Friday, August 30, 2013

Cooling it on the Bogs; Day One

The heat is back on here in Wisconsin.  Yes, I know those of you who live in the south are rolling your eyes right now and you have the right to.  Heat is part of your world and our little 90 degree days would be a cool relief.  But for those of us who work through minus 30 degree days in the winter, plus 90 is getting a bit much. 

It is days like this that I appreciate the cool of the bog.  Deep in the forest, past the swamp, past the tall standing white pine, past the fresh running creek lies a dark world of strange things.  Here the ground swells and moves under your feet.  If you step down here it raises up over there.  And if you step wrong...well, let's just say that every now and again a lost hunter is found 30 or 40 years after they disappeared, frozen solid deep in the cold quicksand like ground of the watery bog.  Here there are plants that lie in wait for unsuspecting animals to fall into them where they slowly digest and become part of the meal.  Some plants even entice unsuspecting beasts with a honey like nectar, only to be snared and eaten.

It is a world many of the animals skirt.  Not many whitetail deer, with their sharp hooves dare to step on the fragile ground for fear of falling through to the icy waters below.

See, a bog here in Wisconsin was once an ancient lake that because it was so cold it did not allow things that fell into it to rot.  Leaves and pine needles, sticks and pinecones, many things fell into the icy water and did not rot.  Slowly, over many years, maybe even decades or centuries these things fell into the water and piled up on top of each other, none of them rotting.  Each layer weighed down on the year's debris before,  pressing it into an almost cake-like mass, ever growing until finally the layer was thick enough for tiny plants to grow on.  Now, because those things aren't rotting there isn't a whole lot of nutrients in a bog, but many plants adapt to this, some in very strange ways.  As these plants died they too built up the bog mat until it was thick enough to support trees.  Some trees, like tamaracks do well on the cold acidic bog mat. 

After awhile you can not tell the difference between the old lake bed and the hard ground that surrounds it.   Except for the coldness that radiates from it.  Because that icy water now has a thick bog mat on top of it, it is insulated, never getting to see the sun.  Often, even during the hottest year, there is ice in the water beneath the bog mat.  When I was poor I had a hole cut into the mat that I sunk  box into and used that as my freezer.  This is why it is so dangerous.  If you step wrong and break through the mat, you drop down into that icy water, so cold it sucks the air right out of your lungs.  In the worst case scenarios the bog mat closes in above you and your body is preserved as part of the mat, maybe to be found 30 or 40 years later, still frozen in almost pristine condition.

So what fool would ever go down onto the bog?  Well, this one.  I was raised around these bogs and learned how to read the ground a long time ago.  This does not mean I travel them without my walking stick.  If I was to go in, the best way to save myself is to hold my walking stick across my body and hang on for dear life.  Of course this means you gotta be ready to move fast if the ground disappears from under your feet.

But why go onto one to begin with?  If even the whitetail deer refuses to go, why would a human think it was a good idea?

Because the bog has some of the best wild edibles and medicinals there are.  Because these plants have to adapt to such a harsh environment, they have developed some one-of-a-kind medicines that are not readily found anywhere else.

The first wild medicinal I gathered today was Usnea or old man's beard, a lichen that like to grow on the pines in the moist air of the bog.  It is hard to believe that something so delicate looking can be as useful as it is.  Old man's beard is one of the top plants I reach for if I need an antibacterial for most anything.  It has been used for thousands of years all over the world for this.  The great thing about old man's beard that I have never found with any other wild medicinal is that seems to only work against bacteria that has over produced.  Basically it seems to bring the bacteria back into balance so it helps the body fight harmful bacteria without stripping the body of  the bacteria that it needs to remain healthy and keep the immune system working.

I like using Usnea dried in a tea, often the extra water a tea gives the body help with the healing process as well.  The nice thing is that if you let it dry and then keep it dry it will last for two or three years before it needs to be replaced.  Though if you dissolve it into 80 proof vodka it will last for five years or more.  As using any antimicrobial it is best used in the smallest dose possible before mocing onto a larger dose.  Twenty five drop of tincture into a glass of water would be a good starter dose for an adult.

