Trivia That May Not Be So Trivial



Almost every day I observe something on our homestead that is quite remarkable in a humble sort of way. I think maybe I should write about it but then  the big news of the day comes flooding in and I almost feel guilty that I find joy in these little things around me. I should be all hitched up in the nervous regions about how the world is falling apart.  But I am going to ignore the world’s apparent disintegration today for what could be more important events in the long run.

Trivia No. 1: We store potatoes over winter in a plastic bin sunk in the hillside of the backyard. Maybe three inches and the lid stick out above the ground. I went out to clean out the few old wrinkled spuds left over from last year to make way for the new crop. I was taken aback to find a potato plant, about six inches tall, growing out of the lid. Impossible. Carefully lifting the lid, I found a long potato vine had grown up from an old potato under the remnants of straw (we store the potatoes with alternate layers of straw) in the bottom of the bin. Somehow it spotted a hint of light above (can potato eyes see??), climbed up the side wall and squeezed through the edge of the lid and upwards into the sun. I was totally mystified, because the lip of the box is rounded and the lid fits down over that lip, watertight and, I thought, light tight. But then I remembered. I had drilled tiny holes around the edge of the box to allow for a bit of air circulation. That vine had snaked its way up to one of those holes, perhaps the only one that emitted light, and squirmed through. You can imagine what luck I’d have if I deliberately tried to grow potatoes that way.

Trivia 2: Chickweed is one of our most bothersome weeds, as I have written more than once. This year, almost zero chickweed. It had to be the twenty below nights we experienced last winter. But if that were the case, why didn’t the weed rally in midsummer from seed and strangle the earth like usual? Did the cold kill the seeds too? Anyone else experience this? There were hardly any mosquitoes or deer flies compared to other years either. In fact we enjoyed an almost perfect year for gardening. I am resolved never to say again one nasty word about that damned polar vortex.

Trivia 3:  I have had to keep the hens penned inside much of the summer because foxes or coyotes or something were killing them off one by one. Finally we got a canine-proof fence up around an outdoor lot for them so they can get out and  chase bugs and eat a little green stuff. Before that I worried that they weren’t getting a rounded natural diet. I noticed that giant ragweed was  growing up round the coop and remembered reading that all matter of fowl like ragweed seed which are rich in protein. So when the seeds started maturing, I pulled heads of them and tossed them into the coop. Sure enough the hens ate them greedily.  Later, when they had access to the lot, they ate the seeds of regular ragweed growing there too. After all these centuries, most of us still have a lot to learn about feeding farm animals.

Trivia 4: As all the world knows, cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. As I understood from reading, this was bad news for the other birds because the young cowbirds eat all the worms that mother bird brings to the nest and the other chicks starve. So I have dutifully kept an eye on chipping sparrow nests around the garden area and flipped cowbird eggs out whenever I found any. This usually gave mixed results. Sometimes the chipping sparrow mother abandoned the nest when I did that. I decided that cowbirds and chipping sparrows had both survived all these centuries so maybe I should just mind my own business. This year Carol found a chipping sparrow nest where the eggs had all hatched and both chipping sparrow chicks and cowbird chicks seemed to be doing okay. Mother and father sparrow managed to feed them all and eventually all left the nest, fully developed as far as we could tell. But we wondered. Then came the strangest sight I have ever witnessed at our bird feeder. Some birds, like cardinals, feed their new fledglings, or sometimes, in courting mode, males feed females at the feeder. Now a chipping sparrow was feeding a fledgling cowbird. I am done with worrying about the depredations of cowbirds. Another of those beliefs that “ain’t necessarily so.”


Gene, I attended a Mother Earth News Fair in North Carolina earlier this year and the editor, Bryan Welch, spoke and during his speech claimed that it was the fastest growing magazine in the nation. Other attendees at the fair included not only the usual old hippy-types like myself, but preppers and survivalists from the far right, and everything in between so I can certainly see where this could be the case!
The Niteguard flashing red all night does seem to be confusing the owls–they had been plucking my hens off their roosts at night. My guinea fowl roost in the trees and I still loose them to owls at night. The chickens roost on the cross bar at the top of an open-fronted, three-sided goat shed where I’ve installed the Niteguard. They cost about $15 to $20 on Amazon, are about 3×3 inches and just screw in with one screw. It’s been flashing away for well over a year now–don’t know how long it will last.

Betty, that Nightguard thing is new to me. I hear that Mother Earth News is the fastest growing magazine in the nation at the moment. Do you know if that is true? Gene

Just returned from 2 weeks away from the homestead and guess what? The chickens fed themselves just fine. The wild turkeys do it so why can’t they? They’d moved in to roost in the buck shed months ago which is surrounded by a pasture that is hot-wired at night. I installed a device called a NiteGuard where they roost. It flashes red all night and is recharged by the sun during the day. Haven’t lost a chicken in months. Before this “free range” meant free lunch and I went through chickens almost as soon as I could hatch them out.

It is the little things that bring true joy to one’s life. Big excitement is fine but it takes a foundation of the beautifully mundane to support it.

Around our little house, we have not seen many mosquitoes, though the gnats have more than taken up the nuisance slack. The chickens are quite happy to eat any of the seeds of the “weeds” that we let grow to shield them from aerial predators. As Gene says, just bend the stalks over before the seeds totally ripen. Life with the little things is sublime.

If you top your Brussel Sprouts, enjoy the greens on your dinner table. Honkin’ good.

That’s odd, we have something similar to lambsquarters that I call Fat Hen and needless to say, our chickens love it.

