Garden Catch Up, Storms and Stuff

If you want photos of the storm damage, go look on news sites in this area. There are enough of those out there already. The gardens made it through the storms with little or no damage, somehow, so I can still take photos like this.

Northeast Wisconsin got absolutely hammered by severe storms, some of the strongest we’ve ever seen around here. The training I’ve had for SkyWarn taught me how to estimate wind speed fairly accurately, and I guessed we had wind gusts of up to 75 MPH here, and the NWS reports later confirmed that. It was scary here for a while. We were lucky, though. The worst of it seems to have skipped around this area. Other areas, especially just to the north and west of us got hit hard. There were three tornadoes. NWS reported winds of up to 120 MPH in Wrightstown, about 10 miles north of here. Outagame, Brown and Winnebago counties all are reporting very serious damage. Thousands of people are still without power around us, and the utilities are saying conditions in those areas are so bad from downed trees, broken power poles, etc. that it could be days before everyone has their power restored.

The only good thing about it is that the cold front that triggered the storms has finally brought relief from the extended streak of heat and humidity we were going through. My thermometer here recorded high temps well up into the 90s, with humidity of 95% or higher. The highest temp we hit was 97 according to the recorder. The heat index was well up in the 100s. I’m going to hate to see what our electric bill looks like. Our air conditioner was running full blast for days struggling to keep the temperatures in the house down to a reasonable level. I’m very surprised it’s managed to keep going at all.

While the extreme temperatures haven’t been good for people, the plants around here seem to have been loving it. Everything is lush and green and growing like crazy. Unfortunately we also seem to have a bumper crop of mosquitoes this year as well because of all the rain we’ve gotten. So here are some pictures of what’s growing around here.

The sunflowers are just barely starting to come into bloom. This is the first one that’s popped out.
this is a new one for us. MrsGF put this climbing rose in at the start of the season and it’s decided that it really likes it here. It’s tripled in size and and has been flowering almost continuously for the last three weeks.

Ah, our poor pear tree. It looks more lush and wild than it really is because you’re seeing the canopy of the tree immediately behind it as well. It’s reasonably healthy, but almost no pears at all this year. I’ve counted less than a dozen young pears on the entire tree, and I’m surprised we have those. When it was in flower it was extremely cold and wet, and there were no bees around at all, so it didn’t get pollinated.

MrsGF and I are both enormously fond of mountain ash trees (they’re actually not an ash, they’re part of the rose family, so the emerald ash borer doesn’t attack them). We have one in the backyard and we see seedlings popping up all the time, so we transplanted one into a corner of the hosta bed where it seemed to fit in, and it likes it there. The photo doesn’t do it justice. It’s really been thriving there. It’s more than doubled in size in the last month or so.
We tucked onions into the edges of the raised beds around the tomatoes this year as an experiment and it’s worked way better than we ever hoped. They’re absolutely beautiful. It’s a mixed variety of red, yellow and white onions, and they’re all doing well. Bulbs are about 2 inches thick and they taste amazing.
This is one of two jalapeno plants we have in pots on the front porch. They’re an experiment. It’s a new variety I found that claimed it had all the flavor of a jalapeno but without the heat. Now I love jalapeno peppers, but sometimes the heat gets a bit much for me. I’ve had mixed results growing them in the past, with a wide variation in the amount of heat they produce, even in fruit from the same plant. These have lived up to their billing. All the bright, crisp flavor but with very little heat. Just enough to remind me it’s a jalapeno. I dice ’em up and throw them in omelets, mac and cheese, anywhere I want to turn something bland into something a bit more interesting. I’ve been picking these little guys on a regular basis for the last, oh, two or three weeks. Even MrsGF has been using them. Definitely a success. I’ll probably be putting about 4 of these plants in next year. That should be enough to freeze to supply us through the winter.

