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.

Farm Catch Up

Well, I’m bored, I haven’t written much here of late, so let’s take a look at what’s been going on in the ag world recently.

Dicamba Issues Abound — The controversy over Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide blends and those approved under license, XtendiMax, Engenia and FeXapan, continue to have problems and generate considerable controversy, complaints and legal issues. Minnesota and other states have instituted restrictions on when, where and how the herbicides can be uses, new federal restrictions regarding training requirements and new application restrictions, etc. Other states have issued wide ranging restrictions as well.  Even Mother Jones has gotten into the act with an article about the drawbacks of the product.

The companies involved are fighting back, blaming anything and everything for the fact that over 3.5 million acres of crops were allegedly damaged by the herbicide drifting away from the application area this past year. They’ve been claiming farmers are spraying the product with the wrong equipment, failing to follow the proper application techniques, etc. They’ve even tried claiming that famers are illegally spraying non-approved types of the herbicide. In one case one of the companies involved tried to get a member of the board that regulates herbicides in one of the states involved removed from the board.

Words Are Worth MoneyThe University of Arizona did a study of how consumers react to the term “natural” on meat labels and found out pretty much exactly what you might think: that people who know what the term means were unwilling to pay more for meat labeled “natural”. In the study half of the people involved were told the legal definition of the term, and half were unaware of what the legal definition was. They found that those who did not know would pay $1.26 more for steak labeled “natural”, while those who did know wouldn’t pay more.

Under USDA definitions, all fresh meat, even hamburger, can be labeled as “natural” as long as it does not contain artificial flavors, colorings, chemical preservatives or other synthetic ingredients. So basically if you’re paying more for a package of steak or roast labeled “natural” you are being scammed.

What it boils down to is that a lot of these companies will use any  kind of marketing tricks they can to fool you into paying more for a product than you should.

Meat Tax Coming? — Methane and carbon emissions from cattle raising operations makes up almost 15% of the total production of greenhouse gases, and the production of cattle is projected to increase by 70% over the next fifty years or so. So some people are considering taxing the production and sale of meat to try to reduce the reduce greenhouse gas production from cattle. There are serious talks going on in some countries to institute tax policies similar to those used to curb tobacco in order to reduce production and consumption.

Frankly this seems a bit silly to me. The two largest producers of greenhouse gases are electric power plants and motor vehicles. The amount of methane and carbon dioxide produced by cattle hardly makes more than a blip on the charts when compared to that. So I’d think that if they were really serious about greenhouse gas reduction they’d be going after those two sources far more vigorously.

Corn Acreage Shrinking — It looks like farmers are finally beginning to cut back on the amount of corn they’re raising in response to poor prices. USDA is predicting that for the first time in years the number of acres of soybeans will equal or even surpass the number of acres of corn being planted in the US. Corn prices on the Chicago Exchange never went much over $3.75 or so at the peak, and have been sitting at the $3.50 or lower level for some time now. And, of course, the commodities price generally isn’t what the farmer gets for the corn. They often get considerably less than that. When you add in other costs like storage fees, etc. farmers are often getting a lot less than the commodities price.  A awful lot of farmers out there are just barely breaking even on corn this year.

Some people are pinning their hopes on China increasing their imports of corn. China has been drawing down it’s huge stockpiles of corn over the last year or so, and some are taking that as a sign the country will begin to import more corn. But continuing to produce corn in the hopes that China might increase imports sounds like a great way to end up bankrupt.

Screen Shot 2017-12-20 at 7.33.13 AMChicken Suits — No, not that kind of suit. The legal kind. Both California and Massachusetts are being sued over regulations they’ve instituted regarding how chickens (and other farm animals  as well in the case of Massachusetts) are raised. The regulations require chickens (and in the case of Mass. other agricultural animals as well) from which products are derived for sale in the state, must be raised according to certain minimal humane standards. The plaintiffs claim that the regulations dramatically increase the cost of eggs and that it will cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars, and that the cost of eggs nation wide has increased as much as 5% because of it. A claim I view with considerable skepticism. Locally the retail price of eggs is at almost an all time low. They’re going for about $1.00 to $1.28 per dozen at most retail outlets around here for standard, non-organic “generic” brands, and I’ve seen them as low as $0.79 and even less.