Here in Wisconsin our old man's beard grows to a couple inches in length but in the swamps of the deep south it can be measured in feet as it grows in ropes hanging from ancient trees.  There is always something mysterious looking about old man's beard, making a person realize that there are always secrets out there waiting to be discovered...if you dare.

My second plant that I am harvesting for medicine is wintergreen.  Wintergreen is one of my favorite herbs to gather because it is so tiny and yet so potent.  Crushed between the fingers and it gives a smell that seems to clear the nasal passages in a pleasant way.  While I can find wintergreen in other places besides the bogs, it grows in large groups here on the bog.  I can usually gather enough for the year in a matter of minutes, get up from my knees and not be able to see where I picked the leaves.

As I said, wintergreen is a tiny plant, growing not much more than a couple inches tall and more often not even getting to be an inch tall.  Yet it is probably the best tasting natural pain reliever of the north woods. While willow bark can cut through pain well it is a bitter tonic to swallow.  Wintergreen, which does the same thing, has a much more pleasant flavor, especially if you add a dob of honey to the tea.  Wintergreen works with salicylates, the natural form of aspirin.  Yes, if you aspirin allergies wintergreen is probably something you should avoid.

Dried as a tea is how it is mostly used.  The patriots that built the United States drank it when they fought against The East India Trading Company and its control of their lives.  The patriots back then knew to not give their money to evil corporations and from their stand the United States of America was fought for and won.  This little plant was one of the ways they helped get themselves through the hard changes they accepted to build this wonderful country. 

I drink it more often if I have a headache or have a body that is a bit overworked.  I do also make a tincture from it but I use a stronger medium than my normal 80 proof vodka.  Because the leaves are a bit tough a stronger liquor is needed.  Personally if I was to buy my alcohol I would use Everclear to get the full potential of this healing plant.  I also heat it in oil, especially with cayenne peppers and use this as a pain relieving rub to massage right into sore areas.  Add a little bees wax to this and you have a homemade tiger balm that is less greasy than just the oil.

My satchel is already bulging and I have just started working in this dark, cold place.  But this is not a problem for me.  This heat wave is not expected to break until Sunday so I will be back.  This world calls to me on these hot days, reminding me that here in Wisconsin, no matter how blazing hot it gets, winter's icy grip will come soon, not that the water under the bog will notice, it already sparkles with shards of ice that you can just see if the sunlight touches the ground.  A warning of what lies a few feet beneath my shoes.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bouncing Bet and Washing Fleece

Sometimes when running a farm we get done what needs to be done right now and put aside jobs that can least for awhile.  The problem is that when you actually have that free time (which is very rare) you can be overwhelmed by all those jobs you have waiting for you.  Such it is with cleaning the fleeces we took in the spring. 

Sheering is a job for late spring, when it is warm enough that the sheep and llamas won't get too cold once we strip them practically nakid, but before it gets too hot so that they overheat wearing their long winter coats.  When that times comes it is a job that cannot wait, it must be done RIGHT NOW.  The neighbors get together and help with each other's animals so things go pretty quickly.  I, myself, can sheer sheep at a pretty good rate and keep a darn nice fleece.  My llamas are another story.  Those I have a good friend and professional sheerer come out and take care of.  He can sheer them in less than a half hour so the llamas don't get too stressed and neither do I.  In trade I help him when he sheers sheep...lots and lots of sheep.

sheering llamas

But once the sheering is done and the beasts are wandering around the farm feeling the air on their skin for the first time in many months, the fleeces can be bundled up and tucked somewhere until that special, almost non-existent moment of when there is free time.  And it sits, and it sits, and it sits...But at some point, like after canning for 84 hours straight, I decided that I could not look the canner in the eye one more minute.  I looked at those bags of fleece on the shelf and decided now was as good as time as any.

