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

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.

 

Beautiful Mornings and Silliness

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We’ve had some breathtakingly beautiful mornings here recently, and I took full advantage of it, getting out on the bike whenever I could.

We had some very odd weather here recently. Well, to be fair, the weather all spring and summer was a bit odd. The summer was remarkably cool and wet, and when fall finally hit, that’s when it seemed summer finally arrived. We had mid to late September temperatures well into the high 80s and flirting with the mid 90s here away from the lake. We ran the air conditioning more in late September than we did in July and August put together.

But then things started to get back closer to normal with daytime temps around 60, and night temps down in the low 40s, which makes for great biking weather.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do when the weather starts getting really cold and the snow flies and I can’t get out on the bike. Back to pounding the treadmill I guess. Ick.

Banging Your Head On The Table Dept: Windigo Fest

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 6.58.03 AMThe city of Manitowoc, in its never ending quest to try to get someone, anyone, to come to town and spend some money, is putting on a Windigo Festival on Oct. 6-7. It looks like it could be a good time but I doubt if I’ll get over there because I have stuff on the schedule for both days.

But in a classic example of “why we can’t have nice things”, someone, of course, had to take offense at the town’s attempt to have some fun and drum up some business. Why? Because of, well, Satan apparently.

This person, who owns a very small and utterly insignificant shop in downtown where the festival is going to be held, has gone totally ballistic over this thing. Apparently the person harangued the city council for a considerable amount of time about how this festival was evil incarnate, was a satanic plot to corrupt the youth of the city, how it would lead to the evils of witchcraft and plunge the city into the corruption of sin, bring a host of demons down upon us, God would curse us and the Chicago Bears would beat the Packers…

Oh brother…

It gets worse. The “windigo” is, supposedly, a Native American monster of some sort that would run around and eat people. This person claims it is actually satan himself, and went on and on about satanic worship, demons, etc. for quite a while.

According to this person, pretty much everything about the fest is “satanic”.

The parade they’re going to have is running north to south down the street. That’s “satanic” because normally traffic runs from south to north. Exactly why having the parade route go in that direction is “satanic” is something I’m not really clear about. I mean I’ve read the Bible and I don’t really recall there being any verse that says “And lo, the City of Manitowoc shall route all traffic on Eighth Street from south to north, for routing traffic from north to south is the devil’s work”. And since 10th street two blocks over runs from north to south, does that mean 10th street is satanic and everyone who drives it worships the devil? They weren’t real clear about that one.

Even the dates of the festival are “satanic”. October 6 and 7? Yep, that’s satanic too, it seems. Six plus seven is thirteen, you see, and thirteen is the devil’s number.

The only reason I know about this is because the local paper decided to spend way, way too much time on this nonsense. And while I admit I found it mildly amusing, come on, really? This nonsense should have gotten exactly zero press coverage.

Anyway, if you go to the festival, make sure you say “hi” to Satan. He’s supposed to be hanging out over there. Haven’t seen him in a while. Last time I saw him was when he was in his guise as a state legislator and he sat down next to me at breakfast at a local restaurant.

Strange Weather

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It may look like early fall, but it doesn’t feel like it. Temperatures are running into the mid to high 80s

While Wisconsin is known for it’s occasionally odd weather, this past year has been a bit much. Tomorrow is supposed to be the first day of autumn, but you sure can’t tell from the weather. Yesterday’s high here was 84, today’s high was 87, and it could push into the 90s with heat indexes approaching 100 by tomorrow and Saturday.

We take a perverse pride in our weather extremes. This is a state where it can be below zero one day, and in the 60s just 24 hours later. We rather like that. Gives us something to talk about because, when it comes down it, we’re rather boring people up here and we get kind of sick of talking about the Packers all the time.

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We got lucky. Storm damage was mostly limited to blown over plants and a lot of tree branches down.

We had nasty storms roll through here last night, too. I braved the heavy rain and wind to get outside with my wind meter and I was seeing gusts of up to 62 MPH. Nothing compared to what those poor people who’ve gotten hit by the hurricanes have had to endure, true. But for us this is pretty extreme. Especially at this time of year.

Then we got nailed by the rain. Here at the house we got 4 1/2 inches of rain in just two hours. It was very spotty, though. A short distance away they got almost nothing.

