Wednesday, November 25, 2020

A Week On the Farm

Back towards the beginning of this month when we had a warm stretch of weather, you may or may not have noticed my absence from the world of blogging. I just didn't have the time or if I was able to read and comment on the blogs of others, it was usually long after their posts were posted. The reason was that I spent the week with my brother down at the farm doing some long needed field maintenance. Above is the backside of a terrace built to drain water from the fields without losing any precious soil. We drove by all these looking for black locust sprouts and fixing tile risers that got knocked over.

Deer like to eat black locust seeds and then wander through the farm excreting them out in a pile of natural fertilizer. As a result, the sprouts can grow quite prolifically if left unchecked. But these sprouts come with two to three inch long thorns that puncture tires causing thousands of dollars in repairs every year. Thus we like to nip that in the bud by proactively removing them before the deer can eat their seeds and disperse them further.

In the old days, we would drive through the fields on a tractor but carrying all the required chainsaws, gas, water, tools, tile repair stuff was a chore. These days we use the "batmobile" seen above. It is actually a Polaris Ranger on which is affixed a Batman emblem that I made for my dad years ago as a present when he kept referring to the Ranger as his Batmobile. It works quite well for this type of job allowing us to carry all the necessary stuff in the back and quickly and easily cover hundreds of acres. It is also much more fuel efficient than a big old diesel tractor.

Another reason black locust sprouts are so prolific is that they are extremely hard to kill. Unless you dig up the entire rootball and I mean EVERY SINGLE ROOT, they will sprout back ten times over. So we have to treat the roots with chemicals to kill the tree and prevent them from coming back. Fortunately this can be done with a little squeeze bottle and applied directly to the stump so that any vegetation nearby is not harmed.

We have a significant number of acres of land that we leave fallow for wildlife purposes. These places are often in nooks and corners of the farm or land that is very poor or very hard to farm for other reasons. In order to prevent weeds, we will disk a fire break around their perimeter in the fall and then burn them in late winter. The burning kills invasive plants (unfortunately not black locust sprouts) and makes native grassed grow back more densely. Above is a larger thorny black locust tree that we dropped on the fire line that my father will come back later with a tractor and grapple and move out of the way.

As I said above, we also took the opportunity to repair any tile risers that needed repairing. The tile risers are just perforated tubes that are placed in low points (created often by terracing) that drain excess water away and leaving precious top soil behind. Above is one that got hit by a farm implement taking off the top half. It would probably still function though without a top, animals like to use them as nesting boxes so we added a splice and new pipe above it. It also makes it more visible so it is less likely to get run over again.

A few minutes later, the tile riser looked as good as new again and it was off to the next one.

 One thing not looking good was the middle finger of my right hand, right where I rest an eating or writing utensil when in use. During one of the days on the farm, a thorn had gone right through a hole in my thick leather gloves that I use to protect my hand from the very such thing. But my stinginess of replacing a perfectly good pair of leather gloves just for one tiny hole ended up causing me much pain. Locust thorns are very toxic and just scratching the skin will cause it to feel like you have a bad sunburn for days afterward. The thorn pierced my gloves thanks to the hole and stuck into my middle finger. I pulled it out and thought all was good with the world. But a day later, my finger was swollen up and starting to fill with puss. All I could see was a black dot where it punctured the skin and I had assumed it was just the hole with dried blood in it. As it turned out, it was the ass end of the locust thorn and thanks to my wife and a long needle, she eventually got it dug out of my finger. Some antibiotic cream and a day later and my finger was nearly back to normal again.

It was tough work but coincided with perhaps the most beautiful November weather I have ever experienced. Every day was sunny with temperatures in the mid 70's and perfect in ever way to be spending time outside cruising the land with my younger brother for company. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Mom's Story

Mom with my dog Ted, probably 25 years ago

 Today is the second anniversary of my mom's lost battle with brain cancer and per the tradition started last year on this day, I thought I would continue with some more of her story.

As I have mentioned before, my  mom and I were close in age and in fact I was conceived during her senior year in high school. Though she never told me so, I'm assuming this played a large part in her getting married in the February before she graduated. Being saddled with a child at such an early age I'm sure isn't desirable but my mom made do. 

Shortly after my parents graduated, my father began a series of dead end jobs that he quit whenever he didn't like something and within a few years of my birth (and with a younger brother also now joining the scene) he finally just became full time unemployed and spent his days hanging out with friends. Somehow my mom continued to look after us two kids and attend classes at a local college. 

The marriage wasn't going well and most of my memories during that time are of my parents yelling at each other over money, or the lack of it. Finally my father took off and never returned. My mother left with two mouths to feed besides her own and no real income had to accept a job in the urban jungle and so we moved up north just a few credit hours short of completing her computer programming degree. Fortunately her skills (think punch card computing) were in demand and she was able to eke out the barest of livings for the three of us. I remember many nights when I would help her lick and put food stamps on the cards so she could go out and get some bread, hotdogs and cheese to make our favorite hotdog pizzas. At the time I thought it was because that was our favorite but with adult eyes, I know now it was because it was a cheap meal.

