Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Hideaway Harvest Surprise


Some women get excited about little blue boxes from jewelry stores.

I get excited about little blue eggs discovered in wheat stubble. 

(I guess I wouldn't know whether I'd be just as excited about Tiffany jewelry boxes. But, honestly, I doubt it.)

I took Randy to the field after an early lunch last Friday so he could get started cutting again. As I was turning around to leave, he excitedly waved me over.

"Look what I found!" 

Near the driveway, there was a small nest nestled in wheat stubble. The wheat there had already been cut. But the nest survived.

I moved a few wheat heads over for a photo op to give some context.


And when I got back to the house, I messaged my wildlife friend, Pam, asking what kind of nest it might be.

2016, Kim's County Line photo

She thinks it's belongs to a Dickcissel. I've misidentified that same bird in the past, thinking it was a meadowlark, but another Facebook friend pointed out my mistake. 

2019, Kim's County Line photo

They are frequent flyers in our area. I've taken a couple of photos of them as we've fixed fence or been checking pastures. 

Pam told me, "They have unmarked blue eggs and nest in grasses or very low shrubs." Well, wheat is sort of like that, I thought.

I did a little more research about Dickcissels, looking up information on Cornell Lab's All About Birds. I didn't feel so badly about my earlier misidentification, when the Cornell site said that the "chunky grassland bunting is colored like a miniature meadowlark, with a black V on a yellow chest."

The best place to find Dickcissels is in overgrown pastures, savannahs, and croplands in the central Great Plains. ... Their song is fairly short but hard to miss, a clicky buzzing dick-dick-ceessa-ceessa. Watch for males sitting on barbed wire fences, posts, and shrubby trees as they launch into song over and over again.   

Throughout the year Dickcissels require grassland habitats, but they are rarely picky about those habitats. In the summer months they are most common in native prairies and restored grasslands, but they also nest in lightly grazed pastures, hayfields, fallow agricultural fields, and even fence rows and roadsides. Female Dickcissels build the nest, a bulky cup woven out of weeds and grasses. The interior is often lined with fine grass and, sometimes, hair.

Egg Length: 0.8-0.9 in
Egg Width: 0.6-0.7 in
Incubation Period: 12-13 days
Nesting Period: 8-10 days
Egg Description: Unmarked, pale blue
Cornell Lab's All About Birds website

It's kind of like finding a needle in a haystack. Whether the mother finds the nest again, I don't know. But it was still exciting to find our miniature treasure among our "amber waves of grain."

To hear a Dickcissel sing and see it in a natural habitat, click on this link from Cornell.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Family Affair: Wheat Harvest 2021


The family photo may not tell the whole story.

Still, I'm thankful that Randy orchestrated an impromptu snapshot with our special visitors last weekend. (Thanks to our truck driver, Charlie, who snapped the photos before taking off to Zenith to deliver another load of wheat.)

Brent and I had just come back from a circuitous parts run to Hutchinson and then Pratt ... with no success - but we didn't know that at the time. The little girls and Jill climbed out of the combine cab with Randy, looking like a Kansas farm version of the classic clowns-in-a-tiny-car skit. And Eric and Susan were back at the house, carrying in and cleaning up the supper remnants. I had the basic components ready to go before I took off on the parts run, but all the girls helped put together the southwest chicken wraps, gather the pop and pack fruit, homemade cookies and chips into brown paper bags that Kinley illustrated.

Grandpa & Kinley with his wheat stalk decorated bag.

As it seemed all weekend, I had to rely on everyone else to supply the photographic evidence. (Kinley decorated bags for everyone, but Randy's was the only one that got a photo that night. She supplied some additional decorated bags, which she left behind after their whirlwind weekend here. Usually, the guys just get plain ol' coolers from me. These were custom-designed with individuals' interests in mind.

 It was Susan's first foray into the world of wheat harvesting. 

And, in true farm fashion, we had more than our share of breakdowns. (It's more "real" than reality TV this harvest. In fact, this selfie was taken just after Brent & Susan arrived ... just as the first breakdown occurred. It's inevitable, it seems.)

It may have been the first photos of Susan in a wheat field, but the rest of us are well-versed in such snapshots.

This was Jill's first harvest photo, circa 1986. It has been a few years between then and now:

 And here's Brent first foray into the wheat field. He was all of about 5 weeks old.

Suppertime in the field has been part of my kids' experience for a lifetime.

But they are certainly not the first ones in the family to hop up onto the cab for a photo-op. Randy and I have both been involved in wheat harvest our entire lives - me growing up on a farm in northern Pratt County and Randy just down the road from where we were cutting that day.  

