I’d just got back from an early morning bike ride, about, oh, 6:30 or 7 AM, and the sun was just hitting the gardens in the backyard when I snapped this one with the iPhone. The colors were so intense it looked like it was glowing. I absolutely love those ‘dinner plate’ dahlias. It’s always worth taking a look for things on sale after the spring planting rush is over. I picked these up for half the price they were at the start of the spring season.
When I was farming, thistles were a noxious weed that needed to be controlled. Now I think they’re one of the prettiest looking plants we have. Just look at those flowers. The structure, the color, everything about them is just stunning.
Then there are these goofy things – MrsGF cleaned out the flower beds along the south side of the garage the other week, taking almost everything out, and a few days later we noticed what looked like small asparagus stalks poking up through the soil. The weirdest looking things, just slender stalks with a bulbous end and the nastiest color you could think of. Sort of looked like zombie asparagus. Then we remembered these things had popped up a few years ago and surprised the heck out of us then. We didn’t plant these and we have no idea where they came from, but holy cow the flowers are stunning!
People sometimes ask us why we have huge sunflowers growing along the side of the house. Here’s why –
Goldfinches absolutely love these things and they swarm them as the flowers begin to fade and the seeds begin to develop. They are an absolute riot to watch, squabbling and leaping around, flitting around, hanging from the plants upside down like little acrobats. They don’t seem to notice that we’re standing on the other side of the window watching them. We’ll have a dozen or more of the little goofs working over the flowers at one time this time of year.
This is the time of year when all the work we put in on the gardens really begins to pay off. The bell peppers are beautiful this year. We have ’em tucked into a corner facing the south and west where the garage is built onto the house and they love it there. It’s warm and sunny and as long as we remember to keep them well watered they (and the wax beans planted near them) have been thriving. We go through a lot of sweet bell peppers around here. Everyone loves them. Most will end up diced and frozen, but we eat a lot of them fresh in salads, ingredients in sauces, stir fry, etc.
Youngest Son and I had nothing else to do Saturday so we went to the Manitowoc county fair. Both of us don’t care about rides or that stuff, we’re more interested in A) weird food, and B) the exhibits. I get ridiculous sense of satisfaction to see how much better my produce and flowers look than the prize winners do. Petty of me, true, but it’s still satisfying.
Anyway, goats have become a big thing around here in the last ten or fifteen years. You almost never would see goats around here before then. Now there are more goat exhibitors than than sheep and pigs. I have to admit they’re fun. They’re charming and curious and don’t seem afraid of anything, and they all seem to have this ridiculous, goofy attitude about them.
For a while llamas and then alpacas were “the next big thing” that were going to make people tons of money. They didn’t, of course. None of these fads ever pan out. We’ve gone through bison, emu, llamas, alpacas and elk as “the next big thing” since, oh, the 1980s. (Emus are nasty. Think of a giant chicken, taller than you are, with a bad attitude. An emu would gleefully kill you and dance on your corpse if it thought it could get away with it.) There are still people in some parts of the state who think emus are going to be financially successful if only they could get a foot in the door with their emu products. You’ll still find gas stations and farmers markets where people are trying to sell emu jerky (shudder), emu oil which is useful for – well, hell, I don’t know what the hell emu oil is good for. Lubricating emus? Emu meat (tastes like chicken?) and I don’t know what all else.
Eldest son and his girlfriend took a short vacation way up along Lake Superior where the air is clear and there are no lights, and asked if they could take the big 11″ Celestron telescope along. I was glad to let them have it. The poor thing has been sitting under its cover in the closet for an embarrassingly long time. I love the scope but the thing is huge and heavy (the tube assembly weighs around 60 lbs). It’s almost impossible for me to lug it up and down the stairs and maneuver it through the doors to get it outside. And when I do get it outside the air quality here has gotten so bad and we now have so much light pollution from streetlights, houses and businesses that it hardly pays to even bother taking it out at all.
Anyway he sent me a text message telling me the scope has been working very well and he sent along the photo above. Very glad they like it. I hated seeing it sit unused. I was thinking of donating it to the school district I used to work at for their new STEM center. That’s what I did with my big camera drone when I got tired of playing with it. If ES is having fun with it, he’s more than welcome to keep it. Otherwise I may donate it to the science program at the high school.
… here over the last few weeks. I’m not sure what the heck happened after I retired. I was supposed to have all this free time to play with amateur radio, do gardening, dabble more in photography, go fishing, etc. Instead it seems I have less time than when I was working full time. Oh, well.
We did go up north last weekend to visit some friends, although we did run across this —
We came across the rolled over milk tanker about 10 miles from the house. Fortunately no one got seriously hurt. I think he was empty because there was no leakage when we came across the scene just after it happened. It was on a roundabout, and this happens on a regular basis with these big trucks. They hit the roundabout too fast and flip over trying to make the corner.
The annual Chilton steam engine and antique tractor show was this weekend and that’s something I try to get to every year even though it makes me feel so old sometimes to see equipment that I used to run when I was a kid or teenager now classified as “antique”. Although to be fair a lot of the equipment we had on the farm back then was probably already antique by the time we got our hands on it.
This year the big surprise was this —
Now if you’ve never seen anything like that before, it’s for a good reason. They never made many of these, and there are only three of them left in the world from what I learned talking to the guy who was operating it. When I first saw it, it was largely blocked from sight and all I could see was part of the front with the engines and I thought someone had lugged a Shay type locomotive to the show.
Yes, it’s fully operational. This isn’t just a static display, it actually runs.
