Monday, June 30, 2014

Nature Finds: Mushrooms

With all the rain, mushrooms are appearing everywhere.  There are lots of great edible ones we know and are comfortable eating - chantarelles and the orange milk-caps (Lactarius), but also many other interesting mushrooms, some that we of course can't identify.  These are some amazing Ganoderma mushrooms fruiting on a stump.  Ganodermas are very medicinal and immune-supporting.  They also have amazing purple rings that will develop on them, although these look pale in the photo.

There are lots of the orange blue-staining boletes all over.  It's cool to watch them react with the air and turn bright blue when the underside is poked, but we try not to disturb the mushrooms too much so that the real fungus does not get damaged.  We like fungus!  They are an important part of the ecosystem and support soil and plant life.

I'm not quite sure what this one is, but it looks like the classic European amanita mushroom.  I wonder if it is related.

Lastly, some great turkey tail mushrooms decorating a rotten log in the pig pen.  A friend of ours makes a medicinal tea from them.  I love the way they make a dead log look lacy and beautiful.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


The grown-ups have been suffering through an illness, but of course all the little people have been fine and spry as usual - maybe a slight runny nose, but nothing to slow them down.  Still, chores must be done, vegetables must be picked, cows must be milked and moved.  We were busy last week keeping up with all of that, and are thankfully feeling on the mend now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Nature Finds: Insects

This was the largest snail I've seen of this kind.  The snails really like it by the sink - I guess all the moisture.

This little caterpillar looked like he was a piece of a branch, or maybe a bird dropping.  I think he wanted us to think that.

This beautiful dragonfly with black-tipped wings let himself be photographed.

Ethan noticed some loose bark on a pine tree when he was up doing the chickens.  He pulled it away and found a nest of eggs.  Pine beetles?  Scorpion?

This little moth looked like just a flutter of a flower petal, but on closer investigation we realized it was a moth that had just pupated and was still drying its wings.

This plain photo has an interesting story -

Last week I was sitting in the grass and knitting while I waited for Ethan to finish his chores.  Just glancing down, I noticed a spider struggling with what looked like a fly.  Of course I began cheering on the spider to myself, and was disappointed when the spider apparently gave up and the "fly" crawled away.  The fly turned out to be a tiny wasp.  As I watched, it stung the now paralyzed spider several times more.  Then, just as a hunter would field-dress a deer, it very matter-of-factly trimmed away the legs and mouth parts of the spider.

I disturbed it accidentally at this point when I tugged at my yarn, and it flew away for a moment, but quickly circled back.  It flew down into the tall grass, and I could see the moment when it began recognizing where it had left the spider.  (I can't believe people don't think of insects as intelligent!).  When it had found it again, it began carrying it.  Then I realized that it had trimmed the spider so it would be easier to drag.

I followed it to see where it would go.  It went pretty far for such a little thing -15 feet or more, and along the way it ran into so many other insects -  little grasshoppers, ants and pill bugs.  It's such a little world that we big giants never thing of.  Without a pause, it went up a small oak tree, and I lost sight of it in the branches.

When Ethan came back, I told him the story and tried to show him the legs of the spider that the wasp had so cleverly shorn off, but ants had already carried most of them off, just like hyenas and other scavengers do.

It was so amazing to see such an alive little micro-world just underfoot.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Two Left

I hope you don't mind this picture.  I thought it would be okay since it is more at the "food" stage than the "animal" stage here.  (Ethan says the worst thing about it is the appalling amount of mildew on the table top.)  I was proud of how nicely I had done the quartering and butchering.

Two goatlings in the freezer, Tom and Neroneus  are still on the hoof.  It is nice to get goat milk again.  I was really dreading this, as soon as we had so many boys, but it turned out as well as possible.  Right when we arrived Huck and Sid were out of the fence and had gotten into the barn where they were eating the expensive peanut hay, pooping and peeing everywhere and making it disgusting.  They had also eaten up the banana trees (killing one of them) and the biggest and most beautiful Tithonia bush, along with my calendula and sunflowers.

 So it was easy, in more ways than one, to catch them.  The slaughter part was over quickly and humanely, although we are new to processing goats.  I said a little prayer of thanks for all the nourishment they had to offer our family beforehand.  We are trying to make the most of what they had to offer us - every edible bit being eaten and we saved their beautiful hides.  Ethan made a wonderful Jamaican goat curry with rice and peas and vegetables from the garden.