Stuff: Furniture & Wood

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 6.37.29 AMWe finally got the “new” desk in place on Sunday! Youngest son gave me a hand getting the old ones out and bringing the new one in. I am so glad to get rid of the particle board unit that was in there for years. This one is solid wood, looks like fairly decent oak, and it’s huge. 60 inches long and 32 inches deep. It’s probably around 50 years old or so, and actually in good condition considering it’s age. I thought about refinishing it, but decided I rather liked all those years of patina (“Patina” is what antique furniture dealers call scratches, dings, stains and other defects that add “charm” to the furniture.) and left it alone. MrsGF has had one similar to this for years now that we found for around $50 at a thrift store, and we’ve been looking for another one for me. She turned this one up at the local St. Vinnie’s thrift store for about $55, and we were thrilled to find it.

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 7.03.46 AMI got curious about what one like this would cost today if bought new and I started digging around on the internet looking for them and finally found one that fit all the criteria; oak with no particle board, dovetailed drawers, same size, same number of drawers and so on. For a whopping $2,200. It’s a bit fancier, but if you  knock off the fancier bits like the quarter-sawn oak, the thru-tennons on the rails at the base, it’s pretty much exactly the same. Judging from the photos, it’s made of higher quality wood and the fit and finish is much, much better. But still, over two grand?

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 7.10.37 AMI should have expected that, really. We’re so used to “cheap” flat-pack style, screw it together yourself furniture these days that we experience a bit of sticker shock when we see the prices on well crafted, solid wood furniture.

I started building arts and crafts style furniture many years ago. The Morris chair over there on the right has a matching ottoman and coffee table. The chair and ottoman are made from white oak. The coffee table was made from white ash. Once upon a time I sat down and tried to figure out what I’d have to charge for it if I were going to make any kind of a decent profit, and the numbers were a bit on the large side. I figured I’d have to get around $1,300 for the chair, $400 for the ottoman, and about $700 for the table. And even then I’d barely make minimum wage for my labor. So all things considered, over two grand for that desk probably isn’t all that bad.

Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 6.43.01 AMThere isn’t really anything wrong with “flat-pack” style furniture you buy in a box and put together yourself. Nothing wrong with particle board, either, as long as you are aware of it’s limitations and problems. And potential health risks.

The particle board in most flat-pack furniture is either made of LDF or MDF. LDF is low density fiberboard, MDF is medium density. Of the two, MDF is better because it’s more dense, has a much smoother surface and is more sturdy. The stuff is very useful. Because MDF is very dense and smooth, it is often used as the base for countertops that have plastic laminate surfaces, even for the frames of cabinets where it can’t be seen. If sealed properly, it can be painted rather easily. It’s often used when the makers of “fine” furniture (Ha! Fine… We really need a sarcasm font.) try to fool you into thinking you’re buying real wood when what you’re getting is a thin veneer of real wood glued to MDF. It is pretty handy though, and can work well if you know how to use it properly.

MDF does have a few issues. Well, okay it has a lot of issues. First of all, it isn’t really wood, it’s basically sawdust and glue forced together under high pressure. It is fragile. It won’t hold screws very well. It breaks rather easily unless it is properly supported. It can’t carry a load unless it is well supported, as the owners of MDF book shelves can tell you as they watch the shelves sag under the weight. If it gets wet it will swell and start to disintegrate. It’s very, very heavy.

And depending on the type of glue used to hold the sawdust together, it can out-gas chemicals for months, even for years. Many of the glues used contain VOCs, Volatile Organic Compounds. These are compounds that will gradually evaporate into the atmosphere over time. Some of them can be nasty. (Some of you may remember the Chinese drywall disaster from a few years ago. Cheap drywall imported from China during a building boom gave off toxic chemicals that literally destroyed copper, I think it was sulphur dioxide but I don’t remember exactly. It wrecked the plumbing and electrical wiring in homes and businesses where it was used, and could have serious health consequences for the people who lived in those buildings.)

And if you work with the stuff, if you’re sawing, drilling or whatever, make darn sure you’re wearing a respirator because heaven only knows what’s in that dust. You do not want to be sucking that into your lungs.

