The Flight of the Guineas

A neighbor came over yesterday and took Kevin off to his farm. The neighbor had nine guinea fowl roaming wild on his property. He never fed them, except a little corn now and again when he felt sorry for them. They foraged on his farm, cleaning up after the other animals, and were plump and healthy birds. Several weeks ago he had told us that if we wanted some, he’d gather them up and let us sort out as many females as we could identify.

So I went promptly to Google to learn how to sex Guinea Fowl. Most of the information listed only a single difference – the males had a single syllable call, the females a two syllable call, often described as “buck-wheat!”. It is loud, and distinctive (“distinctive” being a preferable word to “annoying” which is also used to describe the call).

Further research another day, showed that sure enough, there WERE visible differences as well. The males have larger wattles, and taller helmets than the females. We went out and looked over the Guineas and had a little practice identifying the females from the males. We wanted a mix, but mostly females, and the neighbor did not care, since he never got eggs from them anyway, and had no safe place for them to raise young.

So the neighbor put some corn in his unused chicken coop, and waited until the guineas were in the coop. It took three weeks.

Yesterday, he and Kevin caught five of them, attempting to make sure they got as many females as they could, since his flock seemed to be mostly male. They drove them over in a dog crate that was in the back of the neighbor’s pick-up truck.

Guineas can get out through holes smaller than you think they can! This was the first lesson that the guineas taught us.

When the crate was picked up, three of them promptly escaped through a hole in the bottom. The other two were deposited into the chicken coop – a fairly large open-air affair that is pretty decrepit, and has holes patched throughout the coop, and more in need of patching.

The three that escaped kept near the coop, for a while. I got a bucket of seeds, and scattered them around the door of the coop, and inside the door across the floor. The coop has two rooms, so we drove all the chickens and ducks, and the two guineas, into the inside section, and left the outer area open.

When we came to feed the poultry a little later, the three outside had come over to eat the seeds near the coop door, but they bolted as soon as they saw us. When we went inside to feed the other poultry, the guineas inside panicked. One flew up to the roof, and escaped through a hole we thought was not large enough for them to get out through.

Guineas can FLY through holes much smaller than you think they can. That was the second lesson.

So we got screws, dug out some more pieces of discarded metal siding to use as patches, and started in on the roof. Again. We patched as much as we could before the drill battery died, and then we put a makeshift patch over the one other hole we knew the birds could probably get out through.

While we were working on the coop, the remaining guinea revealed her identity with her loud and raucous call. Not only a hen, but a vocal one. If you need a decoy, with a guinea, a hen is best! Guineas are flocking birds, and they don’t like to be alone, so they complain about it. Other guineas will be attracted to the noise, and hang around their flock-mate.

That hen in the coop looked surprisingly small. They seemed so much bigger when they were bobbing up and down the pasture, and roosting on the roof of the neighbor’s barn. In the coop, she looked more like a miniature turkey and was the same size as one of the smaller chickens.

We tried a little more to encourage the errant four into the coop last night, but they were rattled enough for the day, and they flew off to a neighbor’s field. We left the door open, and left the rest of the birds in the interior section of the coop.

Today, Kevin heard the calls of the guineas. He went out to find them in front of the coop. He moved slowly around to head them off from their preferred escape route, and one of them hopped onto the coop doorway, and Kevin said he knew he had them when that happened. Sure enough they all went into the coop! They had come back for the free meal, having remembered those seeds in the doorway, and likely hearing the hen inside. Once in, Kevin shut the door, and they are wandering around inside, eating seeds, thinking life is not too bad right now.

We still have a few more patches to do on the roof, and then we have to catch those things, and clip their wings. They are so skittish that we’ll constantly be dodging them and having to pull them out of a panicked effort to batter their way through any light coming through the roof otherwise. I suspect I’ll have to clip some of their secondary flight feathers, and not just the primary ones, to keep them from bolting for the door to fly past our heads.

I’m still puzzling over why Kevin was able to get those guineas into the coop. One person should not have been able to do so, and they should have bolted and flew off again. But they did not. They just went in. I’m also filled with immense gratitude, because the loss of all but one guinea would have been heavy.

We had no idea when they would be coming in, but thankfully we have a good amount of feed on hand, so it won’t tax us to increase the feed going out each day.

I expect it will take a few weeks for the guineas to settle in, having been entirely wild, and now being confined, even though the coop is very large with plenty of space and roosting area. It would hold two, perhaps three times the birds we have in it, and not be crowded, so the guineas at least won’t be cheek by wattle with the chickens.

The hens were already trying to establish a pecking order where the lone guinea was subject to them – I do not know how the equation will change with five guineas grouped together, but maybe the bully hen will find that it is a different proposition when there are five, and not one!

We spent part of the afternoon today making more patches. They could not be called repairs, there is no way to repair without replacing the whole thing. But the holes are now down to a collection of much smaller ones, and there is less daylight coming through the roof. We moved slowly while doing the repairs and the five guineas huddled together along the back wall, moving around to the wall furthest from us as we moved around the coop to put up more patches on the ceiling (the roof is not strong enough to hold the weight of a person to make repairs from above). This is not our coop, so this is the best we can do. It is a near fall-down that just happens to be on the property here, and which we had permission to use. We will replace it soon with a hoop house of sorts, I think. But for now, at least the animals are secure, and fairly well protected from the weather.

The guineas had settled down enough that they did not panic as we did the work. That is a major improvement. They weren’t happy with us being in there. But at least they didn’t fling themselves against the chicken wire front and try to beat their way through it!

So the day has taken shape in a way we had not anticipated yesterday. We hadn’t realized how much more work the coop needed just for Guineas. And that is the third lesson. Coop repairs always happen when you least expect it.

But this is good. And we are satisfied.

First Quail Egg

The fellow we bought the quail from presented us with a transport cage with about 10 quail in it. One pretty gold pair of Italians, and a bunch of browns. The browns were mostly male. It is what he had at the age that he usually sold them (4 weeks). We needed females and told him so. He trotted off to his cages in the back, and brought out more females, a little smaller in size, to make up the difference.

So we had an Italian pair, and a brown male and 5 females. We took them home, and put two of the brown females in with the Italians, so we now have two cages of 4 birds, each with a male and three females.

You can really tell which females are older. Or at least, you could last week. They sing, and they get more aggressive at feeding time, throwing themselves at the cage when your hand comes near, and nipping at my fingers whenever I put my hands in or near the cage. It does no hurt. It is just annoying.

Not knowing the exact ages, and having disturbed the birds by transporting them for about half a day, we knew it would be a bit before the eggs started coming in. But just over two weeks after bringing them home, a tiny brown speckled egg appeared in the cage with the largest female. The most obnoxious female. The one that routinely tramples others in the cage to get to the feed, tromps in and out of the waterer, and flings feed in the most messy manner. I guess I’ll keep the brassy little thing a little longer!

The egg was inexpertly colored, the color was thin, the speckles were tiny, and some of the color rubbed off when I washed the egg. But inside was a large dark yellow yolk. Ok, so the term “large” is relative in this instance! The yolk was actually about the size of a dime.

What do you do with one quail egg. NO! I did NOT want to wait until I had more! Where is the fun in that?? So I fried it, and ate it with my breakfast. (Kevin does not care for plain eggs, so he did not mind.) A tiny little fried egg perched on top of the sausage and potatoes.

 

One little bite and it was gone. But the taste was excellent, and the egg yolk was smooth.