What the hell is it? It’s a log hauler that was used up until the 1930s to pull huge sleds carrying logs through the woods during the winter. Only about 175 of them were ever built. It could pull up to 300 tons of logs on as many as 25 sleds at a time. I ran across this when I was looking up more info on it-
I can’t even begin to imagine what it must cost to keep that engine repaired and operational. It must be incredibly expensive. I’m very glad they do, though. If it weren’t for people who support the preservation of equipment like this all we’d have are photos. They show it at Wabeno, where its home is, but they also take it out to at least one of these shows a year.
As I said, sometimes it makes me feel very old when I go to these and run across equipment I used to use, like this Massey 44. I used one of these when I was a kid. For a long time it was our primary tractor that did everything from hauling out manure to chopping feed to plowing. And while it may look pretty and make me feel nostalgic, when it comes down to it it was a nasty, nasty tractor to actually use. The front end was too light. Those front wheels would be entirely off the ground as often as not when it was pulling a heavy load. It was difficult to steer. It had mechanical issues. The engine was decent, but ours tended to overheat and the transmission wasn’t very good. And it sucked gas like you wouldn’t believe.
What I like about these shows too is that it gives us a glimpse into what life was like for our not so distant ancestors. Just the simple job of washing clothing was a major operation not that long ago.
Yes, that’s a washing machine being powered by an ancient gasoline engine. And while that engine might be a bit elderly for this setup, washing machines running off gasoline engines was not uncommon in rural areas. You have to remember that a lot of rural areas didn’t get electric service until the 1930s or even later.
On the amateur radio front, I’ve been fiddling with antennas again. Well, sort of. I’m finally getting around to getting the Gap Titan vertical finished and hooked up.
It successfully survived the winds we had during the recent storms. After 60 – 70 MPH winds hit us during those storms I more than half expected to see it laying on the ground when I got up the next morning, but it made it through unscathed. We almost forgot to put guy lines on the thing. If we’d neglected that I’m sure it would have come down.
I got the counterpoise/ground plane installed finally and, well, it takes up a wee bit bigger area than I thought it would. Going to be fun mowing lawn through there. But that area is going to be part of an extension to the existing flower beds anyway so I only have to worry about it for the rest of this season.
And I still don’t have the dopey thing connected. I got started, got all the tools out and began to work on putting the connectors on the coax and… Sigh…
I had the wrong one. I needed a female and only had the male variety, so I either needed a female or an adaptor. Not a big deal, but mildly annoying nevertheless. In any case, I didn’t really like the style connector they sent with the antenna in the first place. Thankfully, Farm and Home, the big hardware store down in Chilton has a big electronics section (used to be a Radio Shack store) and they’ll probably have what I need.
As for the weather – this has been one of the wettest summers I can remember. The lawns should all be brown and dormant from a lack of rain this time of year. Instead they’re all lush and green, as you can see from the photo there. I’ve only had to water the gardens about three or four times all summer long so far. Most summers watering is something we need to do every two days or so.
The rivers and lakes are all abnormally high around here because of all the rainfall.
This is the river down by the old stone bridge the other day. Normally this time of year the river is so low and stagnant that it’s choked with algae and weeds, and so shallow it would hardly be halfway up your shins if you tried to walk through it. It’s a good four feet deep or more, though, and had more than enough current to keep the algae from accumulating.
That’s about it for now. Hopefully by the next time I get around to writing something I’ll have some amateur radio stuff to talk about. I should have that antenna finally set up. I should have the new Yaesu 818ND up and running with the laptop using FT8, JS8Call and PSK.
And hopefully I’ll have made some progress in moving all my equipment down into the basement. MrsGF found a matching set of old, heavy duty tables at St. Vinnie’s that might make good work benches. They’re about 4′ square with heavy duty 4″ square legs. They’re beat up but look solid, and I can get ’em for $5 each, so I’ll go take a look at those on Tuesday.
Still have to make a decision on where the electrical outlets are going to be placed down there, but I didn’t want to do that until I had an idea on where the work benches were going to be, how tall they were, etc. Probably at least 4, four outlet boxes fed with 20 amp circuits, plus at least one 240V outlet for amplifiers. And need to rewire for better lighting. Want to put in LED lights to replace the existing fluorescent tubes that are in there now.
… those rare days that seem too beautiful to be real. I got out on the bike early, right after sunrise, in order to avoid the heat, and I’m glad I did because wow, it was amazing out there. The air was thick and heavy which helped to mute and soften the sunlight and make everything seem to glow.
Even more surprising was how quiet it was. Because it was so early Sunday morning there was almost no traffic at all on the nearby highway. The only sounds I could hear were the calls of hundreds of birds – cardinals, mourning doves, finches, jays, sparrows, killdeer, blackbirds, the raucous call of the cranes… It was one of those days that I wished I could freeze in my memory forever so I could keep revisiting it.
We live in an environment where we are constantly deluged with artificial sounds twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Every minute of our lives we’re bombarded with noise from traffic, aircraft over head, construction equipment, trains, heavy trucks, motorcycles, the drone of air conditioners. Even here, where I live in a small town in a fairly rural area, it’s impossible to get away from the noise.