My Dad had me helping at about age 12, when I began moving the grain truck in the field. It was my prelude to being ready to drive the truck to the Iuka Co-op once I was legal.

Jill was one of our truck drivers when she was in high school.
I was always looking for the shade, but not Jill!

I couldn't find a photo of Randy in a wheat field when he was really little, but I did find one when he was a junior in high school.

This wheat field was part of his FFA project, and the cutline says: "I am pictured here in my wheat field. The wheat has been freeze-burned by recent cold weather."

I always display this photo with his dad at harvest time. It was one of Melvin's final harvests.

But even the girls aren't strangers to wheat field photo shoots. 

2017 - I wrote and illustrated a book for the girls after that harvest.
2017 - a trip to Zenith in the semi, Brooke looks so little!

I can't believe how much they've changed. Now they motor up the combine steps like old pros.

While we mark their height on a decorative measuring sticks in our dining room as an "official" measure, we also reenact wheat field shots each year:


Compared to


And a photo from Uncle Brent for good measure.

Randy was smiling in this shot Jill took on their first ride of the weekend.


(He's not smiling quite as much as the breakdowns keep piling up. And, yes, we had the combine in the shop this past winter, trying to find the problems before they started ... and had the bill to go with it!)

Wheat isn't the only attraction during a trip to Grandma's and Grandpa's farm. So are the cats, though we couldn't supply any baby kittens this time. Big Cat had to suffice.

The girls again fed grape jelly to the orioles.

And the weekend warriors also checked out the new swimming pool in Stafford.

I only took a few of the photos myself (including the one of the girls in the field after our family snapshot.) Every time someone went out the door, I'd say, "Take pictures." Thankfully, they listened.

I know I'll be thankful to be able to look back on those photos in future years as the girls grow and change - just like I am to see the snapshots of our long-ago days growing up on Kansas farms. 

My blog also gives me a way to look in the rearview mirror and do a little comparison. I started blogging in 2010, so I have a handy way to research the beginning date for our harvest for the past 11 years:

2010:  June 18
2011:  June 10
2012:  May 26 (an anomaly and the earliest harvest, by far, we've ever had)
2013:  June 21
2014:  June 17
2015:  June 20
2016:  June 15
2017:  June 12
2018: June 12
2019: June 26
2020: June 16
2021: June 17
At the rate we're going, I hate to venture a guess as to when harvest will conclude. The extra helpers have left, but I'm still around 'til the bitter end.

At least, the view's pretty.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Fiesta Chop Salad

Farmer's Market season + hot weather: It's the formula for a main dish salad for a tasty meal.

I love main dish salads in the summer. Randy likes them, too, but, in his estimation, some sort of protein needs to be included. And he'd prefer it not be chicken. I've been rationing the few steaks we have left in the freezer, but I decided to pull a package out when I saw the Fiesta Chop Salad recipe in an email from a Hutchinson kitchen store, Apron Strings. 

Covid-19 threw off our butchering schedule, so my beef freezer stash is alarmingly low. But grilled chicken or grilled shrimp would be tasty as an accompaniment to this salad, flavor-packed with spices and cilantro.

The original recipe called for iceberg lettuce. I prefer romaine hearts. When available, I buy the package with three hearts packaged together and chop them myself as I need them. They stay fresher and I can control the size of the bite. 

However, you could use salad greens from your garden or the farmer's market. With this salad, there's a "fiesta" of Mexican-inspired flavors coating the greens and the other veggies. The recipe called for corn grilled and cut from the cob, cherry tomatoes and finely-diced red onion. Randy and I prefer leaving the onion out ... so I did. That's the beauty of recipes like this - mix and match to suit your taste!

I also didn't have corn on the cob, so I charred frozen corn in a hot skillet on my stove top. It worked well.

While I used drained and rinsed black beans, you could use slightly-drained chili beans (like the email recipe suggested) or kidney beans. Sharp Cheddar cheese added flavor, along with the salty crunch of the corn chips tossed in at the very end.

The dressing started with a yogurt base, to which I added vinegar and oil, along with several spices. 

The recipe serves 6 to 8. Because I was making it for just us two, I used the ingredients needed to prepare two servings and kept the rest dressing free. That way, I could make fresh salad for another meal - much better than rehashing soggy salad greens and soggy corn chips!  

We also had more dressing than we needed for our two main dish salads. Just store the extra in the fridge and use the next time you make a salad.

