Category Archives: Seasons

Locks

The Farming Update comes to us from Ben.

It’s still January in Minnesota and temps are back to normal. I got the car washed a second time just as the cold temps hit and then I went to the gas station and the fuel door is a little bit frozen and I wished I had arms long enough to push the button on the dash and jiggle the fuel door at the same time. Almost wished for the days of regular screw in gas caps.

Last Friday afternoon I discovered a pinhole leak in a water valve in the well house on the pipe going to the barn. I thought there was a little more water on the floor than there should have been and this explains why. It’s always a little damp in there. I just turned off the valve, thanked goodness there wasn’t a barn full of cattle or anything so this isn’t an emergency and called a plumber for Tuesday. $200 later I have a new valve. I regret a little bit that I didn’t just fix this myself…but I hate plumbing and this looked corroded and I really didn’t want to get involved. Work smarter, not harder.

I learned about locks this week. One of the theaters got a new door last Summer, complete with new lock and key. It was decided now was a good time to change out the locks on the other doors to match. I did one lock last week and one lock this week. “Lukus” at the lock shop was very helpful! The first lock was pretty easy. The second one took me three trips to Lukus and I learned to ask more questions. Almost had to make a fourth trip but I found the tiny little set screw I dropped out on the cement. Locks are really interesting to the un-initiated.

We bought some bagels the other day. After the first day, I preferred my bagels toasted. We cut them in half horizontally so there’s a top and bottom. I asked Kelly which side she ate first? We both generally eat the bottom first, then the top. It’s like, do you want the good news first or the bad.

The poofy head ducks are having bad hair days in this cold weather.

Cold water and crazy hair doesn’t work too well.

“LUKUS”- What interesting spelling. Got a favorite or unusual name?

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?

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?

Unprepared

Last evening, our handball choir performed in a musical holiday extravaganza put on by the local college at our church. We played along with the Community choir, college vocal ensembles, college band, and smaller vocal and instrumental ensembles for a very ambitious 90 minute program.

Our practice schedule was interrupted by COVID early in the fall, and we never caught up. We weren’t prepared for all our pieces last night, and our main goals were to not get lost in the music and to end together. Only an experienced bell ringer would have caught our mistakes, but we each felt our individual errors keenly. I made mistakes and got lost in places I never got lost in before. Husband described it afterwards as a musical ordeal. I believe it was Gustav Holst who said that if it is worth doing, it is worth doing badly. We are just relieved it is over and now we can focus on our last two performances on December 17 and 19.

Any performances you would like to forget about? What pageants have you participated in?

Busy Week

The Farm Report comes to us from Ben.

It was a busy week for the Hain farm. After getting the crops out and the soil testing done, I got all the corn ground chisel plow on Saturday. Bailey rode with me all day.

Sunday morning it was warm enough I could use a hose and jet nozzle and clean off the chisel plow and tractor. (Pressure washer is already put away for winter.) I also finally got the garden fence taken down. The garden had been done for a month of course and I left the gate open so the chickens have been in there scratching around, I just hadn’t time to get the fence down. And it was bugging me so I’m glad that’s done.

I ran out of diesel fuel in the barrel when filling the tractor on Saturday. Off road diesel fuel is dyed red and can only be used in off-road equipment like tractors, combines, or construction machinery. The point of dying it is because I don’t have to pay quite so many taxes on off-road fuel.  As I understand it, a DOT inspector might check the fuel tank of an over the road truck and if there are traces of red dye in it you get a hefty fine. Gasoline I pay taxes, but I also get them refund on my tax returns for the gallons used on the farm. Hence we don’t fill the cars with gas from the barrel. When I was a kid we did, then the tax laws changed. My cost for a gallon of diesel is $2.50, it’s about $3.54 in the stores around here. My big tractor holds 140 gallons of diesel. I know the big 4 wheel drive tractors might hold 350! Crazy. I had the delivery truck fill the tractor, too. There is a long story about summer diesel and winter diesel I’ll skip. I use an additive to make it winter diesel and prevent gelling.

I got 200 gallons of gasoline (a couple of the older tractors, the swather, the lawnmower, the four wheeler, the gator, chainsaws and Weedwhackers’ use gasoline) and 500 gallons of diesel for the two main tractors.   

Also Monday, the quarry and the co-op arrived to spread lime. I was at work but Kelly got some photos for us. A semi would deliver and fill the spreader using an elevator. Then the spreader had the computerized mapping software integrated with the soil tests so they could applied as needed.

