The connection between a shepherd and her sheep
Pokeweed flowers bloom on racemes that curl up while flowering and droop down when heavy with fruit, making it the perfect roost for birds to perch and eat. Several years ago I had a Pokeweed plant appear outside my office window. Many times I would think I must go dig that up or cut it down, it's out of place! As each day past that I didn't deal with it the "weed" got bigger and bigger, reaching a whopping 6-7 feet tall. Then, to my amazement, I realized the birds were feasting on the berries, one berry at a time. If you've ever seen a Pokeweed you know there are many berries to be consumed, that equals loads of entertainment! I saw all kinds of songbirds and thrashers. What really sealed the deal for me, an Indigo Bunting appeared and returned every day! It was then I realized mother nature had a message for me...these "weeds" as we refer to them, serve a purpose...yes
They pop up in the most unexpected places and ruin "order" but order does not apply in nature and we just need to readjust our lenses!
Pokeweed certainly has alot to offer but it is also true there is need to exercise caution around this plant, especially with children.
I am certainly not an expert on this plant and my take away might differ from others. What we do know is we should all be aware what we're dealing with. I totally related to one article I found on the internet, The Weed, The Myth, The Legend. The author goes over the plant in toto, offering the facts and the legends so that we approach the plant with the knowledge necessary to enjoy it, safely.
My husband, in his youth ate the leaves (Pokeweed Salad) but knew that those leaves must be picked at a very immature stage and cooked several times, otherwise he knew he could be very sick. While researching Poke Salad I found a wonderful recipe/article in Saveur mag that made reference to the song, Poke Salad Annie and many famous recollections of the "weed" .
"Though mostly obscure to the mainstream, poke sallet, which is sometimes referenced as "polk salad" or "poke salet," has occasionally dipped its toe into the pop culture pool. Most notably, in the lyrics of "Polk Salad Annie," by Tony Joe White, released in 1968: "Everyday for supper time / she'd go down by the truck patch / And pick her a mess of polk salad / and carry it home in a tow sack." The song about a rural Southern girl and her family peaked at Number 8 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1969, and was later remade by Elvis in 1970, and put into regular rotation at his live shows. Country legend Dolly Parton even mentioned in her memoir that she would use crushed poke berries for lipstick as an adolescent, since her parents forbade her from wearing makeup."
As a child I remember going to my grandparents home and my forever attraction to a yew tree (or bush...it looked like a TREE to a small girl) . I don't recall whether it was the fragrance or the way they POPPED but I did enjoy them...yet I had heard, ..."DON'T EAT THE BERRIES". Somehow I recall every time I approached that bush, I heard the voice of an elder...
I love that I learned more as I shared this topic with you!
I hope that you enjoy all the history, lore and environmental benefits this plant has to offer. These are probably not "landscape" plants but they sure have alot of benefit in their natural settings.
A garden offers so many wonders. Whether growing a patio tomato or the whole produce department, you know the feeling.... sitting down to eat the bounty from your plot of earth, big or small. There is nothing like biting into something that you nurtured day after day to it's maturity. Sharing the gardens riches with friends is another of the garden perks. Pickles, preserves or baked goods made from what I've grown and nurtured are a true gift of love... to give and receive.
One vegetable that I adore growing is the good old cucumber. That good old cucumber gives us pickles, dill or sweet, whole or sliced and relish. How about soups; gazpacho and chilled cucumber with yogurt, YUM! How about some raita served with grilled unleavened bread? I could eat that duo for every meal! As kids I remember eating marinated cucumber and mayo sandwiches! Last but not least, how about that ever popular, never a southern summer table without, bowl of sliced cucumbers with a bit of dill, a pinch of sugar and vinegar?
Because there are so many things a person can make with cucumbers, size doesn't really matter BUT if pickling is your intent, it can be tricky harvesting cucumbers. Since the very best pickles are made from cuc's right off the vine you want to be able to pick enough of the same size all at one time. Unless you have quite a few cucumber plants it's not likely you'll find the quantity needed in one picking. When a few cucumbers are ready to be picked the others are still coming. That is why I love this DILL Pickle recipe from a previous blog post...all you need is enough cucumbers to fill one quart jar at a time.
Alas, you invariably end up with some cucumbers that sit on the vine too long. And, as those of you who've grown them before know, there is always that one hidden cuc you discover that has been growing for goodness knows how long. Yikes! A great option for those cucumbers is my Cinnamon Pickles from a previous post
This ongoing struggle with my cucumber harvest has probably been the source of my love of them today. I do not like to waste anything so no matter the size or shape; I had to create! I'm loving a pantry full of edibles for my table, gifts of love for family and friends and what better then a homemade gift for a host/hostess.... straight from your kitchen!
Today, I'm talking relish!
