Friday, June 18, 2021

Never trust a fart or the weather forecast


Arrow direction denotes direction of storm according to radar animation. Head of arrow is approximately on top of Eaton Rapids.

By the time you are in your sixties you have learned a few things. You learn to not trust farts, politicians's promises or the weather forecast.

The weather guessers predicted rain for Eaton Rapids as they have done many times this spring. Looking at the radar (and out our south window), the blind squirrel may have found an acorn this time.

It looks promising.

Remnant: Taking names and kicking...

The first time Melody ever saw her father drunk was three days after they buried her mother.

Dar pulled the bottle of whiskey out of the cupboard, unscrewed the cap and methodically worked his way through the entire bottle.

That was not to say that she had never seen him have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner. That was a regular event. What she had never seen was him set about the business of becoming drunk, seriously, stupidly drunk.

Dar was not a heavy man. About five-eight and still tightly knit of whip-cord and sinew he was one-seventy-five in his skivvies. The fifth of 101 proof bourbon hit him hard.

It took four shots to peel the grim exterior off of him. Then the stories came bubbling out.

Two-thirds the way down the tears started welling up.

Dar slammed the shotglass down with finality after downing the last shot some six hours later. He was back to grim.

He fired a glance over at Jarrell and said “You and me are going to have a little talk tomorrow morning.”

Then he hauled himself up and wobbled over to the kitchen door. He puked over the rosebushes and then put himself to bed after downing a tumbler of water.

Melody was worried. She had just lost her mother and she feared her father would crawl into a bottle.

Jarrell advised her to give it some time. “If he wasn’t a drunk before, than one bottle of whiskey isn’t likely to turn him into one.”

Jarrell had run into more than his share of whiskey-bottle epiphanies while at the University.

Friends and roommates would get drunk after soul-crushing disappointments: Failed classes, rocky break-ups with girlfriends and the like.

Sometimes they picked up the next morning (after the hangover abated) as if nothing had happened.

Other times they would careen off in totally unpredictable directions. It was as if the booze dissolved the inhibitions and allowed the mind to add apples and orangutans and end up with automatic transmissions.

Jarrell could hardly wait until morning to see if Dar remembered his desire to have a long talk.


Dar not only remembered but he woke Jarrell early and insisted he join him on his morning run.

In his prime, Jarrell could have pushed Dar. But not today. Jarrell was winded at the end of the five mile run.

Dar said “From now on, I am in training.”

“Training for what, sir?” Jarrell asked. Somehow the “sir” seemed warranted.

“That depends on how our conversation goes” Dar sidestepped.

That was a puzzler.

Dar was positively loquacious over breakfast. It was as if he were interviewing for a job. He coldly and clinically reviewed his strengths and then followed by outlining his limitations.

Then he did the same for Jarrell. He didn’t pull any punches. He characterized Jarrell’s ability to protect Melody as “barely adequate but improving daily”.

“You and I are very, very different people” Dar observed. “I am a doer. I am like a mousetrap that snaps shut or a predator that strikes from ambush.”

“You are a thinker, a planner and a dreamer” Dar characterized. “You see how things fit together.”

All this left Jarrell a bit confused. Dar generally talked in simple sentences that went in straight lines.

“Everyone and everything I care about is in that room” Dar said, jabbing his thumb toward the room Melody and Jarrell shared.

“Everything else I ever cared for is dead to me now. Somebody killed it” Dar said. “I am a simple man. Eye-for-an-eye. Tooth-for-a-tooth.”

“My problem is I cannot sort out the targets from the stage-props” Dar said. “I need targets and I think you are the man to tell me who they are.”

Jarrell could not argue with Dar’s assessment. Dar was three levels above Jarrell when it came to the nitty-gritty of life in the street. He also, modestly, agreed that he was at least three levels above Dar when it came to how corporate, bureaucratic minds worked.

“I won’t lie to you” Jarrell started out. “I could give you a few names but it wouldn’t make a difference.”

“It would make a difference to me” Dar said, evenly.

“Hear me out” Jarrell said.

“I can give you names and even some addresses but they are pawns. The machine is like an iceberg. Nearly all of it is underwater, out-of-sight” Jarrell said.

