Home Farm

Odds and ends on producing your own food.

Foraging Free

A cat marauded the chickens, and one chicken escaped from the chicken house. The chicken house is not ours, and we cannot make repairs to it, so there are places where a determined bird can escape, but they only wiggle out if they are frightened by a predator.

Kevin calls her Ginger. She’s just that chicken.

She got out. The next day we lured her back in, but she was out again when Kevin fed them in the morning.

There is no water out there. No free food either. She has to go after everything she wants.

A few days of luring her back in, and after that she won’t go. No point putting her back in, she just gets out. She stays pretty close though. Just one lone chicken.

Water is hard for her to get. Food isn’t plentiful, but she finds it. No doubt a hard life, there are cats, dogs, skunks, and even big cats now and again, all putting her at risk.

But she would rather have freedom than companionship, easy food, and plentiful water.

She’s just a chicken.

But freedom is just that precious.

It’s Just A Lap Spindle, It Isn’t Broken

Confusion reigneth, and I am obliged to clarify a technical issue.

This is spinning. It isn’t Sleeping Beauty.

A Lap Spindle

Just a twig. Or a lathed stick. Or a dowel with a pointy top end, and a less pointy bottom end, and grooves top and bottom to anchor the fiber.

It has no whorl, because it is not dropped. It is twirled.

It is not a drop spindle, though it can work like one if you get a little spun thread or yarn on to weight it like a drop spindle.

This is a RESTFUL spindle, and you sit back comfortably, and you just twirl it. You do so casually, and if it hurts your hand, you stop, and wait until tomorrow. In about three weeks, it doesn’t hurt anymore if you keep it up.

There are technical issues for this that do not apply to a drop spindle in the same way.

The first, is ROLL RATIO.

A smaller diameter spindle will roll MORE TIMES on a single twirl than a large one. You roll it up your thumb when you twirl it, and a small one can roll 2-4 times, where a large one rolls 1/2 to 1 times.

The other issue is Spindle to Output Proportion.

Large yarns do best with a spindle that is 1/4″ or larger in diameter.

Small yarns and threads do best with a thin one. Thinner thread, thinner spindle.

There are TWO reasons for this, and the first is just ROLL RATIO, again. Small yarns take MORE TWISTS to spin them well. So you spend more time twisting. A finer spindle twists faster.

The second reason is that Large yarns don’t handle well with a small spindle. The spindle should be at least 2X the diameter of the finished yarn, or it just won’t roll well, your thumb kind of catches on the thickness of the yarn if it is the same diameter as the spindle.

Kind of hard to describe.

lapspindle

This is a large lap spindle, and the diameter of yarn would really be faster to spin with one about HALF this diameter.

You don’t HOLD THIS OUT to spin, like in the picture, you tuck it up and get comfortable with it.

The wool is Coopworth Locks, and it is a burgundy. One of my favorites because it feels soft and luxurious. I spin everything on lap spindles, and I have a whole collection of them, they look just like sticks.

There are a bunch of small differences between spinning with a Lap Spindle, and spinning with a Drop Spindle.

You never have to hitch it to drop it. You just spin, and hold the spindle tucked at your side while you rove or draw out more fiber, and then you spin and spin and spin, and then do it again. No hitching, no leaning forward to drop.

It seems slower, but it isn’t. People who use this spin as fast as people who use a drop spindle, in part because what they lose in spin time, they gain in not hitching.

But it is an exercise in patience, and teaches you to just keep working, even when you are resting. No wasted time while you binge Netflix. See? I was working!

This is also the EASIEST spindle to get started. Just rove out some thin rove, twist the very end, and wrap it 4 times in the groove at the bottom (make sure you wrap it the correct direction or it will fall off – roll the spindle UP your thumb to get the direction right, it should wind the same direction as you are spinning). Then just SPIRAL the rove UP the spindle to the top, and then spin a length of rove off the end (about 6 more inches).

When you have tight yarn off the end, unroll SOME of the spiraled rove, and it will twist, and you can spiral it up again and spin some more. Repeat as many times as y9u need, to get the yarn spun tightly all the way down to the bottom of the spindle. Then unwind the spiral, and spiral it up more tightly to begin spinning normally (Do NOT spiral the yarn close together when you wind it onto the spindle – it will compress as you add more wound on layers, and push the whole of the wound yarn right off the ends of the spindle – you need to spiral the layers, and you need a space between the spirals of about the width of the spindle to keep it from compressing and pushing off the end).

