Tuesday, June 18, 2024

AirBnB: No Vacancy

I'm sorry. We're not taking extra guests at the backyard AirBnB Outhouse Suite. It has reached full occupancy.

These guests are loud, too. They put up a constant racket. 

It's a wonder we haven't gotten noise complaints from other travelers.

We didn't advertise it as providing breakfast, but the visitors are sure asking for a meal handout. They look kind of angry when dinner is late.

We're not sure whether there were three or four bodies squeezed into the accommodations. The peep hole is a little too small to tell.

We believe our visitors are house wrens. This is the second summer they've taken a vacation stay on the County Line. I think we're going to have to do some renovations or remodeling before next year's visitors arrive. The accommodations are looking a little worse for the wear. You have to watch out for those rambunctious AirBnB guests.

The house wren is a very small bird of the wren family, Troglodytidae. It's the most widely distributed native bird in the Americas. Its name means "hole dweller" and is is a reference to the bird's tendency to disappear into crevices when hunting insects or to seek shelter.

I guess the parents were off trying to scrounge up a meal. They didn't dive-bomb us as we were eavesdropping and taking unsolicited photos of their family.

They aren't the only backyard visitors. Our Baltimore orioles are back. Randy is keeping them happy with cheap grape jelly in a high-class container made from a 2-liter pop bottle.

Who wouldn't want to check in to our backyard accommodations? They are pretty economically priced (unlike most vacation spots these days). 


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!