Homestead News, Volume 4

It seems lately our homestead has been a flurry of activity. I will see if I can give you a glimpse of our life on the homestead.

We told you about the new windows we had installed almost two weeks ago. Well, we have made a little progress on trimming them out, but they aren’t finished yet. Frank had a great idea of making the top board longer and angled. I think they look great. But since we aren’t finished with that project, the porches are still in disarray. It really doesn’t bother me much, life goes on with our daily routines even if things aren’t in their customary places.

You may be wondering why two weeks later, the windows still aren’t trimmed. Well, a day or so after the windows were installed, we began a large project on the barn, which is only about half complete at this stage. This project involves building lean-to shed roofs on the east and west sides of the barn, the full length of the building. After much planning and consulting with the two man crew we have hired to do the building, then acquiring the needed supplies, this project got under way.

The day after the barn supplies arrived the local electric cooperative came and set a new pole for us. We have long wanted power to the barn, but it is quite expensive. Well, this is the year. The pole is about 120 feet from the barn so we will still need to run the wire underground to connect there.

We expected to have a meter and power once the pole was set, but then we discovered that we needed to install a breaker box on the pole and connect it to the meter box. Enter Frank and his many abilities to fix and build things. While the work crew began their tasks using a generator, Frank worked on installing the breaker box and connections. In a couple of days, the cooperative was back out with the meter and we were in business. Then Frank got busy installing an outlet on the pole with a 20 amp fuse, so the guys could have power via heavy duty extension cords. This provided stronger, more consistent power for their tools which was great. It is truly a blessing to have a husband that can do or fix just about anything.

As we began the barn project one of the first things that we had to do was dismantle the pig pen. We had already allowed the pigs out into the larger pen that contained their small, initial pen. But the first day of construction, the pens were dismantled and the pigs were allowed out into their two acre pasture for the first time. Needless to say it was a little confusing to them. That was the day I became a pig herder, spending a lot of time with them showing them around the pasture.

Because of the floor leveling and window installation and rain, we hadn’t had the chance to brush hog the pigs entire pasture, so Frank made some wide trails for them to use. They lead to the one, lone tree in that pasture, down to the pond and provide three ‘lanes’ to the barn area. At first, I coaxed the pigs to the tree with food and water. I knew they needed shade, water and mud. So that day and for several days after, I carried many a bucket of water to the tree. After about two days, the pigs would go to the pond on their own, enjoying the mud for a wallow and whatever they found that was tasty at the pond’s edge. Now they comfortably wander around on their own and we don’t have the concern of lack of water or wallow to keep them cool.

 

So, how are the pigs? They are doing great. I have to say, I am really enjoying them. We can pet them and scratch their backs almost any time we go into the pasture. We even scratch their heads while they are anxiously awaiting the contents of the feed bucket in our hands. Every so often one will bump the backs of our legs when we are walking to the feed pan. This is when I remind them not to bite me. But 

really, I don’t think they would, it’s just a ‘Hey! Feed me!” kind of bump. They are really funny, and I’m getting used to their grunting and squealing sounds. We are planning a trip later this week to bring home another gilt. She will be much smaller than these guys we have now, but I hope she will work out well.

The pig side of the barn should be complete tomorrow, if we’re not rained out. Then we will reconstruct a pen and place their house under the shed roof. This will provide more shade and a place to pen them if need be. But for now, they have free range of their pasture. I will give you a more specific pig update in a few weeks.

The west side of the barn is next on the barn project docket. It includes our rain catchment system which we are very excited about. I will do an in-depth article with the whys and hows of that project as we get closer to completion.

 
Our cheese stash continues to slowly grow. We now have 24 wheels of cheddar aging. Well, make that 23. I have been wanting to see how it was doing for a while, so I have opened the first wheel. It is drier than I like, which means I pressed it too hard. It also has a bunch of small holes in it, which it is not supposed to have. Frank read an article recently about why swiss cheese has holes and it was because of the bacteria on hay dust that got into the milk before the cheese was made. This was back in the days before milking machines prevented any air contact with the milk. This made me wonder if something similar caused the holes in our cheddar. It doesn’t appear to affect the taste. This wheel has a very, very mild cheddar flavor since it was only allowed to age for two months. It’s good, though, and we are enjoying it.

