St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Friday, July 31, 2015

2015 County Fair

Margo and I and Scott are busy with the 2015 Polk County Wisconsin Fair at St Croix Falls again this year.  We have entries, help with the Red School house, help with the maple syrup judging and spend the 4 days bumming around at the fair.  
Back when I was a youngster in 4-H, I got hooked on going to the fair.  After retirement, we joined the fair society and have often helped the Polk County Historical Society host the 1853 historic Red School house (moved to the fair grounds in the 1960s) be a historical stop at the fair.  On a normal year about 1500 folks pass through the door and get a glimpse of school days from 100 years ago.  

Some photos as we browse the fair in 2015. 
I asked the photography judge how he decides the blue ribbons for the 1400 entries in various color and black and white classes.
Judging Photos  (click to hear the judge explain the critieria)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Oh Deer

A buck wandered the orchard Monday eating green windfall apples from the big wind storm of the night.  By afternoon, most of the apples were gone as a buck and doe cleaned them up.  

The rain total for the Sunday night and Monday afternoon rains ended up at 2.1 inches, enough to keep everything growing for most of the rest of July.  Even the soy beans on the sand fields seem to be coming along fine.

Today we run the water from the new well system for an hour or two to clean the chlorine and rust out and then we should be into fresh well water again after a week of spotty water supply as the old well was abandoned and a new one driven.  The new one is the same depth and should give us excellent tasting water again like the old one of at least 100 years use. 

Well Drilling   a video on how the well drilling rig drilled and hammered the new well 99 feet deep for $5400

Eating apples   a video on this deer cleaning the windfall apples in the orchard.  The deer have already eaten the apples in the trees as high as they can reach and browsed the apple branches as high as they can reach too.  

We would be OK with just eating windfall apples on the ground, but climbing up in the tree to get more is not acceptable!

The raised foot is part of chasing away deer flies that pester deer all summer.  In the video you can see some of the tail flick, ear flick, hide quiver, and other fly removal behavior.  Maybe the thick hair helps some of the time. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Well, Well, Well!

Having finally decided to upgrade our old water well system on the farm from an historic pumpjack to a modern submersible pump, we called the local well man, Brad. 

He arrived with his truck and pipe pulling equipment and as I watched the pull begin, the pipe broke off about 90 feet deep in the well.  He pulled up the broken part and we realized the rest of the old system, a cylinder and driven point below were still stuck.  

"We can get them out," he told me,  "but as you see, there is not very much water depth on the pipe.  That means that we may spend the day getting the broken stuff out and still not have enough water to have a decent flow of water.  Remember, I told you that we may be better off drilling a new well, one with a 6 inch casing rather than this 4 inch one, and one that is deeper so you have enough water."

Well, Margo and I had understood that, and knew that instead of $3000 or so for fixing the well, we might have to pay up to 3 times that much for a new well.  We had calculated, consolidated and decided we could swing the full cost if we had to, and of course, a plentiful water supply on a farm is necessary. 

So, since last Wednesday through today, a well driller came, drilled a well, the pump man installed the pump and as of today we are back in water again (although not quite usable as the chlorination has to continue until tomorrow noon).   Here is the whole process in pictures. 

The old well system with tank and pumpjack in a double walled shed insulated for winter with shavings.  Installed in 1970 using the 1939s pumpjack on the 1880s hand dug well.   

The outside walls tipped off, the shavings being loaded and the inside wall to be removed.  I did this early in the morning before the well man arrived.

A cement foundation around the well pump strapped to a 4 inch casing installed sometime after the old 90 foot hole began to cave in.  Later a windmill stood over it. 

Brad arrives to pull the pipes up.  Complication-- on the bottom of 90 feet of pipe is a well cylinder and below that a pipe and sand point driven 10 feet deeper into the ground, a very difficult pull.  In the old days we put two screw jacks, on on each side of a device that slipped over the pipe and turned the screws to get it up the first 10 feet.  

Pump removed, and the pipe pulled, but broken off 90 feet below.  It had rusted almost off where the steel pipe met the brass or bronze cylinder-- under water it eats away with dissimilar metals. 

Having decided to go for a new well closer to the house, Brian brings in the well drilling equipment on Friday.  

99 feet deep, the new well is dug through 25 feet of clay, then coarse gravel, finer gravel and then wet gravel at 80 feet, clay layer at 90 feet and on through to finer sand full of water at 99 feet!

6 inch steel well casing welded in 20 foot sections -- old fashioned but very long lasting

A $1000 drilling bit (3 grinding wheels)

The rig sat for a few days and a robin built a nest

Water begins at 80 feet and gushes at 99

Temporary water through the top of the casing but not good for winter as it will freeze, so a trench to the house comes Monday

A tank, pressure switch and gauge in the basement.  The final line will come underground through the basement floor. 

Monday a trench dug and filled by noon and now some landscaping and fresh clean water again. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Milkweed Mayhem

We let lots of milkweeds grow on the farm.  Around the edges of the fields, fence lines, the yard, pond margins, swamp edges etc.  Many thousands I would guess.  The idea is to attract monarch butterflies, who lay eggs on milkweeds, the caterpillar feeds on milkweeds and forms the coccoon on milkweeds and becomes a butterfly on them, as well as visits the flowers for food. 

