On a Learning Spree, Part 2: Foraging

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This cute and friendly llama has nothing to do with foraging, other than I met him at the baby shower for my grape-foraging friends Jenecia and Burt! Burt reports he HAS made some wine.

I’ve talked about this before, but I’m still really thrilled with the idea of eating things found right here on the ranch. It started when Sean Wall spoke at the Master Naturalist meeting a while back. I was gobsmacked to know that some of the plants that I saw every day were not only edible, but delicious.

I immediately devoured his book (get it, devoured? edible natives?) and ran around tasting things.

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Passion vine is another vine with deliciousness associated with it. I am watching the passion fruit across the road very carefully so I can harvest some. Mmm.

Thanks to what I learned from Monique Reed on our plant identification expedition, I ended up eating a lot of smilax shoots this year. I was a bit irrationally happy that the irritating prickly vine I used to dislike so much was actually delicious.

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On a Learning Spree, Part 1: Crafts

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Just imagine me spending hours combing through these 60s through 80s magazines, searching for fun projects to update for today’s sensibilities!

I’ve noticed something new about myself in the past few months. Coinciding with a general good mood and attitude towards life has been a giant uptick in curiosity. If there’s something I don’t know much about, I dive in and learn as much about it as possible (you might have noticed that in my long-ass articles on dog coat genetics). I read every book I can get ahold of, and if I can, I take a class.

I thank the Master Naturalist program for jump-starting me back to being my old curious self. My brain is so happy, though probably the people around me are growing tired of me spouting off about something I just learned. They’ll really get sick of me after the conference coming up in October!

Over the next few days, I’ll share what I’ve been thinking about lately, along with some resources.

So, What about Needlework and Crafts?

This is NOT a new interest for me, as anyone whose looked at my rather dormant Ravelry profile would notice. I have been stitching something or other pretty much since I could read a set of instructions. I even still have my second embroidery (my first was a sampler that seems to be lost). For years I concentrated on knitting, my favorite. I knitted a lot of garments, and then in the 2000s I got into teaching knitting classes, which was fun while it lasted. I had a pretty popular knitting blog and still have a lot of online knitting friends.

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Fun with Fowl

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I’m the queen of the chickens, says this Ameraucana hen!

I’ve recently been put in charge of chicken feeding on the weekends, so I’m spending more time than I used to around our flock. They are a very happy bunch, and I got a request for more information on them, so I thought I’d share some of their antics and such.

History of the flock

When I first came to the ranch, our Wild Type neighbors had just a few chickens, who lived in an interesting coop made by Ralph the neighbor. The coop is next to the old cabin, so the residents of the cabin “get” to listen to chickens all day.

Later, the neighbors bought a dozen chicks and raised them. I can’t remember what breed they were, but I think they all produced brown eggs. But, disaster stuck.  All the chickens but a couple disappeared one day! We still don’t know if it was some bad animal or bad people.

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Front and center is Buckbeak, the senior rooster of the bunch.

After a while, we got a dozen Brown Sex Links from Ideal Poultry, which is actually a local Cameron, Texas business. These chickens have a weird name, but are pretty, lay brown eggs, and are friendly. The hens are dark red and the roostes are white, which you can see on Buckbeak, above. They also bought some black meat. Originally they had planned to share them with a friend, but we ended up with all of them. So, we had a lot of chickens.

It turned out that the “all female” chickens turned out to have a lot of roosters in them, so we kept all the hens. The black ones laid fine eggs, just not as strong as the red ones. All the future roosters other than Buckbeak became dinner. Our chicken keepers at the time, Cathy and Kayla, liked to name the chickens, so we inherited some names!

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Why, Yes, It IS Hot

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The weather app says it’s hot.

After a period of vaguely okay weather, with some rainy days and nice things like that, it is now extra-July here in the middle of Texas.

Combine that heat with all that Saharan dust, and people are staying indoors in droves. In fact, if I had a Gratitude Journal, my only entry this week would say, “Air Conditioning!” I’ve been dealing with most annoying asthma symptoms all week.

