Sunday, November 15, 2009

the answer my friend, is blowing in the wind

Driving back from Indianapolis to Chicago, we went past this brand spinning new wind farm right next to I65. It was still under construction just a couple months ago. This is the closest I've seen wind turbines next to a freeway. I have a closer photo I'll post later. Anyway, once they figure out the storage issue to make it more dispatchable, and work out the mechanical kinks with gear failure, we will see wind grow. Any new technology goes through learning curve. Back when, people were getting killed by steam boilers blowing up all the time on steamships till they set up design codes and improved their understanding of the design limitations.

Hard to beat free fuel, so wind will be part of the mix for a while.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Biomass burial

So we raked the leaves this weekend. Small yard, several big trees, lots of raking. Because of the artificial construct of the suburban yard, we need to move the leaves so they don't choke out the grass. I doubt if the "normal" vegetation balance between tress and grass would look anything like this if we left them alone. I don't want to use chemicals on the yard, but I wonder what is happening to the soil since we ship out hundreds of pounds of leaves each year, and they must be taking minerals with them.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

harvest time

OK. we tried several experiments this season, and I planted a strip of sunflowers out in the barley field where the planter had missed. These guys did very well. Huge heads, lots of seeds, now I just need to figure out how to hull them quickly. We did some oil seed sunflowers and some confection sunflowers. I think I will plant more next year if we are able to put these to use. Any suggestions for hulling easily?

Friday, October 23, 2009

one more for the road

On our last hike out from trail work, we decided to get one more down tree out of the trail. Barry took this shot of me wielding the Pulaski with great effect.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

yooper sports

Unless you are a competitive cross country skier, or live in the upper peninsula, this photo might seem odd.

These guys are getting ready for the upcoming winter by skiing with wheels on thier skis. In the rain. This is in Houghton, and I've seen the same thing in Marquette. So what was I doing out in the rain? Our gang was heading to a cozy brewpub downtown, thats what. I recommend the

The place is nice, the beer is good, and I took this photo from the liftbridge featured on thier liftbridge brown ale.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

big equipment

Our trip to Isle Royale got delayed a day because of severe weather on the Lake. So we did sight seeing in the U.P. We did a mine tour of an old copper mine. Turned out to have a unique mine hoist in very good condition.

Not a great photo to capture the size of this thing, but it is quite impressive.
Google quincy mine and read the wikipedia article. Pretty interesting stuff.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

water taxi

Here is a shot of the gang getting ready to load our gear back on the Park Rangers shuttle boat to take us back to the main dock for our trip back to the mainland. We work on trails the first part of the week, then get about a day and a half of free time to hike around or canoe Tobin Harbor before riding the big boat back to Houghton.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Isle Royale- the hidden national park

Here is a shot from my trip to Isle Royale. Weather was good during the week, and we got our trail reroute finished with time to spare. I left some fresh food in the rangers office freezer for when we got back to the dock and campground. This was the last chicken breast just finishing up on the grill. It was a nice change of pace from foil pack tuna, noodles, rice, soup mix, and so on.

A cold beer was pretty good also. I didn't take too many nature photos, we had many better photographers in the group than I, I'll wait till they post theirs.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The great north woods

So busy lately, very busy at work, projects at home, that's why no posts, blah, blah, blah. Nobody wants to hear about that.

I went to Isle Royale for my annual Sierra Club trail work trip. We had rough weather at the start and at the finish, the boat had to wait a day before bringing us back. Gale force winds and 10 foot waves on Superior are to be taken seriously. Our overall week was good, and our trail reroute looked very nice when finished.

I used two different camping ovens, and the crew really liked fresh warm brownies for desert.

Of course, when we arrived in Houghton, we had to do a little window shopping while waiting for the boat to make way. Here is a shot from the outdoor store we browsed.

It was a relief to see such a well stocked store up in the UP, as I only had one set of nunchaku in my backpack. Several of us stocked up.

More photos from the actual island coming soon.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

busy summer

Gotta keep up with this! Very busy at work, and running up to Wisconsin every chance we get.

Above shot is of the wood chips we made. Last trip up was for a week, and we did a lot of working and playing. One day we rented a chipper and chipped up the prickly ash we cut and piled this spring. We'll use this for mulch to suppress weeds and retain moisture.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hiking in the Prairie state

Here is a photo from a Sierra Club hike a while back. This is from Starved Rock park, less than a couple hours from Chicago. There are a lot of ravines and formations in this area, where creeks feed in to the Illinois river. Admittedly, much of the state is flat cornfields, but there are a few places with interesting scenery.

