February 29, 2012 – Cat in the Box

Really not sure what to say about this!  Our cat, Steve, must be leading a double life as a chicken, looking for a cozy place to sit, or just needing a little uninterrupted “me time.”

cat in nest box

I hope he’s hunting, but his posture doesn’t project an alert mouser.

February 28, 2012 – Skystream a Topic in Italy

I was checking out the blog statistics, and noticed an unusual spike in traffic from Italy this week.  Italy?  Really? Had I offended the Holy See? Were my food pictures being mocked by Italian chefs?  Upon a deeper dive, I found the traffic mostly coming from a URL of a wind energy newsgroup that was discussing small wind turbines.  A few of the comments as translated through an online translator from Italian to English are pasted below.

Thanks I just try to put that bit of knowledge and information to those who are interested in micro wind power as an industry in its infancy, the maglev would not know, I attach an email that came my belief that this is an excellent turbine but not yet in Italy found, but there are production data that can make us understand the potential of micro wind.


Very interesting, this seems very solid Skystream. Sure the movie is perceived distinctly the noise when it is exposed to wind a bun, I think it is normal for a 2.6 kW turbine that spins at 330 rpm, but the problem would become serious if it were installed (at least that power) to ‘inside of a town center or, worse still on the roof of a house. Listening to the video instead of futurenergy I had the impression that it is much quieter, you confirm?

February 26, 2012 – The Sweetness of February Begins

It was a good Sunday.  I had been pretty much cooped up working indoors the last few weeks, so I was looking forward to a nice day outdoors.  Today was double-duty farm work.  It was time to boil down 15 gallons of maple sap and begin pruning the fruit trees.

mobile sugar shack

Here’s the world famous mobile sugar shack.  An old barrel stove on a metal wagon that can be moved around to account for the wind – and it was windy today – near wind advisory criteria.  This photo pretty much shows it all.  Cart with wood, buckets with sap, coffee cup, willing boy, stove and evaporator pan a bubbling, and maple tree with container in the background.

Today’s enterprise is uber-sustainable.  The wood is from the storm last summer, the plastic cartons that use the sap will be converted to tomato shelters in a few months, and the leftover logs that hadn’t burned all the way were snuffed out for some biochar.  To top it off, we produced more electricity than we used.

boy pruning tree

While we wait, it’s a good time to begin pruning the fruit trees.  Martin starts on this one that needs some attention.

boy sleeping in tree

But eventually, the kids tuckers out and finds a makeshift resting place in the branches of an apple tree.

February 24, 2012 – Snow!

The biggest storm of the year (all three inches of it) at least stuck to everything to make a fanciful landscape.

dog in snow by barn

Doggy in the snow!

snow on fence

Snow fence.

Raspberry bushes.

snow on cold frame

Clear, blue skies and snow. A look of winter.

The chief engineer didn’t design for three inches of wet, heavy snow on the cold frame.  While it didn’t open up to the outside, some of the support wires did collapse.

But of course, under the snow, the water droplets on the plastic remain fluid.

February 22, 2012 – Sap’s Running!

I thought it might be time to tap the maple trees for the spring sap run.  A quick email to our friends at Morning Sun farm found they had just tapped their trees and already had 50 gallons in the hand.

drill tap hole

Drill a hole.

pound tap

Pound in a tap.

dripping maple tap

Sap flow!

tap buckets on tree

About four hours after getting the taps in, this tree has already filled the buckets about 3/4 full.

February 20, 2012 – Ground’s Unfrozen, It’s Warm, Let’s Plant!

With the non-winter we’ve had, it’s hard to ignore the calendar.  Nevertheless, the ground is unfrozen, it’s warm with no subzero cold blasts in the forecast, so it’s time to gamble with a few cents worth of seeds for the reward of some early season produce.

boy with hoe

We found some space with a southern slope and the barn to the north to block any strong north winds, worked up the soil a bit and put some stiff wires in the ground.  I put some wires on the ends straight across and put the rest at an angle.  Then we planted and watered.

easy cold frame

Put the plastic across, stick another round of stiff wire crossing the first wires now inside the plastic, secure the edges, and wait.  I’ll have to come out and open up a side on warm, sunny days so the plants don’t wither in the heat.

February 14, 2012 – Norse Unite!

On a college visit with Emma to Luther College, I picked up a knitting pattern for a Norse hat.

norse hat

Here’s father and son proudly wearing the hat on a rare snowy day (it melted with 24 hours).  Linda was kind enough to knit them for us.  We do attract attention wherever we walk wearing these beauties!

February 6, 2012 – Where’s the Snow?

Here’s an unusual sight – the white pines near the barn covered in hoarfrost without any snow on the ground!

barn with hoarfrost trees

Once the sun comes out, the hoarfrost isn’t long for the world, so I rushed out.

white pine with hoarfrost

The needle-like frost looks nasty on this white pine. Evidently the northern edge of Des Moines had the first real snowfall of the year, about 9 inches – here only a dusting that melted quickly away.

