Category Archives: Nature

Early May

Today’s post comes from Ben.

Mid June. It’s dry, we need some rain. Corn is curling up from the heat. My crops look terrible this year. Corn was planted a little light in the first place, then it didn’t emerge well, and now it’s dry and the deer are eating it… GDU’s: 946 to date, +291 above normal.

Oat’s is just about to head out, in fact it will be by the time you read this, – seems later than some varieties, and this is a new variety for me so… I guess it’s OK; better not to be headed out when it was so hot, the heat just boils the milk out of the heads anyway.

I told Kelly the crops are all in that adolescent stage and they all look terrible. Corn is knee high already, well, some of it.

Soybeans are getting there, look OK when you look down the row, then I look across the field and see all the skips and misses and it looks terrible again.

Back in blogworld, I finished planting soybeans on May 10th. That’s ahead of most years. Some years I’m still working on corn at that point.

When planting any crops, the trick is to have just enough seed to finish, without having too much left over to clean out of the planter. Soybeans are easy because the rows don’t really matter for harvesting, so I can just drive any which way in the field to run out the seed. Remember I had plugged up every two rows? I pulled the tape off and planted at 7” rows just to use up the seed. Once around the outside of one field did it. Oats is the same. I mean I try to figure it so there’s not a lot left in the first place, then just run it empty.

Corn is a little harder as the rows have to line up. I save the left over seed to use next year and the unopened bags can be returned to the dealer.

After planting soybeans, some guys run over them with a large roller, to smooth the field. Soybeans make a pod clear down at the ground, so at harvest, you want to cut as low as possible without picking up rocks or running too much dirt into the combine. Rolling the field pushes down rock and levels out any lumps to make combining easier.

I don’t have a roller. But I have a drag and decided to try that. Haven’t used it in 20 years. And I half expected when I pulled it out of the weeds it would just disintegrate. But no, it held together, and I ran it over all my bean acres. It did help smooth things out.  

Time to clean up machinery.

I feel like I’m making dumb mistakes again. Got the pressure washer out and had a tip plugged up. I’m supposed to remember to check them before I start. But I didn’t. So now it’s all pressurized and I can’t get anything apart. I should have let it sit for a few minutes and the pressure would bleed off and I could get it apart. But I got in a hurry. Using pliers and a hammer I got the ‘quick connector’ apart and the tip shot into the air and it never came down. I put on a different tip (I have three different tips that are different spray widths), I didn’t get this one snapped in right and when I pulled the trigger, it shot it off somewhere over by the feed room and I haven’t found it yet. Sigh.

The third tip was plugged up and I WAS smart enough to let the pressure drain before I took it off and got it to the shop and cleaned out. I’m trying foam wash this year. Also tried ‘Simply Green’ cleaner. Not sure how much they help but it all smells better.

Cleaned out fertilizer wagon, washed the grain drill, and the corn planter. There are lots of nooks and crannies to get into. Made notes of things worn out that will need to be replaced before planting next year. I had a minor leak on a hydraulic hose that was spraying a little oil on the back of the tractor. By the time I finished planting, the back of the tractor was covered with oily dirt.

The next day I had some township stuff in the morning. Paul, one of the other township supervisors, and I picked up garbage someone had dumped in a ditch, and we looked at some culverts. Paul works for crop insurance and we talked about how some guys were using a rotary hoe on their corn. A ‘rotary Hoe’ is one of those tools you only need to use about once every 10 years. This would have been the year to have one. I have a really old one; it doesn’t actually help much. And I was afraid the corn was already too tall.  

Saw Orioles one day; Put the oriole feeder and hummingbird feeder out. Haven’t seen the Orioles again. But we have two Hummingbirds that are often at the feeder. Maybe there’s more than two, but I have seen two at the same time.

At the front door we have a pair of barn swallows. We really enjoy them and their chirps and their flight patterns. They have a nest to the left of the front door. Now they have a nest to the right of the door, too. And both nests are occupied. I wonder if it’s parents and kids??