“You can kill ten or a hundred of them and they are no more than so many pairs of disposable gloves to ‘the machine’.”

“So you won’t help me” Dar said.

“That is not where I am going with this” Jarrell said.

“Do you remember that demonstration outside the Capitol January 6th?” Jarrell asked.

Dar snorted. Who could forget.

“It was never about the election” Jarrell said. “It was about the contents of the laptops that walked out and were never recovered. That is why both parties and the Judiciary and the Pentagon and Big Tech and the media are still totally hysterical.”

"That is why EVERY person they could identify was rounded up, jailed and many of them tortured for information."  

“Fifty years ago spies could only write a few lines on a piece of paper using their urine for ink. Or they could take one or two pictures with a camera. Not any more.”

“Do you know how much information can be crammed on the 15 Terabyte SSD of a state-of-the-art laptop? Except for the fact that the information is tainted, there could be enough ‘dirt’ to convict half of the elected officials in America and to coerce 20,000 judges and filthy secrets that would drive 500,000 families into divorce.”

“What does that have to do with me?” Dar asked. He was a very concrete man.

“Grady Fulsom is the Acting Governor. All of the money trails lead to him. My sources tell me that he took up residence in a secure compound on Torch Lake.” Jarrell said.

“Bring back his laptop and I can give you a list of thousands of soft-targets. Maybe even tens-of-thousands. I can give you the names of the people who killed Leslie to put two more pennies in their pocket” Jarrell said.

---Author's note: This is where I am going to end this story. If it is any solace, Dar Spaulding lived for another twenty-five years. He also became absent minded and lost several gross-lots of 4", straight blade screwdrivers in that twenty-five years.

Assume what you will. ---

Thursday, June 17, 2021

When is it too late to plant a garden?


Salsify aka Oyster root. Picture taken June 17, 2021

The essays about subsistence gardening seem to generate a lot of reader engagement. I take that as a sign that it is a topic that resonates given the possibility of hyper-inflation.

I am NOT a gardening expert. I have readers (Howard in Alaska and Milton in Indiana and M.R. Tumnus to mention just a few) who leave me in the dust. I can share what I think I know and then others can chime in.

The other point to keep in mind is that good advice for Michigan or Washington state will be laughably stupid in Texas or Alaska. Find somebody selling at your local farmer's market who has dirt beneath their fingernails and ask the for advice.

When is it too late to start a garden?

My father planted most of his gardens the second week of June because of business commitments that prevented him from planting one earlier. For the sake of this essay, let's assume that meant an average planting date of June 10.

The selection of tomato plants at the greenhouse were very picked over. He planted Rutgers and Bonnie Bess tomatoes, Red Pontiac potatoes, butternut squash and Iochief sweetcorn. I cannot remember a crop "failure".

The first frost that leveled "soft" crops like tomatoes and melons was usually mid-September. The first hard freeze that finished the job was usually two weeks later. We canned hundreds of quarts of tomatoes picked from vines that were frost-blasted but the tomatoes continued to ripen.

That pencils out to an "effective" growing season of 97 days for tomatoes and 112 for "harder" crops.

By contrast, I shoot to plant my potatoes May 1, my corn May 15, tomatoes May 25ish and melons/beans/cukes June 1.


Picture in your head a plant that flips your preconceptions of the natural order a plant's life-cycle on its head.

Suppose it evolved in a region subject to intense summer droughts. Maybe lands like Italy, Greece, the eastern-Mediterranean and the Tigris-Euphrates region, the Indus river valley...most of the regions where agriculture developed.

Those seeds would sprout in the late-summer rains. The plants would store up resources and hunker-down for the winter. Then, with the return of the sun in spring it would make a sprint to produce flowers and seeds before the next drought.

Biennials don't live for two years except in the sense that their life-cycle spans two calendar years.

Nearly all garden crops that we store in a root cellar are biennials: Carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, beets, onions, garlic, cabbage. It also includes many exotic vegetables: Salsify, burdock, daikon, chicory, scorzonera and greens like spinach and kale.

They store up reserves in roots or fleshy leaves and stems during the shortening days of autumn and then flower-and-set-seeds in the lengthening days of late spring.

