Homestead Happenings

Some happy snaps and random updates this post. There’s the alien eggs that come to find out, are not alien eggs after all. Some cute critter pics. Some ill-placed political memes. Some exciting for me, but boring for you, cheese news.

Basically an unorganized hodgepodge of a post that you should probably just skip unless you’re bored.

Totally unrelated to this post, I just like it and haven’t found a better place for it.

The New Normal weather whiplash continues. It seems even the leaves aren’t quite sure what to make of it.

Two maple trees we planted about 5 years ago. Of 25 total there are 7 still alive.
We’ve had similar results with the pecans and all the orchard trees.

We are getting some yummy mushrooms—the upside of so many dead trees. Mushroom pizza tonight! I’ve also been wanting to try making pickled mushrooms and it looks like there’ll be plenty for that, too.

And the mysterious eggs aren’t alien after all, big surprise. Katherine of EdenUnlocked blog was right, stinkhorns.

And Kath in the UK then followed-up with her friend who is a mushroom expert. He is probably right on the type, phallus hadriani, but we’re not getting full development on them in order to tell for sure.

(Thanks y’all, I so appreciate your help! Isn’t the internet so awesome for such connections?!)

We’re still checking our phallus circle daily and they keep trying! One egg will ‘hatch’ but then it falls over.

Could it be a kind of ‘phallus shrinkage’ due to weather whiplash?? 😂

The goats are gorging on acorns and scarfing down the fresh greens Hubby planted for them in a former garden space. The kids are happy because I put them all back together again. They went right back to nursing even though they are nearly as big as their mamas already. And, I’m still getting a half-gallon of milk a day, so it’s a win-win.

The goat cheeses are coming out great.

Aged chèvre wrapped in maple leaves and one in plastic cheese wrap for taste comparison

The pigs are getting fat and happy again foraging for plenty of acorns.

And ending with another meaningful but ill-placed commentary just because I like it and don’t have another place to put it.

Nature’s Myriad Mysteries

Every day on the wee homestead brings some new mystery, most of which go mostly unsolved. No need for UFOs, Jesus’ image on your morning toast, or Big Foot sightings around here—we’ve got baffling bees, mystical mushrooms, and unexplained murders.

I’ll start with the most dramatic. A rancher neighbor was terribly shaken up and recounted a recent disturbing event at their place, meaning to warn us. They found two calves bleeding, one dead, one still barely alive, which they had to put down, the injury was so severe.

She had been crying, as I would’ve been as well, and told me in their nearly two decades here they had never seen such a thing and had no idea what creature had done it. It wasn’t any kind of injury they recognized or have had to deal with before. Each one had a single tear right up its undercarriage, with the entrails spilling out, and nothing eaten. Coyotes being our typical predators around here, I inquired along those lines and she shook her head, clearly, not this time. We do hear stories about panther sightings on occasion, I myself thought I saw one once too. But again, the gnawing question, predators don’t just kill calves for the fun of it. Two calves killed, no markings or traces of a struggle, and nothing eaten. That is a mystery I prefer not to think too much about.

So, quickly, on to better stories!

I have an update on the bizarre ‘mushroom blob’ from a recent post. Over the last weeks it has developed into typical bracket or crust fungi. While now at least it is generally identifiable, the mystery still remains, because bracket mushrooms grow on trees, not under vines in regular garden soil. There is not even wood mulch on the top of the bed where it’s growing.

The fungi when I first found it above, and again today, below.

My only guess is that the mycelia network is coming up from below this raised bad. We threw a bunch of wood chunks down before piling on the soil. But, that might be a stretch, as I’ve never heard of these mushrooms growing on anything but living or dead bark. I just don’t know.

Mushrooms being my second favorite mystery after bees, we end with a sweeter little story.

This bitternut tree was all abuzz with activity this morning. It’s hard with photos to get a sense of how many bees were working it, so there’s a short video clip below for the sound effects.

We couldn’t help but think it was such odd bee behavior, because nothing on this tree is blooming—no pollen, no nectar. Yet the bees were clearly eating something off the leaves. So, we licked the leaves, and they taste sweet! I have no idea why this would be, but the leaves seem to be exuding some kind of sap. The bees have been all over it all day, so it wasn’t just morning dew.