The goat herd already feels more manageable.  Cricket and Firefly are enjoying being milked and getting their little bit of barley.  There are plans for Capretto and Middle Eastern roasted goat - even some "Mannish Water."  We are so grateful to be able to have this connection with life, the earth, and our herd.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Consolidated Pigs

We consolidated the pigs, so Mama Bee and Trespassers William are in with Star and the piglets.  The piglets were always slipping over and hovering around Mama Bee all the time, anyway.  She is very tolerant of them.  Shockingly so, I might add.  She does not have that look to her.

One of the piglets got "lost" a few days ago.  Star was running along the fence as we were leaving, with only four piglets trailing behind her.  We stopped and looked, and counted again, just to be sure.  Only four, so we went looking and found the fifth one following Mama Bee around, thinking she was his mother.  It was little "One Spot," the last piglet.  He couldn't see around his floppy little ears which big mama pig he was following around.

We took this picture as we were leaving one evening.  The piglets were piling up for the night.  They stack themselves up, and when it's chilly, they fight to be on the bottom.  Not these summery days, of course.  We saw that with last year's piglets, born in February.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Solstice

For years I've wanted to celebrate the summer solstice with the children, and always find myself too busy with the garden, or just lying around drooling in the shade because it's so hot and horrible outside.  This year I managed something!

Drawing on an old Rhythm of the Home article (goodness, I miss it so much!) I created a little celebration for us yesterday.  We made a grain-free Solstice cake to eat with our summer blueberries (I love the way the recipe calls for FIVE eggs  perfect for this time of year when the egg basket is overflowing).  We also gathered bunches of long summer grass to hang on the door, along with little sun pictures we drew.  We sang our best sun songs and hung sprigs of St. John's Wort over the doors while I told a few little stories about troublesome, naughty fairies.  The children all really liked it.  If I have more time and energy next year (please!!) I would like to add making candles, too.  I like the idea of capturing all the bright solstice light to bring with us into the shorter days.  I am also going to make some boiled sweet corn for dinner tonight - alas, not from our garden.  It was a sacrifice we had to make this year so we could grow out the Dudley farm corn.

I hope you have a wonderful summer solstice!

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Favorite Cage

This really isn't what it looks like!

No, Clothilde is not locked up on bread and water (and breastmilk).

When we got our first batch of pigs years ago, we didn't have anything to transport them in, so the guy we were buying them from sold us this rusty old cage to bring them home. Once when we were getting piglets someone shouted, "That's so cruel!" out of a car window.  Of course if they had seen the tiny cement enclosure where the piglets had come from, and the beautiful wooded oak forest where they were going to, I think they might have admitted it was worth the short ride in the cage, whoever they were.   They also did not realize the cage's other role as a favorite kid toy!

It always surprises me what becomes a favorite kid toy.  Of course there's the old story of the kid ignoring the toy and playing with the cardboard box it came in.  The cage is somehow irresistible that way.  Even Clothilde has fallen for it's magical, rusty charm.  It's great to climb on, fun to sit in and shut the door (for some reason), and is so rusty it isn't easily locked, so it's not really possible to lock yourself in.  Even the big brother can't easily lock up the little sister, even when she begs him to for a game.

The cat even likes to sleep in it when it's brought home.  Once we had a smaller cage in the yard that was going to become the new guinea pig cage.  Perhaps anticipating the small, furry animals, our cat Teasel decided she loved to nap in it.  It had a hole in the wire on the sides, so she could easily crawl in and out.  The house across the street was for sale, and people would always come and look at it.  A nice-looking couple stopped by once when I was out in the yard with the kids.  I waved at them and smiled, but they didn't wave back.  They talked together, looked shocked, and pointed at me.  After they had driven away, I realized it looked like we had the cat locked up in a cage on the driveway.  Teasel, of course, was doing her usual deep sleep "roadkill impression" with all four paws in the air, so actually it looked like we had a dead cat locked up in a cage.  They didn't buy the house.

The big kids have been home now for a few days - everyone is still getting used to being in a house with breakable things instead of camping out and being a caveman.  Clothilde seemed to really enjoy being the only child for a change (and a big help, too, as you can see.  She's helping bring Matilda's peanut hay for her milking ration).  But she is also glad they are home, although it took a little getting used to at first.  She had to actually play by herself for the first time while they were gone.

There were some very nice arrows made at Firefly, and Rose helped so sweetly at the childcare tent (that was where she wanted to be) with the younger children, that the women working there both thanked her profusely for her help.  I think she might have missed the littlest sister!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Eggplant Sighted in Garden

With all the rain (FIVE inches last week!!  Well, at least according to our rain gauge) the garden is getting jungley.   I don't think I will bother companion planting flowers with the melons next year - the pretty cactus rose zinnias look like they're drowning in melon vines.  The melons didn't trellis like the cucumbers, but I think I missed a critical trellising point with them when I should have encouraged them more.