Waiting for the first egg from any birds you bring home is a daily reminder that maybe just maybe you have no idea what you are doing. Even though I’ve raised poultry before. Even though I’ve fed them without commercial formulated feed before. Even though I grew up with poultry. Every day I questioned whether they’d ever lay. Whether they were getting what they needed in order to produce. Did they have enough light, was it warm enough, did they have enough calcium, salt, protein, vitamin A? Was the feeding protocol we were using right for them to be able to lay well?

In the middle of the second week, I was in front of the cages running over the list, wondering if they’d be able to do the job, and I had a calming thought go through my head. “Laura. Stop questioning what you know. You DO know this stuff. You’d done it. Stop worrying about what you know you know.” I had to laugh. Because I DID really know. But here were these little birds, dependent upon me to get it right, and I would not know I REALLY had it right until they began to lay – their purpose on our tiny farm.

If you bring home an eating machine, and it never produces anything of value for you, then you have not succeeded at farming. I could feed those birds, and keep them alive, and still fail, if they never laid an egg. Because eggs are why they are here. Eggs are how they earn their keep, and how they justify the cost of the grain and fodder they fling with abandon about the cages. If they don’t produce, they are just an expense we cannot afford. And so it is with all our livestock… and until it actually happens, it is a gamble. I hate gambling.

The first egg is a landmark. The indication that yes, this is going to work. Yes, we did get it right. And yes, these little things will likely be worth the investment.

One egg today. In a few weeks, we are promised, we will have six eggs a day. Eventually the little banty hens in the larger cage below will begin to lay, and when they do, we’ll put in a nest box, and let the banties brood some of the quail eggs.

From small things, come that which is great.

A Little Bitty Rooster with a Funny Little Crow

“aah-ee-aaa-ow!”

A thin and wobbly screeching noise drilled its way from the other side of the basement, and into our bedroom. It sounded like a cat, screaming in pain. My muddled brain could not quite place the noise as belonging to anything recognizable.

I was barely awake, and in the process of trying to decide if I REALLY wanted to get up or not. I knew the noise was coming from the small birds that we had installed in cages in the room next to the back porch, but it was unlike any poultry noise I’d heard before!

“Aar-Ee-Aa-Ow!” Whatever it was, it was a little more sure this time.

“AHR-EE-AA-OW!” Oh! It was the rooster. This time it at least sounded like it MIGHT be a rooster! But it was not the confident “Cockadoodle doo!” that one expects from a rooster who knows what he’s about!

He’s a pretty little thing. Red, blue, and black. I know just enough about their coloring to be confused, so I don’t know the name of his coloring. But he is very pretty.

“AHR-EE-AA-OW!”Less thready, and a little less screechy now, the rooster notified us of the commencement of the day. Whether or not I wanted to get up, it was clear that I would be scolded until I did!

He and his two hens are in a cage indoors. The hens are also lovely, in an understated Jaqueline Kennedy sort of way. Nothing ostentatious. Lovely sleek feathers and conservative colors. Bantam hens are like that. They leave the flash and glitz to the men in the family.

We don’t advocate cages for Poultry, as a rule, but this is a special case. Because the cage above them holds 8 quail – 2 roos, and 6 hens. One of the roos and one of the hens are a very pretty Golden Italian coloring. The rest are just ordinary Brown Coturnix. Good egg layers.

The Bantams are not confined because we like having them in cages. They are confined because we need them to be able to serve as Broodies. Those two Bantam hens, whom I am going to be forced to name after Jaqueline Kennedy (the black hen), and Grace Kelly (the silver hen), are needed, to brood quail eggs. And their own eggs, of course, we would not want to deny them the privilege of seeing what kinds of other interesting (if confusing) color combinations that blue and red roo can inspire in the gray and black hens. The only practical way to keep them where they can do this through the winter, is in a roomy cage, indoors.

“AHR-EE-AA-OW!” Well, it is clear that this little roo is not going to be crowing in an expected manner any time soon! Kind of funny, since I wrote previously about a rooster with a wobbly little crow (The Rooster Who Crowed Too Soon). But at least this little fellow does not feel compelled to roust us from slumber at 4:00 each morning, hours before the sun as even thought of rising! He is at least polite about that, and waits until the sun comes up.

His crowing stopped when I came in to feed them – having asserted his authority, he was content to stop announcing daybreak (and besides, it is harder to crow with a mouth full). He and his ladies are rather messy eaters though, scattering assorted seeds and grains across the floor of the room. Their companions, the quails in the upstairs apartment, are equally messy eaters, so the Banties cannot be blamed for the entire mess. We are working on ways to get them to adopt more acceptable table manners, but in the mean time, the mess needs sweeping daily. We’ll be going to sprouted fodder grains soon, which should reduce the messiness since it is harder for them to fling that out of the cage in their hunt for the juicy bits.

The quail are quiet. They coo and chirp and crow quietly, and that is all. The crow is not like a rooster crow. It is softer and more gurgly. They do not wake me in the morning.

The Bantams are familiar territory. We’ve raised them before without purchasing commercial layer feed. The quail are a new adventure. Their diet is similar to the Bantams, they just need a little more protein – a few more tasty bugs. Harder to provide to indoor poultry than outdoor poultry, since the indoor birds cannot forage for themselves. I foresee a worm bin taking up residence in the basement room in the near future. Six fodder trays have already been set on the shelf below the Bantam cage, with dampened seeds for sprouting.

Since the rooster is still very young, I don’t doubt his crow will change. In the mean time, he is amusing, and not too obnoxious, so he can get away with sounding like a scalded cat.

There IS NO Debate About Refugees

Everyone has an opinion about whether the US should “rescue” refugees or not, and the opinions seem to center on two basic topics – compassion, and safety.

The issues here are lengthy, and often distracting. Mostly distracting. Because the things you have been lead to focus on, are not the issues at all. A few loud voices have controlled the dialog, and carefully circumvented the facts.

I’ll try to break this down into some coherent sub-topics.

Compassion

If the government resettles refugees, that is not compassion. That is socialism. That is theft of American money, from American taxpayers, given to foreign entities. There is nothing compassionate about it.

Compassion is an individual thing. You feel it, sufficient to act upon it, GIVING OF YOURSELF (not taking from someone else, or ordering someone else to do it). If you do not decide to GIVE… PERSONALLY… YOU DON’T HAVE COMPASSION. You are only pretending.

So let’s stop the pretense that those who want the government to fix the problem, somehow have more compassion than those who want to stop the government from acting beyond the scope of immigration law.

Economics

Our nation is broke. Maybe you don’t realize this, but when you are so far in debt that you will never have the resources to get out of debt, you are broke! When your income exceeds your expenses year after year, and there is NO EFFORT to restrain or economize, YOU ARE NOT JUST BROKE, YOU ARE STUPID.

For our government to discuss SPENDING money to take on the upkeep of refugees here, is not only contrary to our law, it is unbelievably irresponsible, and CRUEL to the very people to whom this government owes its first allegiance – that is WE, THE PEOPLE… NO, that does not mean people from around the globe. No, that does not mean citizens of another nation. It means AMERICAN CITIZENS. We pay the tab. We come first. It is the duty of the government to see to the needs of its own house before aiding another (that is Biblical, for those Christians who want doctrine – it is just plain fair logic for those who don’t care about that).

If you are living in a house with a mortgage payment that is 3 months past due, and your bank is about to foreclose on you, then taking out a mortgage on another home so that you can fill it with refugees is REALLY DUMB. You don’t offer to pay for someone else to have a home while you and your own children are crying in the cold because you don’t have sufficient to pay for your own home. You see to the needs of your OWN FAMILY FIRST. Then you render aid wherever else you HAVE THE MEANS to do so, whether it be a dollar or five, or a hundred. OUR GOVERNMENT is under the same obligation.

