Category Archives: 2022

Bags

This week’s Farm Report comes to us from Ben.

The weather warmed up and I got the car washed. For now.

And now It’s snowing and cold again. Oh well. It’s January in Minnesota.

The ducks and chickens did enjoy the melting snow and grass coming out of the snow; they really like having some dirt to scratch in. Everyone was enjoying the sun.

 The chickens don’t like to walk through too much snow. They’ll do a little, especially if they know there’s some dirt beyond it. Except this white chicken.

She doesn’t seem to care about the snow. Kelly calls her “sturdy and hearty”. Yeah, well, she’s something all right. She’s mean too. She will cut you! Reach under her for an egg and she’ll bite and twist and not let go!  

Daughter and I took all three dogs to the vet this week; they all needed shots. And we got ice cream. Also signed papers for the loans for corn and soybean seed. And on the way home, picked up a ton of ‘egg layer’ ration for the chickens. Thank goodness for pallet forks.

We pour a 50 pound bag of egg layer into a container mounted on the wall, then fill the chickens feeders from there. If I leave the bag on the ground, the chickens will peck a hole in it. And I don’t use enough to warrant getting it in bulk.

It makes me think of how much stuff used to come in bags. I’ll be interested in Clyde’s memories of this.

For my dad, I suppose in the 1940’s there wasn’t so much stuff in bags as they used their own corn for seed and there wasn’t commercial fertilizer or feed supplements. In my childhood, we were always going to pick up feed, seed, fertilizer, and supplements. There were always bags of something around.

I remember a truck coming late winter early spring loaded with several tons of fertilizer bags. I was too small to help or maybe in school, but one day the corner of the shed would be filled with bags of corn starter fertilizer. Seems like those were 60 or even 80 lb bags. My dad was strong! I think he worked a lot harder than I do; just the sheer physical labor of everything back then compared to what I do now. When planting time came, he would load those fertilizer bags into the truck and then dump them into the planter every few acres. Those bags were handled 3 times. Now I get it all delivered in bulk truck, put in the wagon, and unloaded via auger. Pretty easy for me.

The milk cows got protein supplements added to their feed. I used to buy that in bags. Fifty pounds each, and I’d get 500 or 1000 lbs. Sometimes 2000 lbs at once; it just depended on the checkbook I think. Eventually I put up a bulk bin and then I could order a ton or two and another truck with an auger would unload it. I still carried bushel baskets of ground corn to the cows, but it was a bulk truck that delivered the corn and unloaded it into the barn. When we picked our own ear corn, we had to grind it before feeding it to the cows. After I went to shelled corn, the co-op would crack it before delivering.  I remember dad having a “hammer mill” to grind up the corn. The mill sat down by the barn and first he’d have to shovel ear corn from the crib into the truck, then shovel the corn in the hammer mill, which pulverized it via swinging metal bars, called hammers, hence “Hammer mill”. (Let’s not forget, he may have had to pick that corn by hand, throw it in a wagon, and shovel it into the crib in the first place! Read more about hammer mills here: https://tinyurl.com/4tjv8ac4

Eventually he bought a ‘Grinder Mixer’, which was a hammer mill and tank on wheels. We took that to the crib, shoveled the corn ONCE into the grinder, added minerals if needed and it all mixed up and it had an auger that we could unload into the barn. I shoveled a lot of ear corn to grind feed. Had to do that every 10 days or so. The mixer held about 5000 lbs.  And you don’t see them too much anymore. Different ways of feeding cattle that are less labor intensive.

My seed still comes in bags, but for the bigger farmers, some of the seed is starting to come in bulk. Soybeans mostly. Sometimes wheat or other small grains depending how they do it.

Before I bought the pallet forks and had this building, When I got chicken feed or milk cow protein, it was put in an old building called the ‘blue building’ because it used to be blue. It was faded and dull white as I remember it. When we picked up the feed from the coop, it was loaded into the truck from their pallets by hand, then unloaded at home, bag by bag into the blue building.  Then I’d haul them to barn as needed, usually 4 or 5 at a time every week. There was a just a lot more daily chores. And it wasn’t “work”, it was just part of the day. I was talking with daughter about that. I never said I was “going to work”, it was just “going outside” and that might mean milking cows, grinding feed, hauling bags, or who knows what.

Have I mentioned how hard my dad worked? So much has changed, so much has gotten physically easier in farming.

What do you think of milk in bags?

More or less bags in your life these days?

How Many Times are a Charm?