They do make a poopy mess, but we put cardboard down and they’re pretty tolerant of us coming and going.

Finally got .22 inches of rain on the 19th. And from then until May 29th we had 2.5”. And since then, hot and dry. No wonder the corn looks so rough. It sure looked bad after that frost. And the uneven emergence didn’t help anything.

Finally cleaned out the tractor cab too. By this time, there’s quite a collection of ‘Nutty Bar’ wrappers, and dirty paper towels. And some tools, and golf balls, and whatever else I’ve picked up in the fields.

I carry a little whisk broom (a trick I learned from a youtube farmer) Millennial Farmer, Zach Johnson,

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCp0rRUsMDlJ1meYAQ6_37Dw

Next week I’ll do an up to date crop report.

Do you have any cleaning tricks? How bad do you let things go before you clean?

Lest we ForgeT

My cousin who recently died loved butterflies. As her casket was lowered into the ground, those in attendance set free butterflies they had been given, housed in paper packages. Her sister ordered them half frozen, packaged them, thawed them, and then distributed them to be released at the appointed time. They were Painted Lady butterflies. I will never see a butterfly and not think about my cousin.

As we drove home on Friday, we passed these long rows of trees, each about half a mile long and about 100 feet apart, planted many years ago about 15 miles from our town. They were planted to combat erosion in the 1930’s. When my dad lived with us just before he died, he said those trees always reminded him of Franklin Roosevelt. Now, when I see them, I think of my dad and Franklin Roosevelt. How interesting that one thing can remind us of other, non-related things.

What reminds you of people or things? What do you want people to see that reminds them of you?

Making Friends with…

I believe that, as I write this on Friday June 11, we are in our 7th consecutive day in the 90s. I am not a happy camper. I wilt any time the thermometer rises above 80, especially if humidity accompanies the heat. Husband usually loves heat, to a point, and tolerates it much better than I, so we have what I call the A/C wars, just like my folks had. [Mom would just hole up in the air conditioned rooms, and Dad would hang out in his room (nice large one with its own sitting area and TV) with the window open – he had a nice magnolia tree right outside the window.] I can do climate control with shades in windows in the a.m., but by mid-afternoon I need A/C.I just looked ahead via Weather.com:  between now and June 24 in SE Minnesota, there is one (1) day when the high is predicted to be below 85˚ F.  And we are in a bit of a drought – greatest chance of rain predicted in that time frame here is 56% chance today, and there’s not yet a cloud in the sky.

So an interesting thing happened after I got up this morning – I’d had a really nice and complicated dream in the wee hours, and wakened with a pretty strong shift in attitude:  I am going to Make Friends with the heat. It could be that our entire summer will be like this, and I do not wish to be miserable all summer. Instead of hating and grousing about it, I will embrace it, and do what I can to enjoy it. This will mean shifting my schedule, my way of doing things, where I do things, and perhaps what things I do. And I may have to buy awnings or screens to create more shade for the patio out back (and my out-the-back-door summer kitchen – worth perhaps another blog post).

There is shade on our back patio till about 10:30, and there was a little breeze this morning. I invited a nearby friend over for ice water, if she could come by 8:30. (She’s an early riser.) After that I placed a lawn chair in the driveway under the beloved Hackberry Tree, and till about noon I perused my recipe books for chilled soup recipes. I have fans on right now, and am about to go to the NICE COOL BASEMENT to clean it up and find some sewing projects, perhaps clear a place that we could play Mexican Train. Once the A/C has cooled things off upstairs, I can watch movie clips for a zoom class I’m taking on Musical Theater…

In other words, I’m trying.

How are you coping with this heat wave so far?

Is there anyone or anything you might “make friends” with that could make your life easier?

June Farming

Man, hot enough for you? I keep talking about ‘GDU’s… Growing Degree Units. But they only count for temperatures between 50 and 86 degrees.

The corn, and even the oats, got a little burned by the frost a week ago. Another week it will look better as it grows out of this, but right now, it all looks kinda rough.