This year, there will be no Cost of Living Adjustment for Seniors on Social Security. People who paid into a system, and to whom the government made promises. A system that would be self-supporting were it not periodically robbed by that same government to fund things unrelated to Social Security. To make a decision to not increase Social Security because “we don’t have enough money”, and then turn around and offer to pay welfare for refugees is senseless, corrupt, and inexcusable. If we do not have money to take care of those close to home, we certainly don’t have it for those whom we have no allegiance to!

Immigration Law

US immigration law requires that anyone coming to the US as an immigrant not be a drain on welfare resources for at least 5 years. They must be employable, or they must have a sponsor. Historically, recent immigrants were ineligible for welfare services – only those who had paid taxes IN were eligible to draw on the system. This is only fair and just.

Children may not immigrate without a home to go to. Orphans may be adopted, but the family receiving them must be able to show sufficient income to ensure that the adopted child will not draw upon welfare services for a 5 year period.

In a refugee situation, the powers of the US government have historically been limited to ONE decision only… That is, how many immigrants will they allow from each country, each year. In a refugee situation, they may increase the number allowed from that country.

In all cases, standard background checks are required, refugee or not, and immigrant law is not circumvented. So when the House currently seeks to require background checks on Syrian refugees, they are NOT asking for special treatment for them! They are only asking that CURRENT LAW be observed.

If immigration law were enforced, and not set aside, the government would NOT BE INVOLVED in any kind of debate at this time!

Sponsoring Adults

When an adult immigrant, or a family of immigrants, has a sponsor, the approval processes are generally much faster. This sponsor may guarantee a job for the head of household, or they may certify that they will ensure that the needs of the family are met so that welfare resources are not required.

If this provision were utilized at this time, ANYONE who felt like Syrian Refugees SHOULD be brought to the US, would be capable of stepping forward, and volunteering to sponsor a refugee, or refugee family. If you think they ought to be here, then by all means, PERSONALLY welcome a family into your home, your business, or your neighborhood.

No government involvement necessary, beyond standard immigration policy.

Those who claim “Compassion” for the refugees are free to act upon their conscience, and demonstrate to the rest of the nation, just how it should be done!

Adopting Children

Syrian refugee children are with families, or a guardian – they don’t get out otherwise.

In Muslim countries, women and children are possessions. They are not free to act for themselves. They are not able to travel by themselves without being taken captive, and abused, or punished for being without proper company. Muslim countries do NOT allow their orphaned children to be adopted by infidels.

But, supposing a child DID escape. Supposing there are refugee children in camps where parents or guardians have died, who have not been claimed by other Muslims in the camp (even then, this is the exception, not the rule, since the majority of refugees at the outset are adult men, without families).

The ONLY way that the US can legally help them is through overseas adoption. This is a lengthy process – mostly for the parents. There are many parents here who ARE prepared with homestudies done, and INS paperwork completed or nearly completed.

There have ALWAYS been children around the world in dire straits… and those upon our own shores as well. So people who REALLY have compassion, are already helping, no matter where the children are located (this help may also be rendered through non-profit donations, humanitarian aid organizations, fast offerings, etc, and may be small or great, but is always a personal sacrifice and a personal effort).

Parents who are prepared for this KNOW that children raised in a culture where women are degraded, and children are used for immoral purposes, and where children are taught that people who are not of their beliefs are never to be respected, will be VERY DIFFICULT to normalize within an American family situation. Personally, if I had daughters in the home, I would never bring a boy with that background into my home, unless he was under about the age of 3. It would be foolhardy. If I had no children in the home, I would consider a child up to about the age of 7, but would not consider older children unless I felt like I was instructed personally by God to do so. Because some children over the age of 8 have been trained in behaviors that would present a threat to the mother in the home.

God bless those who feel called to take in these children and love them in spite of the dangers.

If you are NOT ALREADY PREPARING to bring an international child to your home (or directly and PERSONALLY helping someone else do so because you cannot), then SHUT UP about the “poor orphans” whom our government is supposed to rescue. YOU HAVE NO RIGHT!

A government CANNOT rescue orphans. FAMILIES have to do that. Put up, or shut up!

Action On Your Part

There is nothing stopping ANYONE who wishes to help the refugees, from helping the refugees. Government involvement IS NOT NEEDED.

  • You may donate money to a charity that is aiding refugees in overseas camps.
  • You may donate money to an organization that facilitates international adoptions.
  • You may donate money to a family that is trying to adopt.
  • You may sponsor a refugee or family yourself.
  • You may prepare to adopt a child.
  • You can do one of any number of other tasks that require your personal attention to offer aid.

Just don’t stand around pointing the finger and saying that other people are mean because they don’t want the government to circumvent immigration law, in order to get out of having to act in a way that costs you personally.

The Government’s Legal Right to Decide

The government has a legal right to decide how many immigrants to allow in.

Unfortunately, so many people are mislead by the misdirection right now, that our government is GOING to decide an issue which there is NO POINT in having them decide, and they will probably throw money where it will be largely wasted, and get us deeper in debt in the process.

If THEY would first FOLLOW law, before trying to change it, there would be no need for them to decide anything other than what they already have the process in place to do!

Your Legal Right to Decide

It is your right to decide HOW YOU PERSONALLY are going to make a difference. You have plenty of options.

But it takes more than words of ridicule pointed at someone who feels that it is NOT the responsibility of the government to be importing refugees. Those words carry no weight, they are hollow, insincere, and recognized for the evasion of integrity that they really are.

I Don’t Do Compost

Growing up, it seemed we always had a compost pile. I remember taking kitchen scraps out to it. I remember the pile of stuff, decomposing from bottom to top. When you had scraps and peelings from the kitchen, that is just where they went. In my childhood, this was the purpose of the compost pile.

I did vaguely understand in the background that compost was supposed to be used. That if things rotted enough, they would no longer be moldy, blackened soggy disgusting things, but something else instead. But I didn’t know what. Because I never saw it. My mother assures me that she used compost on the garden. But she did not do it in my presence. All I ever saw was the compost pile that gradually grew some of the healthiest weeds around, and some volunteer tomato plants that never seemed to bear.

What we did use, is the manure pile that was below the hatch in the wall of the barn. The hatch that you never wanted to be near when someone was shoveling out the barn, because that is where the manure was chucked out into a pile that always seemed to be about 4 ft high and 6 ft wide, no matter how much you had just thrown into it. The pile that produce the BEST worms in the area… And which we scraped off the top layers from so we could get at the bottom, every time my mother said we needed manure for the garden, and which produce black, black composted matter at the bottom of the pile, which we shoveled into the barrow and hauled to break up and scatter on the gardens.

I miss that old manure pile… We haven’t had sufficient large livestock at one time to generate a manure pile of that magnitude or value.

But everyone now says you have to make compost to enrich your garden soil, and to recycle the organic waste from your kitchen and yard.

The idea of saving scraps, and turning them into soil enhancement is alluring. But it just never seems to work out that way for my family. The bucket in the kitchen does not get emptied daily (no matter how we promise that it will), so it ends up being a breeding place for fruit flies which then end up in the potted plants, sprouts, seed starts, and everywhere else that we don’t want them. I know, put a lid on… but then I have to pry a lid off every time I want to put something in, and that usually means I remember after I have the knife and the mango already in my hand, and the first piece of peel is already off… and there I am with drippy fingers and full hands trying to remove a lid without getting juice on the counter or the outside of the bucket… Sigh. It is just easier to toss it in the trash.

