Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Like a Rocket - A Dame's Rocket, That Is!

The farmstead was abandoned long ago. Time has erased the evidence that this little grove of trees ever sheltered a family from the worst of the Kansas winds. 

Only the Dame's rocket was left behind. The spindly purple-headed plants are still nestled in a grove of trees along the Raymond Road. Randy noticed them several years ago, and since then, we watch every spring for their blooming. 

Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses says that Dame's rocket was "an ornamental often planted by early settlers."

Granted, I have a vivid imagination, but I think about a farm wife new to the open plains of Kansas. Many settlers at the time had come from the east - from areas with more trees and vegetation. And I think about her trying to beautify this little spot of a new home with some pretty purple blooms.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) produces either white, pink or purple flowers in April and May. It was introduced to North America in the 1600s from Eurasia.  It is often seen in roadside ditches, hedgerows and older farmsteads. Scott Vogt from Dyck Arboretum in Hesston sees Dame's rocket as an invasive weed. In a publication from Dyck's Arboretum, Vogt writes: 

Dame’s Rocket is closely related to other problematic weeds of the mustard, family such as garlic mustard, hedge mustard, wild radish and yellow rocket. All of these weeds are prolific and opportunistic, infesting field margins, woodlands, open grassland and wetlands.  It ... has the ability to produce chemicals that prevent or reduce the growth of other plants similar to garlic mustard. With these tendencies, Dame’s rocket and garlic mustard will quickly form dense monocultures within a few years, pushing out other desirable native plants. 

That may be, but I still love the purple nestled under the trees. Randy knows I love them, so he tried to transplant some of the Dame's rocket at our homestead last year. It didn't take. So he tried again this year. We'll see how it fares.

 I am firmly in Winnie the Pooh's camp on this one:

Weeds are flowers, too,
once you get to know them.
Winnie the Pooh


Monday, May 13, 2024

Sky's the Limit!

 Sunrise February 19. 2024

The sky is the infinite movie for me. I never get tired of looking at what's happening up there.
Singer K.D. Lang

There's a game called "Never have I ever." Evidently, it's popular among teens at slumber parties. Well, I crossed a "Never have I ever" thing off my list last Friday. The Northern Lights were visible on the Kansas plains. And, from looking at Facebook, we weren't alone. People posted awe-inspiring photos from across the nation from places that don't normally experience them.

In truth, they were barely visible to the naked eye. But point the cell phone camera to the skies and a whole kaleidoscope filled the screen. 

We weren't the only ones driving around in our pajamas Friday night. We had to turn our headlights back on when our neighbors turned down the same dark country road where we were viewing the free light show. And yes, we all admitted to wearing our PJs for the trip outside.
We tried again on Saturday night, but clouds had started to move in, blocking the view. I did see photos from our neighbor, Rebecca, who knows more about photography than I do. But Saturday night didn't provide a repeat of the glut of Facebook posts that Friday spawned.

I've always loved to watch the sky.
My sisters and I sang a Joni Mitchell song, "Both Sides Now," for a 4-H Club Day long, long ago. That song often rolls around in my head, much like the clouds that shift in Kansas skies:
Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way.
 Sunrise February 19. 2024

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's clouds' illusions, I recall
I really don't know clouds at all.

I've always liked clouds, but I think I became even more aware when Brent was little. Some people have backseat drivers. I had a backseat cloud watcher. 

Sunrise and my sunrise tree - February

Brent was always discovering some shape in the marshmallow fluff of clouds floating by. 

Clouds reflected in the Rattlesnake Creek, April 2024

When the kids were little, I "retired" from working full-time as a writer-editor at The Hutchinson News, but I wrote a column for them, "At Home with Kim," for several years. Here an excerpt of what I wrote when Brent was in kindergarten:  
It was one of those days when it looks like the angels are using the clouds for tumbling mats. Brent and I were driving home, and he started cloud-watching.

"Oh, look, Mommy! That one looks like a dinosaur. And that one looks like a puppy."

We found an eagle and a dragon and a cat among the whipped-cream clouds. I was thinking that even though our world changes, some things - like cloud watching - have been children's pastimes for years and years.