Eventually my mother met my dad (different than my father) and after awhile of dating, she married my dad and moved down to a farm just south of where she spent her last years. She started off her new married life as a computer programmer for a glove factory and I think was very successful at it. After a couple years however she quit and stayed home to farm with my dad because with two of them, the pay was better.

Those early years of farming were during the Farm Crisis of the early 80's though and times were still really hard. Of the sixteen farms around our mile by mile and a half block, probably a full dozen were wiped out during that period of time. My mom besides farming, looking after us two kids helped to supplement things by raising a huge garden which we helped with as we got older. Eventually the farm crisis passed by and things improved and my mom was at last successful in the sense that she earned more money than she spent and didn't live paycheck to paycheck anymore. My dad adopted my brother and I officially making him and my mom our legal guardians. Though my biological father continued and still lives halfway between where I live now and the farm, I haven't seen him but once since he left us all those decades ago. The one time I saw him was just a chance meeting when I saw him working a booth at a local event. I recognized him but don't know if he recognized me. I didn't stop and talk to him.

I have always felt those hard times early on in my mom's adult life molded her into who she was the rest of her life, someone who was really frugal with money. Although later in life she loosened up her purse strings a bit, much to dad's chagrin, she was definitely a saver and not a spender. One story I always like to emphasize that point was that my mom and dad loved to eat popcorn most evenings and used the same thick plastic bowls that they got at their wedding. Sometime when I came home from college, I noticed they were still eating popcorn out of the same bowls but the far side of each had a swatch of duct tape on them. When I asked, they said their fingernails had rubbed through the plastic from all those years of eating popcorn so they patched up the hole, rotated it to a different side and continued to eat from them. I don't recall if I ever said anything but I'm guessing my questioning must have embarrassed my mom somewhat because shortly after that, those bowls disappeared and new plastic ones reappeared.  My dad still eats popcorn out of that second set of bowls most evenings.


Also per tradition which I started last year, I might not be around today until later to respond to comments or read other blogs. Instead I will be doing one of my mom's favorite hikes in her memory. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Cook Creek Garden

As I have mentioned on here in the past, my mom always took care of the garden and I would help with the harvest and preservation of the produce for a share of it. It worked well and I always enjoyed the time I spent with mom in the summer as we processed whatever was coming on at the time. After she died, my dad just didn't seem enthused about the garden and it went fallow that first year.

My wife and I debated what we wanted to do since we still wanted to grow our own fresh veggies. Creating a garden behind our house was an option but wasn't ideal. It is a thoroughfare for wildlife, especially for the deer and so any deer proof fence would be very costly to be effective and look nice enough for our neighborhood so that our neighbors wouldn't hate living next door to us. Also, our 2 acre lot is about 1.5 acres of trees and a half acre for the house and flattish lawn which contains our firepit, trampoline for the kids and septic field. Any garden would take up much of that area and not leave much left to just relax on or play the occasional game of croquet.

So we looked towards the farm which while it is about 40 miles away, has the advantage of lots of land with no trees to shade out the crops and we could build a deer proof fence much more cost effectively since it didn't have to look nice for any neighbors since there aren't any neighbors in sight. We planted half of one of my mom's garden this year as a test and things went well enough we decided to make it permanent. So we ordered some fencing materials and went to work.

Above is a satellite photo of a portion of the homestead and on the left center of the photo you can see mom's two gardens. One garden was left fallow every year and the other one was planted. In between the two is our asparagus bed that has been the envy of Debby ever since I posted a picture of it. I think you can actually see the shadow of a tiller in the west garden so this satellite picture was probably taken in the spring.  Our wedding orchard that we planted the day after we got married with a handful of guests helping us, it north of the west most garden at the top left of the picture. There are only three trees left thanks to the local deer population and some sort of infestation that is girdling them at the bases. We decided that if we were going to fence in the garden, we wanted to fence in the old orchard along with more room for an even larger orchard with room for perhaps some berries and other things.

Above is a picture of my dad digging the first post hole of many to come. We ended up installing something like ten or so wooden post and maybe a hundred metal posts in between spans. On that first day, we even got two hundred feet of welded woven wire stretched and attached to the posts. The following day we got another three hundred feet of wire stretched up, essentially fencing in two sides of a large triangle. Half of the west side of our garden to the left of the top most picture we also started fencing in but ran out of posts so it will have to wait for perhaps next weekend. We are going to leave the other half open for now and just put up our old electrified deer netting to fill in the gap so we can easily get into the garden area with a tractor and tillage equipment if desired. Our hope is that after we get everything established, our new walk behind tiller will be enough and we will close in the rest.

