Okay, 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 early 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.
They finally finished paving the street in front of the house the other day! We were very glad of that. The dust from the trucks rolling past over the unpaved sections was getting onto everything. We couldn’t open the windows on that side of the house. For a few days I couldn’t even get the Corvette out of the driveway because after they did the final grading there was a 5 inch drop at the end of the driveway that would have ripped the front splitter off the nose of the car.
We have an open front porch tucked into the side of the house which is a great place to sit and have a coffee and read on warm days, which is now covered in a thick layer of dust. I’m going to have to get out there with the car wash brush, a big bucket of soapy water and the hose and give it a good scrubbing. There’s so much dust you leave footprints when walking across the decking, the window sills are thick with the stuff, and even the poor plants out there should get hosed down.
Colder weather and rain have slowed things down as far as biking is concerned. I manage to get out most days still, but I know the time is coming when the bike is going to have to hang up in the garage and it’ll be back to the treadmill (ick). Still, when the weather does cooperate, it is absolutely beautiful out there in the countryside.
These crisp, cool autumn mornings are amazing. Now that it’s cooler there is less moisture and haze in the air, making everything seem more crisp and clear and brighter. There’s something about the quality of the light as well that changes because the sun is at a lower angle in the sky. The result is that on some mornings everything just seems to glow with this lush, rich, golden light that seems almost impossible to capture with the camera.
There is something magical, mystical about being out in the woods on mornings like this, at least for me. The sounds, the smells, the crystal clear air. Everything seems more — more alive, more vibrant. With the brilliant greens now fading into browns and reds and dull orange, the woods begins to transform itself in that endless cycle of life, dormancy, rebirth…
It becomes a place of wonder and takes on an almost spiritual quality. It makes you wish you were a poet because only a poet could adequately express what you are seeing in mere words.
But then time presses, and you have to leave and you know, hope, you will be back soon to feel that breathtaking beauty, the astonishing complexity of nature, that golden light…
Gads, after writing all that guff switching to this is going to be a jolt. Going from the beauty of nature to, well, to this… Yet another abandoned, collapsed barn. This one is just outside of town and it caved in about a month ago, and I decided to take a picture of it when I was out on the bike the other day.
It hurts when I see this happening, but it is happening more and more often. The whole countryside around here is dotted with abandoned barns in various states of collapse. I keep thinking of the pride, the hope, the joy the original farmers who put it up had as they watched the timber frame going up, the roof being put on, the side boards being nailed into place. A new home for their cattle, storage for the feed. The barn was the center of the farm, it’s heart.
But I know why it happens, why they are abandoned. Farming has changed drastically in the last few decades and these old barns are completely useless for modern farming. They’re the wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong, well, wrong everything when it comes to modern farming.
And they are incredibly expensive to try to maintain as well, and even more ridiculously expensive if you want to restore one. The wood they are made of was once so abundant it wasn’t worth much. Even if you could find a 10X10 oak beam these days, you couldn’t afford it. And the long, wide, solid wood boards the siding is made from? You can’t afford those, either. So they don’t get repaired because of the huge cost, and there’s no incentive to repair them in the first place because they aren’t useful any more. So they sit, empty, the roofs leaking, timbers rotting, boards falling off, until, at last, this happens.
The big, red barns that dominated the countryside around here are, within another few decades, going to mostly be gone except for the few that are being maintained by people who can afford to do it.
It’s sad, but at the same time it is, I suppose, natural evolution at work. I still wince and shake my head when I see it happening, but I know why it is happening. So there is a feeling of deep nostalgia, but understanding and acceptance as well. Life moves on.
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
The 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…
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 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.
So 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.
We’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.
Last 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.
Then 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.
We’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.
Yesterday I was up early, before dawn, and as the sun was coming up I was out on the bike. It was one of those astonishing, breathtaking dawns that make me just stop and look and wonder if somehow I’ve been transported to another world, another realm of existence where everything is bathed in liquid gold, the light filtered and softened by the haze. Everything — everything just glowed.
It ended up taking me almost twice as long to do a 12 mile ride as it usually does because I kept stopping and just — just looking.
Most of the photos I tried taking didn’t turn out very well because I was using the cell phone and I have no control over shutter speed, aperture, etc. But these two turned out pretty well.
Another thing that irritated me was that about 10 seconds after I took the second photo up there, after I put the phone back in my pocket, an enormous bald eagle came gliding over right through the middle of that scene about 20 feet off the ground, that brilliant white head glowing gold, wings stretched wide, gliding silently. Good lord those birds are huge.
And people wonder why I took up biking and riding around the “boring” countryside…
I’ve been procrastinating terribly with a lot of projects around here because, well, because summer! I’m sorry, but when the weather is reasonably nice outside I want to be outside doing stuff; puttering in the garden, biking around the back roads, walking
around town, taking pictures of flowers and plants and trees and birds and… Well you get the idea. So indoor projects and hobbies take a backseat to outdoor stuff this time of year. When the temperature starts dipping below freezing and the snow begins to fly, that’s the time to work on those indoor projects. Maybe.
Speaking of flowers, I really, really wish I’d put in more of these guys. We only have two or three of these and they are absolutely amazing. The brilliant red color, the shape. They just shot up through the white alyssum with that amazing contrasting red. Make note to self to put in more of these next year.