And then he said, "Oh, there a roller blade."
As a child, I saw dragons and rabbits, but not a single roller blade was suspended in my cotton-candy skies. Change is part of us - even daydreaming cloud watchers confirm that.

Though I no longer have cloud watchers in the backseat, I still love watching the clouds. Perhaps it is their ability to change quickly, shifting the scenery in an instant. I personally struggle with change, so I guess I admire it in other things. 

April 2024

Maybe it's OK to have your head in the clouds on occasion

I recently saw this post featuring an Ralph Waldo Emerson quote on a friend's Facebook feed:

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety. Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in. Forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. Begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This new day is too dear, with its hopes and and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Maybe sunrises and sunsets are our celebration of a life colored by those attitudes - leaving behind the worries of the day and looking forward to the clear page provided by another new day.
It's worth a try.

Once upon a time, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.

Terry Tempest Williams


Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Every Month is Beef Month in Kansas


Maybe a cattle drive would be a fitting tribute to Kansas Beef Month. Never mind that the cattle drive actually happened at the end of April and not in May, which Gov. Laura Kelly has declared is officially Kansas Beef Month. Most any month is Beef Month in Kansas.

Kansas has nearly 44.8 million acres of agricultural ground. However, not all this land is suitable for growing crops. Some 22,000 Kansas farmers/ranchers use the 14 million acres of pasture and rangeland unsuitable for crops for cattle grazing and delivering high-quality protein to consumers through the meat case at grocery stores or sold directly to consumers.

According to the Kansas Department of Agriculture economic model, the beef industry has a direct output of more than $11 billion to the state’s economy, with the ranching and cattle feeding sectors employing nearly 20,000 Kansans and the meatpacking and prepared meat manufacturing industries employing 46,000. Additionally, Kansas ranks third nationally with 6.2 million cattle and calves on ranches and in feedyards. The most recent data shows the state also ranks third in total red meat production, with beef representing more than 6 billion pounds.

Our neighbor, Gary, had plenty of help on horseback as he moved cattle from a circle where they had been grazing on stalks back home to work them. He had told Randy that the "parade" would be passing by our house, so we were watching. Actually, we were listening to begin with. The cattle started their journey about a mile from our house. We could hear them bawling as they ambled closer toward us.

I'm sure it didn't seem like a quick process to those people actually involved, but the old-fashioned cattle drive passed by our house quickly. Our part in the cattle drive was mainly watching - though we did use a "Hey, hey, hey!" from our active cattle working days to keep the cattle moving down the road and out of our front lawn.

A trailer followed behind to transport any baby calves who couldn't keep up.  

That wasn't our only cattle activities this spring. While we retired from active farming in August 2022, we still own our mama cows. We provide the pasture, and Tye and his dad, Todd, do the daily care for the cows and calves for a percentage of the calves born each year. 

Randy helped the Millers gather cattle a couple of days and also helped work them. I guess when you're the retired one, you can sit down on the job on occasion.

Randy really did have jobs ...

including working the squeeze chute (which was more high-tech than ours was) ...

 ...and giving shots ...

 ... and applying the pour-on.

Though I was there mostly to take photos (at Randy's request), I did help write down eartag numbers. Nothing like doing something for old-time's sake, right?

That left Norva Lee free to keep the cows moving down the lane and getting other groups from the adjoining corrals.

And the number list helped Tye know which mama cow was coming up next. The Millers were artifically-inseminating the cows with help from John Fisher, an Artificial Breeding Services (ABI) AI technician. 

Todd had gone through the herd and determined which of five bulls they wanted to use for each cow. Tye would get the straw containing the appropriate semen ready for Todd or John to use in the AI process. 

The semen straws are stored in these liquid nitrogen canisters until it's time for use. Then, Tye would check ear tag numbers on the list and get the straws lined up accordingly.  

He put the appropriate straw into a warming unit, so it would be ready for inserting. 


 John's trailer has stalls for two cows at a time. So both Todd and John could be doing the AI process simultaneously.

