Counting Blessings, Cutting Loses, Culling Critters

A respite from the heat, but still no rain. We surveyed our fenced land for grazing and have come to the sad conclusion that our intention last year to grow the herd will not be achieved in the near future.

Seemed like the right thing to do, growing the herd, considering food inflation and especially high meat prices, and the fact that Hubby is here full-time now, and that more bartering/trading could be in the foreseeable future. But, the parched land screams otherwise.

Between the steeply rising cost of feed and the meager forage available, and no guarantees the stranglehold of the weather terrorists will let up any time soon, we come to some difficult decisions.

We will wait another year to freshen the goats, drastically reduce the number of sheep, and breed back only one sow. We will maintain the poultry flock as-is for the most part, but had hoped to add ducks once again to the mix. No rain means fewer bugs means more supplemental feed. So that plan is not looking too good now either.

Planned building projects are also getting postponed. A ‘milking parlor’ was on the list, some much-needed repairs to the deck, rebuilding the greenhouse, a field shelter for the herd, and on and on, plans are easy, implementation, not so much!

We are blessed with an already achieved minimalism: Living seasonally, frugally, well-acquainted with the boom-bust cycles of our overlords and still small enough to be flexible, and with enough local support to know we’ve got each other.

Our most crucial long-term goal remains: Growing our own feed—perennials as well as annuals.

We hear the word ‘sustainable’ repeated multiple times a day these days, but there’s rarely anything truly sustainable being suggested.

It’s 99% hype and green washing. But actual sustainability does exist, and the more self-reliant we can be, the closer we are to achieving it.

How do we measure up?

And it’s not like there’s not plenty for us still to do and learn here, even with squeezing the belt tighter.

I’m still very interested in herbalism, especially as it pertains to our local environment. The best things in life are free, or nearly so, no?!

And while I do appreciate the allure of the consumer life, I’m far more fascinated by the natural world all around me. It’s always a matter of slowing down, observing ever more closely, teasing out the potential of all that is all around me, and some of that certainly means our local community, but that doesn’t just mean the people.

I’d love to learn more wild crafts, as well as more fine art tuning; more science, and more speculation; and much, much more about where and how these endeavors mesh.

There is a different brand of “More!”, isn’t there, than the furious Billy Idol sang about?

Or, maybe it’s all the same, in the midnight hour?

Mushroom Abundance

While just two hours away Dallas was getting flooded, we got a measly two inches. Certainly not enough to fill the pond or raise the creek or get the ravines flowing again.

But it was enough for a crazy number of mushrooms!

I was collecting mushrooms for several days afterward, including some first-time-finds—a choice edible and the weirdest mushroom I’ve ever seen.

The ‘Giant Blob’ mushroom? These are all through one of our raised beds planted with sweet potatoes, scattered throughout the vines.

Mushrooms popping up everywhere.

And now on to the good stuff!

Foraging for anything is just about my favorite thing to do in decent weather, and mushrooms especially. But in hot, sticky weather there better be some bang for the buck, as the saying goes.

Especially because the chiggers thrive here when it’s hot, wet, and humid, so shorts and sandals are not an option.

Last year with our very wet spring we had chanterelles all summer long. We’ve had very few this year, so this nice haul has been a real treat.

“Chicken” mushroom — Laetiporus sulphureus

Hubby found this ‘chicken of the woods’ on a rotting Oak tree while feeding the pigs. It’s a first-find for us here and is considered to be a good “Beginner’s” mushroom, because there are no similar mushrooms to it which are poisonous. It’s very tasty in cream of mushroom soup and does indeed have a texture similar to chicken breast.

Another new find is considered to be “choice”—related to the shiitake mushroom—Lentinus lepideus.

Found on rotting pine, which there’s loads of around here, so it’s surprising we don’t find them more often. I’m going to try to cultivate them!

We got a marvelous wild harvest right in the back yard. These “Pink bottoms” (Agaricus campestris) are very common and closely related to commercially cultivated mushrooms in the grocery stores.

They resemble another common yard mushroom that fools a lot of folks—the toxic Chlorophyllum molybdites —including me once when I was a beginner. It was an excellent lesson considering spending the night hugging the toilet has made me a much more cautious mushroom hunter!

These two often grow together as well, preferring the same conditions, sometimes in ‘fairy rings’. When they are very young the gills of both look white, while still mostly closed.

As they open, the good ones have pinkish gills that change fairly quickly to chocolate brown. The toxic ones have greenish gills that get a grayish-olive tone with age.