Back in blogworld, it’s the first week of May and I’m getting ready to plant soybeans. After farming pretty heavy for a couple weeks I had to get back into the college for a few days. The last two springs, Covid did give me an opportunity to stay home and farm like I did before the college job. And it was pretty nice. I’m lucky that I have this job where I can sort of set my own hours. So, I’d do college work from home in the mornings, then take the afternoons off to farm.

I had the Township Road inspection one morning. Once per year, all five of us township supervisors gather in one vehicle and drive all our township roads making note of any road issues. Our township, Haverhill Township in Olmsted County, has about 32 miles of gravel roads. We put new gravel on 1/3 of the gravel roads each year and patch any area that might need rock. We check culverts, washed out road sides, ditches that have too steep of a shoulder, and generally make a game plan of things we need to have fixed this year. That takes the full morning and I got home about 1:00. Last year we didn’t ride together. It’s a good group of guys and we have a good time driving around and talking. 

The music department had a small concert schedule for Wednesday evening. There is no band program, but there was the choir and the ‘World Drum Ensemble’ so they wanted to have a concert. The choir director is a new guy; I haven’t even met him. There were some last-minute emails, I roughed in some lights, put the choir shells up, pulled the piano out, and added some more lights. Sixteen years ago, when I started at the college, it was really frustrating to have concerts with no rehearsal. Now I’m kinda used to it. Obviously, rehearsals are better and make a better show, but I manage. It went well.

The next farm job is fertilizer for the soybeans. I use a broadcast spreader for that. Just like the one I used for oats. It’s almost the same fertilizer blend as I used for corn, and I have some corn fertilizer left in the wagon. I generally order extra because I know I can use it up on the soybeans. I pulled the corn fertilizer wagon out and get the fertilizer spreader lined up and I auger the corn fertilizer into the spreader. Fertilizer doesn’t slide very well, and it sticks together so eventually I will have to climb into the box with a shovel and move the fertilizer down to the auger. There’s no danger to myself, or of getting into the auger, as the door is only open about 3”.

Well, there is the danger that I can’t get back out of the wagon box or the ladder outside falls over. A few year ago, with a different wagon, I had to call the house and ask my son to come out and lower the wagon so I could get back out… he doesn’t let me forget that. But that doesn’t happen with this wagon because it doesn’t tip up like that one did.

Once it’s all transferred, it looks like rain so I don’t want to go too far from home. I think I’ll start around here and see what happens. I get started but it’s sprinkling a little bit and I go home and put the tractor and spreader in the shed. The rain doesn’t amount to anything and two minutes later I’m back out. I fill the tractor with fuel and decide to go to my rented land a couple miles away. It sprinkles a little bit, but not enough to be a problem.

Driving on the highway with farm machinery can be nerve-racking. People will pass at the most inopportune times. I have signals on the tractor, but you can’t really see them with the fertilizer wagon. If I’m going to make a turn, I kinda move to the middle of the road to prevent people from passing me, but that one person still does…what an idiot. I’m lucky I don’t have to drive on the highway very far or very often. If you’re following farm machinery on the road, please, give us some room, don’t pass in no passing zones, and for goodness sakes, don’t try to squeeze through between us on the shoulder and the oncoming traffic! It’s nuts what some drivers will do.

I saw a pair of geese and a pair of ducks over on the land I rent. Normally I only see golf balls in this field.

I’ve picked up a lot of golf balls over there. I enjoy the stuff rolling around the cab. Bailey doesn’t like it when she rides with me. Finished that and got back home and finish spreading fertilizer on the fields around here. It’s raining pretty good now and, starting to stick to the tires, but other than making a mess on the road, it doesn’t really hurt anything.

FYI, my ‘go-to’ snacks in the tractor are the Little Debbie Nutty Bars and Clif bars. Plus water. The cab is littered with nutty bar wrappers.

The next day I did some fieldwork, Brother Ernie came out and did some more and I got going on soybeans and had 21 acres planted at 9 PM. Twenty-one acres is nothing for most farmers. It’s a good day for me.

