Permaculture Guild

November 25, 2013


A permaculture guild  is a strategic design of organisms benefitting the whole.  Like all the best concepts of permaculture, this mimics the way nature designs.

The photo above shows an abandoned fenceline along Oak Grove Lane.  I started thinking about this fenceline when I noticed the Nannyberry bush, which is in the left of the photo with yellow, red, and green leaves.

It’s a little bit humbling, but I realized if I’m successful with my edible windbreak planting, in fifteen years it will look like this abandoned fenceline. It’s also reassuring to know I’m mimicking nature, which uses space so wisely.

The amount of solar energy turned into food and fodder for everything from microorganisms to birds to humans is amazing.  Just in this photo there is the Nannyberry bush, growing under a Chokecherry tree, which has Wild Grapes hanging from its limbs.  Grasses and forbs cover the ground.  The rest of the life in this area would take a lifetime to catalog.


November 9, 2013


2013 is a good year!  I discovered a wild edible growing twenty yards from our mailbox.  Starting in September, every time I picked up the mail, I popped a handful of nannyberries in my mouth and slowly chewed, separating the meaty pulp from the seeds.  This can take a couple of minutes if you have a mouthful, then you spit the seeds out.

Nannyberries are substantial.  Some people compare them to raisins.  The closest food I would compare them to is figs.

The photo below shows the fruit as it grows, in a cluster, with the green being unripe, and the black ripe.  If you wait until the fruit starts to wrinkle, it doesn’t taste as good.


It probably seems silly, but I experience real joy when I discover a new, wild edible.  It is so difficult to find a new one on your own.  Until you are able to see it, a thing remains invisible.  I think our mind does more of our seeing than our eyes, if that makes any sense to you.

It amazes me that this bush, which is probably at least fifteen years old and been producing fruit for at least ten years has been invisible to me.  Not only did I not know what it was, I didn’t even see the berries and go, “hey, what kind of berries are these?”  I’ve been yards away from this bush thousands of times.  I don’t think its a stretch to say this bush was ‘invisible’ to me.

I started thinking about nannyberries when I heard Sam Thayer say it is his favorite wild edible on public radio.  I reread the chapter on nannyberries a few times in Sam’s first book, The Forager’s Harvest.  My mind was primed.

And then one day as I picked up the mail, I noticed these clusters of berries.  I guess it would be more accurate to say they jumped out at me, as this is a large specimen as you can see in the bottom photo.  My mind was opened so I could see.

I didn’t go pop a handful in my mouth.  I retrieved my book and returned.  The photos are never exactly like the specimen you’re looking at.  What sold me was Sam’s description of the claw-like bud at the top of the clusters of fruit.

When I saw that, I was 99% sure, but I was still cautious.  I picked a wrinkly one and tasted it.  It wasn’t very good, which made me wonder about Sam’s description.  I picked a less-wrinkly one and it tasted better.

I chewed and swallowed, and that was it for the first day.  I wanted to wait and see if I would get sick later.  I’ve never gotten sick from a wild edible, but when I’m discovering a new one, I’m very cautious.

I didn’t get sick, so I ate more the next day.  Like anyone trying a new food, it took me a few tries to really start to desire it.  I also had to figure out which berries were ready to be eaten.


The scientific name for Nannyberry is Viburnum lentago.  I noticed the genus name, Viburnum, is the same as the Highbush Cranberry, Viburnum trilobumwhich I planted several of this spring in my Permaculture orchard.

When you see a scientific name, the genus comes first and is capitalized, followed by the species which is not capitalized.  If two things share the same genus name, they’re related.  If two things share the same species name it doesn’t mean they’re related taxonomically, but it could mean something else.  For example, Fraxinus americana and Ulmus americana refer to the American ash and American elm tree respectively.  They’re not related, except for the fact that they’re both found in North America.

I was intrigued to find the Nannyberry and Highbush Cranberry are both Viburnums.  I found there are over 150 species within the Viburnum genus.  I can’t wait until my Highbush Cranberry starts to produce fruit and I can enjoy and compare to Nannyberry.

Longhorn Beetle: Brown Prionid

October 29, 2013


In an Inordinate Fondness for Beetles, Arthur V. Evans and C. L. Bellamy write that if you line up all the plant and animal species, every fifth one would be a type of beetle.  I came across this beauty when I moved a down tree.

