Stinging Nettle

May 27, 2014

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You know how you like adventure, but there is always discomfort in any adventure?  Stinging Nettle, (Urtica dioica), represents that for me.

When I was maybe six or seven, it occurred to my classmate and I that it would be possible for us to walk across the fields, as the crow flies, and explore.  If our Moms drove us, it was about four or five miles, but if we walked , each of us would only have to walk about a half mile to meet in the middle.

We did just that, and I can still remember the ideas we had about the caves which must be under the creek, and how we could dig to find them.  Exploring at six years old  is such a rush.  I’m sure our Moms could probably see us, but it felt like we were at the ends of the earth.

At some point we walked through a nice stand of Stinging Nettle, wearing shorts.  And then we started itching.  Which just makes it worse.  I’m not kidding you, these memories are vivid, even though I’ve probably never told this story to anyone.

Another Stinging Nettle story I remember is with my college friend, Konrad.  After graduating from college, my friend Doug and I drove down to Florida, all the way to the Keys, and I bought a surf board in Miami.  It was a short board, and I should have purchased a long board, as long boards make it easier to catch marginal waves.  I think Wisconsin would have to be the definition of marginal waves, right?

So I felt stupid when I brought the board home, but we started a sport based on a magazine article Doug read.  We called it “Streaming.”  What you do is tie a rope to a bridge where the river current is strong.  We modified the current with some logs we found to make it faster.

You grab the rope, and if the current is strong enough, and your balance is true, you stand, and you are stationary surfing!  So of course we had to share this with all our friends.  Did I mention you had to walk about a mile on the edge of a cornfield, where the weeds were over your head?  That’s just part of the fun!

My college friend Konrad came over for a visit.  I told him he may want to wear jeans, as the Stinging Nettle was bad, but he said it was never a problem for him.  Why am I such an asshole that I didn’t insist on him wearing jeans?  Of course he walked through the Stinging Nettle, and of course he itched.  I can still picture his face as he stood in the cold river water and splashed it up over his legs.  He was actually moaning.

So Stinging Nettle and I have a history.  The final chapter I guess is finding out it was edible, summoning up the courage to put it in my mouth, cooked, and enjoying it.  And then finding a woman who will cook it for me!

 


Wild Edible: Curly Dock

April 28, 2014

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Curly Dock, (Rumex crispus), is very common on our farm.  I found it was edible in Sam Thayer’s second book, “Nature’s Garden.”  I was excited to try it, because its been a long winter and this plant starts growing even earlier than Stinging Nettle.

Sam recommended cooking it, and I concur, or possibly using it raw as part of a salad.  It’s a little too bitter for me to make it my entire salad.  I eat eggs nearly every morning and it’s a welcome addition, as pictured below.

Besides wild berries, I’ve only been learning and eating wild edibles for the past eight years, inspired by Sam’s first book.  Something I’ve learned is that even though I’m an adventurous eater, I need to try something a few times to get a taste for it.  By the next year when the plant is ready for harvest, my taste buds, or brain, or something, is primed, and I’m looking forward to enjoying it for many meals.

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Election Ink or Berries?

July 21, 2013

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This is my thumb after picking and eating three different berries:  Black raspberry or Rubus occidentalis, Gooseberry or Ribes hirtellum, and Mulberry or Morus (unsure which species).  We managed to get ahead of our mouths enough to bring Mulberries home where they found their way into corn mufffins, pictured below.

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Madison Primal/Paleo Meetup

July 14, 2013

Madison Primal/Paleo Meetup

The Madison Primal/Paleo Meetup group toured our farm Sunday morning.  It’s always fun meeting new people who are engaged and interested in what we do.  Most were from the Madison area, but a few were from as far away as Michigan and Iowa.

I showed them a bred gilt who I predicted would farrow within a week.  She farrowed much sooner than that.  By 5 pm she had twelve nice piglets.  I wish the meetup could have seen it.

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Cultivating Shitake Mushrooms

April 15, 2013

Mushroom Spawn

I studied Permaculture this past winter.  Reading fellow Wisconsinite Mark Shepard’s new book, Restoration Agriculture, inspired me to read all the books I could find in the Southwest Wisconsin Library system on Permaculture.

The pioneering books by Mollison and Holmgren are great, but the best book by far is Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture.  This Austrian farmer inspired me to try and cultivate mushrooms.  So I purchased a bag filled with mycelium plug spawn from Field and Forest Products. 

Drill a hole, hammer the plug in, then seal with wax.  Repeat every few inches until the entire log is covered.  Place in a shady place and keep moist.