Monday, June 22, 2009

summer like the good old days

Here is a shot of the ice cream stand in downtown West Chicago. It is a sure enough Tastee Freeze, and since it was renovated, repaired, and reopened, has become quite popular. It is a short walk from our house, so the net caloric results of my evening walks are somtimes in the wrong direction.

Friday, June 12, 2009

rough rider

I've been getting on the bike a lot more lately, usually sections of the prairie path bike trail system. Some sections are in better repair than others, so you really have to keep an eye on the trail to be ready to dodge gopher holes, or ruts or whatever.
Here is a photo of a snapper who was crossing the path when I came by. He was around a foot long. These old railroad right of ways that are now trails have altered development, so there is a good bit of wetland and "wilderness" along them. Today I also saw a fox, a deer, and lots of rabbits.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

air drying

You might have caught a glimpse of the clothes line in that photo of our rain barrel. Here is a more direct shot. This side yard is about the only place we get sun, unless of course, we aired our undies in the front yard. ( that is our neighbors house in the background. They are pretty laid back and cool with it, but there are some communities that do not allow clothes lines.
I only bought one clothes line post, and used some pipe, soil screw anchors and odds and ends of chain and wire rope I had been hanging on to for years. The advantage of the odd looking arrangement is that I didn't have to do any concrete anchors, and it is quite stable. I could break it down in just a few minutes if needed.
So how many of you have a clothes line?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

cool June

Here are a couple photos of our rain barrel, for catching rainwater and using it to water plants. Most people in the suburbs water their lawns. We do not water the grass at all, but we do water some potted flowers. Since it has been such a cool May, we have not used any rain out of the barrel yet. June proving to be pretty cool so far also.
Patsy heard a talk by an organic lawn care expert in which he said you could collect all the dandelions you chop out and soak them in a bucket of water. After they get all nasty, you can use this water for fertilizing. I did it, and luckily no one saw me, cause the neighbors would not be thrilled because of the smell. They are probably wondering who's porch has a dead skunk under it. FYI, the overflow has an internal riser, so it is not just saving half a barrel of water!

Friday, June 5, 2009

a bear in the woods

Well, actually, there are no bears in our area. This old outhouse, just a few steps from the old deerstand in our woods, has recently only been used by racoons who don't know how to raise the seat.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

the magic of seeds

We got our garden all planted a couple weeks ago, but haven't been back to see how things are doing. Bri called and said the peas and potaotes we planted earlier look fine, the brocolli is not looking much different, and none of the seeds we put in the ground are up yet. They've had rain, but it's been cool, so I guess they aren't really late yet.

When we were there, we helped Jake, our farmer who is working the 25 acre field, pick rocks out of the barley field. After seeing them, and the size of some, I'm surprised his seed drill is still in one piece. Later after the barley is harvested, I think we will go out and gather some of the bigger ones to use for landscaping. We would just haul them to the edge of the field, so they are scattered all along the fencerow.

For supper on Sunday, we had chicken sate and big leafy mounds of Harmony Valley salad, and s'mores.

I also should mention that Bri invited some neighbors and interns from one of the organic farms over for dinner Saturday night. She made pizzas for all, and we had a good time getting to know each other. Lots of diferent toppings, and I liked them all.

We went ahead and bought the brush mower attachment for our tiller, and this made clearing our garden area in the hay field much easier. In fact, as hard as it was for the tiller to dig through the roots and hay stubble that was left, there is no way I could have got the soil ready without the mower.

Here are the chives that are growing just outside the sliding doors. We were snipping them and using in the kitchen earlier, but this is the first time I'd seen the blooms. We saw our first hummingbird come by to take a taste of chive (pollen, nectar?). I wonder how the different plants taste to them?

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Kind of hard to tell, but this is a big old shagbark hickory tree in the woodsy part of our farm. If the apples don't attract the deer, the hickory nuts will.

The apples trees are blooming. I'd say we have 40-50 trees scatered around, but don't know how good they are yet. Here are a couple along the driveway.

Next weekend, we will be tilling and planting, as well as getting rocks out of the field. Our neighbor planted barley in the field, and noted a lot of rocks, so we are going to try to thin them out. Might end up with some landscaping materials.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

first harvest

Well, we were lucky enough to be at the farm when morels were popping. So, along with the chives that were growing by the back door, we harvested our first "crop". This bowl of morels is just some of the mushrooms we found. We fried some , put some in omelets, made some soup, and dehydrated some.