It literally takes half a minute to get your spindle started and a good length spun and wound on, instead of fussing with it.

So you can make your own lap spindle.

Plum suckers make great lap spindles, you can find a nice straight one, and you can usually find long ones. Get one about TWICE the diameter that you need to end up with, because the bark accounts for about half.

Peel that sucker, and point the ends, and put some grooves in, bottom and top (3/4″ from the bottom, and 1″ from the top).

Elm seedlings and branches are another option, but they are never straight. They always curve, and when they dry they curve MORE. But some of them will work.

Apple, Lilac, Apricot, Pear, and other branches work well also, but BE WARNED, Apple branches have a brown dye on them that comes off on your hands until they are well worn, and it may stain your wool.

This is an ancient, and a primitive type of spinning spindle. It was around, and CALLED a Lap Spindle long before modern spinners tried to name something else by that name because they did not know what it was.

It has been lost, because nobody wants to explain how to use a thing y9u can make yourself, instead of having to buy it from them.

This is the spindle that freed me to be able to spin when I could not afford to do so.

One more note… If you have been taught to wrap the yarn onto the spindle, tight against the whorl, you won’t do well with a lap spindle. It will just compress down onto the spindle, and then expand upward and downward along the spindle, and fall off the bottom end. With a drop spindle, it can do this and PUSH THE WHORL right off! This is why I tell you to spiral it when you wind it on.

Give it a try. Because…

Anyone Can Spin

Horse Snot in Utah and Out

Not the state. The horse. People in my family understand this reference.

Utah was a pretty big pony, almost horse size at 14 hands. Heidi, a Welsh Shetland cross, nearly kilt herself bearing that big boy. He had a few issues… Apparently the genetics were not as sound as the breeders liked. One of those things was an epiglottis that sometimes failed to understand its job in keeping food out, so the horse could sometimes end up with unexpected coughing fits.

He was a good horse though, a bit stubborn now and again, but large enough that my sizable grandfather could ride him without fearing injury if he were to break out into a trot (the horse, not my grandfather, he never broke out into a trot). This was important to Grandpa, because Heidi was really too small for Gramps, and had a habit of giving him a tiredly accusing look if he were to try to ride her. The grandkids got a lot of mileage out of Heidi though, so Grandpa had a reason for keeping her, and Topsy, another mare about the same size as Heidi, but not quite so round.

One day my grandpa fed Utah a treat, and he managed to choke (the horse, not the grandfather…), and it was bad enough that he actually went down (again, the horse… Gramps stayed upright for the moment).

“You ever seen a horse turn blue?” Grandpa asked when he told me this story. He waits, for me to register this and laugh. “His lips did anyway.”

There was Utah, DOWN. There was Grandpa, coming close to a panic. He was a respectable millright mechanic, and a noted record blood donor. You just don’t assassinate your favorite horse with a bucket of oats.

Not knowing what else to do, he did what the vet had told him to do if Utah ever did this… he sat down on Utah’s ribs. He’s a big guy (Grandpa, not the horse), and he said he heard ribs crack (the horse’s ribs, not Grandpa’s).  Poor Utah.

Whatever, poor Utah got the hint, went “Uuuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!” (and maybe a few more exclamation points, Grandpa tells this pretty emphatically), and staggered to his feet.

He then coughed (the horse, not Grandpa), and landed a great big gob of horse snot RIGHT ON GRANDPA’S BOOT. Right on the curve of the front of the boot, where it instantly bonded with the laces.

Grandpa was NOT HAPPY… he was holding back his gorge, trying to get to the hose to swill down his boot, trying and failing to stop thinking about that big gross gob on his boot, his stomach trying to heave every time he thought about it, finally managing to hose it off without throwing up. He didn’t even want to THINK about how much of that had seeped into the boot and onto his socks. (At this point, Grandpa wants us to know it was a BIG glob of snot. A VERY BIG ONE. Even for a horse.)

Utah is fine with all of this, he can breathe again, in spite of the two broken ribs (Grandpa counted, said it was obvious), the snot does not bother him one bit anymore, and other than not being able to be ridden for several months, Utah is acting pretty normal.