Above is a rough outline showing the dimensions of the enclosed area. We are still in the rough planning stages but we are thinking about turning the lower right area in the center of the satellite photograph above into our new orchard where it is a bit closer to the house and maybe not as likely to tempt deer. We also hope to plant some berry vines of various sorts, in that area too. The old orchard is going to be reworked when the remaining trees die and we can figure out how to prevent whatever killed them from spreading to the new one. We may plant fruit trees there as well. The two gardens, on each side of the asparagus bed will probably both be used but we will rotate crops instead of leaving one fallow. One will be used to plant vining crops that need a lot of room and the other for more traditional garden crops and then we will switch every year.

 Above is a panoramic photo of the garden with me standing in the far corner once we got the two sides fenced. In the distance just below the horizon line is the fronds of our asparagus bed. The old sod was disked up in preparation for this new adventure and after maybe a quick tilling, it will be ready for the start of our orchard. Our plan is to just slowly collect some fruit trees as they go on sale and stick them down at this end. By staggering their planting, we can hopefully still have fruit to harvest even if a couple of the trees take a turn for the worse. 

So this is the start of a huge project in our lives. I grew up around gardens but haven't really cared for one for several decades until our test garden last year. I know I will have a lot to learn but I'm excited about the future and I'm sure I will have lots more to post on it as it develops. Stay tuned.

P.S. Cook Creek begins just a couple hundred yards away at the edge of one of our farm fields and runs on the north edge of our garden as it starts its journey towards the Mississippi river. I thought it appropriate to name our gardens after that nearby geological feature.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Monosodium Glutamate a.k.a. MSG

New England Journal of Medicine April 4, 1968

 Above is the article that started it all. It was the result of a doctor ribbing an orthopedic surgeon that the surgeon was too "dumb" to get an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The surgeon accept the bet of $10 and wrote up the fictitious article seen above with a made up name that rhymes with "Human Crock ...." and even made up a fictitious medical institution. It was published and the surgeon collected his $10. He even went the extra mile to try and correct things by notifying the New England Journal of Medicine that the article was fake but they never responded. 

In the years that followed, hundreds of people, many overtly racist, wrote about how they too suffered from the ill affects of MSG, to the point it just became accepted as factual even though there was never any research into the matter. It also didn't matter that MSG is a naturally occurring substance that is already in many foods we eat like tomatoes. MSG became an evil substance to the point many products advertised "NO MSG" on the package. I've even seen Chinese restaurants advertise it on the menu that they used no MSG. 

But I knew it was still being used in the industry because I live just a handful of miles away of probably the biggest MSG plant in the United States and know several people who have worked there. Yet I never doubted things until recently when I came across a podcast about the history of MSG and basically laying out how the myth became our reality. 

Avoiding MSG was never a priority for me growing up because I didn't cook and when I was off on my own, I probably ate many a thing with it in the ingredients but just never paid attention. Even after I married, it was nothing that I dwelled upon. However, while making some meatless spaghetti sauce for canning this summer, my wife pulled out a small bottle of MSG, which I never knew we had, and added it to the sauce. The flavor was much better and I started talking about what I had learned about MSG through the podcast. She was amused.

Then a patient of hers who works for Ajino-Moto gifted her with a 3lb bag of MSG seen below. Since I never realized we had any MSG in our cupboard until a couple months ago and it has perhaps an ounce of MSG in it, I'm guessing the bag below is a lifetime supply of the stuff. I feel I have come full circle in this journey from being a sheep to bathing in MSG. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

On a Roll

With winter fast approaching, I moved right onto my next project to mobilize my shop to improve efficiency and eliminate clutter and dust associated with immobile objects. The last big piece of equipment on my permanent workbench that I wish to eliminate was my miter saw. This was probably the biggest inspiration for me to do this project. Anytime I wished to use said miter saw, I had to first clear the workbench of all the clutter and accumulated tools, mostly by transferring them to other horizontal surfaces. Once done with the miter saw I would then transfer everything back. It was a time consuming chore.

As luck would have it, just as I decided to start this project a local woodworking show on IPTV had an episode where they created just that sort of thing and they would post free plans on their website. Three weeks later after I had built my previous cart and merged my router into the tablesaw, they still hadn't posted it so I sent an email and they responded by giving me the plans via email until they could get the website updated. I was off to the races.

The big attraction to the mobile cart is that the wings fold up and down providing me support over the entire length of a long board yet takes up very little space. Down below I created three compartments to house my dovetail jig and accessories and also a compartment for my circular saw and largest router which wouldn't fit in the cabinet under the tablesaw.  In the last compartment, I put a small dedicated shop vacuum hooked up to the dust port of the mitersaw, something I have never had before until now. Prior to this car, the dust just puked out all over my workbench covering everything in layers of sawdust. Now it goes into the vacuum which I can empty maybe a couple times a year.

There is much more left to the overall project of retooling my shop to be mobile but I'm not sure how much I will get done before it gets too cold. As I write this, snow is in the forecast along with a day where the high never gets above freezing, way too cold to be trying to apply glue. So we'll see. Perhaps I might sneak in a smaller project as weather cooperates.