Fighting Big Ag and Globo-Feed-Corp, Part I: plant Catalpa trees

One of my kids needed to grow something from seed for a science assignment, and she could earn extra credit if she planted a tree.  My husband’s second-favorite tree is the Catalpa; we had one growing behind our old house, but we don’t have any growing here on our 10 acres, so I suggested to her that we buy some Catalpa seeds. I was able to purchase a packet of 25 Catalpa seeds from TreeSeeds.com for just one dollar.

Catalpa speciosa (northern catalpa)

She planted them in peat pots that can go right in the ground when the weather is warm; germination has been over 80%!

Catalpa (or Catawba) trees are fast-growing and easy to grow from seed, but the Catalpa tree does not produce fruit or seeds that people or animals can eat, so how would it be fighting Big Ag to plant catalpa trees? Here is how:

First, honey bees will forage on the nectar from Catalpa tree leaves:

In his most recent post at Hawaiian Libertarian, Keoni writes about the smarmy marketing ploys of General Mills and other Big Ag/Big “Feed” companies, noting that:

“…genetically modifying crop plants to withstand inundation with pesticides and weed killing herbicides IS the primary purpose for GMO in the first place… and pesticide-herbicide laden GM corn is the primary source for most Feed ingredients in the processed food industry.

..,Much of the product portfolio of (General Mills) relies on the GM crops that require massive use of pesticides and herbicides that are undoubtedly playing a major role in killing off bee colonies nationwide.”

Planting Catalpas helps bees, but you can also fight Big Ag by eschewing their sugary breakfast cereals, replacing them with eggs, which leads me to the second important use for Catalpas.,,

Catalpa trees have historically become infested with Catalpa worms, which are really the Sphinx moth caterpillar, which ONLY eat Catalpa leaves but do not kill the trees:

Recent reports indicate a precipitous decline in Catalpa worm populations. Pesticides are one suspected cause of this decline.

Catalpa worms have always been prized as one of the best kinds of fishing bait. You can sell them to fisherman or use them yourself!

But not only that: chickens love Catalpa worms! And you can freeze them so that you’ll have Catalpa worms even after their season is done for the year. I am constantly trying to come up with alternative sources of feed for my chickens in order to reduce my need to purchase bags of feed. Though they can’t live on Catalpa worms alone, it’s still one more source of protein that I can harvest from my own land, which our free-ranging hens will turn into eggs with superior nutritional value.

I am fortunate to live near Dexter Mill, a small local feed mill that blends their own feed from locally-produced non-GMO ingredients. However, many people don’t and must rely upon Purina chicken feed.  And friends, Purina is now owned by Nestlé, and Nestlé has a global partnership with General Mills to use the Nestlé brand to market GM breakfast cereals in countries where people don’t tend to eat cereal for breakfast.  And so we are right back where we began, aren’t we.

There is literally no way to escape Big Ag/Big Food’s poisonous tentacles unless you produce every step of the chain right on your own land.  And who among us can do that?

But anyone can grow a Catalpa tree and feed the honey bees.  Anyone can use Catalpa worms to catch a fish or (if you keep poultry) supplement their chickens’ diet.

And everyone can do something to resist the Global Goliaths.

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Pilgrim Gosling Hatch-a-Long

Pilgrim geese, as I’ve mentioned before, are “sex-linked”,  which means right from hatching you can tell the males from the females based on color. Here you can see Uncle Waldo and Abigail as newly hatched goslings:

Abigail is dark gray: Uncle Waldo is lighter grey with more yellow in his fuzz.

Here is Abigail today, standing next to a Rouen duck:

She has made a good-sized nest out of straw in the duck-n-goose house:

The ducks have been sneaking into her nest to drop some of their eggs.  But ducks seem to be a lot less picky than chickens; whereas the chickens will only lay in their nesting boxes, the ducks have been dropping their eggs any old place.

We have 4 duck breeds: our light weights are Indian Runners, our medium weights are Buffs and Crested Whites, and our heavy-weights are Rouens.  You can see how much bigger Abigail’s eggs are than the ducks’:

By way of comparison, here you can see an extra large chicken egg, one of the medium weight duck eggs, and the Pilgrim goose egg:

Because we are having a cold snap with temperatures well below freezing right now, Phil has been collecting Abigail’s eggs every day and storing them in a wire basket in the basement where it is about  60°F.   If they are kept cool but not cold, out of direct sunlight, and turned over every day, the eggs will stay viable for several weeks.

