Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Magic of Morel Hunting

Every spring we look forward to morel hunting. Some folks really love the flavor of morels. i admit, they just taste like a mushroom to me, nothing all that special.  The thing that makes them exciting to find is in the hunt itself.

 Morels are funny things. i often tell people the best way to find morels is to stop looking. In all our years of morel hunting we almost always find the first one as soon as we 'give up'.   Once you you spot that first one, the others just seem to appear all around as if they were little wood sprites hiding the whole time. 

Morel season typically begins around the middle of April and can last until June, depending on weather conditions. i've learned from experience that they first start appearing the same time the trillium and mayapples begin to appear.  Last week i was thinking about morels, so we too a drive to a spot where we'd found some a few years back. Once we got there and took a look at the wildflowers that were blooming i realized we were still a bit early.  i knew that the dwarf iris were in full bloom when the morels appeared.

Last week while cleaning out my native wildflower bed, i spotted this tiny little morel! It's was less than an inch tall and had just started coming up. We had rain predicted for later that week and i knew that after the rain, once the sun came out the morels would start appearing.  In the passed when we found morels i would shake them over this garden hoping that they would eventually spore.  For the last few years i have found one or two morels in the bed each spring. i never pick them, always hoping they will spore and become well established here. Morels are tricky though, and conditions have to be perfect for them to grow.

After the rain, i waited a few days and then took off hiking in the woods behind our house. i crossed over the little creek, and headed up an embankment where i saw a large tree down. There are a lot of trees down in our woods, but i just had a feeling about this one.

The first thing that caught my eye was the bright orange red spotted newt efts that seemed to be every where.  i squatted down to get a picture of one, and to my surprise saw a morel right next to it!

So then i began to look around. i saw more efts, and mor morels!  They were not easy to find.  i found most right around that large downed tree, but found many others in the same area but several yards away. Some were in a ravine, and some were in an open area that was full of green woodland plants. i don't know what type of tree was down, but i believe it was hardwood, most likely an oak tree or a poplar.  From what i have read, morels are most often found around dead elm trees, under old apple trees and occasionally around oak and poplar. 

After hunting the area and finding as many i could, i headed back home. i always collect morels in an old onion bag hoping that they drop spores along the way.  i wandered down to our creek where there in an old apple tree. For years i've carried the morels down there hoping to get them to spore under the tree.  To my surprise when i  began shaking my morel bag under the tree, i found a couple already coming up there!

The next day i took the family out morel hunting.  My girl gave up before she even started looking and was the first to find one! 

My boy was feeling a bit discouraged when every one had found one except him. As soon as he gave up, he found one!

My husband found the largest one, and was incredibly proud of it. lol.

My picture is a bit blurry, but this was the first batch that found. i found a few others after this, and my total for this spring is at 43.  That's the most i have ever found! We are getting rain again today, so i'm already excited about going out hunting again this weekend. 

We prepared the morels by dipping them in seasoned flour and frying them in butter. They are quite tasty, but for me the best part is really just in the magic of finding them.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Garden update- May

Every spring i get eager to start planting early, but the weather never quite cooperates. With our low flow well, i can not irrigate and so i am very dependent on the rain. Without a working tiller i've been turning the soil by hand. It is heavy with clay and very dry, so i've had to wait for the rain to soften the soil enough to turn it and pull the weeds.  Too much rain and it's a muddy mess that washes all the seeds away. So i often find myself obsessing about the weather and waiting for those perfect days to plant and work outside.
We were still getting freezing temperatures the second week of April, so some of my cool crops were planted later than i like.  Last year i was enjoying my first salad near the end of April, but this year i'm just beginning to pick fresh greens the second week of May.

Another week and i can start putting my summer veggies out. i have 30+ potted tomatoes i've grown from seed. Most every thing else i seed directly in the ground.

My spinach is finally big enough to pick. i like to pinch off some of the baby leaves for salad, and allow the rest of the plant to continue growing. i sow spinach seeds in a few different gardens and stagger the plantings so that i am harvesting it for a extended time. It's a cool weather crop, and does well in partial shade. It tends to bolt a little slower when it stays cooler during the day. Spinach freezes well, and we eat a ton of it, so you just can't really plant too much.

My loose leaf salad greens are ready to be picked. This is the red and green oak leaf lettuce. i also planted a red romaine, a speckled head lettuce, majesty lettuce, red salad bowl, Black seeded simpson  and a mesclun  mix.  Lettuce also does well in partial shade for extended season growing.

We've been working on asparugus bed for several years. i add a few new crowns each year, and we are constantly building up the soil. It still seems like we never have enough. :) Although the plants are doing well, and producing lots of spears,  it still takes about 1 week of collecting spears before i have enough for one meal. 