Territorial Seed is based in western Oregon 
Let me repeat in case I was too subtle: There is a very large number of garden plants that WANT to be planted July 1 or later as that fits their natural rhythm as clocked by changing day-length and soil moisture. They WANT to be planted late!

So, after dancing around...when is it too late?

If you have the seeds and the time, I would consider it to be worth your while to plant turnips, spinach and a few other crops as late as September 1st or even a bit later in southcentral Michigan. Wheat and rye and garlic could be planted as late as October 15 for harvest early the next summer.

Your mileage will vary.

Playing hooky


Some readers might remember last fall when I was taking "The Kid" fishing.

I got a call from the Kid's father and he asked me to stop inviting the Kid. According to his father, my taking the Kid fishing was causing some kind of problem at home.

He did not specify the nature of the problem. I did not ask.

So, there I was, needing a new fishing partner.

Family to the rescue

Pictures of Shotgun holding up his dogfish made the rounds.

They decided we needed adult supervision.

Shotgun and I had company. My oldest brother showed up at six. My youngest brother showed up slightly later and then my oldest nephew and his son showed up.

We harvested three dogfish yesterday. We also caught and released a couple of 11" bullheads and a largemouth bass. My second-grade nephew reeled in the 22" dogfish.

Mine was a whopping 28" and had a gut full of food. We did not open him up but I believe it was bluegills since they are spawning now and those would be the easiest prey to find and take.

We were using cut bait (a bluegill) and 4/0 circle hooks, steel leaders and spinning rods with 20 lb-test line.

All three dogfish are destined to fertilize the roses in least the parts that don't get dug up by the resident raccoons.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Potatoes and nutritional density

I found out that if you were able to choke down 3 pounds per person per day you would get a bit over 1000 calories/day.   From reader Uninformed

It is worse than that.


I will be using "specific gravity" as a proxy for caloric density in much of this essay because it is relatively easy to measure specific gravity and that is what most of the literature reports. 

As with many things, details are important. In fact, from the lens of the subsistence gardener, details are very, very important.

The chart shown above is from MSU data. The bright red data point is the average of "red" boiler potatoes like Dark Red Norland and Red Pontiac and you would have to eat six pounds of them to get 1000 Calories. The bright yellow dot is the average for "round, white tablestock" which includes Yukon Gold. The elongated brown data point is the average for "russet tablestock" and the boomerang shaped data point is the average for "chipping stock" (three pounds to get 1000 Calories).

Potato chips are BIG business in Michigan. Cultural parameters were tweaked to hit a specific gravity of 1.085 for the chipping stock and the others fell wherever.

The big chip processors require a specific gravity of 1.080-to-1.085. Variation in moisture results in chips coming out of the fry-bath soggy or burned.

The second level of detail
Suppose you are a commercial producer of potatoes intended for the consumer's table and you are making variety and growing decisions.

The effect of irrigation on yield and specific gravity
Looking at the extremes, you have the choice of shipping 30,000 kg per ha (approximately 27,000 pounds per acre) with a specific gravity of 1.074 or you can ship 65% more product per unit area of land with a specific gravity of 1.066.

You get paid by the amount delivered and cosmetic appearance. You would be daft to not irrigate to maximize shippable product.

If you are choosing varieties, do you choose Russet Burbanks which might produce 30,000 pounds of US#1 per acre (S.G. of 1.075) or Norkoda Russet at 45,000 pounds of US#1 per acre (S.G. 1.065)?

Most people who buy potatoes at the grocery store are not informed enough to prefer Burbanks over Norkoda nor do they prefer a Kennebec with a specific gravity of 1.074 over a bag with a specific gravity of 1.066.

A specific gravity of 1.085 is not a "hard-stop"

Michigan chipping processors specify the 1.080-1.085 range of specific gravities because they know they will receive some shipments from growers who struggle to get over 1.080 due to soil, sun exposure, late rains and choice of variety. They would LOVE to raise the window to 1.085-to-1.090 or something higher because that would lower their energy costs and improve the throughput at the fryer vat. 

They could raise the window but then the rate of rejects...after frying...would be higher and that is expensive scrap because it is lost salable product.

