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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
One of the things we do here at the Hermits’ Rest (and our “sister” ranches, the Wild Hermits and Wild Type ranches) is hang out with our equine friends. My neighbor, Sara, has had horses most of her life, and is a great rider. I always wanted a horse, but didn’t get the chance to own one until Sara gave me Apache, my Quarter Horse/Arabian cross, since she needed a more spirited horse to ride. I was in my late 50s, but my childhood dream came true!
We’ve been to clinics together, but recently we have just been riding around the ranch whenever Sara is in town on the weekends. We work on new skills and explore the area. I’ve been working with Apache “at liberty” in the round pen, and we’re making great progress trying new things on trail rides, too.
Sara’s horse has a lot more training, so she works on opening gates, cantering, and doing complex maneuvers at liberty.
We each have the “right” horse for our skills and inclinations. I just love riding around the ranch with a friendly and kind horse, so Apache is great for me.
Nope, this isn’t about the shrooms Michael Pollan talks about in his incredibly excellent new book How to Change Your Mind (read it now!). Today I’m talking about the most common poisonous mushroom in the US, the green-spored parasol mushroom Chlorophyllum molybdites. They are coming up all over the ranch right now, so I decided to learn more about them.
We have these every year around this time, which means there are some happy underground fungi networks (mycelia) here. This year, a lot of them fruited this week. Interestingly, it’s right after a nearby lightning strike (in which our gate got knocked out and I got tingles running through my body). I was interested to read this in the Wikipedia article on mushrooms:
It has been suggested the electrical stimulus of a lightning bolt striking mycelia in logs accelerates the production of mushrooms.
I’ll be paying attention the next time we get a lot of mushrooms mushrooming up, and see if it follows a storm. By the way, in this same storm, a limb was knocked off a nearby tree.
So, what about it?
I had trouble identifying this, because I really don’t know much about mushrooms. But a kind person in iNaturalist set me straight, which led me to read all about the green-spored parasol. It turns out it is very common, and loves to pop up on suburban lawns.
It won’t kill you, but it sure will make you sick. One of its many other common names is the “vomiter” mushroom. “The nature of the poisoning is predominantly gastrointestinal,” dryly notes the Wikipedia article on this one.
Hmm, Brody the cattle dog sure has had the runs the past day or two. I think perhaps we’ll remove all those lovely mushrooms in their prime playing area.
As you can see, these things can get big! Of course, they are often even bigger underground:
Though mushroom fruiting bodies are short-lived, the underlying mycelium can itself be long-lived and massive. A colony of Armillaria solidipes (formerly known as Armillaria ostoyae) in Malheur National Forest in the United States is estimated to be 2,400 years old, possibly older, and spans an estimated 2,200 acres (8.9 km2). Most of the fungus is underground and in decaying wood or dying tree roots in the form of white mycelia combined with black shoelace-like rhizomorphs that bridge colonized separated woody substrates.
I still have more to learn about this simple, but not-very-tasy fungus. I’ve never seen the green spores, so I’ll be looking for them.
I do know that if I get hungry, the similar-looking parasol mushroom would be a better choice. It’s cap looks more like there is snakeskin on it. Who am I kidding? I’m not going to eat a wild mushroom. I can do without gastric distress. As a great Huffington Post article on the “vomiter” points out:
Whatever you do, don’t eat that big white mushroom in your yard, just because it looks good.
Yesterday, I shared some information on Carlton the puppy’s “weird eyes.” Today I’d like to document some of the things I learned about how he got to be “the world’s whitest dog.” (And, FYI he weighs 31 pounds now, which makes me think he will probably end up the size of his companions Brody and Harvey, though perhaps less bulky.)
I think that he has a whammo combination of THREE genes that make him pale. I learned a lot, thanks to a great collection of information on dog color genetics by Jess Chappell for a lot of this, along with the doggie eye problem reading I did from the veterinary opthalmomogist’s textbook (see references).
Carlton is not an albino
Nope, he is not an albino. Albinism is not found often in dogs like it is in bunnies, rats, and humans. There are a LOT of genes that can make a dog white, though. I won’t go into detail (you can read it in the links below), but I’ll share some ideas.
Is he a double merle?
At least two veterinarians who have examined Carlton have posited that his coloring is due to being a double merle. What’s that, you ask?
First, merle is a beautiful pattern that occurs in a number of dog breeds (I list some at the end of this article). The base color of the coat is beautifully dappled, and people like it a lot. It will show up if just one parent has the gene (it’s dominant).