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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Red-winged Blackbird Habitat

June 27, 2013

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Red-winged Blackbird nest in a Curly Dock, (Rumex crispus), plant.

I noticed almost all of the Red-winged Blackbird nests are built in the stems of Curly Dock.  They need strong stems to anchor their nest, usually using three stems.

Red-winged Blackbirds are my second-favorite bird with the Barnswallow being my favorite.  Ironically, these are the two birds who terrorized me in my youth.  Both viciously dive at those they feel are intruding into their territory.  The Barnswallow attacks the barn cats as they cross the yard.  The Blackbird will even attack Red-tailed Hawks and other raptors.

I’m a believer in and witness to Extra Sensory Perception.  Not ESP as typically thought of as a human reading someone’s mind, but just anything which hasn’t been proven, but can witnessed.  There is so much we don’t understand.

As I said, these birds tormented me until the day I decided to not be afraid anymore.  Once I decided they really couldn’t hurt me, they mostly left me alone.  I believe somehow they sensed my fear and the absence of it.  Maybe they notice body language.  Do any of you have stories about these birds?

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Milkweed, Doe, Fawn

June 13, 2013

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Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca.  This is the unidentified plant from my last post.  It looks quite different denuded of its leaves.

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This doe was nursing her fawn close enough to the road that I could snap a distant photo.  The fawn is just ahead of her.  When I stepped out of my truck, the doe ran, but the fawn dropped and froze.  So I walked carefully and took this photo a couple of paces away.  One more step and the fawn knew she was no longer invisible and jumped up and ran like a deer.

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I’m Still Foraging

May 31, 2013

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I’ve known plenty of doctors and lawyers who want to be farmers.  I’m the only farmer I know who wants to be a hunter-gatherer.

I’m still foraging, but haven’t written about it lately because I haven’t added any new plants to my diet.  It’s intimidating and takes time to learn and harvest and try a new plant.  Sam Thayer says learning four of five new ones a year is a manageable goal.

The plants above took only fifteen minutes to harvest and prepare.  The greens on the left will be eaten in a salad.  The stems on the right will be diced and cooked with hamburger.

For the thrill of guessing, no prizes this time, what are the plants pictured above and the main one pictured below?  These wild edibles usually grow so profusely, they make our gardens look like a wasteland.

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Canadian Thistle: Noxious Weed, Rhizome Example

July 7, 2011

Canadian Thistle (Cirsium avense)

Canadian Thistle is classified as a noxious weed in Wisconsin.  I love the way “noxious weed”  sounds.  I thought weeds that are the baddest of the bad are listed as noxious.  I found out it’s actually bad weeds, which are economically feasible to control.  I’m shocked.  It’s like the government having a most-wanted list with only relatively easy-to-catch criminals.

I can tell you why Canadian Thistle is a noxious weed on our farm.  Two words: Perennial and Rhizome.  Perennial means it comes up year after year in the same area.  Most thistles are biennial and relatively easy to control.  Don’t let the second year growth go to seed, and cut out the first year’s growth which is a rosette growing close to the ground, and you’ve got it licked.  A good herbicide applied around the first of June may kill two years worth of thistles, also.

A Rhizome is a root that travels laterally underground and sends up new shoots every so often.  This is a powerful weapon in a plant’s arsenal.  Kentucky Bluegrass is another example of a plant which uses rhizomes to expand.

The picture below is a powerful example of rhizomes.  The Canadian Thistle growing along my machine shed found a crack in the concrete and pushed up a new plant inside the shed.

It’s a continual struggle to carve out a little space of our own.  Without us here, nature would overwhelm this place.  It reminds me of a poem I had to memorize in High School English.

Ozymandius

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.


Giant Foxtail, Hogs in the Mist

August 20, 2010

Giant Foxtail, (Setaria faberi).

Giant Foxtail is an invasive weed from Asia that we have entirely too much of on our farm.  It prefers high ph soils that have been compacted.  Our soil, mere feet above a limestone base, is consistently neutral to alkaline.  This picture was taken where the cows compacted the soil, last march.

I had some hogs in what I thought was a secure pasture.  I was encouraged, because they were nibbling on the foxtail, as well as the other grasses and forbs.  If hogs would eat it, maybe I could tolerate it.

Unfortunately, one morning I found a gate popped off its hinges and some of the pigs gone.  I locked up the other pigs and set off into the woods looking for them.  This is what I found.

I felt like Dian Fossey, the first time she observed gorillas in the wild.  Hogs like hoop buildings and alfalfa/grass pastures, but they love the woods.

But alas, the fence surrounding this woods is not hog-secure, and I’m not going to be known as the farmer who introduced wild hogs to Lafayette County, so I herded them back to their pen.

Wild hogs are nothing but trouble.  A guy released some in Crawford County, Wisconsin and they survived the Wisconsin winter and have become a real problem.

But I like the idea of fattening hogs on apples and acorns.  Joel Salatin does it. Why can’t I?


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