Wind and Weather

5-in-1 Weather InstrumentIt was around mid-February of this year (2015) when the Acurite Weather station and associated things arrived.

I had waffled on whether to purchased one – it was not inexpensive, but, it is also not the cost of an entry level professional unit.  I also really only one initial use for it, too.  I wanted to answer a question that had been ruminating in the back of head for a bit over a month.  The question had come up after the solar panels went up on the chicken coop.  The solar panels only generate electricity when there is enough sun light – often poorly during the day in winter, and never during the night any time of year.  The only other obvious alternative energy generation method was wind. But, it is not as simple as buying a turbine system.  A turbine is useless without wind.  A turbine is also useless even with a small of amount of wind.

Was there enough wind at the house to generate electricity?

We mounted the outdoor part of the weather system on a fence post near the chicken yard; the indoor receiver (with its fancy colorized screen) sits in the kitchen and the Internet bridge lives in the basement.  The Internet bridge is a device that connects via a network cable into a network switch; the indoor receiver wirelessly sends weather readings to this device, and, subsequently, forwards those readings to Acurite’s My Backyard Weather service.

Acurite’s service has limited analytical capabilities.  You can produce simple line graphs of individual readings – wind speed, temperature, barometric pressure, and so on.  But, you cannot produce fancier things like a wind rose, or pull apart temperature readings into night time lows plotted against daytime highs.

Through a bit of a virtual Rube Goldberg setup, I started collecting the readings in a database of my own.  I now have readings, on average, every 20.36 minutes, from February 21, 2015 to the present1.

Using some statistical and graphing tools2,3,4,5,6, I came up with some answers to the original question.

The short answer is it’s unlikely that from six to twelve feet above the ground, there is enough wind to generate electricity.

Let me explain a bit more.

I narrowed the focus of the question to the end of winter.  I only started the collection of data at the end of February, that left March as being the closest month to a true winter-month.

marchwinds-hist2The wind turbines that I had been looking at have a wind cut-in speed of 4.2 to 6.7 MPH.  Below that speed but above 0.0 MPH, the turbine blades and head may slowly rotate, but it is not enough rotation to generate electricity.  The wind rose, above, was quite helpful in coming to an answer.  It shows that we get our dominate wind from the west — seems obvious in retrospect, as there is an enormous bluff/hill to the east.  But having direction of the wind is likely not necessary.  Plotting the March data has a histogram, you can get a very simple yet informative picture; the majority of the wind is under four miles per hour.  That’s well under what is necessary to make a turbine useful.

Wind > 4 MPH22.32%
Wind <= 4 MPH77.68%
Average Wind (MPH)2.49
Max Wind (MPH)10.90
Average Temperature (F)36.07
High Temperature (F)71.59
Low Temperature (F)-7.20

A wind turbine is out of the question.  There are other locations in the yard that could have more wind, but it is unlikely this would be convenient to move the generated power from that location to the battery bank at the chicken coop.  A more plausible scenario is to add both more batteries and more solar panels.  We would be able to capture more energy when it is light out, and have more storage capacity to drawn from when it is needed.

  1. data sample
  2. Jupyter Notebook is a web application for interactive data science and scientific computing.
  3. matplotlib is a python 2D plotting library.
  4. windrose (license)
  5. anaconda implementation of python3
  6. jupyter notebook with sample graphs and calculations

Rouge Vif d’Etampes (Fancy Pumpkins)

The last week leading into this weekend and then through this weekend, weather-wise, has been on the extreme-side of pleasant.  I would call this goldilocks weather. It has been not too cold and not too hot.  Cool in the evenings and into the nights and cool in the mornings with just the right amount of sun and warmth with partly cloudiness throughout the day.

It’s good sitting-around-weather.  Good outdoor-project-tinkering-weather. Great reading-a-book-while-sipping-lemonaid-weather.

Minnesota Public Radio’s chief meteorologist, Paul Huttner, remarked both on-air and on his Updraft Blog that…


It doesn’t get any better than this folks. This may be the best weekend of summer. Lazy high pressure drifting east brings a return southerly flow and gradual warming trend.  Plenty of sun and highs in the 80? Cue the brass band, beach-goers and lemonade stands.

