Monthly Archives: June 2010

“I don’t believe I said.” (or, “The Southern Urban Forager, Part the Third”)

My dad is more than happy to tell you the story of the eighteen-inch wild brown trout he caught during the green drake hatch. He delights in talking about the beautiful but apparently untouched pool he spotted on the last day of a camping trip. He grins as he describes the visions of that “honey hole” that haunted his thoughts for the next several days, until he finally went back to it around dark-thirty, waded in knee-deep, cast a line, and in no time had caught (and released) that big’un. He will even show you the pictures.

Just don’t ask him, “Now, where did you say that hole was?”

Because he will say, “I don’t believe I said.”

I know how he feels. For years during the early summer, I looked forward to walking over to a brambly but abundant patch of blackberries on the side a road near my house. That spot has given me untold pints of jam. But last year, heartbreak. Someone — more than one someone, I think — had gotten there first and cleaned it out. And then later in the year, someone else came through and bushwhacked the brambles, and that was the end of my blackberry patch.

All year long I grieved my loss. It just seems ridiculous to me to buy blackberries when they grow prodigiously all across the South, but a thicket of wild, publicly accessible blackberries in the city is a rare and beautiful thing. So you perhaps can imagine my joy when, on a long ramble with my dog one day this past spring, I discovered a new patch — this one bigger and more abundant than my old one, harder to reach, and less likely to get mowed down. At this point the berries were tiny, hard, and green. But there would be gallons upon gallons.

Over the next several weeks I kept an eye on “my” spot. I visited frequently to see how the fruit was coming along. I wanted to greedily, jealously guard it from other blackberry hounds that might coming sniffing. And then early this morning, I went back with a sack. In an hour and a half I had picked more than a gallon of berries, and there are plenty more to come. Best of all, I saw nary another soul prowling around my patch. May it stay that way.

This may be my honey hole.

I will give you a jar of jam at Christmas. I will make a blackberry cobbler and joyfully share it with you. I will pour you a tiny glass of blackberry cordial to sip. But don’t ask me, “Where did you say you got those berries?”

Because I don’t believe I said.

This may be an extraordinary year for my newfound secret patch, because by all appearances, 2010 is the Year of the Fruit. Regular visitors to this blog have read my rhapsody on the strawberry and my ode to  mulberry pie. Today I made 22 jars of blackberry jam using basically the same method that I used for the strawberry jam. With the two cups of berries remaining, I riffed on a blackberry cordial recipe with vodka, sugar, cloves, and a cinnamon stick (in eight weeks or so I’ll let you know how that worked out).

Then there are the peaches, which I did actually buy during my very slow road trip last week. I picked up five pounds of Fort Valley, Georgia’s, best from a roadside farm stand. I have heard it said that due to a magic season of atmospheric forces, this year’s peaches are the earliest, most plentiful, and best-tasting in many years. I have to agree. Many I just ate standing over my kitchen sink so that I could rinse my chin afterward. Several wound up in two batches of ice cream — one for Father’s Day, the other for the Sunday night gang.

And oh, the cherries! Over Memorial Day weekend, my family gathered at our mountain homestead in Rabun County, Georgia. On Saturday afternoon, my father, niece, and I walked down the hill to check out the fruit trees that we planted about thirty years ago (I have a hazy memory of being in that orchard with my parents and brother digging holes, placing root balls, and watering by Coleman lantern on a very chilly autumn night.) There amidst the apple and pear trees, blueberry bushes, and grapevines (all holding promise of great things to come later this season) were two cherry trees absolutely loaded with fruit. The birds were none to happy with us for pulling down limbs and loading our sacks with bunches of cherries, but there was plenty for all. They looked like grapes growing on those branches. I took home maybe five pounds of cherries and made cherry-almond-chocolate chunk ice cream for the Sunday night gang, added cherries to some chicken salad, then the rest joined the strawberries and mulberries in the freezer for concoctions later on.

Here are 41 seconds of Dad and me at the cherry tree.

Still to come are the figs and blueberries growing in my yard. It will require some stealth to get to them both before the birds do. But that’s a whole nother story.



Filed under Feasting, Foraging, Putting Up

The Southern Urban Homesteader Takes A Very Slow Road Trip

Caleb-dog and I took a lovely little road trip to the Georgia coast for a few days. We made it slow and easy; I decided in the interest of fuel economy to drive no faster than 65 miles per hour most of the way down on the Interstates. I loaded some audiobooks on my ipod, packed some snackage, and off we went. The trip down took about 5 1/2 hours, and I definitely got better gas mileage, but I got tailgated, honked at, and gestured at for going 5 miles under the speed limit. It took an act of will to maintain my steady pace. This while millions of gallons of oil spew into the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps in addition to raging at the BP machine, we should examine our own sick need to drive everywhere fast and consume more fossil fuel than necessary.

On the coast I stayed with my dear friends the Spratts, who own a bed and breakfast in Darien, Georgia. If you are ever looking for a beautiful place to stay in a sleepy little coastal Southern town, please check out the Open Gates Bed and Breakfast. Jeff and Kelly are both trained biologists and know much about the area’s rich natural resources. They can point you in all kinds of fun directions. They will also serve you some amazingly sweet locally caught wild Georgia shrimp (the area’s major industry) with grits for breakfast. I stopped by the Georgia Shrimp Company market and brought home five pounds of large shrimp and froze them in one-pound batches.

Oh, and saltwater swimming pool? Best thing ever — no chlorine!