The cucumbers had no problem grasping trellising (sorry, awful pun).  I love this little vine with an anthropomorphic look.

The eggplants, sweet peppers and tomatoes are beginning - just as the powdery mildew is beginning to get the summer squash.  It's just been SO wet.  I hardly even can get out there between thunder storms.

The echinacea that I had started last spring from seed is blooming this year.  It makes me wish I had a perennial herb garden for this and the yarrow and mint and rosemary and other things, too, of course.

The tithonia is blooming.  My parents always grew it in their little garden when we lived in Diamond Village student housing, and I remember the stray cats that lived behind the dumpsters always liked having kittens in the tithonia patch.  I've never grown it myself before, but I believe it will always from now on have a spot in the butterfly garden in front of the vegetable garden.  The butterflies were literally fighting over it the other day during a brief sunny spell.

The army worms have descended on my garden again - only on the tomatoes this year.  I think they were planted too closely, because they like hiding in the deep foliage.  They go and eat the tomatoes just as they start to ripen and make them rot, so this year I have decided to pick the tomatoes green and let them ripen on the table, just so I get some.  Not exactly home-grown, vine ripened tomatoes, but it's the only way we'll get any.

Well, there are a LOT of green tomatoes.  It was more than the baskets could handle, and the real estate on the kitchen table is getting scarce, but there's talk of putting the leaf in to lay them out to ripen.  I think we'll have some fried green tomatoes for breakfast this morning.

The rain is very good for the wild mushrooms!  We've gotten tons of Lactarius and chanterelles, as well as some from our shitake stump in the front yard.  The blueberries are still coming in.  I am picking a whole pailful about every three days.  I also did a little herb harvesting, and brought some catnip back to dry inside.  The black cherries by the outdoor sink are fruiting.  They taste horrible (Ethan did a mime impression of how they taste for Rose - washing his mouth out with the hose).  They do have that strongly medicinal taste, though.  We had so much yucky coughing this past winter, I am picking them and making a tincture for a cough syrup.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Yarn Along: Phoebe Mouse Sweater

I (finally) finished up Rose's Phoebe's sweater.  I'm glad I saved the huge sweater for last.  It's such a reminder of how much Rose has grown that it takes so long to knit for her!

 Speaking of that, I am now knitting the little mouse sweaters.  It's so satisfying how quickly one of them knits up!  I am already dividing for the sleeves on the first one.

I am planning on knitting both my girls the sweaters, the mouse dolls and the doll sweaters and dresses.  I think it will be wonderful Christmas present for both of them.  They are already playing together with other dolls, and I think they will love having ones from the story with teeny tiny matching sweaters.  At least I know Rose will be delighted with it.  Clothilde, I'm sure, will follow along with whatever Rose is excited about.  It's funny and wonderful how my girls stick together already, although Clothilde is not even two years old yet.  Any dispute with the big brother and Clothilde is always on Rose's side!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Nature Finds: Fungus....and something else

We found this cool fungus on the stump in front of the house.  It started out as a creamy, textured lump that I thought was cat puke.  It "bloomed" a few days later.

 This fungus was at the farm and was being grazed by big ants.  You can see one on it near the bottom.  I think they look like carpenter ants.  Some sort of stinkhorn fungus, perhaps?

And then....I thought this was a picture of a slime mold or maybe a slug, but when I asked Ethan he admitted actually it was one of his poo photo collections....

He insisted these be put up:

Unmannered possum?  I was appalled to find it on the edge of our outdoor sink.  I'll admit it was kind of cool the way it had iridescent flecks in it, presumably from all the dung beetles it (whatever it was) had eaten.

This is supposed to be a picture of the fly eggs on a cow pie.  Man, I wish we could get the chickens on more of the pasture!  The flies are always a presence in the summer.  They haven't been too, too terrible yet this year.  I think we have been building up a huge dung beetle population, which helps.  I've seen them make a rush at a fresh one, and all around the outside of the older pies are dirt piles.

Monday, June 16, 2014

In the Kitchen: Salsa Verde

Even though the tomatillo plants have been dying like flies from a suspected fungal infection, I do have two plants left, and they are loaded.  So there was a smidgen of salsa this year after all, which I am content with.