I talked with a psychology professor once – oh, must be at least 10 or more years ago, when I was out in Sundance WY one summer. We’d both come stumbling down to the motel lobby early in the morning looking for coffee and started chatting and I learned she was trying to get funding for research on how the sounds that surround us can cause elevated stress levels that are detrimental to our physical and mental health. She was out there looking for what she called ‘quiet zones’, areas where there was as little man made noise as possible. She told me that even though our brains might filter out the noises around us to the point where we hardly even notice them consciously, they still have an adverse effect on us. We evolved to become alarmed by loud noise. It’s a survival trait. When you hear a loud noise, you become startled and your body responds by flooding you with hormones like adrenaline to prime you to run or fight. And even though the noises around us don’t alarm us consciously, our bodies are still reacting by trickling low levels of those hormones into our blood stream. That, in turn, keeps us over stimulated, so to speak, so we are under a constant level of stress.
But all good things must come to an end, as the old saying goes, and eventually I ran across this:
That is a corn field and, unfortunately, a lot of the corn around here looks like that – lots of bare spots, not even knee high. Hell, some of it is just barely ankle high. This stuff should be as tall as I am this time of year. The hay crop isn’t much better around here. It isn’t all this bad, thank goodness, but the amount of corn I see that looks like this is scary. The way some of these fields look it isn’t going to pay to even try to make silage out of it.
But then when I got home, I found these in the backyard…
These are called “dinner plate” dahlias. Back in early June I found these at Walmart as bare root stock being sold at half price, so I bought a couple of bags of them for the heck of it, and wow, I’m glad I did. They call ’em “dinner plate” because the flowers are so big. They’re huge. It’s impossible to tell from that photo but that flower up there is easily as big as my hand. I got two different colors, the yellow/orange ones here, and purple ones that are just starting to flower.
I don’t normally shop at Walmart unless I have to. I’ve had mixed results with plants from their garden department. But the thing with the store is that have to move that stuff out fast. They can’t keep it sitting around because they have to make room for other seasonal merchandise. That means that they start discounting the stuff pretty quickly. By early June a lot of their plants and root stock was already heavily discounted, and by mid-June most of their plants, seeds and roots were half price or even less.
So if you’re patient and don’t need to be the first one in the neighborhood to get plants in the ground, you can get some pretty good deals after the peak planting season passes.
Northeast Wisconsin got absolutely hammered by severe storms, some of the strongest we’ve ever seen around here. The training I’ve had for SkyWarn taught me how to estimate wind speed fairly accurately, and I guessed we had wind gusts of up to 75 MPH here, and the NWS reports later confirmed that. It was scary here for a while. We were lucky, though. The worst of it seems to have skipped around this area. Other areas, especially just to the north and west of us got hit hard. There were three tornadoes. NWS reported winds of up to 120 MPH in Wrightstown, about 10 miles north of here. Outagame, Brown and Winnebago counties all are reporting very serious damage. Thousands of people are still without power around us, and the utilities are saying conditions in those areas are so bad from downed trees, broken power poles, etc. that it could be days before everyone has their power restored.
The only good thing about it is that the cold front that triggered the storms has finally brought relief from the extended streak of heat and humidity we were going through. My thermometer here recorded high temps well up into the 90s, with humidity of 95% or higher. The highest temp we hit was 97 according to the recorder. The heat index was well up in the 100s. I’m going to hate to see what our electric bill looks like. Our air conditioner was running full blast for days struggling to keep the temperatures in the house down to a reasonable level. I’m very surprised it’s managed to keep going at all.
While the extreme temperatures haven’t been good for people, the plants around here seem to have been loving it. Everything is lush and green and growing like crazy. Unfortunately we also seem to have a bumper crop of mosquitoes this year as well because of all the rain we’ve gotten. So here are some pictures of what’s growing around here.
Despite all the water we’ve been getting the gardens have been doing pretty good. We’re still a bit behind schedule because of the cool weather we had up until now, but the gardens at the house are definitely doing better than what the farmers around here have been experiencing.
When we bought this place some twenty or so years ago the front of the house was a mess. The space between the front of the house and the sidewalk was a nasty little border type flower bed mulched with small stones, sort of curved and indented, with some of the worst grass I’d ever seen between that and the sidewalk. It was a maintenance nightmare. The plants up there were some of the worst you could possibly select for a border, and because of the stones it was impossible to properly weed or do anything to improve the horrible soil.
We finally got fed up, went in with the tractor and ripped everything out, scooped up the stones with the front end loader and hauled them to a friend’s farm where he used them for fill, and we put in the cedar rail fence and the hostas. No bushes to trim any more, the fence has weathered to look like it’s been there for generations, and the only maintenance is to go in with a hoe and knock the few weeds growing in the mulch down once in a while. There are a couple of spots where I want a bit better coverage so I might throw in a few more hostas.
The tomatoes are looking pretty good. We put in a lot less of them than last year because we were nearly overwhelmed by them last year. We still have enough canned tomatoes to last us probably through 2019, although all of the soup and pasta sauce got used up.
With fewer tomatoes we had some extra room in the raised beds so we put onions in along the edge and they’re doing beautifully. We tried raising them in a different spot but they never got enough light and didn’t do well. They’re looking fantastic in this new location. They’re big enough now that I can run outside and pull a couple whenever I need onions for anything. I love green onions so they may never reach maturity, but that’s okay.
Every year I have to put in something different, this year it’s this, something that the label says is a “hot salsa pepper”. And that is literally all it says. I don’t know what variety or anything else about it. It is starting to produce pretty little yellow peppers, so that’s something. I picked one yesterday and tried it and it is most definitely not hot. Not by any standards. I’m not one of those people who loves peppers that make your face turn red and your eyes bug out and necessitate a trip to the ER because they’re so bad, but I do like a pepper that bites back at least a little. Jalapenos are about the limit of what I can handle for heat. But these, well, there’s just nothing there at all. Hopefully they’ll get better as they mature.