The tomatoes have been going crazy. We planted way too many of them last year so we still have shelves full of canned tomatoes in the basement, so we only put in half as many plants as last year, and now that seems it may have been too many. They’re in full flower right now, and if they produce as prolifically as it seems right now, I don’t know what we’ll do with all of them. But that’s a good thing. I’d rather have too many. We can always give them away to friends and family if we can’t deal with all of them. We’ve managed to avoid blossom end rot once we switched to using the raised beds, but there were some signs last year we might be heading for a problem, so we’ve been using a calcium supplement to try to fend that off.
Wax beans and bell peppers in the background. The wax beans are amazing. We’ve been picking those for about a week now. They’re young and tender and delicious. We aren’t sure what happened to the green beans we planted. Something ate them off, leaving only the stems, almost as soon as they emerged, but left the wax beans alone. This area is fenced to keep the rabbits out so it wasn’t them. We aren’t sure what got them, and why they left the wax beans alone. Well, at least they left us those.

The raspberries are behind the garage where they get shade all morning and part sun all afternoon, and they really seem to like that. They’ve taken over that entire end of the garden and they’re loaded with fruit. I’m not supposed to eat raspberries or anything with small seeds, but I have to admit that I watch those plants like a hawk when they’re starting to fruit and it’s very rare that a berry escapes me and makes it into the house.

Garden Stuff

The hostas loved the cool, wet spring. They’re wonderfully lush this year.

Despite all the water we’ve been getting the gardens have been doing pretty good. We’re still a bit behind schedule because of the cool weather we had up until now, but the gardens at the house are definitely doing better than what the farmers around here have been experiencing.

When we bought this place some twenty or so years ago the front of the house was a mess. The space between the front of the house and the sidewalk was a nasty little border type flower bed mulched with small stones, sort of curved and indented, with some of the worst grass I’d ever seen between that and the sidewalk. It was a maintenance nightmare. The plants up there were some of the worst you could possibly select for a border, and because of the stones it was impossible to properly weed or do anything to improve the horrible soil.

We finally got fed up, went in with the tractor and ripped everything out, scooped up the stones with the front end loader and hauled them to a friend’s farm where he used them for fill, and we put in the cedar rail fence and the hostas. No bushes to trim any more, the fence has weathered to look like it’s been there for generations, and the only maintenance is to go in with a hoe and knock the few weeds growing in the mulch down once in a while. There are a couple of spots where I want a bit better coverage so I might throw in a few more hostas.

The tomatoes are looking pretty good. We put in a lot less of them than last year because we were nearly overwhelmed by them last year. We still have enough canned tomatoes to last us probably through 2019, although all of the soup and pasta sauce got used up.

With fewer tomatoes we had some extra room in the raised beds so we put onions in along the edge and they’re doing beautifully. We tried raising them in a different spot but they never got enough light and didn’t do well. They’re looking fantastic in this new location. They’re big enough now that I can run outside and pull a couple whenever I need onions for anything. I love green onions so they may never reach maturity, but that’s okay.

Every year I have to put in something different, this year it’s this, something that the label says is a “hot salsa pepper”. And that is literally all it says. I don’t know what variety or anything else about it. It is starting to produce pretty little yellow peppers, so that’s something. I picked one yesterday and tried it and it is most definitely not hot. Not by any standards. I’m not one of those people who loves peppers that make your face turn red and your eyes bug out and necessitate a trip to the ER because they’re so bad, but I do like a pepper that bites back at least a little. Jalapenos are about the limit of what I can handle for heat. But these, well, there’s just nothing there at all. Hopefully they’ll get better as they mature.

Speaking of jalapenos, I got another experiment going in pots on the front steps, a “mild” jalapenos. The two plants are doing quite well, both are in flower now and one is starting to develop fruits. The blurb on the tag was “all of the flavor without the heat”. I’ve tried variations of peppers like this before that claimed they still had flavor without heat, and they were disappointing. Usually when they breed out the heat, they also breed out the flavor, alas. But we’ll see what happens with these. They certainly are looking healthy.

And then, of course, there’s the water. Oh brother… The ground is still so saturated that you can audibly hear it squishing when you walk through the grass. And the whole area back by the raised vegetable beds still had standing water under the grass as you can see in that photo. If we didn’t have the raised beds nothing would be growing back there this year. I don’t think we’ve gone more than three days in a row without significant rainfall since April.

Let’s wrap this up with this one:

I end up with dozens of photos of that lily every year because I love the color, the shape of the flowers, and just about everything about that plant. It certainly didn’t disappoint this year.