We finally admitted that we planted a lot of stuff way too close together in the vegetable gardens and did some serious weeding out of the pepper plants last weekend. This wasn’t much of a sacrifice because we just pulled out all of the “cherry bomb” hot pepper plants which were just nasty. I suspected they were going to be a bust when I brought one in, cut it in half, and almost immediately my eyes began burning. I like a bit of heat, but these things? I gave one to my neighbor who loves really hot peppers, he took a bite, and about five minutes later put down a half gallon of milk to try to stop the burning.
So out they went. And it’s resulted in an almost immediate improvement in the other peppers we had planted in there.
The poblanos and banana peppers began looking much healthier and started to set a lot more fruit as soon as we thinned things out.
I don’t know why we can’t learn this lesson. Every year we end up crowding things too close together in the beds, and at the end of every season we promise ourselves we won’t do it again. But the following spring there we are crowding things in again.
We really like the poblanos (ancho) peppers and the banana peppers. MrsGF and I both think they have far more flavor than the more common sweet bell peppers that are more commonly grown around here. But we did put in a few bell peppers as well and they seem to do be doing pretty good. We were a bit worried about them for a while there. The plants looked good but they were late in putting out blossoms and setting fruit, but now they seem to be making up for lost time.
We’d never grown squash here before, and since we love acorn and butternut squash, we put some in just to see what would happen and this is what we ended up with.
That’s only four plants in there, and they’ve taken over that whole garden on the west side of the garage. Loaded with squash now. I don’t know how they grow that fast. The other day I mowed the lawn near there, and the following afternoon there were vines running three feet out onto the grass. How does a plant grow that fast?
Some are just starting to come ripe. We had one of the acorn squash last night. Just cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, put some butter and brown sugar in the empty seed cavity and bake until tender. Then just scoop out of the skin and eat.
The cucumbers have been disappointing. I’m the only one who eats fresh cucumbers around here, so I only put in two or three plants and that usually gives me enough to satisfy my craving for fresh cukes, plus a few extra to make refrigerator pickles or something. But this year they haven’t been doing all that well. The plants themselves are doing just fine, they’re putting out flowers, but actual cucumbers? Not so much. I think I’ve gotten maybe six cucumbers off three plants so far this year.
MrsGF thinks it’s because we’ve seen so few bees around this summer. I hadn’t noticed it until she mentioned it, but she’s right. Aside from a few bumble bees, I haven’t really seen any. I haven’t seen any honey bees at all. Usually this time of year we have a many different types of bees busily working away at the flowers. I have yet to see a single honey bee here this year. That’s very troubling.
Then I ran into this yesterday. A single, lone raspberry. We only have a dozen or so raspberry plants tucked away in a corner of the garden behind the garage. I love raspberries but I’m not supposed to eat them because of the seeds. Still, it’s interesting how none of the berries ever seem to make it into the house. They seem to mysteriously vanish before they get in the door. Funny how that happens, isn’t it?
The raspberries were done producing fruit long, long ago, so I was surprised to see this lone berry out there when I was puttering in the garden yesterday. I’m surprised the birds didn’t get it.
Getting out of the garden and into the countryside, some people around here are wondering what in the world this stuff is. Fields of this have been popping up around here for the last couple of years now. It sort of looks like badly stunted corn, no more than three or four feet tall. It isn’t corn, though, it’s sorghum, or milo, and it’s being grown for Kaytee, the bird seed company. Their headquarters is in Chilton, about six miles from here. When I was a kid it used to be fairly common. It was grown as cattle feed or to make syrup. Looks like they have a pretty good crop of it this year.
Let’s see — The Old Timers are claiming we’re going to have a really, really nasty winter based on the proverbial “signs”. They’re also claiming winter is going to come early as well.
The “signs” — ah, yes, the signs… I’m told the Old Timers can predict the weather based on the signs provided by nature, if only we were smart enough to interpret them. Things like the width of the band on fuzzy caterpillars, how and when birds flock together in the fall, how fat the bears are (well, not that any of them have ever actually seen a bear because they’re sitting down in the restaurant lingering for hours while nursing a cup of coffee while the waitstaff go crazy because they’re taking up a seat that a paying customer could be sitting in), maple trees starting to turn color early, that kind of thing.
Exactly how these mechanisms work is something they never explain, of course. I would be very interested in knowing how a caterpillar knows we’re going to have three weeks of -20 temperatures in January, or the geese know that we’re going to have a blizzard right after Christmas so they’re flocking up in August so — so they can what, exactly? Why would the geese even care? They’re not here when it happens so a blizzard in January isn’t exactly something they care about in the first place.
Of course the Old Timers don’t care about accuracy. By the time winter comes, anything they said will be long forgotten. Unless, of course, they hit a home run and actually manage to predict something, in which case they will remember and make sure you do too. It’s harmless and they get a kick out of it, so I just sit there and nod.
Let’s see, anything else? Oh, almost forgot. I hit 500 miles on the bike last week. When I turned up with a new bicycle on the back of the truck everyone was thinking yeah, right, he’ll ride it once or twice and it’ll end up hanging on the wall gathering dust until he drops dead and then we’ll have to sell the damned thing at the estate sale. If I keep up my current pace and the weather cooperates I should hit 1,000 before winter shuts things down.