Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Lipstick on a Pig?: Wheat Harvest Update for May

Photo taken May 12, 2022

Good lighting is everything. A good moisturizer is also critical to that dewy "super model" look. But, look a little closer, and the 2022 wheat crop may look a little more haggard than a touched-up "after" picture.

Yes, some rain and a beautiful sunset made a photo of our 2022 wheat crop look good. But, it was kind of like putting lipstick on a pig, as the saying goes. It didn't reveal the blown-out portions of the field and its short stature.

And I'm getting the feeling that the 2022 Hard Winter Wheat Quality Tour is kind of like that, too. The tour was May 16-19. Tour participants traveled six routes form Manhattan to Colby to Wichita and back to Manhattan. An average yield of 39.7 bushels per acre was calculated from the three-day average yield. 

Randy and I will be thrilled if we come close to that for our final wheat harvest as active farmers. It sure doesn't look like it here, where we are still firmly in the grip of extreme drought. 

Of course, just like meteorologists are prone to do, the Wheat Quality tour powers-that-be give the caveat that there's a lot of time between the end of the tour and the beginning of harvest. 

We did get rain in May, helping make up for the lack of moisture this winter and spring. We got about 1.5 inches during the first week of May. Then, early on May 18, we got about 0.40" more.

The rain gave Randy enough optimism to turn in most of our wheat acres to be sprayed with a fungicide. Crop dusters flew it on on May 16. 

May 16, 2022, Photo by Randy

I had an eye appointment in Hutchinson, so my photography assistant did his best to capture a few snapshots.  

May 16, 2022, Photo by Randy
If we get an extra bushel and a half per acre yield, Randy says it covers the cost of the spraying. Time will tell on that, too.
May 16, 2022, Photo by Randy

The official Wheat Quality Tour projection for total production of wheat to be harvested in Kansas is 261 million bushels. The figure is the average of estimated predictions from tour participants who gathered information from 550 fields across Kansas. 

The tour summary did acknowledge that the Kansas wheat crop is spotty and short.We concur here on the Stafford/Reno County line. 

As I've been doing since October, we took a photo on May 21. (Truth be told, we actually took it the evening before.) 

Evening, May 20, 2022

There are some light-colored heads, perhaps due to freeze damage or drought. Those heads don't have kernels.

Other heads look better than we expected, but as the old farmers like to say, "You can't tell for sure until it goes into the bin."

Photo from 2021 wheat harvest

Last week, we ended up with an additional 4.4 inches of soft, soaking rain. It should help the wheat heads fill. Time will tell how much the rain impacts the drought map, but we are thankful. 

Since I posted wedding-related blogs last week, I'm behind on posting my wheat update. So Randy and I went out this morning to take a few photos.

It's amazing to compare the color of the wheat on the evening of May 20 to the morning of May 31. The wheat's color is transitioning to gold. And we were also surprised by the size of some of the heads. The rain last week gave a good boost for filling the heads.

We Kansas farmers aren't the only ones watching and wondering about this year’s wheat harvest. As a Kansas Wheat news release said, the combination of expanding drought conditions and steep input prices in the U.S. and the continued impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has the markets — and farmers — on edge. A collection of resources from policy-makers and analysts offers insights into the economic impacts of current geopolitics. 

“Continued disruption in Ukraine through their wheat harvest combined with expanding drought conditions here at home will continue to weigh on the world wheat market. This growing season has the unprecedented combination of geopolitics, weather and some of the highest fertilizer prices and chemical inputs — but farmers here and abroad will remain resilient reminders of the importance of agriculture as a constant in a world full of conflict.” 
Kansas Wheat CEO Justin Gilpin in a news release from Kansas Wheat

The world consumes about 787.4 million metric tons (28.9 billion bushels) of wheat each year. Russia and Ukraine are the world’s top and fifth exporters, respectively, according to the most recent available stats from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 

Photo from 2021 wheat harvest

Together, Russia and Ukraine make up around one-third of the world’s wheat production. Ukrainian and Kansas wheat farmers follow similar timelines for winter wheat production. The crops planted last fall should be green and growing, marching toward harvest in late June or early July. Following harvest, milling quality wheat from Ukraine is typically exported to the Middle East, Africa and Bangladesh and feed quality wheat to other Asian countries, according to the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). The impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and disruption of these trading channels are yet to be fully calculated, but will likely extend beyond this year’s harvest. 

