Just another modest proposal from big agribusiness...

Thank heavens for the internet, showing me the error of my ways -- according to this fellow, "conventional" farming is better for the environment and even for animals being raised for food. He suggests that caged chickens are better off than free range chickens because they are less stressed due to their confinement.

Maybe he's on to something. If, indeed, intensive cage farming is better for the chickens because they consume fewer calories and thus resources and are not troubled by natural behaviors like moving around and establishing a social hierarchy, why not expand the concept? Why not solve this problem of expanding food needs by caging humans as well? Surely keeping humans in banks of tightly-fitting cages would be better for us, as it would eliminate such stressors as war, poverty, and competition for mates. We would take up much less space, which would be better for the environment.

And if we went one step further and fed us recycled bits of human as they feed chickens recycled bits of other chickens, we could drastically reduce our need to raise food animals -- and thus our impact upon the Earth. Such humans might not be able to lift their arms due to the tight quarters, but in the past raised arms have been used to hold weapons and intimidate others, so it's really better if we can eliminate these types of distressing behaviors altogether. And, really, isn't the lifespan of the average human right now a little over-the-top? If we can condense all this living into a smaller physical space, we might as well do what we do with chickens and condense it into a smaller temporal space as well. Meat chickens hit their peak at, what, six weeks? It would be hard to argue that people haven't hit their peak by thirty-five or so. If we could just select for the shortest-lived and fastest-growing humans, we could streamline things to fit many more generations into a century of time. And once you hit thirty-five, you still get to give back to the community by becoming people kibble. What could be more environmentally friendly than that?


One of the things I inevitably spend way too much time doing is weeding. Our yard was a terribly neglected weed-patch when we bought the house, and between that and the weeds you get even in the best-tended and mulched garden beds, there's a lot of ground to cover. Hunched over in the hot sun or swatting away mosquitos as I dig out roots and rhizomes, I'm inclined to curse these out-of-place plants -- but a little research and a lot of closer looking has changed my outlook somewhat.

For all that the weeds drive me crazy, there are relatively few in my yard that are "useless," and several that are useful enough that it's astonishing that as a culture we've dismissed them so thoroughly. So this summer I want to talk about a few of these that you just might have sprouting around your yard, and even if you don't decide to eat them, you might regard them a little differently.

Some of the plants I'm going to mention require a lot more effort to use than it's probably worth most of the time. (After all, who wants to spend hours digging, cleaning, and pounding quackgrass roots to make bread when we have far more effective ways to do it? What we might do in a time of need may not be worth it in a time of relative plenty.) But this one is easy; you can pick it as-is, rinse it off, and pop it right in your mouth, and it's delicious. It grows all over the place and isn't difficult to find or identify, so it's free...how can you beat that? :) This is wood sorrel, a diminuitive clover-like plant common in the Midwest:

This plant is not too problematic to identify, because the only thing it closely resembles is clover, which (while far less palatable) is not toxic. There are a couple of ways to distinguish it; a patch of sorrel isn't going to have clover flowers, for one! (Its flowers are the dainty yellow ones in the picture; they can also occasionally be white depending on the sorrel variety, but they don't look anything like clover flowers.) Clover also tends to have duller green leaves with lighter-colored markings on them (as in the picture below), which wood sorrel lacks. If all else fails, you can tell by taste -- a clover leaf tastes...leafy...while the taste of sorrel is hard to miss.

Wood sorrel has a delicious, tangy, lemony flavor that will surprise you if you've never tried it before. It tends to grow in clumps, so you can gather enough for a meal in just a few minutes. I toss mine into a cup or paper bag and then rinse it out in a colander in the kitchen sink the same way I'd rinse lettuce leaves, then use in a salad either by itself or with other greens like spinach and basil. The flavor is strong and pleasant enough that it doesn't need much dressing up; I use just a tiny amount of oil and vinegar (citrus balsamic is absolutely fantastic with it; in the Twin Cities you can get this stuff cheap at Holy Land). Sesame seeds or almond slivers are good in this kind of salad, too.


The fruits of our labor

Well, if the last post was about the cold weather, this is the opposite extreme -- the temperature hit 103°F yesterday! We took the temperature in the shade after 6 p.m. and it was still over 100. This may not sound like much to those of you way down south, but we're in Minnesota, and a few weeks ago, we had snow! Fortunately, we didn't lose any chickens yesterday -- though several other people in the area did -- which was very lucky for us because ours still won't come out of the coop into the run, and as well-ventilated as it is, it was still searingly hot inside yesterday, poor things. I guess they're tough little birds. They'll have to be, in this climate!

I've gotten a lot more planted in the last few weeks, but it seems we're doomed to have no spring at all this year, so I don't think we'll be seeing much in the way of snap or snow peas. For some reason they didn't germinate for weeks after I planted them, and now it's been so hot I can't imagine they'll be producing much. So that's a let-down. But I think we're on track for strawberries in the near future, and we even got the first honeyberries we've ever had on our bushes a few days ago. I've heard lots of people say they aren't palatable for raw eating, but the little ones at least are delicious, in my opinion! They're very tart-sweet and unique; the closest comparison I can make is to tart red currants, but it's different from those, as well. We've planted a lot of fruit for many reasons -- one of which is that it's one of the types of food that tends to have the greatest number of food miles, since so many of the fruits we eat are tropical -- and it's gratifying to keep finding that the fruits that grow here, which you generally can't find at the grocery store, taste just as good or better. To me it's terribly sad that we've not only not cultivated the local fruits and enjoyed them, but in some cases (gooseberries, currants), have actually exterminated them or even banned them from being grown at all.

So far we have planted (not all this year!):
Canadian Chokecherry (x1, may have to get rid of due to black knot >_<)
Northstar Pie Cherry (x2)
Ben Sarek Black Currant (x4)
Red Lake Red Currant (x3)
Honeyberry (x3, 3 different varieties, but I can't recall which)
Gooseberry (x1, can't recall variety)
Mount Royal Plum (x1)
Junebearing Strawberries (4'x8' bed, plus where they've crept out into the yard)
Raspberry (x2, one red and one yellow)
Blackberry (x1, thornless)
Apple (x1, Honeycrisp)
Serviceberry (x1)
Rhubarb (x3)
Hardy Kiwi (x1 so far, need another)
Hazelnut (x2)
Various minimally successful attempts at melons

On my wish list:
Seaberry (I am seriously coveting the ones at Egg|Plant right now...)

Not bad for a tenth of an acre lot that also has to hold our house, garage, chicken coop, and vegetable garden! I also hope to espalier some dwarf apples and more pie cherries along the sides of our house and garage once we replace our siding, and to start propagating some of the things I'm growing so I can help them get re-established in the area. I'd be curious to hear what other fruits people have tried to grow in colder climates, especially those that are less common.

Since the weather this year has been so unaccommodating, I leave you with some pictures from last year about this time, and the hope that things will be looking as nice in the garden this year, soon. ^_^