Soybeans can be planted in rows 7” apart, or 15” apart, or 30” apart. The total population is the same for all of them, it’s just more or less plants in the row. Generally, around 150,000 plants / acre. Soybean seed size changes year to year and the bag will tell you how many seeds / lb. I prefer 15” rows because the rows will canopy sooner and stop weeds coming up between the rows. However, there are some soybean diseases that thrive in damp, conditions, so 7” rows will stay damp longer than 30” rows. Six of one, half dozen of another.

I can use the corn planter (If I put special bean meters on the seed boxes) and that does the best job of seed depth and seed spacing (just like corn) except it’s only 30” rows unless I go over it twice, off set 15” to make 15” rows. That works, it just takes twice as long. (There are 15” row planters. It’s just $$,$$$)  Or I can adjust the settings on the drill, plug up every other row, and do 15” rows with that. Seed spacing is “clumpier”, for lack of a better word, just due to how the drill feeds out the seed. But it works. And this year, just for something different, I plugged two rows, left one open, plugged two, open, ect, and I’m trying 21” rows. Yields are pretty much the same for 15” or 30”. So, what the heck, I just figured I’d try. I have some treated soybean seed and some non-treated. Just like I talked about with the corn, soybean seed is treated for insects and pathogens in the soil in case it sits there a long time before emergence. Typically, because soybeans are planted after corn, the weather is warmer, the soil is warmer, and the beans don’t stay underground too long. But you just never know. And since the seed was ordered in December, it’s another way to hedge my bets. You can see it here: non treated seed on the left, treated seed on the right.

A pretty good day, nothing broke, everything worked well.

Any concert or musical event you are looking forward to this year?What was the last concert you saw?

Luna’s Great Leap

I have written before about our cat’s fascination with my Julbocken, the Scandinavian straw goats popular at Christmas. She loves to chew on the wheat berries at the end of the straw sprigs that make up the beards. Last Christmas I left them out in the living room instead of putting them back in the closet in January. I had repaired the beard of the largest Julbock and festooned him with a lovely beard and wanted to show him off.

I had three Julbocken and an Austrian straw girl on top of a curio cabinet that I thought was out of the cat’s range for leaping. The figures were at an awkward angle to jump to from the love seat (or so I thought). I thought the angle and the narrowness of the surfaces would dissuade her from leaping. I would sometimes see Luna, the cat, stare intently up at the figures from the floor, as if calculating what she needed to do to get up there. The other evening I heard a strange yowling, and I entered the living room to see her on top of the curio cabinet feasting on the repaired beard of the largest julbock. I got Luna down and put the goats back in the closet. I left the girl, since she had no berries to chew on.

A few days later I took this photo, that I think captures Luna calculating how to make another leap.

She hasn’t, to my knowledge, leapt again to the top of the curio cabinet. The girl has been left undisturbed. Luna isn’t a very active cat, but she is far more calculating than I would have imagined.

When have you taken a calculated risk? Did it work out for you? Who are the most successful risk takers you know?

Role Models

About two weeks ago, Husband and I were in the front yard veggie garden planting tomatoes and peppers. This was unusual for us, as we never, as a rule, put tender plants outside until after Memorial Day. The weather here is too unpredictable, and there is often a late frost. This year I convinced myself that it would be different, as the weather service stated the chance of frost in our region was very low for the rest of the month.

One of our neighbors stopped by to ask what we were doing. We explained, and he said it was good information, as he always watched us to see when it was time to plant. I was rather taken aback by this, and felt pretty guilty as last week, we had to cover our tomatoes and peppers because the weather service was wrong, and temperatures were predicted to reach 31 last Friday night. Moreover, there was light snow predicted, and a high wind warning. I don’t know if the neighbor took our cue and planted his garden. I sure hope not.

We dutifully covered our plants with large tarps. Nothing froze, but it made me again vow I would never plant before Memorial Day. I don’t know if I like being a role model. I make mistakes. I don’t want people to emulate my mistakes. I never had any siblings I had to be a role model for, and I can imagine it must be really annoying to be in that position.