Thursday, May 26, 2022

It's Time to Party


It was "mint" to be.

I could be talking about Brent and Susan, who will be married May 28. 

Engagement photo by Emily Brensing

Also, I was meant to make "mints." Another of my wedding projects has been making cream cheese "mints" - or candies - for the wedding reception. In reality, only one of the cream cheese candies I made is minty. The rest have different flavors and colors.

With a plethora of options, I may have gone a little "nutty" with the array of flavors. (Well, a couple have nut-inspired flavors - almond and vanilla butternut.)

I could have chosen several others, too, but I quit at six. To make it easier for people to get the flavor they wanted, I also used different colors for each of the flavors and then made a key:

Yellow - Lemon
Green - Wintergreen
Pink - Vanilla Butternut
Blue - Cookies & Cream
White - Coconut
Purple - Almond
For the record, Brent isn't necessarily a big fan of the candies. His verdict: The wintergreen ones taste like toothpaste. All righty then! 
But Susan likes them, and everybody wants to make the bride happy, right?
This is the recipe my mom used to make the cream cheese candies for my wedding and my sister's. I used it to make candies for Jill's and Eric's wedding 12+ years ago.
The cake table - and candies - at Jill's and Eric's reception
Photos of Jill's and Eric's wedding by Gina Dreher Photography, Wichita

 And I've shared the recipe with plenty of other people through the years.  

Jill thought my first efforts were a little too vivid for a wedding reception. I thought the heart shapes were a little too labor intensive, since I was shaping them all myself. 

So, for the second go-'round, I lightened up the colors, and I used only the rose silicone mold. However, the first ones will find a place on the dessert table for the rehearsal dinner.  They may be bright, but they're still tasty!

 Cream Cheese Party Candies
Recipe from Janis Moore
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Pinch salt
1 to 2 drops flavoring oil (or to taste)
Gel food coloring
Granulated sugar

Work powdered sugar into softened cream cheese until consistency is like pastry dough. Knead; divide into parts and add different colorings and flavorings, as desired. If you are working in the color by hand, wear plastic gloves to avoid staining your hands. 
Roll into small balls. Roll in granulated sugar. Press into silicone molds and then unmold onto waxed paper. Let dry. Store in airtight containers, storing flavors separately to keep the integrity of each flavor. May be stored in the freezer.
For the rehearsal dinner and wedding, I ended up making six colors and flavors. I used my Kitchen Aid mixer to mix. I doubled the recipe and I made it three different times. Each time I did the 6 ounces of cream cheese, I then divided it into two parts. For my experimenting, I had used my hands to work in the coloring and flavoring. However, for the "real" deal, I put the divided dough back into the mixer and added the different flavorings and colors, cleaning the mixer and beaters between them. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Caramel-Filled (Rolo) Chocolate Cookies


Back in Jill's 4-H cooking days, she made Rolo Cookies as one of her early fair entries. We called them Surprise Middle Cookies because you weren't supposed to list brand names in 4-H baking. The recipe was always a hit with the judges. The caramel center was a surprise as the judges cut into - or bit into - the chocolaty cookie.

When I was thinking about cookies for Brent's and Susan's rehearsal dinner dessert table, I saw a similar recipe in the Stafford County Hospital Cookbook. It was from Darrell and Shannon Bauer, who own and operate the Wheatland Cafe in the nearby little town of Hudson. They have a stellar reputation for any and all of their cooking - main dish or desserts. And since I couldn't lay my hands on the recipe we'd used for 4-H, I decided to give theirs a try.

They were a success! 