This sounds like the simple sort of mystery a local arborist could solve for us. If I find out, I’ll be sure and let y’all know, so you don’t loose any sleep over it! 😆

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 . …

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

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.

“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

Homestead Happy Snaps

Bullied in my own hammock! Apparently she’s one of a great many in this country who have taken a few lessons in tyranny.

Ok, so I let her win, this time. At least I got an egg out of it.

I love foraging for mushrooms! I just really wish they were easier to identify. Like good sourdough, it’s serious business, but some folks make it look so easy.

I’m a novice, still, after years, but getting there on the slow boat. A lunch of freshly foraged chanterelles sautéed in butter with a delicious sourdough I’m still trying to master. Along with a whole lot of mushrooms I can’t identify.

We can’t even buy bread like this in our area and I bet there’s a lot of folks in that boat. DIY! Here’s the expert to show you just how to do it: https://youtu.be/UF9dCkKhBnI

Just Do Better

Happy Holidays, y’all!  The passing of this year is quite welcomed for us.  It’s been our toughest year on the wee homestead by far.  There were even a few times we discussed giving in and packing up.

We moved here in 2009, after Hurricane Ike, having purchased raw land in 2006, after Hurricane Katrina.  It’s the new normal, I guess, that our memory is set by weather disasters.  Now 2019 will be marked as the year of the manufactured storm bombs: crazy tornado and giant hail.

Judging from the amped-up geoengineering agendas, who knows what next spring will bring—floods, fires, more ‘tornados’, unprecedented lightening storms, maybe a land cyclone or two—certainly continued weather whiplash will remain on the menu.

I don’t imagine it’s possible to prepare for every potential catastrophe, but still, we’re staying put.  It’s not that we’re gluttons for punishment, or like to live dangerously, or are too stubborn to see the writing on the wall.  It’s not even that we’ve come too far to turn back now, having learned so many of the essential homesteading skills, having devoted so much blood, sweat and tears, not to mention $$, into this lifetime project.

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We bought the neighboring property that had a nearly abandoned cottage, hauled off the old junk and then the real work began—paint, windows, doors, siding, deck, etc. And after the tornado, a new roof.

It’s for love.  Love of the land, the nature, the work, the critters, the learning, the lifestyle, and of course, love for each other.  Where else would two such misfits fit except in the woods, I wonder?

When there’s no turning back, and as we’re too young yet to sit still, but too old to start over, the best option left is to up-skill.  So, that’s what we’re doing.

Handy Hubby has transformed his butchering talents from mediocre to practically professional with the help of the Scott Rea Project.  It is truly impressive, especially considering  what big jobs he makes work in our very small space.

I’m following his lead by upgrading my own culinary crafts to include more traditional fare, like offal, which really isn’t so awful at all!  This’ll be my last bad pun in this post, I promise, even though I find them offally hilarious.

I don’t really follow recipes, but I’ve been finding guidance and inspiration from Of Goats and Greens and Weston A. Price.  I recently made a rather delicious Lamb Liver Loaf and an offal salad of heart and tongue. (FYI, it does not taste like chicken.)

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The upturned oaks have become the perfect microclimate for Jack-O-Lanterns (Omphalotus olearius), not edible, but an appreciated gift for a friend who dyes her own yarn.

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The hedgehog baked and the pulcherrimum as centerpiece

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An edible favorite: the hedgehog (Hericium erinaceus). And a ‘steccherinum pulcherrimum’ which means ‘appearing beautiful’

I’ll also be doing more foraging with the help of The Forager Chef  and a bookshelf full of expertise on mushroom hunting, wild plants and herbs, traditional cooking and healing.  I’m more committed than ever in holding space for, and gaining knowledge of, the ancestral arts and crafts that were missing from my childhood, and indeed for most of us for many generations in this country.

I’m not going to share any lame platitudes about silver linings and growth opportunities, because that’s slave-speak socially engineered by the faux-authorities to assure the rabble don’t complain about their lot in life.  I intend to continue my fair share of complaining, and then some.

But, I will offer this cliché instead—It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings!  And this lady’s got no plans to plump up any further, or join the choir.

May all your storms be weathered, and all that’s good get better.  Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you . . .”

 

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