Grandpa keeps the story pretty much to himself…  mostly because he can’t tell it without a surge of nausea at the remembered image of that great plop of slimy mucus.

Now Robin wasn’t a horse. Robin was a little bird, whose wings had been broken so many times by someone who thought that was fun, that she was plumb scared to fly. She hadn’t forgotten how to run though, and still had some pluck left, though it was all wrapped up in a little ball of watchful scared.

Really, Robin was a little girl, whose life had been pretty rough up to that point, and my grandparents adopted her and her brother Tony. They were some kind of messed up, but then, so were Gram and Gramps sometimes, and at this time, she’d been with them long enough to be sure of her place there, but not long enough to learn to know how to laugh or to really remember what tears were for, let alone that she had a right to them (She did eventually learn that.).

Robin and Tony had started out living with Grandma and Grandpa’s youngest daughter, along with a houseful of kids, and she’d just picked up calling the parents Mama and Daddy along with all those other kids in the house. So Robin also picked up the Grandma and Grandpa right along with the Mama and Daddy. She’d just been adopted by Grandma and Grandpa, but hadn’t yet got used to calling them by the names of Mom and Dad, as she would eventually, and the whole idea of having nieces and nephews her age was still just a novelty, and not really real.

Next morning (after the Great Snot Plop), Grandma comes out into the entryway of their house, and there is Robin, hunched down over Grandpa’s boot.

“What are you doing, Robin?” asked Grandma.

“There’s something on Grandpa’s boot.” she said. She didn’t look up. I guess Grandpa didn’t do as good a job hosing that boot down as he thought!

Grandma looked. Grandma puzzled for a minute. “Did you do that, Robin?”

“There’s something ON it.” Robin insisted. “I thought I’d clean it off but I don’t know how.”

“Robin, did you put that there?” asked Grandma.

“No. It was just THERE.” she’s still looking at that boot.

By now, Grandma is pretty sure she’s figured out the nature of the something on the boot.

Robin shakes her head, and says, “That’s too big to come out of MY nose.” she’s still examining it, then she looks up at Grandma and says, “You better ask Tony if he did it!”.

Grandma laughed, and thinks the better of asking if HIS nose is big enough. Robin looks up at her. “It’s ok to laugh, Robin.”

“That’s too gross to laugh about.” Robin said, shaking her head.

Grandma patted her on the head and went back inside.

Robin didn’t laugh, but she smiled.

Grandma gave Robin a scrub brush, and Robin cleaned the boot. At least, that’s what she SAID she did. Grandpa never did comment on the wet inside of his boot, or the amount of SOMETHING that he wiped out of the inside of it.

Later that day, Grandpa thanked Robin for cleaning that boot, and Robin asked about the mess.

“Utah did that.” Grandpa said.

“Well, HIS nose is big enough!” Robin was satisfied that the world now made sense.

And that is the story of Horse Snot in Utah… and OUT of Utah.

 

For books, and more stories by Laura Wheeler, look for her name on Amazon, for Kindle, and in our bookstore at http://firelightheritagefarm.com

Fernbush Tea… Oy!

I’ve been discovering many new herbs and wild foods lately. Out foraging for what we can, I ID new things when possible, or go searching for things I’m already familiar with. It has been kinda fun, and we’ve discovered some real treasures.

Brigham Tea is ok. It needs sugar, but does not taste bad if prepared at very high temp (I pressure it). I went looking for that on purpose. That got me looking at bushes on the side of the road, the majority of which are rabbit brush and sagebrush, in varying tones of gray and gray green.

Then coming home one day I saw a green bush on the side of a back road. NOT sagebrush. Real green. So we came back later to get a better look.

A 2-3 ft bush, with leaf clusters running up each branch, that were beginning to sprout out. Each leaf cluster looked like a little fern plant – six or eight little fern like leaves in this perfect little arrangement.

I broke off a piece to take home and ID it. Once in the car, I noticed the leaves had a kind of nice perfumy smell. Well, on the surface. Very pleasant on first whiff. Running underneath that though, a distinctly yucky smell. Not something I can describe easily, but sort of heavily oily and with an edge of things rotted, and just barely resinous, and yet mellow at the same time.  Odd, really, I’ve never smelled something that had two distinctly different odors about it, but this did.