We had been thinking that next week when temperatures come back up, we would return Abigail’s eggs to her nest. But now I have decided to incubate four of them all the way through hatching and let Abigail lay a new clutch of eggs to sit on.   From what I have read, Pilgrim geese are not the most skilled at hatching their own eggs

One of my co-workers had a couple of egg incubators she wasn’t planning to use anymore, so she gave them to me.  The model I am using is a Lyon Turn-X by GQF:

This model allows me to control the temperature and humidity and has an automatic turner that rolls the eggs 180 degrees every hour so I don’t have to remember to turn them myself.

In 7 days we will candle the eggs, and if this clown…

…has been doing his job, we SHOULD see this:

The dark spot is the developing embryo. Image from Backyard Chickens goose forum

If NOT, then we’ll see this:

Check back in seven days to learn how the Uncle Waldo saga ends!

Forum threads of interest: http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/658057/picture-journey-of-my-goose-egg-incubation-awesome-all-pics-in-first-post-easy-to-see

http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/472851/dewlap-exhibition-toulouse-incubation-diary-with-pics-hatch-day

Dealing with an injured goose bill

We like to let the geese free range around the fruit trees because they eat bugs and graze on weeds, but our gander, Uncle Waldo, just loves to eat the bark off our orchard saplings.   Since this kills the trees, we put some chicken wire around the saplings. This turned out to be a mistake which we have since rectified; however, we didn’t fix it before Uncle Waldo stuffed his big bill through the chickenwire in an attempt to get at that tempting bark, freaked out when he got stuck, and yanked his head up and back:

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Geese’s bills are actually rather soft and the chickenwire sliced right to the bone:

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Off to Dexter Animal Clinic we went, with Uncle Waldo in a dog crate honking dejectedly for his mate, Abigail, who was running about the yard in a tizzy, calling for Waldo, while the quacking ducks ran along behind her.

Protip: a wire dog crate is NOT the ideal way to transport a goose, as they spray poo out of their vent like a fire hose when they are scared.  Luckily we had put a plastic tarp around him.

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We weren’t sure if the vets would be familiar with treating geese, but Dr. Anna, a charming young British veterinarian, put us at ease right away with the knowledgeable way she handled Uncle Waldo.  This clearly wasn’t her first goose rodeo.

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She had Phil hold him in a towel to prevent poo spraying:

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And then proceeded to clean his bill thoroughly with a cotton ball and iodine, soothing our worried nerves by distracting us with commentary about the kind of “gayce” they have in England:

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She used a cotton swab to clean inside the sliced portion of his beak while chatting with him softly in her charming English accent, “Alright then, old man, here we go…”

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She showed us that the slice had gone down to the bone but wasn’t as bad as other damaged bills she’s seen.  She trimmed away the dead tissue with a little scalpel and then used surgical glue to fix him up:

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Uncle Waldo is about nine weeks old and weights 9.1 pounds:image

An injection of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and pain reliever was next; good old Uncle Waldo was such a trooper!

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Dr. Anna said the bill will not regrow but that granulation tissue will form and fill in pretty well around the injury.  Until then, Uncle Waldo must remain quarantined in the duck yard, which means the whole flock must remain there as they won’t willingly leave Uncle Waldo.

We had hoped to enter Uncle Waldo and Abigail in the Chelsea Community Fair; we thought they were a shoo-in for a ribbon given how rare Pilgrim geese are (the Livestock Conservancy lists them as critically endangered).  Alas, his days as a show goose are over before they began:

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However, he’ll still make excellent breeding stock.  We plan to breed and sell Pilgrim geese so as to do our part in saving the breed from extinction.

Uncle Waldo has a ten-day course of oral antibiotics now.  Dr. Anna explained to us how to crush the pill, dissolve it in warm water, and inject the antibiotic solution down his throat with a syringe; a goose’s windpipe is right at the back of their tongue in the center, so to give an oral medication, you must open their bill and insert the syringe down the side of their mouth a few inches into the esophagus.  I haven’t been able to get any pictures of us doing this yet, but I will try to and will add them when I can.

After we got home and Uncle Waldo had reunited with the frantic Abigail and resumed his place as Head of the Flock, I treated everyone to a big bowl of blueberries and cantaloupe, which I dumped into their little swimming pool for them to enjoy rooting out:

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It was a harrowing day but all in all Uncle Waldo is one lucky gander!

The permaculture principle of “stacking functions” (plus a tree farm recommendation)

This past weekend we cut down a bunch of enormous invasive shrubs on part of our property.  I decided I wanted to plant some sugar maples in their place, with dreams of homemade maple syrup dancing in my head (despite last year’s sad attempt at making syrup after tapping one lonely tree).  I looked on Stark Brothers and on the sites of several other large nurseries I’ve ordered from, and 3-4′ trees run around $18 a piece.  I decided I could afford four of them.