If you get the feeling that I don’t like MDF very much, you’re right. But it is useful for some things, and if you want inexpensive furniture these days, you just can’t get away from it.

Then we come to the whole subject of fake antique furniture, which I’ve been finding with disturbing regularity as I travel around. I’m a sucker for antique shops. I don’t buy much, if anything, but I love browsing through them. One thing that I’ve discovered is that the amount of faked, fraudulent and mistakenly labeled “antique” furniture out there is astonishing. And the problem has become much, much worse over the years. I’d say that on average, about half of the “antique” furniture I see out there has some kind of issue with it. It’s either been badly restored, altered, mislabeled or faked in some way.

How do you know if a piece of antique furniture you’re interested in is the real thing? It can get complicated. You have to know the difference between modern finishes and stains and those that were used at the time the piece was allegedly built. You need to know what kind of screws were used, what kind of glues were used, construction techniques, how to identify different types of wood.

If you’re going to start buying antique furniture, you need to do some homework, or take along someone who knows something about furniture making, because the market right now is full of fakes. Frankly, when I look at a piece of “antique” furniture these days, I assume from the beginning that there is going to be something wrong with it until examination proves otherwise.

I Like Autumn But…

Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 7.03.55 AMI really do like autumn, but even I have to admit it gets a bit dull around this time of year, visually speaking. The rich greens, the brilliant flowers, the bright sun of summer is rapidly fading into the dull browns and dreary cloudy skies of fall.

It’s been very cloudy and rainy here of late, which hasn’t helped much. That means I can’t get out on the bike as much as I’d like. Biking in temperatures in the high 40s and icy cold rain isn’t exactly my idea of fun, you see. I suppose it’s time to dust off the treadmill and start pounding out miles while binge watching Netflix or Amazon. It’s exercise, yes, but it’s not really the same as biking through the countryside.

Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 7.01.00 AMI am fortunately not one of those people who suffers from Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) but I know quite a few who are, and it’s easy to tell who they are this time of year. They tend to start to get grumpier and more irritable as the days become shorter. But even so I still find myself digging through my photos and lingering on things like bright, sunny scenes and and brilliantly colored flowers. Especially on days like today when it’s 7:30 AM and it looks like it’s going to be another one of those dull, cloudy days with rain. Ick…

We’re currently ramping up to the annual insanity that is Halloween around here. I have nothing against the holiday. I rather enjoy it. But it does seem to have gotten totally out of hand. Mrs. GF and I are convinced that they’ve started bussing kids in from the entire midwest and releasing them on our little town every Halloween, because we know there aren’t that many kids in town. Heck, the entire school district doesn’t have that many kids as we get running up to our door.

Anyway, I was at the local Walmart to get a prescription filled and while I was waiting I thought I’d see if they had some deals on Halloween decorations. It’s a little over two weeks away and I figured they’d be running closeouts on the stuff.

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Let’s stick another flower in. No real reason why. Just feel like putting a flower here.

I was wrong. The entire Halloween decoration section was gone. It was replaced with Christmas decorations. The only Halloween stuff they had left were those massive bags of cheap, crappy candy that is apparently made out of flavored chalk.

Christmas decorations? Really? It’s October 15, for heaven’s sake!

I really should have expected that, though. Retailers don’t live in the same universe you and I live in. In their world time is a strange and mysterious thing that has no basis in reality. A couple of years ago I needed to get a winter coat. It was January, it was -20 degrees out, and I’d just ripped my heavy winter coat by snagging it on something. So it’s January. In Wisconsin. It’s -20 out. You’d think that here in Wisconsin you could buy a winter coat, right? Good luck. Swimwear? Yes. Shorts? Yes. Sandals? Yes. Winter clothes? No. I finally made the 25 mile drive to the “local” Fleet Farm and got one there. Sheesh…

I suppose I should wrap this up and go do something. We’re still in the process of cleaning up the gardens. The non-producing peppers got yanked yesterday, I need to take down the old sunflowers outside the kitchen window. The birds have pretty much gotten all of the seeds out of them and they’re looking pretty bad. It’s raining right now but maybe the weather will cooperate later.

