store? Flavor, of course. Most of the commercial onions are decent, but they just don’t have the intensity of flavor that our home grown ones have.

Those are wax beans in front, with some squash plants in the back. The perspective of this photo is kind of weird. The leaves on those squash plants back there are literally as large as dinner plates or even larger.

This is our “super” garden. It is in a corner of the house where the living room meets the kitchen, and faces south and west. We’ve put hundreds of pounds of compost in this garden over the years and that, together with the good drainage and protected, sunny location generally means things grow like crazy in there. And this year is no exception.

Those beans… Dear lord, what are we going to do with all those beans? There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of flowers on those bean plants in there. If half of those turn into beans we could probably fill up the entire freezer with the things. We love wax beans but I suspect we’re going to end up giving away half of these to anyone who’ll take ’em because we’ll never be able to eat all of these.

We also have pole beans in another bed and those look like they’re going to be just as crazy as the wax beans. That’s only about six bean plants in there. Sheesh…

We were only going to put in two cucumber plants because I’m the only one who really likes cukes. The seeds MrsGF planted out here didn’t sprout so she bought a few plants at a local nursery and put those in. And then, of course, the seeds sprouted as well, so it looks like we’re going to have an overabundance of cucumbers as well.

MrsGF is trying to grow blueberries because, well, why not, eh? We had two originally and haven’t had a lot of success with them though. First because we stuck them in a poor location, and when we transplanted them to a better location one didn’t survive so she bought another one. Then the original survivor had some kind of rust that was covering the leaves. We trimmed all of the infected branches off and didn’t think it would survive, but it did and looks pretty healthy. And the new one that we put in this spring has actual fruit on it. Not a lot but heck, even a few dozen berries is better than none.

On the decorative side of things we have these cute little dwarf sunflowers coming up now. along with a few other types in there including one variety that is such a dark purple it looks almost black.

The hot, dry weather didn’t do the hostas any good this year. The poor things look pretty beat up. They usually don’t start looking this poorly until September. Still they’re hanging in there and coming into flower which will hopefully attract the humming birds. I’ve seen a few humming birds but for some reason they aren’t coming to the feeder. I think they had a nest somewhere out back because I’d see them buzzing around back there, but I haven’t seen them for a while now.

Finally, how about a bee video because without bees none of this would even be possible.

Catch Up: Gardening, Flowers, Hollowing Tool, Logo Designs and Stuff

We’ve been getting rain! The drought finally seems to be over. We’ve received several inches of rain over the last week and will be getting more today. Things were getting bad, and not just for home gardeners like me. We’ve had enough rain now that the plants have completely turned around and things are actually starting to look lush out there. The tomatoes have tripled in size and in full blossom. We even have some baby tomatoes on them already. The squash are growing so fast you can almost see the vines getting longer. We have baby cucumbers developing. The raspberries are probably going to be ripe in a week or so. Wow, it’s amazing what a bit of rain can do.

Baby cucumber

The color on the lilies has been almost breathtaking this year.

The warm, damp weather has really jump started the tomatoes. They look beautiful this year.

The raspberries are so loaded with fruit this year MrsGF had to put posts with string to rest the canes on because the weight of the fruit was bending them in half and snapping off the canes. I’ve never seen that happen before.

Anyway, as you can see the gardens here have been doing very, very well of late. Yes, we were watering everything carefully during the drought and keeping an eye on soil moisture and all of that, but for whatever reason artificial irrigation never seems to give the same results as natural rainfall, at least not for me. Even though I was sure the plants were getting adequate water, once it started raining everything just started going crazy.

Possible Logo

I’m going to (well, maybe) start selling some of my wood stuff. I got an account with Etsy now, but haven’t gotten around to actually putting anything up for sale over there, and I’m thinking of putting up a separate set of pages here to showcase a few things for sale. Don’t worry, none of that will appear here in the blog except for a link to the sales site. I’m not going to spam you or anything like that.

But I needed to come up with a name for this for Etsy, and a logo or something to mark the bowls. Most of my bowls have a 2 1/8 inch mortise (basically a shallow hole) in the bottom. This is how I attach them to the lathe with a four jaw chuck. I like using a mortise rather than a tenon because unlike a protruding tenon which has to be removed, I can leave the mortise in place. That means that if something goes wrong with the finish or something else happens, I can easily reattach the piece to the lathe to rework it or refinish it. And as for the remaining hole, I thought why not use it for a logo? I got these thin, 2″ wooden disks which work really well with the laser engraver, so I came up with a name and logo that looks pretty good when burned into the disk.

