Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Happy Birthday, Turkey Red!

Photo note: This and all the other photos in this post - with the labeled exception - are from the Kim's County Line archive.

It may seem an archaic custom in 2024. But, back when I was a teenager in the 1970s, girls often received "hope chests" as gifts. Historically, it was a place to store linens and other household goods and the cedar-lined box kept away moths and pests.  I believe I got my hope chest when I graduated from high school. It still sits in our bedroom and has my kids' outfits they wore when they came home from the hospital, among other "treasures."

But it was a "hope chest" of another kind that continues to impact Kansas today. This chest delivered Turkey Red Wheat seed thousands of miles from the Ukraine to the United States, where Mennonites looking for religious freedom hoped to make a new life. And they did just that, planting the wheat kernels that helped transform Kansas' wheat industry. 

Seed chest exhibited at the Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum, Goessel, KS. Photo from History.com

Bernhard Warkentin, the son of a Mennonite miller who is credited with setting up Ukraine’s prosperous wheat industry, came to the United States in 1871 to scout possible sites to do the same in America. Along with several of his fellow Mennonites, he traveled for two years by both horse and train covering a distance of over 10,000 miles in places like Canada, the Dakotas and Minnesota, looking for the ideal terrain.

In Kansas, he found what he was looking for: “The climate here is similar to that of the steppes in Ukraine,” says Fern Bartel, director of the Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum in Goessel, Kansas. “Long winters. Dry in the summer, rainy in the fall and spring.”
From History Channel's "The Tools that Built a Nation"

In 1874, Warkentin settled in Halstead, Kansas, building a grist mill on the banks of the Little Arkansas River and encouraging other Mennonites to join him. Some 12,000 Mennonites moved to Kansas, mainly as a result of Warkentin's efforts. Many of them became wheat farmers. 

Wheat Harvest 2024 got under way in our area on Saturday, before being curtailed by a nice 1.70 inches of rain Saturday night into Sunday morning. (The rain was too late to help this year's wheat, but it certainly helped the spring-planted corn and soybean crops, alfalfa, pasture lands and farm ponds. Nobody around here was complaining about the delay to wheat harvest.)

Maybe the start and stop story of harvest is not so different from that of those immigrating farmers years ago. Certainly, the ultimate goal has not changed - using the land to produce food and fiber for the world while also providing for our own families. 

During Wheat Harvest 2024, we celebrate 150 years of Turkey Red Winter Wheat in Kansas. 

Before the Mennonites came to the region, many farmers who'd moved from the eastern regions of the U.S. were planting spring wheat, which was more acclimated for the Eastern seaboard. However, Kansas’s summers are hot, dry and windy, not ideal for wheat seedlings to thrive and produce a crop. On top of that, grasshopper swarms in the summer would completely devour what wheat did manage to survive.

But the influx of Turkey Red - a hardy winter wheat - was more suited to Kansas' climate. 

The Mennonite farmers arrived less than 10 years after the 34th State of the Union adopted the Homestead Act of 1862. It gave citizens or future citizens up to 160 acres of land if they lived on and improved it for five years. Many of those new immigrants from Ukraine took advantage of the Homestead Act to establish their own farms in Central Kansas. The first field of Turkey Red wheat was planted in Marion County in 1873 and harvested in the summer of 1874. The Mennonite farmers also brought new ideas to the region, Kansas Wheat reports. 
They also brought game-changing farming practices like leaving fields fallow in between planting cycles, applying fertilizer to fields and using large threshing stones to separate the wheat kernels from the stalks that enveloped them. Turkey Red was revolutionary, but it took time for the milling industry to adjust from milling soft wheat with lower protein and weaker gluten (think soft cookies) to the new hard red winter wheat, which had higher protein and stronger gluten (think of a loaf of bread that holds its shape). Just as the farmers discovered the hardiness of Turkey Red and the millers unlocked its better quality, the variety quickly spread and took over Kansas agriculture.
From a story from Kansas Wheat by Julia Debes, June 2024

At the same time, railroad lines expanded, communities were settled and giant elevators to store grain were built.

Turkey Red Wheat was one of the more popular varieties of wheat in Kansas until the 1940s, when higher–yield crops overtook it. But even today's varieties can trace their pedigrees back to foundations in Turkey Red hard winter wheat or other Crimean varieties. Kansas wheat accounts for nearly 20 percent of all wheat grown in the United States today.

[Turkey Red] genetic material is still the foundation of our varieties today. We’ve shortened them, we’ve given them stronger straw, we’ve improved drought tolerance and we’ve hopefully improved quality. But that’s really still the scaffolding on which everything is built.
Allan Fritz, Kansas State University wheat breeder 
Quote taken from a feature story by Jennifer Latzke in Kansas Farmer
Even today, visitors to the USDA Agricultural Research Service Southern Regional Performance Nursery in Lincoln, Neb., will see a check plot of Kharkov, a landrace similar to Turkey Red that is meant to show how the current wheat varieties stack up to the historic record. The world has come a long way from a 13-bushel per acre average in 1919 to the record 57-bushel average set in 2016 (also from the Kansas Farmer article)

Maybe the old farmers in the region looked at skepticism at those new farmers who brought different seeds and a different planting time table to the Kansas plains. However, Turkey Red winter wheat - and, ultimately, its descendants - were here to stay.