Continue reading

Preparing for Spring: sowing seeds, planning for poultry, and dissuading the dogs.

We’ve had some strange weather here the last few days – it warmed up from below-zero temperatures midweek to the 50s on Friday and Saturday, resulting in a fierce wind that sent dried leaves swirling and dancing through the forest, driving our Shiba Inu Ruby mad with delight as she chased them hither and yon.  Earlier in the week it had snowed and even the snowflakes were worth chasing and snapping out of midair:

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Spring is coming, and we’ll make a second attempt at raising poultry; we shall not be deterred by last year’s failure!   Continue reading

The chance to be human: homesteading while working full time.

Phil and I realized as soon as we moved here last year that whenever we weren’t at work, at church, or at a family function, we would be working hard around here to create the kind of small homestead we envisioned.  Still, I’ve sort of had a hard time conceptualizing exactly what we are doing; we’re sort of feeling our way along as we go.  But total self-sufficiency isn’t likely and we don’t intend to be actual farmers, and we both work full-time (though luckily I have summers off), so what’s the end goal?

Recently in The Christian-Agrarian Work Ethic, Herrick Kimball (The Deliberate Agrarian) quoted Willis D. Nutting‘s essay The Better Life, which is part of a book of essays entitled The Rural Solution: Modern Catholic Voices on Going “Back to the Land”:

“The opportunity for real, soul-satisfying work, so rare in our day, is found abundantly in rural living. Here a man can make long-range plans and can carry them out without exploiting his fellow man; for the things that he uses are things that exist to be used: soil, plants, animals, building materials, etc. he can live a whole life of work without once using another man as a mere means for carrying out his plans. And neither does he become a tool of someone else. With the materials at hand he can employ the splendid coordination of mind and hand to create something of value for his family. He can fulfill his real nature in real work. And this work is much more joyful than any mere recreation. As a matter of fact this work carries with it its own recreation, so that the man who works does not have to worry about how he is going to have his good times. The work itself is a good time even though it be hard […]

Around me live several men who are “homesteaders.” They work in town or in school and live in the country. They spend long hours in the evenings working on their land. Their companions on the job or at school go to the movies or play poker in the evenings, but these men work at home. Their companions spend money; they save it. And when you talk with these men you come to realize that their interest, their real life, is in what they do at home. On the job they carry out someone else’s plans. That is drudgery. But at home they are their own masters. They are exercising their autonomy which is necessary to human dignity. These few hours of autonomy constitute for them their real life. Their rural homes give them their one chance to be human.”

Mr. Kimball explains (highlighting mine):

Willis Nutting’s essay does not imply that everyone should be a farmer, or that one need be a farmer to experience the human fulfillment found in agrarian work. He himself was an educator and, according to his biography, lived an agrarian lifestyle. His essay speaks of men working their industrial-world jobs for the necessary income and then, instead of pursuing industrial-world amusements, recreations or leisure in their spare time, they pursue productive, creative work on their homesteads.

Perfect. Without being able to put it into word, this is what Phil and I have both felt.  We work for money in the outside world, and though we like our respective occupations well enough, our real joy is in the countless hours of hard manual labor we put in around here sinking fence posts, building raised garden beds, weeding, mulching, learning about forestry, felling trees, learning to hunt and fish and then clean and cook what we hunt, refinishing or building things we need or want, building the chicken yard and coop (stay tuned for The Thirys and Their Poultry, Part II next spring, when we will hopefully have better success than last year’s attempt), and on and on.

Will we ever be self-sufficient here?  Doubtful.  We’ll certainly try to raise as much of our own food as possible.  And we’d like to add a word burning stove in addition to the fireplace so we can use some of the dead trees on our land as a source of heating fuel.  But what we’re really doing here, as Mr. Nutting put it so well, is seizing our chance to be human as God made us to be.

If that kind of thing interests you, too, then I can point you in the direction of others who are like me (us), who work in the outside world but then retreat to our homesteads where the the work is hard but deeply satisfying.  Here are just a few:

Feel free to mention other blogs if you know of any similar ones.

Also, I just learned about Steward Culture Magazine, a free online magazine which…

“seeks to promote Bible-based stewardship agriculture. This simply means we advocate for creation-friendly thinking that emphasizes the fact that we don’t own the Earth or even some small piece of it. Creation is simply a gift given to humans who are commanded to be its stewards as God’s representatives.”)

Autumn doings

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With temperatures around 40 at night and barely 60 during the day, you can definitely tell it’s autumn around here.