If the refuse makes its way from the bucket to the compost outside, it sits there. If we have a container, it rots in there, making a horrid mess. IT DOES NOT TURN TO DIRT!!! It turns to mucky black stinking stuff. If we poke holes in the bottom, it turns to dry mucky stinking stuff. Oh… you are supposed to turn it, and whatever else. Who remembers? Compost maintenance is just not high on my list of must-do tasks! If it is not convenient and easy, I am not likely to get it done!

So after years of flirting with it, and failing, I don’t do compost. I USE compost. And I recycle scraps. But I don’t have a compost bin, or a compost pile.

Mostly, we feed the scraps to the animals. When the bucket on the counter is FOOD for something that needs to be fed, and when it is a savings of money (because it offsets some purchased feed), or savings in work (because it offsets some feed we’d have to either grow, or gather), then that bucket is an asset that is remembered every time we go to feed the animals. It gets emptied twice a day, because we feed animals twice a day (when feeding fresh foods instead of commercial formulated feeds, the food stays fresher and the animals do better on twice daily feeding).

There is very little that comes out of a kitchen that cannot be fed to some kind of livestock. Some of it they won’t eat, but if you toss it in a pen or field for them, they’ll eat what they want, trample the rest, and it gets reincorporated into the soil with no work on your part. Chickens are great at this, and composting refuse in their pen also provides a lovely breeding ground for all kinds of insect larvae, which the chickens will happily gobble up. Free food from free food. How cool is that? And if you need the end compost for the garden, you just shovel up some of the trampled manury dirt from the pen, and you get the best of everything.

So the majority of our refuse is recycled into meat, eggs, milk or manure. Or guard services rendered by a dog who considers every person walking past the window to be a mortal threat. So far we have seen no correlation between the amount of scraps he consumes, and the amount of barking. He is over-zealous no matter what we feed him, and the only side effect to feeding him lots of scraps is that he dogs your heels any time you go to the kitchen.

Composting can also be done by tucking refuse under mulch in the garden. This is only necessary if you don’t have chickens though, and if the food is too far gone to be fit to feed anything living.

Dry organic debris, such as leaves, grass clippings, woodchips, sawdust, even plants pulled from the garden, are much better used as mulch, where they will compost layer by layer in place, and enrich the soil and save you the work of tilling.

So far I haven’t found anything that would be better off in a bin or pile. All I have found is that if you think that compost is something you have to “make”, then you are creating needless work for yourself, and depriving livestock of additional healthy food sources. Manure, and mulch are more useful for enriching the soil and saving on work!

The lightbulb moment for me was realizing that AVOIDING making compost was actually a more intelligent choice than thinking that if I was going to do it right, that someday I’d have to figure out a way to do it like the “professionals” recommend. The great realization that I DON’T NEED TO FEEL GUILTY for not making more work for myself! That the results were BETTER, and the workload LESS – a combination I am always striving for – when I let the animals and the layers in the garden do the work the way nature intended.

So no matter how nifty those compost tumblers look, and no matter how enthusiastic other gardeners are about teaching me how to “properly” prepare compost, I WON’T DO IT! I simply cannot see the need! I get better results without the hassle!

When Manure is the Highlight of Your Day

The neighbor has a pasture, which he faithfully mows with a lawnmower every week, and waters to keep it green. Seemed kind of silly to us, we’d stick some lambs or goats in there and let THEM do the job, if we were going to all that work to make the grass grow!

Come the end of summer though, we woke one morning to find that there were horses in the pasture. And where horses eat, horses leave piles of manure. Road apples. Hocky pucks…

We cornered the neighbor and asked if we could scavenge some of the manure. He said sure… take all we wanted!

When you grow mushrooms, manure is a treasure. Horse manure especially, because it has a high percentage of undigested organic matter, which is great for many types of mushrooms.

So, a few days later when the horses vacated (his son had brought them up for the weekend, so they could take the horses into the mountains here), we headed next door with a poop rake and a garbage bag (we had no buckets nor barrow). I held the top of the sack, and Kevin scooped the poop into the bag.

We hauled it back and put it on the back porch where we promptly forgot about it. We don’t use the back porch much.

A few months later, after the manure had composted some in the bag, I dug it out and put it on top of the containers for my wild Portobello, and my Wine Cap mushrooms. I’d meant to do it for several days, and finally got it done, so I felt a little satisfaction at the completion of the task.

I haven’t had a lot to blog about lately. I haven’t had much to FaceBook either. In a conversation with a friend, on the day I shoveled the horse manure onto the mushroom containers, I admitted that shoveling a little manure had been the highlight of my day – purely because it was an accomplishment that was a little out of the ordinary.

The day we gathered the manure it was also the singular accomplishment of the day. Yeah, we milked the goat, we answered customer emails, we worked on our websites, we made product, packed boxes, made labels, etc. But those things are routine, hum-drum, and rarely interrupted by anything worthy of commentary.

Shoveling manure isn’t worthy of commentary either. It isn’t the kind of thing you blog about and have your friends and family just waiting to read THAT.

Perhaps this is why the farmer has sunk so much in society’s estimation. After all, the day to day routine leaves little to blog about that the average person can relate to, or enjoy, unless you happen to be one of those people who sees humor in every corner and also possesses the rare gift of being able to relate it, in a way that people who DON’T see it, will understand!

Having been skipped over when that particular talent was handed out, I have to make do with relating more prosaic items of interest. Manure usually does not qualify.

Often the highlight of my day is mushrooms. Finding one I’ve been looking for, in the wild. Finding an edible I did not know existed. Figuring out how to grow one that is hard to grow, in a way that is easy. Not always sharable, since most of my acquaintances don’t share my enthusiasm for mycological discoveries.

Occasionally the highlight of my day is finishing a project that is significant. A new book finally ready to publish. A website completed enough to launch. A few articles done that have been waiting a while. But even those things are usually pretty low key, and appreciated only by a few of my associates.

The general tenor of the day means the most significant thing is that I got the wheat milled, or tried a new recipe, explored a new area of the region, or caught up on something I was behind in that is terribly boring. Kevin takes pictures of where we go and what we do, and sometimes posts them. I forget about the photographs, and try to paint the pictures with words instead. When I remember. And when it seems worth sharing.

But much of the time, the highlight of my day is like manure. Valuable, useful, but not something you really discuss with enthusiasm in public!

Sunday Morning on the Farm

Today began just like every other day. I got up, put on pants and a shirt, and went upstairs to grab a glass of juice. Then gathered up the carry sacks, which were loaded up with a jar of wash water, a washrag, a dry cloth, a stainless steel container, and a clean mason jar. Then I headed off to milk the goat.

Usually Kevin and I do this together. But he is gone for a few days, and will be back this afternoon. Usually he milks the goats, and I strip them out. He lets them in and out of the pen, and I get the feed ready and take care of the milk while he is putting the goats back in. We usually walk hand in hand from the house to the goat pen. A morning ritual that has been carried out for months.

Last week, there were two. Today there is one. The older goat died early last week. A combination of circumstances that her old body could no longer compensate for. We did all we could. But the choices weren’t all ours to make.

But this morning, I milked the goat alone. She was cooperative. Sometimes she isn’t. I milked her out, put the milk into the clean jar (we used to need more than one jar, but she is declining in production now). Then I put her back in her pen, stowed the feed bowl, and tossed hay in to the doe and the two younger kids that share the pen with her. I gathered up the equipment and stuck it back into the two bags that it goes in (made by my mother, for just this purpose), and headed back for the house.