But with the cool mornings and equally cool nights, I can’t help but think that fall is just over the horizon.  The kind of tinge to the air that reminds you that the amount of time you have worn shorts this summer is greater than the amount of time remaining to wear shorts this summer.  Driving home from Zumbrota this afternoon, we saw a truck hauling ears of corn – it’s getting to be harvest time – maybe hauling to a farmer’s corn crib to dry out for winter cattle feed, or maybe to a wet-mill.

Here at the house with our small garden, we are growing a bit of corn.  It is an heirloom bi-color sweet corn.  The ears are small, and the stalks are short.  We might just end up feeding partially developed ears of corn to the chickens.  We have also had mixed success with peas and beans.  The first patch of peas was small – we ended up with a only a single bowl.  The garlic that we grew was small, but has been very tasty.  Dill, thyme and basil have all been abundant and flavorful.  The few varieties of tomatoes that we grew this season, like Burpee’s Northern Exposure, have been doing well.  I am starting to not mind tomatoes in salads, but I am likely being spoiled with the slow nature that our tomato production operates under.  Instead of forcing the tomatoes to grow and instead of picking them too early, we can pick them when we want and more on their own schedule.

But, of all the things we planted, the one that has left me gobsmacked, is the Rouge Vif d’Etampes.  It’s basically a fancy pumpkin of French origin.  According to our garden plans, we planted five mounds – with roughly a few seeds to each mound.  In the U.S., it appears these pumpkins are often colloquially known as Cinderella pumpkins.

As I mentioned, previously, these Cinderella pumpkins are growing with the vigor and perceived determination of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, just without having to resort to bringing bodies to the pumpkins.  At last count, there were 18 to 20 pumpkins, in various stages, growing in the garden.

So, what is so special about these pumpkins?  It is an heirloom variety that was first introduced to the United States from France in 1883 by Burpee.  It is a variety of Cucurbita maxima (this is the same species as butternut or hubbard squashes).  Among its characteristics, it is supposed to have sweet, orange flesh with a strong flavor.  But, I think its most endearing characteristic is its whimsical shape.  Squat like a short-stack of extra wide pancakes, these pumpkins simply stand-out in the garden.

Along with their stand-out nature, the vines being produced seem to have a mind of their own.  Depending upon what source of information you assume is canonical, the spread can be anywhere from 6 to 20 feet; we are seeing a spread just above that upper bound.  And, since we have fencing around the garden, we are seeing the spread in all three dimensions.

But, as with many things in the garden (or, sometimes life), things can quickly turn in a different direction.  With this coming week, we are supposed to have a bit more summer-like weather.  My thoughts on the onset of fall may temporarily be put the side, but they will still be there.  And when fall finally does show up and we get that first frost, I am sure I will write again about these magnificently shaped pumpkins and how they turned out.

Winter Is Here…Maybe?

Skyline Drive - Scenic Byway Road Closed
Skyline Drive – Scenic Byway Closed for the Season

Winter, astronomical winter that is, arrived on December 22, 2011 at around 12:30 AM CST. Fast-forward a week, and we do have a tiny amount of snow and the ambient air temperature is often below +32 degrees F (0 C), but it honestly does not feel like winter. There are things such as snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ice fishing which northern minnesotans usually partake in during the winter that hasn’t been possible thus far. For the Jokela household we do not snowmobiling (fumes & noise) or much ice fishing (not enough time and equipment) but we are fans of snowshoeing. Hopefully sometime in the next few weeks we will get enough snow to be able to enjoy this season called winter. The snowshoes, skijouring harness and dog booties are all ready to be used. The new dog-hauler is ready to rolls, as well.

Melissa with the hounds in Grand Marais
Melissa with the hounds in Grand Marais

Even with a tiny bit of snow here in Proctor, it feels more like late fall than actual winter. On Christmas day, however, headed up the shore of Lake Superior to Judge C. R. Magney State Park (see Devil’s Kettle – Snowshoeing the North Shore for my last visit to this gem of Northern Minnesota). Along the way to the park, we made our traditional Christmas day stop in Grand Marais, MN. We had the hounds in tow with us this year as we now have a swanky hound-mobile with room for all four dogs. Windy and colder than at our southern end of the North Shore, but gorgeous none-the-less.

