Catching Up

Egads, it’s been a while since I did anything here. When things get a bit busy I’m afraid the first thing to suffer is this blog. So let’s take a look at what’s been going on. It’s going to be a mixed bag this time, covering a variety of different topics. Let’s look at some agricultural stuff first.

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Approximately 3.5 million acres of crops were allegedly damaged by dicamba drift

The dicamba saga continues. Monsanto’s lawsuit against the state of Alabama over its very strict regulations concerning the use of dicamba was thrown out of court. Alabama put very stringent restrictions in place on the use of the product after thousands and thousands of acres of crops were damaged by the herbicide drifting.

The case was thrown out on a legal technicality, it seems. Apparently Alabama has a “sovereign immunity” clause in it’s constitution that prevents it from being sued for things like this. So nothing has really been settled.

There are new federal regulations in place now, new training requirements and other things, so I guess we’ll see if those will be sufficient to keep the herbicide under control.

Trade Wars — Of course that’s the big news right at the moment. With NAFTA negotiations already allegedly falling apart and threatening our economic links with Canada and Mexico, the last thing we needed was for the administration to launch a full blown trade war with, well, with just about everyone. So, of course, that’s exactly what the administration has done. The administration claims that the tariffs will have no effect on the NAFTA negotiations, which is a flat out lie. Of course it will. It already is having an effect.

The negotiations were already contentious, adversarial and often completely unrealistic, and both Canada and Mexico have made comments that they were considering pulling out of NAFTA entirely if the tone of the negotiations didn’t change. The threat of tariffs has made the situation even worse. The Canadians have become far more outspoken now, openly talking about “responsive measures”, i.e. political speak for levying such huge tariffs on US made goods that US manufacturers and agribusinesses will be unable to sell products in Canada. Mexico has been a bit less open about it, saying that the country is “considering all of its options”.

If you look past NAFTA and look at what’s happening elsewhere, the response to the administration’s tariff threats has been even more forceful, with some countries threatening reciprocal tariffs that would make US goods unmarketable. And as for China, well, if we lose China as a market, that’s pretty much going to destroy the ag economy, and decimate a lot of other businesses as well.

Weather — The weather here in Wisconsin used to be pretty reliable. We could depend on blistering hot summers and cold, snowy winters that would rival anything seen in the arctic.

Yeah, well, about that whole snow and cold thing… Although we had a period of intense cold over Christmas and New Years, it’s actually been ridiculously warm here. We had a February with temps at or above freezing more often than not, and some days when it was pushing 50 degrees. In February. In Wisconsin??? WTF? Really? After a couple of days of 45+ temps, it cooled down and we got about an inch of snow, not enough to bother shoveling because it almost immediately melted off again, and now, on March 3, we’re looking at temps back up in the high 40s and low 50s again.

I’ve been hearing rumors now that the snowmobile clubs in the area are seriously considering not bothering to lay out trails any more and may even be closing down because we haven’t had any actual snow for years now. The trails never opened this year. If they opened at all last year it was only for a few days and in limited areas.

And while we still complain about the cold (we love complaining up here in Wisconsin, it’s the state hobby, I think), and we do get some intense cold periods, all things considered it hasn’t really been all that cold either. If you look at the ice data that shows how long the lakes here are ice covered, you’ll find that the number of days, on average, that lakes are ice covered has dwindled by several weeks.

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 6.33.57 AMAnd if you look at the growing zone map, where I live about 20 miles south of Green Bay, well, we used to be firmly in Zone 4. We’re now in zone 5 and I keep hearing from people that a lot of years now we’re actually pushing zone 6.

Speaking of gardening — MrsGF and I are getting impatient. We’ve already been talking about expanding the garden area on the south side of the house and trying to figure out an easy way to get rid of sod.

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Bag ‘O Seeds

One of the things that’s been pushing us into impatience is that whenever we go down in the basement we walk past the famous “Bag ‘O Seeds” that eldest son gave us for Christmas. It’s hard to tell how many are in there from this photo. That pile of seed packets is about a foot deep. He literally got us one of everything that the retail chain he works for sells in their garden department.

We really need to sit down and do some planning because there is no way that we are going to be able to plant more than a fraction of the different seeds we have.

I can tell MrsGF has gotten impatient because yesterday she got some pots and some potting soil and put in some daffodil bulbs and I suspect those will end up in front of some of the windows in the house and she was wondering if it was really still too early to start some seeds for the garden.

Amateur Radio Stuff — I’m still playing with the FT8 mode and I can see how it can be addicting. I know that some people have complained that it isn’t really “communicating”. The typical FT8 exchange consists of call signs, grid square, signal strength report, and then bye-bye. FT8 is pretty much completely useless for exchanging any kind of genuinely useful communications. So what’s the point of it?