Were you ever considered a role model for others? Who were your role models? Ever felt like a fraud?

April Showers

First part of June. Everything is growing, been a wet week, a little over 1.5” for us and a nice gentle rain. Just had a real cool spell; we had 31 degrees down in our valley… will have to wait a few days to see if there was enough frost to kill the soybeans that are 2” tall or was the dirt warm enough and releasing enough heat to keep it OK.

Back in blogworld, still planting corn.

My brother, Ernie came out again. I appreciate Ernie‘s help; he’s not a natural, but it gets done and it sure saves me time. It’s interesting what he remembers and how things have changed. The fields roads he remembers that I haven’t used in 30 years. Kinda fun to hear his memories.

It’s very dry;

The weather channel keeps predicting rain, but the arrival time gets pushed back and chances diminish until now there’s only a 30% chance and yet I’m watching a big red storm cell out the window as I try to finish planting this one field. Finally, when this dark cloud is almost on me, I lock everything up and make a run for home. The fertilizer wagon does not have a cover and it’s sitting outside so it needs to get in the shed before it gets rained on. I get everything under the roof with seconds to spare as it starts to rain. And then rain hard. And then it starts to hail. Five minutes of pea size hail. I put the pick-up truck in the shed because I’m right there and I know the key is in it. I put the gator in the shed because that’s close and the key is in it. My car key is in the house. Priorities you know: truck then gator and then the car. 

7/10 of an inch of rain in about 10 minutes. The worst time of year for heavy rains like this, all this freshly worked soil. Could be worse. I can see water standing in the fields already, I can see where it’s run through the fields. Some small, shallow gully’s, but it hasn’t really hurt much. It will soak in quick. Ended up with 1.1 inches of rain total. Looking at weather maps, there was a narrow band of us that got over an inch. Most people only had half an inch.

The next morning I did Computer stuff in the morning, made maps for the co-op for spraying, made a Menards and Fleet Farm run, refilled LP tanks for the BBQ grill, took the maps to the Co-op in Plainview, made a few phone calls, picked up three more bags of corn seed just in case I run out, and check township roads for new rock.

Unloaded the truck, set up straw bales for garden, and spend some time watching the chicks.

We moved them into the bigger pen yesterday.

I spent Friday morning at my moms, delivered Straw Friday afternoon and saw baby goats there. All the neighbors are out in the field and I still think my fields are too wet.

Saturday morning had someone pick up straw, then delivered Straw to Winona and had our first meal out in over a year at a little bar in Wikota MN. Our first meal out should have been better than this…

Finished planting corn, did some fieldwork, and had friends out for pizza on the deck. First time for pizza with friends in over a year. 

Talking rain Sunday. 

I go to mom’s in the morning again, rain isn’t predicted until 4 o’clock Sunday. I rent 10 acres down the road; I got that dug up and a couple fields at home dug up, so the spring flush of weeds has been dug up at least once in every field.

I’m racing a rainstorm again even though no rain is predicted until 11 o’clock PM. It’s 2:00 PM. Darn weathermen…

Daughter is home alone when I see some big lightning strikes. I head for home. Power is out; fuse on pole blown meaning lightning hit a line fairly close. Rain amounts to 15 drops. Didn’t I just tell daughter that storms don’t usually cause power outages? How rare that really is? Thanks Lightning.

Soybean fertilizer next. 

What’s the biggest hail storm you’ve been in?

Songs to plant beans by

If any Baboons chance to drive past my house today, they might see a strange sight. They might see me and hear me singing in the garden.

Last winter we got some Arikara bean seeds from a friend of ours from the Reservation. They are a bush bean that produces brown shellout beans. Our friend got them from a tribal elder some time ago. He is a pretty marginal gardener and he gave us the beans to grow in our garden. He is very excited for us to grow them, but he said there were a few things I had to do in order to plant them successfully.