We have several dead elms on the hillside, and that is one of the best places to find morels. We cut out a lot more prickly ash this past weekend, and plan to chip them up and use as mulch.
Memorial day weekend will be the big garden planting day, when we put in all the seeds and plants that can't take frost. Hopefully the weather will cooperate.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Area 51 relic?

This was left in the yard of our house in Wisconsin by the former owner. It's a bird bath, and kind of looks serene, but overall, it's just weird looking.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Some of the neglected raised beds we are spading over and will be repairing. The tiller won't fit in these smaller ones, so it took a while to till, and the sod mat is still rather chunky.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More toys

We bought a trailer to haul stuff, especially firewood. This past weekend, we finally fired up the Russian stove, and got the brick mass heated up. It took a while for the heat to soak out to the surface, but stayed warm a very long time as advertised. After we tighten up the house and add some perimeter foundation insulation, this should be a warm efficient house to heat this next winter. Our farmer neighbor Bob says he has plenty of down wood he'd be happy to have me clear out, to improve his pasture.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

prickly ash

Another photo of the farm. This past trip, I cut down a lot of prickly ash, a native tree that can take over an area if allowed to. It is nasty stuff to handle, as the name would imply. The Stihl brushcutter works quite well, and I'm amazed at how the drive shaft stands up to abrupt changes in speed and torque without flying apart.

We have a lot of random scattered clumps of backberry also. While I like blackberries, Walking through them is no fun, and we will have to try to trim back and keep them in reasonable patches that are easy to harvest. They call them blackcaps up here, but they taste the same.

I did a quick scan for morels, but its too early. After the rain, and with some warm weather, they may start popping up. We're not even sure if there are any on our land, but I sure hope so.

Monday, April 27, 2009

on the road

Mentally, the trip to Wisconsin gets a bit shorter with repetition, but my back still feels the long restriction. We did brush clearing, some odds and ends of straightening, and we finally got a real mattress. Off and on a rainy or drizzly weekend, but it was clear long enough to get plenty of work done outside.

Met with a solar installer, and talked about future improvements on the house. No soalr panels this year, but maytbe in a year or two.

Here's a shot of our first rows in the hayfield/soon to be garden. This is the potatores and peas. After last frost, we will plant a lot more. We're hoping we can just keep the hay mowed around and between the rows to minimize erosion and weeds.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Green spring

Grass is greening up nice, we have daffoldils and crocus and other stuff blooming. The local ice cream shop opened up foir spring several weeks ago, and have been snowed on a couple times, but people line up anyway. I guess they're missing the ice cream, but also just the idea of being outside in the sunshine after work.

Going up to the farm this weekend, for more tilling, more brush clearing, maybe some more planting. Will meet with a solar panel installer, just to show him the place, we won't move on that this year, but mabe next year. We'll see how the roofing and other priorities go first.

Here is an older photo from another early spring. This was a screened culvert at the outlet from a wildlife sanctuary. The carp were all crowding around, wanting to get out of the murky river in to the clear, warming wetland the water is flowing out of.

I'm glad they are keeping the carp out.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Where's the spell check!

I see the spell check icon NOW. I need to turn it on permanently. What's more wierd is that I didn't see Fridat.

Tis the season for communities to pay lip service to the environment and do earth day events. I sat at a table promoting the organic farm today, but these events just seem halfhearted and too little too late. Some people get it, but most are still along for the ride.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Good Fridat potatoes

Got some seeds in the ground last weekend, potatoes, asparagus, peas, carrots. We'll head back up and get more in the ground after frost danger is less. Our soil needs work, but we wanted to get something going, as experiment if nothing else.

Here is a photo of me cutting down brush around the chicken coop. We won't do chickens this year, but it will take time to clear out all the brush which had grown up around everything.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

winter's end

Well well, even with the two inches of snow we got Sunday night, it's still spring. The snow disappears quickly in the much higher sun, and the robins don't seem to care at all about the snow. The old farmer in Wisconsin told me that robins get snowed on three times in the spring, when I asked if winter was gone. I think this makes two times since we talked.

We pick up our utility trailer Thursday, so we will be able to haul furniture, boxes, firewood, building supplies, equipment, and just stuff.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

link to Harmony Valley Farm, where Bri will start working in April.