Speaking of jalapenos, I got another experiment going in pots on the front steps, a “mild” jalapenos. The two plants are doing quite well, both are in flower now and one is starting to develop fruits. The blurb on the tag was “all of the flavor without the heat”. I’ve tried variations of peppers like this before that claimed they still had flavor without heat, and they were disappointing. Usually when they breed out the heat, they also breed out the flavor, alas. But we’ll see what happens with these. They certainly are looking healthy.
And then, of course, there’s the water. Oh brother… The ground is still so saturated that you can audibly hear it squishing when you walk through the grass. And the whole area back by the raised vegetable beds still had standing water under the grass as you can see in that photo. If we didn’t have the raised beds nothing would be growing back there this year. I don’t think we’ve gone more than three days in a row without significant rainfall since April.
Let’s wrap this up with this one:
I end up with dozens of photos of that lily every year because I love the color, the shape of the flowers, and just about everything about that plant. It certainly didn’t disappoint this year.
is finally completely finished! We got all of the plantings done and finished up mulching it the other day. Still want to rearrange those slate pavers as stepping stones going through the crushed lava rock. And those dopey lupins. I don’t know about those. I don’t like them there. I think they detract from the effect I wanted. And the things are ridiculously invasive. But MrsGF likes ’em. The two bird houses were made by eldest son a few years ago. We just put the things out there and we’d hardly had the posts in and we had birds moving into the already.
It’s still ridiculously wet around here. We just got another two inches of rain the other day. To give you an idea of how wet it is around here this is my backyard not far from the new raised bed in the first photo. You can see I’m standing in about an inch and a half of water.
The ground is so saturated with water that even this morning, more than 24 hours after the rain finished, even the high ground in the yard squishes when I walk across it.
Out in the countryside it’s just as bad. The corn is up, barely. At least where the farmers could get it in the ground. This time of year it should be, oh, eight, twelve inches tall, the old “knee high by the 4th of July” saying is reasonably accurate. Almost none of the stuff I’ve seen is more than about four inches at the most.
On the good side, Mr. Spiny, our rescue cactus, is having a grand time tucked away under the eaves of the house. I started to try counting the number of new pads and gave up after I hit 20. We’ve had this guy for what, must be four years or more now after we rescued him from the town compost pile and it’s been thriving ever since.
And my favorite red lily is in full bloom! This is probably my favorite of all the plants we have out in the garden. I think the color on it is simply spectacular.
If you’re wondering if I’m still doing the bicycle thing or if I’ve turned even more lazy than I usually am, yes, I’m still at it. I try getting out every day. I admit that’s been a challenge with the weather the way it has been. I’ve been reluctant to go very far out of town because of the way the rain seems to pop up out of nowhere some days. Because of that I’ve only been out on the trail a few times so far this year. Hopefully we’ll get a change in this weather pattern in the near future.
Let’s see, what else… I haven’t had time to play with radio very much so I still don’t have the new Yaesu up and running with digital. The “new” Lenovo laptop I picked up for $300 that it’s going to be hooked to looks like a real gem so far. It isn’t blindingly fast, but it’s certainly got way more horsepower than it will ever need for the application it’s going to be used for.
We don’t have any other major projects in mind for the gardens and landscaping this season. The next project is to finally tackle moving all my radio and computer equipment down into the basement. I’ve been putting that one off way, way too long already and I really need to get working on that.
If you live in the midwest in the US you don’t need me to tell you that the weather hasn’t been very good. Unusually cold temperatures and seemingly non-stop rain has been hitting large parts of the midwest. Corn and soybeans were, for the most part, planted late or even not at all. Ohio seems to have been hit the worst. Looks like almost 25% of the Ohio corn crop isn’t going to be planted at all. The situation with soybeans isn’t quite as bad, but the numbers there aren’t looking very good either.
The exact numbers are uncertain because a lot of farmers and people in the ag industry are being openly, even brutally skeptical of the data coming out of USDA. There are claims USDA is including acreage that has been planted but is under water and will never grow, acreage that has been planted with cover crops instead of corn because it’s already too late to plant, etc.
I can’t confirm or deny any of those suspicions. All I know is that when I ride around the countryside I’m seeing a hell of a lot of fields that look like the picture there on the left; lots of mud, lots of standing water, and lots and lots of weeds. It is too late to do anything with fields like that except to try to plant a cover crop to keep down the weeds and prevent erosion. You aren’t going to get any kind of economically viable crop planted in this area, this late in the season.
What about hemp, you ask?
Well, okay, you didn’t ask, but I’ve had a couple of people ask me about what the situation is with hemp. It is now legal to plant, harvest and process hemp here in Wisconsin, and despite the fact that a lot of people have been hyping the hell out of it and claiming that it is going to be the savior of agriculture, well, hemp, so far at least, has been pretty much a total bust for those few farmers who’ve tried it. Raising hemp for grain was a total loss last year from what I heard. Because of wet fall it was almost impossible to harvest the stuff. And what they did get harvested was hit by mold because of the damp weather so they couldn’t sell it at all.
Raising it to produce CBD oil didn’t work out too well either for a lot of farmers. One farmer I heard about did successfully get his crop in, but trying to actually sell it was a different story. It seems no one actually wants large amounts of the stuff. Or none that he could find, anyway. None of the CBD oil producers he’s dealing with seem to want more than a few pounds of it at a time, and you can’t make money that way. His problem is marketing, of course. It sounds like he jumped into production before he was even sure if he could sell the stuff.