A light meal will likely be on the menu at noon today. Randy test-cut wheat yesterday afternoon, and it was still a little too wet. The elevator at Zenith says it needs to be 13.4% before they'll take loads of wheat. 

Randy is like a little boy waiting for his birthday. He's hopeful that today is the day. And, if you're keeping track of our friendly family wager on our start date, Brent is poised to be the winner ... IF we go today. Susan has June 18, and I'm on the calendar for June 19. (I don't think I'm going to win the contest, but I'll win if we can actually start. And remember: Like a good mom, I had last pick of the dates.)

Randy actually went out twice yesterday to test cut - once right after lunch and once at 5 PM to see if it had dried enough. I accused him of wanting to stack the deck, since he had the June 16 date. We might have had to call disqualification.

Whether you're trying this salad as a harvest meal or just the way to beat the heat on a day when temperature records may be broken, I hope you enjoy! And good luck to our fellow farmers! h

Fiesta Chop Salad
Adapted from Apron Strings kitchen store
Serves 6-8
1 head chopped iceberg lettuce or 1 pkg. of 3 hearts of romaine, chopped
10 oz. grape tomatoes, halved
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
4 ears corn, grilled and kernels cut off the cob
Olive oil for brushing corn cobs
3 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
2 cups corn chips
1/4 red onion, finely diced (opt.)
To make it a main dish:
3-4 ounces per person to be served of your choice of grilled chicken, grilled steak, grilled shrimp, etc.
Creamy Cilantro Dressing
(Makes about 1 cup dressing)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. dried cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, minced
Dressing: Combine all the ingredients in a blender and mix well. Refrigerate until serving. 
For Salad: Grill corn over direct heat until char marks appear. Once it's cooled slightly, carefully cut the kernels from the cob. (Because I didn't have corn on the cob, I charred frozen corn in a hot skillet on my stove top.) Wash and chop lettuce (I used romaine.) Half the grape tomatoes. Finely dice onion (if you want to use it. We prefer leaving out the raw onions.)

Assemble: Toss all the salad ingredients (except corn chips) together in a large bowl and combine with dressing, as desired. Top with corn chips. Serve immediately. 

To make it a main dish salad, top with seasoned chicken, beef or shrimp. 

Note: Since we don't have 6-8 people to serve at our typical noon meal, I just used enough ingredients for the two of us and refrigerated the remaining ingredients separately for another meal. Once dressed, the salad isn't as good for leftovers.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

50 Years in the Making

Recognize this handsome high schooler? 

Maybe this guy looks a little more familiar. 

They are one in the same. And he celebrated a milestone last week. For 50 years, he's been harvesting crops on this ground along the Stafford/Reno County line. 

When Randy was a junior in high school, his Great Uncle Glenn Bagley gave him the opportunity to put up hay on his ground. Randy got a share of the hay. It was the start of Randy's own farming journey, independent of his dad. 

Undated photo, but probably the mid-'90s. Randy with Uncle Glenn during wheat harvest as we harvested his crop.

Randy has never stopped being grateful for the confidence his Uncle Glenn showed him at such a young age. Later, Glenn and Gladys' daughter, Mary Hughes, inherited the land and was an inquisitive and involved landlord. 

From Glenn & Gladys' 60th wedding anniversary. I'm thankful for the great scrapbooks Marie (Randy's mom) kept.

Unfortunately, Mary died suddenly last year from Covid-19. We miss her and wish we could share this milestone anniversary with her, but we know she's cheering us on from heaven. 

Last year, as Randy was baling on that ground, he called me and said, "Next summer, I'd like for you to write a blog when I harvest this field of alfalfa. It will be 50 years since I began working on this hay field."

Back in the day, he used the alfalfa field as an FFA project, so we had some photos and descriptions of the experience (along with some really snazzy photos of Randy modeling clothes from the 1970s, including his letter jacket paired with plaid pants.)

Click on these images to enlarge them and read the text written by Randy for the FFA report.

As a senior, Randy won a crop production award in the South Central area of FFA. He still has the plaque on our office wall.

 On June 4, we began swathing the field. 

The operator has changed a smidge ... but so has the equipment to accomplish the job. 

We got a rain on it on June 7, so the baling was delayed until June 10.

Now, instead of doing small bales like Randy did early in his career, we harvest it into large round bales, which we then use for feeding cattle during the wintertime.

We no longer use that shed Randy used for square bale storage and that property has since been sold. But we got permission from the owner to take a few photos there for old times' sake.

We celebrated 40 years of married life together in March. And, now in June, Randy gets to celebrate another big milestone - 50 years of farming. It's a great privilege. We are blessed and thankful.