I looked it up, identified it positively as Fernbush. I mean, how many bushes out there have such a distinctive leaf arrangement, growing in that particular habitat? No doubt about the ID. The descriptions often mentioned that the leaves were “fragrant”.

I then researched edibility (struck out), and medicinal use. Turns out it was traditionally used to make a tea for various purposes, recreational, ritual, and medicinal. Ok, I’ll bite. Some of the medicinal uses sounded like ones that might benefit me.

I made up a syrup (easier to preserve than tea). That resulted in a HEAVY and nauseating emphasis on the yucky smell. The perfumy part was still there, but overpowered and tainted by the other odor.

We tried a little. The taste was inidescribably foul – and yet I have to try. A neutral sweetness from the sugar and a bit of the perfumy at first (like tasting floral perfume), followed by a gagging yuck ending with a hit and run resinous grab at your tonsils, and then nothing. No lingering aftertaste. A small mercy!

This isn’t like Yarrow, or Hops, or even Calendula, where the sharp bitterness and awfulness that the bitterness just seems to encapsulate, where it yanks at your throat and stays there. Not that kind of yuck. Not the kind that turns your face inside out. and makes you cough and grab water.

This was very different. Like the difference between being wrapped up in unwashed coyote fur, compared to being sprayed by a skunk (the fernbush being the coyote fur, the skunk being Yarrow or Hops). This particular awfulness was more something that made you want to regurgitate your tongue. I did not know this particular force of yuck could exist!

I tried it with some vanilla added. And a little butter rum flavoring. Because they seemed like they would possibly dampen the yucky. They enhanced the perfumy side, but didn’t even DENT the icky part. Sort of like putting rotted cod liver oil on top of buttercream frosting, and being able to totally taste both flavors.

Still hoping to use it as a medicinal, I tried it mixed with a few other medicinal syrups. Oddly, when you try to make a good tasting substance out of that bush, you fail. Nothing you add to it seems to overpower the ickyness. But even more oddly, when I mixed it with about three other syrups (none of them any too pleasant, actually, they are all just tolerable to get down), the resulting blend was like most medicinal tea – not pleasant, but not horridly nasty either. Somehow, blending that yucky syrup with several other less than enjoyable flavors, resulted in something that was somewhere in the middle where medicinal experiences go!

I think that it bears experimenting with a little more, I will try the blossoms and see if they produce something more pleasant, and less unpleasant. For now, I can get the mixes down, and should know in a week or so, whether it is helping with the issues I am taking it for.

When I heard that it was sometimes used as a recreational tea, not just a medicinal tea, I somehow thought it would taste better, because I cannot honestly imagine that anyone would want to drink the stuff for fun, unless their noses don’t pick up on that second overpowering awfulness to the same extent that mine does. But Kevin smells it the same way I do, so it can’t just be me!

The cool thing is though, ANYONE can identify this bush, if they see it, wild, or in gardens. Whether or not they want to take a chance on the medicinal tea though, depends on how much they need it!

Guinea Fowl for Dinner

Kevin chopped the head off the extra male guinea (with only three hens, we did not need two males). I skinned and gutted it (he helped hold it when things got tricky). Even a year ago I could not have done that. But now, I can. I can, because I must.  We skinned it because plucking is nasty, and until we have a plucker, I’m not doing it again. Had plenty of that as a kid, can’t stand the smell of wet or burnt feathers.

We go the job done on the guinea, and then managed to dispatch one of the chickens we had lined up for the day, before we realized that the chickens must have been doing a rain dance. The heavens opened, and drove us indoors, with only two of the birds finished. The rest earned a reprieve.

Having no fridge space to rest or brine the birds, into the freezer they went. I pulled the guinea out yesterday, just after noon, and popped it frozen into the crock pot. Having never had guinea before, I just lightly sprinkled it with seasoning salt, and put a little water in the bottom to keep it from drying out completely.

The resulting bird was somewhat dry (likely leaving the skin on would have helped, since the skin was very fatty), but VERY tender. Tasted like Turkey, though the white meat is about the color of dark meat on turkey, and the dark meat is more like the dark meat on a duck – distinctive difference in color between the two, just darker. Very good flavor. Did not mess me up like some meats do either, seems to be a good one for me.