As you all know, I have an ancient house; it is not the easiest to heat.  Ten years ago, when the Airport Commission replaced our upstairs windows, the house became harder to heat evenly7.  The windows are not only great sound abatement but they hold the hot air in really effectively.  This means that during really cold weather, the temperature difference between the downstairs and the upstairs is significant.

On Sunday morning, I lingered upstairs, reading longer than usual and I noticed that it was chillier than usual.  Since it was well below zero outside, I didn’t think too much about it but as I descended the stairs for breakfast, it felt like I was entering a walk-in cooler.  A quick look at the thermostat gave me a little shock… 56 degrees.  We have one of those set-back thermostats and it is set quite cold during the night (since we’re in the warmer upstairs, asleep under covers) but the program has it set to start warming up at 6 a.m.  At this point it was after 8 and it still hadn’t warmed up at all. 

I started to panic – I always feel like I’m on the edge where house maintenance is concerned and I envisioned days of frozen fingers and toes.  Then I remembered that I’d had someone out to do boiler maintenance at the end of the summer – so it didn’t seem likely that it was a boiler fail.  And THEN I remembered that quite a few years back, someone coming out to check the heat had discovered that the batteries in my thermostat had died.  Since I can’t remember any time (in years) that I’ve changed those batteries, I thought I would try that. 

I spent a couple of hours checking and re-checking the temperature and the radiators, studiously NOT turning on the oven or the space heater so I could be sure any rise in temp was due to the boiler alone.  It took about 2 ½ hours to get up to 65, at which point I finally breathed a sigh of relief.  I congratulated myself on figuring out the problem on my own.

Monday morning was a splash of cold water in my face.  When I went downstairs, it was 56 degrees again.  After a few seconds of panic, I realized that it was only 6:15 – there hadn’t been enough time for it to warm up yet.  This didn’t keep me from checking several times over the next hour until I was sure everything was fine.  Phew!

When was the last time you got it right but didn’t trust that you got it right?

Two Bits

I see in the news that Maya Angelou is going to gracing our nation’s 25-cent piece this year.  I was actually a little skeptical about this, seeing as how Harriet Tubman hasn’t made it onto the twenty-dollar bill yet and they’ve been talking about THAT for years.

But apparently there is a whole series of 2022 American women quarters planned: Sally Ride, Maya Angelou, Wilma Mankiller, Nina Otero-Warren and Anna May Wong.  While I know Sally Ride (physicist, first American woman in space), Maya Angelou (writer, social activist) and Anna May Wong (first Chinese American film star in Hollywood), I have to admit that I didn’t know the names Wilma Mankiller or Nina Otero-Warren.

Wilma Mankiller was the first woman elected as principle chief of the Cherokee Nation and a lifelong activist for Native American rights.  Her surname Mankiller is a Cherokee name (Asgaya-dihi) and refers to a traditional Cherokee military rank, like major or captain.  She was elected Principle Chief in 1985 and served very successfully for ten years.  She was Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year in 1987, was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton.

María Adelina Isabel Emilia “Nina” Otero-Warren was a woman’s suffragist, educator, politician and the first female superintendent of the Santa Fe public schools.  In her role as superintendent she advocated abolishing the practice of sending Native American children to boarding schools  and sought to integrate ethnic cultures and languages into the New Mexico school curriculum.  She became the Director of Literacy under Franklin Roosevelt and later worked to preserve historic structures in Santa Fe and Taos and continued to promote Native American arts, language and culture.

I wish I had known who they were earlier, but I suppose this is better than never knowing them.  I’ll have to make sure to get one of each of these quarters in the coming year.

Did you ever collect coins?

Prehistoric Critters

I don’t remember why I asked for a DVD of The Cave of Forgotten Dreams from the library.  I had to get it through InterLibrary Loan so it took awhile.  I have a vague memory of seeing something recently about cave art so that is probably it, but I’m not sure I’ll ever remember for sure.

It was captivating to see the cave art (from the Chauvet Cave in southern France) – the public is not allowed in the caves so it felt a little like getting away with something although the scientists and camera crew did have permission.

The film got weird in a few places, a little disconnected and then at the end it got REALLY weird.  In a “postscript”, the film introduces a nuclear power near the caves and then continues to show the crocodiles who have been added to the warm waters of the plant.  Not only that, but some albino crocodiles became the final focus with the film clearly suggesting that they are mutants from radiated water.  This, of course, captured my interest in a big way.  First off, they weren’t crocodiles, they were alligators – classic u-shaped alligator snouts.  But more importantly, why in heaven’s sake would a nuclear power plant build a crocodile farm?