One of the experiment logo tests

Then just glue the disk into the mortise on the bottom of the bowl. I’m not sure if this is going to be the final version, but so far I’m fairly satisfied with it.

Hollowing Tool

One of the issues I’ve run into with wood turning is dealing with objects that aren’t actual bowls, but instead are what are generally called “hollow form vessels”, things like, well, this one down below here.

This thing is supposed to be hollow, and it is. Sort of. Kinda. But not much. I ran a 2″ hole into it with a forstner bit and then fiddled around with the tools I had to try to hollow it out, but it’s a damned poor job because trying to reach in there to hollow it out without damaging the small opening and without hurting myself is a pain in the neck, even with special tools. I have tools that claim they are for hollowing out forms like this, and for whatever reason they just don’t work well for me. I see guys on YouTube doing this stuff effortlessly. How the heck do they do that? I’ve tried using their techniques and tools and what I’ve ended up with is dangerous catches, broken bowls, broken tools, and a real mess.

So I spent way more money than I wanted to for this:

This is the “Simple Hollowing System” from Harrison Specialties. Harrison markets a line of lathe tools under the “Simple Woodturning” brand. I have some of their carbide tools and they are very, very good indeed. This system is supposed to make it relatively easy to hollow out even something like the bowl in that photo up there. This version comes with just about everything you need, including the system itself, the tools, cutters and even a laser guide system to prevent you from accidentally cutting through the side of a bowl as it is being hollowed out.

As you can see I haven’t even had a chance to set it up yet because it’s been so busy here, but hopefully I’ll be able to give it a try in the next week or two and I’ll talk about it then. I also want to cover the laser engraver in some detail as well in the future. So keep an eye out for both of those coming up.

Car Stuff

Let’s see, what else… Oh, almost forgot. I sold the Corvette. It was a very, very nice car, it was huge fun, but, well, even I had to admit that it wasn’t exactly practical. Basically it was a vehicle that I could only use about 5 months of the year, was a two seater, had very little cargo space. Oh, and did I mention that new tires for that thing were $500? Each. Yeah, it was over $2,000 to put a set of four tires on it because it ran high tech, high speed, run flat racing tires.

I bought, heaven help me, a Buick. Yeah, a Buick. It’s an Envision Avenir which is, according to Buick, at least, “the highest expression of Buick luxury” available. Here’s a photo swiped from Buick’s website because I’m too lazy to go out to the garage and take a picture of mine at the moment.

And I really, really like it. Well, of course I do or I wouldn’t have bought it. Duh.

The list of options on this thing runs two full pages of small type. Emergency braking systems (which I tested the first day I had it. Neighbor’s dog ran in front of the car when I drove into my driveway and the car stopped itself before I could even get my foot off the gas pedal. Wow), lane divergence warnings and even steering. Apparently if you wander outside your lane on the freeway the thing will actually steer itself back into the center of the lane you’re in. Automatic headlights, automatic cruise control that slows down or speeds up itself to match traffic, a 360 degree camera system along with radar systems to assist with parking. I won’t go into the whole list because it’s a bit ridiculous, really. Bumper to bumper warranty that covers everything, and I mean everything. With the package I got even the interior fabrics are covered. Tears, burns, stains, paint chips… All covered. Sheesh…

This thing is very, very nice. I absolutely love it.

And there’s another reason I went with it. It’s four wheel drive with good ground clearance. The roads here in Wisconsin are utterly horrible and getting worse every day. We have one of the worst maintained highway systems in the country. The roads around here are so bad you’re risking doing serious damage to your car if it doesn’t have enough ground clearance to get through the pot holes, cracks, gravel patches and other garbage we have to contend with. The Buick can deal with that a lot better than the Vette.

Why are our roads so bad? Go talk to our state legislature if you want the answer to that one. They can find billions to pay for building new freeways down around Milwaukee that no one wants, but they can’t find the money to maintain the highways, roads and bridges we already have. Those multi billion dollar freeway expansion projects are done by huge corporations that funnel enormous amounts of money into the campaign funds and PACs of our dear legislators down there in Madison. Meanwhile most road maintenance is done by local governments and small contractors who don’t have any influence at all with the legislature.

Let’s see, what else… I’m hoping to actually go fishing this year. Maybe. Every year I get my Conservation Patron license. That is an all inclusive license offered in Wisconsin that covers just about everything you can legally fish or hunt for in the state. At first glance it seems expensive, but when you consider that it includes almost everything, it is actually cheaper and more convenient than trying to get individual licenses. So I get the license every year and generally end up doing, well, nothing, because I don’t have the time. Spring turkey season came and went this year before I even remembered I had a spring turkey permit. Sigh… I think I went fishing exactly twice last year, and once so far this year.