The garden is so much work - seeding, transplanting, tending, watering, weeding, building, fertilizing, picking pests.  So much killing is involved with growing vegetables, so much hands-on every day death I think about when I rip up the hopeful seedling nutsedge, or drop a plump caterpillar into soapy water.

It makes the casualties be so tragic - like having to rip out four precious tomatillo plants (tears were shed on my part), but after all enough is enough.  How much do we really need?  A few salsas, that's all I ask for.

This turned out to be part of a wonderful dinner of fried squash, pork chili made with our onions, tomatoes, lard and pork, and home made tortillas (not our masa....someday!).

For the salsa I used ideas from a recipe in this book.
It involved some home-grown pepper, onion and cilantro, too.  Cilantro is usually a winter herb because it bolts very quickly in the heat, but I think I will always grow it in the summer, too.  It is a very pretty flower, almost like Queen Anne's Lace, one of my favorite wildflowers that, alas, does not grow here.  It is beautiful beside the picotee cosmos and cactus rose zinnias.  And I am finding the thinner, bolted leaves perfectly satisfactory for salsa and garnishes.  It has such a wonderfully strong flavor, a little goes a long way.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Keeping Cool

The big kids are off at the Firefly gathering in North Carolina.  Mirin is very excited to learn more about carving and flint knapping from the teachers there.  While they are off learning primitive skills, we are busy finishing up some big farm chores, like spreading the fertilizer and soil correctives and some building projects that have been in the works for way too long.  We also got the new fence charger, and that needs to be put into use ASAP.

An interesting aside - when Ethan was ordering the charger he said the Stafix website was completely different if you viewed it as if you were from New Zealand.  The US website was just "it's great to go move cows, just try it," but the NZ one was all about the details of how exactly to position solar panels, etc.  The model of charger we bought is actually not really offered here in the US.  I think we are way behind technologically here.  Just reading some of the first comments on the Ted Talk by Allan Savory,  many people who wrote in when it first was up had never heard of solar-powered fence chargers and electric fencing, although these things have been used overseas for decades and are at this point in the process of being perfected (for NZ users) rather than being tested out.  I know that the US likes to think of itself as superior in so many ways, but it's stuck in the mud in this way.  It's really too bad.

While there is a little extra time, I am starting to plan next year's homeschool.  I want to be well prepared this year.  I need to figure out how I'm going to do first grade, fourth grade, and Clothilde's "pre-school" (really just something to keep her occupied while we try to focus on something).

I have just begun reading over the first grade curriculum.  There's some very deep stuff in the beginning regarding Steiner's ideas on cultivating the senses.  Interestingly, I had many similar thoughts about the subject during my last year in high school, so it kind of speaks to me.  After I went backpacking in France alone when I was 17, with so much time and inspiration to work intensely on art work, writing and learning new things in the "real" world, it was such a dive to come back to high school and try to relate to the rich suburbanite kids.  That year I would bring an Altoids tin filled with blobs of dried watercolors and paint in the back of the classroom when I was supposed to be learning Algebra or "Life Management Skills" (abstinence only and no drugs class) or Economics (funny - I think I would have really liked to learn about Charles Eisenstein's ideas about economics or Charles Walters, but what we learned was just so boring and one-sided).   I would also bring a crochet hook and was crocheting a scarf out of the school paper towels, much to the fascination and entertainment of my classmates.  I was desperate to do something creative, something practical, something that spoke to me more than what they taught in public school.  It certainly felt like a deprivation of something essentially nourishing to not be able to learn what I wanted, all for the sake of a piece of paper that has yet to really be useful to me twelve years since I graduated.

I am enjoying all the thought-food the Christopherous curriculum provides.

Friday, June 13, 2014

No Charge

Unfortunately, we are having to buy a new fence charger.  The old one has been failing us and Ethan finally realized it was the problem after he bush hogged practically the whole forty acres trying to keep the resistance down on the fence lines, fiddled with the solar panels and batteries, and called the customer support to chat with a technician.  So all the most badly behaved animals are locked into hard fencing for the time being.  That means the goats, by the way.  (Not that it really matters for the babies.  They are out all the time because they can still slip through the fence, although it is getting to be more of a tight squeeze).

Explorer, Flora and Sampson are also in, due to bad fence behavior.  I hate having them on hay when the grass is so green, but it is their own darn fault.  We can't have the cows returned by the sheriff again, like last year.

Ethan is really looking forward to getting the new charger, mostly so he can watch the goats try to get out and get a good, unexpected zap. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Snow Queen and Shiso

 Five years ago I bought a potted peach tree from an orchard down the road.  It was called "Snow Queen," and the really nice guy who sold it to me told me it had no commercial value because it had a quality called "melting" which made it incredibly delicious, but unable to be transported.