Just like the farmers of today, those long-ago farmers who'd carried those "hope chests" of seeds across the ocean didn't know what the planted seeds would yield until harvest time. Today, researchers continue to work on genetics that will improve yield and combat disease and drought. Manhattan, Kansas, is home to the Wheat Innovation Center at Kansas State University. K-State has a long history of sharing wheat germplasm with growers and farmers around the world, Fritz says,  even back to Ukraine, where Turkey Red first originated.
“There will only ever be one Turkey Red. That was really the foundation that we kind of built this whole industry and this whole region’s wheat production around."
Alan Fritz (quote from Kansas Farmer article)
Harvest 2021

Bernard Warkentin likely never dreamed that the seeds he and his Mennonite brethren were bringing to Kansas could one day lead to the state growing 244.2 million bushels of wheat in 2022, or 18 to 20 percent of the wheat crop of the United States. He may not have imagined that wheat production in the state would account for $4.3 billion of its economy and 15,245 jobs. Or that in 2023, half of every load of wheat that arrives at the local elevator would be destined for foreign buyers.

But, I'm sure glad he included Turkey Red wheat in his own "hope chest" as he left all he knew behind for a new adventure in a new land. 



For more information: The Goessel Museum is celebrating the 150th anniversary of Turkey Red wheat . Be sure to visit goesselmuseum.com, or stop by at 200 N. Poplar St., Goessel. Among the many exhibits you’ll see is the Wheat Straw Liberty Bell, a giant woven wheat art piece commissioned by the Smithsonian for display for the nation’s bicentennial in 1976.

And, to learn more about Turkey Red wheat’s influence in Kansas agriculture, listen to Kansas Wheat’s “Wheat’s on Your Mind: Thresher Nation” podcast episode, Wheat's on Your Mind, with Aaron Harries of Kansas Wheat and Glenn Ediger, author of “Leave No Threshing Stone Unturned,” a book about the Mennonites and Turkey Red wheat.


Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Gone Fishing

This photo of our fishing spot on the Ninnescah River was taken in the summer of 2010. I don't remember the last time the water was up this high.

Drought isn't good for crops. It's not good for fishing holes either. Our favorite local fishing spot is at a pasture on the Ninnescah. 


Back when we were actively farming, we'd load up the 4-wheelers and join our cattle who were "vacationing" for the summer at the Ninnescah pasture. Our cows and calves are still there - managed by the Millers - but drought has impacted the pasture as a fishing venue. (It also meant fewer cow-calf pairs to spend the summer in the pasture, which is a far bigger problem than missing convenient fishing.)

Summer 2015

Our catch in 2010!

Randy had already scouted out the pasture this spring, and he knew that fishing there was not an option. Instead, our Saturday "date" was a trip to the Pratt County Lake. It's not the lake I remember as a child. Just like an HGTV show for nature, they've done a total redesign of the lake. 

OK, it's been awhile since the lake was rebuilt. If my internet sleuthing is accurate, the lake was rebuilt in 1981, the same year we got married. But, in my mind, the Pratt lake is still like it "used to be" - the version that was completed in 1936. For those keeping track: No, I wasn't around then, and I realize I sound ancient when I reminisce about the "good ol' days."

But the new set-up is nice, with shelters on individual peninsulas scattered around the lake. 

It was a beautiful morning for fishing ... or for reading.

I'm a more dedicated reader than I am fisherman. As long as I stayed in the shade of the shelter, it was a beautiful day in nature. And bonus: I got a book done.

It took awhile for Randy to catch anything at all. Then, the majority of the fish were not exactly keepers.

 But, eventually, he caught three fair-sized catfish. 

It was enough for a small fish fry that evening. And, best of all, Randy was the chef. (I should have taken a photo, but I didn't.)


During the first week of May, one of my Facebook friends posted that it had been 269 days since we'd received at least 1 inch of rain. His records showed that August 4, 2023, was the last day that had appreciable rainfall in our area. He also included a report from the National Weather Service-Dodge City, which said that the month of April 2024 tied with 1909 as the driest April since 1875, with only 0.02 inches of rain. The next driest was 1935 with 0.03, 1893 with 0.04, and 1963 with 0.07 inches of rain.

So, I'm thrilled to say that we finally did get more than an inch of rain. It's certainly not enough to impact the drought in our area, but we are thankful for each drop! At the end of last week, we got 1.10" at home and 1.50" on farm ground north of Stafford. Yesterday's (Monday, June 3) gentle rainfall added another inch here at home, but only 0.15" north of Stafford, so rainfall was highly variable. Still, we are thanking God for this wonderful blessing of rain!

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.