It’s a Dandy Time of Year

I first started becoming interested in herbs a couple years ago when I purchased the HerbFairies course for Barefoot Girl and I to do together. Even though it’s made for kids, it’s so engaging that it drew me in! What started as a slow interest is becoming a deep fascination and serious appreciation.

One of the first ways we started using herbs years ago was at just this time of year with foraged greens and flowers for salads . . . so although I’ve “dabbled” in dandelions and violets and chickweed, this year I’m really taking a serious look at what’s behind these plants.

Health

Cultures all over the world have used and admired dandelion’s use as a spring tonic to “start up” the digestive system after a winter of heavier meals; the bitterness of the leaves (which we’re actually enjoying — even Barefoot Girl is eating without complaint!) helps with digestion and constipation and are even used to balance out high blood pressure.

The leaves are rich in minerals such as potassium and calcium and vitamins A and C, and the whole plant is an excellent source of inulin 9

the white stuff) (the “pre” to the “pro” biotics — prebiotics feed the healthy bacteria that we need in our guts). Since poor gut health and low levels of healthy bacteria are linked to depression (and we’re dealing with that in our house), I am intentionally trying to add more of these types of food to our meals.

Early spring is such a potent time for foraging dandelion and other greens because the leaves are storing all the vitamins and minerals that will go into the plant’s flower later in the season. In fact, an herbal saying that’s helpful to remember the flow of the nutrients in the plant is “spring up, fall down” (nutrients are rising in the spring before falling back down to the roots for winter storage).

Foraging

False Dandelion – note the forked stem

Surprisingly, it is actually possible to make a mistake in harvesting dandelion. In my research this spring I learned that there’s a lookalike called Spotted Cat’s Ear or False Dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata). Although it’s not poisonous (dandelion is such a beginner’s choice for foraging that there wouldn’t be a dangerous lookalike), it’s interesting to learn how to look a little closer to make sure we have the right plant.

True dandelion leaves lack hairs, while the lookalikes have little hairs on the back and along the major leaf vein. They also have a single flower on a single stem — unlike the lookalikes that have numerous flowers per stem.

How to Eat

For now, we’re mostly eating them fresh on whatever fruits or vegetables we’re having, although Mr. Buckeye’s favorite way so far is sauteed in olive oil with garlic salt. I’ve wilted them on top of meat and gravy sandwiches, which is a delicious way to get just a hint of flavor without an overpowering taste. Soon, I’m going to start making some vinegars with the leaves and root to use as salad dressings. We’ll see what comes after that!

Pickled Eggs!

So. Many. Eggs. Eggs in the fridge, eggs on the counter waiting to be put in the fridge, eggs hardboiled in a bowl waiting to be processed, eggs in my dreams …

One nice thing about the Corvid-19 situation though is that it’s allowed us to meet a couple of our neighbors that have stopped for eggs since the stores have been out. I find that knowing my neighbors has a lot to do with my happiness, so I’m glad that we are raising a food that can help facilitate those connections.

But still. All the eggs.

Actually, it’s refining my philosophy of food self-reliance. I have been realizing that it’s really not necessary to feed our hens a commercial layer food for maximum egg production since we’re more concerned about the sustainability of the flock…but that’s a post for another day (maybe tomorrow).

I’m rather ashamed to admit that it ten-plus years of chicken keeping, I’ve never made pickled eggs. Perhaps because this is the largest flock we’ve ever had so this is the first time I’ve been faced with such a (blessed) surplus? For whatever, reason, I’ve had to scramble to not let them all go to waste. I needed a method that would use a lot of them and preserve them for quite a while . . . therefore, pickled eggs.

I first tried the recipe from one of my favorite kitchen books, Pickled Pantry, and it was DELICIOUS. I had not idea how much I would *love* pickled eggs. The family likes them too, so that’s a major win!

I just got done making my second batch with Barefoot Girl’s assistance, and I modified this one to included sliced red onions and fresh dill sprigs instead of the dried edill weed. This is a cold-pack refrigerator pickle recipe so we have to wait a week to try them. Can’t wait!

::::Update:::: They’re even better! This is the way to go from now on! The pickled onions and garlic are delicious in and of themselves, but they add so much flavor to the entire batch that I won’t want to ever do a batch without them.

*Note: the above picture is from a jar that we’ve been eating out of for several days, so the cloudiness is an indicator of disturbance and my poor photography skills.