The rag got rinsed and hung to dry (it gets laundered twice a week), and the dry cloth was also hung. The milk was strained into a clean jar, capped, and put in the fridge. This requires a complete rearranging of all the jars in the fridge – usually there are 3-4 jars of milk from the previous days, and the newest has to go at the back, oldest at the front. Then the milking container has to be rinsed, and the milk jar, and the strainer also.

Once these things are done, I am free to shower and dress for church. When we have chickens, rabbits, or other animals, the Sunday Morning chores are more. But for the moment, it is just the goat. Soon, it will also be quail, as we adjust our farming to our location, and to the ups and downs of life right now.

Sunday Morning is like every other morning – except that other mornings, I shower before I dress for the day, and I don’t need to change clothes.

The rest of the day is different. We do different things on Sunday. A lot of things we do not do. We do what is necessary in daily maintenance, and no more. We do not conduct business – though sometimes I slip and read a business email, because I am an impatient woman and always struggle with that.

But the animals must be cared for. A milking animal cannot wait just because it is Sunday. They still need milked and fed. The eggs still require gathering on Sunday, and the lambs, and calves, and kids, and chicks must be fed and tended.

The pens do not need cleaned, and the garden does not need to be weeded, the compost does not need turned, and the mushrooms do not need to be sown in. The hay does not need stacked, the feed does not need to be bought, and the cages do not need to be built today. These are chores for another day.

Sunday only starts like every other day. Then it becomes a day of rest. I used to puzzle over that. Especially since Mormons tend to fill Sunday pretty full, and sometimes it is anything BUT restful.

Then I realized that when you are sleeping, you are not doing nothing. You are recharging. Rest gives your body time to repair, and time to rebuild strength. And that is what we do on Sunday, though it is spiritual, not physical. We set aside all the daily demands that can be set aside, and give ourselves wholly to the work of the Lord for that one day.

It used to be a day when I COULD NOT. And now it is a day when I DO NOT HAVE TO. So rather than grumbling that I am behind in work for our business, and worrying that I cannot answer those emails or pack those boxes, I now relax and know that I don’t have to worry about being behind for this one day. I can ignore all the feeling of being overtaxed or behind or of never being enough, and today, on Sunday, I am enough, and all of that can wait until tomorrow.

I have learned that when I let it go for one day, trying my best to obey the law of the Sabbath, I am blessed. I catch up faster on what I was behind with. We have more orders on weeks where we get it right than we do on weeks when we give in and take care of things that could have waited. I have more energy, and more creative thought processes which lead to more productive writing and business management. When I give that one day to the Lord, He gives me back a better week.

The farm animals have no agency, and no conviction that would compel them to obey the same law of the Sabbath that we choose to obey. They have not the ability TO choose such a thing, and they cannot care for themselves. So they still require feeding and some tending. So Sunday morning seems just like every other day when it begins.

But everything else can wait. And the farm can rest, for just one day.

Sears, Sears… How the Mighty Have Fallen

The king of mail order. At one time they shipped entire HOUSES, and just about everything else you could order and have shipped to your home. The mighty giant that should have known how to make the transition to the internet better than any other company in the world.

Apparently they slipped a gear somewhere, because they are in serious trouble. After dealing with them to try to get the freezer my mother ordered, actually delivered, I can see why.

This is a rough sequence of events:

Ordered freezer online. Price agreed to when credit card info is entered, is $530. Price on receipt is $530. Delivery date listed as 4 days after order date.

Delivery date comes and goes. We look up the order online. Price billed is listed as $561 (and change). Tax was not calculated during checkout, but has been added later. NOT GOOD!

Delivery is listed as scheduled for the day before. Ummmm Yeah. Delivery is scheduled for YESTERDAY.

We call the number listed on the website for deliveries of online orders. They tell us the delivery is scheduled and will be received when scheduled. The foreign speaking rep assures us that there is nothing wrong, and that the delivery is on schedule. We point out that the date was YESTERDAY, and they grudgingly admit that they need to look into it, and assure us that someone will call back.

Nobody does.

We call again. They go through the same routine. Nobody calls back.

We call again. They tell us that we have the wrong number for this kind of thing, and that we should have called somebody else. We tell them this is the number for online order deliveries that is posted on the website. They assure us it is not (it is), and then give us a different number to call. It is local. For a Sears store here.

We call, no answer. The Sears store is no longer in operation. There will never be an answer at that number.

We call customer service back. They tell us again it is the wrong number, but they have no other number to give us. Then they tell us they will look up the order, and that they do not know where the freezer is. The tell us they will call us back. We say no. Give us to a supervisor.

After some runaround, they do. Or at least, he says he is a supervisor. His English is a little more clear, not much. He tells us that the delivery is rescheduled, and that we will get a call the night before it is delivered.

We don’t. It does not come.

(At this point, we have informed them TWICE, that the store they keep telling us to call no longer exists. They are not interested in this information, and assure us they can fix whatever problem it is that is getting in the way, which they admit they cannot identify.)

We call back. The rep cannot speak English well enough to be understood. By this time, we have no patience with her. We tell her we cannot understand her. We KEEP telling her we cannot understand her, and that we need to speak with a supervisor. She keeps refusing, and keeps babbling on the other end of the phone. Finally she passes us to a supervisor.

He informs us that they are having trouble getting the freezer from the manufacturer, but it is scheduled to leave the factory on Wednesday night, and that they will call us when it does, and we will get it the next day.

Now, I’m no dummy. I know that there is no Kenmore factory anywhere near. Overnight deliveries DO NOT HAPPEN on appliances. NEVER. I inform him of this. He assures me I am wrong, and that it will happen just as he says, and gives us no other option but to take his word for it.

No call, no freezer.

We call back.

The rep tells us that the order has been put on hold. Then she says that she can schedule it for delivery the next day. The next day is Saturday. NOBODY DELIVERS APPLIANCES ON SATURDAY! We KNOW this! I tell her this. She says WELL if we do not want it on Saturday she can schedule it for another time! I try to tell her that she is incorrect, or that her order tracking system is incorrect, that it CANNOT be delivered on a Saturday because the stores and delivery companies do not deliver on Saturdays! She is not getting this. She is not even IN the US, so she has no clue what I am talking about. I ask for a Supervisor. She tells me she needs to check some more, and I tell her that it is obvious she cannot help me, and to pass me to a supervisor. She hangs up on me.

I call back. The next rep tells me the same thing. I ask for a supervisor, and she puts me off until I insist. Then she tells me there are no supervisors available and runs me around on the “it will be delivered tomorrow” (Saturday) thing. She does not know what happened to the order, she does not know who has the freezer, she does not know whether it is even in stock, yet she assures me that it will be delivered on a Saturday when Saturday deliveries do not happen! I ask for a supervisor again, and she hangs up on me.

I look up the local Sears store numbers and start calling, hoping SOMEBODY in the US can actually help us.

We are now waiting for a local store to call us back. At least they speak English.

This is why Sears is failing.

They did not outsource their Call Center.

They outsourced their Customer Service. They outsourced their reputation to someone who will say anything to avoid dealing with customers, and who will NEVER pass problems up the chain where they can be solved.

They outsourced their reputation to someone who does not guard it.

They deserve to fail.

Which is sad, because Kenmore appliances really are fairly good appliances.

If you can get them.

UPDATE: We finally know what happened to the freezer.

Online orders are assigned to the nearest Sears store for fulfillment. The local store near us closed, but apparently nobody in the delivery department has realized this (in spite of the fact that we informed them at least four times, and in spite of the fact that the two LOCAL stores KNEW that this IS AN ONGOING problem!).