This was my first attempt and I can't say enough about the ease and results. One thing that did jump out at me was the color of the results...why wasn't my relish green? I now know they add blue dye to relish, EEK...no need, just change your expectation...it is so worth the small effort.
I adapted this recipe from Genius Kitchen
Tangy Pickle Relish
makes 6-7 1/2 pint jars
- 3 lbs cucumbers , peeled and seeds removed
- 2 -3 sweet onions
- 1⁄4 cup pickling salt
- 3 cups white vinegar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons dill seeds
- 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoons celery seeds
- 1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric
- red pepper flakes to taste
- Finely chop cucumbers and onions. I use a food processor and do smaller batches to be sure not too fine. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt, stir well. Let stand for 1 hour.
- Drain mixture in a colander, rinse under cold water and drain again, pressing out any excess moisture.
- In a large pot, bring vinegar, sugar, garlic, dill seed, mustard seed, celery seed, and pepper flakes to a boil.
- Add cucumber mixture, bring to a boil again, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat, add the turmeric and mix well.
- Pour into sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Seal with lids and rings. Process in boiling water bath in canner for 10 minutes.
It is with a heavy heart I say good bye to my beloved Ares. Of all the happenings on a farm, dealing with death and loss is the most difficult. It happens often in a farmers world. We are careful to watch over the sheep, chickens, and llamas but sometimes you just don't know what might happen. Often it's a predator but sometimes they just go down with some unusual affliction. Very often, it's sometime before your vet can get there and you have to do the best you can. From the raccoon eating chickens, the snake stealing eggs and eating chicks, the buzzards coming in on your lambs or the parasites that take the weakest sheep...each death is sad.
Some just hurt worse then others.
This boy got me.
Scrolling about on social media today I came across a fantastic video of Rebecca Burgess speaking at a conference in California. For those not familiar with Ms. Burgess, she has emerged as a pioneer in the soil to skin movement. A few years back Rebecca vowed to spend one year wearing only garments sourced within 150 miles of her doorstep. Her journey is a wonderful story but also a wake up call for all of us. She realized one day she was "talking the talk", not "walking the walk".
As I listened and pondered her story I realized I could easily say the same in my life.
In some instances we can play the naive card. I hadn't really thought about fossil fuels in my clothing and furnishings. Here I am though, farming and promoting all natural, humanely raised, sustainably produced wool products and I'm not "walking the walk in all areas of my environment. Once we have the information though, we need to make the changes in our lives. I now know. For the sake of our own integrity but also for our good of others.
And, let us not forget...
Observing a mother and her new born is a heavenly site. We respond based purely on emotions, whether we've actually "mothered" or not. At the moment you lay your eyes on this site all the world around is a blur and all that matters is the true love that halos around them. It is such a pure connection that under no circumstances one should want to come between them, right?
A lot of the methods used in sheep farming are about "management" of the flock. The larger the number your trying to manage the harder it is to keep "order". Orderliness becomes a goal for efficiency. Efficiency adds to profits. Follow me? This is a slippery slope.
Weaning is one of those "management" tools. According to reference books, lambs should be removed from their mothers at 8-10 weeks old. The reasons are mainly that the needs of the lambs for maximum market potential are different then the mamma's. Growth of the lambs requires richer, higher protein grasses or grains which the mamma's don't need. The only way to accomplish such a task is to separate them. The other argument we found (didn't read it in a reference book) to support weaning is the mothers will give and give until they are basically spent. We find the heat of the summer, coupled with the very selfless nature of mom's takes everything out of them and begins to compromise their own health.
For these reasons one might wean.
Wean:accustom (someone) to managing without something on which they have become dependent or of which they have become excessively fond.
Now that I've given you a bit of knowledge about weaning I'd like to share our journey with this decision.
We began this farm knowing we would make choices about the care of our animals based on our experiences, not just because everyone said so. Many topics of care and handling were researched and we found enough disparaging information that we felt strongly our decision to observe first was a worthy one.
Many of our farming practices were established by observing, educating ourselves, then we'd established our way. Weaning the lambs was one really challenging task. Now 8 years later, after going back and forth, this year, we're not weaning again. The first three years we didn't wean. I wish I could tell you why we decided to wean the 4th year but I'm betting we succumb to the "text" book ways. Most other shepherds around us weaned which made us question our decision even more. Our farm was growing and as often happens after you've immersed yourself in something you loose some of your "curiosity" or better yet, the luxury of time to remember to be curious and ask questions.
So, we spent a few years weaning. It is a very difficult task, not physically challenging, just heartbreaking really. They cry and baa for easily 48 hours. The mothers also. Eventually they all settle in but gosh it never felt right. As often I'm guided on this farm, if it goes against nature my heart cannot find peace with it...this is one of those lessons.