Fall, Pears, Water, Cold (the sneezing kind) and Stuff

Alas, that photo up there was an all too common sight around here as we got bombarded with rain for a two or three week period. Things are finally starting to dry out, but a lot of rivers are still at flood stage, there’s still a lot of standing water, and that one storm spawned something like 17 tornadoes across the state. Damage estimates are still being made, but I wouldn’t be surprised in if they hit $200+ million between the flooding and the wind.

Here in Calumet County we got lucky. Things could have been a lot worse. Aside from soaked and flooded farm fields, damage here was fairly minor. Most of the more serious storms went to the north or south of us. Mostly south. The southern half of the state really got hammered.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 5.37.28 AMWe weren’t entirely unscathed, though. Our poor pear tree suffered major damage one night when two of the main branches came down. I’m going to wait until the pears are picked before I go up there to see how bad it really is. We’re hoping that the tree can recover from this, but I don’t know. It’s hard to tell right now how badly it was damaged because the foliage is so thick.

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Nice weather at last!

Still, the weather had gotten much better, with sunny conditions and temperatures more typical of early September in Wisconsin. Daytime highs have been in the low 70s and night time temps have been in the 48 – 55 degree range. It’s been really quite pleasant after the extraordinarily hot and muggy weather we had all through August.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 5.38.25 AM.pngThe bees have certainly been enjoying themselves. We’re seeing them all over the place. Just about every flower at the house is covered in bees, mostly bumble bees and native bees, which is really nice to see.

Just as conditions change so I can finally get off the allergy meds, of course I come down with a nasty cold. At first I thought the symptoms were from going off the allergy meds. I’ll often get a rebound effect when I stop taking it. But no, definitely a cold. Coughing, sneezing, wheezing, sore throat from the coughing and congestion will be the norm for the next few days, it seems. I can’t take decongestants because I have high blood pressure, and the so-called cough remedies, well, they’re virtually useless anyway. So all I can do is wait.

I’ve taken to sleeping in the recliner to keep from bothering MrsGF otherwise I keep her up at night too. And in any case, when I lay down all the garbage from my head seems to drain down into my throat and makes the coughing all the worse. Still, it seems to be getting better. Only woke up once during the night last night and managed to sleep six hours. Would have been seven if the dopey siamese hadn’t started demanding breakfast at 5 AM.

The good news is the tomato plants are finally giving up the ghost and we can put the canning equipment away. MrsGF finished off the last of the tomatoes yesterday, putting up about 22 pints of chili sauce.

Well, we call it chili sauce but there is no actual chili in it. It’s a mixture of tomatoes, onions and bell and banana peppers with a bit of lemon juice and a pinch of salt. It tastes utterly amazing and we use it in almost any kind of dish that calls for tomatoes, either as  a base for the sauce, or as a flavor enhancer.

The Wisconsin 55 tomato variety we tried this year was a bitter disappointment. Very few fruit, and the ones we did get were soft, often discolored and not a very good flavor. The Early Girl variety, on the other hand, were absolutely spectacular.

We put in 3 cucumber plants this year and, well, we might as well have not even bothered. I don’t think we got more than 6 cucumbers off them all season long and a lot were misshapen. They were disappointing as well.

The squash look pretty good. We’re going to get several nice sized butternut squash and I noticed that there are some acorn out there. But the acorn are very late this year and I’m not sure if they’re going to amount to much.

Let’s see, what else… I had to get new tires put on the bike. I have to admit I know pretty much nothing about bicycle tires. I got about 1,500 miles out of these and I don’t know if that’s about average or not. I ran it up to the bike shop to get them replaced. I could do it myself but I’m terrible with bicycle tires. I always end up wrecking the inner tubes when I’m installing them. Took the guy at the shop all of 45 minutes to change both tires, adjust the derailleur, adjust the brakes, lube it, etc. Would have taken me half a day to do all of that, and it would have involved the use of much foul language, I suspect.

That’s it for now. It’s 6:30 AM, the sun is finally up and I’m thinking of taking the bike out for a few miles despite the cold.

 

Stuff. And Nonsense. And Rain

Tariff Relief Plan Announced At Last. But Only If You Grow Soybeans

USDA finally announced some of the details of the tariff aid package and as a lot of people expected, for a lot of farmers they might as well not even bother. While soybean growers will get a pretty good deal, getting back $1.64 of the estimated $2.00 per bushel they’re losing, for a lot of others, the so called relief is almost an insult. Dairy producers are losing an estimated $1.10 per hundredweight because of the tariffs. They’re going to get a whopping $0.12/cwt. Yeah, that’s right, twelve cents. Corn growers are going to get $0.01 per bushel. That’s not a typo. They’re going to get one cent per bushel.

