Breathe in Beauty

Nature is not perfect, nor perfectible. But whether in chaos or order there can always be found magnificent beauty that heals, energizes and inspires.

I don’t like to see folks high on false Hopium when they face troubled times.  I don’t like political slogans or wistful mantras about Hate or Love.  

I wish all mankind could feel what I feel, see what I see, touch what I touch, so that the wholesome Hopium of pure life filled them each day with all the sense of wonder and potential, or challenge and purpose, they try forever in vain to find in others’ words and buying things.

And they would know to micromanage Life is antithetical to our raison d’etre, not to mention a hard lesson in futility.

Co-creating beauty and abundance, participating directly in our daily sustenance, living reciprocally between the heavens and the soil is a marvelous feast of the mind, heart and soul.

Nature does not long to be worshipped, or revered, or admired from afar, or just replicated in images. It is us, it is ours to be truly seen and felt, up close and very personal, not as masters or servants, but as partners, in divinity.

To work with nature, really work WITH it and IN it, is to spend your days suspended in magic.

Try one minute of bee zen. Can you hear their successful model of a happy colony? Contrary to popular lore, the worker bees control the queen, not the other way around. Can you sense their contentedness in maintaining their colony as instinctually as every Superorganism does?

Just like the human body, if left to its own devices, it knows just what to do.

One minute of bee zen

Romancing the Goat: An Ode to the Redneck

Something is wrong! What have I done?!

The friend who traded us for Summer, our first milking goat, patiently tried to coach me, not nearly as concerned as I was.

“Are you massaging her udder with a warm wash cloth before you milk her?”

Yes I am!

“Are you feeding her her favorite treat before and after milking?”

Yes, again!

Though I did try on the first day to transition her from her animal cracker addiction to fresh cucumbers straight from the garden, thinking of her long term health.

Summer would have none of it.

After 3 days of barely being able to coax a cup from her I thought for sure I’d created some awful affliction, maybe worse than mastitis, yet to be listed in any book, from my sheer incompetence, or maybe that she just didn’t like me, at all.

Her udder was full to the point of bursting, but I was failing miserably at filling my pail. At that point if my friend had advised me to bring scented candles, perhaps some champagne too, to our milking sessions I’d have asked, “Which scent does she prefer?”

But as chance would have it, on the 4th day we had visitors. Friends of this friend wanted one of our young boars for future breeding. These were true farm folk, born and raised. I wasted no time whining about my failure as a blossoming milkmaid.

I played coy for the necessary split second before taking them up on their offer to take a peak at her.

When they saw her udder they had concerns. The dreaded ‘mastitis’ term crossed their lips and I felt even more deflated.

“Oh, no, how do I fix that?” I lamented.

Summer hopped right up on the milk stand for her animal crackers. At least we got that part down. They both examined her udder more closely and concurred it wasn’t particularly hot, so probably not mastitis, followed by my great sigh of relief.

The large man, with a deep country drawl, stepped behind her then and proceeded to pound at her swollen bag with an upward motion and milk burst out both her teets.

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with this goat!” he confirmed. Then he gave a couple of tugs and strong, steady milk streams came pouring forth.

“How did you do that?” Was my relieved exclamation.

He proceeded to show me how it was all my bad, I was not being nearly rough enough.

“You gotta get way up in there hard and pull that milk down. Give her some good shots with your fist, like this. As long as your not bruising her or using a 2 x 4, she’s fine.”

Summer was completely calm and unfazed by this approach. Apparently I was tickling her more than milking her. We’re already up to a quart with my refined method.

I envy the rednecks and all their learnin’. So little seems to phase them, whereas I still get squeamish around blood and death and dis-ease after a decade of the most typical farm foibles.

Perhaps reading my mind and wishing to make me feel better, the large man shared a story as we stood at the gate before their departure.

“Now, I apologize in advance,” he began, “we just met, but let me tell you . . .”

And he proceeded to tell the story, flush with explicatives, about his recent long haul (he’s a truck driver in addition to a farmer, few make it these days as ‘just’ farmers) when his Bigrig broke down.

“Well I had to get one of them Ubers to take me into town and I ain’t ever been so scared in my life!” He’s a veteran, served overseas in the Middle East, grew up on a farm, been a truck driver for decades, but that Uber driver had him clinging with both hands for dear life, begging to Jesus and swearing to never get in a car with one of them crazy drivers for anything money can buy.

I inquired if he’d gone online to give the driver a poor rating.

“A poor rating?” he questioned. “They don’t go that low!”

He’s probably too nice of a guy to give that driver an ear-full while he had the chance. But I bet I would’ve!