My Very Classy DIY Garden Bed Chicken Protector

See? It’s working already!

We’ve spent years (all of them) trying different methods of chicken containment and ways of keeping them out of the garden. We tried the chicken tractor method (spoiler: you have to have really flat ground — we never have), chicken fencing around the entire garden space (ironically, chickens just jump right over chicken fence), and keeping them in a designated chicken yard. None of them seemed to be quite right for our style.

Enter my big and bright idea

Of the two of us, Kenny is the one that is more creative when it comes to making things to solve problems, but he’s been loaded down with work stress lately and we’ve been lagging in our projects progress (ie, I got tired of waiting….necessity truly is the mother of invention). Ergo, I got busy.

It occurred to me that all of our failed attempts were “bigger” methods of either keeping chickens “out” or “in,” but since we’ve switched to the raised bed style of gardening, there’s so much flexibility and creativity that can be done with just a single bed — one reason I love this style! All I really need to do was keep them out of the bed until the plants are big enough that they can’t kill them, so (duh) I realized that a small hoop row cover used to extend the season would work just fine.

However, we didn’t have any hoop material and with this Corvid-19 business going on right now we’re holding onto our money a little tighter until he’s back to work full time. I’m a big believer in being #frugal and #usingwhatyouhave, so . . . what we did have was lots of leftover pvc from our greenhouse days. Modification, here we go.

It’s three sections — the permanent end caps, and the hoop portion that can come off for planting, tending, and storage. I’m thinking it will hang from the garage when it’s not being used.

I have to admit that I’m kinda proud of how it turned out. I don’t usually “make” things, so I feel a bit like a badass when I do. Of course, this is day one of completed project. We’ll re-evaluate at the end of the season. :-/

I was also so eager to get #springplanting that I didn’t even wait till it was finished to put the early seeds of peas, spinach, arugula, and lettuce, beets, and carrots in. Naturally I had the company of several chickens trying to eat the peas as I put them down, one dog that thinks it’s fun to run at full speed directly toward me, and my garden buddy cat trying to sit on my lap while I was kneeling. I had to designate a living scarecrow to assist, and then he got fired for being distracted and was replaced with Barefoot Girl. It really is true that you can’t get good help these days ….

#Gardenhacks just might be my new interest. How about you? Any cool hacks to share?

My First Homemade Mayonnaise!

So we’ve had a serious glut of eggs around here all winter (yes, even winter — the time of reprieve??). We share with our neighbors that help lock up the coop if we’re out past dark and Barefoot Girl took 10 dozen to 4h, but still. We have about 12 dozen in the fridge right now.

I’m rather ashamed to admit that out of the 11 years that we’ve had chickens, I’ve never made mayonnaise.

I love mayonnaise.

I mean, I really love mayo. I eat it with sandwiches, fries (half and half with ketchup), in salad dressings, with potato salad . . . everything (is that the Midwestern in me? There wasn’t much mayo-eating in California). Why have I never made it? No idea.

Buuuut…I’m pretty excited about this first batch. It was so simple, and definitely one of the things we should all be doing for ourselves. I messed up a bit because I forgot to add the oil slowly, so it’s a bit thinner than it should be, but it’s creamy and tasty and YELLOW! This recipe from Inspired Taste uses whole eggs, which I appreciate (I hate having to find something to do with the yolks!). Pretty excited to be adding this to our homestead repertoire.

However, major downside in the “using up the eggs” goal: I made a quart and a half of mayo and only used 4 eggs.

Eleven and a half dozen to go…

Project: Fermenting Chicken Feed

As I mentioned recently, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about chicken feed (it just occurred to me that most people would never consider this worthy of thought … interesting what our occupations lead us to ponder). Anyway, I’ve concluded that since humans have been raising chickens forever and the commercial feeds have only recently been pushed as “necessary”… leading me to believe that they’re not actually necessary for the small-scale homesteader.

Naturally, then, this article “Fermenting Chicken Feed” at Backwoods Home caught my interest. I’m well aware of the health benefits of fermented food for humans, and it turns out that it’s the same for chickens. The process utilizes just grains and a four-bucket method that Barefoot Girl explains in this video:

The author states that the benefits of fermenting their feed is that it we can use grain scraps from the feed mill instead of commercial feed, and the fermenting process makes the nutrients more available to the hens so they (theoretically) eat less. We usually go through at least one fifty-pound bag of feed a week, so we’ll keep track and see how it works!