Oh, almost forgot. We have email now! If the nice Mr. Google cooperates and everything is working, you can reach us at   wis.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com

Oops – it’s old.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com. Sheesh, can’t remember my own email address. Sigh.

If I remember to ever actually check the account. If it actually works because I haven’t actually tested it yet.

Yes, you really need to put the “wis.” part in there.

 

Farm Catch Up

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so let’s take a look at what’s been happening in the farming world.

Dicamba Herbicide Fight Continues: The fighting over the new Dicamba blends of herbicides continues. BASF and Monsanto continue to argue that their newly approved blends of herbicides containing dicamba are completely safe and aren’t a problem at all, while the farmers who have had thousands of acres of soybeans ruined by the herbicide after it drifted long distances, argue that it isn’t safe for use.

Arkansas is pushing for a ban on all dicamba use except for those uses that were permitted before the new blends came on the market. The ban would last until October, 2018, and would halt the sale and use of both Monsanto and BASF’s new dicamba based products, and probably halt the sale of Monsanto’s dicamba resistant soybeans as well because if the herbicide can’t be used, there’s no point in paying a premium for Monsanto’s new beans, either.

Monsanto is, of course, not happy about any of this since they stand to lose millions of dollars in sales of both their herbicide and seed. The company is blaming anyone and anything for the problems that have been going on, claiming that there is no “scientific” basis for the ban, that “scientists” have discovered that even if their product does drift outside of the application area, it doesn’t really hurt anything anyway, that some of the experts testifying in favor of the ban are prejudiced against the company, blaming the people who apply the herbicide, blaming the equipment used.

It isn’t just Arkansas that’s having problems. In Missouri it’s estimated that up to 22% of the soybeans planted in the Bootheel area were damaged by dicamba drift, along with acres upon acres of tomato, watermelons, vineyards, pumpkins, organic vegetables and even trees, shrubs and people’s home gardens. The product isn’t just moving a few yards, in some cases there are indications the herbicide is drifting for miles according to the Missouri Extension weed specialist Kevin Bradley.

Farmland Partners Makes Major Buy: Farmland Partners is an investment company that buys up farmland for no reason other than to rent it to actual farmers. The company now has about 160,000 acres of farmland. They just bought over 5,000 acres of nut orchards for $110 million from Olam, a Singapore based company that ventured into the nut business.

My feelings about this kind of thing? I find it extremely concerning. Companies like this are, well, to put it bluntly, parasites. They insert themselves into the process, competing against actual farmers for a scarce resource, farmland. They artificially inflate demand for that resource, driving prices up. They rent the land back to the farmers at ever increasing prices because the shareholders demand ever increasing profits, and at the same time the company itself provides absolutely no value at all to the whole process. It exists only to skim off profits from the whole system while contributing nothing itself, while at the same time destabilizing the whole system and actually degrading its health through it’s manipulation of the market.

Seed Terminator: Combines are great at two things; harvesting wheat, corn, soybeans, Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 5.53.30 AMetc., and spreading weed seeds all over your fields. The problem is that a lot of weeds are coming ripe at around the same time as your crop. So when you combine your crop, you’re also combining the weeds and blowing the weed seeds out the back of the combine and scattering them all over the field. A lot of people have worked for a very long time on this problem, with various attempts at a solution.

This one which is now going into production it seems, adds a screening system and high speed flails that pulverizes the weed seeds before they get blown back onto the field. If you click the link up there you’ll jump to the article about it. Apparently it works pretty good, and I’m always in favor of anything that helps farmers reduce the need for herbicides.

The problem is that this puppy costs about $70,000. Even when we’re talking about combines that cost a quarter of a million dollars or more, that is a pretty significant amount of money. Is it worth it? No idea.

Pork Cheap, Beef getting more Expensive: Beef prices at the consumer level haven’t been all that good for some time now. Pork is almost ridiculously cheap right now. Pork futures have fallen like a stone since July, dropping some 30%. Pork bellies, where we get bacon from, dove straight into the dumper, falling 60%. Although I note that hasn’t helped the price of bacon in the store. That keeps going up and up, it seems.