Why are soybean farmers getting almost all of the “tariff relief” while dairy farmers and corn growers get almost nothing? I have no idea.

Rain

IMG_1015Wow, have we been getting hammered! It’s been raining almost non-stop for days now, with one storm front after another rolling through here. That 5 1/2 inches showing in the gauge there was from just Monday evening. I haven’t heard yet what the grand total is for this whole event, but I imagine it’s going to be in excess of 25 inches for this area over the last few days.

They got hit even harder in the southern part of the state. One town down there reported 11 inches in less than 8 hours. Flooding all over, one person dead after getting swept away when trying to get out of a submerged car. Damage estimates were in excess of $100 million and I’m sure that number is going to grow dramatically because that was from two days ago.

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The town has good drainage, except for my backyard. It’s about 3 feet deep back there this morning.

We have pretty good drainage here because they re-did the entire town’s storm water system back in the late 1980s after we had a massive flood here that damaged just about every building in town, blew manholes covers off the sewers, and flooded every basement in town. The revised system obviously works or we’d be up to our necks in water by now.

Fortunately we’re looking at a dry spell now.

Tomato Stuff

Meanwhile I’m staring at about 30 lbs of tomatoes I have to deal with today… Not sure yet what I’m going to do with them. I’m thinking tomato soup? I’d better make up my mind soon because there are probably another 30 lbs to deal with out on the plants.

Still, it’s becoming obvious the season is coming to an end. The plants are starting to look like they’re coming to the end of their life span which, I have to admit, is something of a relief.

We put in two plants of a variety called Wisconsin 55, and they’ve been disappointing. Very little fruit from those two despite the fact the plants themselves are ridiculously healthy.

The Early Girl variety have been amazing. The fruit is small, about the size of a baseball, dense, brilliant color, not an excessive amount of seeds, and wonderful flavor and texture that’s been great for making into sauces and soups, which is exactly what we want them for. I’d say the texture is similar to that of a Roma tomato. And they’ve been incredibly prolific. I’ve never seen tomato plants produce quite this much fruit before.

The Early Girl variety is going to be on our “must plant” list for next spring.

Hmm, I’m also going to need to deal with about 20 pounds of banana peppers here in the next few days. I don’t remember what the variety is right now, but wow, they’ve been ridiculous too. The plants are 4 1/2 feet tall and they just keep producing more and more and more.

Most of those are going into the tomato sauces or are being diced up and frozen for future use. But we have so many now that I’m not sure what to do with them. We have more than enough in the freezer for use over the winter.

Amateur Radio Stuff

Not much going on there. I’m still playing with the FT8 mode. Well, I pretty much have to use it because my antenna isn’t very good and with band conditions the way they are it’s about the only way I can make contacts.

I’m closing in on the WAS (Worked All States) and while I claim I don’t really care, I find myself a bit excited by the prospect of having worked all 50 states. I’m only missing 7 states and I find myself keeping an eye out now for the ones I still need when I’m on the air. What do I get if and when I do it? Well, nothing, really. Just the satisfaction of having done it.

I really, really need to get that new vertical antenna up before the winter weather closes in…

 

What To Do With 20 Pounds of Tomatoes

We’ve been very fortunate in the tomato department this season, especially with the Early Girl variety that we planted. They’ve been ridiculously prolific. MrsGF already did plain canned tomtoes, chili sauce and we froze a lot for use later. But they’re coming on fast now and it’s getting hard to keep up. So Thursday I dealt with this:

That’s about 28 pounds of tomatoes in those two boxes,IMG_1003.jpg

So while MrsGF was at work I dealt with this situation. I made spaghetti sauce because, well, good lord this stuff is good. Once you’ve made your own you’ll never want to go back to the stuff you get at the grocery store. It’s fairly easy, although it does take some time.

Start with about 20 pounds of ripe tomatoes. If there are some that aren’t quite ripe yet, don’t worry about it, throw them in too. Wash them, then cut them in quarters. You don’t need to core or peel them, but do remove the stems.