The skin that we removed was thick with yellow fat. There was also a lot of yellow abdominal fat, much like duck fat. I managed to salvage just a bit of it, but most was removed in the skinning and gutting processes.

Guinea liver is a little stronger tasting than the wonderful chicken livers I’ve been getting from the chickens we raise. But it is NOT as strong as commercial chicken liver.

If you are raising guineas for food, just think of them like a very small turkey, with a smaller and flatter breast meat. The bulk of the meat is evenly divided between the breast and the thighs. The wings have a little at the top, and the legs do also, not much otherwise. Much shorter meaty parts on the wings and legs than what chickens have. But it seems to be easier to bone out than chicken or turkey.

I’d suggest that this would be good as a substitute for wild game in many recipes, but you can also just sub it for turkey if you are more prosaic. Guinea Salad Sandwiches would be excellent.

I let the carcass go overnight in the crock pot, after adding some water. Keeps it from getting stale tasting like it does in the fridge. Today I boned it out, chopped the meat, and tossed it all in with some celery, carrots, onions, and sweet peppers, sprinkled with a little rosemary and seasoning salt. In a couple of hours, I’ll add some brown rice.

Guinea Rice Soup for dinner. Life is good.

Update: The soup was good. Everybody ate it without complaint, along with some hot biscuits.

Snail Mail! No Joke!

The first eight were DOA. I was pretty bummed, because each month when we decide what we need to invest in to move our projects forward, every single thing we choose to purchase is purchased at the expense of a dozen other things that were competing for those dollars. So eight dead snails were NOT a happy arrival.

The seller made good, and shipped eight more, all of which were a healthier color and showing signs of life when the box was opened.

So we now have eight snails climbing the inside of the jar that is their temporary home, until we can move them into a more varied environment. Any movement of the jar, or near the jar, apparently startles them, and they drop from the side to the bottom.

How do snails win out over the dozens of other things we could purchase right now to grow our farm and business? The simplest reason is because I am writing a book. On raising creepy things as livestock feed. So snails were the next logical step after mealworms, and nightcrawlers. We still have redworms (though I have enough experience to write that chapter already, but we want the worms), superworms, rice beetles, dubias, and BSF larvae to go. All things I really had no intention of getting up close and personal with. But this we can do now. So we do it.

A little clarification about snails. The snails that arrived were aquatic Mystery snails. Yes, they are edible, just like escargo (but not as slimy so they are simpler to prepare). No, people don’t usually eat them – I don’t know if it is a quality issue (funny applying that word to snails), or if it is a familiarity issue. Whatever it is, I do not intend to eat them. I do, however, intend to feed them to my ducks. Ducks love small snails, and the calcium in the shells helps layer ducks.

We do hope to raise regular snails also, but it is more complicated. You can’t just order them off eBay or Amazon. Shipping them is illegal without a Federal Permit, and they are illegal in many states – even though they occupy back yards in virtually every place they are illegal! So we may have to sneak out and capture contraband in the dark of the night in order to get the real Escargot snails. Aquatic snails, however, are not regulated in the same way, and Mystery snails are legal pretty much anywhere.

Most snails reproduce exponentially, as do most insects. This is why many people seem to think they are more of a liability than an asset – because they do not know how to use the abundance.

The aquatic snails in our livingroom will soon be joined by fish, and shrimp. And some more plants – currently they are sharing their habitat with algae and duckweed, both of which they eat. But soon we will add in fish, which will eat THEM (but not all of them). Snails do reproduce wildly when they are given comfy digs. But that is an asset when you have lots of things to eat them.

And that is why we got snails. Not only will they help me finish the book, but they will help us close the loop on the food chain for our livestock.

Mystery snails can come in many colors, but the black ones are more diverse genetically, and they are less expensive than other colors. So we went with basic black (which is NOT a decision I’d ever make in my wardrobe because black makes me look dead). I am now hoping they really ARE as easy to care for as they are supposed to be, because one thing I am NOT into, is fussy. I’m all about easy, and once we have to break out the test strips and meters, I’m outta this!

