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! 😆

Homestead Happy Snaps

High 90s again this week—will it ever end?!

Kinda hard to stay motivated when we’re melting!

Luckily as mood boosters we have Hubby’s homemade sparkling wine coolers. It’s his own concoction, made from our own ‘new’ wines—pear mixed with wild grape—complete with bubbles! It’s really tasty, not too sweet, and a lovely color. And bubbles!

Delicious!

The goats are still impressively darling and annoying and belligerent at once.

Beautyberries and mist flower don’t mind the late summer heat.

The garden still has many happy visitors, but I’m not one of them!

You’ll find me inside with the air conditioning, an icy wine cooler, and a pile of books and movies to attend to!

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.

Fun With Goats

No, I don’t mean Goat Yoga, that’s just dumb.

Really, yoga’s not enough torture for you, you need hooves to the spine, too?!

We love our goats, but not inside, duh.

New screenplay idea: Goats Who Stare At Men!

Because of the heat and drought the best forage is close to the house, where we are regularly watering. It’s good for the goats, and for us it makes for better entertainment than most TV. There are drawbacks though. Like they eat pretty much all the plants, not just the ones we want them to eat.

And they tend to follow me around, waiting for the extra special treats I bring them from the garden, like their favorite, sweet potato vines and morning glory.

Feeding frenzy

And they want to climb on everything.

Going out on a limb
Just out of reach!
“I’m too sexy for this grass”

Our once somewhat peaceful morning coffee now attracts a team of show-offs. (I don’t think Bubba approves, considering what they do to his bed.) They do giant leaps off the deck, too, that look a lot like the tricks snowboarders do, but not on cue, unfortunately.

Please feel free to enjoy 2 minutes of Chez Kensho programming!

Homestead Happenings

Time to wine!

It’s hot. It’s dry. It’s miserable. Every day we enter the garden and the orchard knowing we’ll find something else dead.

First it was the tomatoes, then the salad cucumbers and cantaloupe, now it looks like even the tomatillos are giving up before ever producing well. The squashes are all struggling and the peppers and figs are mostly stalled.

I wish that meant it was time to rest on our laurels and have some long, slow and sweet indoor days of movie marathons and Kombucha cocktails.

But no such luck, because it’s time for making wine!

Our painstakingly cultivated Muscadine grapes are not doing well, we expect a minimal harvest, at best.

But, the native Mustang grapes are a lot tougher, apparently.

So, fortunately! We’re still able to make some wine and jam.

Did I mention it’s really F’ing HOT? And dry?

I’d whine a lot more, except I keep going back to the miracle of all the critters and plants who can take it so much better than we can. Though, I know they are struggling too, and are just less whiney than I am.

And just for those keeping track, the ‘chemtrails’ have not abated.

Rebel Canning?!

Drama in the canning community? This sounds serious. Especially now that it’s coming home to roost.

Or is that roast?

Yes, now that Hubby has enthusiastically taken up canning, there’s trouble brewing in Kensho paradise.

It’s not only that he dominates our small kitchen for hours on end, heats up the house with his fancy pressure canner, or is filling every conceivable space with his jars. It’s not even that’s he’s far better at it than I ever was.

No, I’m generous that way, perfectly willing to share in the glory.

I am, however, growing weary of his methodology. His modern, high-tech, USDA, strictly by the book, precision style is beginning to conflict with my laissez-faire, look how the old timers did it, just wing it attitude.

I suggested we try the ‘Open Kettle Method’, which for the record is taken directly from my 1933 Kerr Home Canning Guide.

He quips, “No way, it’s not approved.”

Huh?

And I’ve just learned we’re not alone in this clash. There’s some fiery online debate—wouldn’t you know it—as in politics, so in the kitchen.

They call themselves the ‘Rebel Canners’ and that’s got me quite intrigued. Those rascals are daring to question The Official Science! They must all have a death wish. Clearly they have they never heard of botulism.

It was no sooner than Hubby and I had a tiff over water bath timing that a YouTube video hit the top of my feeds.

How did they know?

A rebel canner, in the flesh.

She doesn’t look nearly as crazy as I thought she would. She brings up the Amish, who never pressure can.

Never! Not even for meat.

It’s positively scandalous.

Hubby tries to block out the insanity coming from the speakers. I tell him I want to try it. Meat, my dear, imagine, meat water bath canned!

Let’s go for it!

He looks at me with the same look as when I try a new foraged mushroom without proper identification. And I know just what that look means.

I can repeat the sentence for him, I’ve heard it so often.