Right next to viewing the Devil’s Kettle in Judge C. R. Magney Park, as far as my favorite sights of the North Shore, is being able to look down (south) from Grand Marais and see the Sawtooth Mountains cut across the horizon. It is particularly spectacular as sundown is nearing.

Even with the great sights of Grand Marais and the strangeness of being in a town on Christmas day that appears to be completely empty and the only things working are the one or two stop lights; the whole region – from Proctor in the south to Grand Marais in the north, does not feel like winter. Maybe by Valentine’s Day we will winter, maybe?

One Season Ends

Rhode Island Red on the Roof
Rhode Island Red on the Roof

Honey & Bee season has closed. The Ahrens’ bee-yard was winterized a week or two ago, and the hive (yes, singular) here in Proctor was winterized yesterday. On the honey production curve, when looking at the number of hives that we had going into the summer versus the honey produced at the end, it would be seen as a terrible year. The caveats abound, however. We generally do not pull honey from new, first year hives; that would have ruled out eleven hives. We did have a bit of a swarming issue with our experimental Russian bees, and I hope to detail that in a separate post. In the end, we harvested sixty pounds (27.2 kg) of honey from our two hives at the Proctor bee-yard.

Prior to just a few days ago, winter was no where to be seen; the snow, frost and freezing daytime temperatures were stuck to the north of us in Canada. We had been taking advantage of the oddly nice (by our standards) weather. We were in a sort of weather purgatory; it was nice out, but it would have been great to be nicer but it is not going to stay this nice very long. By January-weather-standards, this sunny and 50 degrees F (10 degrees C) is fantastic, but the recent weather was much like April weather; while we are able to comfortably work outdoors with a light shirt, jeans and regular shoes (no boots), it was still dropping below freezing at night. I look at photos of the yards, and of the grass and foliage from June, and all are lush and deep green; a deep green color that only comes with countless "applications" of nitrogen rich urea from the hounds. With daylight each day, getting shorter by minutes, we leave for our day jobs in the dark, and arrive back home in the dark. This arrangement is not conducive for working outdoors and often results in worm tunneling around with a flashlight in the dark trailing hounds in an attempt to keep up with their "deposits". I have been tending to sit inside, with a hot cup of coffee and my laptop.

When the cold weather arrives, I tend to tinker with this or plan for spring about that. Spring seed catalogs have started arriving in the mail, as well. But, the recent nice weather did allow for a very strange sight: gardening, in northern Minnesota, in mid-November. We actually put in another garden.

There had been fencing around a row of grapevines, but having since removed a large, ramshackle compost bin from one end of the stretch, the hounds had found ways of getting into the vineyard area. This was unacceptable. Three feet (one meter) out from the wire fence, we sunk new fence posts into ground and secured them in concrete. We stretched new wire fencing, and fill the new enclosure with black dirt. With a couple hundred crocus and allium bulbs on hand, Melissa set to work making a nice flower-border that should look nice in the spring.

As the honey & bee season closed out, a new, hopefully continuous season started: eggs. The chickens started to lay last week, and are currently at a plateau of four eggs per day.

Kingdom without a Queen

Hive #10
Wet, damp Hive #10

The weather in northern Minnesota continues to be, at best, cooler and wetter than normal. High winds have also accompanied the cold, wet weather. This has made for sporadic conditions for the bees to venture out from their homes to do their thing. It is not to say they have had zero opportunities; upon opening any of the hives – even ones that are perceived to be in a weakened state – the top bars of the frames are dusted with the bright yellow of dandelion pollen. The frames of nectar are stacking up, too, even with sporadic abilities to reach the nectar in the field.

Hive #10

Hive #10 has had a bit of a storied history. Started last with a package of bees originating from Chico, California, hive #10 had its first queen issue a month after installing the package. With no queen, a worker picked up the call to duty and started to lay eggs. That would be all well and good if workers could just take up the roll of a fertile queen and produce workers; instead, when a worker lays eggs, you will always get drones. Those lazy bugs that just take up space and look out of place with their enormous eyes.