First harvest of 2014, a bit later than usual.  We've been eating a bit crappy all winter, so it's really nice to have a homegrown salad and fresh asparagus for dinner. i've been working on my strawberry patch this spring and am hoping it does well. Most of the plants are just flowering, but i did find a couple red berries.  

The little morels i found behind the house a few days ago. i've found 43 this year, which is a record for me. i've never done an serious morel hunting, and tend to only find them when i'm not looking. :) Always a treat and exciting to find.  We are getting a lot of eggs right now and are able to share them with a neighbor which is always nice.

We are supposed to get some rain this weekend, so hopefully i'll be spending the next few days getting the rest of the garden turned and planted. i have broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, purple potatoes, swiss chard, peas, garlic onions, beets and kale planted and starting to come in.  i planted some summer squash yesterday, and am still trying to figure out where i am going to plant everything. Last year we were hit with late blight that affected the tomatoes and potatoes in all of my gardens, so i need to figure out a different place to put them this year.  i also have voles in my sweet potatoes bed, and the one of the other gardens so i have to find a new place to put sweet potatoes and other root vegetables as well. 

i've been reading that castor oil is a good deterrent for voles, so i'm going to try that. They really did a ton of damage last year, i found tunnels in my raised beds and in almost all of my gardens. i think part of this is because i didn't have a cat outside patrolling the area.  Tom typically hung out by those gardens and was quite good at catching the voles. Last year we were in the camper, and although Tallulah was outside a lot during the summer she stayed close to the camper and so she wasn't spending any time in the gardens that the voles were in. Now that we are back in a house, she hangs out closer to the garden and i'm really hoping she helps control the vole population this year.

Every year we are faced with new garden challenges. i'm really hoping we can get through a year without the late blight, which is just devastating. i bought floating row covers, so i'm going to try using them on broccoli and squash. Cabbage worms and vine borers are always a problem, and the row cover should help with that. 

We have a lot of projects we are working on this spring, and i hope to try and document some of them (i'm never very good at that. ).  Right now, just getting the garden in is the main goal.  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Around the Homestead- Chickens

April has been a very busy month for us around the homestead. We are finally getting back into our groove and starting to see a bit of progress. My garden tiller is dead, so i've been working on turning up the garden by hand using a shovel and pitch fork. It's a lot of work and so i have not cleaned out all of the gardens yet. 

i've been pulling and re-potting a bunch of catnip which seems to come up everywhere, and i've been pulling a lot of chickweed as well. Chickweed is edible, but i have an abundance and so i tend to feed most of it to my chickens.  They absolutely love it. 

i started the year with a rather small flock, only 11 birds. i have one mixed breed rooster, 3 game hens, 1 delaware, 1 black star, 1 Black Australorp, 1 speckled Sussex, 1 Molted  Java, 1 Campine and only one hen that came from my original birds.  The small black hen is the daughter of Sunny, who was the daughter of Little Brother, who was the son of our very first chicken, Mama hen. :)  We lost both Sunny and Little Brother last year. i've been hoping the black hen would get broody and hatch out some peeps, but so far she hasn't.  The Blackstar, and Black Australorp are both 4 or 5 years old are rarely lay. The other birds lay white or cream colored eggs. i've been a bit disappointed by the variety of colors. So i've been on the hunt for some new hens.

One of my wild hens disappeared while we were in Florida. i found her setting on a clutch of eggs when we returned. She was setting on 8 eggs, but only two ended up hatching.  This was really disappointing, we love peeps and were hoping for more.  So when i stopped by the farm store i ended up coming home with 8 new chicks. :)

 i picked up 6 Buff Silkie Bantams, and two Tetra Tint.  The Silkies are really just novelty.  i've always wanted some. i also picked up the Tetra tint, only because they were guaranteed pullets.  i have no idea what i am getting with the Silkies. 

i didn't really know anything about Tetra Tints. They are a cross between White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds. They are a lightweight bird, like the Leghorns and should produce light brown 'tinted' eggs.  

Since i already have the brooder set up,i figured what's a couple more? :)  i found someone selling Black Copper Marans and decided to get a couple.  They lay the dark brown eggs and are often referred to as chocolate egg layers.  i also picked up three Cream Legbar Cross.  i'm not sure what they are crossed with, but was told they should produce blue, green or olive colored eggs. So hopefully i'll have a few hens in the mix and not just a bunch of roosters. :p

They are all still inside in the brooder, but i'm hoping to move at least some of them outside soon. i'll keep you updated on their progress.