We have begun to eat yellow squash from the garden. There is nothing like that first squash of the season. I hope to begin canning some before long.

We have also discovered that we like a dish of turnip greens, collards and beet greens. Not only is it tasty, but very nutritious. Since the turnip patch is almost overrun with crab grass, we plan to harvest the patch and see if there is enough to blanch and freeze the greens. We’ve already done this once and they taste just fine. Not quite as good as fresh, but most things aren’t. Now I need to learn to can them. That will come with the fall crop.

This is the first time we have grown collards and we are very pleased with it’s performance here. The chickens, pigs, goats and humans all like them. They appear to be very hardy and productive. I will be curious to see how they perform in our hot summer weather. The patch is very small, and I pick from it each morning for the animals, but it continues to grow very well. I think I will plant another patch [which I did today] and see how it does this time of year. Just to learn a little more about the plant.

The wild and tame blackberries are ripening now, but the tame berries are not sweet at all. I don’t know if the extended rainy period we had in April and May caused this or not. I do know that these berries need sunshine to sweeten up, but we’ve had a couple of weeks of sunny weather lately. I was hoping that would make a difference in the flavor, but it has not. I ate a few ripe wild berries this afternoon and they were much sweeter, so I hope to pick some in the next few weeks to help decrease our dependence on store bought berries.

The baby chicks and their adoptive mom are still doing very well. Before long they will be moved to the pen next door to make room for the next batch of chicks that will be hatching. Our chicken house will be getting very full of little cheepers, but that also means that in a few months our freezer and canning jars will be filling up as well, and that is good.

The kids we put in the ‘boys’ pasture to wean continue to nurse through the fence at times. We had to do some rearranging when the barn project started, and for now the does are in a pasture adjacent to the weaning kids. It has cut down on our take of the milk, but that’s okay. It just means we only make cheese about one to two days a week, and with the building project and the garden needing attention, that has worked out rather well. We will be breeding two of the does in July for December babies. This is something we tried last summer, but it didn’t work out. Our plan is to breed two in July and the other four in November. This will provide us with milk through the winter and a larger supply in the spring for next year’s cheese supply. We’ll see how it works out this time.

The beneficial insect class I took taught me to identify a few more bees and a few more plants, but didn’t really cover insects specific to gardening. I learned some new information, but it hasn’t really affected my gardening techniques. I did learn that 90% of bees are loners that nest in the ground. I thought that was interesting. 

We continue to prepare for Frank’s survival radio class which will be starting in a few weeks. There has been quite a bit of interest from our small communities, which is exciting. The possibility of creating a communication network in our area is very important to us. It could make all the difference in the world should a natural or man made disaster, emergency or collapse occur. We will let you know how it goes.

Life on the homestead is good. Very good. Busier than usual with projects underway, new animals, a different gardening season this year, and just normal daily chores and routines that come with living a life of producing all we can for ourselves. I know some of you have been wondering if we have made soap. Not yet. We have everything we need, and have talked about it a number of times, but it hasn’t happened yet. One day we will surprise you, and us, with that post. It is almost time to make another batch of lotion. I am really glad we make our own now. It’s quick, easy and not full of chemicals. 

We still have our aches and pains, and our bodies won’t keep up with our minds anymore, but with the exclusion of many chemicals and processed foods, we are healthier than we have been in a long time, maybe ever. That will be important in the coming days, weeks and months. Keep your head up and pay attention. More and more people are saying there is something out there, something in the wind that is unsettling, dark and ominous. Be prepared in all things, but especially in your heart and mind, for without them all of the ‘stuff’ you have will come to naught.

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 3

Even with historic rainfall, it seems we have managed to stay busy on our homestead. There are a number of projects that are either ongoing, getting started or waiting in the wings for next week to arrive. Here is a rundown of some of our recent events.

 

Frank has wanted to put another layer of gravel on the road going up to the barn. We had this road constructed when we bought our place, but it was time to increase the gravel depth and width. This should do for this road for years to come.

