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

 

Tomatoes: We messed up, and Building Computers

IMG_0551We messed up with the tomatoes this year. It’s partly our own fault, partly the fault of the weather this year. They’ve developed a kind of fungus that’s slowly working it’s way up the plant from the bottom, taking out the leaves. Not exactly pretty. We’re getting fruit, but we won’t get anywhere near as much as we should because of it.

Tomatoes can be a bit fragile. Depending on which variety you plant, there are all sorts of diseases the plants can get. In this case a combination of factors, the overly wet weather we’ve had this summer along with our planting the tomatoes way too close together, created an environment that permitted fungus to develop and thrive in the damp, warm conditions.

This is at least partly our own fault. We badly overcrowded the plants. There are twice as many in there as there really should be. Spreading the plants out more would certainly have helped. And there are commercial fungicides that can help with this.

We’ve been talking about putting in two more raised beds this size and perhaps this will finally get me to stop procrastinating and actually do it. We definitely need more space if we’re going to keep growing this many tomatoes.

IMG_0556Computer stuff: My gaming computer, a really really nice Razor Blade laptop, decided it didn’t like me any more, got so hot the case burned my hands, and then died. I suspect the graphics card went bad, but we’re not really sure. In any case, it’s well outside of the warranty period and would probably cost more than the computer is worth to try to get it fixed. And it was pointed out to me that I could build a computer with much better specs than any gaming laptop had, for half the cost, if I went with a desktop system. So Saturday we were sitting here looking at the box full of stuff you see there on the left.

Now the last computer I built with my own hands was a 486, so that ought to give you some idea how long it’s been. I could probably have put one together myself, but Eldest Son builds this kind of stuff all the time so I let him spec out the system, select the parts and actually put the thing together. ES figures that if anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing not only to excess, but ridiculously over the top. So what IMG_0566I ended up with is this over on the right.

What we ended up with was a transparent case to show off all the fancy bits inside, and enough strobing, glowing, swirling interior lighting to put a 1970s disco to shame. All it needs is a spinning disco mirror ball hanging inside to complete the look. Sheesh…

Of course absolutely none of that has anything to do with how it actually works as a computer. So, how does it work as an actual computer? Holy s**t it’s fast! The latest Core i7 processor clocked at 4.7 Ghz, high speed Samsung SSD, threaded this and hyper that. The thing has a liquid cooling system and 8 (???) fans, 8 USB3 ports, 3 Thunderbolt ports.

And I have absolutely no idea how well it works for gaming because the video card was DOA.

Sigh… We suspect it was damaged in transit because it looks like one of the shields on the card was pushed into one of the circuit boards, so ES took it off to get a replacement. It runs, but only using the motherboard’s built in Intel video.

The interesting thing is that it seems no one has Nvidia graphics cards. It took ES almost two weeks to get this one in, and a quick browse around Amazon indicates that pretty much no one has them in stock right now. Every single listing for the Nvidia 1050 or 1080 card shows “Not available until August 10”. What’s going on? I have no idea.

So until we can get the Nvidia card replace, I won’t really know how well it will work as an actual gaming machine.

Oh, I also switched off almost all of the interior lights on the thing. It looks really neat. For about 30 seconds, then the strobing and swirling and lighting effects become seriously annoying.