The ‘campestris’ after a few hours on the left and another fresh from the yard on the right.

And to make matters more confusing, once a little older and browned they could also be confused by a novice with another yard mushroom, the ‘magic’ mushroom, the common psychedelic Psilocybe cubensis. The very bitter taste will be enough to figure that out.

And now, for the grande finale . . . the most perfect specimen of Macrolepiota procera I’ve ever seen! A delicious edible, fairly common wherever there’s been ruminants wandering, like quite a few other wild mushrooms.

Fall Flourishing

It’s been unseasonably warm for us so far, with regular episodes of more mild weather whiplash than in recent past years. I suspect that’s about to change, so here’s the garden as it’s growing now.

It’s a first for fresh tomatoes in December around here! We are still harvesting from the ‘volunteer’ tomato jungle growing in the duck coop. It looks so pretty and is producing much more than we can munch. Even though it’s tedious work, I dry them. They come out delicious that way and can be added to all sorts of dishes or made into a pesto.

The large tomatoes pictured here are previously frozen. Freezing the surplus in summer solves one big problem around here: the tomatoes come ripe after the cilantro has gone to seed. To me, salsa without cilantro is like a bed without pillows! Now the cilantro is growing like gangbusters, and we still have fresh peppers (another first!), so we get nearly fresh salsa in December too.

With the peppers still growing strong that means in 20/20 hindsight I should not have moved a couple of them last month to winter them indoors after all. Where’s my crystal ball when I need it most?!

Now that’s a radish! I love all radishes, but the Korean radish is seriously impressive.

The mushrooms continue to marvel me! First we had chanterelles nearly all summer, now we have delicious ’wood blewits’ (clitocybe nuda—ok that sounds a bit pornographic, no?!) and tabescens, and lactarius paradoxus. Also pictured are either the hallucinogenic ’laughing Jims’ (Gymnopilus spectabilis) or the highly toxic ’Jack-o-lanterns’ (Omphalotus olearius). The latter I give to a friend who uses them to dye yarn. The former, if I were 100% sure of my identification, I might be inclined to try! Apparently you can tell from the spore print color, either orange or white. But, what about when it comes out whitish-orange? Too risky for me!

The cooler temperatures make even our old dogs feel a little frisky!

Play time!

And for a little more humor . …

The Peculiar Persimmon

Another brief plant profile this post, as it’s our first experience of persimmons!

The first thing you learn is absolutely do not eat them when they look pretty enough to eat. With the persimmon, the uglier, the better! If you eat one when it looks like this, you might think you just stuffed your mouth full of dead rodent fur.

If you eat one that looks like these below, you might cringe a little at first thinking you’re about to taste something rotten, but you’d be quite wrong—it’s magically delicious!

Let this funny lady tell you all about it!

It is often claimed that American persimmons are only edible after a frost and that you cannot ripen them off the tree. Luckily, this is not the case. However, most persimmons you can purchase at the grocery store are of a Chinese variety. It seems American producers have decided our own varieties don’t ship well enough.

Preserving ’wild’ persimmons is also a bit peculiar as cooking it will bring the astringent taste back. Making fruit leather was the solution for Native Americans according to this article by Mother Earth News. “When desired, the persimmon leather can be cut into small pieces and eaten like candy. It is much relished by small children this way. Or, the dried pulp can be mixed like raisins with cornmeal and other cereals to make Native American puddings, various cakes and biscuits.”

Time for us to give persimmon leather a try! And persimmon cookies, clearly. I already made persimmon kombucha and it’s positively divine! 🙂

We’ve planted a bunch of persimmon trees in recent years, but only females produce fruit. The ratio of male to female trees is 10 to 1 and you can’t tell them apart until they start fruiting, in about 7 years. Nature’s way of teaching us patience and planning!

Co-Creating Abundance

No politics or unpleasant ponderings this post, I promise!

Just some homesteady happy snaps and a well wishing for a wonderful weekend. 🙂

A sea of sweet potatoes soon to be harvested.

Mexican tarragon—an attractive replacement for French tarragon that does much better in the South.

Drum roll, please, for this next rare shot . . .
A Skittles sighting!

Our barn cat, Skittles, who we see about once a week and lives mostly in the trees.

Mystifying mushrooms! These are quite common, honies (armillaria tabescens) claimed to be good by a good many foragers, but we haven’t tried them yet, because my mushrooming buddy and her husband got wretchedly ill on them once.
Oops, I promised no unpleasantries. 😉

Buttercup paying homage to the pack leader, Tori, she does this multiple times a day.