I took Wednesday off from “Work” work.  I was able to get my brush mower fixed. Got the blades fixed, and I also realize the timing of the two sets of blades was off. They need to be at 90° to each other. And that was simply a matter of removing one chain, getting them aligned, and reinstalling the chain. Much easier than I had expected. Got the roadsides mowed down, mowed two little parcels that are going to be planted to native grasses next spring, cleaned everything off, and got the mower put away. Hooked on the snowblower and move that into the machine shed.

I hope I don’t need it for several months, but at least it’s in. Got the grain drill all put back together

and tucked that back into place. What a good day. 

The theater renovation is finally wrapping up. I was waiting on one final approval from the fire department about a sprinkler head, which would then let the city inspector sign off on the final permit. I started this the first part of November, some minor corrections to the work done and some bureaucratic red tape means it’s Wednesday before Thanksgiving and we have an audience that night and I’m still making phone calls and poking people to approve this! I did not sleep good Tuesday night. It’s so nice that everything is online these days, finally about 1 o’clock Wednesday I see online that it has all been approved. I did a happy dance in the tractor.

Man, maybe I can sleep again.

I know some of you get so excited about the seed catalogs coming. Hoovers Hatchery has announced their 2022 catalog and a couple new breeds of chickens they’ll be carrying. Maybe I should get some of the Buff  Chantecler or Black Minorca! The ducks and chickens are still good. I notice Rooster #3 has got some size on him and he’s not shadowing Boss Rooster anymore. I haven’t heard him picking fights, but I think he’s strategizing.

We had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat* and had a nice relaxing day. A few minor odds and ends to do at the theater for opening on Friday. Saturday daughter and I will get driveway markers put in. Kelly and I would prefer a nice day with no wind to get snowfence up. Maybe middle of next week.  

Twisted any arms? Talk about when that’s gone poorly. Or well.

How do you feel about Alice’s Restaurant?

*Anyone catch that reference? I listened to it Thursday morning.

Stop and Smell……

The Boy Scout brought the two wreaths over the weekend.  Even though I normally don’t do any decorating before Thanksgiving, it seemed silly to just lay them on a table for a few days, so I hung them up.  One on the outer front door and one on the back porch inner door. 

Then yesterday morning, I spent a few hours picking up, cleaning up, arranging – it had been a while and the downstairs was looking ragged.  Our kitchen trashcan is actually on the back porch (thanks to a string of too-smart Irish setters) so I was opening and shutting the door onto the back porch repeatedly – each time I was greeted with a waft of evergreen.  It gave me a wonderful feeling every time.  My family always did live trees for the holidays.  A couple of years ago I flirted with the idea of an artificial tree and decided against it because I thought I would miss the evergreen smell.

I have other favorite smells.  Two of them are hard for me to admit; as a vegetarian for almost 50 years, it seems somehow wrong that bacon and tuna are high on my list.  They bring back pleasant memories from when I was younger, not from the taste of these things but the experiences surrounding them.  Of course, warm bread smell is hard to beat as well.   Wasband and I once ate an entire loaf in two hours – the first loaf out of our new bread machine.  And chocolate chip cookies.

Any evocative smells for you?

Cold and Wet

Weather has taken a definite turn toward fall. We got 1.72” Wednesday night into Thursday morning. Been seeing geese formation flying South. Rochester used to be famous for the thousands of Canada Geese. Then a few years ago goose poop got a bad rap, and the power plant closed so Silver Lake froze over, and they planted the shorelines to weeds, I mean “Native Vegetation” (some call it weeds) and the gathering of geese is discouraged. So there’s a handful that hang around, but not the thousands there used to be.

I had other stuff to do all week (work), but I took time off Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning so I could work on putting the new gearbox on the brush mower.

I got it installed, pounded out a dent and welded a crack in the ‘big round thing’ (the stump jumper) that goes underneath, added oil to the gearbox, pulled it outside, and had it idle for 20 seconds and then there was a CLUNK and the whole thing started to wobble. I was out of time; I parked it back in the shed and walked away.

The next day neighbor Dave needed to use the tractor so before I unhooked the mower, I crawled underneath it once more and I think I just got the washers on the wrong side of the bolts holding the blades, so they aren’t loose enough to swing. Therefore, one blade is stuck ‘in’ and one ‘out’ and it’s out of  balance and it’s all wobbling. At least I hope that’s the issue. It looks like that’s really the only obvious issue.