Now get a big stainless steel stock pot with a thick, heavy bottom. Big because it has to hold at least 20 pounds of cut up tomatoes. You can’t use one of those cheap, thin bottomed stamped metal ones from the discount store because you will almost certainly scorch the tomatoes during the cooking process and ruin the whole batch. It must have a thick bottom, and must be stainless steel, not aluminum. The acid in tomatoes reacts with aluminum, and not only will it affect the flavor, it will stain the aluminum and even leach aluminum into the food, something you do not want. Aluminum, when ingested, has some serious health concerns.

Yes, a good, big stainless steel stockpot is expensive, but you can get good deals if you watch for sales and it’s worth it if you do a lot of this kind of thing.

And yes, you can do this in smaller batches if you can’t handle this much at one time. Nothing wrong with just doing 10 pounds and adjusting the recipe accordingly.

Dice up two whole onions and about a pound of green peppers or sweet banana peppers. No need to remove the seeds, they’ll be taken care of later.

Put about a quarter cup of olive oil (no, it doesn’t need to be the expensive stuff) in the bottom of the pot, put it on the stove, turn the heat up to about medium and put in the diced peppers and onions. Add about 6 nice sized cloves of garlic, crushed or finely minced. Cook them until they just start to soften a bit.

IMG_1004.jpgNow dump your tomatoes in. Yes, all of them at once. Bring the heat up to medium high. You’re going to have to bring this whole mess to a boil. You’re going to need a very sturdy, very long handled spoon or spatula so you can stir it up from time to time.

Bringing this amount of material to a boil is going to take time so be patient. And no, you don’t need to add any liquid. More than enough juice will come off of the tomatoes to turn it into, well, turn it into this:

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This rather nasty looking mess is going to turn into spaghetti sauce. Be patient. I know it looks like something the cat threw up at this point. Don’t worry and instead of thinking of how nasty it looks, concentrate on how good it smells.

You need to keep this mash boiling for about 20 minutes, stirring once in a while to make sure it isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning on. The long boiling process is necessary to make it easier to deal with the next step, putting it through a food mill.

IMG_1006.jpgThis is a food mill in case you’ve never seen one before. It is a heavy duty strainer with a crank handle, an angled plate that fits over the strainer part, and a nut on the bottom side with a scraper, usually a long, springy piece of wire, that holds the plate and handle in place.

It’s a simple tool that works quite well. The mash is put into the strainer basket, the handle is turned, and the plate presses the mash against the strainer forcing the juice and pulp through the holes while leaving the seeds and skins behind. to be discarded.

As you can see on the lower right, there are hooks on the side of the mill so you can set it on top of a pot to catch the juices and pulp that come out.

Put the mill over a clean, empty pot. Put about a cup of the tomato mash into the mill and rotate the handle. The good stuff that you want to keep will be squeezed out into the pot below, and the skins and other debris will remain on top. Once the juice and pulp is squeezed out, rotate the handle backwards to scrape the skins and debris off the strainer, and discard.

IMG_1008.jpgYes, it’s a rather messy and labor intensive process, and it’s going to take some time to deal with that entire pot full of mash.

Is there an easier way to do it? I suppose there is but we haven’t really found one. I suppose you could try running the mash through a blender to grind up the seeds and skins, but I’d think that might alter the taste.

It doesn’t really take that long to do it this way. Think of it this way, it’s a good opportunity to build up your arm muscles.

Once you’re done you’ll have a large amount of what is basically tomato juice and pulp. Bring out that big stock pot you used to cook up the tomatoes originally. Rinse it out, dump your juice into it, and put it back on the stove and crank the heat up to about medium high or high because you’re going to have to bring this back to a boil.

Now we add the spices. Everyone has different tastes, but this is what we use for this amount of juice: 2 tbl basil, 2 tbl oregano, 1-2 table thyme, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp ground pepper, 1/4 – 1/2 cup of brown sugar. The amount of sugar depends on your tastes and on how acidic the tomatoes are. You can adjust that after the cooking process is done.