I suppose these next snaps might be unpleasant to some, sorry! I do get that, I felt that at first too, but I was gradually desensitized as I realized how much economic sense it makes, what an amazing skill it is, and especially how magically delicious it is.

Always an attentive audience at slaughter time.

Our favorite foraging expert who we forayed with nearby this past spring has a great new website all about medicinals. Here’s a short podcast about it, and reminding me that now is the time I should be collecting some goldenrod before winter! Medicine Man Plant Co

Healing properties of medicinal plants

Still Harvesting

No rest for the weary around here!  Our goal of year-round garden harvesting has been met and is every bit as rewarding, and exhausting, as I expected.

Living, working and eating according to the season is remarkably satisfying.  In the last couple of years especially I’ve spent much less time learning from books and much more on direct observing and experimenting.  

I’m thinking our next goal should be to throw the calendar and the clock out with the garbage. Show those Amish what a real Luddite looks like! HA! 🙂

This time of year the spiders tell me it’s a good thing I’ve got the cool season crops out already. Many of them were started indoors, then transferred outside under shade cloth which will remain until the heat breaks, fingers crossed we don’t get an early frost.  

I’ve just started harvesting the sweet potatoes, the luffa and peppers are going crazy, the radishes, volunteer cherry tomatoes and lettuces are finally happy again and I’m most excited for the mirliton squash (chayote) that is finally getting its first flowers.  This will (hopefully) be our first success with mirlitons following multiple failed attempts.  I love this squash, but it thrives in southern Louisiana mostly, because it needs a very long warm season, even longer than we get here.  I started these indoors in February, along with the turmeric, also a first for us this year.

Several heat lovers pictured above: turmeric, ginger, sweet potatoes, mirliton, peppers, luffa.
Below: longevity spinach

As soon as it cools down I’ll also be harvesting honey, lots of herbs for drying and pesto, along with foraged leaves and roots for teas— sassafras, beauty berry, sumac—and once we finally get some rain, it’ll be time for mushrooms.   

Hubby will be filling the freezer with lamb and pork and freshening our flock for spring lambs and a few to add to our growing herd of milking goats.

Hibiscus in May, hibiscus today . … still not blooming because I got a late start.

The honey bees love the Thai basil and the native bees especially love the salvia and the sweet potato and luffa flowers.  We’ve decided next year to plant an entire row of luffa in the orchard just for the bees and pigs.

Hope you can enjoy a moment of piglet playtime! Surely there will be time for a wee rest in late winter?

Milking Mamas, Busy as Bees

Big days on the wee homestead! The cucumbers are coming in by the bushel full, the lambs are dropping like rabbits, the mushrooms are growing like mad and the bees sound exceptionally pleased. I can’t keep up!

Luckily, Handy Hubby is here now every day, thanks to his ‘early retirement’ (that is his layoff six months ago) thanks to The Great Scamdemic. With his steady efforts and attention our place is shaping up beautifully and my stress levels have been reduced by half, even as chaos still reigns. For these are not the only new milking mamas, I’m now officially a milkmaid in training myself!

Welcome, Summer! Two piglets for a goat in milk was our barter with a friend. She’s settling in nicely and Phoebe was the first of the herd to greet her.

Learning to milk in humid and buggy 95 degrees F is every bit as pleasant as it sounds. 😏

Impressive udder and gymnast-like capabilities!

Handy Hubby crafted me a nice milk stand from plans posted by Fias Co Farms, a very good resource for goat newbies.

The chanterelles will surely give up very soon in this heat, so I forced myself to brave the mosquitoes and ticks once more to gather one last big basket full. I came across a new variety while hunting that’s not in any of my books, so I contacted Texas Foraging expert Mark ‘Merriwether’ Vorderbruggen, who identified it and directed me to this excellent site:

https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/hexagonal-pored-polypore

Since our temps went from April-like to August-like overnight, I got stuck in a bit of a bind with the bees. Because I’m trying to work between 3 different hive types (very stupid, do not entertain this folly I would advise) I’m trying to get them to move of their own accord. It is working, but it is quite a slow process. I will eventually have 3 colonies from this one very full nuc without too much destruction or fuss, or at least that’s my plan.