If I was being truly honest here I would have to admit that probably part of the reason I kept finding other jobs to do is because I really don't like the cleaning of the fleece.  At least the first part of the cleaning.  I can pick a fleece forever, turn around and find yet more sheep crap and burrs in it.  I have to admit that I am not thrilled with picking sheep crap.  Actually, it would be waaaayyyy down on the list of things I want to do.  But since I like wool, I have to get it clean so I can work with it.

After I get it all picked over though and make my fingers smell like sheep for at least the next seven days, it is time to do the washing.  Many people are scared to wash wool, and there may be some good reasons behind this.  Wool can be moody, it likes things just so-so.  If it doesn't get its way it throws a temper tantrum and turn into something less than useful (or saleable) called felt.  You can use and sell felt, but not for the same things or price that a good wool yarn does.  Still it's just fiber, supposedly without a brain, so I should be able to out smart it.

 The first thing I find is that wool likes it baths HOT.  The hottest water I can put my hand in.  If I decide I want it in cold water I first have let the fleece cool down before I even think of putting it into water.  Wool does not handle change well. 

The second thing about wool that most people do know is it doesn't like to be messed with.  Once it's wet don't be sloshing it around.  This may mean you have to change the water 3 or 4 or 10 times to get your fleece clean.  It just depends on how clean your pastures were and how many times the sheep peed on itself.  I should say that sheep are not the sharpest tack in the box of the animal world.  Put the fleece in the water, gently submerge it, then let it soak.  You ain't gettin' the scrub board out on this.  Put it into another bucket of clean, same temperature water for a second washing.  Then do this without the soap for as many rinses needed until the water remains clear.

The third and reason for this blog post is using a good detergent.  Some people swear by the 3D or Dawn Dishwashing Detergent.  In fact in hand washed fleeces, Dawn Original is probably the most used detergent there is.

Here's me though.  I don't use Dawn.  I don't want to take all of the grease or lanolin out of my fleece.  That lanolin helps protect the sheep from hard rain and heavy snow.  Often if you see a sheep in the winter it is walking around with a pile of snow on its back.  This is because it isn't being absorbed into its fleece.  The sheep stays nice and warm in its own wool coat the snow stays on the outside.  I don't want to waste that precious oil.

Before you decide to follow in my footsteps though make sure you like a bit of cleaned lanolin in your final product.  Many people don't, and that's fine.  They want that wool so clean it squeaks and are willing to put a rain coat on to keep out the wet once that fleece has become a sweater.  If you are one of those then the rest of this post probably won't be for you.

I clean my fleeces in rain water and a plant called bouncing bet.  Bouncing bet is a common roadside plant that grows over most of the eastern side of the U.S..  It is also common in Europe where it got its common names.  The name bouncing bet comes from the washer-women  who cleaned clothing in the town square.  They would go up and down on their washboards to scrub out the dirt from the cloth and a "Betty" was their nick name.  Another common name of bouncing bet is soapwort.  Wort is an old English word for plant and the soap part should be pretty self explanatory.  Yep, this plant is used for washing, and for me at least it is a pretty darn good detergent.

Bouncing bet blooms in late summer and is often seen in large stands of pale pink to white flowers growing in mass.  Don't confuse it with Dame's Rocket that blooms in the early summer.  That is a member of the mustard family and has its own uses.  Bouncing bet though has opposite, smooth leaves, or leaves that come off the stem directly across for each other.  The stems are also smooth and the plant can grow anywhere from 6 inches tall to 3 feet.  As it blooms from About July to September is another reason that I'm washing the fleece now.  They are easier to find when the flower is in bloom.

Now Bouncing bet is a poisonous plant.  This does not mean that everyone who eats it is going to die.  It just means it isn't good for you.  Your body will react if you take it internally and it won't be pretty.  Think ex lax in brownies and you'll understand.  But used on the outside of you as a detergent and you will find that your hair is softer, your skin smoother, and your wool more protective than by using any man made product out there.