Hemp isn’t going to be “the savior” of agriculture. It is, at best, going to be just another crop that some will have success with. And all of the hype about CBD oil seems to be mostly that, hype, with few actual facts to back up any of the claims. There seems to be some indications it can help with epilepsy and discomfort from arthritis, but that’s about it.
Strange things are growing in my backyard behind the garage. No, that’s not some kind of weird sunflower, that’s a GAP Titan DX vertical antenna which has been laying around for years now. Eldest son and I finally got the dopey thing put up over the weekend. That thing has been laying around for, oh, lord, has it really been three or four years? Sheesh… Talk about procrastination…
It replaces the Comet 250 vertical that was back there since 2013. The Comet – people like to complain about it but to be perfectly fair it wasn’t a horrible antenna. It is exactly what they claim it is, a multi-band vertical that doesn’t need radials or a counterpoise, that works from 80 to 10 meters without an antenna tuner, and can handle up to 250 watts. It is unobtrusive, the neighbors probably won’t complain about it, and under the right conditions it will even work as an antenna. Sort of. Not a very good antenna, true, but it will work.
The Titan has a pretty good reputation. It too is an all-band vertical, but you can see that it isn’t exactly simple, with all kinds of stubs and wires and stuff coming off it. But it is much, much more efficient than the Comet. And I can feed this one up to 1,500 watts if I want to without damaging it, where the Comet, well, I heard reports that if you tried to put more than 100 watts into the Comet you’d melt down the coils. Anyway, I still have work to do on this one. I need to get the counterpoise installed, need to get some connectors on it, need to tune the stubs. Hopefully it won’t take me another four years to get it hooked up!
It’s up high enough so it won’t interfere with the flowerbeds behind the garage. The counterpoise will take up a bit of space so I imagine MrsGF will not like that, but I’m hoping to get her to upgrade to a general class license now that she’s retired and if she does she’ll get as much use out of that antenna as I will.
Speaking of flowers, (well, okay, I wasn’t speaking of flowers but what the heck) the lupins have just gone nuts this year. They’re everywhere. It looks like someone bombed the entire backyard with seed. We didn’t plant any of these, they just came up by themselves. Not that I’m complaining. Those flowers are spectacular.
Let’s see, what else? Oh, yeah…
Stuff On The Air
Amateur radio operators can be a bit, well, odd, shall we say? (Personally I suspect it’s solder fumes.) Some of them seem to be obsessed with lugging their equipment out of the safe environment of their basements where spouses have exiled them and into the great outdoors with the intent of doing “Things On The Air”. They do SOTA (summits on the air), IOTA (islands on the air), POTA (parks on the air) WPOTA (Walmart parking lots on the air), and, well, the list goes on and on.
I’ve decided to join the ranks of these intrepid and brave explorers going to exotic places and sticking still more letters in front of “OTA”, risking life and limb outside of the safety of my normal operating location. Yes, I’ve started FPOTA! Front Porches On The Air! Ooo, the excitement! Ah, the thrills!
Well, okay, I’m being silly here. (But to be honest I’m getting really tired of these “OTA” things and people running around “activating” parking lots and hills and parks and bridges and I don’t know what all else.) Still, we had a very rare nice day so I set up the mag loop and the 818 out on the front porch with a cup of coffee, a copy of “The Bathroom Reader” and and contacted, well, no one, to be honest. Chris over at Off Grid Ham tells me he’s been having similar results and not to feel too bad about it. Propagation on the HF bands pretty much sucks because we’re at the bottom of the solar cycle.
By the way, if you’re at all interested in solar power, batteries, solar controllers, and alternative ways of keeping your radios running, battery charging systems, etc, Off Grid Ham is the place to start.
The Great QRP Saga Continues
If you’ve been reading this nonsense for the last couple of weeks you know about my efforts to put together a portable QRP (low power) radio setup that’s small enough I can throw it into the back of the car and take with me when I go fishing and stuff so I can do PTOCCOTA (Picnic Tables Of Calumet County On The Air). Okay, I’m being silly, but I have long wanted to have a nice QRP set up that I could take along with me to play amateur radio while out enjoying the glorious environment of Wisconsin’s great outdoors and it’s swarms of blood sucking, disease carrying mosquitoes and ticks.
I’m mostly interested in digital modes of communications like PSK, FT8 and JS8 because despite the fact my hobby is communications technology, I don’t like to actually, well, talk to people. Yeah, I know. Weird, isn’t it?
So as you may recall, the ancient Toshiba laptop I was going to use decided it was time to go to that great recycling center in the sky. So I’ve been scrounging around for a cheap (emphasis on cheap because I already got way too much money invested in this project already) replacement and came up with this:
It’s a refurbed Lenovo that I picked up for $300 and, frankly, it’s ridiculously nice. I mean this thing looks and feels literally like brand new. There isn’t a single scratch or smudge or physical defect anywhere on it. Has a core i5 processor, 8 gig RAM, 500 gig SSD drive, DVD drive, 4 USB ports and seems entirely too nice to lug around out in the field. I have FLDIGI, JS8Call and FT8 software installed on it already. And I think I have the right cables to hook everything up to the SignaLink and the 818. So this weekend I’ll be taking over the dining room table for a few hours and see if I can actually get all this to work together.