To end I offer a true garden success. I’ve been experimenting a lot with companion planting, sometimes with advice from permaculture books, but sometimes just by my own observations. This year I planted sunflowers very early, before it was warm enough for the cucumbers and melons. My thought was to attract the bees to the garden like a lure down to the still small cucumbers. It’s worked like a charm and the trellises are bursting with activity.

I’m also trying some new tricks with the tomatoes, letting the cherry types go wild, but highly managing the large varieties and interspersing them with various herbs, lots of comfrey, turmeric and ginger. The results are not yet in on those efforts, but I’ll keep y’all posted.

Mmm, grapes, our favorite! Ta Ta for now

Flooded Dells & Chanterelles

Wow, what weather! We got 12 inches of rain overnight on Monday, far more than we’ve ever seen here. Unlike the tornadoes, hurricanes and hail, however, I don’t complain about the rain. This region was made for rain, and lots of it. It’s the droughts that are far more difficult to withstand, and far more unnatural.

Texas Weather Modification doesn’t respond to public inquiries and they don’t share data on all the various projects happening around the state, so who’s to say if this was all Mother Nature. Man’s tech being ‘proprietary’ after all, we peons and peasants are relegated to the realms of conspiracy theory. Folks will continue to deny the weather warfare schemes until the bitter end, I suppose. No one wants to believe man is manufacturing the weather, despite clear evidence right at our fingertips.

However, that’s beside this particular post’s point. This is what we woke up to, the sound of Niagara Falls outside our window! While still in bed I said to Hubby, “What is that sound? It can’t be wind, the trees aren’t blowing!” One look outside and I saw, that’s the creek that now looks like the Mississippi, flowing right over the road and bridge (sorry for the shaky camera, I was focused on the roar more than the image).

While we had several fence issues from the debris, lost a favorite old tree, and the electricity was out for a spell, it’s absolutely amazing to me how resilient nature can be.

The water was mostly receded in just one day and then, out come the lovely fruits as kind rewards for our losses and extra labor.

Chanterelles abound, the flowers and veggies are flourishing. The mosquitoes and ticks too, no gifts given without associated costs.

One delicious dinner of pasta in cream sauce with chanterelles, green brier tips and sweet peas. And another favorite tonight, pizza of course, which Hubby pronounced my best ever. Our own homemade cheese, bacon and sourdough crust certainly help the chanterelles sautéed in garlic butter make their best impression. .

While hunting chanterelles I stumbled upon a rather large patch of this rare beauty which I once mistook for a wild orchid. Actually it’s a Purple Pleat-leaf, in the Iris family. It’s gorgeous in the wild, but wilts immediately when cut. I carefully uprooted a few of the tiny shallow bulbs and transplanted them in the garden.

Hopefully the bees will find them as lovely as I do! If not, they still have their garden favorites.

Birds, Bees & Weeds

Exciting times on the wee homestead!

We had a Foraging Walk that was well worth the two years waiting. The first postponement was after a tornado leveled their property during one of their tribal ceremonies, the Caddo Mounds in Weeping Mary, which I wrote about here and here.

The second time was during the initial stages of the Plandemic, when I cancelled due to mask mandates.

On this fun foray, 3rd time was a charm, no storms, no masks and a very educational afternoon. Top 3 things I learned:

1. Medicinal weeds should never be dehydrated in a machine, something about chemistry. Two ubiquitous weeds I thought had no other redeeming qualities besides bee food: Goldenrod and Carolina geranium, are in fact beneficial medicinals.

2. There’s a compound in red cedar that inhibits the breakdown of alcohol for 18 hours. So, a common practice is to soak some branch tips in strong spirits for a month. The final product becomes kind of like Absinthe in that it’s potent enough to cause hallucinations, which can lead to great art, says me, or, a cheap date, says Hubby.

3. Foraging in areas where there was once iron mining operations, quite common around here apparently, unbeknownst to me, should be avoided due to potential mercury contamination.

A super exciting swarm event is next on the Fun list!

I’ve been wanting to populate a couple of re-furbished TopBar hives, but the dimensions are not the same as those Hubby’s crafted, so splits would prove very challenging.

Bearding in summer, not too unusual in our hot climate. But, bearding in spring, probably a sign they’re really cramped.

I was hoping for swarms, and got one off the ‘bearding’ hive I recently wrote about (pictured above). They stationed themselves about 75 feet away in a young cedar tree and I got lucky to find them there immediately, while I was nearby harvesting mulberries. This is our first plentiful mulberry crop and I’m not sure what to make with them. Any suggestions?