Our other peach trees are the "Florida King" variety.  This year we found that they are orange, cling-stone peaches that ripen a little here and there.  It was nice to come out and find one that was ripe that day to enjoy.

Snow Queen, it seems, is a determinate peach.  It was loaded with fruit this year.  Weeks after the Florida King peaches ripened and were all gone, the Snow Queen's were still small and green.

Then suddenly one day I looked and realized they were all red and ripe.  Some of them were even starting to spoil.  We had to put other things aside and pick them right then and there.  We got so many peaches off of that one tree.  I didn't count them, but they completely filled our egg basket and we still had to find a spot in the milking basket to bring even more home.

We discovered that "melting" means that the peach dissolves in juice and runs down your chin when you take a little bite.  We couldn't believe how incredibly juicy they are.  It's true that they don't keep at all.  We quickly ate and froze them before they spoiled, but we still lost some, which the pigs enjoyed.  They are also a loose-stone peach, which made them easy to slice up and freeze.

 In the garden, I am finding that six pickling cucumber plants create a back-breaking amount of pickling cucumbers.  Not complaining, just mentioning it so I remember when I plan my garden next year.  I went through and harvested the big ones before it got really out of hand and spent way too long late at night slicing, salting and racking my brain for different variations on cucumber pickles.  I have an attempt at bread-and-butter slices, bread-and-butter whole, bread-and-butter relish, fennel and basil slices, spicy pickles, dill and basil whole, pickle relish, and dill whole pickles, dill relish and dill slices.  Have any suggestions?
  We hardly fit around the kitchen table now since it has been occupied by fermenting mason jars.

 The peppers are starting to come in.  All still green, of course, like the tomatoes, but it won't be long now.  I still have some dried cayenne from last year, but we are looking forward to fresh sweet peppers, so different from the rubbery store counterparts.

 Years ago I had planted some native passion vines along the fence.  I thought they had died, but this year they are flowering.

 The shiso I planted has become huge.  It is getting ready to flower.  I hope to save seed and plant a lot of it next year.  I think it's been really great for repelling pests.  Ants ate all my Turkish-Italian orange eggplant starts until they got to the shiso.  They left that alone.

Yesterday while I was milking Matilda, Mirin came over and told me that Ethan had crushed up some plant in the garden, and they both decided it was very toxic.  I thought he was talking about a wild nightshade that has grown by the ground cherries.  I was going on about belladonna and how intense of a plant it is.  Mirin said his head hurt now that he had smelled the leaves, and he was starting to worry he had somehow been poisoned by the smell.

While Ethan and I were taking Matilda back (there was an impending thunderstorm and she walks a lot quicker and behaves much better with Ethan along.  She has no respect for me at all.) he brought up the plant again.  He said,"What is that horrible plant in the garden?" I told him I thought it was a nightshade.  He said it smelled so bad it made his head hurt.  "Smell it," he said, and shoved a leaf at me.  I looked at the leaf and realized it was the shiso.
"It's like Japanese basil," I told him.  "It smells like basil and cumin together."

He said, "Just keep telling yourself that.  It really smells like someone put a bunch of stinkbugs and palmetto bugs in a blender."  Mirin made me promise not to cook anything with it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Little Devils

 I hope the piglets aren't getting boring.  They are just so cute.  Little devils, I can't help thinking when I'm watching them play.  They are almost as naughty as the goats, only they haven't gotten into the garden and eaten the corn (yet). 

They look like they're up to something.  They'll pause and watch us watching them, looking guilty.

 Then they decide they might be in danger and all together they run back to mama with their little ears flapping.

And they ARE up to something.  We put a cross fence up so they could have their own paddock and not be in with enormous "Mama Bee," the other sow.  She is absolutely huge.  Ethan says "Bee" stands for "Beast."
We were worried she would eat the piglets, but they have apparently been slipping through and visiting with her and Trespassers William.

One afternoon I brought the pigs some watermelon rinds.  The piglets tried to join in and nibble some around Star, but she gave them a big shove and they flew squealing through the air a good three feet.  I guess she doesn't put up with much.

TW, Star and the piglets were all in their wallow when we drove up yesterday.  It's just a shallow, muddy spot on the front of the paddock that stays filled with a little water.  It's hot.  The wallow looks green and disgusting, but it helps them keep cool and there are all sorts of tadpoles in it.  We can hear frogs singing there at night.  Water is scarce out here, so I'm glad they provided a new little habitat niche for some aquatic creatures.