I knew I was probably looking at a beetle and started to research which one I had found.  I quickly figured out I was looking at a beetle from the Long-horned beetle family, (Cerambycidae), but I couldn’t narrow it down from there.

A friend who was visiting the farm mentioned his Dad was an entomologist and I was able to send him my photos and he identified the beetle as a Brown Prionid,  Orthosoma brunneum.  As my experience indicates, Brown Prionid feeds and lays its eggs in decaying wood.


2013 Wild Plum Yield

September 27, 2013


2013 is the year of the Wild Plum, (Prunus americana)!  Yields were prolific, bending branches with the weight of the juicy orbs.  I ate my fill, yet the pulp of fallen plums squished underfoot.

I wonder why it was such a good year.  I know the weather at flowering in the spring is a large factor.  It must have been perfect this year.  The wild apples were the best ever as well.

What other factors affect yield?  I read that drought reduces yield for plum trees.  Last year we had a severe drought until August.  This year our drought started in July, following over-abundant rains.

My theory is the plum trees suffered early last summer, but were then recharged with the late summer 2012 and early summer 2013 rain, resulting in huge yields.  I’ll have to wait and see if next year’s yield is affected by this year’s drought.


Parasitic Bird Egg

July 10, 2013


One of these eggs is not like the others.  I’ve been watching this Red-winged Blackbird nest and a cowbird did what Cowbirds do and laid an egg in it, leaving the care of her young to another.  This is known as brood parasitism.

Coincidentally, a day after finding the cowbird egg, I heard a program on NPR’s Radiolab about the Kirtland’s Warbler.  Habitat disappearing and the Cowbird were thought to lead to the decline and almost extinction of the Kirtland’s Warbler.  So they started trapping and killing Cowbirds, and burning the Jack Pine forests to help new growth which is what Kirtland’s Warblers nest in.  The efforts were deemed successful when the population grew, but the costs were questionable as a deadly forest fire took the life of a young man.  They talk to the man’s family on the show.

I learned about Iatrogenesis from Nassim Taleb’s book, Fooled by Randomness.  It’s when someone causes harm while trying to help.  And now I believe myself to be in that category, because, just as I feared, a predator ate all four eggs.

I mowed around the nest attempting to spare it, only to mark it for predators.  Another person would have mowed it up, allowing the mother to begin immediately building a new nest and laying more eggs.  I, with my good intentions, cost the blackbird a week of prime nesting time and a cowbird one young.

Which brings me around to why I think it’s not worth preserving the Kirtland’s Warbler, besides the cost of a human life.  We can’t begin to understand all the effects of our tampering.  According to Radiolab, Michigan is using over 100 people and spending over a million dollars to maintain a habitat for the Kirtland’s Warbler.  And it’s working as numbers rise, but what effect is it having on everything else?  Like it or not, we are a part of nature.

Red-winged Blackbird Eggs

July 3, 2013

Red-winged Blackbird Eggs

I noticed a Red-winged Blackbird fly off her nest when I was mowing hay July 1st.  Most of the nests have been empty, but this must be their second brood because I’ve seen a lot of fledgling birds hopping and test-flying with their short wings.  I mowed around the nest but am not sure I did it any favors because it now sticks out to predators.  I’ll keep checking to see how it makes out.


Red-winged Blackbird Habitat

June 27, 2013


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?


Milkweed, Doe, Fawn

June 13, 2013


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


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.


Camouflaged Calf

August 20, 2012

The cows have started calving.  I have a difficult time finding the calves because their mothers hide them.

There is a two-day old calf in the center of the photo above.  Below you can see a close-up of the calf.

The calves are coming out in shades of black even though their moms are red, because their daddy was a neighbor’s Black Angus which jumped the fence and hung out with the cows.  The calf below looks like a chocolate Lab.

New Splitting Maul

August 1, 2012

I started cutting wood in July.  I woke up one cool morning after the heat broke, and went out in the woods and started cutting.  This might be the year I have all my wood cut before the snow flies.

I only cut dead trees which are down.  If you don’t cut and split the wood, it will start to rot.  Rotting isn’t terrible, as many critters make a living out of decaying trees, but I figure it’s also a good way to heat my house.  If I cut into a tree and its started to rot, I leave it for the critters.

I bought a new splitting maul, pictured.  I don’t know why I scrimped with my old one for so long.  This one works like a dream.  It’s an eight pound maul made by Task.