 

We also wanted a load of gravel placed in the backyard so Frank could spread it out in our parking areas and in a number of other places. Unfortunately, the dump truck got stuck before it could make it down the hill. This necessitated dumping the gravel by the chicken house, which means Frank will have to make many, many trips up and down this hill to place the gravel in the desired place.

The dewberries are ripening, so my friend Grace came over today and between rain showers, we picked a few berries. I hope to pick many more in the next few days. By the way, yesterday and last night we got another 1.4″ of rain, and then today we got another 0.4″. But! This is supposed to be the end of it. There is no rain in the near forecast. Hallelujah!

We have had some issues with the egg turner in our incubator this year and were afraid we would have a very poor hatch rate. Today, the day before our actual hatch date, we already have eleven, no make that sixteen, new baby chicks. We were surprised and pleased with this development. Frank will fill you in on the details in an upcoming chicken story.

Our house was built in 1983 on a stem wall with floor joists. Over time it has settled in the middle and needed to be jacked up and leveled. It was hard to find someone to do this kind of work, but today two of our friends arrived and began this project. After this job is completed, they will be helping us replace some of our 30 year old carpet with new flooring. We are really looking forward to that.

Next week the window company will be here to replace our windows. Many of them are clouded over on the inside, and one on the north side lets the cold air in if it is very windy. This is another project that has been on the drawing board for awhile.

The pigs are growing, and will be given more room sometime in the coming week when we let them out into the larger pig pen. First we need to add a few stock panels up against the barn. The last set of pigs really rooted out a lot of dirt under the edge of the slab the barn is sitting on. We don’t want to allow any more of this dirt to be removed. All of the pigs are becoming tame enough to pat and scratch while they are eating, and occasionally when they are not. They greet me each time they see me, especially if I have a bucket in my hand. 

Easter on top, Bo in the house

Tomorrow our last two kids will be separated from their mothers for weaning. Easter, our Easter Sunday doe, and Bo, our little bowlegged wether will be joining the adult wethers, the teenage wethers, and the billy goat. The teenage wethers and Patch, another young doe, have been separated from their mothers for eight weeks now. One Stripe is Patch’s mom, and she is no longer being milked, so Patch will be rejoining the doe herd tomorrow. I will be glad to have her back with the ‘girls’ so I can give her more attention. She is already a very sweet, tame doe and I look forward to adding her to the milking line up next year.
 

Patch


Tomorrow morning Faith, our friend that bought Penny to milk, is coming over for a cheese making lesson. We will be discussing how to make soft cheese and making a batch of mozzarella. Faith has been reading a lot, but learns best by watching and taking notes. She is just beginning to put together a list of needed equipment and ingredients. We will have a fun time talking goats, milk and cheese.

The garden is growing despite all of the rain. The zinnias we planted in and around some of the vegetables are starting to bloom. And they are beautiful. 

It seems we are busier than ever, with much to do on our plates. Once the few projects I mentioned are complete there are about a half dozen more waiting to be started right behind them. We’ll let you know what they are and how they go. Life on a homestead always gives you many things to do. Some planned. Some not. Either way, you learn, you work, you live. It’s a good life.

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 2

I don’t know where the time goes, but lately it has gone flying by. So much so, that I really have to think about everything we’ve been doing. I’m sure I’ll forget some things that I wanted to tell you, but here goes. News from the homestead.

Before

It’s easier to remember what happened today first. We started off by taking Pearl to the vet for a haircut. For the past few years, I have been giving her a haircut with scissors, and we were looking into some clippers when we discovered that the vet’s wife gives a ‘country cut’, or that’s what she likes to call it. So this morning Pearl was transformed. And all that hair only weighed two pounds! She will be much cooler with our hot, humid summer weather coming.

After

 

The next exciting thing that happened today is that Penny, her two boys, and Buttons moved to Faith’s house. Faith has long wanted to have goats, so today was a dream come true for her. She asked me when they were leaving if I was crying. She knows I have cried before when some of my adult does have left, but not this time. I was excited and happy for Faith. Besides that, we went over and visited them already this afternoon. Faith and her husband have a great place set up in their barn for the goats, as well as lots and lots of pasture/wooded area for them to graze once they get acclimated. That made this a very neat day.