If all goes well, the mycelium will spend the next year colonizing the rotting log.  The following year it will produce the fruiting bodies we call mushrooms.

I don’t know if this will work or if I’ll even like Shitake mushrooms, which is the variety I’m growing.  It looked like too much fun not to try, though.  Click on the bottom photo to enlarge and see better the tools of this project.

Mushroom Tools


Apples in Rented Pasture

August 16, 2012

I was fortunate to rent a pasture this year, close to my farm.  I had a vet preg-check my sixteen fall-calving cows this spring, then vaccinated and fly tagged the twelve which were bred, and put them in the pasture May 1st.

They have done really well, even in the drought, because  I under-stocked the pasture.  I wanted some experience grazing the pasture before I put too many animals in and then had to feed hay or destock.

Now they’re enjoying the wild apples which grow in the woods and in the open.  The cows have a route they walk everyday, checking for down fruit.

The tree above is strange.  Half of it has no apples, the other half is loaded with apples.

I usually eat a few every time I check the cows.  Each tree’s apples taste different, but they’re all good in their own way.


Crinkly-Ear Sow Farrowed/Restaurant Visit

June 28, 2012

The sow I wrote about earlier, (let’s call her Crinkly-Ear), farrowed.  She picked out a shady spot under an oak tree, far away from the rest of the herd.  She had twelve beautiful piglets.

When a piglet is born, it is covered in a thin membrane.  It takes a few minutes to dry and rub off.  A healthy piglet shakes off the stress of birth rapidly, and is up and struggling with its siblings for a teat.

The chef and crew at Dayton Street Grille came for a visit.  I love when a restaurant comes for a visit.  It shows they aren’t just using the “local” angle for marketing, but really care about the food they’re serving.

I took them for a hayrack ride and showed them the cattle grazing and Crinkly-Ear’s litter.  They’re holding some day-old piglets in the photo.  I drove the tractor and Shepherd provided the color commentary.

Then they got the bonus tour because a sow was farrowing up near the barnyard.  They got to see me reach in and pull out a piglet that was coming backwards.  One guy even touched the slimy newborn.  Thank you Dayton Street Grille.


Planting Buckwheat

June 21, 2012

The barley/rape pig pasture, disced and planted with Buckwheat.  I planted on June 19th.  I planted it at a rate of about sixty pounds per acre.  A fifty pound bag cost me 55 dollars.

While researching alternative crops due to a crop failure this spring, (I ended up replanting corn), I came across Buckwheat.  I learned enough about it to make me want to try some.  I called my local seed supplier and they could get me a fifty lb. bag.  I wasn’t sure when or where I would use it, but I wanted to have it on hand in case I had an opportunity.  When I saw how well the cattle and hogs ate the barley/rape field, leaving very little crop residue, I decided this was my opportunity, and with perfect timing.  It’s recommended to plant Buckwheat after June 15th in Wisconsin.

I’m not sure exactly how I’ll use Buckwheat.  I’ll probably end up grazing it with the cattle and hogs.  Some of the things which intrigued me were its nutritional profile.  It’s very high in Lysine, which is the most limiting amino acid in a corn/soy diet for swine.

It also produces a very dark, strong flavored honey when bees use it as their primary nectar source.  One acre of Buckwheat can be used by bees to produce 150 lbs. of honey according to the source I found.  I would like to try some Buckwheat honey.  Maybe I can get my beekeeper friends to place a hive close.

According to Wikipedia, Buckwheat is not a grain, and can be eaten by people with gluten intolerance.  I wonder what Buckwheat pancakes taste like?


Reaping What We Sow

July 20, 2011

Potato and Green Beans from the garden.  Corned beef from one of our cows.  Photo by Melissa.

Melissa completed her family-farm internship, found a job, and moved out.  We are going to miss her.


Meat and Greens

June 1, 2011

“Smell this and tell me if it’s good,” Citygirlfriend said, holding an old bag of hamburger.

When I met Citygirlfriend, she didn’t really eat or touch meat.  On our first date, I served her a single hamburger, with Goosefoot Greens, (Chenopodium album), on the side.

I guess she figured, ‘When in Rome,’ because she tried to eat it.  She’s been game ever since, and usually cooks meat or eggs for every meal.  I love it.

Melissa is a vegetarian, which is ok.  What I’m really enthused about is how she’s taken to foraging for wild food.  She has developed a recipe with Stinging Nettle leaves and Quinoa.  Quinoa is a member of the Chenopodium genus, and a relative of  Goosefoot Greens.

Hamburger and Chenopodium, who would a thunk it?


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