We picked up a damaged 35 gallon fish tank the other day, that came with some filters and a bubbler, so the snails will get the bubbler as soon as we get it cleaned (the tank is not watertight, but it is bug-tight, so we will use it for either snails or dubias). We have to keep a cover on the jar, because snails will escape if there is an opportunity for them to do so. While they cannot take up habitation in the back yard and survive, they can live for a few weeks out of water, and then they die, and stink, and finding that underneath the furniture is just not an experience I am anxiously awaiting!

Today we got snail mail. And I don’t think it is going to be the oddest mail we receive.

Mr. Quail Goes to Jail

It started about three weeks ago.

One morning one of the quail hens was bleeding. We moved her into a temporary home next to the bantams. We had to partition off part of the bantam cage to do it, so the bantams were understandably put out. The quail cage above the bantams had three hens on one side, and three hens and a roo on the other side. One from the roo’s cage was injured.

Two days later, another quail was bleeding, and this time there was no question who the culprit was – our only quail roo, housed with his small harem, was taking them out, one by one. So we moved the injured one in with the other injured one, and the one healthy one that was left, went in with the other hens. We have two double cages, so the quail are in one (partition in place), the Bantams were in the other (partition was removed until we had to put the quail into isolation).

Mr Quail got to learn how to be alone, since he could not control himself in the presence of ladies.

It took about two weeks for the battered wives to heal, and we decided to give Mr. Quail one more chance. We removed the divider in the quail cage, and put all the quail back into it. We put in two sand baths, and they fought congenially over those while Mr. Quail ran around taking advantage of every female he could pin down. It took him about 4 minutes to make the rounds with all the girls. Twice. Then he started getting distracted by the sand bath. He likes the sand bath almost as much as he likes girls. Almost.

All was well, for awhile. Then we noticed nobody was eating. Lots of running around in the extra space, but they were barely touching their food. This, from quail that previously had to be fed three times a day just to keep up with them. I’m not sure what that was about, but given the subsequent events, I am thinking Mr. Quail seriously upset the pecking order, and was disrupting the feeding hierarchy.

And then, this morning, one of the two previously battered wives was bloodied again, and Mr. Quail was chasing her, cornering her and pecking viciously at her. Caught in the act. I grabbed Mr. Quail and put him into the banty cage.

Cary Grant (the bantam roo who presides over our two banty hens, Princess Grace and Audrey Hepburn) was not about to let an upstart perpetrator of domestic violence go without reprimand – or maybe he was not about to let him get near the banty girls! He chased him and gave him a taste of his own medicine, cornering him and making him cower under an onslaught of stern pecks.

I got them all over to one side of the cage, slid in the partition, and moved Mr. Quail once again, into isolation.

We had no other accommodations for our birds, and it was clear that the bantams needed the entire cage, and that Mr. Quail was not capable of behaving himself if left alone with the ladies for more than 2 days at a time. We needed another cage!

Hardware cloth was cheap at the local building supply store, so we grabbed a couple of rolls. We already had some J-clips, so the only other thing we needed was a latch for the door.

So we spent this afternoon building a small cage out of half inch hardware cloth, j-clips (for holding the sides together, and to work as hinges), and an aluminum pan (snagged from our fodder shelf where it had been in use as a sprouting pan). The deep aluminum pan now has sand in the bottom. We designed the cage the right size for the pan to go in the bottom, and we made a hatch that opens to slide the pan out for cleaning. A second access door above lets us put in feed and water.

In went Mr. Quail, who then spent the next 10 minutes (while we were feeding them all), running up and down the side of the cage next to the hens’ cage, trying to find a way through the wire. Ain’t happening! We slid a plastic barrier between, just because it was so pathetic.

So now we have all the hens in an open double cage, and the bantams have all of their house back now that the unwelcome visitor has gone.

Mr. Quail will get conjugal visits once a week. Considering how quickly he can make the rounds, we won’t need to leave him in long enough to give him a chance to think about anything else. This way we get fertile quail eggs without having to risk him beating the hens bloody.

It is kind of distressing to me, because I prefer things to be more natural, and ideally, I’d have them in a larger pen with plenty of hiding spots. But reality being what it is, I can’t always do things the way I’d like, so we’ve had to take measures to ensure that we protect our investment in these little birds.

In between weekend visits, Mr. Quail will have to content himself with the sand bath, which he now has all to himself.

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 Audrey Hepburn (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.

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.

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.