A lot of AROs are interested in things like trying to contact 100 different countries or more, contacting every state in the US, or things like that. It’s making the contact that is important to them. Actually talking to someone? Not so much. They’re chasing awards or certificates of accomplishment or competing in contests, or doing it just for the personal satisfaction of having done it. For those people, FT8 is great. I worked something like 27 different countries in just a few hours while I’ve been experimenting with it. I’ve worked countries I never thought I’d ever successfully contact. I worked a station in Japan the other day and yesterday I got the Cayman Islands.

The fun thing about FT8 is that you can do all that stuff with very modest equipment. You don’t need transceivers that cost $10,000 and huge amplifiers and ten acres of antennas. You can do this running less power than it takes to run the average light bulb and little more than a wire hanging in a tree for an antenna.

But it does have “issues”, as they say. One of the biggest problems is that it is being crippled by its own success. It’s become so wildly popular that the small parts of the radio frequency spectrum that are recommended for its use are ridiculously overcrowded.

And it’s about to get much, much worse because the wonderfully skilled and creative programmers who developed the WSJT software most people use for FT8 is bring out a “Dxpedition” version of the software that will permit as many as 500 contacts per hour and will transmit up to five signals at the same time.

Now, the developers have stated that this new system is “suitable for use only by Dxpedition stations and those attempting to work them”, and that it should not be used on the normal FT8 bands. But you can be sure there are going to be people who are going to completely ignore that. If we get a significant number of operators running the Dxpedition version of the software in the normal FT8 bands, well, the situation is going to go from merely ridiculous to utterly insane.

I saw a statistic the other day that claimed that more than half of all contacts being made now are done by FT8, and considering the amount of activity I’m seeing I suspect that’s probably correct. I wonder if this is just a fad though and if in a fairly short time FT8 will end up abandoned by everyone except the DX hunters.

Where Has PSK gone? — One of the side effects of the widespread adoption of FT8 is that it seems to have almost completely killed off the use of the PSK mode. PSK was a fairly popular mode of communication. When I first started using PSK I would find dozens of contacts and conversations going on on the PSK sub-bands. But now? I generally fire up FLDIGI a couple of times a day when I have the time and check the PSK bands and, well, I’m seeing nothing. I mean nothing. I haven’t seen a single PSK signal out there in days now. It’s almost as if every PSK user out there immediately jumped ship for the FT8 mode and hasn’t gone back. That’s a bit disappointing because PSK is a great low power, weak signal mode, and is, or can be, as automated as FT8 is. When using PSK64 and properly set up macros, making a contact can be as quick and easy as with FT8. And the big plus is that PSK can be used to actually communicate with people.

There, I think I’ve bored you long enough for this time…


It’s Gardening Time! Sort Of

Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 7.02.24 AMOkay, so it’s the middle of January and it’s 12 degrees out so it isn’t really time to go out gardening, but this time of year I start to get that ache that every gardener gets in the middle of winter, that need to go grub around in the dirt and mess around with plants. The handful of house plants we have is better than nothing, but it just isn’t the same.

But this is, believe it or not, a good time of year to start the garden season. It’s never too DSCF1860early to start planning, making lists of things that need to be done, and beginning to get things you may need when the weather finally does cooperate.

It could be an interesting season here. We’re thinking of adding a new raised bed back in the low part of the backyard by building a stone retaining wall. The iris bed is way too low, the irises need to be dug out and broken up anyway, and that area is so low I’m amazed that anything grows back there anyway. We’re also thinking of adding another bed, this one not raised, on the south side of the house/garage. If we do all of this, and that’s still up in the air at this point, it will be a fairly ambitious project and could be a lot of fun.

We were thinking of doing this anyway, but what really lit a fire under us was that Eldest Son showed up at Christmas with an entire grocery bag full of seed packets. Seriously. He works at the corporate offices of a large discount retailer, and they occasionally run special deals for employees where they can get merchandise that is being dropped, out of season, etc. for literally pennies on the dollar. And they were getting rid of all of their seeds from the previous summer. So he got one or two packets of everything. Literally. He got one or two packets of every single type of seed they sold in their garden centers. We have something like 120+ different varieties of seed to play with this spring.

So Mrs. GF and I are looking forward to  having a lot of fun this spring, needless to say. Oh, there’s going to be a lot we aren’t going to be able to use. At least not right away. And probably we’ll never use quite a bit of it, but we’re going to have a lot of fun figuring out what we want to plant because no matter what we want to put in this coming spring, we probably have it already.