Of course all my questions were answered when I actually looked up at the screen just in time to see “Written, Directed and Narrated by Werner Herzog”.  I don’t know a lot about Herzog but I have seen enough comments over the years to know that he doesn’t use the same definition of “truth” that I do.  This made it incredibly easy to fact-check the crocodile farm story.  The power plant did NOT build the croc farm; it was built by two crocodile enthusiasts.  They are close to the cave and they do use the water from the nuclear power plant but the water is consistently tested and has never shown any radioactivity.  And the albinos?  Imported from a croc farm in the Southern U.S.; they were albino before they even reached the French waters.  Not radioactive mutants.  None of this really explains the purpose of the postscript of the film, but it was interesting research.

The most noteworthy fact I found is that the French croc farm is not the only place on the planet where crocodiles are benefitting from nuclear waters.  Apparently 25% of the crocodiles in the U.S. thrive among the cooling canals at Turkey Point Nuclear Plant south of Miami.  They are protected, having been encouraged there since the discovery of the first nest back in the 70s.  Fascinating.

Have you ever held a baby alligator or crocodile in your hands?  Snake?  Tarantula?  Anything?

Nostalgia

I’m not sure if it’s a pandemic thing but during the last year, I’ve had a greater yearning for tv shows and movies that I haven’t seen for years/decades. 

It started with two movies starring Gene Wilder as Cash Carter: Murder in a Small Town and The Lady in Question.  Gene plays a theatre director who helps the local police solve crimes.  Even though I’ve read that he was kind of a stinker in real life, I adore him on the screen.

Then there were both of the older Death on the Niles, one from the 70s with Peter Ustinov and the David Suchet version.  This is my absolute favorite Agatha Christie and both these versions are pretty true to the book.

Next up came The Girl From Uncle with Stephanie Powers.  It’s very dated but I did love it at the time and am always glad when there is a woman in a leading role, especially where spy/detective stories are concerned.

I’ve looked for years for The Scarecrow.  I hardly remember it except for the song and the shots of Patrick McGoohan with his Scarecrow mask.  It was a short Disney series but for some reason it has stuck in my memory.

And as soon as I started thinking about Patrick McGoohan, I started thinking about The Three Lives of Thomasina.  I talked my parents into taking me to see this three times while it was at the local move theatre.  In addition to the cat and Patrick McGoohan (I had a thing for him early on), I loved the “witch” who lived outside the town who cured the cat.

The latest of my obsessions is Flambards.  It played on PBS in 1980 – I was a young married and I still remember the haunting musical score.  I only saw it that once, but I loved the story of a young girl coming of age in turn of the century (20th) England.  I didn’t realize for many years that it was based on a trilogy of books by K.M. Peyton; I have just recently read the first one.

I searched for all of these movies/shows and didn’t have much luck (David Suchet’s Nile and the first episode of Flambards were available on the internet for a bit).  And I didn’t have much luck with interlibrary loan either – a lot of libraries don’t really want to lend out their DVDs; they show as available but then I get a “sorry” email.  I’m still waiting to hear about Flambards, but for all the others, I eventually went online and purchased them one by one.  This may not seem too remarkable but purchasing DVDs hasn’t been something I do very often and it’s hard not to feel like I’ve been behaving fiscally irresponsible purchasing so many over the course of a year.  But I have truly enjoyed them (over and over again I admit).  I have a friend who weighs purchases by how often they are used – she calls this calculation PPU (price per use) – the more often something is used, the cheaper it gets in her eyes.  By this calculation, I’m practically saving money!

Anything you’ve been nostalgic about lately?

Carwashes

Today’s farm report comes to us from Ben.

It’s January in Minnesota and it’s cold and the duck pond is half frozen over. Plus the car is a mess and it’s too cold to get it washed.

When I was growing up, this wasn’t considered a problem. Other than spraying the car off with a hose once in a while, or letting it sit out in the rain, I hardly ever remember getting the car washed. Kicking off the snow warts was about all that was involved in exterior maintenance of the car. Maybe that was just us. The first car I remember was a Chevrolet; a Bel Air or Impala, or maybe Caprice. They all kinda looked the same, didn’t they? Pea Green. And a Chevy C20 truck that was blue. But I don’t remember either ever being washed or cleaned in any manner. And they weren’t rust buckets.

I got to thinking about carwashes. I remember taking my cars to the hand wash places before prom or something important. Not being really familiar with how they worked, I ran out of time before I had washed all the soap off. I drove out and was drying it outside when the guy who ran the wash, who turned out to be a guy I knew, came over and asked me what I was doing and told me to run it back in again and rinse it off. He paid for that. That was my first car wash lesson.