So, being such a milkweed sponsor, something in the olden days of cow pasture and fields would have been a sign of a poor farmer, I spent a few hours checking them out over the past few days.  Milkweeds also grow on the other woods and old pasture at the cabin, so we should be a haven for monarchs.  

We see a few monarchs around, but not many, maybe one or two per day.  So, have they taken advantage of our milkweeds?

The answer appears to be a complete no!   No signs at all.   They are just coming into bloom, so we will keep watching.  Even though the monarchs are not using them, there are some other bugs that seem to be active.  

Honey Bee on the milkweed bloom
Red Milkweed Beetles enjoying themselves on the 4th of July 2015

Swamp milkweeds like lower wetter soil

I think all of the photos below are aphids or aphid eggs. Ants watch over them as they make honeydew from the milkweed plant that ants like to eat.

Milkweed sap is white, bitter and sticky.  

I saw another bug, the spined soldier bug on a milkweed but didn't get a photo.  So I looked on the internet and found this photo at  Bug Link  I will be looking for these spectacular eggs!  The bug was crawling around and disappeared or flew off as I was trying to focus closely.  

Friday, July 3, 2015

Beginning of July Flowers on the Farm

At the beginning of July, an inventory of the flowering plants here on the home 40.  Flowers are flowers, whether from weeds, gardens or flower beds for the bees and hummingbirds, so I mixed in a few tame ones with the wild flowers.  
Margo hoes some geranium plants.  These plants were brought in last fall, wintered and then set out this spring.  Slowly getting going.  Margo is starting to wean herself from the collar.  The old pain from her back is gone, but the neck pain left over from surgery comes back after some activity.  Three months from surgery and 9 months to go to complete the healing. 

Mullein plant has such nice soft velvety leaves, you wouldn't realize it contains a strong numbing pain killer.  Native Americans picked the leave green like this, pounded them in the creek upstream from a fish pool and this paralyzed the fish to float them up for a few minutes to be easily caught. 

Squash are blooming in the garden

Milkweed.  Have thousands on the farm, and a few monarchs, but haven't spotted a caterpillar yet

Red Clover is a favorite of the doe and two fawns that live in the tall grass and brush between the fields on the 40 acres

Wild Daisies are here and there and in the ditches

Wild Parsnip are very much a skin irritant that can last for years.  Not good to mix with, although the bees and bugs like them. 

Squash have started to set already. Hope the deer don't decide to munch on them.  

Dill in the garden comes up volunteer from seed each year.  This time it is in the strawberry bed

Sumac are blooming in the ravine where the creek has almost stopped running -- just after rains now. 

More Clover -- could be Alsack clover

Planter with some kind of climbing tame yellow flower seems to have taken off with the pansies.

The grasses are blooming, a difficult time for those with hayfever.  I used to have it, but sometime a few years back it seemed to disappear. 

Grasses are visited by pollen seekers too.  
The yellow flower with the small toothed leaves grows in the old cow pasture along with the other wild plants.  I think these are called potentilla or cinquefoil.  They have a shiny flower, not very large, but quite pretty

This moth on the milkweed bloom is probably the ctenucha virginia (I had to look for moth with orange head and blue neck to find that name).  The caterpillar of this looks quite like what the Fuller Brush salesman might have brought on his monthly sales trip to the farm.  

This photo from the Internet -- I think I have seen these around in fall along with the wooly bears
Unknown small flower.  Below is an enlargement of a cluster

White clover variation

A colony of aphids on the top of a weed.  They are insects which suck plant juices/sap and then excrete a sweet 'honeydew'.  Ants "raise" them for the honeydew. So we have ant farmers subletting some of our weeds to grow aphids.  I charge no rent as long as they stay on the weeds and out of the garden.  

I need to study up on the types of grasses that grow in the midwest.  Margo took horticulture in college -- 2 year course and had a good identification book, except it was black and white photos. I need a color one.  The problem is, there is a book for grasses in the midwest but it has 700 color pictures which makes me think I might never figure them out!
Grass Identification for the Midwest

A ground cherry in the orchard -- pygmy groundcherry I think.  They grow wild in my sand garden and in the old sandy fields.  They have an edible berry that actually tastes OK, similar to the tame groundcherry. 

Fleabane comes in shades from white to purple and is a rather pretty tiny flower that stands tall.  

A yarrow I think they range from white to yellow here. 

Yarrow are interesting if you move close.  

Swamp milkweed soon to bloom

More of the wild parsnip

Hairy vetch has claimed a spot on the hillside
It climbs over the rest of the grass and weeds to get sunlight and attract bees.  The seeds are in pods, tiny round black bb's. A legume, it produces its own nitrogen and grows lushly on the sand barrens too. 

Thistles must have lots of pollen and nectar as the honey bees seem to prefer them. 

Seed heads forming on the wild parsnips.