It's about a 40 minute drive from the house, but with the job market, it's a good deal.
Oh, and here is a cute picture of Bri's cat. It seems to forget where it's tongue is sometime.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Any arborists out there?

So, I'm wondering if anyone knows what kind of tree this is? It is next to the Wisconsin house, and it has unusual snaky, thick masses of branches.

Here is a picture of the spiral stair up to the bedrooms upstairs. Not so easy to carry laundry and bulky stuff up or down. We think down the road a bit, we might add some better access to the upstairs.

And this is a photo I shot on the way to work one morning. And you thought cell phone talkers were dangerous! Actually, I took this at a stop light.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

So as long as I attribute an article, can I add it to my post? I should have read that user agreement closer....

Anyway, this is an article addresses the same concern we discussed when the boys were up in Chicago this winter. It is by Tom Friedman, well known of the NY Times.....

Comments requested.

March 8, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
The Inflection Is Near?

Sometimes the satirical newspaper The Onion is so right on, I can’t resist quoting from it. Consider this faux article from June 2005 about America’s addiction to Chinese exports:

FENGHUA, China — Chen Hsien, an employee of Fenghua Ningbo Plastic Works Ltd., a plastics factory that manufactures lightweight household items for Western markets, expressed his disbelief Monday over the “sheer amount of [garbage] Americans will buy. Often, when we’re assigned a new order for, say, ‘salad shooters,’ I will say to myself, ‘There’s no way that anyone will ever buy these.’ ... One month later, we will receive an order for the same product, but three times the quantity. How can anyone have a need for such useless [garbage]? I hear that Americans can buy anything they want, and I believe it, judging from the things I’ve made for them,” Chen said. “And I also hear that, when they no longer want an item, they simply throw it away. So wasteful and contemptible.”

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”

We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese ...

We can’t do this anymore.

“We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children,” said Joe Romm, a physicist and climate expert who writes the indispensable blog
We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks — water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land — and not by generating renewable flows.

“You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior,” added Romm. “But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate ...’
Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy.”

Over a billion people today suffer from water scarcity; deforestation in the tropics destroys an area the size of Greece every year — more than 25 million acres; more than half of the world’s fisheries are over-fished or fished at their limit.

“Just as a few lonely economists warned us we were living beyond our financial means and overdrawing our financial assets, scientists are warning us that we’re living beyond our ecological means and overdrawing our natural assets,” argues Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International. But, he cautioned, as environmentalists have pointed out: “Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.”

One of those who has been warning me of this for a long time is Paul Gilding, the Australian environmental business expert. He has a name for this moment — when both Mother Nature and Father Greed have hit the wall at once — “The Great Disruption.”

“We are taking a system operating past its capacity and driving it faster and harder,” he wrote me. “No matter how wonderful the system is, the laws of physics and biology still apply.” We must have growth, but we must grow in a different way. For starters, economies need to transition to the concept of net-zero, whereby buildings, cars, factories and homes are designed not only to generate as much energy as they use but to be infinitely recyclable in as many parts as possible. Let’s grow by creating flows rather than plundering more stocks.

Gilding says he’s actually an optimist. So am I. People are already using this economic slowdown to retool and reorient economies.
Germany, Britain, China and the U.S. have all used stimulus bills to make huge new investments in clean power. South Korea’s new national paradigm for development is called: “Low carbon, green growth.” Who knew? People are realizing we need more than incremental changes — and we’re seeing the first stirrings of growth in smarter, more efficient, more responsible ways.

In the meantime, says Gilding, take notes: “When we look back, 2008 will be a momentous year in human history. Our children and grandchildren will ask us, ‘What was it like? What were you doing when it started to fall apart? What did you think? What did you do?’ ”
Often in the middle of something momentous, we can’t see its significance. But for me there is no doubt: 2008 will be the marker — the year when ‘The Great Disruption’ began. =

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Here is a photo from Isle Royale. This is where I volunteer with Sierra Club doing trail maintenence each summer. This photo is of Rock Harbor, the place where The ferry boat docks, and where the lodge is, for those who don't backpack ( it's pretty expensive). I have been the cook for the group the last few years, trying to find ways to make oatmeal or soup mix more interesting. We go at the end of August, but the weather can range from hot to cold and wet pretty quickly. Lake Superior is awesome in the true sense of the word. When taking the 5 hour ride over from Houghton, Michigan, I often think of the fact that this huge expanse of water is all that's left of even more awesome glaciers.