 

Penny and boys
Buttons

At their new home

The garden is really starting to grow well, and to my eyes gets more beautiful every day. I ran our Mantis tiller around the squash hills and here and there to knock down the weeds before this latest round of rainy weather hit. I also managed to replant the okra and some of the cow peas, cucumbers, carrots, spinach and beets that didn’t make it. The green beans that I replanted last week are doing great. It’s a new variety that we haven’t tried before. I’ll let you know if we like them.

 

The new section of the garden didn’t grow anything. I’m not sure if the seeds were old or got washed out by the heavy rain we had a few weeks ago. So far the only thing I have replanted there was more pinto beans along the trellis. The rest will have to wait for drier days again.

We have started eating turnip greens and salad fixings from the garden regularly. Tomorrow I am going to try my hand at freezing turnip greens like you do spinach. I have the directions in Stocking Up, and thought I would give it a try. We don’t expect the actual turnips to make since hot weather is coming, but are very happy to be able to enjoy the greens for now.

 

We moved the water tanks away from the barn so Frank could brush hog there. Our plan is to put down some heavy plastic, build a base with treated lumber, fill it with sand, allow that to settle in, put guttering on the barn, place the three 1550 gallon tanks on the pads, and run the guttering into the tanks. This will give us water for the animals, as well as the ‘animal feed’ garden we are going to plant in this pasture if it ever dries up enough to really work on the ground.

We’ve continued to make wheels of cheddar about two days a week and are up to 12 wheels aging in the frig, with 4 more drying on the cabinet. We will make two more wheels tomorrow and wax at least two of those that are drying. 

We have been saving eggs for the incubator which Frank will fire up tomorrow. This will give us some meat, but the concentration on this first batch will be replacement hens for our current flock. We have a Buff rooster which we like, and he will add some good qualities like size and demeanor, to our next flock of hens. We will probably hatch two more batches through the summer to resupply our freezer and some jars with meat.

This coming week we have another big event taking place. One week from today, if all goes according to plan, we will be bringing home three piglets, two boars and one gilt. We are beginning a whole new adventure raising American Guinea Hogs. One of the boars will be raised for meat, the other for breeding. We will share our adventures, which we hope will be mostly successful, as we go along. This is something we have never done before. We have fed out a few feeder pigs along the way, but never raised any to breed, so keep your fingers crossed for us. We have chosen this particular breed for very specific reasons, which we will discuss in more detail in another article dedicated specifically to the pigs.

We continue to make and consume sauerkraut almost everyday. The batch we started on April 22nd was removed from the crock yesterday. We used one whole head of cabbage and it made about a quart and a half of kraut. Instead of removing about a third of it and leaving the rest in the crock, this time I removed all of it and started another batch. The new batch consists of about one and two thirds head of cabbage and about two cups of shredded carrots. Since I have started shredding the cabbage there isn’t any issue with having enough natural juices to cover the vegetables in the crock. I continue to add a good amount of juice from the previous batch to boost the fermentation process. We have really begun to enjoy the kraut and are very glad we have been learning this process.

 

Each time we walk out the door, if the wind is not blowing too much, we are greeted with the wonderful aroma of honeysuckle. It is blooming in profusion.

There are also lots of wild privet blooming here and yon around the house and along the fence rows. It is more subtle than the honeysuckle, but smells wonderful all by itself.

The wild blackberries are growing by the bazillion. I really look forward to picking and picking and picking. Last year I did an article about free food for the picking. I wonder if anyone else around is eyeing all of this free food the way I am.

We are picking just enough strawberries to have some each morning with our breakfast. There is just no comparison to frozen and fresh. They are a welcome addition to our daily fare.

Now, it’s time to go feed and milk the goats, gather the eggs, put the chickens to bed, feed the dog and cats, and see if any of the goats laughed at Pearl’s haircut. She does look rather different. Then it’s time to fix supper, finish up this post and wait for the next round of storms to come through. Life is busy and blessed. 