Now comes the part everyone hates most, cooking it down. You need to bring it to a full boil, then reduce the heat until it’s at a nice, gentle rolling boil. You want it bubbling nicely, but not so hot that it scorches on the bottom. This part takes a long time. You want to reduce this down by at least half until it gets to the consistency you want for your sauce. You need to stir it every 15 -20 minutes, making sure it isn’t scorching on the bottom. If you find it’s building up a sludge on the bottom of the pot, turn the heat down a bit or stir it more often.IMG_1009.jpg

Everyone gets impatient during this process but there isn’t much you can do to hurry things along. Just keep it at a nice, gentle boil, stir it once in a while. You’re going to have to reduce it down by about half to get the right thickness.

Once you get it cooked down to about the right thickness, we’re not done quite yet. We add two small cans of tomato paste, not so much for flavor but to help with the texture. It gives it a thicker, more pleasing texture. You can skip this part if you like, but we think it helps. Once the tomato paste is thoroughly incorporated (it takes a lot of stirring, tomato paste is difficult to get to dissolve completely sometimes) give it a taste. This is where you can add more sugar or a bit more salt to compensate for the tomato paste.

Now I’m looking at about 5 quarts of delicious sauce, so it’s time to can it.

I pressure can sauces like this. I do not recommend water bath canning for this kind of sauce. I have a big Presto canner that can hold up to 12 quarts. It was fairly expensive, I think it was about $120 when I got it a few years ago, but it was worth it because we use it a lot.

Follow the usual recommended procedures for prepping the jars and lids (i.e. wash the jars, sterilize them and the lids, etc.). Put the recommended amount of water in  your canner, put it on the stove and bring up the heat.

You want to “hot pack” the jars. That means the sauce is still very hot, just off the boil, when you fill the jars. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in each quart. This isn’t for flavor, it’s an added safety measure to increase the acidity of the product. Put on the lids and rings (use hotpads or heat proof gloves because they will be hot!) and tighten down. Place the jars in the canner and attach the lid according to its instructions.

IMG_1010.jpgI did these at 11-12 lbs pressure for 25 minutes.  I should point out that how you process depends on the canner you are using, the product you are canning, and currently recommended processing techniques. Canning your own produce is a great way to preserve your fruits and vegetables, but safety is the most important thing to consider when canning. Please be sure to follow all of the instructions and safety recommendations. Don’t just rely on some recipe you find in an old cookbook because a lot of those techniques are now considered unsafe.

The University of Wisconsin Extension system has a good website for information about how to safely can foods. You can find it by clicking the link above.’

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And this is what we end up with.

A lot of work, yes, but consider this. When you can your own, you know exactly what is in that product. There are no strange chemicals with names you can’t pronounce, no corn syrup, no “flavor enhancers”, just your tomatoes, peppers, onions, spices, salt and sugar. You can adjust the flavor to suit your own tastes, you can reduce or eliminate the salt if you’re on a salt restricted diet, you can add additional spices or leave some out if you don’t like one. And there is something enormously satisfying about pulling out that jar of your own sauce during a blizzard in January and allowing that amazing flavor to take you back to those hot, humid days of late summer when everything was growing, tomatoes were glowing red in the sun, and letting that aroma from that sauce transport you back in time.

 

Gardening: Tomatoes!!! We got Tomatoes!!!

IMG_0976I don’t think I’ve ever seen our tomatoes look quite this good. The plants are amazingly lush and have gotten absolutely enormous. The two Wisconsin 55 plants are about 4-5 feet across and would be probably 4 feet tall if the weight of the fruit wasn’t pulling the stems down. The tomato cages have proven woefully inadequate and have started collapsing. It’s ridiculous. The other variety we planted are Early Girl, a smaller tomato, but they’re just as lush and prolific as the 55s are.

And judging from the color, it looks like what MrsGF and I are going to be doing by the end of the week is processing tomatoes into sauce, soup, and just canning/freezing them.

IMG_0978I got the first ripe one of the season yesterday. I saw it peeking through the dense canopy of leaves, a flash of red, did some digging around and there it was. I still get a bit excited when I find the first tomato of the season. I found a total of three yesterday.  The rest are still pretty green but they’re coming on fast.