I did recently learn from the Deep Green Permaculture site that it’s possible to get a 2nd crop of mulberries by cutting the branches back after the 1st harvest.

As far as the swarm goes, my first attempt was dismal, in the ‘Don’t do this!’ category of the pathetic novice, which I should know better by now, which I post so y’all can laugh at me, as I well deserve.

I don’t know what I was thinking! I wasn’t even good at holding a tray like that as a cocktail waitress. Spontaneous blasphemy makes this quick clip RATED R—For Mature Audiences Acting Immaturely Only. (Bet you didn’t know in a past life I was a sailor!)

Cringe-worthy

The 2nd attempt was successful, thanks to Hubby, who sawed the branch off into my waiting hands so I could gently walked them over to their new hive. They seem to be adjusting nicely! These thoughtful bees saved me lots of messy work.

The Ninja* colony has attracted a gorgeous bird, which I’m pretty sure after consulting my field guide, is a Summer Tanager. Though I don’t approve of his hunting live bees, he does also forage dead bees under the hive, so he gets a pass.

*Ninja colony, so named due to their constant battling yet relatively calm nature. I believe this is at least partly due to their position right next to the house, where they get constant traffic, but seem unperturbed by it, unlike the more remote colonies at the far end of the orchard, who are just plain abusive.

Homestead Happenings

Just a wee update with some happy snaps because we’ve been keeping as busy as bees around here!

The bees are busy indeed and multiplying like rabbits. Time to expand their chambers or to do some splits.

Bearding in summer, not too unusual in our hot climate. But, bearding in spring, probably a sign they’re really cramped and fixing to swarm.

I did end up losing one colony, the only one I have in the conventional Langstroth model hive. I’m going to blame myself for that though, I left a super on over winter and we had a really bad winter. They made it through alright from the looks of things, but left about a month ago, probably because their numbers were still too small to keep a mansion clean while trying to nurse babies to build up the colony again. There was no evidence of freezing or starving, so I suspect they left as a small swarm. That’s my story anyway.

Construction continues on the best project so far. Handy Hubby is building an addition to our house and I’m over the moon excited about it! This place was never meant to be a year-round residence, it was initially used as a weekend cottage and hadn’t been used for many years by the time we moved in.

We’ve been cramped for quite a while, but now we’ll have a new, very necessary and very functional, climate-controlled Utility room. Thank you, my love, better late than never! 😉

We aren’t cat people but we adopted a barn kitten last year to try to help with our mouse, vole, mole, gopher, snake problems. Apparently she didn’t get the memo, or realized the problem was so bad she needed a crew.

Skittles, our frisky barn kitten having kittens.

Our piglet population is back down to a manageable size since trading 2 piglets for a milking goat to be delivered next month and 2 others for a breeding ram after a friend has freshened her flock. We also traded a beehive for some bantam hens because they are known for their strong broody behavior, and sure enough, here’s one tightly tucked on her clutch. It’s one of my favorite things to trade with folks and leave Uncle Sam with his funny money out of our pockets for a change.

You can’t see me! Bantam hens, known for tucking up in tiny corners to brood.

As for garden developments, I continue my efforts incorporating permaculture features. I keep experimenting with good companion plants; I’m planting more perennials amongst the annuals; I’m doing more succession planting; I’m getting lots of comfrey growing for ‘chop and drop’ composting.

My latest addition is a ‘poison garden’ including such toxic beauties as datura, belladonna and castor bean. I’m testing a few tricks like ‘spooning’ the onions, which is to remove the dirt from the bulb tops to encourage larger storing onions. I’m watering weekly with ‘poop soup’ that is, watered down cow manure I’ve gathered from the stray cows sometimes wandering our property.

It’s a dirty job, but anything for my plants!

As always, I let the herbs and greens go to seed, but this year I’m going to get better about seed-saving. The price of seeds is going through the roof! Another new project I’m dedicating time to is more propagating, but not just the easy stuff anymore, like figs and roses and mulberries.

I’m going for the big time—‘native’ trees! Wild cherry (because they taste so amazing), Osage orange (because they are so useful) and prickly ash (because they look so cool) are at the top of my current list.

As for foraging, a favorite spring activity for me, in addition to pokeweed and dandelions, I’ve got another new favorite: greenbrier tips—taste just like asparagus. The root, along with sassafras root, were once the main ingredients of root beer, which I plan to try soon. Yum!

Ciao for now, thanks for stopping by!

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