I tried to find an appropriate fun song about goats to finish this post, but the best one was about a Billy.

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.

Beasts Big and Small

There is the famous gardening adage of ‘4 in a row’ but it seems there should be another one something like ‘Every single success brings 4 new challenges’.

Because of course, now that we’ve spent years building up a gorgeous loamy soil from our heaps of sand and clay, the moles, voles and gophers have moved in with a vengeance. It’s gotten so bad I’ve had to enlist Handy Hubby with his big guns.

And now that we have the fanciest coop in the county, we’re losing more eggs and chicks than ever—to the only beasts still able to penetrate the walled and fenced fortress—snakes. Another job for . . . Guess who?

Yes, that’s a water moccasin, poisonous. Hubby’s also found a couple of HUGE rat snakes stuffed full of eggs and chicks.

Of course the snakes don’t go after the rodents, why go to the extra effort of hunting when there’s free food lying around everywhere?

Of course the cat doesn’t go after the snakes or the rodents, or maybe she does, but she can’t keep up with the steady traffic.

So we’ve lost all our cabbages, most of our broccoli, a couple dozen onions (don’t believe the hype, onions are not a rodent deterrent by any stretch of the imagination).

But, at least the forest beasts are well-fed.

Tori: “I don’t like onions anyway, where’s the chicken?!”

Dead Giants & Illegal Owls

What to do with giants’ bones you find in the garden?

You call the Authorities, who ‘donate’ them to the Smithsonian, where they disappear forever.

What to do with a dead owl found in your yard?

You call the Authorities, who tell you to throw it in the trash, and pretend it never happened.

Electrocuted on your perfectly safe electrical wires? Impossible. Just like a duck the year before? Impossible.

Just like you, your own-human-self, jolted with permanent shoulder injury by our perfectly safe electricity? Nonsense.

That’s impossible. That never happens. That’s why we never record it or offer any way for any one to document it, because that proves it never happened.

The duck, the owl, your shoulder, NEVER happened. Report that, and that only, #6, to the Proper Authorities.

Yes Sir, that never happened. I have no electrocuted owl in my freezer. I have never been hurt personally by your Superior methods. I adore your system. I bow to your Eternal Authority.

Thank you, sir, may I have another?

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. 🙂

Celebrate Small

Some things are better small, even in Texas. Small markets, small steps, small farms, small solutions.

Get big or get out! That was the slogan of the last century that surely haunts loads of old farmers to this day.

“Many who got big to stay in are now being driven out by those who got bigger. The aim of bigness implies not one aim that is not socially and culturally destructive.”
The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture by Wendell Berry (1977)

“We have always had to have ‘a good reason’ for doing away with small operators, and in modern times the good reason has often been sanitation, for which there is apparently no small or cheap technology. Future historians will no doubt remark upon the inevitable association, with us, between sanitation and filthy lucre. And it is one of the miracles of science and hygiene that the germs that used to be in our food have been replaced by poisons.”

That book was written when I wasn’t yet 10 years old. And it’s only gotten worse.

I ask myself regularly how this is possible. Now it’s not just small farmers, the attacks are against small business, in general.

But, then as now, the attacks are primarily psychological. Folks are lured by promises from thieves and liars, and that’s the better part of the story. Other times, and certainly increasing in our more modern times, they are lead senselessly, through fear and desperation, because they have medical bills, or student loans, or mortgage payments in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they see no other way to go on but to sell their souls to the State.

And yet, the seeds of the solutions have always been lying dormant all around us, waiting for our nurturing care and attention.

“Just stop building it.” Catherine Austin Fitts

Brilliant woman who is walking her talk!

“Just move to a smaller community.” Curtis Stone

Homesteading – #SolutionsWatch : The Corbett Report

“Just try it, you never know, you might like it!” me 🙂

One minute of wee piglets being piglets just might seduce you!

A culture is not a collection of relics or ornaments, but a practical necessity, and its corruption invokes calamity. A healthy culture is a communal order of memory, insight, value, work, conviviality, reverence, aspiration. It reveals the human necessities and the human limits. It clarifies our inescapable bonds to the earth and to each other. It assures that the necessary restraints are observed, that the necessary work is done, and that it is done well. A healthy farm culture can be based only upon familiarity and can grow only among a people soundly established upon the land it nourishes and safeguards a human intelligence of the earth that no amount of technology can satisfactorily replace. The growth of such a culture was once a strong possibility in the farm communities of this country. We now have only the sad remanant of those communities. If we allow another generation to pass without doing what is necessary to enhance and embolden the possibility now perishing with them, we will lose it altogether. And then we will not only invoke calamity — we will deserve it.” WB