IMG_0707And the poor pear tree… Well, so much for the pears this year. We had a small yield to begin with. The storm seems to have stripped every single fruit off the poor tree. Nothing can really be salvaged, either. When they hit the ground they hit hard, and the fruit is generally ruined, smashed, burst open, and immediately the insects move in. So all we’re going to get this year are the couple of dozen we picked already. Seems like such a waste, but there isn’t anything to be done about it.

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The great nutrient collapse

The atmosphere is literally changing the food we eat, for the worse. And almost nobody is paying attention. Source: The great nutrient collapse

I don’t lead off these epistles with links to outside sources very often, but this one at Politico, of all places, is a wee bit scary and it’s something that effects all of us because it’s about our food.

So here’s the background: We’ve known for some time that the nutrient density in the plants we eat has dwindled over the last century. Concentrations of minerals, vitamins, etc. in plants has been shrinking. Our produce, on average, now has fewer nutrients per kilo of plant material than it had when the measurements first began. It’s been assumed that there were two reasons why.

First, our farming techniques have changed drastically over the last hundred years. We’ve moved to “industrial” farming, which relies on heavy applications of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. By dramatically altering the environment the plants grow in, we’ve also alters the chemical composition of the plants.

Second, over the centuries we’ve bred plants to grow faster, produce more fruit or grain, and to produce fruits that last longer after picking and which are tough enough to tolerate rough harvesting and shipping conditions. When selecting plants for these traits, we’ve often ignored things like the nutrient content of the plant and flavor. So we’ve ended up with plants that produce fruit that can be stored longer, is easier to harvest, etc. but which is lower in nutrients and flavor.

But that isn’t all that’s been going on, it seems. Apparently increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere seem to have played a significant role in decreasing the nutrient levels in plants.

Maybe… The thing is, this is difficult to test for. The testing requires extensive, difficult to accomplish, and rather expensive experiments, and while there are scientists who would like to do the testing, it has been difficult to get funding to actually do it.

As of right now I don’t think the science is actually settled. The preliminary testing that has been done tends to support the belief that increased atmospheric CO2 levels can indeed result in lower nutrition levels in the plants. But there is still a lot we don’t know. We also don’t know how serious of a problem this may be. A  lot more testing and experiments need to be done to answer all of the questions that need answers.

Changes. Enjoy the Flowers While We Can

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting noticeably shorter, temperatures are getting cooler. The leaves on the trees are beginning to change color. I’ve said before that I like winter, I love the fall. But I’m rather reluctant to let go of summer and embrace the change of season this year.

IMG_0678We still have brilliant flowers growing outside, but knowing that it’s only a matter of a few weeks before they begin to fade is kind of sad.

And the weather, at least this week, doesn’t have much of an autumnal flavor. After days of daytime temps not much more than the mid-fifties and night time temperatures down in the forties, it hasn’t been exactly summery out.

But yesterday it hit the high seventies, and for the next few days the highs are supposed to be in the low 80s. So we’re going to enjoy it while we can.

IMG_0679The gardens here are doing reasonably well for this time of year. Still lots and lots of flowers, the squash are amazing. This is the first year we grew squash and it’s been more successful than we could have hoped. It looks like we’re going to have a couple of dozen acorn and butternut squash from those few plants.

Alas, the same can’t be said for the tomatoes and peppers that were in the raised beds. Last year the raised beds were amazing. This year… The tomatoes; we know what happened with them. They picked up a fungus because of the wet weather we had all spring and well into summer. And we planted them too close together so there was poor air circulation. That combined to take out the tomatoes early this year. We got enough to make some soup and sauce, but less than a third of the production we should have had.

IMG_0680Not sure what happened with the peppers. I suspect some kind of insect damage plus the wet weather was too much for them. The sweet bells in that bed didn’t even flower. The banana peppers and hot peppers did have some yield, but not as much as they should have had. The peppers we planted in other locations did just fine.

Something in the soil? Don’t know. I may end up digging out all of the soil in both of the raised beds and replacing it this fall just to see what happens. They’re only 8X4 so it wouldn’t be a huge operation to do it. We’ll see.

