Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Corn in the backyard 2011, week 15

 August 28

Last week growing degree days = 177
Historical average growing degree days = 162

Growing degree days since planting = 2670
Historical average since planting = 2356

Another slightly-warmer-than-normal week, and since we haven't seen much rain, the corn is forced to dig its roots down deep for whatever moisture might be hiding in the soil.  We're now only a few days away from reaching the black layer stage when the kernels stop growing and start drying out.

You can't see it in this photo, but several ears in the field are displaying nice kernels all the way to the end of the ear.  I believe that's a good sign that pollination was effective despite the heat at the time.  You'll notice further drying of the husks and stalks, and at least one morning glory visible in the top photo.  Not many weeks left until harvest!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

How do you know when your hops are ripe?

That's the question I've been Googling lately.  Having never grown hops before, I'm a bit nervous about harvesting at the right time.  Fortunately, there's a lot of information on the internet, and some of it appears to be helpful.  If nothing else, here are some shots of our Cascade hops this week.

I promised last time to include a ruler in a photo, and as you can see above, the largest hops are just under two inches long.  The cones seem to open up as they ripen, which seems to coincide with good lupulin production in the cone.

This is the most-heavily-laden bine, with what I think is a pretty good crop.

One of the tricks of determining ripeness is to break the cone open to observe and smell the lupulin inside.  Can you see the yellow powdery substance near where each leaf attaches at the center of the cone?  That's lupulin, or what we're trying to obtain from these hops.

The aroma of the lupulin was very strong when I held the cone close to my nose.  Each member of my family described the smell differently, describing it as pine, lemon, box elder bug, mint and generic green plant.  Internet sources call for a spicy, citrus and pine smell, so I think we're pretty close right now.

This is the same cone after drying indoors for two days, and photographed with the macro zoom feature on my camera.  I don't recall if the lupulin changed much over the two days, but zoomed in like this, it appears more crystalline than powdery.

This image was taken with the camera shooting into the eyepiece of our stereo microscope set at 30x magnification.  The lupulin is definitely there, and appears even more crystalline at this magnification.  Most of the cones were not as ripe as the cone pictured here, but harvest appears to be just around the corner.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Corn in the backyard 2011, week 14

 August 21

Last week growing degree days = 174
Historical average growing degree days = 168

Growing degree days since planting = 2493
Historical average since planting = 2194

Although the week started cool, the heat came back at the end of the week sufficient to record more growing degree units than average.  The field (and our yard) hasn't seen any significant rain for a few weeks, and I think I can see the corn finally reacting to the heat and lack of rain.  Some of the plants have as many as six leaves turning brown, and many of the ear husks are showing signs of drying also.  The ears should still be building each kernel, as we have over 250 heating degree units to go before we reach the black layer stage for this hybrid.

Here's a closer view of the ears we've been watching.
And finally, a cornflower morning glory, one of several that are adding a little color to the field.  Would you like me to pull this weed Farmer Wagenbach?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hotel art

If you're like me, you're seldom inspired by the art you find in hotel rooms or lobbies.  Crude landscapes or still-life attempts are ignorable at best, and can often become offensive if you stare at them too long.  I think good art is much more attractive than a bare wall, but I also prefer a bare wall over bad art.

I am pleased to report that bad art is no longer synonymous with inexpensive hotels.  Our recent stay at a Quality Inn in Omaha, Nebraska exceeded my expectations in several ways, not the least of which was the wall decoration.  While waiting in the lobby at check-in, the library opposite the check-in desk caught my eye as being more refined and inviting than what one normally finds in a cookie-cutter chain hotel, but I ignored (perhaps out of habit) what was hanging on the walls.  Later, while walking from the lobby to my room, I noticed something familiar out of the corner of my eye: Martin Luther.

Or rather a print based on Hans Holbein's famous portrait of Luther.  The inscription beneath the image says:

Engraved by C.E. Wagstaff
From the original Picture by Holbein
in his Majesty's Collection at Windsor
Under the Superintendance of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge
London, Published by Charles Knight, Pall Mall East

The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge?  Who knew such a thing existed?  Formed in 1826, the organization "published inexpensive texts intended to adapt scientific and similarly high-minded material" for the working and middle classes in England (according to Wikipedia).  Several other similar portraits produced by the SDUK were displayed in that hall including this image of one of my favorite mathematicians.

This image of Sir Isaac Newton was engraved by E. Scriven from the original picture by Vanderbank, which at the time was in the possession of the Royal Society.  The SDUK only remained in operation until 1848, but some of its art lives on in Omaha!

The Quality Inn gallery wasn't limited to portraits, as quite a few of the images had an architectural bent.  This photo of the chapel in Farnham Castle in Surrey is quaint enough to make you want to visit the castle, and appears to be part of a series of plates.  This wasn't the only Farnham Castle image in the collection, but it was one of my favorites.

The art collection isn't the only thing going for this hotel.  The beds are comfortable, the rooms are quiet, the air conditioning is cold, and the complimentary hot breakfast was delicious -- but then, maybe the endless supply of bacon had something to do with that.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Corn in the backyard 2011, week 13

 August 14

Last week growing degree days = 168
Historical average growing degree days = 168

Growing degree days since planting = 2319
Historical average since planting = 2026

We finally got a break from the heat last week as we had three days in a row of below average temperatures.  That hadn't happened since June 29.  You might also have noticed the growing degree units for the week were consistent with an average year, which hasn't happened since week six.  The ears should still be developing kernels as we're over 400 growing degree units shy of what this hybrid requires.  The stalks are showing definite signs of drying as most of the plants I surveyed were displaying between one and five dry leaves.