The part of bouncing bet that you use is the root.  Normally you gather roots in the fall after a plant dies back, but bouncing bet root contains saponin, the working component, all year long.  No need to wait to collect it.  Also it doesn't matter if you gather it from a roadside.  This is not a medicine plant that need to be pure.  It is simply a detergent.  And last, soapwort is a non-native species and in some states it is considered to be an invasive.  Leave one little piece of the root in the ground and the plant will come up from that next year.  So it's not one you have to worry about over harvesting and not having next year. 

After you dig up the root and pry it apart from all the other bouncing bet roots around it, most people let it dry and then brush the dirt off.  If you don't want to wait as long as you wash it off in hard water you don't have to worry about it losing too much of its power.  How you activate the saponins is by boiling the root in rain or softened water.  Let this cool, strain out the root, and what you have left is the best detergent for washing fleece that I know of.  As long as you stick with rain water you will have good, soft wool that retains enough of its lanolin to remain pretty waterproof.  It also makes your hair shine and bounce and helps clean your skin off of any residue left by harsher detergents and soaps.

So after putting off the fleece cleaning for most of the summer it is finally finished.  I can look at it and sigh with relief.  But only for a minute.  I still have the last of the corn to turn into relish and the beanstalks are looking full again.  Free time on a farm?  The little we get is more precious than gold.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

For the Birds!

These are two different kind of crow calls-the second one is softer because I'm farther away from it

Debbie, one of my friends from town, came over this morning.  It was a great excuse to stop weeding the gardens (not that I need much of an excuse) and sit with a glass of homemade ginger ale and some butter cookies I made last night because I had a little too much cream and too many eggs in the house.  We sat on the north porch because it's screened in and the bugs are kinda bad today.  We talked about our families, gossiped about her ex's new girlfriend, and basically do what friends do when they haven't seen each other for a bit...we caught up.  Finally she brought up the subject of what brought her out here.

"So, I heard you saw that bear of yours again." she brings up.  See, Debbie is terrified of bears.

"Yeah, I heard and saw her going over the ridge yesterday." That's me answering her.

"You heard her, what was she growling or tearing down trees?" Debbie.

"No, I'm pretty sure she was trying to sneak off before I saw here.  I heard the jays screaming and then the robins yelled at her when she was going down the other side." Me again.

Debbie nodded and tried to act all nonchalant.  "Do you think she'll stick around?"

"Probably, silly bear.  She likes my apples too much to leave.  I tried baiting her to go to Chequamegon (the national forest to the north), but she would rather stick around here.  I think there are too many bears up there and she feels safer down here.  She's up on the bald today, probably eating raspberries."

"How do you do she's there?  She could be just out of sight in the trees."  Debbie was just trying to scare herself now.

"No, listen...The crows are upset to the east, near the bald.  They say she's up there."

Debbie listened for a minute, nodded and seemed to feel better.

Crow Attacking a Bald Eagle

As someone who lives at the edge of the great taiga (the northern forest) I learned a long time ago that my sense of sight is not the most important sense I have.  The forest is dense and I can only see for so far.  If I were to rely on only what I see, it would often only consist of maybe 5 or 10 feet in front of me.  Basically I would probably never leave the prairie.

But the cool thing is that most humans have 5 senses (and many people believe we have even more).  Just because we spend most of our life looking at things does not mean that from time to time we can't touch them, smell them, listen to them or taste them.  And if you live in a dark place like the great northern forest, you had better get working on those other senses or you're going to miss a lot of things that are going on.