Until next time – Fern

Picking Wormer….From The Yard

As spring has come on, I’ve been thinking more and more about being able to grow natural wormer for our goats. For now, we still administer Fenbendazole (Safeguard) and Cydectin, and since it’s been an exceptionally wet spring, we have prime conditions for a heavy worm infestation. We allow a five day withdrawal period before we keep any milk for human consumption, but we do continue to milk, then feed it to the cats, dog and chickens. I didn’t want to experiment with all natural wormers only to have the goats become ill from worms, so this year we’re doing both.

The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Juliette di Bairacli Levy is an amazing source of information if you want to learn how to treat most farm animal ailments naturally. I have spent much time reading and re-reading about many different herbs and plants, especially pertaining to worms. I would highly recommend this book if you are interested in herbal remedies for farm animals. As I read through this book, I began making lists of plants that are good for goats. 

This little notebook contains the beginnings of my research, with ideas for several categories including: plants for feed, plants for overall health, plants for worms and plants to increase milk production.

 

Now as I head out in the morning to do the chores, not only do I take a bucket to pick slugs and weeds from the garden for the chickens, I take a bucket for some goat pickings as well. The amount and variety of things I pick has grown since I took this picture, but it gives you an idea. Here is a tour of my morning wanderings as I pick for the goats.

 

I usually start off with comfrey, with anywhere from three to five leaves per goat each day. I am having to limit how much I pick for now until the plants are really at full production. Because of that, the chickens don’t get comfrey very often for now. Comfrey is a highly nutritious fodder plant for animals of all kinds.

 
Once the cabbage plants got big enough, I started picking leaves from the Michilli cabbage for the goats. It’s a very good source of sulfur and other vitamins. It turns out cabbage is good for lice, as well. Each time I introduce something new, it may take the goats a day or two to get used to it, cabbage was one of those things, but now they really like it.

I have also started including a few mustard leaves in the last few days, which helps to expel worms. Some of the goats seem to really like them, but some of them don’t. It’s always interesting to see how they will react.

 Next to the mustard is the dandelion patch. I always try to have at least a handful of leaves for each animal. Dandelion leaves are good for overall health as well as expelling worms.

 

I usually alternate between lemon balm and marjoram, which are both good for overall health. I want the plants to continue developing well for our own use, so the goats only get a few sprigs. They probably wouldn’t eat much more than that anyway. It’s part of the browsing nature of a goat.

 
Next comes garlic leaves which are high in sulfur and is an effective worm deterent. The goats won’t eat much, but they will eat some. I have started to include just a little each day. Behind the garlic is a patch of honeysuckle.

I have a couple of healthy chive plants that I have started picking small handfuls from as well. They are also effective against worms.

Honeysuckle

On Saturdays, I also pick a big handful of honeysuckle along with around four or five wormwood leaves for each goat. These two plants are especially good for expelling worms. One thing I have observed that I find to be very interesting is how the goats choose to consume them, or not. I have found that if I walk out into the barn with a large handful of honeysuckle vines, the does will gather around and heartily begin to strip the leaves from the vines. Until they are finished. Not until the leaves are gone, but until they are finished. My theory is, once a goat has eaten enough of a certain plant, they stop. Too much is not a good thing. And enough for one goat, may not be enough for another. They each stop eating the honeysuckle at their own timing. And the wormwood? Sometimes they will eat it and sometimes they won’t. Last week I wormed One Stripe and Copper with the commercial wormers on a Monday. Saturday when I brought up the honeysuckle and wormwood, neither one of them would eat them, even though they always did on the preceding days I had brought them. As I wondered why, I realized that they didn’t need the plants because I had just recently wormed them. Interesting, huh? Since tomorrow is Saturday, one week later, it will be interesting to see if they will eat these two plants tomorrow.

 

I started this wormwood from seed several years ago in this large wooden barrel. Now that I know it will continue to grow and have started using it, it’s time to move it back into the fringes of the herb bed. Many other plants don’t get along with wormwood too well, so it will be out on the edge of the bed next to the camphor wormwood I planted last year. It really does smell like camphor, and I haven’t quite decided what I would like to make out of it. I don’t use the camphor for the goats, though.

Since I recently read that blackberry leaves are good for goat feed, I stop at this patch of wild berries on the way to the barn and add a good handful of leaves to my bucket. 