“You go ahead, sweetie, someone has to live to tell the story.”

Homestead Happenings

Busy days on the wee homestead as we try to maximize our production with the swelter season clock ticking. The scheduled weather is HOT and DRY for us for the foreseeable future and just staying on top of the watering is a big task.

Hubby’s pond water pumping system is a life saver for the plants, but it still requires an entire morning per section in the garden, around the house, in the orchard, which means he’s walking back and forth, moving hoses, rearranging sprinklers, and sweating. It’s not easy, or free, but comparatively it’s our best option and I’m very grateful for it!

Adding shade cloth and screening wherever we can.

And, while I’m on the gratitude train, let’s give a big cheer and thank MAN for the air condition! We’ll be spending much more time indoors for a while, me especially.

Welcome new additions to the garden this year, Poppy and Nigella. Very happy for these, I’ve tried many times for poppies with no luck, and the nigella was gifted from a friend and the blue and white flowers are so darling and the seeds so delicious!

We continue to experiment with different preserving techniques and flavor combinations and it’s SO much more enjoyable for me to have his company and help in this endeavor, now that he’s home all month long!

Last year’s experiments of watermelon rind pickles and melon butter were a fine success we hope to repeat again this summer. Lately he’s also been making cream of mushroom soup from our foraged chanterelles that is SO delicious, as well as blackberry preserves. He’s also canned a bunch of potatoes and made a huge batch of ratatouille for the freezer. That’s a first for both of those, so we’re looking forward to the taste test.

The cucumbers are coming in well, the melons still looking very promising, but the heat is definitely taking its toll on the tomatoes already. That is disappointing because we do love tomatoes and needed to re-stock our marinara this year. Hopefully we’ll find some neighbors with a bumper crop who are willing to trade for some of our prolific squash!

Lots more to share, on another day! 😁
Thanks for stopping by!

Trial & Many Errors

There’s the good kind of failures—like those you are able to remedy; And the bad kind—like those you can’t control; And the worst kind—like those you could control, if only you could figure out what went wrong.

We have a collage of all 3 today!

Failed cheeses, failed fruits, and sun scorch.

Penicillium roqueforti has dominated my Little Turds and now we have little blue turds, which is a big fat failure.

This is the most aggressive cheese fungus and once the spores get started it’s extremely difficult to correct the issue. As much as I love blue cheese, this is not the process for making it. As a surface mold it does not taste good, it’s the veining of the blue cheese that brings out the nice flavors. I don’t make blue cheese, because in order to make other cheeses you must exclude the blue to get the white (geotrichum candidum),or any others, to dominate.

Even a hobbyist will quickly learn that you need a separate space, equipment and unique aging fridge just for the blues. This particular invasion happened very quickly, in just 2 days, because a beverage fridge does not make a very good aging fridge for cheeses. But, it’s all I’ve got. The temperature varies unexpectedly and you can’t control the humidity. Sure, a lot of cheese makers out there claim there are certain tricks for modifying the humidity levels of the mini-fridge, but they just don’t work, or they are far too high maintenance for me.

The fridge got too cold by just a few degrees, and this was the result. The two without any blue are from an older experiment, also failed, because their white fungal coat is not thick enough. I’m hoping a snug fig wrapping will magically transform the problem. But, I doubt it.

Wrapped in fig leaves (with a bit of sage on one too, to cover the naked parts) back into their Tuperware-fashioned high-humidity space, and back into the aging fridge.

As for the little blue turds, I’m going for maximum shock treatment, just to continue the experiment at this point, because I think they are beyond repair. I have them at room temperature now and I might even try spraying on some geotrichum candidum, just to see what happens.

The orchard is a continual string of failures, the nectarines being just the latest one. We’ve planted so many fruit trees in there we’ve lost track. We planted a couple of plums, one that actually produced for a couple of years, then both suddenly died. The grapes are looking terrible this year, the apples hardly ever bloom and never produce any fruit, the peaches die a year or two after planting, and now we finally got some nectarines and they look like this. The worst part is, once you cut out all the bad parts, the few nibbles of good fruit you have left are absolutely delicious.

Oozing and pock-marked and tiny. ☹️

We’ve got one reliable pear tree, another two that get a great crop about every 3 years. And the figs, my favorite, that are on some boom-bust mystery cycle we haven’t figured out.

Hubby is beyond frustrated with the fruit trees, so he’s got a mini-project filling up the orchard now, his own hog feed production line.

