Spring At Last!

Wisconsin is known as a place of snow and cold and rain and giant blood sucking insects big enough to carry away small pets. Oh, and heat and humidity that occasionally rivals Florida at its worst. And tornadoes. Pretty much we get all the bad weather concentrated in this state. Well, at least we don’t have rattlesnakes. Yet. Anyway, the weather has finally gotten better and stuff is growing and we’ve been out in the gardens here for days already. So I was out taking some pictures as I puttered around in the garden.

Not the best picture in the world but I was using my phone because I was too lazy to go in the house and get the camera. This is the “Zombie Rose”. This thing has been there since before we bought the house. We thought it was dead more than once and only laziness on my part kept me from digging it out. And then a few years ago something happened, we don’t know what, and it turned into this ridiculously healthy bush that’s covered with flowers by mid summer and blooms the entire season.

The hostas are looking amazing this spring. All of them in the front hosta garden survived the winter and they’re growing so fast you can almost see them getting bigger. Best thing we did was rip out the ratty grass and old bushes and junk up in front of the house and put this garden in.

winter didn’t hurt the mountain ash tree we put up in the corner of the hosta garden either. We forgot to put screening around it to keep the rabbits out but fortunately the little buggers left it alone. It’s actually a member of the rose family.

Wish I could remember what in the world these little blue flowers are. MrsGF told me once and I immediately forgot, of course. They’re pretty little things. Those flowers are only about 1/8th of an inch across so you have to get down there to really see them.

The pear tree is in full flower and looking very good. Last year it didn’t get pollinated because the weather was so bad we didn’t have any bees around. This year things are looking much better. I haven’t seen any honey bees around but I have been seeing a lot of native bees buzzing around it so hopefully we’ll get some pears this year.

no he doesn’t have a green spike on his head. That’s a bit of grass he picked up by leaping through the freshly mowed lawn.

They say you can tell how healthy your environment is by the number of amphibians living in the area. If that’s true, our gardens must be pretty damned healthy because these little guys are everywhere. I have to be careful mowing the lawn and stop a couple of dozen times to move the little critters out of the way. I’ve spotted about four different types of frog and at least one type of toad in the backyard this year. Go outside on a warmish evening and the number of frogs calling and singing is amazing.

And the lilacs are just starting to flower. In a couple of days these buds will start to open and it will smell amazing. A lot of people have lilacs around here and in early spring when they’re all in blossom you can smell them all over town.

Let’s see, what else… We’ll be putting out the tomatoes and pepper plants over the next few days. But we scaled back the amount of vegetables we’re putting in because we generally go way, way overboard with this stuff and end up with a lot of produce we can’t use. We still have almost enough canned tomato stuff on the shelf from last year to last us the rest of this year. We know we over plant but, well, MrsGF and I are both the kind of people who see a bit of bare ground and go “Hm, now what could be plant in there…”

The storm window on the office blew out during a storm. The main window is okay so it wasn’t an emergency, but we found that the outer frame of the window holding the storm window in place was almost completely rotted away. The only thing holding it in had been the paint apparently. So we’re getting some new windows for the office and a new front entry door while we’re at it. Contractor was over on Monday to take measurements and get an estimate put together.

Haven’t had much time to tinker with amateur radio stuff. I almost always have the rig on 40 meters with the computer running JS8Call doing ACKs and stuff like that when I’m down in the shop/radio shack, but I’m generally just monitoring things unless someone specifically calls me. I did try doing some morse code last night but didn’t get very far. I was showing up on the reverse beacon network but didn’t get any replies to a CQ. Well, maybe because I only did one CQ and then got distracted because I found a new soap opera on Youtube… Anyway that was probably not a bad thing because I’ve been told that a drunken chicken pecking at the key sends CW better than I do. Which is probably true, I fear.

Speaking of soap operas – I am embarrassed to admit it but I am addicted to Chinese romcoms, or dramadies or whatever you want to call ’em. I thought Korean romcoms were often ridiculously silly, but the Chinese versions are just over the top. They’re formulaic, generally all following similar plots, with cliche actions taking place that seem to be required for some reason. Some of the better ones embrace the cliches whole heartedly and basically satirize themselves and gently poke fun of the whole genre. And at the same time the whole thing is surrounded in extreme sexism and actions that would be considered outright abuse and criminal outside of the television environment. They’re silly, charming, innocent, dark, infuriating, irritating, funny, horrifying and hilarious. Often all at the same time.

One of these days I should write something about Chinese television. It is – different.

It’s Spring (Sort Of)! Just Photos! No Virus! No Politics!

We all need a break from the non-stop news coverage so I’m declaring this a virus (and politics) free zone. It’s spring, or at least the calendar says it is, so it’s time for some photos of what’s going on out in the gardens.