I don’t deal with leisure time very well, I’m afraid. Heck, I’m retired for pete’s sake. I don’t need to constantly be doing something practical. But every time I start planning to go fishing there’s this little voice in the back of my head that’s saying things like “you know you really should be weeding the gardens, not wasting your time with this”, or “you should be spending your time finishing that jewelry box you started last week not sitting along a river waiting to catch a fish and wasting your time.”

Anyway, that’s it for now…

Tree, Spring Photos, Garden Tour, And Stuff

I’m not going to miss this tree too much. It’s been shedding limbs every time we get a 20 mph wind for years now.

The only big old tree we have left on the property is going to have to come down. I’m sad about that but it has to go because it’s rotting out from the top down where two of the major branches of the canopy come together. If we don’t take it down soon it will come down itself and quite possibly do some serious damage. So that will be coming down probably in August. That’s going to mean some big changes in the gardens around here. That tree is massive and it shades out a huge area which always meant what we could grow back there was seriously restricted because of the shade.

Right now I’m thinking of putting in another decorative feature like this one:

MrsGF looked at me like I was nuts when I first proposed it, but then she thought about it for a moment and said sure, why not. Neither of us want to end up with just a big area of nothing but grass back there. So we’ll see. Putting in that feature up there with the retaining wall blocks and all that was a hell of a lot of work and it wasn’t exactly cheap. I think I have about a thousand bucks sunk into that one garden when the costs of the retaining wall blocks, rock, plants and everything else is added up.

The two new raised vegetable beds are doing quite well. One of these days we’re going to get around to building a brick/stone wall around these to make them more decorative looking, but that’s in the future. We have three tomatoes in one, surrounded by onions, and pole beans and more onions in the other.

I highly recommend raised beds for vegetables. They work really well, are easy to keep weed free, easy to tend the soil, the height tends to discourage animals from getting into them. The biggest drawback is that they dry out rather fast and they need to be watered almost every day. Especially this spring because we haven’t had a decent rain in, well, a month or more, I think. It has been an exceptionally dry spring here.

The other two raised beds are doing well also. One has a variety of pepper plants in it. You can see that the plants have #10 cans with the bottoms cut out surrounding them. Those will be coming off this week yet. The cans are a great way to give the plants protection when they’re first transplanted into the garden. The other bed is all beets with more onions planted around the outside. We really, really like beets. We like ’em roasted, sliced, pickled, etc. They freeze pretty well also so we figure we’ll have enough to hold us through the winter with all of these.

Mr. Spiny, our pet cactus is still doing fantastic along the foundation wall. It’s hard to tell in this photo but there are three other cactus off to the left, started from pads we took off Mr. Spiny and stuck in the ground. The soil right along that wall is absolutely horrible and normally almost nothing will grow there. The cactus seem to love it, though. Makes a great conversation piece because people can’t believe that a cactus will thrive here in Wisconsin for some reason, even though Wisconsin does have some native cactus, including this one. There are some other types that are hardy here as well. You don’t need to live in the southwest to have cactus in your gardens.

If you want to grow your own, go for it. I will warn you that in early spring they will look absolutely horrible and you’ll think it’s dead. At least this one does. It’ll be laying flat on the ground, the pads looking all brownish and nasty. It isn’t, though. Once the weather gets a bit better the pads begin to turn green again and start filling out again.

The hosta garden in the front of the house came through the winter quite well and is looking pretty good. They still haven’t reached full size yet but will be getting there pretty soon at the rate they’re growing.

And then the flowers – holy cow have we got flowers this year!

Other Stuff

Yes, I’m still doing the wood turning thing. Below is a tiny little bowl I cranked out the other day from a piece of scrap walnut I had laying around. It’s only about 3 inches wide and 2 inches tall. Cute little thing. Useless for just about anything, but cute.

This one down below is a rework. This was a rosewood bowl that started to show microcracks on the surface about a week or so after I made it. So I put it back on the lathe the other day and reworked it.

It turned out that the cracks were surface defects that only extended a few millimeters into the body of the bowl. So I reshaped the bowl, put on a finish, and we’ll see what happens this time.

My experience with rosewood has been puzzling. I’ve made four pieces with Indian rosewood, and three of them exhibited what I’ve been calling microcracks, very, very thin, sometimes lengthy cracks that do not follow the grain of the wood and seem to be confined to the surface of the wood. I’m not sure why, either. The wood was dry and stable, didn’t exhibit any other defects. Someone said that rosewood is very oily and that perhaps the oils were evaporating from the surface causing the wood to shrink, and I suppose that’s possible. We’ll see what happens with this one.