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View from the driveway

Which is fine with me because autumn is my favorite season.

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We’re even having our first fire of the year in the fireplace this evening.  The puppies, who are nearly six months old, were intrigued.
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Awhile back I was discussing the various edible wild plants I had found growing on our property, and I was wishing for a sassafras tree; they were so common when I was a child but I hardly ever see them now.  Well,  I never could find one around here until a few days ago when Philip and I were cutting back some scrub that was growing into the turn-around half way down our driveway.  After cutting back a huge, thorny shrub, I found this:

image I recognized the distinctive sassafras leaves immediately.  I was thrilled!  There will be hot sassafras tea this winter after all.  Philip marked it with some blue tape so that it wouldn’t get cut down by accident.  I want to give it plenty of room to spread under those big oaks behind it.

We’ve been very, very busy working around here after both of us putting in long hours at work.  First: I’ve been tree-planting.  I wait all year for the trees and fruit bushes to go on sale at Lowe’s and such places; they are always clearanced out at the end of September, usually at least 50% off, and I always spend several hundred dollars on new trees.

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I’m filling in any bare spots in our woods that I can find.  The reason I’m trying to have our property as natural and tree-covered as possible (except for the big garden and a small front lawn for the children to play on) is because it encourages wild animals to live here.  I like knowing there are deer, rabbits, squirrel, wild turkeys, and other birds living just outside my door.  Hunting season will simply involve walking down the driveway a bit to the hunting blind we now have set up.  For an interesting post about tree-planting to encourage wildlife, see It Only Took 20 Years by Mr. Pioneer Preppy.

This year I had green beans, yellow beans, and sugar snap peas growing up old pallets I’d set up haphazardly in the garden, but what I really wanted was a bean-and-pea teepee.  My husband salvaged some old skis from his mother’s garage, bolted them together at the top, and made this:

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Next year I’ll string twine around this, leaving one side open, and plant my beans and peas around it.  The kids can then have it as an edible hideout.

He also salvaged some tires because I wanted them for turning into potato towers:

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What you do is stack up two tires, fill it with dirt and compost, and plant your seed potatoes.  As the plants grow, you add tires one at a time, filling in with dirt and compost.  The finished product looks like this:

Harvesting potatoes out of the tires is much easier than digging them out of ice-cold dirt in late fall, which is what I spent many hours doing as a resentful teenager. 🙂

I’m also beginning to lay out my logs for the hugelkultur beds I’ve discussed:

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I have GOT to find time to harvest and set herbs to drying.  I cannot believe this is only one year’s growth on these herbs.  They really, really liked the location I used for my new herb bed. Here you can see cilantro, lemongrass, sage, some basil still hanging on, some rosemary, and a few raspberry plants:

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Remember all the weird zucchini recipes I canned this summer?  Well, I finally cut down the vines, except I missed one, and the zucchini are STILL growing on it!  Look at the size of this one next to my foot:

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I’m just going to chuck these into one of the composters.  Some nice red hot peppers are ready to pick and dry:

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And I’m still getting good watermelons, believe it or not.  We picked and ate one just a couple of days ago, but it just doesn’t taste quite right to eat watermelon in the fall.  I’ll probably compost the rest of these, too, or bring them in to work and put them in the staff lounge for anyone who wants them.

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I ran out of time for canning, but I’ve been picking, baking, mashing, and freezing butternut squash every chance I get.  We love butternut squash, so I want to preserve as much of it as possible.

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Do you ever have something that you swear you didn’t plant sprout up in your garden?  I don’t even know exactly what this is…some kind of pumpkin or gourd thing.  I have no memory of planting this:

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I’ll probably pick it and set it out on the front porch with some pumpkins and straw bales for a fall decoration.

The blueberry bushes should be thriving along the edge of the pond, but they’re only doing so-so – I’m not sure why:

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There is so much work to do and never enough time to do it around here.  This past Friday was homecoming, but instead of getting to go to the parade and football game, I was home sick in bed, no doubt the result of trying to burn the candle at both ends.  I’m still kind of low energy even today and had to drag myself out of bed to drive to church by promising myself a trip to the Dexter Cider Mill afterward:

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Crates full of apples waiting to be run through the cider press.

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The place was packed with people waiting for the cider and doughnuts, both of which are made on site.

Behind the mill is an area where you can sit at picnic tables and look down at the Huron River while you drink your cider and eat your doughnuts:

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One of our daughters climbed down the steep bank to drink her apple cider slushy by the side of the river:

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Hope you’re enjoying this Autumn wherever you are!