As a subsistence gardener, it is not rocket science to increase the caloric density of your potatoes

Pre-planting decisions:

  • Choose a site that gets great sun exposure. Just like sun ripens grapes that make good wine, sun makes potatoes. Sites with great sun exposure are rare in cities and suburbs.
  • Ensure the site has adequate potassium.
  • Ensure the site has enough nitrogen to grow a full canopy quickly. Sun that does not fall on leaves does not make nutrition. BUT, don't use any more nitrogen than that amount. This is an experience thing.
  • Choose varieties that are noted for high specific gravity. Those are usually later varieties. Some catalogs (Example) list potatoes as "waxy" or "mealy". You want dry/mealy/floury potatoes to maximize caloric density. Specific gravities for potato varieties can be found on the internet but you have to be careful to not compare values from different sites to avoid apples/oranges comparisons.

Planting decisions:

  • Plant early so you have full canopy during the longest days of summer.
  • Plant closely enough together that they canopy quickly but far enough apart so that potato plants don't compete with each other. This will vary by site fertility, availability of irrigation and vigor of the variety you choose.

Growing decisions:

  • Control weeds. Sunlight that weeds intercept cannot make potatoes.
  • Control insects. The leaves they eat cannot intercept sunlight.
  • Irrigate through early and mid-summer, if necessary, to ensure plants don't shut-down for lack of moisture.
  • Back off irrigation in late-summer (mid-August for me) to ensure natural die-down.
  • Harvest AFTER natural die-down. Your vines will squeeze every bit of goodness out of the vines and pack it into the tubers...if you let them. Some growers like to leave the tubers in the ground for a couple of weeks so they can harden up.

It is difficult to over-emphasize the importance of good sunlight. "Out west" blows the doors off eastern potatoes for specific gravity because they have clear skies and intense sunlight many more days of the year than us "back east". If a grower in Idaho or Washington is striving for high specific gravity rather than maximum tonnage, specific gravities of 1.120 are well within reach.


The nutritional density of potatoes can vary by a factor of three.

It is lunacy to grow, dig and store, cook and eat three times the mass of potatoes when the same gross amount of nutrition can be captured in half or a third of that amount.

Nutritional density of potatoes can be controlled, within limits, by the grower. The economic incentives for a subsistence gardener are significantly different than they are for a commercial farmer.

Attempting to survive solely on potatoes...without additional a huge amount of potatoes, even with the most nutritionally dense potatoes available.

Let me repeat, if potatoes are a cornerstone of your subsistence gardening plans, you need to also have a plan to add fats to your diet.

Remnant: Church shopping

The light was fading fast as Bruce walked past the Lutheran church. He was a half mile from home.

On a whim, he walked up to the door of the house next door and knocked. Somewhere he had heard that the house was the pastor's”

A spritely woman answered the door.

Bruce asked if the Pastor was in.

He was. He was on the back deck smoking a cigar.

Bruce joined him on the deck.

The pastor, a burly man of late-middle age squinted at him. “Do I know you?” he asked in a rumbley, baritone voice.

“Probably not?” Bruce admitted. He pointed up road and said “I am a neighbor. I am Bruce Simpkins.”

The pastor nodded. “Blue Spruces out front? Husqvarna zero-turn?”

“Yup. That’s me” Bruce said.

“I apologize for being blunt but it saves a lot of time” the pastor said. “We have been here for thirty years and people I met back then expect me to remember them. People change a lot in that time.”

The pastor patted his belly “I used to be skinny, for instance.”

Bruce allowed how people could change a lot over thirty years.

“Isn’t that a long time for a pastor to stick around?” Bruce asked.

“Maybe” the pastor said. “But we were raising a family and Eaton Rapids is a good place to do that. By the time the kids left we had roots and were comfortable.”

“That was close enough to the reasons why Bruce still lived in Eaton Rapids that he understood completely.

The pastor didn’t seem to be in any hurry to hear why Bruce was there. He still had four inches left on his cigar and the night had soft tones to it that held the promise of the coming summer.

Bruce blurted out “I am looking for a church.”