I have a carwash membership these days. I average about 2 washes per month, which is almost cost effective. I do like the convenience of just being able to go whenever I want. And they’re nice people and I like it when the woman who is the owner is on the wash line because I know I get a better wash when she’s there. I tip the guys too, I think that helps. I don’t get too many washes in January or February. (Another time I sure wish I had a heated garage). And those nice warmer late winter days, there’s 15 cars in line at the wash. Even 5 cars back it takes 20 minutes to get into the wash so I need to plan accordingly and decide if it’s worth it. And it’s just going to get dirty again so I need to justify it in my mind that at least I’m taking the first layer off.

I did some research. The first carwash was created in 1914 in Detroit. Workers pushed the cars through an ‘assembly line’ process and each person had a dedicated job. By 1920 some carwashes had large, shallow, pools to drive around to clean off the tires and undercarriage before moving into a stall for cleaning. The first automated wash came in 1951. 

There have been a lot of innovations and changes. It was interesting to read how brushes were a big deal and if they made to much noise when scrubbing, people didn’t like that. White wall tires were hard to keep clean and several methods were tried including boys in a 4’ deep pit on the sides to scrub those whitewalls with a steam cleaner or brush. Or the method of attaching a log chain to the front bumper to pull that cars through. That worked as long as the driver followed the rules; Sometimes it would pull the bumper off the car. That was fixed by going to ropes instead of chains so at least the rope would break before it pulled the bumper off.

And the carwash people used to get in the car themselves, which some people didn’t like, or maybe the drivers didn’t like the claustrophobia caused by a tunnel, so the washes got taller and wider and windows got added.

Some washes can handle 250,000 – 300,000 cars annually. Or more. *

Considering how much a car costs now, it’s worth keeping clean. Plus, it just feels better to drive a clean car. In fact, that was a jingle from a local carwash place 30 years ago. “You’ll feel better driving a clean car!” Mermaid Carwash hired a lot of high school kids. He paid a bonus if you kept your grades up. I knew a few kids that worked for him and it sounds like he was a good boss. Eventually he was bought out by a chain.

It will warm up here soon then I’ll get the car washed. The truck too.

Ever been part of a carwash event?  Tell us about your carwashes.

Is a Puzzlement…

YA and I both received jigsaw puzzles for the hoidays.  Since I had several days off, I thought it would be fun to get one of them started.  Of course, I should have realized that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree where jigsaw puzzles are concerned.

We started the puzzle about about 1:30 p.m., on the card table in the living room.  We finished the puzzle at 10:15 p.m.  With short timeouts for refreshing a beverage or making a quick sandwich, we both sat at the table until we were finished.

Sitting with her for that length of time I began to see some differences in how we approached the puzzle.  I like to go through all the pieces one by one at the beginning to find the edge pieces.  YA just like to sift through looking for edge pieces.  I tend to look for a piece that fits a particular spot.  YA likes to choose a piece and then figure out where it goes.  (Her method was seriously aided by a large fold out picture of the puzzle – which she hogged most of the day.)

The next morning my friend in Chicago texted me a photo of the puzzle she and her husband were working on.  They have all the pieces sorted by color and instead of assembling all the edges first, they work on sections by color.  It’s fascinating to realize that there are probably many other ways to work on a puzzled that I have never encountered or thought of.  I’m pretty sure that this realization will not change how I like to do puzzles although this will be tested out soon.  YA’s puzzle is made by the same company so I’m assuming it will have a large fold-out picture.  Maybe I can hog it when we sit down to do hers!

Any method to your madness (puzzle or otherwise)?

Money, Money

Today’s Farm Report comes to us from Ben.

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you’re staying warm.

End of the year so I’ve collected all the miles and hours from machinery and cars. Vehicle mileage has been down the last few years with Kelly working at home and my having less shows to work on.

My largest tractor; the one I use primarily for fieldwork, gained 48 hours. About average. And the other tractor that does planting, mowing, and snow moving was used 114 hours. Lawnmower got 34 hours of use, and the Gator, 50 hours and 241 miles, which equals 7 MPH which seems pretty slow on average. The 4-wheeler suffered as we drove the gator so much more. It only got 17 miles of use.

Let’s talk about money. Subsidies to farmers have been in the news lately and I thought some of you may have questions. It’s complicated and I won’t pretend to know all the answers or understand all the political maneuvering that may be going on (who does??) but I’ll tell you how it works for our farm.