The only difference I can remember is that Jill's 4-H entries were rolled in a combination of granulated sugar and chopped pecans before baking. This particular recipe didn't include the pecans, though that would be an easy substitute.  Since I had other cookies with nuts, I opted to keep these nut free.

Engagement photo by Emily Brensing

These will be part of the cookie spread I'll serve for Brent's and Susan's rehearsal dinner this Friday.

We are looking forward to all the festivities! Exciting times!

Caramel-Filled (Rolo) Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Stafford County Hospital Cookbook
Working Hands, Caring Hearts
Darrell & Shannon Bauer, Wheatland Cafe
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Rolo candies, unwrapped
Granulated sugar, for rolling the cookie dough balls in 
4 oz. almond bark
Sprinkles (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have parchment paper ready to use for cookie sheets.
In small bowl, combine flour, cocoa and baking soda; blend well, and set aside. 
In large mixer bowl, beat sugar, brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; blend well. Add flour mixture and blend until combined and a dough forms. 
Using about 1 tablespoon of dough for each cookie, put an unwrapped Rolo in dough ball, roll it back into a ball, making sure the caramel candy is covered. Roll candy-stuffed cookie ball in granulated sugar and put on parchment-paper-lined cookie sheets. (I used a cookie scoop to measure out the dough for the balls.)

Bake for about 8 minutes or until the cookie ball starts to crack. Remove from oven and allow to cool. 

After cool, melt almond bark. Put in a piping bag or decorator tube and drizzle over cooled cookies. Top with sprinkles, if desired. 

Another option: Sprinkle drizzled cookies with chopped pecans or another favorite nut while the almond bark is still wet.

Note: I used dark cocoa powder.


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Moments and Memories: An Ode to Irises

Iris along the Zenith Road at sunset

Perhaps that great philosopher, Dr. Seuss, said it best:

Sometimes, you never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. 

I had lots of moments in my Grandma Neelly's kitchen. Now, I wish I'd spent some of those moments asking Grandma her secrets for her homemade angel food cake or her Sunday dinner noodles. Too often as a kid, I was rolling my eyes at having to wash the aluminum foil and plastic bags to save for the next use. 

But I am sure my affinity for irises comes from Grandma Neelly. I made my Depression-era Grandma happy by standing at the sink and helping wash those "disposable" items. (She was a recycling advocate long before the "Recycle, Reuse, Reduce" message came in vogue.) But that kitchen window also offered a springtime view of purple irises. 

I sometimes accuse Randy of not listening, a common malady among husbands (and, if I'm honest, probably among wives, too.) 



But then he proves me wrong when he plants irises outside our front door and by the mailbox. This year, there are a few yellow irises nestled among the purple blooms.

This year, they have been prolific. Even though our wheat has struggled with the drought conditions, it seems the irises are thriving, despite the lack of rain.

Randy also watches the "secret garden" of irises along the Zenith Road with as much anticipation as I do, slowing down as we travel by, ready to see when the lavender-hued petals unfurl.



"My" Zenith irises are nestled under big cottonwood trees along the Zenith Road. It may be at an abandoned farmstead, though we're not sure.

This year must be a good year for the irises. Or I must have been at the right place at the right time to discover another "crop" of purple irises.


Just south of Stafford, the bed of irises brightens up an old building. I first saw them when I was taking Randy to Pratt to pick up the semi. I've been back a few times, trying to find a time when the blooms weren't swaying in the Kansas wind and when the light was right.

The fragile purple petals are a contrast against the weathered, rough wood.


I'm not sure who they belong to, but I figured I could beg forgiveness for trespassing. And nobody seemed to care except a barking dog.

Even though I may sometimes feel like I'm "too busy" to stop and smell the roses (as the saying goes) - or to stop and appreciate the irises, it's always turns out to be worth the pause.