The pastor nodded, sagely. “Well, I got one. It might be a fit or the shoe might pinch. The only way to tell is to attend a month’s worth of services. I will point out that a solid church that is a half mile away is better than a perfect church that is a four hour walk away.”

That seemed like a pretty fair assessment.

The pastor worked the cigar down about another half inch when Bruce ventured “All these migrants coming out of Lansing. Quite a challenge.”

If the pastor noticed that Bruce had wrapped the “challenge” in completely neutral language, he gave no indication. Words were the pastor’s prime tools. He noticed. He just didn’t give any indication.

“God’s children, just like we all are. Many of them are kids” the pastor observed. It was banter and “easy”; not a verbal sword-fight.

“What are you doing for them?” Bruce asked. It was getting darker and he needed to know.

“Mostly they need to get out of the weather. We can sort out the other issues later. But first they need a roof over their heads, food and some warmer clothing” the pastor said.

“Are you housing any of them in the church?” Bruce asked. The facility was much, much smaller than 1st-C's. The building's footprint was less than one-tenth the size of 1st-C's.

“We talked about it” the pastor said. “but we decided it was better to reserve it as an emergency shelter for those who show up at you just did...and when the weather is really bad.”

“Some of the women want to move the top of the griddle outside and start a tortilla factory. The kitchen isn’t very useful without gas or electricity” the pastor said with a note of sadness. The pastor was very fond of church meals…even the funeral meals. Much healing of wounded souls happened at funeral meals.

“Mostly, I am leaving it up to my congregation” the pastor said. “I pointed out that the migrants qualified as ‘...the least of my brothers...’ and let them go from there.”

“Did it work?” Bruce asked.

“Lots of growing pains” the pastor grunted.

“It isn’t like we aren’t trying but there are a lot of moving parts and families showing up without warning.”

“I have members of my congregation with barns and warehouses and empty buildings.”

“I have members with storage units filled with usable clothing and more bicycles than you can shake a stick at.”

“I have members who need work done and I have sources willing to donate food.”

“What I don’t have, is the time or energy...or frankly the get it all organized and running smoothly.”

“These families cannot wait around for a week. They need a roof over their head tonight and a full meal first thing tomorrow” the pastor said.

Bruce cleared his throat. “Maybe I can help with that. I am a planner by nature and I suddenly have a lot of time on my hands.”

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

A quick note on the Jade and Provider bean seed viability test

I had five of the twenty-five, 2014 Provider bean seeds germinate.

I had zero of the twenty-five, 2013 Jade seeds germinate.

It is too uncontrolled to speculate whether Provider's better performance was due to inherent genetics, better storage or higher initial viability.

The difference was great enough that it was probably not an artifact of small numbers. They were planted within 15" of each other.

Three of the Provider seeds pushed the "seed leafs" and stalled for a bit. My assumption is that the clump of cells that differentiates and forms shoots and true leaves was either resolving from undifferentiated cells or the clump was on the order of just a few, viable cells and it was taking a while to double^x to the point where I could see it.

So, how long can seeds last?

William J. Beal started an experiment in 1879 where he collected fifty seeds of many 21 weed species, placed them in glass bottles filled with beach sand. Then he buried the bottles unstoppered,mouth-down in nothing-special dirt in a discrete location to simulate weed seeds being buried by a moldboard plow.

I don't know what motivated Beal to put moth mullein in the experiment. I have never seen it be a weed in ag-crops but see it in partial shade along roads and paths. I don't know why but am glad he did.

One of those bottles was unearthed in 2020 and one species, moth mullein, still had 50% viable seeds 120 years after being buried and none of the others did.

We can deduce that moth mullein has some inherent, genetic advantage for longevity over the seeds of the other twenty species. It may be as simple as the seed coats of one variety absorbing atmospheric moisture more easily (i.e. hygroscopic) than the other, thereby subjecting the germ to greater excursions in moisture.

Clover, for instance, is notable for having "hard seed" that takes years to germinate. That confers an advantages should the weather be horrible the year after the clover makes the seeds. "Hard seed" might be due to impervious seed coats that require scarification or soil fungi to break down.

The reason I mention moth mullein is that there might be inherent, genetic differences in how long the seeds of various bean cultivars remain viable. My intention is to grow-out the Provider and save the seeds.