The computers in one area don’t know what is happening in other areas, and customer service cannot see beyond their computers (and they do not want to, since that requires effort). So the delivery is scheduled, but there is no one on the other end of the delivery order to pick it up and ship it out. They promise it will be delivered, and it never is. Nobody in the Delivery department has the brains to actually look and see why, or to try to call the assigned store and see where the problem is, or to call the regional manager and see why the freezer is hung up.

This problem would have been SO EASY to solve… Not just temporarily for us, but permanently so it did not happen to anyone else! But horrendously incompetent customer service stopped that from happening, and is now perpetrating this kind of stupidity upon other hapless customers.

The left hand knoweth not that the right hand has been cut off.

SECOND UPDATE: So, here it is, three weeks and many phone calls later. For a few days it actually looked like there was hope of getting the freezer.

The Regional Center called us a week ago (after we left messages in two different local stores), and told us that the delivery was scheduled for the following Tuesday (Monday being a Holiday). Sure enough, Sunday night, the recorded call comes in, telling us the freezer will be delivered on Tuesday (the first time the call came in when promised).

Tuesday comes and goes – the freezer does not follow the call. We call back to the local store, they take a message and say they will contact the Regional manager and that he will call us back. He does not.

24 hours later, we call back, and are informed that the local Sears can do nothing, it has been too long since the order was placed, and the only people who can help us is the people who REFUSE to help us.

In fact, those are almost exactly the words of the associate who called us back with the message from the Regional Manager: “I’m sorry, but the Manager said that the only people who can help you is the people who won’t help you.”

Good call, Sears! Put the satisfaction of customers in the hands of an offshore company that does not give a rip whether your company sinks. Put it in the hands of people, whom, when there is a problem they do not understand, start hanging up on customers. Put it in the hands of people who will not actually even look to see that the system has broken down, or see where it is broke. You might as well hire your competitors to handle your customer service, because they are getting your business either way!

Today a dispute on the payment for the freezer is being filed. The payment cleared a day or two after the order was place, because their system was informed that the freezer was being delivered, even though it was not, and could not be, because those instructed to do so were laid off when the store was closed.

Sorry Sears. You had your chances… More than enough of them.

We shall mourn your passing when the company is belly up. With customer experiences like this, it is inevitable.

On the other hand, if you’d like to save your business, I offer business consulting services which could turn your ship around and head it back into the wind… Because when we consult with a company, we pay attention to the customer experience!

Summer Mushroom Adventures

It seems that once people know you are interested in mycology, they take an interest in sharing their finds with you. This has provided some interesting experiences in the last few weeks.

First, a Giant Puffball walked in the front door, in the hands of a little boy who had been in the Primary class I had substituted for a few Sundays previous. A mushroom that has been requested by my customers, so I was very pleased to receive it! It was set to cure in the basement, where it emitted an unpleasant odor for about a week before it finally stopped stinking. But it is curing well, so it was worth the smell.

Next, some Aspen Boletes made their way here, along with some lovely mature King Boletes. Easy to tell them apart – the Aspens bruise dark, and the spore tubes go dark gray with age, whereas the Kings do not bruise, and the tubes turn an olive green shade. Both were riddled with maggots, which is not a problem since they drop out as soon as we start to dry the mushrooms. Disappointing to me though, because the maggots drop out onto the drying trays (we have screens, over trays, so there is a catch pan under each screen), and we have no chickens right now to enjoy the benefits of those maggoty mushrooms!

Some Aspen Oysters wandered in one day, and were promptly set to dry for spawn, and some were used to sow a box of aspen shavings so we can grow more. Oyster mushrooms are easy to grow, and Aspen Oysters have the distinction of being able to grow on Alder.

A few days ago I was given two mushrooms that were old and degraded. They appeared to be a polypore of some kind – not that there was any spore surface left, but I’d seen a polypore before that had degraded in the same way, with the same kind of pattern on the underside when the spore surface had been eaten away by bugs. They were waterlogged, soggy, and maggoty (more so than the boletes). The stems were falling off, and the caps were hardly holding together. I chose NOT to bring them into the house!

The lady who gave them to me said as an afterthought, “They were growing from the same stem.”. I promptly forgot that she said that.

Later, when trying to ID them, I could see the texture and color of the caps, and combined with my assumption of a polypore was a good start. But I could not get an ID for anything, there are just too many stemmed polypores of similar color.

Finally went back outside to look at them again, and paid attention to the stems. I could see where they had broken apart, and they had a common base… and a ROOT! They had a sturdy black root that descended from one of the stems, that I had not noticed before.

I knew that was the identifying feature, because roots like that on mushrooms are uncommon. Turns out that there is only one rooted polypore, and it is known by that name.

If I had not had the stems, and had not seen that root, I could not have ID’d that mushroom. Having the root made the ID EASY because there is nothing else like it – orange cap, and black root, confirmed the polypore ID.

When you receive mushrooms from other people, they may or may not have the entire stem intact. It is always more helpful for identifying if you have the entire mushroom with the stem base, and a description of the habitat where it was growing, because those things can help to confirm an ID, and in some cases, they can be the ONLY clue to a certain ID.

A lot of people have been sending me photos of mushrooms to ID. 9 out of 10 of those images are Little Brown Mushrooms, and an ID is fairly hopeless. I generally only bother with edibles, if they are not edible, or medicinal in some cases, I could care less what they are called.

There is a rule about edible mushrooms. Generally they are the more substantial mushrooms. There are a few LBMs (Little Brown Mushrooms), or LWMs (Little White Mushrooms), or LGMs (Little Gray Mushrooms) which are edible and grow in troops, but overall, the good edibles will be large, and have distinctive features. The smaller ones are too difficult to differentiate, there are just too many like them, and they are generally not worth identifying anyway, since they would take too many to be worth the effort to pick. Consequently, many have never been identified, and most mushroom hunters ignore them because they are too tricky to get right, and not worth the bother anyway.

Today I felt impressed to go to an abandoned chicken coop that is on the property we are renting. It has rained daily for the last several days, so today was a good day to look for mushrooms. But I had not thought to look in there before – the roof leaks, and it has a good layer of old rotted sawdust and chicken manure in it. It occurred to me that something might come up in there because of the rains.

As soon as I came inside the door, I laughed. There was a mushroom, about 3″ across, right in the middle of the floor! Not just any mushroom…. Agaricus Bisporus. Brown Bisporus.

A few old nearly dried mushrooms lurked in the corners, and some new buttons peeked up here and there. Clearly the composting litter was well colonized with Agaricus Bisporus mycellium.

The MOST COMMON commercial mushroom. Nothing special. Nothing exotic.

But this is a fine thing for me, because I was unable to find a strain of Agaricus Bisporus with which I felt satisfied, because it has mostly been crossed with Agaricus Brunnescens, and the distinction has been lost with many commercial strains. I have a really excellent strain of true Brunnescens, but my strain of Bisporus was not as good as I wanted. This new find is a BETTER strain – it has the distinctive differences that set it apart from Brunnescens (slightly thinner cap, less reddening when cut or bruised, and gills that are less pink and turn brown sooner in the maturation process). So now I have a new strain of Bisporus… which I have named “Chicken Run”. What would otherwise be no big deal has been a delightful find for me!

The same people who gave me the old rotting mushroom to ID also gave me another unidentified mushroom which keys out as Albatrellus. I have been wanting a specimen of one of the edible Albatrellus species for many months, ever since I found an old, soggy, and stinky specimen in the woods one day. Completely inedible due to its age and condition, not even usable as spawn, but identifiable due to the stem position and  the fact that it is a large stemmed polypore and there are not many of those. So receiving an Albatrellus specimen was a real gift.