Over the winter someone or something stole all of our bark mulch and wood chips. Okay, I know that’s silly, but it looks like it. We’re probably going to have to haul in a few trailer loads of mulch to cover the hosta garden in the front and the other gardens. Despite the cold weather the hostas are starting to peek out.
We worked over the raised beds and they’re looking good with no winter damage. MrsGF wants to put in a third this spring and I agree. They’ve worked out amazingly well and have been incredibly productive.
The sedum are starting to peek out at well. They’ve been incredibly tough plants. They’ve been broken apart, transplanted several times, and have handled everything Wisconsin weather could throw at them and they still keep coming back. They don’t look like much now but by the end of summer they’ll be the size of large bushes, three feet tall, and covered with flowers, bees and butterflies.
This is a mountain ash tree that was a volunteer we found in the backyard and transplanted into the front hosta garden for the heck of it. It looks like it survived the winter well also. We were afraid the rabbits in the neighborhood would go after it but they left it alone. It is not actually an ash tree despite the name. It’s a member of the rose family. It really liked its new location. It grew about three or four feet last summer.
This is the rose that wouldn’t die, my name for it. It’s just a pink rose bush but this thing has somehow managed to thrive despite poor soil, rot, salt from the sidewalk, getting hit with the snowblower, etc. I was ready to dig it out a couple of times because I thought it was dead but it just keeps coming back. Looks like it survived the winter too.
I think the hen and chicks would survive a nuclear war! We just threw a few babies on the ground around a fence post and now a few years later they’re everywhere up along the sidewalk. They’re amazing plants and seem to thrive under conditions that would kill just about any other plant.
The chives, tucked away in their protected corner, are the first plants to peek out in the winter. There’s still snow on the ground when they start emerging. They’re looking good. We don’t use a lot of chives, but they’re nice to have around. I have to admit that I keep them around not because I like eating them but because they’re always the first new growth in the spring.
We have a little circular flower bed where there used to be a firepit. We dug out the old truck rim that was used as a fire ring, filled it with compost and stuck these lilies in there and they’ve been doing good too. It will be a while before they come to flower, but they’re worth the wait.
The irises survived the winter too and are already 4-6 inches tall. I love irises and we have a ot of them scattered around. We’ve had really good luck with growing them.
Finally a bit of color! These guys have been in flower for over a week now and look absolutely brilliant in the early morning sun.

That’s it for now.

Along The RoadSide

I was finally able to get the bicycle out on the road the other day. It felt great to be out on the road on a warm, sunny day again. Unfortunately I also quickly found out that bicycling takes an entirely different set of muscles than jogging on a treadmill does. It’s going to take a while before I’m comfortable doing 10 or 15 miles, but it was worth it. The frogs were singing, the sun was bright, and the wild flowers alongside the road had me stopping every once in a while to take photos.

So, here’s some photos… Oh, click one of the photos to start a slide show of the full size images.

 

Misc. Catch Up: Snow, Gardening, Bike, AR, etc…

I have to admit that things have been a bit slow around here after the blizzard. I’ve been spending most of my time fiddling with radio equipment and antennas, but I haven’t been entirely isolated from the real world.

While we still have some piles of snow remaining, most of the white stuff has melted off thanks to daytime temperatures that have been pushing up into the 50s. The storm did lots of damage around here, mostly from roofs caving in. It’s a miracle no one got killed. Local fire departments were busy helping out farmers by bringing out their ladder trucks and using high pressure hoses to blast snow off of roofs. They saved several barns from collapse in this area.

The Resch Center in Green Bay had it’s entry way caved in when snow falling from the dome hit the entrance. No one is sure what to do about it at the moment because the Resch Center is scheduled for demolition in two years anyway. But they do have events scheduled up until that time so they’re trying to determine if it’s cost effective to repair it, or start canceling events and just bring it down and be done with it.

Any kind of gardening is still on stand-by. It’s probably going to be a week or more before we can get out there and start working on anything except superficial projects. Still, there are signs of life out there. The lilac bushes are starting to bud, the rhubarb is starting to peek up out of the cold, wet ground, and one sure sign of spring is that I got the bike out of storage at last.

Unfortunately I rather quickly remembered that riding a bicycle uses an almost entirely different set of muscles than jogging on a treadmill. That and the fact it was only about 40 degrees out this morning kept the ride rather brief, but it was still nice to be back on the bike again.

Amateur radio stuff —

The ARRL is really pushing the FCC to expand the privileges of the Technician class license. They want to give Techs voice and data privileges down on the HF bands, claiming that this will give Technicians an incentive to eventually upgrade to a General or Extra class license and get them more interested in AR in general.

Don’t get me wrong, the ARRL does a lot to support and improve amateur radio in general, but this is one case where I think they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. The organization seems to be under the impression that there are tens of thousands of Tech licensees out there who would love to get down on the HF bands, but for whatever reason refuse to upgrade to a General class license, and as a result they aren’t upgrading their licenses, aren’t operating at all, and eventually drop out completely.