I am not looking forward to that because, well, it’s embarrassing. I’ve been working with computers since 1979, both hardware and software. I’ve been fiddling with radio for even longer even though I didn’t get my amateur radio license until 2013. I was an electronics technician. I repaired laser scanners, set up computer networks, worked with ridiculously complex point of sale systems. So I ought to know this stuff, right? But whenever it comes to trying to hook a computer to a transceiver it quickly turns into an extremely frustrating experience. It never, ever works the first time. Or the second. Or the third. Or the fourth… Well, you get the idea.
I spent days trying to get Ham Radio Deluxe to work with first my Kenwood TS-2000 and then later with the Kenwood TS-990 and a RigBlaster Advantage interface. It was so frustrating that at times I was ready to just give up and then, for no apparent reason, the damned thing would just start working, with the same settings and cabling that didn’t work the day before… Arrgghhhh! The last time I had to rejigger stuff was when I got the new gaming PC and was trying to hook that up. Same settings, same cables, same everything, and, of course, it wouldn’t work right. Ham Radio Deluxe worked just fine and dandy until I wanted to transmit. Then it would key the transmitter but nothing actually transmitted… I struggled with that problem for way, way to long. And then it just started working for no apparent reason… I still don’t know what the hell happened there.
Anyway, enough of that. I’ve been boring you long enough with this stuff. Hopefully come Monday or Tuesday I’ll be able to report that I’ve got the 818 working flawlessly with the ThinkPad and I’m making contacts all over the place.
Wow it’s been busy here. Well, at least when it hasn’t been raining, which it seems to have been doing almost the entire month of May. I’d say we’ve had maybe 5 nice days out of the last 30. The rest of the time it’s either been raining, or cold with temperatures never getting much above 55 degrees, or both at the same time. The farms around here are running weeks behind with planting. Well, so is most of the midwest. This time of year we should have just about all of the corn crop planted. Instead we have about 45% of the crop in the ground because the fields around here look like this:
We’re at the point now where if farmers can’t get the corn in the ground in the next few days they might as well not bother at all. Every day’s delay means a significant reduction in yield, and it isn’t going to be long before even the faster growing varieties won’t reach maturity before we get frost in the fall.
The commodities markets were so distracted by the trade wars going on that they didn’t notice the weather problems we’ve had, but they sure have now. Corn prices have shot up over $1 per bushel in the last week and a half, and are now sitting around $4.30 on the Chicago market.
But I wanted to talk about gardening, not farming, so let’s drop that and get on with this.
It was a hard winter here, which was easy to tell from looking at our yard, especially behind the house. The decorative plantings got especially hard hit, and the decorative area back there was an absolute mess.
The bark mulch had disappeared, for the most part, probably floating off in the heavy rains, the rest was discolored and deteriorating badly, parts of the area had sunk in where the old koi pond had been, the irises were drowning, it was pretty bad back there. So we decided the whole thing had to be redone. So we started digging up the old plants, moving rocks, putting in something like 250 retaining wall blocks, and about a week of work, and this is what we ended up with.
We still have a lot of work to do to finish it off obviously. Some of the block have to be straightened up, some things moved around, but we’re relatively pleased with the result. One problem is that boulder sitting there. I moved that sucker there when I still had the tractor because it seemed like a good idea at the time and since the tractor got sold, well that’s where it’s going to stay, so we’re stuck with it and have to work around it.
It’s still pretty messy back there and we have a lot to do. We’re debating whether or not we want to put capstones along the top of the retaining walls. We have probably several more yards of dirt to haul in to fill the planting bed, a lot of crushed rock for the area around and behind the boulder, lots of plants to transplant into there and buy, and probably a truckload or two of mulch.
The old stone wall containing the garden at the back of the garage isn’t in good shape either any more. You can see what’s left of it here at the back of the garage. It’s just barely hanging on and needs to be replaced. But we’re pretty sick of putting in retaining walls at the moment so we’ll let this go another year and worry about it next spring. Despite the cold, wet weather you can see the raspberries are doing pretty good back there.
The 55 gallon drum you see in the background behind the lilac at the corner of the garage is our rain recovery system. There’s a piping system attached to the rain gutters that diverts water into the barrel that we use for watering plants in the dry season. Works pretty well. That’s generally enough to handle all of potted plants around the house. Not enough to deal with the vegetable gardens as well, but it helps a lot in keeping the water bill down during the summer.
We’ve cut back on the vegetable plantings this year. We had ridiculous amounts of tomatoes last year so we cut way back on that. Lots of pepper plants, though. We seem to go through a lot of those. But tomatoes? We still have quarts and quarts of canned tomatoes on the shelves from last year, although we did run out of soup and spaghetti sauce.
That opened up space in the raised beds so we put in a variety of onions this year to see how that works. I love being able to just go out in the backyard and dig up fresh onions when I need them during the summer. But the area where we were planting onions until now didn’t work very well because it was getting shaded out by the trees. The onions would start out well but would never grow very big because of the lack of light.
But then I have this going on right now —
She’s been sitting there staring at me for the last half hour waiting for her breakfast so I suppose I better feed the little goof.
Stuff & Nonsense is a catch-all category for random stuff that doesn’t deserve a complete blog entry accumulated into a disorganized mess and put up here because I’m bored and/or feel guilty about not having posted anything recently.
Proposed Amateur Radio Licensing Changes Are Prelude to Apocalypse
The ARRL submitted a petition to the FCC to expand privileges for Technician class license holders on the HF bands and this will quickly usher in the end of the world as we know it. Or at least according to the curmudgeons over at QRZ and some of the other amateur radio forums. It isn’t, of course. It will probably have little or no effect at all on anything. Despite what the ARRL seems to believe, huge numbers of Technician licensees are not desperate to get on the HF frequencies so even if they did have access to them they wouldn’t use them.