Beef on the other hand… Sheesh. Prices on some cuts have moderated a bit, but not by much, and they’re claiming prices are going to go up significantly over the upcoming months. We generally buy a lot of beef from MrsGF’s brother and sister, but because of logistics issues they aren’t going to have any ready to go for probably a year now. So MrsGF and I are looking into seeing if we have enough freezer space to get a quarter or half of beef from the local butcher because we can get that dressed, cut, wrapped and frozen, for $3.90 a pound which is less than what hamburger is going for in the grocery stores around here.

Syngenta Lawsuit Settled: Syngenta, a seed company, was sued a while back over one variety of it’s corn. The corn, a GM variety, was heavily marketed by the company and a  lot of farmers planted it. Only to find that when it came time to actually sell their corn to China, the country rejected it because Syngenta allegedly hadn’t told told the farmers that China had not approved that type of corn for import. In addition, it was alleged that the company deliberately misled farmers by claiming the corn variety had been approved by China when it had not.

Farmers, grain shipping companies, etc. lost millions of dollars on the deal and sued. Syngenta claimed they had told them that China hadn’t approved it. Lots of lawyers paid for their kids’ college education out of this one, raking in millions in legal fees, and the final result is Syngenta and the plaintiffs are apparently now going to settle out of court. I haven’t heard yet what the settlement will be, but you can expect that the company is going to have to pay a huge amount of money to make this one go away.

Addendum: Just ran cross another story that had more details. Syngenta is apparently going to cough up $1.4 billion to make this lawsuit go away. The company already lost a $218 million jury trial to a group of Kansas farmers about three months ago. There are still lawsuits pending in Canada against the company that will not fall under this agreement and will be thrashed out in the Canadian courts.

Catching Up With Stuff

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

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That’s one of the most perfect flowers I’ve ever seen growing out in my backyard. My wife picked up these seeds for almost nothing on sale, just threw them out into one of the gardens, and this is what we ended up with. Wow. That woman can grow anything.

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.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.53.24 AMSpeaking 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.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.55.05 AMSo 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 Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.53.35 AMsetting 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.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.53.14 AMThe 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.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.52.49 AMThen 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.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.51.44 AMGetting 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.

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A few maple trees have started to turn color. This is supposed to be a “sign” that we’re going to have a miserable winter. A safe prediction because in Wisconsin we generally always have a miserable winter.

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.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.55.31 AMLet’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.

And that is about it.

Getting Caught Up With Stuff

Water Tower Stuff

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They’re working on the water tower here in town. As someone who gets nervous standing on a step ladder, I can’t imagine how those guys up there do this job. I know they have safety equipment and all that, but still, hanging from a rope a hundred feet up like that? No way I could ever do something like that.

New Computer Stuff

IMG_0566The new computer is up and running beautifully. Very fast, slick computer, but the Nvidia 1050 TI card was damaged in shipment so I’ve been using the motherboard’s onboard Intel graphics. That works, until I do anything that demands any kind of high resolution, high frame rate video, and then everything falls apart real fast. I’ve tried playing Skyrim on it and while it works, the graphics are terrible and the only way to get the frame rate up to acceptable level is to turn the draw distance down so far I can’t even see enemies attacking me from just a couple of hundred feet away. Sigh. Second Life is even worse. Complex scenes with a large variety of different textures don’t render at all, probably because the graphics card doesn’t have enough memory to deal with all of it. The replacement video card is in, but it’s at my eldest son’s house, and he’s gone up north for the weekend, so it’s going to be Monday evening before I can really see what this thing can do.

ES was telling me he had trouble getting the 1050 card, and a quick scrounge around Amazon reinforced that. Every vendor I found on Amazon had disclaimers that the item was out of stock and wouldn’t be in stock for 3, 4 or more days. And that date kept shifting even farther into the future during the past week.

Gardening Stuff

The gardens have been doing pretty good this year, with the occasional glitch. I mentioned we have a fungus attacking the tomatoes because of the very damp summer we’ve had. We aren’t the only one. Almost everyone I’ve talked to has the same problem with their tomatoes this year. One group of pepper plants got pushed over when we had high winds roll through a few weeks ago, and they never recovered very well, alas. Some are doing okay, but others just barely survived. Not a bad thing because we planted way too many pepper plants this year, but still disappointing. Heard the other day that this summer is one of the wettest on record, which doesn’t surprise me at all.