Last week when the vet came to disbud our youngest baby goats, we found out they had lice. As far as I know, we have never had a lice problem on our goats before. The vet said our extremely wet spring has created prime conditions for lice. I got out my Herbal Handbook again and looked up lice. It turns out that sulfur is a good natural remedy and you can add a teaspoon of sulfur to the goat feed. Well, that wouldn’t work for the young babies that needed treating, so we put a little Sevin dust on them, and the teenage goats that are being weaned. But I needed a natural remedy for the does I am milking. It turns out garlic and cabbage contain sulfur. I was already feeding the cabbage leaves, so I increased the amount each doe was getting. That’s when I added in the garlic leaves. They ate more of them the first day, but since then, they will only eat a limited amount. But so far, I haven’t seen any lice on the does, so I hope this works.

So what do I do with all of these leaves? I dump my bucket on top of the big round bale of hay by the milk stand and sort everything out. I want to make sure each doe gets a portion of the harvest I have brought. And I only do this for the does I am milking, not the babies or the billy and wethers. As each doe comes to the milk stand, I give them their grain ration, then pile all of the leaves I have brought right on top of it. At first they seemed to be a little irritated with me, but now they just dig around the leaves, eat their grain, then usually have the leaves for desert. It’s rather comical. But if I took all of these leaves out to the feeder and spread them out for the goats to eat, they would just turn up their noses and go graze in the pasture. I’m not sure why they will eat them from the stand, but not from the feeder. It’s like it’s a treat or something.

I am hoping that feeding the goats plants that we have growing here will eventually be enough to keep them healthy and somewhat worm free. I don’t want to experiment to the detriment of their health, but I do want to try to eliminate the commercial wormers. I know there are companies that sell a natural wormer, but if I am going to change over to natural, I would like to see if growing our own plants will work. Only time will tell. It may take a year or more to really see what the outcome will be. I’ll let you know.

For the off season when the plants aren’t growing, I plan to dry the herbs. But, with nature, worms generally aren’t a problem in the winter months since the worms go dormant, some in the ground, some in the goat. There are other techniques for controlling worms, pasture rotation, short or tall grass and others. 

This brings us to another question. If the time comes when we are dependent upon ourselves, and we get worms, will these remedies work on us as well? Many of these plants are a common part of our diet and I have read that wormwood can be used with humans. But that is a whole different research project. Just food, pun intended, for thought.

Until next time – Fern

Garden Tour, End of April

We have had far more rainy, cloudy days this month than sun, and it shows. The garden is getting off to a slow start, but it is growing. I didn’t count the number of sunny days compared to the cloudy ones, but this year, it would have been an interesting statistic. There are still many folks around that are just now trying to get things planted, and it is still very, very wet. The weeds are starting to get a foothold, just like the vegetables, and with the sunny weather we are having this week, everything should take off. Our garden is no longer all dirt, God’s masterpiece has begun again. Here is the tour.

Broccoli

Store bought cabbage

Green cabbage

Michilli cabbage


Cabbage leaf with green lacewing eggs mixed in bran sprinkled on it

And I have to tell you. I think the green lacewings eggs that I sprinkled on all of the garden plants are really making a difference. They are too small to see, but the directions said the evidence would be a decrease in insect damage to the plants, and I think that is the case. We just might have our first ever cabbage crop this year. I am very hopeful. I will do a more in depth article on my beneficial insect experiment later on.

The new Comfrey bed is doing great. I harvest here almost daily.
Cowpeas are trying to make an appearance

Okra does not like cool wet weather and is not very happy….yet

Cushaw squash with nasturtiums

Yellow squash with nasturtiums

The tomatoes got off to a hard start with lots of flea beetle holes. I think the green lacewings have made a difference there, too. But the tomatoes don’t like the cool, wet weather any more than the okra. It’s been in the 40’s the last few nights with highs in the 70’s. Today was the first day of sunshine in about a week.

One of the apple trees has a surprise this year for the first time

We each had a strawberry for breakfast this morning. The first of the year.

More on the way

The new strawberry bed is growing despite all of the slugs I pick here every morning.


We have beets planted in several places that are just starting to grow well.