Easy stuff first. I’ve talked about having land in the ‘CRP program’, The Conservation Reserve Program. I was working for the Farm Service Agency back in the 1980’s when this program was first created. Its point was always to take marginal land out of traditional row crop farming and get it into some sort of soil conservation program. The trick was, if you were already a fairly responsible farmer and keeping marginal land in grasses or hay, it wouldn’t qualify for the program. So it was sort of only benefiting the, shall we call them the ‘aggressive’ farmers, or the ones using poor soil practices. I don’t want to lump everyone in the same category, but that’s how it worked. The applying farmer would suggest the payment / acre he wanted in return. Maybe $200/ acre / year he would get back in return for not farming this land. And then the government determined what it could afford of the acres submitted and everything under, say $180/ acre was accepted. It was a pretty popular program with good intentions and millions of acres were accepted over the years. I think it’s been pretty popular and well done.

It was 2010 when I offered 14 acres to the program. By this point the rules had changed a bit. I enrolled 14 acres of really prime, flat, farmland. Some of the best on the farm. But it is low, next to Silver Creek, and some years it would be too wet to get planted, or planted late, or flooded out after planting, so I just never knew if it would make a crop or not. Putting it in CRP at least guaranteed a payment of $130 / acre. (The program had a preset price at this point) Less than a good crop, but more than it flooding out. And with no input costs (fieldwork, diesel, seed, fertilizer) it comes out alright. There are some maintenance costs; it’s the field we had burned last spring, and I mow it sometimes in the fall. I took out 3.5 acres when I renewed it for another 10 years.   In 2020, I got $1,824 in CRP payments (14 x 130) and those come from the Federal Government.

Last year, 2020, I got $5,419.77 in subsidies (in addition to the CRP). It’s based on the acres of corn or soybeans we have reported to the FSA that we planted. (Not every crop gets a subsidy. Wheat might. Oats doesn’t) That was the year the former President cut soybean sales to China and crop prices all took a hit. There were several extra payments to make up for that. $5,400 is a lot of money and it really helped my farm cash flow and I’m a small farmer. It would be easy to see bigger farmers getting $54,000 dollars, however their expenses all have that extra zero on the end too. I’m sure there are people taking advantage of the system, but I don’t know how they do it.

I got $1,313 for CRP payments in October of 2021. I added a couple acres this year and all together, it’s paying $137 / acre / year. AND I got $17 as a signing bonus! Subsidy payments this year was $2,080.60. (Plus the CRP payment. AND the $17!) That money came back in April. Honestly, I’m not sure what it was for. They’re based on expected crop prices and usually come in two parts. I think this was part two of last years. Crop prices were better this fall so there wasn’t any extra payments.

The co-op prepared a spread sheet of next years expected prices on fertilizer and chemicals. It’s up significantly from this year. I’m prepaying everything to lock in prices now as they expect more instability and price increases come spring. (Normally I just prepay a few things) I paid $1000 for anhydrous nitrogen in 2021. It’s projected to be $7,000 for 2022. A few chemicals are down a bit, but most are way up. My total projected costs, including the coop doing all the custom applications will be over $26,000. About twice of other years. Again, I’m a small farmer. Add another zero or two for the big guys. And their $54,000 subsidy doesn’t look like so much anymore. I’ll remain optimistic crop prices will stay up and it will rain at all the right times, and I won’t go taking out extra loans for anything.

Not complaining, just telling you how it works.

Pheasants have just started coming to eat corn with the ducks.

Had a bald eagle flying over the farm the other day.

The ducks chose to eat at a new place Friday.

We bought a new heated water bucket for the chickens since we have this bitter cold spell coming on. I’ve used heat lamps before and I’ve used a heated pad the water buckets sit on. Both work OK, but below zero is pretty tough to keep the water open. The coop is an enclosed pen inside another building. When I built the pen I had Styrofoam insulation on the walls. The chickens pecked it all off and ate it. Huh. Didn’t know they’d do that. The heated bucket says it has a 6’ cord. I cannot get it out of the bottom; it seems to be jammed inside, stuck around the supports inside. It was really frustrating me! I spent 5 minutes trying to see in the little opening at the bottom and threatening to cut a hole in the bottom to get the cord out and I got frustrated and headed to the house with it before I realized it’s a bucket within a bucket.  Oh.

They pulled apart and the cord came right out. You gotta be smarter than the bucket, Ben.

Ever kiss anyone special on New Years Eve? Tell us about your favorite Kiss?