February 5, 2012 – Another One Bites the Dust

Another snapped-off tree from last July’s storm gets taken out of the way.

All gravy to get this kind of work done in February!  When the ground freezes back up again, I can get the tractor and loader back to take the stump down to a burn pile.

February 4, 2012 – Claire’s got Stones!

At least curling stones.

You’re looking at about 640 pounds of pure unadulterated fun on ice.

Macalester offered up an free afternoon of curling to a busload of students – Claire was all over it as a daughter whose father neglected her by never once taking her to a hockey game, even though her little brother witnessed the Frozen Four championship game.  Here a nice man instructs the kids how the game is played.

Not yet skilled at using the broom as an extension of the arm to maintain balance during the throw, she’s down. I hope she was able to say that the stone made it into the house.

OK, at least Claire made it into the house!

As with most sports, although you might not think of it, every possible warning is issued to protect from legal action in the unlikely event a stone becomes airborne.  I just went and added the Canadian cult film Men with Brooms to my Netflix queue!

February 2, 2012 – So Much More than a Groundhog!

Happy Candlemas/Feast of the Presentation of the Lord/Groundhog Day/Imbolc/Lupercalia to all!

This is surely an important day, based on the many layers of tradition and meaning assigned to this otherwise unremarkable-sounding day. It is a day deeply-layered within many traditions – following is an abbreviated summary of some of the major markings of the day.

Romans celebrated Februa, also known as Februatio, the Roman festival of ritual purification, later incorporated into Lupercalia. The festival, commemorating spring washing or cleaning is old, and possibly of Sabine (pre-Roman) origin. According to Ovid, Februare as a Latin word which refers to means of purification derives from an earlier Etruscan word referring to purging.

In turn, the Romans celebrated Lupercalia, a very ancient, pre-Roman pastoral festival,to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Lupercalia subsumed Februa, an earlier-origin spring cleansing ritual held on the same date, which gives the month of February its name.

Traditionally the Western term “Candlemas” (or Candle Mass) referred to the practice whereby a priest on 2 February blessed beeswax candles for use throughout the year, some of which were distributed to the faithful for use in the home. In Poland the feast is called wi tem Matki Bo ej Gromnicznej. This name refers to the candles that are blessed on this day, called gromnicy, since these candles are lit during (thunder) storms and placed in windows to ward off storms.

Within the Roman Catholic Church, since the liturgical revisions of the Second Vatican Council, this feast has been referred to as the Feast of Presentation of the Lord, with references to candles and the purification of Mary de-emphasised in favor of the Prophecy of Simeon the Righteous. Pope John Paul II connected the feast day with the renewal of religious vows.

Pope Innocent XII believed Candlemas was created as an alternative to Roman Paganism, as stated in a sermon on the subject:

Why do we in this feast carry candles? Because the Gentiles dedicated the month of February to the infernal gods, and as at the beginning of it Pluto stole Proserpine, and her mother Ceres sought her in the night with lighted candles, so they, at the beginning of the month, walked about the city with lighted candles. Because the holy fathers could not extirpate the custom, they ordained that Christians should carry about candles in honor of the Blessed Virgin; and thus what was done before in the honor of Ceres is now done in honor of the Blessed Virgin.

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, which falls on 2 February, celebrates an early episode in the life of Jesus. In the Eastern Orthodox Church and some Eastern Catholic Churches, it is one of the twelve Great Feasts. Other traditional names include Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and the Meeting of the Lord. In the Roman Catholic Church the “Feast of the Presentation of the Lord” is a Feast Day, the major feast between the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle on January 25 and the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle on February 22. In some Western liturgical churches, Vespers (or Compline) on the Feast of the Presentation marks the end of the Epiphany season. In the Church of England, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple is a Principal Feast celebrated either on February 2 or on the Sunday between January 28 and February 3.

In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple is the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary.

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, folks celebrate Imbolc (also Imbolg), or St Brigid’s Day, an Irish festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is celebrated on February 1 or 2 (or February 12, according to the Old Calendar) These dates fall approximately halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The festival was observed in Gaelic Ireland during the Middle Ages.The holiday was, and for many still is, a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearthfires, special foods, candles or a bonfire if the weather permits. Imbolc is traditionally a time of weather prognostication, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens is perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day. A Scottish Gaelic proverb about the day is:

“The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.”

Fire and purification are an important aspect of this festival. Brigid is the Gaelic goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft. As both goddess and saint she is also associated with holy wells, sacred flames, and healing. The lighting of candles and fires represents the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. Saint Brigid’s feast day is on the 1st February celebrated as St Brigid’s Day in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and by some Anglicans. The Gaelic festival coincides with Imbolc, which has sometimes been identified as the remnant of a prehistoric pagan festival associated with Brigid.

All in all, I feel kind of cheated as here in the USA in 2012, all we get is Punxsutawney Phil!