GF Procrastinates Again But For Good Reasons

IMG_0779I was supposed to be tearing down all my radio equipment so I can move the new desk into the office. I should wash the car and get that ready for long term storage. I should get the snowblower out and check that over and… Well, hell, look at that photo up there. If your Saturday looked like that, would you hang around the house and do chores inside on what is probably going to be the last nice day of the year? So a lot of the chores got pushed aside to take advantage of the amazing weather because according to the predictions for this coming week, the weather is supposed to be pretty much bleh.

It was absurdly nice, temps in the mid to high 70s, gentle breezes, warm, golden sunshine. It was absolutely glorious out.

Well, to be fair we did get a lot of work done. MrsGF and I were up shortly after dawn working on the flower beds, digging out the annuals that are long past their prime, taking down the decaying sunflowers, raking leaves. We completely filled the box of our elderly full sized Dodge truck and hauled it down to the compost site. And the trees aren’t even bare yet. The pear and maple trees haven’t even started to shed, so we’ll probably end up doing that at least twice more. I even got up on the roof and cleaned out the rain gutters full of leaves.


I admit that everything starts to look drab and dreary and brown this time of year, but even those browns are beautiful in their own way. The dark branches of the denuded trees make amazing patterns against the sky and landscape, and with the foliage starting to die back and the leaves drop, you begin to see things that you didn’t notice before, hidden behind the lush summer growth.

IMG_0772And there is still even a bit of color left out there if you go hunting for it. If you watch carefully there are still some plants that haven’t realized that it’s the end of the growing season and you’ll see a spark of yellow or purple or red peeking out through the grasses that are slowly starting to dry and turn brown.

I don’t understand people who think the fall is a dull, drab season. Yes, the egrets and herons are gone, as are a lot of the song birds. The spectacular flowers of summer have faded, dried up and disappeared. But they’ve been replaced by a new world with it’s own little secrets, it’s own hidden treasures. All you have to do is look.

Of course I admit it would be a lot more pleasant if I didn’t have allergies. The mold index is sky high right now according to the morning news. But I knew that already, a fact demonstrated by my watering eyes, stuffed up head and other irritating symptoms. I sound like I have a perpetual cold this time of year.


IMG_0780Let’s see, what else? Not much, really. MrsGF thought I might hit 1,000 miles before the end of the biking season, but I’m going to be short of that. With the weather getting colder getting out on the bike is more irritating than enjoyable. I did hit 752 miles yesterday, and I’ll probably get over 800 yet this season before the weather shuts me down. But I doubt if I’ll get much more than that. That’s fine. I had no specific goals in mind.

Time to wrap this up.

Garden Clean Up Time

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.


Beautiful Mornings and Silliness


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.

The Great Hosta Experiment

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I love hostas. I have one whole garden in front of the house that’s almost all hostas, and have several others tucked away in odd corners. They come in all different sizes and leaf shapes, with foliage colors that range from yellow to dark blue-green, even variegated. They range in size from small, compact plants to bloody huge. Once they came into flower this year I was sitting on the front porch watching humming birds coming in to feed on them. They generally tolerate low light conditions well. They’re a great plant.

They get a bit pricey, though. Depending on where you buy them, the variety, the size of the plant, etc, you can spend anywhere from $8 for a common variety on a late season sale, up to $40 or even more for some varieties at some of the more trendy (i.e. expensive) nurseries.

I’d like to add about ten more plants to the front hosta garden to fill in holes, plus I’d like to put in another bed of hostas surrounding the old tree in the back yard to make it easier to mow the lawn back there. I’d probably be looking at a couple of hundred bucks in plants if I have to buy them.

IMG_0716So we’re going to try growing them from seed ourselves. Once the seed pods started to dry on the plants, we snipped them off and kept them in a dry place until the pods did this:

IMG_0718Once the pods split open like that after they’ve dried, it’s simple to get the actual seeds out. Just use a toothpick or similar pointed object to slip the seeds out of the dried pod into a container.

About twenty minutes of seed shucking resulted in a whole jar full (well, okay, it’s a tiny, tiny jar) of hosta seed for future experiments and hopefully a hole host of hostas (note the clever use of alliteration as your author pretends he knows what he’s doing).

Don’t sneeze while you’re doing this. The seeds are very small, about the size of fly wings, and about the same shape, too, come to think of it. One sneeze and you’ll have hosta seed all over the house.

Hmm, wonder if I can grow hostas in pots in the windows during the winter? Now that could be fun. Maybe I’ll try that too. Now if I can talk MrsGF into letting me tear out the walls in the living room and replace them with floor to ceiling glass….

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 6.20.35 AMStill, it gives me something to do with all those dopey little empty pimento jars we have sitting around for some reason. Where do those even come from, anyway? I don’t remember ever even buying pimentos. I think people are breaking into the house and leaving empty jars here.




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.