One way to do this is to listen to the birds.  Birds are often nature's greatest tattletales.  It is a survival technic for them to warn each other of approaching danger, to ban together to scream at threats, to call to each other that food is available, and to fall silent in ways that let you know as much as when they call.  The cool thing about birds is they have...well...a bird's eye view.  Because they are higher than we terrestrial animals, they can see a great deal more.  They also move fast, when one starts calling, many others come quickly to lend a hand.  Learning what the birds have to say is almost a requirement for living in a part of nature where eyesight can be useless from time to time.

The best birds to learn their calls?  The Corvids...crows, raven, know, the loud mouths of the forest.  Not only do they have the loudest calls, so you can hear them for miles, they also have their own sort of "language".  Researchers who study them in depth claim they actually have names that they give to each other and to things in their lives that are common.  I don't study them THAT closely, but I know they do have a different call for each animal in the forest.  They have a different call for wolves that are just lounging around and wolves that are on the hunt or made a kill.  They have a different call for a wounded deer as apposed to just some deer grazing.  And I know they make a different sound for if I walk out the door with a camera or a gun in my hands.

Gray Jay or Camp Robber

Once a person gets the basics of corvid language down, they can stand on top of a ridge and have a pretty good idea of what is going in the forest, who is there, and where they are.  I am always aware of their calls throughout the day. 

But just because the corvids are probably the birds that will give you the most information, that doesn't mean that any bird within ear shot can't be the gossip of the woods.  All birds have alarm calls, and listening to them can let you know SOMETHING is moving out there.  You may not know what it is, but there's something there.  Often you can have a slight idea by what birds are doing the alarm call.  Ground dwelling birds screeching with no other birds joining in often means a snake or a cat.  Lower bush birds may mean a human, a dog, a bobcat.  Canopy birds usually means hawks or owls. 

So, who cares if an hawk or owl is there?  Well, if you know your hawks and owls you know they have territories.  If you know where they are suppose to be, and suddenly they are somewhere else, well, something may be going back where they normally hang out that drove them away.  Like when the sucker fish are spawning in the river we get lots of bald eagles, which drive out the barred owls.  When the barred owls move up to the drier woods at a certain time of year you know the suckers are probably running. 

Silence during certain times of the year can tell you something too.  If it is nesting season male birds will sign their hearts out to defend their territories and to attract females.  If one or a group of them suddenly fall silent, you know there has to be a reason.  Often the silence moves, meaning some birds fall silent as another bunch begins to sing because the danger has moved on.  About a month ago I knew a bobcat was getting awfully close to my chickens because I listened to this area of silence move through the woods towards the barnyard.  No chicken dinner for you, Mr. Bobcat!

The more in touch you are with the bird world, the more likely you'll know what is happening in yours.  When the berries are ripe, when the fish are spawning, when a human is moving through the woods, and when the bear is up on the bald, probably eating raspberries. 

I tried to edit out the bad parts but these are crows and ravens at a wolf kill site

Monday, August 5, 2013

Pickling Wild Edibles: Milkweed Pods

My sow bear and her cubs are back in the area again.  I saw them crossing the ridgeline this morning as they headed towards the creek.  I knew they'd be back as the plums are starting to ripen and the nut trees are starting to drop their nuts.  She is nothing if not predictable.  I headed out after chores with one of my solar powered electric fences to wrap around the bee pen as further deterrent if she or her cubs get a sweet tooth.  Because I live in bear country I keep my hives inside a covered, chain-link dog pen.  The bees can still fly out through the fence but the bears have a bit more of a problem getting in.  I'm not saying a determined bear couldn't tear their way into the hives, but with the Pyrenees pretty close those hives may just be more trouble than they are worth.  Still it never hurts to add a little more of a persuasion to look elsewhere to satisfy that sweet tooth.  An electric fence doesn't always work on the young bear, they often hit the pen running and without their feet touching the earth, they are not grounded enough to get a shock from the fence.  But then again, the young bear tend not to be strong enough to tear the chain-link fence either.  This is more of a "no trespassing sign" for the bears that ARE strong enough to rip a hole through the pen.