I think he’s trying to teach those miserable fruit trees a lesson by planting a thriving row of squashes between the rows as feed for the pigs. The cost of feed is getting crazy! And of course, we’d much rather feed the pigs off the land. Trombetta and chayote squashes, and luffa, are growing great and will soon make for some happy pigs.

Luckily we at least have some giant blackberries to soothe our disappointments a bit.

While the garden is still hanging in there despite intense heat and very little rain, the signs of stress have already started. Even heat lovers like the turmeric are getting sun scald. The leaves of the tomatoes and tomatillos are looking equally sad. I’ve covered what I can with shade cloth and screening, and I’ve got my fingers crossed, and that’s about all I can do about that.

Sir Turmeric has a sunburn and Trombetta’s leaves are looking sad.

If the melons disappoint me again this year, at least I can feel better knowing the bees were very pleased. That is, except for the little bitch who stung me on the middle finger while I was harvesting cucumbers. The simplest of all these problems to solve—must wear gloves now while harvesting.

The Noir des Carnes cantaloupes alive with so many buzzing bees!

Oh, and last but not least, the shallots never bulbed. No idea why. I bet Bubba knows, but he’s not talking.

Kids, Kombucha, Bees & Cheese 

What better day to ponder than Mother’s Day why kids are so darn cute?!

The newest kids, born yesterday, Phoebe’s firsts—Hercules & Zena—notice he is twice the size of her!

We’ve bartered or sold most of our piglets already. We’re not on social media where such information is exchanged, but it certainly does seem the homesteading community in our area is growing rapidly. Yippie!

One family who came by insisted we were under-profiting from our piglets. Their 11-year old daughter offered her mom to pay us $50 more than we were charging, ‘for the cuteness factor’. Aren’t kids precious!

In not-so-cute news, the swelter season has started abruptly. Bye, bye beets and broccoli, before your time, because I think not even the shade cloth can save you now. The last rain that was hyped on about for days, that flooded some areas and caused tornadoes in others, yielded us a whopping 1/4 inch, not even enough to penetrate the mulch layer.

Of course I’m happy we didn’t get hit with another tornado, but I can still be miffed I have to start watering the garden. Half my roses haven’t even bloomed yet, or the zinnias. The parsley and celery have gone to seed before I got a decent harvest from them and the lettuce will soon follow, no doubt.

The bees are feeling it, too. I checked these hives last week and they were just half-full, yet the bees are bearding. Unfortunately, the swarm we got a couple of weeks ago left after only one day, unhappy with the digs I’d offered apparently. Now it’s already too hot for me to do the splits I’d planned. Better luck next spring.

I’m so pleased to be getting any strawberry harvest at all, they’ve never done well before. Then I saw this video and quickly got a reality check.

Hubby tried to make me feel better by saying those were probably grown in California and loaded with pesticides harvested by illegal aliens. He’s mentioned before something is off about this (Fabulous!) channel. It must be CGI, or heavily staged, or something. Never has a country cottage been so clean and picturesque. Where’s the chicken poop on the table and the flower pots dug up by the puppies? Good questions!

By ‘doing well’ I see I need to learn a thing or two about growing strawberries. They are too crowded and between the humidity and the wet mulch they are mostly half-rotted by the time they get ripe. I’m really loving the strawberry kombucha though! As well as the blackberry, and mulberry. I’ve started making the kombucha tea from yaupon, which grows like a weed around here. It’s delicious and sweeter than the store-bought green tea I usually use.

And speaking of mulberries, what a great surprise, Hubby found a full grown, wild mulberry tree in a spot we walk by regularly and never noticed before. What a treasure hidden in plain site!

More mulberries, please!

And this post has reached my attention span limit, so I leave the cheese to the next post. It’s gonna be a good one all on its on, really! Stay tuned!

Instead I exit abruptly, like spring has done in East Texas, with this quick lesson from Bubba in best yoga techniques.

The ’Just Chill’ technique ala Bubba

Homestead Happy Snaps

So many babies! It’s not easy getting good shots sometimes, but I’ll admit I don’t have the time or patience to sit around too long. We have our first kid!

Swallows just out of the nest, and on the right, can you spot the Cardinal still sitting on hers?

Hummingbirds are so hard to photograph. They have wars over this coral honeysuckle every sunrise and sunset and throughout the day, but it’s nearly impossible to catch them at it. Wow, are they fast!

These guys aren’t easy to happy snap either, but we do so love when they pay us a visit! And thanks y’all too, cyber visits can be almost as fun (sometimes)! 😁

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