Here's the latest close-up of the stalks and ears we're watching this year.  Everything looks good to this amateur corn watcher.  Stay tuned for more updates.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hops cone development

When we last reported on our hops plants about four weeks ago, the bines were almost at their full length, and the cones had just started to appear.  What a difference a few weeks makes!  The cones are developing nicely, and although they are smaller than I expected, many of them are approaching full size.

This gives you a little perspective on size.  Next time I'll try to remember to include a ruler in the photo.
This shot better illustrates just how many cones are developing on the Cascade bines.  Unfortunately, the Willamette bines are showing a distinct paucity of cones, although plenty of foliage.  I don't know if that reflects a difference in each variety's time to bear fruit, or is a reflection of the general health of the bine.  When I planted the rhizomes, the Cascades were noticeably more robust.

It appears that we will at least have a good harvest of Cascade this year, and maybe next year will be more fruitful for the Willamette.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Corn in the backyard 2011, week 12

August 7

Last week growing degree days = 221
Historical average growing degree days = 175

Growing degree days since planting = 2151
Historical average since planting = 1858

We collected about the same number of growing degree units this week as we did the week before, which was significantly higher than average in both cases.  Even though we didn't have any appreciable rain, the corn has shown little sign of stress, and appears to be maturing normally.  The stalk drying continued slowly this week, but still has a long way to go before this season is over.

Here's a closer view of the two stalks we've been watching.  The ears are still looking good and should be continuing to build healthy kernels.  By the measure of growing degree units, these ears should have about another month before the black layer develops.  We'll stay on top of that and everything else happening in the field this summer.  Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Homemade caramel sauce taste testing

When one has the desire to make caramel sauce, but isn't sure which recipe to use, what does one do?  In our case, we made two recipes and performed a taste test.  Competing head to head was the Pioneer Woman's Easy Caramel Sauce versus Kitten's Easy Caramel Sauce from Kittencal's Kitchen.  The recipes themselves can be found on the respective websites, so we won't repeat them here, but simply report our impressions.

Here's a shot of three of our four judges studiously comparing each sample, spoonful by spoonful by spoonful.  It's a hard job, but someone's got to do it!

Pioneer Woman's sauce has a rich, inviting appearance and a creamy, smooth texture.  We were a bit startled by the amount of vanilla specified in the recipe, so we only used 2/3 of the 1 tablespoon recommended.  We realize that means we really didn't test the Pioneer Woman's recipe, but we felt justified in our decision when the final product had a strong vanilla flavor, even after reducing that ingredient.  Brown sugar was also easily identified,  and although sweeter than its competition, this sauce was hard to stop eating.

Kitten's caramel sauce had a less intense appearance that reminded me of the caramel candies my aunt used to make for her nieces and nephews.  This sauce was also smooth and creamy, and we found its flavor more balanced and subtle than the flavor of its foe.  This sauce was also addictive, and was easy to consume by the spoonful.  The majority of the judges preferred this sauce when tasted by itself.

How often does one eat caramel sauce by itself without ice cream as a carrier food?  Okay, maybe that's not a good question.  Nonetheless, I thought comparing the sauces on ice cream might be a more valid test of the true worth of each one.  When applied liberally to vanilla ice cream, Kitten's sauce continues to outshine its competitor.  Pioneer Woman's sauce seemed to be easily lost in the ice cream, not contributing as much to the sundae.  Kitten's sauce complimented the ice cream well, and added a complexity to the total package as one would expect a good ice cream topping to do.

We have enjoyed several blog posts and recipes from the Pioneer Woman in the past, and we think she has a very tasty caramel sauce, but her recipe came in second in this comparison.  Kittencal has a better balanced sauce, in our opinion, one that stands well on its own, and enhances any bowl of vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Corn in the backyard 2011, week 11

July 31

Height = 101 inches
Last week growing degree days = 222
Historical average growing degree days = 176

Growing degree days since planting = 1930
Historical average since planting = 1683

Another hot week for the corn field, although not quite as hot as the week before.  We've been blessed with a bit of rain, so that has probably helped the corn endure the heat without signs of significant stress.  Farmer Wagenbach informed us earlier that this hybrid needs about 2755 growing degree units to reach the black layer phase, so it looks like we've got over 800 more growing degree days before we can expect the corn to be that mature.  In the meantime, we'll look for other signs of maturity, such as those shown in the picture below.

The silks have darkened indicating they've done their duty in the pollination cycle, and now the plant needs to grow healthy kernels on its ears so they can reach maturity in a timely fashion.  A few of the plants are showing the very earliest signs of stalk drying, which is not surprising for this time of year.  Stay tuned, 'cause it looks like we're on the home stretch!

Monday, August 1, 2011

The most comfortable chickens in the county

Just down the road from our house live the most comfortable chickens in the county.  They don't settle for chicken wire walls or plywood roofs, they live in splendor!  Wall-to-wall carpet, individual beds, a kitchen, and bathroom, and above all: air conditioning!  (Although by the position of the windows, it appears the air conditioning was turned off when I took the photo).

PETA should have no complaints here as, sadly, these chickens have a more substantial residence than about 80% of the world's humans.  It's apparent the owners that provide for these pampered poultry cherish these tender birds, and wish to provide them with all the advantages a bird might need to succeed in the world today.  I wonder how they taste?