Lilies, Peppers, Water and Stuff

One of the lilies is finally coming into flower and it’s been worth the wait. I love these things and grin like an idiot whenever I walk past this plant.

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For some reason MrsGf went pepper crazy this year and we’ve ended up with something like 30 pepper plants of various types out in the gardens. One of the raised beds is full of them, and then they’re tucked away in odd corners all over the flower beds as well. They’re all starting to blossom now.

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This particular one is supposed to be a small, round, hot pepper called a cherry bomb if I remember right, although it’s hard to keep track of what’s actually planted where. There are at least 4 or 5 different types out there. Both of us really love peppers, especially fresh from the garden, but there’s no way we’re going to be able to use all of these this year. I think it’s a hint that the family wants me to make and can a big batch of pickled peppers this year. The pickled peppers were an experiment last year and turned out so good we’re down to one or two pints left. I certainly don’t mind, but damn, that’s a lot of pepper plants…

Now that I’m not working I’m going to blow up like a balloon if I don’t exercise, and walking around town day after day is pretty darn boring so I went and got myself a bicycle. Biked about five miles down to the old stone bridge outside of town.IMG_0391.jpgIMG_0393.jpgIMG_0389.jpg

the bridge goes over a shallow, slow little river that dries up into a mud hole by mid-summer usually. I never really paid much attention to it before because usually I’m going over the bridge in a car. I realized it’s really kind of pretty down there, especially with the sky reflecting off the water.

Four thirty in the morning? Really? Ick… Why do I keep getting up this early? I have turned into one of those most obnoxious of people, a “morning person”. As soon as the sky begins to turn light in the pre-dawn, my idiotic brain has decided I need to be up. Right now. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s annoying because I don’t want to be up at bloody 4:30 or 5 in the morning.

The cats are delighted by this, of course. Being the utterly annoying little goofballs they are, they’re generally all sitting outside of the bedroom door by 4:30 anyway because they want their breakfast. So I’m out here, bleary eyed, still half in the dark, trying to make coffee and tripping over cats, stumbling over cats, having cats butting against my legs (it’s not a sign of affection, they’re trying to trip you, you know) and having cats yelling at me. And trying to keep things quiet so MrsGF can get an extra half hour of sleep or so.

If they’re especially bored or hungry, they will drag their food bowl all the way across the room and put it directly in front of the bedroom door so I trip over it when I come stumbling out. One of them has developed the habit of going through the house, finding every cat toy she can, and depositing it in the empty food dish. Apparently she’s under the impression that if she makes some kind of offering the cat food gods will refill her bowl?

Come to think of it, it works, doesn’t it? She puts her toys in the empty food dish and like magic I show up and refill it.

Antenna Adventure and Stuff

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Like most amateur radio operators I tend to accumulate a lot of stuff. I’ll find something and think ‘oh, that might be useful some day’ or ‘wow, that’s a good price I should get that because I’ll use it some day’. You know the kind of thing. The end result is I have more PL-259 connectors than I’ll ever use in my lifetime, spools of coax cable, rope, miscellaneous spools of wire, bits of this and that, oddball electronics, rather intimidating looking radios, test equipment and tools…

Making things worse is I’m fascinated with antennas and how radio waves propagate, so I have stuff used to make antennas, and even complete antenna systems that I’ve picked up along the way. Including the one in the photo, a Gap Titan DX vertical antenna that’s been laying in a box upstairs since I got it about three or more years ago.

It was intended to replace the Comet 250 vertical I’ve had since I first got my license. Now the Comet works. Sort of.  It’s dirt simple to put up, being little more than 21 foot long aluminum pole that bolts to a pipe hammered into the ground. But let’s face it, it isn’t really a very good antenna, especially at lower frequencies. It was intended to be a stop gap measure, something I could use to get on the air quickly and easily, with the intention of eventually replacing it with something else.

I eventually put up an OCFD that’s my primary antenna, but I kept the Comet up more for reasons of nostalgia than because it worked, which it pretty much didn’t. Oh, I made some contacts using it, but the intention was always to replace it with something better like the Gap Titan, or a vertical from DX Engineering that I picked up around the same time.

