After a morning eating too many sweets at The Dane County Farmers Market, my son and I checked the cattle and foraged for Pigweed and Golden Oyster Mushrooms. Isabel combined with onions and cooked them up and served them with a new product for us, Beef Bacon. Delicious!
Welcome! New and Returning, Dane County Farmer’s Market Customers!
We haven’t had any luck trapping a honeybee swarm and I think I know the obvious reason why: there haven’t been any swarms in the area. In fact, I haven’t seen any honeybees at the farm.
There used to be two beekeepers that kept hives within a mile of our farm, but I think they’ve quit and no one has taken their place. So no honeybees.
It doesn’t bother me too much, as I was worried about the effect that hives of European Honeybees can potentially have on the native pollinators. So I’ll probably take my swarm trap down at the end of this month and try again next year, possibly at a friend’s farm.
The good news is we have tons of native pollinators. I often see several young bumblebees on the same plant along with sweat bees and other wasps, beetles, flies, etc.
Below is a photo I took of a sweat bee, I think. And above is a nice wild patch of Monarda, or Bee Balm, thriving in our pasture next to a creek.
Yes, I hate butterflies. I used to think I liked butterflies. In fact, like many of you, I read about the plight of the pollinators, and I took action, creating beneficial habitat.
I also educated myself, reading many books by The Xerces Society, a group which works for the benefit of invertebrates.
And now, perhaps because of creating better habitat, but more likely because of educating myself, I’m seeing butterflies everywhere.
I thought that would make me happy. But working in the fields, mowing hay, raking hay, baling hay, my mood darkened. It took me awhile to check in with myself and figure out why.
I’m working hard in the summer sun, sweat pooling in my butt crack, and butterflies are aimlessly flitting, floating, and fluttering.
They lack discipline. They lack direction. Do you have any idea how long I had to wait by this Milkweed to get a good photo?
Occasionally, I’ll catch two of them having sex, mid-flight. Its not enough that they can fly and I can’t. They add insult to my injury by fornicating, joining the meter high club.
Sidenote: As I write this, a bee is in a death struggle with a spider outside my window. The bee is losing and I’m glad, as I don’t like bees either.
Bees however, I respect. They work hard for a living. Flying straight to flowers, doing their thing, then flying directly back to their hive. No aimless meandering for bees.
Butterflies practice casual sex, then lay their eggs and completely forget about their offspring. They do absolutely zero when it comes to raising their offspring.
The eggs hatch and the caterpillars spend their adolescence eating and pooping. They live on their food. How charmed of a life is that?
And then, as a reward for all this gluttony, they form a chrysalis, take the mother of all teenage naps, and wake up as a butterfly. It this fair, God?
I reserve my worst vitriol for the Monarch Butterfly. The Monarch Butterfly winters in Mexico. Yes, you read that right. The Monarch winters in Mexico.
For the longest time, scientists couldn’t figure out where the Monarch goes in winter. Hint: Check out a sleepy little Mexican village in the mountains, with just the right climate to spend the winter.
It’s not enough for the Monarch to enjoy the heat and humidity of a midwestern summer, they also get to enjoy their winters, while I’m stuck here on this farm, paying the bills, feeding the stock, and chopping wood to stay warm.
Butterflies are the ultimate hedonists. Is it any wonder they’re struggling?
I lost my mind for a couple of months this past spring. I purchased and planted, weeds. As with many insanities, mine started with the premise of a good cause.
I’ll admit to being a sucker for good copy, and the marketing department at Prairie Moon Nursery has got to be one of the best. They don’t even call their spring catalog a catalog:
“Native Gardner’s Companion. Presented by Prairie Moon Nursery. Seeds and Plants of Authentic North American Wildflowers for Restoration and Gardening.”
There isn’t even the word catalog anywhere on the cover. They aren’t in business to sell me something. They want to partner with me to restore North America.
I had an open area in my permaculture windbreak which could use something, but I didn’t want large trees or bushes. So, in the interest of restoring North America, I purchased the “Butterfly and Hummingbird Kit for Moist Soils” from Prairie Moon. Below is a photo taken June 20th, a couple of weeks after planting and mulching.
This next photo was taken August 10th. It was fun to see results so quickly. The flowers are already attracting many native pollinators.
“Attracting Native Pollinators” is a book published by the Xerces Society. The Xerces Society works for invertebrate conservation. I read their book and I studied the Prairie Moon Nursery catalog and website, as well as the Prairie Nursery catalog and website.
As a consequence of all this learning, I now see flowers. It amazes me every time I learn something new and my vision changes. We see with our brains, not our eyes.
So I couldn’t help but notice this huge colony of pink flowers along Highway 23 between Darlington and Mineral Point. It’s Joe Pye weed, a great flower for native pollinators. The top photo in this post gives you a closer view.
And I realized how crazy it is for me to plant wildflowers thinking I’m helping the native pollinators. If I really wanted to help the pollinators, I would start a movement to stop cutting and spraying herbicide along the roadsides. There are acres and acres of excellent habitat alongside every road.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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”.