Once the process was complete, the cow departed the AI shed and rejoined its corral mates. 


We didn't have to stick around 'til the cows came home this time - so to speak. We headed to the Wild West (aka Dodge City) for a dinner theater at the restored depot. 

 This was my belated anniversary present from Randy.

It didn't include beef on the menu. Instead, it was "airline chicken" to go with the play's military aircraft and pilot theme. That's chicken with a wing sticking up. (I only know that from Food Network.)

The play was pretty heavy, but we had a good time at the Depot Theater. 

I told Randy maybe we should go for a comedy or musical the next time.

Friday, April 12, 2024

In My Own Backyard: Discover Kansas Stafford County

"Do you have questions?" That's a dangerous thing to ask a group of farmers. 

Let me clarify: It may not be dangerous for the questioner. It may not be dangerous for the presenter. But it definitely is dangerous for an amateur tour guide trying to keep a group on schedule.

On Monday, April 8, Kansas Master Farm Families from across the state came to Stafford County for a Discover Kansas event. Each year, our group travels to different counties in the state to see what each has to offer. This year, I organized a tour of Stafford County.

For a place that many people consider "flyover country," we had plenty to offer. In fact, I couldn't cram all the ideas I had into one day.


But, when I began the planning process back in August of last year, I knew that a tour of Stafford County Flour Mills was my first call. Hudson may not be the biggest town in the county - population 125 - but it's the home of Hudson Cream Flour. Due to regulations and nondisclosure agreements with companies, the mill does fewer tours than it did back in the day when I sponsored a group of Stafford County 4-Hers. Thankfully, they were gracious enough to host our group, and we began our day at the mill - one of the last independent flour mills remaining in the U.S. 

Hudson Cream Flour is made using a "short patent" milling process, a method that was much more common a century ago than today. In short patent milling, the wheat is ground more times and sifted with finer-meshed sieves than in standard milling. Also, the short patent process sifts away more by-product, leaving only the heart of the wheat kernel to make Hudson Cream flour. That Jersey cow on the label (and on the side of the elevator): It's used to symbolize how creamy, rich and smooth the flour is - hence, Hudson Cream Flour.

The mill's story began in 1882, when
Gustav Krug migrated from Saxony, Germany and settled on a farm north of Hudson. His father, Karl, was in the milling business in Germany. Gustav decided he preferred milling over farming, so he formed the Hudson Milling Company with his brother-in-law Otto Sondregger in 1904. 

When production began in 1905, there was a capacity of 75 barrels of flour produced daily. In 1909, financial difficulties forced the brothers-in-law to reorganize with a group of investors as the “Stafford County Flour Mills Company."

After the original wooden mill burned to the ground in 1913,  Krug borrowed $50,000 to build a new mill and erect the first four concrete storage tanks. Krug repaid investors before his death seven years later. In 1914, milling began at the new mill, with a capacity of 300 barrels per day.

In 1986, the Krug family was ready to retire. Without a family member of the next generation to take over, several members of the Hudson community were concerned that selling to a large company would mean a loss of jobs, and perhaps the mill itself. A holding company was formed to pool the resources of many members of the community, and the holding company purchased controlling interest of the mill from the Krug family, keeping Stafford County Flour Mills a locally-owned company. 

Today - after nearly 120 years and mill renovations along the way - the milling capacity has increased to 4,000 hundred weight per day. More than 95 percent of the wheat milled at Stafford County Flour Mills comes from 75 to 80 farm families in Stafford County. When weather conditions mean that local farmers don't produce enough wheat or the quality is below par, the mill will truck in high-protein wheat from western Kansas.

Whole wheat flour being packaged.



Our next stop was the Carol Long Pottery Studio. Carol creates internationally-recognized pottery from her farm home just a few miles from Hudson. She grew up on a farm south of St. John. She says she is inspired by the beauty and nature around her.

From her website:

I am inspired by botanical life and hidden aspects of nature. I emulate my inspirations with an elaborate flow of shape, line, and texture. My work begins with shape and form. Depth is added through texture. Intricate slip application and glazing brings organic unity to the finished piece.

