Friday, August 27, 2010

Day 111, Watseka, IL to Rensselaer, IN

Just the Basics: Note on Saturday, 8/28: We have finished catching up on this post!

40 miles, virtually all on great, lightly-traveled roads, in sunny but temperate weather - a wonderful day all around.

We are waiting to go out to dinner with our friends Janie and Ephraim Fischbach, who will pick us up at our motel shortly, so we may not complete today's post until sometime later, but look for the following stories in For Those Who Want More:

  • Visiting the Miller Farm in Newton Township, Jasper County, IN;
  • Encounters Along the Way; and
  • Nature Notes.

Today's Photos: (1) Roadside Scene, Road 1080, Jasper County, IN (We hope we have that right!); (2) John Miller with an ear of his corn; (3) John & Margaret Miller & Their Combine; (4) The Amazing Combine!

Tomorrow: Layover Day in Rensselaer!

For Those Who Want More:

Visiting the Miller Farm in Newton Township, Jasper County, IN: As we rode along Road 1000 W shortly before turning onto State Highway 114 Becky thought she might have gotten a bee inside her partially zipped safety vest. We paused in a farm driveway for her to check. Just as we were about to set out again a truck turned into the driveway and stopped - it was the farmer, John Miller, and he thought perhaps we'd stopped because we had a flat or something and might need some help - later in the conversation we learned that he had once driven another cyclist who did have a flat back to the last campground!

Riley had noticed what looked like some sort of drain in the ditch by the driveway and asked John about it. He got out of his truck to show it to us and explain how the fields are drained, generally - perforated plastic tubing under the ground - somewhat like the drain from our backyard out to the street back home. He seemed not to mind our questions and so one thing led to another, and we were eventually invited to come see the combine and how it works. Here are a few tidbits we remember - we wish we could recall all the details. Any errors are ours, not John's!

  • He grows both corn and soybeans, alternating the two crops in each field, as is typical.
  • A bushel of soybeans will put a pound of nitrogen back into the soil (we think!).
  • You can tell corn has stopped growing when it "blacklines" - you pluck an ear and pop out a kernel or two and look for a black line at the bottom; the one he showed us reminded Becky of a baby tooth that had come out!
  • Corn makes sugar all day and grows at night, using that sugar - farmers say you can hear it growing.
  • If it's too hot at night corn grows too much, using up sugar you'd like to have it store! It's been too hot at night lately and he will have less corn this year than last. One thing that makes this "The Corn Belt" is that summer nights are typically cool. Hot nights are the reason corn doesn't produce as well in the South.
  • Where corn is concerned heat is measured in "heat units." We probably have this a bit confused, but we think that when it is over 50 degrees at night the heat units are determined by subtracting 50 from whatever the maximum temperature was at night - so, 70 degrees would, for example, yield 20 heat units. We also think he said that once the temperature reaches 80 you stop even thinking about heat units, but we're not sure. You get the idea - it's complicated!
  • We'd heard before that purchasers want feed corn that has been dried to 15% moisture. John has his own instrument for checking moisture - he says his is small and costs about $500 - the elevators (and other big purchasers) might have one that costs as much as $10,000!

  • If the corn is over 15% moisture the farmer will be docked on the price - even as little as 1/4% matters.
  • The Millers have a huge granary on the farm which has a heater and three augers that is used for drying corn - the augers stir it up continually and there is a heater and fan on the outside.
  • The same combine - with different blades and settings, is used to harvest both soybeans and corn - the corn being grown is for stock feed.
  • The Millers have a 6-row combine that looks huge - but some are much bigger. One like theirs costs something like $180,000 new, plus $60,000 each for the corn-harvesting and soybean harvesting attachments in the front.
  • John's combine harvests 6 rows at a time. It can do 8 more slowly but that also means the bin fills before he can get to the end of the field to dump it into the waiting hopper.
Encounters Along the Way: Lots of nice mini-encounters today:

  • A driver slows while passing us and yells out to Becky, asking the usual where are you going/where did you start questions. He says "You're living my dream," and pulls away.
  • We have a second breakfast in a bar in Brook. A group of elderly ladies is having a coffee klatch. As they leave, they want to know about our trip. Shortly the only other customers, a couple having breakfast, emerges as we are getting ready to go and has the same questions - and also volunteer that the ladies have coffee there every morning - and that there are usually more of them!
  • We pull into Iroquois and stand at a corner, wondering about lunch. A car stops and a man calls out that if we want a great meal we should go to Earl's, about 1/2 a block back. We do. The waitress and 4 different couples having lunch there ply us with questions about our ride - lunch was good, too!
  • We arrive at our motel - the manager on duty is Lori, with whom Becky had talked when making the reservation. She says "You're our cyclists! Now, you're the . . . don't tell me!" She looks at the reservation list and says, triumphantly "The Newmans!" We acknowledge that we are.

Nature Notes:

(1) Morning Glories: We have been seeing morning glories climbing up cornstalks from time to time, and were charmed. John Miller told us that this is quite a problem for farmers - most use RoundUp to kill weeds, and plant corn and soybeans that are bred to be RoundUp-resistant - but morning glories are also naturally RoundUp resistant. A more toxic pesticide can be used but for ecological reasons can't be used in sufficient amounts. He understands that a new morning glory-specific weed killer is under development.

(2) Milkweed Report: The lovely, warty milkweed pots are swelling - soon we expect to see the gossamer parachutes that carry their seeds floating from the burst pods.

(3) "Butterflowers": For days we have been biking by lines of tall purple clover filled with little yellow butterflies, perched like a new kind of blossom on the clover - viewed from a car speeding by they might easily appear to be yellow flowers - we call them "butterflowers."

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