The problem with this notion is that the Tech licensees don’t give a damn about HF. I’m sorry, but they just don’t. The Tech licensees who do care about HF quickly upgrade to a General or Extra class license, and the rest just don’t care. I’m sorry, but they don’t. I know a lot of Tech license holders who haven’t upgraded and the reason they haven’t is because either they lost interest in AR completely or the Tech license allows them to do everything they want to do.

The exam to get the General class license is just not that hard in any case. Anyone who’s already passed the Tech exam could easily pass the General with minimal amount of work. It isn’t a lack of privileges on HF that keeps Techs from upgrading, it’s a complete lack of interest in HF in the first place.

A Strange Spring

While we have tulips coming up here in the house and we’ve started flats of seeds in preparation for warm weather, outside it has been decidedly odd. We’ve had more snow now in the first week of April than we did in in most of the winter and outside it currently looks like this:

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Ah, spring in Wisconsin! The warm weather, the April showers, the… the snow…

Not exactly what you expect to see when you look out the window on April 7. Tuesday and Wednesday we had winter storm warnings all day long and ended up with about 6 inches of snow here, with some areas getting up to 10. Most of that melted but then we got another couple of inches a couple of days later and there is more snow in the forecast. We’re looking at near record low temperatures in some parts of the state today.

Indoors, though, we’re proceeding on schedule in the hopes that maybe we might get some warm weather. Someday.

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 6.44.56 AMThe tulips MrsGF potted up a few weeks ago are still going strong with new blooms popping up and it certainly improves my mood when I walk in the room and see those brilliant yellows and reds. I’m really glad she came up with the idea of potting up some old bulbs. It really brightens the place up.

We sat down the other day to sort through the “Bag ‘o Seeds’ we got for Christmas and figure out what we wanted to plant this year, what had to be started indoors and what could be direct seeded, etc. Then we brought up the little portable greenhouse thingie from the basement and set that up.

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 6.46.08 AMThat’s this thing over here. It’s a folding metal frame with three racks in it with a vinyl cover over the top. It provides an ideal environment for starting seeds. It stays warm and moist inside and lets in enough light to keep things grown and nice and warm in there. Also prevents temperature fluctuations inside the house from harming the plants.

We found a floor pan for a shower that was the ideal size to fit under it to protect the floor. MrsGF already has it filled with flats with seeds, and we already have some tiny little seedlings peeking up through the starter mix.

It works great and was pretty cheap, too, under $40 if I remember right. It’s easy to set up.

It has the added benefit of keeping the cats out as well or you can be sure they’d be in there digging around, nibbling on plants, tipping things over, etc.

Spring Photos

How about some spring photos?

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Baby pears! The tree is loaded this year. It’s a long wait, they won’t be ready to eat until mid to late September, but they’re worth it.

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I normally prefer bright, showy flowers, but there is something to be said for subtle colors as well.

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Hostas! These guys have been thriving in the cool, wet spring we’ve had so far.

DSCF3719.JPGDSCF3728.JPGWe have several different varieties and colors of iris here, and they’re doing really well this spring as well. They’re just on the verge of popping open. They should be in full flower in the next day or two

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I’ve always been fascinated with these guys. I have no idea how they keep growing. They’re basically growing in nothing but rock, areas where nothing else can survive.

Let’s wrap things up with this one, one of the brighter, more showy flowers we have going at the moment.

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That’s it for this time!

Get out there and play in the dirt!

 

Hostas! And Little Purple Thingies!

I love hostas. Easy to take care of, can survive a variable climate. The flowers, well, they

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Every single one came back! I am enormously pleased. They’re looking wonderful.

don’t do very good in the flower department, but that’s not why I grow them. It’s the foliage. Over the years growers have developed dozens of different varieties with a huge assortment of different types of foliage; yellow, striped, speckled, different shades of green, different leaf shapes. They’re great fun.

A couple of years ago I ripped out the entire front mess between the house and the sidewalk and put in a hosta bed. Even went to a professional hosta grower to get the plants. Spent way too much money. And much to my surprise, every single one of them has been doing beautifully up there, surviving the cold, the rain, the snow, the ice. Great plants, hostas.

Was out walking with MrsGrouch (She’s not really a grouch, just the opposite, but this isIMG_0234 Grouchyfarmer.com, so what, I should call her Mrsdotcom?) and we ran into these and I had to take a photo. In an otherwise totally nondescript front yard, this cluster of brilliance was sitting there near a step, this tightly packed cluster of brilliant joy… Wow.