Works in progress

My work continues to evolve. Currently I use a white mid temperature clay body fired to cone 5 oxidation. Pieces are made by a variety of methods; such as throwing, slabwork, extrusions, casting, and hand building. Decorating with pulled handles, attached multiple pieces, textured with presses, slip trailing, stains and glazes.
Her daughter, Ava, works with her in the studio (as does a mischievous cat, Ms. Hiss, intent on stealing sponges during our visit). 

These are a few of the finished pieces in her on-farm gallery.


As I've looked over photos from a full day in Stafford County, I realized that I missed some photos I wish I'd taken. The first omissions were during our lunch presentation by Leon and Jan Dunn, who are fellow Master Farmers from Stafford County. They were joined by their son-in-law and daughter, Scott and Jennifer Pfortmiller. I didn't get a single photo of them. However, I've linked Leon's presentation the family gave at the 2022 K-State Swine Profitability Conference. It gives a great overview. 

Swine facilities have strict regulations for visitors in an attempt to prevent animal disease. Their video "took" us to their facilities virtually. 



Originally built in 1898, the building was home to Willam Rossetter (W.R.) Gray and his family. Gray was a well-known photographer throughout Central Kansas and photographed most of the families in the Stafford County area. Gray used wet glass plate photography and more 30,000 of his glass plate negatives were saved and are stored at the Stafford County Museum in Stafford. 

This is a print from one of the glass plate negatives. It features Jessie Gray and friends having a tea party. Dated 1910.

Restored glass negatives images from the Stafford County Historical and Geneaological Society can be seen at the Fort Hays State Scholars Repository's website HERE. They truly are a reflection of that period in time.

For more than 10 years, Carol Long and the Gray Photo Studio Board have had a dream of transforming it into an Art Center. The building is getting a makeover as construction has started to finish the insides of the building. The 100-plus-year-old building will soon once again be a place of inspiration: A place for resident artists to come work on their craft and offer trainings. A place for the community to come together for events and art shows.

Carol Long and Stafford County Economic Development director Ryan Russell talk about plans to restore the studio and make it an art center.

From the Gray Photography Studio Facebook page. Note the large windows that Mr. Gray had installed to let in natural light.

Funding from a Kansas HEAL grant is moving the renovations along. We briefly interrupted carpenters as we walked through the space during our tour.

From Gray Studio Facebook page


This is another one of those photos that I'm sad I didn't take. In my instructions to participants before the Discover Kansas tour, I encouraged them to bring solar-safe glasses so we could view the partial eclipse on April 8. 

Many of them did, and we included craning our necks up to look at the eclipse's progress as we got on and off the bus in the afternoon. But, alas, I did not take a photo of people in their glasses. I really wish I would have. Evidently, no one in our group thought to do that - at least, among the people I've asked. But it was an added bonus for the day to have the 89 percent eclipse as part of our tour. We aim to deliver memorable experiences in Stafford County!



Our group also toured the newly-licensed commercial kitchen in Stafford County. It is located in the Stafford County Annex, right off the 21 Central District Extension office. Jennifer Gleason, county agent, and Ryan Russell, spoke about joint efforts to make the kitchen available for people who wish to produce food products for sale. Several small businesses in Stafford County already make value-added food products they can sell themselves. Making those items in a commercially-licensed kitchen could open the door for sales in stores, online, or out-of-state. The new kitchen in Stafford County is one of fewer than two dozen such facilities around the state. It can also be rented for family and community gatherings.


Our next stop took us to 4 Star Hydroponics. It's operated by Alisha Mawhirter, who grew up on a traditional farm in Stafford County but now grows produce hydroponically. In her spare time (ha, ha!), she and her husband are raising five little girls. (Two of them were helpers during our tour.)

The 4 Star greenhouses in St. John are filled with plants growing without soil.

This tour stop was new to me, too. It may have been a little cool outside the greenhouse, but it was toasty inside with the sun streaming through. 

Much of the produce 4 Star grows goes to Whole Foods stores halfway across the state.