Eldest son showed up yesterday and said the Comet was coming down and we’re going to put that Gap Titan. Period. Okay… We worked out in the driveway during the hottest day of the year so far, gulping down water, sweating through our clothes, and finally got it put together. Mostly. It isn’t that difficult to assemble. The instructions are phrased a bit oddly, but if you take your time and pay attention to the diagrams it isn’t hard. And this is about as far as we got because now we are at the point where we have to put the counterpoise together, and that can’t really be done until it’s up because the counterpoise consists of four long aluminum rods about four feet long that are linked together with copper wire and goes around the bottom section of the antenna.

Then we realized that where we wanted to put it, where the Comet is now, isn’t going to actually work because we’d badly underestimated the size of the counterpoise. The Comet, being little more than a big stick with a can on the end containing the matching coils, takes up almost no room at all, and is bolted to a piece of pipe hammered into the ground. It has no counterpoise, no radials, nothing. Just a big stick, like I said. This, though, was going to require a space of about 8 feet across.

I wanted to keep it low to the ground despite the fact that would not help it’s performance. That would mean we wouldn’t have to guy it, it would be easy to take it down if necessary, and it would be easy to adjust. We considered putting it in different parts of the yard, and that would have worked, but that counterpoise would always be awkward to deal with and almost certainly someone would run a lawnmower or something into it. And we’d have to make a new feed line and bury it, and while I probably have about a thousand feet of coax laying around the house, none of it is rated for in-ground use so I’d have to get more, and we’d have to dig a trench and, well, this was starting to look like more work than we really wanted to get involved with.

And then there was the safety aspect of the whole thing. I rarely put more than 30 watts into the Comet, using it mostly for low power digital communications like PSK. Besides, the Comet can only handle about 200 watts anyway before the coils will melt down or something. The Gap, on the other hand is rated for a full 1,500 watts output, and I often use amplifiers putting out 600 – 1,500 watts when conditions warrant it. So getting it higher up would be advisable just in case some goof ball decided to grab the antenna just as I key a mic and dump 1,500 watts into the thing. You can get some nasty burns from RF at those frequencies and power levels.

So eldest son decided the best thing to do was go up. Keep it in the same location, but up above the roof of the garage where it would be out of the way and where it would probably work better anyway. But that meant we had to put up guy lines to keep it from falling over, so he’d have to go buy… No, you don’t, I told him, and rummaged around in my boxes and came up with a complete guying kit, including a few hundred feet of nonconductive line, tie downs and other goodies. And then he said well, it would be nice if we could put in a tip over mount so we can lower it down in case of storms and stuff so I should look into that. And, well, a trip to the famous “box o’ stuff” (well, actually many boxes) turned up a tip over mount originally intended for a DX Engineering antenna that would work… Sometimes it pays to hang onto all that stuff. So all we really had to buy was some sturdy pipe or something to get it about 10 feet up so it would clear the garage roof, and he went off with the truck in search of that.

Now I have absolutely no idea how he’s planning on doing this. As MrsGF pointed out, he’s the genius in the family and it’s best to just leave him alone and let him do it because he’s generally right. So we’ll see what’ll happen.

If we get a chance to actually do it. It looks like more storms are on the way, and working on antennas with thunder storms in the area is generally considered a bad thing to do.

Generic Stuff and Irritations

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Tumblr: Pulling the Plug At Last – I’ve had a blog over there for ages. I’ve put up with all of the nonsense they’ve pulled for far too long now. The company’s various attempts to make money off the service have done little except alienate the bloggers who made the service successful in the first place. Things have gotten much worse over the past year. Advertising is so invasive I can’t even read my dashboard without my ad blockers running full on. The service now seems to be in the process of being taken over by fake automated blogs that don’t have an actual person behind them. Most of these seem to be automated systems that “harvest”, so to speak, cute photos from Tumblr or other internet services, then offer them up on the blog, interspersed with dozens and dozens of fake posts that are links to advertising. The porn bots, the automated porn blogs that were “following” random blogs in the hopes of generating page hits were bad enough, but these new fake blogs are even worse. I’ve had about 50 new followers over there in the last couple of weeks and every single one of them has been one of these automated advertising systems.