 

More Spring

The cactus we rescued from the town compost pile was immediately named Mr. Spiny, IMG_0156and much to our surprise he seemed to actually like being out doors and in the corner garden. He doesn’t look too good at the moment after this winter, but MrsGF tells me he’s going to be just find once the weather starts to warm up. I hope so. I’ve become rather fond of the thing.

Then there is this thing, which I do not like. It’s a pretty bush, I’ll admit that. But dear lord it’s nasty. It has some of the worst thorns I’ve ever had to deal with. They’re so sharp they go right through even my heavy leather welding gloves. I’d like to get rid of them but MrsGF likes ’em for some reason, and they’re on the north side of the house IMG_0159where it’s hard to get anything to grow anyway, so it looks like I’m going to be stuck with the damned things for another year.

I never have to worry about these guys. They just keep going, and going, and going…

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I don’t know what they actually live on. There’s no soil here, just rock.

I got myself seriously chastised the other day because I’ve had this dopey thing for about 4 years and in that time have only 3,200 miles on it.

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Odd, really. I put something like 13,000 miles on my BMW the first season I owned it. But as soon as I picked up the Goldwing, which is far more comfortable to drive than the BMW was, I seem to have lost interest in motorcycling. Strange.

Enough. It’s supposed to start raining this afternoon and I have a lot to get done yet today!

 

Spring Prep

I dug the tiller out of the garage this morning and started doing some work in some of IMG_0148the beds here. That old tiller… It is literally almost as old as I am, probably dates to about the early 1960s. It’s exactly like one we owned when I was a little kid. The dopey thing is the most reliable piece of equipment we own here. It just plain works, and always has. Pull it out of the garage, fill it with gas, check the oil, and pull the starter a couple of times and it starts. It’s an ancient Briggs engine, the brand name, Gilson, is put on with stickers, but the thing is built like a tank.

I’m afraid I was a bit sneaky. Every year MrsGF agrees that we really, really need to work up some of the long established beds because the soil has deteriorated so badly. But when I finally get the tiller out and start to actually do it, ah, well… This flower is so neat and it will come back again this year, and the cone flowers are going to come up there, and this plant is in there and she doesn’t want to do that. And to be fair, there are some nice plants in there, but in order to save those few nice plants, it means the ground is so bad in those areas we can’t plant anything else but weeds.

So I got her to agree to do it yesterday, and while she’s at work this morning I got out there quick and worked everything up before she could change her mind.

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This area here was first an herb garden, then we tried strawberries, which didn’t work that well because, well, the soil was so bad. So the oregano more or less took over everything except for one patch where the cone flowers had established themselves. It’s a fantastic spot, sheltered in the “L” of the house, with exposure to the south and west, so it’s warm, sunny, etc. But the soil… Oh dear lord it was bad in there. When we first put this bed in we hauled in a lot of compost and worked it in, but that was something like 20 years ago and nothing has been done in there since. The soil was so hard I had to go over it four times with the tiller.

We call this spot the Stump Garden because that’s what it was, originally. It was a big old stuIMG_0151mp when we bought the place about 20 years ago. We could have hired someone to come in and grind it out, but why pay good money for something like that? My solution was to build a retaining wall around it, fill it with dirt and compost, and plant stuff on top of it, my thinking being that sooner or later the stump will take care of itself by rotting away.

And it did, and in a remarkably short amount of time. Within about three years there was nothing left of it under the dirt. We decided we liked having a raised bed there, so we lowered the retaining wall a half foot or so and kept it in place. We’ve found this is an ideal place for growing lettuce. It’s well drained and in partial shade which helps keep the lettuce and greens from bolting. We re-seed it a couple of times during the summer so we have a constant supply of fresh salad greens well into the fall of the year.

IMG_0152The heart garden is called that because it’s sort of heart shaped. My only regret is that I didn’t make it bigger. Much bigger. Because I hate lawns. No excuse for lawns. None at all. I keep trying to kill mine off, but it keeps coming back no matter what. But I’m still working on it…

It’s not far from the herb garden area and I’m seriously considering linking the two up and turning it into the “Shapeless Blob” garden as an excuse to get rid of more grass.

This is another one that desperately needs work, but MrsGF was reluctant to let me work up because there were some plants in there she liked. Even though she told me to work it up last night, I suspect now that I’ve actually done it I’ll hear about it, especially if whatever I plant in there doesn’t work out well.

One year we put the entire thing in alyssum, a variety with an incredibly intense smell. When you’d walk out the back door of the garage the entire area was covered in this incredible scent. I’m tempted to do that again. Maybe. Not sure. The area is shaded from about noon on by our pear tree so whatever we put in there has to be able to deal with that.

Then there’s the garage garden, which is by the garage. Well, of course it would be, IMG_0149wouldn’t it. Garage. Garden… We really worked this one over last year. The soil was terrible in there. I covered the entire area with about six inches of compost and worked it in last year, and that has helped enormously. I have high hopes for this area this season.