I am unsure of the species exactly – the genus of Albatrellus is certain, but there are a dozen or so species within the genus, many very alike. I only know it is edible because the family that gave it to us have been eating it. Narrows it to Ovinus, Confluens, or Citrinus (based on other features, but they are VERY similar). Started a box of it today, to see if I can get it to grow. I am going to have to find a way to purchase a microscope to be certain of the species though.

It has been a lot of fun having mushrooms walk in the door. I never know what is coming in next. The most amazing thing has been the number of mushrooms that I have on my “needed specimens” list that have been either handed to me personally, or shipped to me from somewhere in the US. Often the person sending them isn’t sure what they are, other times they know for certain. But in both cases, I have been brought some really amazing finds, which have added to our inventory, and are blessing our lives, and the lives of our customers.

I’ve been drawing mushroom images for our website, for the mushrooms that I do not have pics for. Some of them turned out well. Worth a look if that kind of thing interests you, they are on our Mushroom Store website – just click the link on the left for Mushrooms that can be grown indoors, and the other links below that one.

Pondering Slow Food as a Way of Life

We live in a fast food world, where we expect a meal in 5 minutes, and can take an item from the freezer to the table, within a few minutes, and serve up a hot meal with very little effort. The quality is, of course, questionable, and we forget that homemade food has the potential to taste so much better, and that it is so much better for our bodies.

The primary reason for learning to prepare foods from scratch, is quality and health. Foods without preservatives, foods that taste rich and are full of genuine flavors (not counterfeit flavors created in a lab), and which contain real ingredients which shine through. I’m not here to persuade you of the benefits. I’m only here to suggest some of the skills that make it manageable.

I have experienced the process of learning to do things more and more by hand. I’ve watched other people go through this process also – first making bread, then making whole wheat bread, then milling flour to make the bread, then making the yeast to make the bread with the home-milled flour, and eventually contemplating growing wheat (most individuals really can’t do this practically). The progress from buying the loaf, to making more and more of it yourself.

Most people will reach a point where they cannot go any further with it, and where they are comfortable with the compromise. This is pretty important, because otherwise you can really overwhelm yourself with tasks that just are not practical in our world, or in your particular corner of the world.

Slow food has benefits though, that are worth exploring. Most people are frustrated with the time it takes to begin with, until they learn skills for being able to do so within the time constraints that living, working a job, or raising children places upon them.

  • Prioritizing – You can’t do everything. You have to choose what is most important, and get it done. That often means making sure a task that needs to be done today to be ready for tomorrow, is done on time.
  • Letting unnecessary things go – You can’t do slow food when your life is filled with time-wasters. You have to let some idle passtimes go. If you already maximize your time, then you have to determine what you can let go that is less important than preparing healthy food. The wonderful thing about slow food is that there are many tasks which are relaxing when you learn how to do them in a convenient way, and which help form family bonds when you involve the children in the work.
  • Working slow tasks in around fast ones – Much of the “work” involved with slow food is waiting. Chop the ingredients, let something marinate and wait. Put the chopped items in a pot and let it slowly simmer for hours – stir it every half hour to hour, while you do other things. Use the waiting time to do other things, and organize your day so that you can maintain the slow food in a convenient way.
  • Planning ahead – You have to thaw the meat, mill the flour, render the lard, ferment the vegetables, start the stew, make the sourdough starter, or whatever else, ahead of time. You have to make it before you need it. You have to prepare ahead for many things. You have to stock in ingredients you might not otherwise use, and keep a wider selection of ingredients on hand. You have to start meals an hour or so ahead of time, sometimes more, depending on the food you are preparing. You have to think ahead. There are tricks to get by on those days when you just can’t plan ahead, but for the most part, you need to be thinking a day ahead, or at least thinking about what is for lunch and dinner while you are preparing breakfast.
  • Patience – A necessary skill – and patience is a skill, not just something some people have and others do not. The more you do it, the more patient you become, so if you feel you are too impatient, don’t worry! Just expand your skills a little at a time, and your patience will grow with it!
  • Learning skills to make slow things faster – Many “slow” tasks are slow because we don’t know how to do them well, and because our kitchens are not organized to make them fast. We have the flour stuck behind the Mac&Cheese, and getting at the ingredients to make our own noodles or biscuits is inconvenient. A little reorganization, and some practice, and you can make gravy in less than 5 minutes, biscuits whip up in 3-4 minutes, and you can even get bread ready to raise in 5 minutes, and that INCLUDES putting everything back into the cupboard! 90% is practice. The other 10% is observing, researching, and listening, to learn ways to do complex tasks more quickly – for example, when making your own tortillas, getting the texture right (fairly soft) makes the job MUCH faster and easier. Tips like that, which you learn over time or which you pick up from others, can make a WORLD of difference in how much you can accomplish in a day!
  • Selecting the right equipment to speed things up – A crock pot, a rice cooker, a bread maker, a tortilla press, a good wheat mill, a good orbital mixer, a sturdy shredder, a fermentation airlock, the right potato masher, a ceramic non-stick skillet, thick bottomed pots that reduce burning, a flat ended wooden spoon to stir the bottom of hot pots more quickly, a pressure cooker, a deep fryer, a food dehydrator, a good meat grinder, a french fry cutter, etc. Good equipment saves time. Lots of time, and makes some tasks more fun, and safer for kids to participate. Equipment is like everything else with slow food, you don’t do it all at once – you accumulate it one item at a time, according to the things you do most.
  • Learning skills layer by layer – Start by following recipes for dinner, instead of using boxes. Then advance to making or growing ingredients, one layer at a time. Taking on the whole picture (however you see the whole picture) all at once is overwhelming and certain disaster. Learn it bit by bit, and as your skills expand, you’ll naturally progress to the next phase for as long as you feel the desire TO progress to the next phase. Any degree of more real food is good!

Producing your own food from seed, bulb, chick, calf, or wild animals is the natural conclusion of slow food – Growing food is the natural extension of preparation. It allows you to know completely what is in your food, and it is the ONLY way to know for sure that your food meets your standards, because NOBODY cares more about what is in your food than you do! Gardening, raising livestock, and hunting are vital parts to producing food from scratch.

Slow food offers the opportunity to create from start to finish, and to see the process and experience all the creative effort that goes into placing food on the table.

There are rewards to slower processes, delayed gratification, and learning to wait for what is best. Those rewards are beneficial for anyone, but most important for children, who have so few instances of slow rewards in the world we live in. Planting a seed, nurturing it, seeing some live, some die, harvesting, preserving, cooking, and enjoying the food they grew with their own hands, or tended for hours or days from idea to consumption is an invaluable experience for children. When they experience this over and over in their youth, they become more patient and more productive adults, because they know that the BEST things in life take time, and investment long before the payoff.

Slow food as a way of life requires changes in the home, and in our thought processes, and in the way we move through the day. But it brings so much to us in health, satisfaction, and experience, that it is well worth the effort to adopt another layer of it into our lives.

Because it is only when you have practiced it for a few years, that you realize that what seemed like complexity, was really simplicity.

Ramping up Dinner and the Garden

A customer swapped me some fresh ramps for some of our product, so another adventure with wild food has begun. He shipped them to me damp and dirty – perfect to keep them fresh and perky during the trip from his door to mine. They were in prime condition when I received them.

One of the reasons I was curious to try them is because they seem to have a “love ‘em or hate ‘em” reputation. Having really enjoyed our wild garlic and wild onions previously, I wanted to know which camp they fell into, and whether there was anything special about them.