With most industrial farming models, maximum growth of the lambs became the shepherds primary goal in order to get those lambs to market fast and efficiently. Is fast and efficient our ultimate goal. Those that know this farm know our answer to this question is NO. We strongly believe you sacrifice so much in order to achieve those fast/efficient goals. It is this very reason that so many breeds of livestock are in danger of being lost for good...they don't meet these industrial models!
In summary, we've have some of the best looking, healthiest lambs ever, happily growing on mothers milk...there must have been some divine wisdom in that!
As farmers, we've been told over and over, your #1 asset is your soil.
It makes sense, the soil is the foundation of everything on this farm. For us and most sustainable livestock farmers the pastures feed our sheep by daily spring, summer, and fall gnashing and in the winter its fed as hay. That's all pretty straight forward, right.?
Prior to my farming life my familiarity with grass was only my own "city" lawn. The lawn that framed my house and defined my space....the lawn I had to mow. Almost every week-end in the summer I knew I'd be rolling out the self propelled grass eating machine to "manicure" my lawn. Just like everyone else in the neighborhood I kept my 9 to 5 schedule during the week knowing yard work, long moments with coffee and the religious newspaper experiences were all part of my upcoming, predictable, always looked forward to week-end. I don't recall ever worrying about the grass other then it's color or the number of dandelions that emerged. I probably could have done more to beautify my lawn but that wasn't my thing. I was all about my garden beds and the pots that adorned my entrance or patio. As long as my grass was "groomed" I didn't do much else to my lawn. My next door neighbor, now he was into it. Every evening after work he was ready to work some more... in his yard. His week-ends were spent fertilizing or amending something. He had the lawn! You know, the kind you imagine running barefoot through. Everyone knows the lawn I'm describing, like a green carpet with perfectly shaped edges.
I drove in and out of that neighborhood with all the perfectly manicured and aspiring to be lawns and never thought twice...it was all I'd ever known.
if I knew then what I know now.
As a farmer working directly with mother nature I see so much I never realized.
She speaks in so many visible ways.
Naturally, as grasses grow then die back with the seasons, the soil is replenished with decomposing nutrients and a layer of "mulch" for protection. If we mow the grass or take the grass for our livestock or "manicured" lawns we've robbed the soil of it's natural sources for replenishment .
Simply put, "taking" the grass
impacts the soil's fertility. Whether we mow a lawn or graze a pasture we are interrupting the natural process.
Because we depend on the grasses on our farm we learned very quickly the choices we had available to keep that grass healthy and growing! If we we're going to take her natural source of nutrient we had to give something back.
Our choices? Natural or Synthetic. The nutrients in both types of fertilizer are much the same. The differences lie in their source, quantity, availability to plants and long term effects on the micro life of the soil.
Natural fertilizers sources come from plants, animal waste and natural minerals. They also provide micro nutrients such as boron, copper, iron and manganese. Synthetic fertilizers contain nutrients made from fossil fuels.
See this beautiful pasture? Just as green and lush as you can imagine. It's kept that way at a tremendous expense. Every year the farmer applies synthetic fertilizers and every year it looks like this. What could be wrong with this? Just like my "city" neighbor applying all those synthetic fertilizers on his lawn, the results are gorgeous and we're conditioned to want them that way.
So golly, why not?
The synthetic fertilizers are like steroids, they feed the plant but interrupt the symbiotic relationship between the plant and the soil. The plant can no longer depend on the soil to feed it.
Eventually, the grass, without another application of those same synthetic fertilizers won't even green. The natural flora of the soil is gone. Believe me, I've seen it, even on this same pasture not far from our farm.
Our other option and the only sustainable solution... we rebuild and/or replenish the soil with natural sources of nutrients.
Why isn't the natural solution the most chosen method?
First, we've been conditioned (brainwashed) to dependency on the commercially available options. Second, it takes an investment of time and effort.
It takes years of applying natural sources of nutrients back to your soil for the perfect balance to be achieved. It takes testing your soil to know what's absent. It takes sourcing the nutrients or in our case creating them from sources here on the farm. We collect the leaves and gather our kitchen scraps. We trek our barn waste to our collection areas along with all the other valuable waste materials and layer them together to age. In this way we build our own dark rich compost that we refer to as gold. We apply that "gold" to our pastures and our soil has what it needs to do what mother nature intended...GROW GOOD STUFF!
So, it takes first admitting the need to do it for the health of our soils and ourselves and second the commitment to the investment of time and labor.
Are we willing to make that investment?
Can we afford not to?
Come out to our farm and see first hand how my immediate boss,
, whispers in my ear, pokes me in the arm and sometimes slaps me upside the head...
As I write this post I feel proud that we've taken the time and ever prouder of that dark, rich, healthy soil we give back to our soils........