Pandemic Year 2.0 Busier than Busy!

Coming up to a year from the last post on the features we wrote for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, here is an updated list for the second half of 2021 and the first half (almost) of 2022. These features are in addition to our regular work with Hoover’s Hatchery blogs and FB Live and our own blogs for Winding Pathways.

May 8, 2022. Splish Splash! Whitewater Kayaking in Iowa. (No link to date)

April 22, 2022. Finding America On Roadways East.

April 13, 2022. Muscle Over motor When Boating.

March 21, 2022. Rockhounding.

January 30, 2022. Backpacking Bonus. (8B of GZ. No link to date) Available Green Gazette.

January 24, 2022. Distinctive Religious Structures.

January 16, 2022. Hiking Wild Areas. (no link to date) Available Green Gazette.

December, 2021. Country Schools. (no link to date) Available Green Gazette

November 15, 2021. Making a (Mini) Pitch for Soccer.

October 6, 2021. A visit with Midwest’s Pioneering Authors.

September 8, 2021. Taking a Slow Boat to Cassville.

September 6, 2021. Camping in Iowa’s Trout Country & Decorah’s Celebrities.

August 4, 2021. Parking While Headed East. And Solar Panels at Peoples.

Why Plant Potatoes?

Good Friday Tradition

On a cold April morning, we planted a row of potatoes at Winding Pathways. This plant has made an amazing long journey to reach our yard.

Potatoes are native to South and Central America and were cultivated by native people long before Columbus. Early Spanish explorers realized this humble American plant produces an enormous amount of food that’s easy to store. They brought potato sets back to Spain, and eventually, the plant was cultivated throughout Europe.

Productive Crop

Potatoes produce more human food per square foot than wheat, rice, corn, or nearly any other crop, so crowded Ireland embraced the plant. Potatoes thrived in Irish soil and were so productive they enabled the human population to flourish. Unfortunately, the entire crop was of just one or two varieties. Disaster hit. Between 1855 and 1859 blight killed most of the crop, which lacked resistance to the disease. It caused massive starvation and spurred huge immigration to the United States.

Early Europeans who colonized North America brought potatoes to plant in the New World.  So, an American plant crossed the Atlantic Ocean twice in its long journey.

Vandals and Hawkeyes

We both hold degrees from the University of Idaho.  It’s the potato state, and the plant loves the light volcanic soil along the Snake River in the southern part of the state.  Iowa, where we live, is the corn state, but humble potatoes do well in our garden.

We buy seed potatoes in early spring, cut and cure them, and plant them in early April.   They don’t expect much from us, and by mid-summer we carefully hand dig delicious new potatoes. Later, when the tops die back, we dig and cure a bushel, or so, for winter storage.

Expert Resource at Hand

We hedge our bets by planting a few potato varieties, and this year we’re fortunate to have a potato expert move to Cedar Rapids. Jean Contina earned his doctorate degree from the University of Idaho studying potato diseases.  He’s a fellow Vandal!  We’ll seek his advice on how to maximize our crop.

Inexpensive. Why Grow Them?

Store-bought potatoes are one of the least expensive foods.  So why grow them?

We have two reasons.  First, anything we grow seems more delicious than its store-bought counterpart. It may be our imagination but it is true.  Second, they are an easy crop to grow and store well all winter without the need to can or freeze them.  Having potatoes stored in a cool dark room in our house gives us a bit of food security in a crazy world.

 

Why give Blood?

Both Marion and Rich at Winding Pathways are regular blood donors. Rich will reach a milestone in early April. He’ll give his 100th unit of blood to Impact Life in Cedar Rapids.  Marion’s not far behind.

Giving blood is easy, costs nothing, and is a way we can help other people. Here are some interesting blood donation facts:

  • An average donation is used to help three people, so Rich’s 100 donations have helped around 300 people and maybe saved some lives.
  • A unit of blood averages about 500 milliliters, or a little more than a pint. Rich’s have averaged about 528 ml, so he’s given about 112 gallons over decades of giving.
  • A person has 1.2 to 1.5 gallons of blood in their body, and a donation takes about 10% of it. The body replaces the lost blood. Donation centers require eight weeks between donations to allow for replenishment.
  • Blood is typically given to people during surgery or for treatment of conditions like Sickle Cell Disease; to those who have suffered a trauma, like an accident; and during surgery or childbirth if needed.
Pretty blood band!

Giving blood is easy. And, Marion gets a cool blood band decoration!

We hope we’ll never need blood but if we do we’ll quietly thank the unknown donor.   Both Marion and Rich at Winding Pathways encourage everyone to become blood donors.

How Can Backpacking Meals Save the Day?

Research Yields a Find

Part of our Winding Pathways business is writing travel and outdoor adventure articles for the Cedar Rapids GAZETTE and other publications. Preparedness blogs on our website encourage people to prepare for emergencies by keeping non-perishable food and other supplies on hand in a big plastic “preparedness” bin. So, we occasionally buy and try new products to test.

Good to Go Dried Foods

We found the meals tasty and filling.

