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!

Poke Fear & Irrational Science

In its typical, now routine, fashion ‘science’ comes to save the day and leads everyone astray.

Once upon a time they desperately wanted us to fear cannabis, so they fudged some data to make it look like not only is marijuana a ‘gateway drug’ but it will kill all your brain cells and transform you into a moronic, lethargic two-ton-Tessy with crossed eyes.

Sassafras, that most delicious natural ingredient that used to make up root beer and was enjoyed by our ancestors for centuries—science data decided it’s a carcinogen and it gets stripped from the marketplace for half a century. Then the data decides, oops, nevermind. Then they decide it makes an awesome illegal street drug known by “Ecstasy” aficionados as “Sass” and it’s then highly processed active ingredients are exploited by twisted chemists and greedy marketers and pushed on curious kids around the world. Thanks, again, Science!

So, forgive me when I heard for the first time the panicked cries about the poisonous pokeweed I had to roll my eyes a little. I heard repeated the usual crazy as I tried to research it myself—the ranchers trying in vain to eradicate it permanently before it kills all their cattle; the dying children whose dumbass parents didn’t perform the proper ceremonial procedures before consuming; the dead chickens who consumed the poisoned berries, etc. All nonsense. We’ve never had a chicken or any other animal fall ill from this ubiquitous ‘weed’. The four-legged show no interest in it and the birds, wild and domesticated, love the berries at the end of summer when little else is available for them.

And, it is the most delicious green I’ve ever tasted, no exaggeration.

I’m not alone in my palate preferences.

“For many, getting a springtime poke-sallet fix was indeed a psychological if not necessarily a medicinal shot in the arm. Azzie Waters remembered a saying by ‘old Doc McClain’ of Marble Hill, Georgia, who declared that ‘if you’ll eat one good mess of poke sallet in the spring of the year, you won’t have typhoid fever.” (Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, & Scuppernong Wine: The Folklore and Art of Southern Appalachian Cooking by Joseph E. Dabney, p. 263)

It’s simply miraculous our ancestors managed to survive at all before the Great Age of Scientism came to our collective rescue! Though I do suspect back in the day folks knew better where to draw that very fuzzy line between science and politics. Yet more crucial life skills lost to Progress.

As for the ‘proper ceremonial procedures’ I’m referring to the often repeated ‘requirements’ of fully boiling the greens three times, rinsing them and changing the water each time before consuming. I tried this, wanting to give these nincompoops the benefit of the doubt, knowing full well this had to be overkill. Simple logic told me there’s no way mountain folk would waste that much time and resources, hauling huge pots of water, burning all that fuel, and still consider these greens such a great Spring treasure. My hunch was correct, considering the mess of greens that resulted was the equivalent of green soup with hardly a solid piece of green remaining. Clearly that’s not what all the Southern old-timers rave about.

A bit more research and I’d bet only one parboiling is necessary. But, I’ve been giving it two, just to be on the safe, but still delicious, side. From there it can be used just like spinach and the taste is far better. Traditionally it was popular to fry it in bacon grease or coat it in cornmeal and deep fry it like okra.

Tonight we’ll be enjoying it smothered in homemade Mexican queso. Mmmmm. 🙂

“Seasonal Dissonance”

Related to the psychological term ‘cognitive dissonance’ this new Eco-socio-scientism-conspiracy term describes the thermometer and related mechanical device-reading temperatures that refuse to align with the visual and sensory data which would otherwise assure a concerned individual that the season is indeed changing.

A lunch of freshly foraged chanterelles and lactarius indigo—lucky for me, I chose wisely. These are not beginner’s mushrooms and I was really nervous! (Hubby didn’t dare, citing the obvious need that, just in case, someone must live to tell the story.)

”Hmmm, roast pork with spider sauce? Not sure I’m feelin’ ya . . .”

Persimmon seeds in the feral hog scat is a better indicator than that blazing 90 degrees Fahrenheit that’s frying the kohlrabi and beet seedlings before they’re a centimeter above the soil’s surface. Don’t fool yourselves, it’s not just ‘Mother Nature.’

This is that tricky New Micro-Season in East Texas, thanks mostly to weather engineering I’ve no doubt, where no crop, or handler, understands what’s actually happening.

Cardinal flower (lobelia cardinalis)
Big Elkhart Creek 

The days are far too hot for the cool season, the nights far too variable for any season. The hungriest and most prolific garden pests are still proliferating, long from dead from potential threat of frost, but the hungry chickens are unable to benefit because said voracious insects are conveniently barricaded with the young greens and seedlings they so covet within the garden gates where there‘s narry a predator to be found.

If the past few years of weather whiplash are an example, we’ll go from shade cloth over our boxes to in need of frost protection within a few days. Maybe this time we’ll be ready for it?

The bees are as excited as if it’s spring, which gets me worrying. I plan to do some honey harvesting very soon. I have a mean colony who I’ve been giving the benefit of the doubt for well over a year now but who might get the permanent boot very shortly. I got stung in the eyebrow, again, just trying to maneuver around their hive, gently. Just in order to weed!

There’s just no call for that level of aggression around here; they’re clearly asking for some serious retaliation. Sure, the golden rod they’re feasting on was not my doing, but that tree groundsel, excuse me, a meager toll is in order, considering I planted that expressly in that very position for their exclusive benefit.

2nd favorite thing I’ve planted this year: Thai Red Roselle, makes my favorite Kombucha, another favorite discovery of 2020!

First favorite, check back to summer posts, Trombetta squash. We are still eating it!

40 seconds of Zen, OR, as long as I was able to sit still before swatting another mosquito on my nose
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