And here is a photo of a section of trail after we have cut back all the brush. It looks neat and inviting after we are done, but with the hundreds of miles of trail, It is hard to get to each section often enough to keep it looking this good. The Park Service is on very tight budget, so the only have a few rangers that work trails.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

getting all the BTUs out of the wood

An omen of things to come. One thing I plan to plant at the farm is sunflowers. Maybe dozens, maybe acres of them, we'll see. And of course, much bigger than this one. It is a cash crop in the Dakotas, who knows, it might grow fine on our ridge top field. This weekend we met with the farmer who leased the field last year, and discussed future plans. He didn't sound too interested in going organic.

This is the Russian wood stove in our Wisconsin place. It has over 1200 bricks in it. The exhaust flow path serpentines up throught the furnace, heating the mass of bricks. It is supposed to radiate heat for hours after it is up to temp and closed in. We will bring wood up next trip, and give it a trial run.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

road trip to Chicago

Four of my brothers came up from Indiana to visit and see some of the Chicago music scene. We went to the Harlem Avenue Lounge, a blues venue. The band that night was ok, but more funky jam rock than blues, and pretty loud. It's all good though, live music is the best. We mostly hung out and talked of past times and caught up on recent events, so the music was background.

Thanks again to them for making the trip, and trying to keep family connections. (and sleeping on air mattresses).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

This photo is from our backpacking trip to North Manitou Island, in Lake Michigan. The ranger office there gets primary power from this large PV array. They used to use deisel generation, which cost a lot in fuel and maintenence, as well as detracting from the wild nature of the island. Our trip was fun, and the Island is an easy backpack outing.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A shot from a trip to Sleeping Bear dunes area in Michigan. This was a late afternoon view to the west, from the top of one of the dunes. That water is much further away than it might appear in the photo.

Here is a shot of our solar oven. Yes, a cloud was passing over, but on clear days, it works quite well. We didn't use it as much this past year, but I plan to use it more, and experiment with seeing which recipes work best.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

skiing the back 40

We ran up to our new Wisconsin place this weekend, the explore the area more, and plan out next steps for the house. And, yes, we skied in the beanfield. They have had quite a bit of snow, even more than we've had in Chicago, so we saw hardly any sign of bean stubble, except where the deer had been digging. Oh, yes, LOTS of deeer sign. Time for me to start thinking about hunting again. Next fall, I'll be wearing blaze orange. Here is a cool winter picture from our trip up to the MichiganU.P. for Thankgiving. We walked along the shore of Lake Superior to get some fresh air and burn some turkey calories. I'll take more farm pictures next trip up.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

winters of yore

Well, the weather this winter has been unusual compared to the ones we've been having for the last decade or so. Colder, and lots more snow. Here are a couple photos taken yesterday after the shoveling was done. Actually, I like big snows. I can use the shoveling exercise, as well as the cross country skiing. And darn it, things just look prettier covered in snow.
This snow is how I remember winters as a kid. I do more shoveling now, and drink less hot chocolate, but it's all good.
Front of house, mailman accessible now. Got the Christmas lights down just in time.

No mojitos and al fresco dining on the deck for a while.

Driveway clear till the snow plow comes by again.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A couple more pictures. The noodles drying on the rack are from last summer. We had a lot of extra spinach one week, so we blenderized them and made spinach noodles. We also made some basil noodles. They both worked pretty well, and would do it again if we have extra next summer. We store them in mason jars so they stay dry. We also find the noodle drying rack quite handy for drying sweaters.
This photo is of the grand canyon of Pennsylvania. It is not as deep or dramatic as the grand canyon, but is much greener, and the geologoval history is interesting. We car camped through Pennsylvania on the way to Joe's wedding last summer.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

two mortgages

Well, we have been talking about buying some property in Wisconsin to retire to in the future, and we actually closed on a 44 acre farm with a house this past Friday. We had gone land hunting on a few trips to the southwest of Wisconsin, called "the driftless region" since it was not glaciated and flattened like most of the upper midwest. It's a pretty area, with lot's of small farms.

The last few years, since the kids all graduated college, we have been kind of enjoying the extra available cash by relaxing our normal frugality. Well, back to clipping coupons and trying hard to stay on the budget. We think it's a smart move to buy, since as we've all been reminded, stocks aren't always the best bet to save for the future. Anyway, here are a couple pictures. They show one of the features that really attracted me. The attached sun room/greenhouse makes the house energy efficient, and has good potential for upgrading with solar panels. I'll tell more about the "farm" later.