First, I have to wear an apron and a scarf while I plant them. He told me his grandmother wore that when she planted and she was a good gardener. Second, I have to sing to the beans when I plant them. He wasn’t sure of the tune, since his grandmother whistled a barely discernible tune through her teeth while she planted. Oh, and I should make up some words to go with the song. He said not to worry if our Hidatsa pole beans felt jealous. They would be just fine.

My friend’s bean planting instructions are just like the directions he gives to find places on the Reservation-without GPS or a map you would never find your way.

I asked another Native friend what she would sing to the beans, and she said it was important that I compliment them. She is from the Cheyenne River Reservation and is Lakota. (In the same conversation I asked her the address of her new house. She said she wasn’t sure, but I could find it if I went down that one alley, the one with the 15 cats, and then turned left.) I mentioned her lyric suggestion to my bean bestowing friend, and he totally disagreed (Arikara and Lakota rarely agree), saying I had to plead with the beans when I planted them, telling them how much our survival depends on them.

I chose the tune to the Glow-Worm song, and came up with these lyrics:

Grow pretty beans, please heed us, heed us.

We need you so to feed us, feed us.

You’ll make us strong, please don’t take long, so grow pretty  beans, please grow

Part of me thinks that my Native friends are pulling my leg, but hey, if it helps the garden, why not?

Make up some bean growing lyrics. Choose whatever tune you wish. How are you at giving directions?

RIP Eric Carle

Sad news in the world today.  Eric Carle, the prolific and colorful children’s author has passed away at the age of 91.  He was born in 1929 in Syracuse but moved to Germany when he was six; his mother was German and missed her homeland.  He eventually returned to the States as a young man and his first job was graphic designer for The New York Times. 

In 1967 Bill Martin, a children’s author, noticed Carle’s illustration of a red lobster and suggested that they work together. Brown Bear, Brown Bear became and instant and runaway best-seller and Carle’s career as a childrens book author and illustrator was on its way.

Even if you’re not very familiar with his many books, you might recognize his very distinctive style.  Using hand-painted paper, he did collages in startlingly bright colors and his favorite themes involved animals and nature.

I’m too old to have had Eric Carle books when I was a kid but I discovered him when I was working at the bookstore and I was happy to add some of his titles to YA’s collection when she was little.  Like many children, her favorite was The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Carle wrote this in 1969 and it’s been his most popular title every since.  It has sold almost 50 million copies worldwide and has been translated into at least 40 languages.   YA also liked Brown Bear, Brown Bear – it’s very lyrical and the repetitions made it easy to memorize.

Of course, MY favorite is Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?  I still have it in my collection.

Did you have any books memorized when you were a kid? 

Infernal combustion

Husband has always considered it his job to mow the lawn. Most of the yard is flower beds, vegetable gardens, and strawberry and raspberry patches. There isn’t much to mow.

I usually mowed the lawn when I lived with my parents after about Grade 6. It was easy. The lawnmower was always well maintained by my father, who loved tinkering and was very mechanically minded. I, too, am very mechanically minded and love to tinker, but while he taught me basic car maintenance, like how to change the oil on my car, Dad never taught me the finer points of small engine maintenance.

My husband is a very scholarly fellow who can write and reason with the best of them, but who was never taught how to fix things. His father was very unhandy. So was his uncle, who somehow was an engineer in a nuclear power plant in Ohio. (He had trouble replacing blades in his own razor.)

We have not had good luck with our mowers. I imagine sitting in the garage all winter without any preparation or winterizing, and then being expected to burst into action in the spring with just a little oil added isn’t the best way to deal with these engines. Last weekend, Husband tried to mow, but the thick smoke pouring from the mower was so noxious for us and the neighbors that he stopped in disgust. We had even had it looked at last fall by a small engine repair guy, but it was not helpful.

We made a trip to Menards and Husband bought an old fashion reel mower, what I would call a push mower. Today he assembled it all by himself while I was at work, and mowed our lawn. No more smoke. No more anxiety every spring if the lawnmower will work. We just have to figure out how to sharpen the blades.

How are you at fixing things? How do you maintain your lawnmower? What are your experiences with reel mowers?