I’ve also found, alas, a few with blossom end rot. But only a few, maybe three or four. The rest look pretty good. Blossom end rot hits tomatoes and peppers both, and is apparently linked to a calcium deficiency in the soil. We were thinking maybe starting to save eggshells instead of putting them in the compost going down to the compost site and try an experiment with crushing them and soaking them in water and using that to water the plants next year. MrsGF said the nuns did that at the convent back when she was almost a nun. Yeah, seriously, MrsGF was almost a nun. How I “stole” her from a convent has apparently become part of the family oral history. Sigh…

IMG_0973The banana peppers are in full production and are just as loaded with fruit as the tomatoes are. We’re starting to chop and freeze them. They’re easy to deal with. Just clean ’em, dice them up, stick them in freezer bags or an airtight container and chuck them in the freezer and pull out for omelets, soup, sauce, pizza or whatever when needed.

There were supposed to be sweet banana peppers. Emphasis on the word “supposed”. Some of these stinkers are downright hot, with a few pushing the heat level of jalapeno peppers. The flavor is amazing, but the heat is something some of the family members don’t care for, so we’re going to have to use these with some caution. We have a few sweet bell peppers, but they don’t look like they’re going to produce very well this year for some reason.

IMG_0974MrsGF put in 3 squash plants this year in the garden at the back of the garage and they’re pretty much taking over everything back there like they did last year. The vines grow astonishingly fast. We’re constantly pulling vines out of the lawn, out of the raspberries, out of the rhubarb… They look like they’re doing pretty good too. We’re seeing some nice sized squash already and lots of baby squash just starting to develop.

We have 3 cucumber plants grown from seed and they haven’t been very successful this year. Very spindly vines and very few cukes. But that’s not a real issue because I’m the only one who really likes to eat fresh cucumbers anyway. As long as I get enough to make a fresh cucumber salad once in a while I’m happy.

IMG_0163Other stuff — I worked out a deal with Eldest Son on my Honda Goldwing. With her back and knee issues it’s almost impossible for MrsGF to get on and off a motorcycle any more, so the Wing has sat mostly unused since I got it. I’ve had it since 2013 and it has a whopping 3,400 miles on it. Sigh… So I worked out a deal with ES. I don’t want to give up on biking, so we’re doing a swap, his Honda VTX, which is really a one person bike, for the Wing plus some cash and other stuff.

We worked out the deal last winter but we still haven’t gotten around to actually swapping bikes, so the Wing is still parked in the garage. We were going to do the swap at the end of July but… Well, the Wing had a bad battery and the VTX needed new front fork seals so here there you go… The shop he goes to has a 2 week backlog for repairs. Oh well…

We used to do a lot of motorcycling, MrsGF and me. We took our BMW literally all over the country. We put about 50,000 miles on that bike in the few years we owned it and had a lot of fun. Then I traded it off on the Wing and– well, the problem was not long after that I got the Corvette too and, well, you tell me which you would rather do, go on a long trip on a motorcycle in the heat, cold, rain, etc, or go in a convertible Corvette which is comfortable, has a top you can put up to keep the rain out, air conditioning (it was 107 degrees when youngest son and I were out in SD with it), and a decent sized trunk.

Fuel economy better on the bike? Yeah, well, you’d be surprised at how poor the milage is on these big touring bikes and how good it is on the Vette. The Wing gets, at best, 34 mpg cruising at 55. Add MrsGF, our clothes, the trailer, and we’re lucky if we get 30 MPG on the thing when fully loaded.  And milage goes down fast as the speed ramps up. The Vette gets about 25+ if I don’t get silly.

Well, to be fair, the Vette has it’s own ‘issues’, so to speak. Like tires costing $500. Each. And oil changes costing about $100+ because it holds about 8 quarts of high end synthetic (i.e. expensive) oil. The only reason I can afford to operate it is that I don’t drive it much. And it sounds like a jet fighter taking off when you put your foot down because of the headers and Borla exhaust and, well, that part is more of a plus than a minus…

There’s an urban myth about this car setting off car alarms with the exhaust noise if you really rev up the engine and let it snort and, well, turns out it isn’t an urban myth. Not, of course, that I’d know about something like that from personal experience. Nope, not at all…

 

Amateur Radio & Gardening, Hey, Why Not

The weather has been amazingly pleasant for a change these last few days. Everything is growing like crazy as you can see from the photo of the hosta garden in front of the house that I took yesterday. Wonderful plants, hostas; decorative, resilient, with so many different shapes and types it’s hard to keep track.