A queen was ordered from Kentucky to replace the missing queen from California. The requeen on hive #10 went well, but we never did get any honey from it last season.

Hive #10 made it through winter and looked be a good candidate for being the source-hive for one or more splits (see my previous post on splits). Unknowingly, and being very new to the world of splits, the source-queen most likely made it into the new hive. This would explain why I had issues "requeening" – the new hive did not need a new queen because it had the original, older queen. On the note of having issues requeen – the new, Russian queen, was freed from her cage (this time). So, what happens with a hive with two queens? It will be a like cage fight; they will fight to the death and the stronger of the two will survive.

This leaves me with a currently strong hive in limbo because of a lack of a queen. There were numerous empty, partially constructed queen cells, but nothing that would suggest a the kingdom was about to throw off a new queen. Without a queen laying female eggs, and after sufficient time for all the existing female eggs to have gone from egg to larva to pupa to adult – there are no viable eggs to be turned into a queen. I did a bit of Internet searching and found several options for purchasing queens, but eventually wandered back to Kelley Bees (out of Kentucky). This is the same outfit that I have been getting my queens from for a while now; particularly this season.

Crow visiting the Ahrens Yard
Crow visiting the Ahrens Yard

In addition to all the queen drama, the apiary at the Ahrens is set to expand by two more hives. My beekeeping apprentice, Beth, is getting setup with her own hive. I am setting her up with a new Russian queen and several frames from a strong hive of mine. The other hive is getting bees from our neighbors to the north in Thunder Bay, Ontario. I am heading up there with a group from the Cook County (North Shore) Hobby Beekeepers on June 4, 2011. There has been considerable effort on the part of Thunder Bay Beekeepers’ Association to keep their area free of mites. I hope to write more about their efforts and my adventure north of the border in another post.

I also received word from the land owners of the Ahrens yard that a neighboring farm had beef cattle and several sheep wander through the field in front of the hives; lets hope that the trail camera caught the beasts moseying along and perhaps the ensuing, Benny Hill-like persuit.

Devil’s Kettle – Snowshoeing the North Shore

grand marais
Andy Baldwin, Grand Marais, MN – Dec 31, 2010

Including Jay Cooke State Park in the south, and Grand Portage State Park in the north, there are nine parks along (or very close to) the northern shore of Lake Superior. During the winter months, Lake Superior, the regions up and into its tributaries and its shore all have a certain elegance and harshness about them. While some folks try to escape the ice and snow of the region – heading to places where the sun shines during the month of December – I would rather take advantage of fewer people and a chance to see some of the North Shore’s highlights in a different, physical state.

Snowshoeing season seemed in full swing and ventures out onto the ice of the St. Louis River (west of Boy Scout Landing but east of Fond Du Lac) have been frequent. With the University on break from December 23, through January 3, I would have even more opportunities to go winter wandering. Melissa was to be gone most of the week after Christmas and early, on Christmas morning, I lay in bed, thinking about where I could go snowshoeing up the shore.

If you are familiar with the recent movie, Despicable Me, the lead character, Gru, when struck with a bright idea, will say, “Light Bulb!”. I had a light bulb moment while lying in bed – The Devil’s Kettle.

devil's kettle
Devil’s Kettle, Brule River, Judge Magney State Park – Dec 31, 2010

One-hundred thirty miles up the shore from Duluth, Judge Magney State Park surrounds the Brule River just before the river heads into Lake Superior. The park is neatly maintained with minimal amenities, several summer cabins, and on site camping is also available during the summer months. The park’s cabins are the remnants of what was originally a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp from the 1930s. A mile or so up a trail, you will find the Devil’s Kettle. The Devil’s Kettle is a bit of a freak of nature. The Brule River flows along until it hits a large mass of rhyolite rock jutting up; the rivers splits and forms two branches. The eastern branch flows over a nice, two step, fifty feet tall fall; the western branch falls into a sink hole (the Devil’s Kettle) and flows to some unknown location.

My light bulb moment also included me elbowing my wife in the ribs at 3:00 AM to tell her my idea of snowshoeing in to photograph the Devil’s Kettle. She did not quite grasp my excitement; she swore at me and told me to go to bed.