As luck would have it, neighbors Craig and Darryl got our corn harvested Wednesday afternoon. I was busy all day and never got home to see them doing it. But that doesn’t matter; it’s done! The local co-op, where I have it taken, recently merged with another co-op and their website, which was pretty good, is even better! I can get information on the loads, minutes after they’re delivered! Other years I had to wait until it was all delivered, then call up there and have them look it up and give me all the details. Now I can see each load as it’s delivered and get all the details.

This photo shows the details of one load; Gross weight is the truck and corn, Tare is the weight of the truck, Net weight then is the actual corn. Converted to bushels (based on Test Weight) gives us gross units, then after taking into account moisture, damage, and foreign material gives us Net Units and that’s what we get paid for. Test weight is 60, which is really good because the standard for corn is 56. They need the moisture to be 15% to store long term and I pay drying costs for anything over that. The fact it’s 15.5% is really amazing! Most years it’s anywhere from 18% – 25% coming out of the field. The wetter, the more it costs to dry. This cost me $0.025 / bushel. And one load was even 14% so no drying costs. Plus price is really pretty good this year! Somewhere around $5 / bushel. It’s been $3 / the last several years. And the corn was wet so I was lucky to get $2.50 / bushel to take home.

Considering the low stand population this spring, the hot weather, the dry weather, and I really didn’t expect much of a yield. Turns out it was about average. Which is really surprising all things considered. And raises some interesting questions: was it the lack of competition of plants that allowed me to get an average yield? If that’s the case, shouldn’t I plant at a lower population every year? What if this year had better weather? I should try it next year I suppose, but given the changes in the weather year to year it’s still hard to compare. But it sure is interesting! I even put some corn in storage at the elevator to sell next spring. Maybe price will be better? Course I’ll be paying about $0.30 / bushel / month for the co-op to store it so will the price go up enough to cover that? Either way it’s just some extra money in March.

It was starting to sprinkle Wednesday afternoon about 2:30. I got home about 4:30 and it was raining pretty steady. But that didn’t stop me getting the tractor out and hooking up the chisel plow and I got a couple fields worked up.

Bailey and I had some quality tractor time. You can see the rain in the headlights. There’s a lot of mud on the steps and frame. It’s not really that muddy on the tires because the cornstalks make so much surface trash it gives me traction. But it was getting pretty soft by the time I quit. Actually, I was surprised it went as well as it did. I hope I have time to get things washed up before it really gets cold. Last week I mentioned waiting for the co-op to do soil samples and apply lime. Still waiting on that and they didn’t want me to plow until that was done. Too bad, so sad. I will just wait to lime this ground until next year. I wanted these fields plowed up this fall because it’s low ground, because it could be wet come spring, and because conditions may not be suitable to plow this in the spring, I always like to get this worked up in the fall. The new LED lights I put on the tractor are awesome! I only switched half of them, I should do the other half next spring. When plowing cornstalks with a minimum till implement, we go diagonal to the rows. My Dad and Clyde could just follow the row with the moldboard plow, but with minimum till, we go about 30° across the rows.

Neighbors Dave and Parm hauled out their beef cows Thursday.

Yesterday Dave hauled in a bunch of fence panels and left a load of silage in the cow yard and got all the cows and calves locked in the yard Wednesday afternoon. Then Thursday it was pretty easy for the guys to get them locked over in one section, back the trailer in, and haul them out. Took four trips to get them all. See the chicken in this photo? She’s been laying eggs out in the pole barn. But this morning she wasn’t sure if she could get there. I went out later and found her spot in the bales in the back corner and collected 2 eggs. As the weather gets colder, one of us will get tired of making the trek out there.

I spent some time looking up custom farm rates. I’ll be settling up with the neighbors at the end of the year so I’m trying to find rates for baling small square bales and the price of round bales of oat straw. And rates for combining corn and soybeans and hauling. Generally those rates come from the Iowa Extension service. Maybe they’ll be helpful for some of you. tim.  

As always, ask if you have questions.What’s your favorite reference website? Have you looked for something that didn’t have a website yet?  

CPU

I learned frugality at my mother’s knee so sometimes it’s hard for me to part with my hard-earned cash.  I have a good friend who sometimes gives me grief about this.  Her view of life is all about CPU… cost per use.  If she purchases something and then uses it a lot, the CPU gets smaller and smaller.  She taught this life view to YA early on, so I am exposed to the theory on a fairly regular basis.