It doesn't have to be
the (blue) iris,
it could be weeds in a vacant lot,
or a few small stones;
just pay attention
then patch a few words together
and don't try to make them elaborate,
this isn't a contest but the doorway into thanks,
and a silence in which another voice may speak.
From Mary Oliver's book of poems, Thirst

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Weeknd: Sky, Land & Water


They may not be the Justin Bieber of the bird world, but we'll take the "B-level" performers in our little part of the world, too. (Using Justin Bieber as a "star" probably shows how clueless I really am, which is no surprise at all. Actually, my curiosity won and I Googled biggest male singer of 2022. It's The Weeknd - just in case you wanted to know.)

"The Weeknd" visitors weren't the celebrity-level whooping cranes. They do travel through our area in the fall and spring. Their scarcity makes them bigger news and subjects for any paparazzi. 

But the Great Egrets at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge still warranted some camera clicks and watching through the binoculars. We had taken a sightseeing jaunt to the Big Pasture (Rattlesnake Creek pasture), and we took the long way home. I'll call it "sightseeing" because we aren't the ones responsible for day-to-day care of the cattle anymore.

But we still looked the cows and calves over - the ones that weren't hiding in the plum thickets anyway - and we checked the solar battery to make sure it was still charging.

And we stopped for the obligatory snapshot of the Rattlesnake Creek on the bridge. The water level is down some because we've had a dry winter and spring thus far. But there's more in the stream than there was back in 2012 during another drought. 

Our "long way home" took us on a drive through the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. On the Little Salt Marsh, we saw a number of Great Egrets.  We also saw their smaller "cousins" - what we typically call cattle egrets, too. We see cattle egrets all the time. 

In the map from Cornell University below, the purple is where the Great Egrets live year-round. The yellow shows the migration route for those that migrate. The peach is breeding and the blue is non-breeding. 


Range Map for Great Egret

Map from All About Birds: Resident to medium-distance migrant. Most Great Egrets move south for winter, traveling as far as the West Indies or southern Central America. They migrate by day in small flocks. During mild years, Great Egrets may stay as far north as Massachusetts. Individuals from the southern U.S. may not migrate at all. In late summer and fall, Great Egrets range widely over the continent. Map data are provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy - Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International - CABS, World Wildlife Fund - US, and Environment Canada - WILDSPACE.

The Great Egrets migrate through our area, including the wetlands of the refuge.

According to All About Birds, they are slightly smaller and more svelte than a Great Blue Heron, but they are still large birds with impressive wingspans. Great Blue Herons usually don't hang around when humans are in the area. The Great Egrets didn't seem to mind much.

From All About Birds website

They hunt in classic heron fashion, standing immobile or wading through wetlands to capture fish with a jab of their yellow bill. Great Egrets were hunted nearly to extinction for their plumes in the late19th century, sparking conservation movements and some of the first laws to protect birds. They are no longer endangered. 

The Great Egret eats mainly small fish but also eats amphibians, reptiles, birds, small mammals and invertebrates such as crayfish, prawns, isopods, dragonflies and damselflies, whirligig beetles, giant water bugs, and grasshoppers. They hunt in belly-deep or shallower water in marine, brackish, and freshwater wetlands, alone or in groups. It wades as it searches for prey, or simply stands still to wait for prey to approach.

The Great Egrets aren't the only avian visitors to our area. The Baltimore orioles have returned to our backyard another year.

I've not been too successful yet in capturing them on camera, but I did get one, who was preoccupied by the grape jelly Randy provides. 

Besides the birds, we encountered wildlife of another variety later in the evening on our trip to the Stafford County Country Club. (As I've said before, it sounds fancier than it is.) But the recent rains have helped green up the scenery. 

 And the clouds were pretty spectacular, too. 

 Randy even gave me credit for his better-than-usual putting game.  

The clouds cleared out for the final viewing of the weekend. We had perfect sky conditions for a little star gazing ... or, more accurately, the lunar eclipse. There are a lot of wonderful images of the lunar eclipse on the internet. These aren't among them. (I haven't figured out how to take moon pictures.)

Whether I got good photos or not, we still enjoyed a beautiful night under the stars. (Well, we made it for the first half of the eclipse. We didn't watch as it reemerged.)