We had a brief but thoroughly relaxing few days of early morning runs, a visit to the beach at Jekyll Island, a couple of dips in that marvelous pool in the heat of the day, and just hanging out and visiting. I goofed around with Kelly and Jeff’s kids a good bit. Here is a song that Hank and I wrote last year. We thought it deserved its own video.

Yesterday instead of trudging back up the interstate, I decided to make the journey part of the destination and took a meandering backroad drive home, going about 55 most of the way. Including some protracted stops, it took about 6 1/2 hours to get home. We broke up the trip by visiting some farm stands, where I picked up some Vidalia onions, peaches, cantaloupe, and pecans.

And as we passed through Milledgeville, on impulse I turned off US 441 into Andalusia, Flannery O’Connor’s beautiful 544-acre farm there. We spent an hour or so walking the  verdant grounds and spotted all sorts of wildlife, including four deer. Caleb happily sunk himself into the cool mud at the edge of the pond.

A self-portrait Flannery O'Connor painted in 1953. Gotta love a woman who loves her birds.

And joy to my heart, the peacocks are back. Flannery O’Connor was a passionate keeper of chickens, ducks, and especially peafowl. This is one of the reasons I feel a particular affinity for this writer. In her honor, we have a hen named Mary Flannery.

I have read that peafowl are wonderful for mosquito control, and indeed, I didn’t see — or slap — a single skeeter during the hot and humid hour we spent walking around.

Also captivating was Flannery’s mother’s milk storage house. Early on, Regina actually worked the property as a dairy farm and stored milk in this little structure. It was restored last year. I love the bottles in the windowsill.

Between the slow drive and staying with friends, it was just about the most frugal vacation I have ever had — yet completely enjoyable. Because of the money I didn’t spend on gas and lodging, I was able to take Kelly and Jeff out for a big splurgy seafood dinner my last evening there. Another mountain of shrimp followed by vat of peach cobbler and ice cream.


Filed under Community and Citizenship, Conservation, Feasting, Flockkeeping

“Bok!” A Little Chicken Chat

Foraday (background), Lucy (the redhead), and her sidekick, Ethel (blonde) enjoy a sun-dappled dustbath

Lately I seem to have turned into an informal Dear Abby on all things chicken care-related. I thought some of you, dear readers, might be interested in the questions that have come my way in the past several weeks. Here’s a selection of the questions and my answers.

Some of the questions I get are just entertaining, (chickenwatching is so much more interesting than television!), but most arise from pretty common problems and situations. If any of you are keeping chickens or considering starting a flock, this might be useful.

As I continue to get questions like these, I’ll post a “chicken chat” blog from time to time. So fire away! I welcome a challenge . . .

Q:  What does one do with a chicken one thinks is too noisy for a city neighborhood?

A: Chickens are just who they are, and they have to express their chickenality! If you have one who is particularly loud, then I guess you just have a loud bird. Has she been loud the whole time you have her? If it’s only been recently that she’s become noisy, then it may be a pecking order thing — she may be trying to assert her dominance over another hen. In which case, when things get worked out, she may quiet down. Maybe give it a week or two?

Q: Have you ever had a wheezy chicken? We have one that is wheezing on every breath, and seems to be having a hard time breathing. She also “sneezes” (if chickens sneeze) once in a while. Do you have any idea what this might be? It just started today.

Q: It started with just one, but seems to have spread through the other 4 — they are making sounds like a cough or sneeze, lethargy, eyes closed often and slightly smaller, poor appetite (they did really like the yogurt this morning). We checked for sour crop and didn’t feel a lump, I checked for mites and didn’t see any at all. Any ideas?

A: These birds probably have a little bit of an upper respiratory infection. Chickens get colds, too! Separate the sick ones from the rest of the flock because it’s pretty contagious and they’ll all get sick (they may already be). It’s usually not fatal, but they don’t feel good. Crush some fresh garlic (note that this might give the eggs a peculiar flavor) and mix it into their scratch or put about a teaspoon of fine garlic powder into a gallon of their drinking water. On the preventive side, if their quarters are damp, see if you can address that. A damp chicken is prone to catching colds. The henhouse should be dry and warm, or at least have one dry place to go to when it rains.

Q: One of my hens spent hours in the nesting box today and I finally got her out of there just a bit ago. She had laid an egg and left lots of feathers in the nest as well! I looked at her tummy area and there were bald spots! I didn’t really inspect it but wondered if you might have a clue to why she might be pulling out these feathers? She is about 8 months old, and she usually does take a long time in the nesting box but recently it was a LONG time — hours!  I pulled her out (and removed the egg), and she wandered around the yard for a while and then ended up back in there.

A: Your hen is broody: she is experiencing the irresistible urge to sit on a clutch of eggs and be a mommy. Sometimes they lose their feathers when they’ve been sitting on the nest a lot. We’ve only had a broody hen once, and I’d go back there every morning and take her out of the nest so she’d eat and drink, then eventually go back to her thing. Just make sure you take her eggs out from under her or she’ll try to hatch them — no such luck! It will pass eventually.

Q: One of my chickens has lost all of her feathers under her belly. She is not hanging out in the coop like she is brooding. She is laying wonderful eggs every day. She is eating well. What do you think this could be? My concern is that I don’t see new feathers growing and she is not losing feathers any where else.

A: Usually that bare belly is a sign of a broody hen. Have you checked her for mites? If she’s itching she might be pulling out her own feathers. If your birds have mites, you can usually see them crawling around. Make sure your chickens have a good place to take dust baths — that is one of the ways they control mites for themselves. Here’s a video showing my sun-drunk girls enjoying a dustbath.

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Filed under Flockkeeping