The carrots are happy.

We’re trying collard greens for the first time.

Cucumbers are just getting started.

Onions are finally putting on some growth.

In just a few days, these turnips have just about doubled in size.

And the Clematis is just beautiful.

It won’t be long before the garden will be in full swing and need much more tending than it does right now. That means we need to get a few more projects completed while we still have a little more time. You know the old saying, “April showers bring May flowers.” Well, with all of the April showers we’ve had, the wild and tame blackberries are blooming in profusion.

And the honeysuckle won’t be far behind. I pick it almost daily for the goats. It’s good for expelling worms.

We watch the garden grow with great anticipation for that first fresh squash, that first pan of turnip greens, that first red, ripe tomato and much, much more. So, tell me, how is your garden doing this year?

Today we drove about 100 miles to the east to visit one of Frank’s family, which took us through rural eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas. We noticed along that way that there weren’t many gardens planted. This is sad. Why aren’t people raising their own food? Sad.

Until next time – Fern
 

Free Food….For the Picking

Through absolutely no effort of our own, in fact, through our neglect, we have been blessed with free food for the picking this year. Along many of our fence rows and into some parts of the yard, we have been blessed with an abundant crop of dewberries and wild blackberries. They’re everywhere, free, for the taking.

The catch? You have to be willing to brave the thorns on the plants, the briers, bugs and possibility of snakes or other critters lurking there about. You have to be willing to sweat, you know, do some work, to enjoy this wonderfully sweet, wholesome bounty.

I invited over three different neighbors to pick dewberries for their families. They really enjoyed this treat. One neighbor brought her small children to pick with her, which I thought was great. Her oldest daughter, a four year old, ate them as fast as she could pick them and left with a purple stained face and a smile.

The next batch of free berries, the blackberries are just now starting to get ripe. I didn’t get any pictures of the dewberries, I just picked them, froze a couple of quarts, and we ate them. Straight off the vine, some chilled with sugar, and at Frank the connoisseur’s advice, some were sprinkled with a little powdered sugar. They were great. Now we look forward to the next batch.

We also have a small patch of tame, thornless berries that are looking very promising. This is another example of a plant that has to be strong and independent to live here because it will have to survive neglect. I didn’t get last year’s canes cut down after they finished producing. This would have allowed the plants’ energies to go into growing the new canes for this year’s crop. Maybe I will get that done this year. But again, in spite of our neglect, we have food, waiting to be picked.

 

Over the years we have heard a couple of comments from folks here and there that have stuck with us. When I think of the free bounty we are blessed with this year, I remember these comments. The first is, “When is the government going to bring me some water?” This was after a natural disaster had occurred. The person speaking had done nothing to prepare for this disaster that had been long predicted and tracked as it moved into the area. This person was just sitting on the porch waiting for ‘them’ to come and bring them everything they needed and wanted. The second person was waiting in line at a post office talking to a friend. Her comment was, “Who is going to feed my kids this summer now that school is out?” She wasn’t being callous toward anyone, she wasn’t being funny, she was being serious. You see, it wasn’t her responsibility to feed her kids, that was a job for ‘them’.

Did we work hard enough to pick all of the free berries here this year? No. There were many that ripened and fell from the vine for nature to consume. Did I feel a little wasteful? Yes. Were there other things in life that took precedence at the time? Yes. That, and some good old relaxation.

This is one of those experiences that makes me ponder. Free for the picking. How many people would jump at the opportunity to work for free food and how many would sit on the porch and wait for it to be brought to the table, prepared and ready to eat? How did we get to the point where there are such distinct differences in these two groups of people? One group braves the thorns to reach the prize, one groups waits for their ‘share’ to be redistributed from the efforts of others, and presented before them. What will happen when they have to wait and wait and wait and wait, and nothing or nobody ever shows up? We have seen cases where there are those that don’t wait very long at all. They tend to go out in mass and take whatever they want.

How long before this scenario of working and waiting is no longer sustainable? How long before the system implodes? How long before we return to, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”? It gets closer everyday. Pick this day what you will do and how you will live. Don’t let others pick for you, or you may be left waiting, and waiting, and waiting………

Until next time – Fern