Last fall and early winter, I collected a bucket full of Osage Oranges – what some people call Hedge Apples – and left them to ferment until spring.

I smushed them into a slurry (shown in the photo below), then dug a long trench along the eastern border of the property.

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Using a stick, I ladled the slurry liberally and covered them with a thin layer of dirt. With any luck we’ll have a bit of natural fencing to work with in a few months.

The long term goal is to have an enclosure that can serve as a large subdividable paddock for livestock grazing. It should also serve as a bit of privacy fencing from the road to the east.

We spent the afternoon harvesting wild stinging nettles and basking in the spring sunshine.

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After a few stings and a little skinny dipping, we headed home to process (wash, soak, trim, and dry) them. If you’ve never had the good fortune of getting a sting, it’s pretty much like getting an ant bite. In both cases the sting is the result of formic acid, which luckily dissipates in the drying / cooking process.

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Most of these will be dried, steeped in spring water and drunk as tea throughout the year. Nettle tea is a tasty drink with many health benefits.

After the work was done, Manijeh made a simple nettle frittata. Delicious!

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The following night for supper, I made a variation on my usual cottage pie and added a layer of sautéed nettles between the meat and mashed potatoes. To make sure we had enough for a few days, in addition to the usual beef I also added some Italian sausage from our pig share.

The combination was a big hit and I have to say that nettles should always be in Shepherds Pie / Cottage Pie.

We spent February 2014 in Menomonie, Wisconsin at ReWild University where we studied all manner of interesting things with Kenton Whitman and crew.

While there we learned how to:

Build different types of shelter

Make a fire using a hand drill, bow drill, and flint and steel

Make char cloth

Bake bread using “ancient grains”

Coal burn wooden utensils

Scrape and tan hides (I’ll explain this process in greater detail later)

Identify useful plants in deep winter

Practice mindfulness

Survive a fall through ice

Reverse wrap cordage

Make pitch glue

An incredibly brief description of our time:

There is no electricity or running water in the 16′ yurt where we stayed. However, there is a great little wood stove with a soapstone cooktop and a catalytic converter (which is my first time using something like that). We carried a water container a short distance every day for washing and drinking.

Home base

We arrived during an especially cold snap, so the nights were between -30 and -25. I stoked the heater two or three times a night and we all bundle up under the covers, so it’s really not as bad as you might think. Luckily we both have experience cooking on wood stoves and rocket stoves. Otherwise we’d have been pretty hungry!

Inner yurt

The lack of media and the constant barrage of marketing messages was blissful.

In addition to learning “old skills”, we also had the good fortune to see other people raising children using the same methods we’ve chosen (I’ll explain our choice of attachment parenting some other time). Priceless.

Because we’re trying to build a house this summer, we need money. The folks at the farm were very supportive and made sure that I had a temporary office and all the bandwidth I needed. I worked 3 days a week for about 4 hours a day. My clients were intrigued and supportive of my irregular hours (I also worked in overdrive to clear my plate in the weeks prior to leaving).

By candle light we read many books. We each chose books based on our interests – Manijeh went mostly with plant books (both informational and spiritual), I chose to read about Buddhism and the Zen mind, and Orin sampled a little of everything before napping.

Napping

On waking, we prepared breakfast and geared up for our daily trip outside with the instructor for that day. Once the instructor arrived at the yurt, we discussed the day’s lessons and shared any questions or observations from the previous day.

We hunted for chaga and other wild edibles. Here’s Kenton harvesting chaga with Orin strapped to his back.

Chaga hunters

Once a week or so we shared supper with all of the people who lived on the farm, usually at the home of the matriarch, Dotty. Each home was hand built by the residents from wood harvested on the land. Meals were usually made with meat, fruit and veggies grown on the farm. Here are a couple of rabbits I dispatched and braised. Made a fine meal with lentils and kale.

Rabbits

The last week we were there, I built a little snow playground for Orin and Kenton’s little girl, Mirabelle. The two had a grand time going down the slide and crawling into the little snow cave.

Playground

Late one night as I lay in bed, I had the idea to pick apart the Flower of Life symbol. I imagined pulling it apart in strands and I suddenly saw it as intertwining strands of DNA. The following morning I sat down to try to capture the idea in a piece of art. Two hours later I produced this image:

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If you’d like a copy, shoot me an email and I’ll have a high res print made.

It will take some time, but we’ve decided that it is important to share the things we’ve learned – both in and out of the classes. Our 5 year plan is to develop the infrastructure needed to begin teaching some of the things we’ve learned in recent years.

If you’d like to live a little, I can’t recommend this experience enough. Drop Kenton a line and work something out. You wont regret it.

Snow jumping