The one place I have been good at applying CPU is with the Minnesota Zoo.  I have an annual membership so when YA and I go to the zoo, we don’t have to pay anything.  It’s obviously not free but it feels free at the time.  We go enough that the annual membership is less than the full price and parking we would have to pay.

I have another friend who has been a supporter of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum for many years and have always urged me to get a membership.  But at $60 I knew I’d have to go at least 4 times a year to justify the CPU.  This past spring, this friend called me to tell me that the Arb was having a membership sale.  Just $30 for the annual membership.  Right up my alley.

Now that I don’t have to pay every time I go, I’ve been to the Arb a few times.  Twice this summer I even parked myself in one or another garden with a good book.  In October they had their annual Scarecrow exhibit so last weekend, I made some space in my Saturday and headed out.  I strolled about, checking out how things are changing now that the big blooms of spring and summer are over.  (I even got a gardening tip; I noticed that in the Peony garden, they have chopped the peonies back.  This is not something I have ever done but the afternoon after my visit, I chopped all my own back!) 

The scarecrows were a lot of fun.  Most of them were up on the hill and it was almost like a fall festival – lots of kids and lovely autumn displays – not to mention a gorgeous sunny day.  I normally take the tram ride but since it’s done for the season, I drove slowly along the Three Mile Drive myself with Enya playing on my phone.  I’m sure it’s the lowest my blood pressure has been for years!  They were starting to put up the lights for the Winter Lights Walk so as soon as I got home, I ordered tickets for that.   The CPU will be seriously low this year.

I was thinking as I enjoyed my day that even if they raise the price of membership on me next year, I’ll probably renew anyway.

How do you decide if something is “worth it”?

The Quiet Time

Husband and I were struck by how quiet it was as we travelled to South Dakota on Saturday. It is a remote area, so there never is much traffic, but it seemed as though there was much less than normal. We saw herds of cattle and sheep, a few mule deer, and some eagles, but people were absent. Wheat had been harvested, and hay was put up. There were a few fields of unharvested sunflowers. There wasn’t much activity at any of the farmsteads that were close enough to the road for us to see. It was as though everyone was inside taking it easy.

Husband commented that the weeks between the middle of October until Thanksgiving in November is his favorite time of year. Everything seems to slow down. There isn’t much snow, the garden is done, and we have time to sit and breathe after a busy summer and fall. Yesterday I was able to take stock of my Christmas baking supplies (I needed glacéed citron, orange peel, lemon peel, and cherries, as well as sliced almonds for Stollen). As a child, I suppose that December was my favorite month because of Christmas, but now I appreciate a time that I can stay home and be a little more still. We have decided to not put up a Christmas tree this year, as we will not have any company and are spending Christmas in South Dakota with our son and his family. That will make for a more peaceful December.

What are your favorite times of year? Got any holiday plans in the works?

Cyber-ween

I love Halloween.  Admittedly I love lots of holidays and special occasions.  (I sent cards to a few people on National Eat a Peach Day this year.) 

We used to decorate a lot more but the current terrorist tabby and devil dog make indoor décor a little difficult.  For many years YA and had ghosts playing ring-a-round the rosy out front and some years we’ve had spider webs adorning the front evergreen.  I always do a cornstalk and usually a few days before Halloween, I get pumpkins (if I get them sooner, the squirrels just eat them). 

Then on the night of Halloween I put out my luminaries.  I made these when YA was little (and I couldn’t afford to buy décor).  Mandarin orange tin cans painted orange and then stamped with pumpkins and black cats and eerie clouds – then I punched holes in them with a hammer and nail.  (I filled them with water and frozen them first – made it much easier to punch the holes.)

I love seeing trick-or-treaters and when YA was little, we used to have quite a number.  As the years went by, it’s gotten less and less.  From what I’ve read, this is common everywhere, not just my street.  Of course, pandemic threw a monkey wrench into trick-or-treating.  Last year I put candies into little bags with orange ribbon 3 weeks before Halloween, wore a mask and held the bowl out as far as I could.  I only have to do this three times; only four trick-or-treaters last year.  It was very sad.

When I saw the “Candy Map” app on a Nextdoor thread, I asked YA about it.  You put your address in indicating you’ll be open for business on Halloween night so all the little zombies and princesses can find you.  I don’t know if it will bring more costumes to the door but we decided to give it a try.  I went ahead and filled little bags again this year – I did twelve.  I’d love it if I have to quickly fill more bags but even if I give out twelve, it will be three times more than last year.

Do you pass out treats on Halloween?  What kind?