I decided to head to the Kettle on Friday, December 31st. After I told my wife my idea (but she was awake this time), she suggested that I ask a friend who happened to be back from Montana (where he is attending school). A few text messages later, and Andy was in for the adventure.

Andy and I headed out for a day of snowshoeing well before dawn. We passed the small town of Two Harbors before 7:00 AM. Shortly after passing Two Harbors, we had two timber wolves run across the road in front of us. They paused on the other side of the ditch; two black silhouettes made stark contrast with the brighter snow covered field behind them and the tree line.

It rain very hard in Duluth the previous night, and upon arriving at the park, we found that there was far less snow and much more ice on the ground than in the Duluth area; but, no worries, the snowshoes had crampons.

Upper Falls, Brule River, Judge Magney State Park
Alex Jokela – Upper Falls, Brule River

The trail to Devil’s Kettle was more or less uphill the entire way and completely covered with ice. The snowshoes and the crampons made the trek very doable, however. Periodically, a pair of sitting benches would appear on the trail – usually at points that afforded a spectacular view. Even though it was overcast and mostly gray, there were still many opportunities for photography. Besides the pair of wolves, wildlife was few and far between. A couple woodpeckers and a few chickadees and that was about it. All in all – it was a grand day-long-adventure.

Winter Musings

raven in a tree

The winter solstice seems to have come and gone; I will admit, I missed the lunar eclipse on the solstice. I am somewhat disappointed in having missed something that last occurred in the year 1638. It is not like I had any pagan rituals planned, moreover, it is not like I had anything planned.

It seems that Christmas (at least for those of a western European descent or leaning) is now upon us. As children, my sister, Meghann, and I would dread the long trek through the many days of December leading up to Christmas. She would make those paper-count-down-chains; tearing off one link per day until Christmas had arrived. On or near December 12th, our mother’s birthday, the tree was brought into the house and decorated. Shortly after, the presents would be brought down from our mother’s closet and set under the tree. Our family always celebrated Christmas by opening the presents on Christmas Eve; this was followed by driving around the city or region looking at Christmas lights. Some Christmases, our mother would put out luminaries; they lined the sidewalk coming up to the front door. By morning, the forgotten white paper bags would be nothing more than charred and blackened rings in the snow. Christmas day was spent assembling Legos as well as brewing the coffee (yes, even as a child, as young as 8 or 10, I received coffee as gifts). We also had a semi-large Christmas-day meal.

Throughout the 1990s, Christmas and the general patterns and rituals surrounding Christmas changed. Meghann went off college; the paper-chains disappeared. Grandparents passed away and the number of people receiving and giving gifts decreased. The Christmas-day meal went from being an event where the good silverware was brought out and a large Christmas ham was carved up – to a mid-afternoon gathering where hot tuna sandwiches were eaten and a game of Trivial Pursuit was played.

A few years after Melissa and I were married, we arrived upon our own ritual: go someplace on or near Christmas. Last year, we drove to Grand Marais on Christmas day. The year before, it was a drive up the shore to Silver Bay. This year, we headed to Ely. Piragis Northwoods Company, Wintergreen Northern Wear, Northern Grounds Cafe (there are businesses that do not have "North" in their name), a nice drive around Lake Shagawa, and a short drive up the Echo Trail. The cafe was excellent and even had vegetarian menu items. Hound Madelyn came with for the adventure, too. She was warmly welcomed in Piragis where she was fitted for a skijoring harness. Melissa helped the local economy by purchasing two skijoring harnesses (one for Madelyn, and one for her friend Annie’s dog, Jack), two pairs of snowshoes (one set for me, and one set for her) and a few other odds and ends.

Today, on Christmas Eve no less, I did the unChristmasy thing of making vegetarian red-and-black bean chili. Even with nearly two feet of snow on the ground, it just does not feel like Christmas. Only today did we get a tree. A 20″ potted Italian stone pine. At least there are the memories of Christmases of yore – when I was a child.

For the next posting, I hope to detail herbs I have planted in the house for growing during the winter as well as what I have up my sleeve for bees this spring.