Night Sounds, Lasers and Handles

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

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

Lasers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tap Handles

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

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

Still Biking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s coming up…

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

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

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

Farm Catch Up: Corn Goes Nuts, Lumber Goes Insane, Dairy Pride Act Back, Herbicide Shortages, And Stuff

Let’s Start with Corn

Photo by Adonyi Gu00e1bor on Pexels.com

Well it was a wild ride on the commodities market this past week as corn hit $7.40 and soybeans hit $15.71. We haven’t seen prices like this in something like ten years or more, and a lot of people are puzzled by why the commodities prices have spiked up this high, this fast. There are no natural disasters or reports of extreme shortages that would cause this, so what’s going on?

It’s a combination of things that have made the markets a wee bit nervous. China is trying to rebuild its pig herds after they were decimated because of culling from African Swine Fever, so there is increased demand there. There are weather problems in parts of South America that are interfering with some corn production down there. USDA announced that US farmers are going to plant less corn this growing season. The reduction isn’t much, but enough to make people think it might make supplies tight. They think people are going to be driving a lot more this summer which is going to mean increased demand for gasoline which, in turn, means more demand for ethanol to meet the blending requirements.

So here we are with corn at 7.49 at the moment. Extended out into the future commodities prices get more reasonable, but not by much. July corn is sitting at 6.73 which is still high but not utterly horrible, and September corn is at 5.92

So, why should you be interested in corn prices? Because volatility in corn prices ripples through the whole economy. High corn prices mean it costs a lot more for the dairy, beef, chicken and pork producers to feed their cattle. That’s going to put pressure on consumer food prices across the board, not just dairy products and meat. High corn prices can force producers to look at other grains like wheat to substitute. That can push wheat prices up, increasing costs for flour, which increases the cost of baked goods. Well, you get the idea.

It also puts pressure on fuel prices. The government mandates that refiners blend a certain amount of ethanol into their fuels, and in the US the majority of that ethanol is made from corn.

Now the markets can absorb some of these increased costs, but not a lot and not for long, and sooner rather than later it’s going to result in increased prices on consumer products. So if corn prices stay this high for much longer, you’re going to see that rippling out into increased prices on food, fuel and other products that you buy yourself. Some companies like General Mills and a few others have already already announced that they’re going to have no choice but to start raising consumer prices. Wholesale beef prices have gone up about 33% already this past month.

And it isn’t just food. Just look at the craziness going on with lumber. And speaking of lumber…

What The Hell Is Going On With Lumber?

That’s a question a lot of people are asking because lumber prices have gone nuts. Prices on lumber have spiked up around 360% in just the past year. That is not a typo. 360% in one year. I was paying under $2 for 2×4 studs last year, now that’s up to around $7 each. MrsGF and I have pushed back plans to do a few remodeling projects here at the house because not only have prices skyrocketed, it’s hard to get materials even at those prices. I talked to one contractor who builds houses. he bid on building one house late last year at $350K and now the same house would be closer to $450K.

Why this abrupt spike in prices? It isn’t because there’s a shortage of trees or something like that. Nor are the people growing trees getting the money. They’ve seen only a 2% increase in the price they’re getting for the logs. It’s all the haulers, sawmills and processors in between that are the cause.

The claim is that it’s being caused by a labor shortage. They can’t find truck drivers, workers at sawmills, tree cutters, etc.

Herbicide and Plastic Shortages

As if corn and lumber prices weren’t enough to worry about, we’re also seeing shortages of herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and, believe it or not, plastics. Farmers are having trouble finding things like field drainage tile and the plastic wrap used to protect bales. There are reported shortages of glyphosate and some other herbicides, some fungicides and insecticides that are used to prevent weeds and protect crops.

What this all adds up to is considerable pressure to increase prices. Someone has to pay for all of these increased costs and in the long run that’s going to be us, the consumers. How bad those increases will be, well, I have no idea. It is going to depend on how long commodities prices remain high and how much of the cost increases the industry is willing to absorb before they have to raise prices. As I said earlier in this, a lot of companies have already announced price increases.

Dairy Pride Act

So, let’s talk about plant based “milk”. I didn’t really want to talk about things like almond milk and all that, but it’s in the news again thanks to the Dairy Pride Act being pushed by Sen. Baldwin from Wisconsin and a few other politicians.