Moving my stuff from the office to the basement is coming along far more slowly than I’d like because of various reasons. But mostly because I’m in no great rush to get it done and a lot of prep work has to be done before I can actually start moving things.
Things look a bit better down there, though. I’ve moved a ton of junk out of there and I’ve been working on prepping the walls for painting.
This house was built in two parts. The original house was built in the 1930s, and a large living room with a fireplace and full basement under it was added in the 1980s. The place where I’m moving is part of the old house, and, the 75+ year old basement walls aren’t exactly very attractive. So I’ve been patching and scraping and prepping for paint. I’m hoping to finally get some painting done this weekend. Once I get that done I can start re-wiring that area to put in about a dozen 120V electrical outlets and at least one 240V line. There is already electrical wiring there, but the outlets are located in inconvenient places. The wiring in the office will be left alone except for the 240V line. We’ll disconnect that one just so no one ends up trying to hammer a 120V plug into that 240V outlet.
Later: Got that one wall finished finally. I didn’t think I was ever going to get it done. It’s the worst of the bunch and the rest will come along more easily. They just need to be scraped down and painted. Just getting that one done makes a huge difference.
Nice to see some progress down there after all of the delays. I don’t have any set schedule for making the move. Whenever it gets done, it gets done. And there is still a ton of my son’s old equipment to get out of that area. I had to start piling his stuff in my woodshop just so I could get at this wall and it’s really starting to clutter up the rest of the basement as well. He’s moving it as he gets time, but it’s a slow process
And while I’m on the subject of amateur radio, I had to take down my dipole antenna because one leg ran to a neighbor’s tree and that house just sold so I figured I’d better get the antenna down before the new owner shows up and wonders if I’m trying to electrocute his tree or something. Next time I see my other neighbor I need to ask him if I can run it to his tree. He probably won’t have a problem with it. He’s a radio geek too, but with CB and FRS stuff.
I’m not off the air. I still have the Comet antenna up, but it isn’t exactly very good. About the only thing it’s good for is high efficiency digital modes like JS8Call and FT8 and, if propagation conditions are good, PSK. And while it’s rated for 250 watts I’ve been hearing from people that when using digital you really shouldn’t put more than 100 watts into it, so I can forget about using my amplifiers.
Well, not that I ever use the amplifiers anyway. The tube amp hasn’t been fired up since 2013 and the other amp hasn’t been used in over a year. Should probably sell at least the tube amp one of these days.
I also need to get that GAP Titan antenna up finally! That poor thing has been laying outside waiting to be set up for way, way too long now.
Speaking of the neighbor’s house – When it first went up for sale we seriously considered buying it. It is an old house, easily as old as ours, and has never been well maintained or updated. We figured it was worth maybe $50,000 at the most, and if that’s what they’d asked, we probably would have bought it. The plan was to tear down the existing house because it is essentially worthless without about $40K worth of work, wait a few years and then put up 1,500 sq ft single level house for me and MrsGF when we were ready to downsize, and then sell this place.
But they were asking $80,000 for that place which was way, way too much, and they didn’t want to budge on the price. And there were some issues with the title of the house too. The owners had defaulted, gone into bankruptcy, and didn’t even know who actually held the mortgage on the place because that had changed hands. They were making payments to someone, somewhere, but didn’t actually own the place any more and didn’t know exactly who did, and, well, that was a mess I didn’t want to get involved with either.
So it sold now. For $50K. Sigh… To a house flipper. Oh, goodie…
Water Water Everywhere
We had near records amounts of snow in February, then rain, then more snow, followed by an abrupt jump in temperature up to 50 degrees, so, well, flooding. The state was under an emergency declaration for quite a while because of flooding. Low lying areas and and people along rivers were hit hard. The biggest problem was ice damming. When the ice started to break up and then we got the rain, the ice jammed up under bridges, culverts, etc. causing widespread flooding.
Chinese Pork Smuggling
The US Customs Service intercepted a shipment of about one million pounds of pork in more than 50 shipping containers that someone was trying to smuggle into a New Jersey port. The stuff was packed into many different types of packaging, including ramen noodle boxes and Tide detergent containers, and sometimes just shoved into spaces in between other products packed into the containers.
The big fear is African Swine Fever, of course, which is sweeping through China. While ASF doesn’t harm human beings, it is virtually 100% fatal for pigs and there is no treatment or vaccine. The only way to control outbreaks is to try to prevent the virus from spreading with quarantines and killing infected swine. Needless to say the US would very much like to keep ASF out of the country, but I suspect it’s only a matter of time before we start having problems with it too.
The question is why would anyone want to smuggle large amounts of Chinese pork into the US in the first place? There is little or no demand for imported pork in the US. We produce more than enough of it ourselves, and it’s almost ridiculously cheap here. How in the world were they expecting to make any money from smuggling a product into the US that we already have a surplus of and is at almost record low prices?
Anyway, that’s it for now. MrsGF and I are working out plans for what we’re going to plant this coming season and considering making some major changes to the landscaping, so we’ll see what comes of that. We’re starting to see things popping up out of the ground already. The chives are up, some of the early spring flowers are starting to pop up as well. The prep work in the basement goes on. Hopefully in a short time I’ll be able to get the bicycle back out on the road.