Living lettuce

Alisha primarily raises heirloom tomatoes, since that crop provides a higher profit margin. 


The produce grown at Spare Produce is grown traditionally. It's a business that current operator Timothy Spare comes by naturally. His grandfather, Richard Spare, began the business. Today, Timothy, and his wife, Felicia, with help from his parents Merlyn and Melody Spare, sell their produce through farmers' markets in Hutchinson, Pratt, Great Bend and St. John, along with some on-farm sales. 

High tunnels give the Spares a head start on getting ready for market season. While the potatoes Timothy planted outside are still hidden from view, the ones in the high tunnel are coming along well.

They've already started selling some lettuces and spinach locally this spring.

They also have a produce grower in training at their house.

Felicia has added fresh flower bouquets to their farmer's market sales during the summer. 

Timothy also took the group to their sorting and prep room. They have some plants under grow lights which they'll transplant into gardens as the weather improves.


I've written a lot about the Stafford library on Kim's County Line including HERE and HERE. But it was definitely a stop I wanted to include on our Stafford County tour.

Librarian Gerry Ann Hildebrand talked about the history of Stafford and of the library, which was opened in 1905.


In recent years, the library has undergone a renaissance with extensive remodeling and new programming, including First Fridays, an evening of information, music, crafts, food and fellowship. Since the inaugural First Friday of the 2024 season had just happened the past weekend, I asked the presenter to come speak to our group, too. Tom Turner shared information about his Wild At Heart bees. 

He didn't bring his helpers to the Discover Kansas presentation, but they were a lively and fun addition to the Friday night event.  

Local photographer Adrienne Minnis had photos of Kansas flowers compiled for a slide show to tie into the nature and bee theme. They were projected onto computer screens at the library for First Friday and again for our Discover Kansas group.


As with the library, I've posted plenty of photos from Quivira National Wildlife Refuge on my blog. There's still a lot of winter brown at the refuge, but we still took a bus trip through the southern portion of the refuge. 

One added highlight to the day was that our bus driver was a fraternity brother of Randy's. After Don DeWerff retired, he began driving for Village Travel Tours. When Randy arranged for the bus, he requested Don. We weren't sure whether he would be assigned, but he was. Bonus! It was like old home week because Don seemed to know a lot of people on the tour and presenters at our tour stops.


Culinary arts teacher Kim Unruh presented information about the Stafford High program. About 11 years ago, SHS’s traditional Home Ec/FACS program got a revamp. SHS applied for and received a Rigorous Program of Study grant from the State of Kansas. It then took a two-year effort by the USD 349 Board of Education and staff to develop curriculum and revamp kitchen space to add a Hospitality, Tourism, Restaurant and Event Management curriculum pathway to the district.

She also brought along three young men from her classes, who demonstrated making arancini balls. 

SHS's Pro Start team - which recently competed in a state contest - made arancini balls for the appetizer of their competition meal. Arancini are Sicilian street food made of risotto that's rolled into a ball, stuffed with cheese, breaded and gently fried. I wish I'd taken a photo of the finished product. I guarantee they tasted wonderful!

The Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association holds the ProStart Culinary and Restaurant Management State Competition each year in March. The event brings schools from across the state to Wichita to compete by developing, preparing and presenting a gourmet three-course meal in 60 minutes, using only two butane burners. no electricity, and no running water. SHS is the smallest school to compete in Pro Start.

They also served a delicious honey cake with strawberry topping and fresh vanilla bean whipped cream for our dessert. They used honey from Wild At Heart for the cake. (Ugh! No photo.)


I didn't take any photos of the delicious food prepared by Wheatland Cafe of Hudson - from the cinnamon rolls in the morning to the bierock lunch to the smothered steam and fixings supper. I also missed getting photos of the cookies fellow Master Farm Homemaker Alda Hildebrand and I made for the lunch dessert and afternoon snacks. All the bread products and the cookies were prepared using our homegrown Hudson Cream Flour.

Alda also decorated the space with her handmade quilts and Arnold's woodworking. Again - no photos. Oh well! Those missing photos were the only regrets from a great day.