The whole problem revolves around that one word, milk, and how it is defined. There are two real definitions of the word, one biological, and one legal. Biologically speaking milk is the scrections of the mammary glands from mammalian animals and which are used to feed their young. The legal definition is, well, here’s a direct quote from federal government regulations:

“Milk means the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows, which may be clarified and may be adjusted by separating part of the fat therefrom; concentrated milk, reconstituted milk, and dry whole milk. Water, in a sufficient quantity to reconstitute concentrated and dry forms, may be added.”

You will undoubtedly note a lot of problems with the above. The most glaring problem is that it claims milk only comes from cows, ignoring the fact that goats, sheep, horses, oxen, even beavers, give milk. (Mmmm, beaver milk. Yum. Wasn’t there an old Monty Python joke about Peruvian beaver cheese?) (Sorry, my mind just flashed up an image of a farmer trying to milk a beaver. That’s just the way my brain works. It scares me sometimes. My brain, not beavers.)

So, here’s the problem. For years now certain companies have been selling nut, grain or bean based liquids as substitutes for dairy milk and calling the stuff milk. This is, technically, illegal. The US has very strict labeling requirements when it comes to food, and the government has gleefully gone after a host of companies and individuals who mislabel their products. But not when it comes to this stuff. For whatever reason the agencies responsible for food labeling accuracy have blithely ignored the mislabeling of these products, despite a considerable amount of pressure from the dairy industry to do something about it.

Now you might think this whole thing is silly, and you do have a point. But on the other hand the anger of the dairy industry is understandable as well. The dairy industry has spent many, many decades and hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising, propaganda, health claims, puffed up PR campaigns and other efforts to try to make its products appear to be healthy, good for you, pure and wholesome, and even essential. And then along come these upstarts trying to cash in on all of the work the dairy industry put into making milk look good, and claiming that their products are “milk” as well, and, well, they’re pissed.

Legally speaking, the dairy industry has a valid point. This stuff does not meet the legal definition of “milk”. US food labeling laws, if strictly interpreted, should make the labeling of this stuff as “milk” to be illegal. But the court system doesn’t seem to see it that way and has let this continue, so, well, here we are then.

Politicians from large dairy states like Wisconsin are upset about this as well because, well, let’s be blunt here. The only reason they’re upset is because the dairy industry is paying them to be upset. The dairy industry pumps huge amounts of money into the coffers of these politicians and their PACs. The result is this Dairy Pride thingie which basically says that you can only label actual milk as milk.

Will this actually go anywhere? I have no idea. If it passes, will it help the dairy industry? No. Won’t do a thing to help the dairy industry. Will it hurt the fake milk industry? Probably not. They’ll just come up with something else to call their stuff, pump a few more bucks into their advertising budgets, and that will be it.

Now, let’s see, what else did I want to babble about? There was some more stuff… Oh, amateur radio! Gads, almost forgot about that.

My OCFD (that’s an “off center fed dipole” for you non-radio people out there, a kind of antenna) came down again. That is a long wire antenna, about 130 feet long in total. It had snapped before and I’d repaired it and put it back up, but it snapped again now, so I figure that years of hanging in the air and flapping about in the wind has caused metal fatigue or something in the wires, so I didn’t bother fixing it again. It’s going to come down and I already have another one on order. Why not build my own? I could, but I did mention about the lazy thing, right? Why build one when I can buy one that’s probably going to be better than I could make myself.

Meanwhile I’m using a GAP Titan DX vertical antenna which has turned out to be way, way better than I’d hoped. I’ve had that one up for some time now and it works amazingly well. I had contacts with 3 Japanese stations in the space of about 10 minutes yesterday afternoon using less than 100 watts output, plus one or two in Europe and in other exotic places like Texas, New York, etc.

Who wants to sit in a basement workshop when stuff like this is outside?

My woodworking and wood turning has come to a screeching halt recently because I’ve been spending a lot of time out in the gardens hauling compost, tilling up stuff, etc. We got the onions and garlic in but it’s still too early to put anything else out. The weather hasn’t exactly been warm here except for two days when it was in the mid 80s. Generally it hasn’t gotten much above 50 here, with night time temps pushing down into the mid 30s or even a bit lower. That hasn’t kept the tulips from blooming though as you can see from that photo up there.

But back to wood working to wrap this up. I really enjoyed making decorative lamps with resin and wood and want to do some more of those, so I’ve got more resin on order and that should be coming this week yet. The few “jumble” pieces I did as experiments with odd bits of wood cast into resin, well much to my surprise people really seem to like those for some reason so I’ll probably do a few more of those. But what I really want to make are more decorative lamps. Anyway, more about that when I get into that.