Don’t get jealous, but we don’t have any ragweed here in central B.C. We do have lots of lambsquarters which is “an indicator of soil fertility” and “a relative to quinoa.” The chickens hate it. They love hemp. Hemp has about 25% and it makes excellent food to put in chick starter. Maybe a Logsdon-type show be Johnny Hempseed and walk through the countryside planting (legal, agricultural/industrial) hemp. Just don’t tell Monsanto about it.

Me in Idaho..
I’m sure in the place where you read about the maggot bucket that it also called for covering the decomposing carcass with a good layer of straw or mulch inside the bucket to help prevent or reduce the smell. The person who I know does this simply made a tripod and hangs the bucket from this. This makes it very mobile if you’re moving your chickens in a rotational grazing scheme.

Wendell Berry had much to say about the need to stop the current pace of life, to simplify our existence and to reduce materialism. I won’t bore you with quoting him and simply encourage you to alternate your book reading between Gene and Berry. But, Berry did make an astute observation that the use of technology – or what some call progress – to make the world smaller is actually not a good thing, but a bad thing. Berry teaches that it is bad because we lose the world around us when the greater world is so easily reachable. The world of our proximity is now no longer regarded. What if you had to walk everywhere and motor vehicles did not exist? Your world would be reduced, yes, but that reduction is a positive net gain because you will multiply your awareness of the smaller things that exist within the sphere of your smaller world. And, according to Berry, your life will be enriched.

Bee, it sounds as if you’re ready for permaculture which has a major tenant to observe the natural world and mimic it.

I love to spend time watching my chickens while I’m in the garden. They have such an industrious and inquisitive nature.
Every day they line up along the garden fence waiting for some treats, right now they are loving all the acorns.

Here in Vermont this year I swatted maybe 5 deer flies unlike in dry years when they’d chase me relentlessly in my truck down the road. Even though it was very rainy and wet there were few mosquitoes. I’m thinking it was also just a tad chilly for them. This was the year of jewelweed for sure. Jewelweed took over my asparagus patch reaching for the sun over 7 feet. Several families of hummingbirds were constantly buzzing the flowers, hummingbirds along with many different kinds and sizes of bumblebees. Potato bugs seemed like the appeared early and skeletonised the potatoes before I realized it. Potato bugs and slugs and snails, and me with no ducks to eat those slimy things.The cold long winter killed most of the peach buds and many orchards only have half an apple crop. Apples are small and still don’t seem to be sweeten up. But people will pick….. Too cold and wet for strawberries but blueberry was the crop that supported all the other slight crops.People get sick of blueberries quickly and many were left for the Cedar Wax Wings and other birds. Tomatoes didn’t ripen till that blight arrived. Still waiting for winter squash to ripen but I doubt it will. I noticed at at local orchard store the butternuts have a green tint to them instead of the nice creamy tan. I bought cans of tomato sauce for winter soups. Have enough wood under the carport to get me through winter along with enough hay for my three mini ass, lawn ornaments. It’s coming….

I bet I’ve had to unlearn at least two-thirds of all the stuff I was taught in school or during my 46-year nursing career, not to mention all the stuff I’ve read on my own that was wrong. One reason I have little use for formal science any more is that so much of it is obviously not what I can see with my own eyes or have experienced in my daily life. Nice post, Gene — you keep us thinking!

Regarding Trivia #3 and feeding chickens. I have been threatening my family that I wanted to try something that I’ve read about, adding extra protein to our chicken’s diet. You take any little dead animal and put it in a 5 gallon bucket with holes drilled all over the bottom, allow the flies to maggot-ize it, only takes a few days, depending on the weather, hang said bucket where your chickens can access it, and as the maggots fall through the holes, voila, extra protein. No one thought that it was a very appetizing idea. My daughter likes to shoot the squirrels that steal or walnuts. We’ve just been putting them in the trash afterwards. But recently she threw one on a wheelbarrow of rotten apples which was destined for the compost pile. After about a week the stench was noticeable and she took it (with a shovel mind you) and gave the writhing mass to our chickens, who if they could have talked, would have told us that it was very appetizing!

oh, we had plenty of chickweed…. But even MORE hairy galinsoga! Interestingly, the purslane has gone by the wayside … for now …

THe little things ARE the big things. Tornadoes live for a few minutes and are gone.But it’s the small things we love and treasure most. Like the pictures and thoughts on greeting cards.

William Trent Pancoast September 17, 2014 at 10:18 am

Much is remarkable. Always the beauty of nature, sometimes, after decades, finding that the farmer a few miles up the road has been writing some pretty goid novels.–Bill

I recall reading that ragweed seeds are about as nutritious as hemp seeds (so very). Everything here loves them, including the goats. They pull down giant ragweed plants that are 8’+ and eat all the seeds and leaves.

Really enjoyed this post…we all need to speak of joy a little more than we do

Fascinating how the potato plant found its way to the light. Did you spare its life?
From “Plant phytochrome, a critical molecule that detects the light that tells plants when to germinate, grow, make food, flower and even age.”

I have not had any chickweed either. I thought it was due to the white Dutch clover I planted in my yard two years ago but I have had a late flush of crabgrass I did not have a year ago…
damn that polar vortex! (Honestly, I don’t worry about having a perfect yard anymore)

I believe from this post you are conveying your since of “joy” in experiencing the little things we don’t see or take for granted. As I get older I seem to be seeing more myself. If only we could all slow down and just enjoy the “precious present”.

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