Sow bear's den early this spring
Heading back to the barnyard to get the chores done I had planned to get done before Ms. Bear showed herself , I walked past a stand of common milkweed.  And it looked like the pods were ripe for the picking.  Looks like I'll be putting off chores for just a bit longer as I make a batch of pickled milkweed pods.

Pickled milkweed pods is a food I remember from my childhood.  We were not rich people and when I try to explain how poor we were, some people of the modern era can't quite comprehend it.  We didn't have electricity until I was 15.  My grandmother had the only phone in the area and if had to make or receive a call, we had to go there.  The food we raised on the farm was for selling, and the food we hunted and foraged was what the family ate.  Cucumbers were sold, so my pickles were often the milkweed pods me and my younger brother and sister gathered from the fields.  Mom made them much the way I do today, some garlic from the braids curing in the root cellar and a handful of dill seed from the garden.  Into one of the one or two gallon crocks everything would go, a plate was laid on top of this, and a washed brick was put on the plate to weigh it down and keep everything under the pickling waters.  If we had picked some, a few grape leaves were added to the bottom and top of the crocks to keep everything crisper. 

Mom would scrape the scum off the brine every now and again until what seemed forever to us kids the pickles were ready to eat.  That first wonderful sour burst of flavor against the tongue was wonderful.  It's only now as an adult that I learned how good it was for me too.  Fermented veggies help boost the immune system by keeping the digestive tract healthy.  Most of our immune system starts in our gut.  Healthy gut, healthy body.  And all of that for free from the wilds.  Not a bad wild edible.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Fox Dens, Mink Sign, and Healing Lobelia

 Darn it, but I had to play grown up today.  Some business contacts had to be made and they could only happen today.  This meant that for a good part of this gorgeous day I was stuck waiting by the phone and computer so I could book some stays at the glamping center I run.  The good thing is I met some wonderful people over the phone and am looking forward to meeting them in person.  The bad thing...the wilds have been calling me all day.

There wasn't enough time to get down to the bogs so once again I will have to forgo gathering the wintergreen I so desperately need.  Maybe on Tuesday I can finally make a day of it.  This evening, however, there was enough time to head up to fox knoll.  I've been hearing the young barking at night and know they have moved out of the den and are learning to hunt with their mother now.  I have to go up and see what they have left behind at the den site. 

The fox are just recovering here from their long war with the coyote.  When the coyote moved east it began to decimate both the grey and red fox populations.  The foxes got an unlikely ally though...the gray wolf.  When gray wolves move into an area here in the east, they do not seem to tolerate coyotes in their territory.  The once vocal coyote now slinks silently away from the greater predator, their cousin the wolf.  This gives the fox, which the wolves don't seem to notice, a chance to come out of hiding and their numbers have rebounded considerably.

Moving across the footbridge of Rocky Hollow Creek, I see a pair of crayfish claws scattered on the boards.  It seems madam mink had a lovely meal of shellfish right here where she could keep an eye on the world, yet still dive into the water if trouble reared its head.  Mink are second only to the otter for water loving weasels.

As I suspected, the fox den was abandoned.  The young only stay for as long as needed to keep them safe.  Then they move on to rendezvous sites scattered about their territory.  This way they leave before the flea, ticks, and other parasites build up at the den site.  By leaving it, they effectively take their blood, and therefor the parasite's meals away from them.  Starving them where they crawl.  Not much left at the den, a few fox tracks, a couple dry old bones that look to be rabbit, and a few well chewed turkey feathers.  It looks like mamma fox kept her young well fed.

The sky is darkening as the shortening days begins to give away to night.  The gathering clouds are marking the promise of rain by tomorrow morning.  I turn to head home.  Over the river and through the woods...well, back to my own house before it gets too dark and the mosquitoes come out to carry me away.  Just at the top of the hill before I leave the woods I am startled by a little garter snake hurrying to the warm crevice of the rocks stacked at the edge of the field by farmers for generations.  She startles me enough to slow me down and make me look to the ground. 