IMG_0875The corner garden here has been completely redone. In the past it was mostly herbs and decorative plants, but this year we more than doubled it in size, hauled in a tons of compost (well, my aching back claimed it was tons) and it’s being switched to mostly vegetables this year. MrsGF put in something like 20+ pepper plants of varying types (can you tell we like peppers?) plus two blueberry bushes and a couple of rows of beans down along the front. The soil in there is so utterly horrible that I did something I very rarely do, I raked in some commercial fertilizer as well. We’ll see what happens. It will either be wildly successful or everything will die off.

IMG_0873We were not going to make the same mistake we did last year by crowding too many plants into the two raised beds. It’s very tempting when putting in seedlings to crowd them in because it seems like there is so much wasted space, and forgetting just how big those plants get when they’re mature. We only put 6 plants in each of the beds this year and I hope that will help to eliminate some of the issues we had last year. While we avoided the dreaded blossom end rot last year, we did have some fungus problems because the plants were so crowded together.

IMG_0881And then when I was walking around the yard yesterday I nearly stepped on this guy. Yes, we have snakes in Wisconsin. You wouldn’t think they could survive our winters up here, but several species do quite well. Heck, until the 1950s or 60s we still had timber rattlers around here. This little guy… Little? Ha, he was a good two and a half feet long. He scared the heck out of me although I’m sure nearly being stepped on while he was sunning himself in the grass scared him more.

Amateur Radio Stuff

IMG_0863After the fiasco of wrecking the fold down mount for the GAP antenna, I put the crappy old Comet 250 vertical back up, hooked up the coax, went inside, checked to make sure everything looked OK, turned on the transceiver and — and immediately made about 6 different contacts all over North America with the thing on 40, 30 and 20 meters, running about 40 watts of power, less than it takes to run a modern lightbulb.

Sigh… radio propagation is weird sometimes.

I’ve been getting more and more interested in QRP operations. That’s amateur radio slang for very low power. QRP operators put out 5 watts of power or less. Often a lot less. The guys who are really good at it often operated with less than one watt of radiated power. They often use transceivers they built themselves or got as kits that can be ridiculously inexpensive.

There is a ‘gotcha’, though. Trying to make contacts using voice at those low power levels is damn near impossible. If you’re going to run QRP, you really need to go with good old morse code, or CW as it’s called.

Now I’ve thrown myself at CW on numerous occasions over the years, and failed miserably in learning it. The recommended techniques, the tapes, the CDs, none of them have worked. It all sounds like pure noise to my ear.

But then I ran into an IOS app called “Ham Morse”. It does have the more traditional teaching method, which doesn’t work for me. But what does work is that Ham Morse can also tie into the headline news feeds of various news organizations and sends the as CW at whatever speed you’re comfortable with. And guess what? For me, at least, this works. Now that I’m trying to copy actual meaningful text instead of single letters or groups of letters that have no relationship, my weird brain is actually starting to make the connection between those strange noises and the text.

The result is that I can copy CW at up to about 6 – 8 words per minutes. Maybe. Sometimes. Sort of. I’ve been listening to a lot of CW down on 20 meters trying to make sense of it all and despite all of the odd abbreviations and symbols and prosigns they use, I’m starting to pick some of it up.

Anyway, one of the reasons I’m interested in QRP is that the equipment is small, the antennas are small, you can operate with nothing but a relatively small battery. The whole kit can be thrown into a backpack easily, set up and taken down quickly. It’s ideal for someone who spends a lot of time on a bicycle like me. Would be great fun to sit out on the trails making contacts on summer mornings with just a wire hanging in a tree and a couple of watts of power.

http://offgridham.com/

I don’t make a lot of recommendations for websites or products or stuff like that, but if you’re at all interested in QRP operations, battery technology, solar power technologies and amateur radio, click the link up there at offgridham.com. Chris over there has provided a wonderful resource. He delves into alternative power technologies like solar, evaluates and discusses battery charging systems, battery types, etc. While it’s oriented for amateur radio, the material he covers is going to be of interest to anyone who is interested in unplugging from the power grid.

And that’s all for now.

Oh, I keep forgetting. I have email here. If you have questions or stuff you don’t want to put in the comments, you can reach me at old.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com