MrsGF and I set aside Saturday to clean up the last of the gardens around here. We’ve had several hard frosts now and almost everything has died back so there was no reason to put it off any longer. So, of course, this happened…
Yep, that’s snow. Saturday was pretty miserable. Temperature around 38 degrees, 30 – 40 mph winds and then it started snowing. Oh, well. Ah, Wisconsin weather…
We got out the winter coats, hats and gloves and went at it anyway because, well, it has to get done. It wasn’t exactly a fun job in that kind of weather, but we did get it done. There was no point in putting it off because this time of year the chances of the weather being much better are pretty slim.
We ended up filling the entire back of the old truck. It’s amazing how much debris we ended up with after cleaning everything up. And this is just half of it. We already had taken out the remains of the tomatoes, squash and a lot of other stuff over the last few weeks. Good thing we live just down the street from the town’s compost site. That makes this a heck of a lot easier.
The snow didn’t stick around. It was too warm for that. But the wind did, with gusts of up to 40 mph all day. That kept us from raking up the leaves in the yard, but we got that done on Sunday. So we have just about everything cleaned up outside now.
All things considered, the growing season was pretty successful this past season. The tomatoes and peppers were ridiculously prolific. Our little lettuce bed kept us supplied with greens when we needed them. Some things weren’t very good, and some of that was our own fault.
We keep trying to plant onions and they never seem to make it to maturity for us. They start out good, but as they mature they seem to just stop growing before they get anywhere close to full sized. I don’t really mind that too much because my main interest is in having fresh green onions, not in full size bulbs for storage. So while that crop might look like a failure, it really isn’t because I get what I want out of it.
The squash disappointed. The acorn squash never developed fully at all and were a total loss, and while we did get a few absolutely beautiful butternut squash (wow, they tasted good!) they didn’t produce as well as they should have. We aren’t sure why because they were in the same place they’d been last year where they’d done really well. We’re going to have to reconsider planting squash. The stuff takes up a huge part of the garden and if all we’re going to get for it is three squash, well, there’s not much point in planting them and we need to look for alternatives.
Our rhubarb plant wasn’t looking too good towards the end of the season, but we think that’s the fault of the squash which were planted nearby. It was getting shaded by the huge squash leaves and wasn’t getting enough sun, so we’re hoping it will come back.
I raise that rhubarb more for nostalgic reasons than because I like it. For me, a little bit of rhubarb goes a long, long way. But I have fond memories of playing under the huge rhubarb plants we had when I was a little kid on hot, summer days, and whenever I see that thing in hot, summer weather it brings back memories that make me grin. So yeah, I’m going to grow rhubarb if I can even if I don’t particularly like eating it.
Let’s see, what are we planning on changing — I’d like to put in more raised beds if I can find a good location for them. Those two 4 X 8 raised beds I put in a few years ago are ridiculously productive. If I’d known how good they were going to be I would have built them long ago. Just those two beds provide more vegetables than the rest of our gardens combined some years. The problem is where to put more of them. We just have too many trees so finding a spot where there will be direct sunlight for more than 4-5 hours a day is difficult here. About the only decent location is on the south side of the house and there isn’t much room there any more.
Of course that could change if the pear tree doesn’t survive the damage it suffered. I figure about a full third of the canopy of the tree went down because the limbs were too loaded with fruit to be able to handle a thunderstorm that rolled through here. I’d hate to lose that tree. We planted that, oh, about 17 years ago, a couple of years after we bought this place. It’s not a very good looking tree, it leans at a crazy angle, but wow, it produces some of the most delicious pears I’ve ever had.
But on the other hand, if we do lose it, it would open up a very large area that could be garden with full sun. So if it does have to come down, well, it wouldn’t be the worst thing.
With MrsGF retiring in March she’s trying to figure out just what the heck she’s going to do if she isn’t working full time any longer. Right now it looks like as soon as she pulls the plug on her job she’s going to be dragging me along into the Master Gardener classes. Well not dragging, to be honest. I’m rather looking forward to it. We’d talked about getting into the Master Gardener program for a long time but we never had the time to do it. So now is the ideal time for it. She’s been on-line looking to get us signed up for the classes next year. And being able to tack on “certified master gardener” on the byline up at the top of this website is an added incentive because, well, hey, I’ve got an ego too, you know <grin>.
The other thing that is (probably) going to happen after she retires is all of my electronics gear, test equipment, radio equipment, etc. is going to get moved out of the office/library/workshop and moved into what used to be eldest son’s work area in the basement, and the office space is going to be her’s. She loves sewing and craftsy kinds of things but she’s never had much time to actually do it. Right now her work area for that kind of thing is in a small room upstairs. But it’s hot up there in the summer, cold in the winter, and she has difficulty getting up and down a lot of stairs because of her knees. So the solution to that is turn the office on the main floor over to her and have me move my stuff out.
I am not looking forward to moving. Eldest son’s work area down there is still crammed full of old computers and other equipment that somehow never got moved when he moved out years ago. So all of that has to be moved somewhere. Hopefully out of our house and into his house. Then I have to buy or build suitable work surfaces for all my stuff. Then tear down all of my equipment, move all of it down to the basement. Then I have to re-route all of the antenna cables, ground cables and other stuff to the new location down there. Then install a new electrical system down there including 240V lines to run some of the equipment like the amplifiers. Then try to figure out how to set up all of the equipment again because by that time I’ll have forgotten how everything was set up originally. Move all of my computers… Like I said, I am not looking forward to it.
Well, I’ve bored you long enough with this. Time to go.