While writing an article on Iowa backpacking, we bought a pouch of dehydrated food at SOKO in Czech Village. The brand was new to us. Backpackers know that dehydrated meals have a long shelf life, weigh little, and only need boiling water to prepare. They’re nutritious and even taste good. We keep about two weeks’ worth of dehydrated food in a storage bin just in case we have an extended power outage or emergency when we can’t access fresher food. We also sometimes take several meals with us when camping.

Busy Schedules

But we recently found a new value of dehydrated meals. We’d been busy. Very busy and had to skip a routine visit to the grocery store. Late one afternoon it was time to prepare dinner, but the refrigerator was bare. Because we’d just bought a pouch of Good to-Go brand dehydrated Chicken Gumbo to photograph for our article it was on the kitchen counter. We cooked it and enjoyed a pleasant backpacking meal while sitting at home.

Chef Jennifer Scism

Good To-Go chef Jennifer Scism creates delicious meals.

“Backpacking meals have come a long way since MRE (meals ready to eat) and there are options for diets ranging from gluten-free to keto and beyond. Good To-Go chef Jennifer Scism creates meals that are delicious and use only recognizable and pronounceable ingredients,” said Kate Ketschek of Revolution House Media and communications representative for Good To-Go meals.

The YUM Factor

We appreciated our recent meal simply because we hadn’t gotten to the grocery store and were hungry. The Chicken Gumbo tasted great on a cold snowy evening and was oh so convenient. Dehydrated meals have value beyond backpacking.

Deer and COVID-19

Two years ago, hardly anyone knew what the novel Coronavirus was, but since then this crafty virus and the nasty disease it causes, COVID-19, has hardly been all over the news.  Like most people we thought it was a disease of only humans.

We were astonished to learn that a high percent of Iowa tested deer has been found positive for COVID.   With deer hunting season approaching we wondered if deer pose a threat to people either butchering an animal or eating the meat. So, we contacted Dr. Tyler Harms.  He’s the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Deer Program Leader.

Gloves and knives for cleaning deer.

Dr. Tyler Harms, head of deer project in Iowa recommends safety gloves and hand washing when processing and preparing venison.

According to him the threat seems minimal, however, he recommends the following actions for anyone processing a deer:

  • Wear rubber gloves when processing an animal.
  • Wash hands and equipment thoroughly after handling deer meat

According to Dr. Harms, Iowa’s deer are asymptomatic. They don’t seem to be getting sick or dying.

 

 

 

 

Buck in woods

Bucks are still active in December.

December is Iowa’s main deer hunting season. Over 100,000 animals are likely to be harvested. Here at Winding Pathways, we enjoy venison as local, organic, free-range meat.  But we’ll be sure to follow Dr. Harm’s advice when handling meat.

 

 

 

In many ways COVID is a mysterious disease. Where it came from remains a hazy mystery, and its variants continue to perplex people.  Now it’s been found in animals.  Iowa’s deer aren’t the only animals that test positive.  The disease has been found in leopards in zoos and mink.   It’s likely that many other animals and deer nearly everywhere carry COVID.  How they got it and how it’s spread is a mystery.

How Can You Get Light at Night?*

Like many people with a small flock of backyard chickens, we faced a dilemma.

Our birds are housed in a coop built inside a pole barn. There was no electric power in our barn.

Eggs in bowl

The chickens kept on laying eggs.

Fall’s Shortening days signals chickens to slow egg production just as many families need plenty of eggs for the holiday baking season. Placing a timer-controlled light in the coop, set to come on early each morning, gives chickens the optimal 15 hours of combined artificial and natural light they need to keep laying.

Lights and timers need electricity that our barn lacked. So, years ago, we hired an electrician to trench a wire from our house to the barn and add outlets and overhead lights. It works fine but the electrician’s bill was stiff and our chicken lights add to our monthly power bill. Now there’s a less expensive option.

P.S. The Holidays are coming….This might be a great gift for chickens and caregivers!

 

Batteries, light bulbs, and solar collectors have become much more efficient and less expensive. It’s now easy to purchase a solar electric system to power outbuildings that lack electricity.

Alternative Light Options

Big box stores sell security lights that include a solar collector, occupancy sensor, battery, and light bulb. The collector creates electricity during the day that charges the battery. The sensor recognizes when a person approaches in the dark and turns on the light. These are fine for their intended purpose but don’t work to add a few extra hours of timer-controlled light for chickens.

Solar Chicken Coop Light Kit

A portable solar kit costs around $400, is easy to install and to light your way. (Courtesy Solar Illuminations)

We recently learned of a company called Solar Illuminations, which can create lighting solutions for chicken coops and other outbuildings. A kit including a solar collector, battery, timer, fixture, and the bulb is just over $400. Sounds expensive but likely is less costly than hiring an electrician to run a wire. And, the sun never sends a bill for electricity generated by a solar panel.

Installing a system is easy and doesn’t require an electrician. Systems can also be designed to power an aquarium aerator that will help keep drinking water unfrozen on cold nights or provide work light in an outbuilding.

We love modern technology’s ability to harness the sun’s energy to give hens a few extra hours of light during winter’s darkness. The result is more eggs without adding a penny to the monthly electric bill.

*Note: Winding Pathways received no special compensation or materials from companies in writing this blog.