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Be careful out there.

Mandi was trying to paint the inside of the house she’s remodeling this week, but it doesn’t have air conditioning yet. She now has heat exhaustion.

I’m being careful and plan to feed horses and chickens at sunset, and will probably drive over there rather than walk.

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Sour Grapes, Not All Bad

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I’m holding up the big bucket so Burt can concentrate on picking grapes.

After learning all about foraging from Sean Wall in our Master Naturalist training, I’ve been pretty excited to see what we can find around the Hermits’ Rest that we can eat or turn into something useful.

I know I could have done a lot more with all those dewberries besides make cobbler. I just need to be brave enough to try canning. Maybe next year!

The midsummer bounty that magically appears every year are mustang grapes, which are native to the area and a great food source for animals. We have two trees that are completely covered in grape vines, plus a lot across the road from the gate.

In fact, I thought the grape vines were dying, they looked so black last week. Nope, it was all grapes.

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The blackness is all grapes.

Now, I knew my Master Naturalist friend Burt likes to make wine, mead, applejack, and other tasty beverages. And I’d been looking for a reason to invite him and his wife, Jenecia (and their daughter to be), over to see the ranch. So, I announced that I have all the free mustang grapes a vintner could want, for free. (A couple of other folks had lots, too; it’s a great year for the mustang grape.)

They said they’d come by over the weekend, and so they did.

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Urban Hawk Update

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One of two angry birds that was encouraging this young hawk to go away (note its shadow on the building). Fuzzy iPhone picture!

A while back, I shared photos of a big hawk nest on the building next to my Austin work, and later I found another nest in a large oak tree in front of the building.

I thought you might like to see how those babies are doing. I guess at least one clutch of them hasn’t completely fledged yet, since I keep seeing small hawks flying around the building.

The resident birds are not happy, especially the mockingbirds, who, as we know, are busy raising their babes right now. There were actually two birds going after this poor youth.

I’ve seen at least two others flying around in the past week. I’m pretty sure these are the ones from the big tree, and the ones from the building have long since flown off to establish their own territories. (I do see birds by the nest still, but apparently they usually have just one clutch a year).

Nature sure helps when there’s chaos around you. I’m really glad to have birds and trees and random animals to enjoy wherever I am. We even have some wrens and tufted titmice coming to our bird bath at the Bobcat Lair house in Austin (I will try to get some photos). Remember, when times are tough, breathe, and notice what’s around you. It helps to see the big picture.

Tomorrow I’ll write about picking wild grapes. Adventures in foraging!

Hey, It’s Dusty Out There

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Scary pale sunrise in Cameron this morning.

There has been a series of African dust storms coming over our area during the last few weeks. Right now, we’re in the middle of another one. They flow across the Atlantic, then up the Gulf of Mexico and into the middle of the US.

The good news is the dust makes mornings sort of cloudy and it stays cool just a little longer. The bad news is that if you are like me, and your lungs aren’t your strongest feature, you really should stay inside. Well, I did NOT stay inside all weekend, as you could tell from the photos of saddled up horses and such. I also spent a lot of time doing outdoor activities that I’ll cover in another post, and I sat on the porch a lot.

That has led me to unpleasant asthma symptoms, which I don’t get very often. It’s annoying. I don’t have bad asthma, but it will show up if I vacuum a lot or hang out where there’s a lot of sawdust in the air.

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It’s the middle of the day and it’s not cloudy. But the sky outside the office building is some wan bluish gray color rather than blue.

Seeing warnings about the dust danger really makes you think that these Saharan dust storms are pretty bad things. They send people fleeing indoors! They make our cars all dusty! The sky is sad!

But, I found the silver lining in the cloud of dust: supposedly the will significantly lower the chance of a big ole hurricane hitting the Houston area! Well, that’s not bad at all. I like rain, but I don’t like people I know getting flooded over and over again.

The dust is supposed to hang around for another month, so I guess I’ll just keep coughing if I go outdoors a lot. At least it usually isn’t this dusty when the storms come, which is actually every year!