There at my feet is a lovely little purple flower barely able to be seen in the midst of all the green.  It is lobelia, a very strong medicine plant here in this area.  Lobelia is often called Indian tobacco, because of its slightly narcotic effects.  It acts like smoking a cigarette does by calming the body a bit.  One of its uses is to help smokers quit, calming them when the worst of the cravings hit.  Another use I use it for is to help asthmatics relax their lungs so that they can breath again.  It is a lifesaving plant to know.  Though the dose cannot be any more than 10 to 15 drops of tincture because it can also relax the breathing action of the lungs as well if you get too much.  More is not better when it comes to lobelia.

Some do dry the plant for tea, but I find it loses its medicinal qualities quickly after drying.  I make a gentle tincture of it instead.  But I don't reach for the hard spirits for this tincture.  The higher the proof, the more of the lobelia is extracted.  Because caution must be used with this plant I instead reach for a nice white wine for my tincture base.  It will help me not over use this medicine.  Vinegar also works fine if you wish to avoid alcohol but don't dilute the vinegar before you use it.

Lobelia is a small, unassuming plant of great medicinal value...not one I would want to do without.  But like all beings of light, it also has darkness. Do not misuse lobelia and she can save lives, end addictions and allow us a clean breath when it seems like one will never come.  But she can stop that breath if we do not respect her.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Working with Jewelweed

The year 2012 taught me many things, the first and foremost was that nature does it's own thing and if we humans can't adapt to it...well...that might be too bad. 

2012 was a drought year.  I have survived through several droughts since I took over this farm in the 1980s but I have to admit that 2012 was probably the harshest one I've ever dealt with.  I watered and watered, but even so I lost the pumpkin patch and the corn.  I stood in dry fields with the dust swirling around me as the wind picked it up.  I was thinking that THIS must have been how the farmers during the Dust Bowl must have felt.  A dull kind of fear settled on the farm as we watched thousands of dollars of crops shrivel up and die.  I look at the clouds differently now, even with our above average rainfall this year, with a short term flood that happened in June, I still look up with gratitude when the clouds let loose their life-giving rain.

One huge blow to my way of life was that several of the wild medicinals that I always gather never even broke through the dry crust that was the ground last year.  The mad dog skullcap has still not recovered completely this year, and I will not harvest that plant ally.

However the jewelweed was probably the one I missed the most.  I traveled to many springs last year, places where I have always found jewelweed, even in other drought years, and very little was to be found.  Certainly not enough to harvest without worrying that I would wipe it out.  That, above all else, made me know how bad of a drought it was. 

So this year, when I began seeing the large stands of it again, I rejoiced.  It is such an important medicine to those of us in Lake Country where mosquitoes can be as big as cows and black flies are known to strip a man to the bone in 3 minutes flat.  Okay, those might be some slight exaggerations but really, we need our jewelweed medicine.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Canning Grean Beans

One of the greatest gifts I ever gave myself was acknowledging that in some things I am very strange.  These are usually the things I love most about myself.  One of the strangest things I enjoy is listening to the pressure canner hissing away on the wood burning kitchen range.  Even on the hottest days, when lighting a wood fire seems counterproductive, I can't wait to can the harvest.

Here I am canning green beans fresh from the garden.  There's nothing much to this video, just the wood stove in the summer kitchen and the pressure canner bubbling away.  The trick to canning on a wood stove is to know the stove, know where the hottest part of the stove is and that is where the canner sits.  Then it's just putting in dry wood to keep that heat constant.  Green beans are easy, 20 minutes and they're done.  Meats are a bit harder, and hour and a half of making sure to keep a hot fire going.  Still, I would rather do my canning out here than heat up the whole house during the hottest days of the year.

A morning's worth of green beans ready to go into the cellar.  Ol' Man Winter can shake his icy fist as much as he wishes this year.  Our food bins and shelves will be filled to overflowing.