I’ve had it with the whole mess over there. I’ll keep reading the blogs of people I follow over there, but I’m not going to be posting anything there any more.

Not sure what that means for this blog. You’ll probably see an increase in activity here. Maybe?


Amateur Radio Irritations Part One: “Contesting” or “Radio Sport” – The first time I heard someone use the term “radio sport” in amateur radio I almost fell over laughing. Until I realized they were serious. What they are trying to do is rebrand various contests as some kind of sport, and failing miserably. But I wanted to talk about contesting, didn’t I? So let’s get on with this.

Let me explain what contesting is in the amateur radio world for those of you who aren’t familiar with it. The basic idea is you have a limited amount of time, 48 hours, let us say, to contact as many other amateur radio operators as possible using a specific mode of operation; CW, SSB, digital, etc. The rules vary from one contest to another. Some are restricted to specific frequency allocations, some restricted to specific operators like the Rookie Roundup, etc. You get points for every contact, with some types of contact being points multipliers. And it’s just – well, it’s just silly. I’m sorry, but it just is.

The two print publications still catering to the amateur radio market, QST and CQ, make a Big Deal out of contesting. They claim it is wildly popular, fun, etc, etc, etc. And while it may be fun for those who enjoy that kind of thing, popular it is definitely not. One of the “big” contests was just reported on in the last QST magazine. They devoted four pages to the thing. How many participants did it actually have? About 4,500 if I remember right.

Now, there are something like three quarters of a million amateur radio operators in the US alone, so 4,500 participants world wide when there are around 750,000 operators in the US alone isn’t exactly popular by any stretch of the imagination. That’s a participation level of – what? About 0.006%?

Now don’t get me wrong. Contests are just fine and dandy if you get into that kind of thing. I can certainly see how someone might even enjoy it. But popular? I’m sorry, it just isn’t. When less than one percent of the total number of a particular group of people do an activity, it is not “popular” by any stretch of the imagination.


Amateur Radio Irritations Part Two: Own Worst Enemy – If you get on the amateur radio websites or read the letters in the magazines, there seems to be one question: Where the hell are all the new amateur radio licensees? We know they’re out there. People are getting licensed in droves. But you never hear any of them actually on the air. So where are they?

If my own experience is any indication, the biggest problem is that the amateur radio community isn’t exactly very welcoming to newcomers. I know there are many exceptions to this, but first impressions count, and when your first experiences are as difficult as mine were, well, you have to have a thick skin to deal with it.

Join a club, they tell you. Well, first of all, good luck even finding one. And if you do, chances are good you’ll have the same experience I did when I joined the Fox Valley club. I dutifully sent off my check, my email address, call sign, and all the other stuff they wanted, and heard — nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not even a confirmation they got the check. The only reason I know they got it was because it was cashed. No email reply, no information about membership, nothing. Meetings were scheduled when I was working so I couldn’t get to those. Emails to them asking about my status never got a response.

The local ARES group was more responsive and more helpful. But the only thing they care about is emergency communications, an area where amateur radio is increasingly irrelevant and unwelcome, only ARES hasn’t figured that out yet.

If you dare to get on the air, especially down on HF, watch out. The very first contact I made on 10 meters was to someone out in California who spent ten minutes telling me I was an idiot, I was doing everything wrong, that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, all because I hadn’t been required to learn morse code. A few days later I was talking to someone down on 75 meters when someone jumped in and launched into a long rant about how people like me were ruining amateur radio, how I was an idiot, didn’t know a resistor from a capacitor, how all us new operators couldn’t repair a piece of equipment to save our lives and had to buy everything we used. We dropped down to a different frequency and let him rant. He was still at it twenty minutes later.

I’ve been told that most newcomers don’t run into that kind of nonsense, that amateur radio is generally very welcoming. I was probably just very unlucky, at the wrong place and the wrong time. Perhaps. But it only takes one or two unsavory encounters like that to make people wonder if they should be looking at a different hobby.


The Future – So, what’s going to happen here at grouchyfarmer now that my other blog on Tumblr is no more? I’m not really sure yet. There will probably be more activity here in the future. Other than that I don’t know. yet.