This week I’ll probably get started doing the usual fall cleanup, starting with the tomatoes and the peppers that haven’t been producing. No point in keeping either of those. The tomatoes, well, they’re all pretty much dead anyway, and it’s pretty obvious that except for the banana peppers we aren’t going to get anything from the IMG_0681others, so there’s no point in leaving them there and we might as well haul them down to the compost pile.

One thing I’ve noticed all season long is a lack of bees. Until recently, I hadn’t seen a single honey bee around. A few bumble bees, but that’s it. That’s probably why the pear tree hasn’t produced the way it usually does. When it was in flower there were almost no bees at all around here. Probably also why the cucumber production has been so poor. The plants are doing well and flowering beautifully, but very little fruit.

One good sign is that yesterday the sedum were loaded with honey bees. Dozens of them were zooming down on the sedum flowers. A bit late, but still nice to see.

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Brrr. And Stuff

Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 7.29.39 AMWith early morning temperatures hovering in the mid 40s around here, the dawn bike rides have pretty much come to an end for the season. I have to put it off until close to mid day when the temps get up to around 60 or so. This upcoming week is supposed to be warmer, but I have to face the fact that the bike season is going to be over in the very near future and it’s going to be back to walking and jogging to try to get exercise, so I’d better check out the treadmill and make sure it’s in good shape. A lot of streets here in town don’t have sidewalks at all, so if you’re a walker/runner you’re either forced out onto the slush and salt covered streets and risking cracking your head open when you slide on the ice, or you look for indoor alternatives.

IMG_0053Despite the cold mornings, it’s still amazingly beautiful out there. I’m determined to enjoy it while I can because it isn’t going to be long before it looks like this over there on the right.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m one of those weird people who actually likes winter. But even I have to admit that as I get older my tolerance for cold has diminished.

I keep telling myself every winter that I really need to get outside with the camera because snowscapes and winter scenes can be amazingly beautiful. But then there’s the whole thing with the feet turning into blocks of ice, fingers going numb, the camera’s focus freezing up and all that.

Equifax debacle – By this time you’ll have heard about the Equifax data theft incident where apparently everyone’s SS number, name, address, date of birth and other identifying information was stolen. Basically if you’ve ever had a credit card, applied for a loan, etc., your data was in the system and it got stolen. Mine did, my kids’ data, my wife’s… Pretty much everyone I know who’s checked was hit.

So if you’re wondering if you’re one of us, you almost certainly are. I won’t give you the web address to go to check at Equifax. That info is available all over. Just make sure you go to the right one and not some phishing site. You can be sure that in the coming days the scammers will be trying to take advantage of the situation with phony credit monitoring services and other BS. So be careful out there.

If you’ve been hit, what do you do? Do you sign up for the one year of free monitoring the company is offering? How much good it will do is questionable, but it might give an early alert if something starts to happen. The thing is, the company is only offering you one year of free monitoring, but that data that was stolen is going to be out there forever. Just because it wasn’t used in one year doesn’t mean it won’t be used next year, or the year after.

You should seriously consider freezing your credit entirely. Yes, you can do that. If nothing else, that should prevent scammers from using your identity to open up new lines of credit, take out loans in your name, etc. You have to do it with all three credit bureaus, and there are fees involved. That depends on the state you live in.

I’m going to do something I don’t normally do very often, recommend someplace to go to for advice and information. That’s Clark Howard’s website .  Clark Howard’s website will give you information on what to do, how to monitor your credit for fraud, and how to freeze your credit.

I’ve heard of several incidents where the Equifax site is giving conflicting information about whether or not a person has been hit by this. One person checked on the Equifax site and was told it “appeared” they were not. She checked again a few hours later, and was then told she was. She went through the process again a short time later, and was told again that she wasn’t. In any case, Equifax isn’t giving any firm answer. There are a lot of “might”, “maybe”, “apparently” and other weasel words being used with no actual confirmation.

There are a whole lot of questions that need to be answered over this. Like how did this happen? Why wasn’t this data heavily encrypted so even if it was stolen it would be useless? And why did two or more corporate officers sell their stock in the company after the breech was discovered but before the data theft was made public?

I can’t leave you all depressed and worried, so here’s a flower to cheer you up.

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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.