I planted about a third of them in two pots, since our garden this year is again a container garden. I cut up a third of them to put into a potato soup for dinner. Then I cut up the other third and laid them on my drying racks.

My hands do not smell much of the ramps – they actually smell more of the potatoes that I peeled. My eyes did not water when prepping them either, which I find a welcome difference from most onions. The room in which they are drying, however, is strongly pungent. As in, you open the door and the smell comes out to slap you upside the nostrils.

The Ramps smell like a cross between an onion and Elephant Garlic. You know, that sort of garlicky smell that Elephant Garlic has that is not QUITE garlic, and has an underlying nauseating note to it? I do not like Elephant Garlic because it lacks the savory flavor I love about real Garlic (and no, Elephant Garlic is not a true garlic). But that element in the ramps is not strong enough to put me off the way it does with the EG.

If you Google “cooking with Ramps” you find all sorts of recipes using ingredients that I do not keep in my kitchen. You actually have to dig a bit to find traditional uses of ramps, which is pretty much like onions or leeks.

Eggs, potatoes, biscuits, quiche, and grilled with mushrooms to pile on top of a steak are some of the traditional ways of using ramps. You can substitute scallions or shallots for ramps in any recipe, and vice-versa.

Ramps can be used fresh, or cooked. They also dehydrate well. A cousin of mine says that raw ramps can cause the same digestive affects as beans, so if you choose to slap some ramp leaves onto your sandwich while you are in the woods (or at the table), you may need to warn your family to run for cover in a few hours. I have not tested this out, it is purely hearsay from him, and from the uncle that showed him the patch of ramps where he discovered that for him, our uncle knew what he was talking about!

Our potato soup has some ground beef in it, and some Real Salt Seasoning Salt, some Meadow Mushrooms, and the potatoes and ramps. And butter. You cannot leave out the butter in potato soup. When was almost done, I added some heavy cream and flour mixture to thicken it a bit.

The finished soup tasted as though it had both garlic and onions in it. This leads me to suggest that you use Ramps in recipes that tend more toward garlic than toward onion, since they do not have much of the sweet taste of cooked onions, but more of the pungent flavor of garlic. We only used a relatively small amount in the soup also (it was a big pot of soup), and it flavored it strongly enough to really taste the flavor, but not enough to overpower. It seemed to go well with the Meadow Mushrooms, at least, if you like mushrooms!

We not only planted some of the full ramps, we also planted the root ends after I finished chopping up the ramps for the soup. Onion roots re-grow, so we will find out if ramps do also.

Ramps are a multiplier type bulb, so they will split when they reach a certain point in development, and multiply. They also set seed that drops and creates new bulbs. More like the mini-bulblets that wild garlic sets, and not like the skinny seeds that regular onions drop. They also tend to grow their bulbs downward into the ground, also like wild garlic, so the bulbs will be fairly deep in the ground. You have to dig ramps, you cannot pull them or you will just rip off the tops.

As one of the first green things to come up in certain areas in the spring, ramps have traditional importance in some regional cultures. For me, the interest is mainly that they are a wild thing that I can learn to use and cultivate, so that the culture is not lost. Since they are a popular item for upscale gourmet cooking among a certain segment of society, there may be a potential income opportunity in the future, if I should wish to produce seed or bulbs. Growing them will provide an advantage for our gardens also, because they produce so early in the gardening season, that they’ll be producing while the traditional garlic and onions are thinking about sprouting.

Most sources state that ramps only grow in the eastern states, and north into Canada, but the cousin who warns about the flatulent affects of fresh ramps found them in the Pacific Northwest, so they are likely far more prevalent than commonly known. But then, in the PNW, there are some other spring plants that look very similar, so it may be that people there are just more cautious about harvesting them, even though the smell of the roots will tell you for certain what you have! Or, upon further contemplation, perhaps the Pacific Northwest just has more green stuff in the spring, so ramps are largely unappreciated there.

Having tried them, I’d use them again, probably in chicken, sauteed in butter, or over pasta. I think they go best with light dishes where the flavor of them is featured rather than lost, and in simple things where the flavors don’t get so complicated that the pungency of the ramps conflicts with the other ingredients. I don’t think I’d enjoy them whole as a dish themselves, since the flavor is pretty strong, but lean toward using them more as a seasoning.

I’ll have dried ramps to use as seasoning through the summer, and next year, if my pots of ramps do well, I’ll have a little more to cook with, dry, and to expand my containers of them.

I don’t think I’ll ever be an outright afficianado, but I’m pleased to have tried them, and pleased to be one of those people who does not hate them! And I am very happy to be able to grow them.

Where Wild Onions Grow

I could not find it in the wild – spring has eluded me where I was familiar with the wild areas. I’ve had my eye open for it for several years and still no luck. So when I spied it on the website of one of my suppliers, I snatched up a bunch of it along with the other supplies I was ordering.

Wild Onions. There is confusion over wild onions and wild garlic. More over wild onions than wild garlic, because wild garlic is pretty easy to identify – looks like tall straight chives, with round stems, smells and tastes like garlic (deep tiny bulbs, so you have to dig it, cannot pull it).

That is one of the key identifiers with both wild onion and wild garlic – their leaves are the opposite of the domestic versions. Garlic is round, onions are flat.

Wild onion also forms deep bulbs, and should be dug, not pulled, if you find it and positively identify it. Make sure you ID it using several descriptions with images from different sources before you consume it though, because while there are more than a dozen different kinds of edible wild onions, there are also one or two look-alikes that are harmful if you mistake the identity – be aware that there are signs to look for, and once you KNOW what to look for the ID can be made for certain, but make sure you KNOW.

Having ordered it, I had no idea what I’d be getting. I received a bunch of oniony looking things, with flat V’d leaves (not tubular like domesticated onions), and with lovely white bell flowers drooping from the tops. Seven of them had good root systems still on them, so I planted them in a container.

The eighth had no roots. I chopped it up and fried it in butter with some Hedgehog mushrooms. Chopping it up did not make my eyes water. I think that is worth noting!

It had a mild onion flavor, which was very good with the mushrooms.

After dinner, I did a net search to ID the specific type. It appears to be Allium Triquetrum, which is a non-native plant in the US. Grows in the south and along the coast, quite far north. It is considered to be an invasive species in California – so if you live there, you might especially wish to learn to identify this weed, and make a habit of digging it up and bringing it home for dinner.

If you live elsewhere, various types of wild onion grow almost everywhere, and wild garlic is also widespread. Both are worth looking for – not just because they are wild food, but because they offer slightly different flavors when prepared.

Wild onions usually pop up with the early bulbs, right as the ground thaws, and they set flowers 6-8 weeks later. If you see something that looks like it might be wild onion or garlic, pinch a leaf and see if it has that distinctive smell. You’ll know! If it doesn’t say “ONION!” or “GARLIC!” immediately to the smell centers of your brain, then it isn’t onion or garlic! If it does, then get a sample to take home to ID. It is best if you have the bulb, leaves, and flowers if possible (in fact you will have a difficult time IDing wild onion without a sample of the flowers).

If you forage wild onions, make sure you watch out for pesticides and herbicides. If they look skinny and wimbly, then they may not be good for you unless you flush them out by soaking the roots in water for several days. They typically are somewhat droopy in the leaves, but very lush and clustered together, much like Daylilies, but a slightly smaller leaf.

I’ll be encouraging my little pot of wild onions to reproduce, and I’ll be on the lookout for other varieties and more wild garlic.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.