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Sunflower Savannah

Slow Food Grants

Sam WisemanSometimes in February, it seems like spring will never arrive. This was one of the dreariest winters that I could remember. Even as cold as it was last year, we had many sunny days. There was a bright spot in our winter doldrums however. Sunflower Savannah has been graced with another Slow Food grant. This one for Heirloom Fruit Permaculture.

This is our fourth Slow Food and the Ark of Taste food grants.

This year, my interest was in quince. I have long been intrigued by this fruit. It is mentioned often in old fiction novels, it is always an ingredient in those high-end jams from those high-end food stuff companies.

In the USA Slow Food Ark of Taste, there are two quinces listed: the Sonoran and Meech's Prolific Quince. The Sonoran growing near the borders between California and Mexico, of course, could not begin to survive in Missouri climates and was immediately discarded as a choice. Besides, Meech's intrigued me as it was introduced in the late 180's by a Reverend Meech and described as “the most uniformly prolific of all known varieties.”

I began writing the grant in early January as it was due on the 31st, not expecting to run into the trouble that I did.

quince | courtesy

Meech's Prolific Quince | courtesy

Searching for Meech's Prolific quince on the Internet using every possible combination of words, I ran into a woman called the "Queen of Quince" and then turned to my Organic Homesteading group, which has members all over North America including Canada who then spread out to their contacts. Finally I was forced to do something that I never do ... give up. Commercial sales of this quince has pretty much disappeared from the United States. While there are simply hundreds of suppliers and growers of this tree in the UK, international regulatory restrictions not only prohibit but make it almost impossible to get anything from there to here with out breaking dormancy and dying along the way.

To tell the truth only one nursery, RV Rogers of England, of the 50 or so that I contacted would even discuss it with me. In the US, only one nursery produces about 20 to 25 whips (a tree without branches) per year and they were sold out by January 5 when I first contacted them. This quince is so rare that (if you can wrap your mind around this) the USDA expert on Quince does DNA testing on any tree claiming to be a Meech's and there are Meech's Prolific trees in the USDA clonal repository simply for the purpose of giving scions (starter branches to be grafted on another tree basically) to people who want to propagate them and the only contributors to the repository are from the Department of AG specialist whose name is Joseph Postman and the woman who runs the only nursery in the US who grows the whips. Crazy no?

So while I say I gave up, I mean that I gave up trying to find another source. I did order the scion branches but not ever having done this, I also obtained a promise from the nursery that if I got the grant I would get the first five whips from her 2015 stash, which will be ready in November. Did I mention that I am not a patient person?

I decided to add the Black Republican Cherry as another item on our Heirloom Fruit Permaculture list.

Black Republican Cherries | courtesy Cornucopia Food Forest Gardens, 

Black Republican Cherries | courtesy Cornucopia Food Forest Gardens,

I found it interesting that we have all eaten Black Republican cherries without even knowing what they are. Most yogurt and ice cream has contained Black Republican cherries for years. We all thought they were Bings. Truth is that the Black Republican cherry is the parent to the Bing cherry. In recent years the production of Black Republican cherry has really slowed down because the seed is bigger, which reduces the amount of flesh for usage. It has been almost reduced for use in grafting and pollination stock and is never available fresh. The interesting name comes from the fact the original growers of this fruit were abolitionists who participated in the underground railroad. Finding a source for this fruit was a bit easier but still there are only two sources here in the US that I could find. There may be some more obscure ones but after all the research put into the others, my search was over.

pawpaws | courtesy Kentucky State University 

Pawpaws | courtesy Kentucky State University

The American Pawpaw is the largest unused fruit in America, so this one was a no brainer. Even I, who was born and spent much of my time in the Missouri Bootheel where Pawpaws are common and had a dad who was a hunter and forager in that area, have never tasted one. He told me about them many times but never brought them home for us to enjoy. There has been a lot of research the last few years in Kentucky on Pawpaws so they were fairly easy to locate.

pawpaw | courtesy Agricultural Research Service 

Pawpaws | courtesy Agricultural Research Service

You may wonder what the big deal is about keeping certain plants from dying out when there are bigger and better, newer varieties available. The truth is:

  • In the United States, an estimated 90 percent of our historic fruit and vegetable varieties have vanished.

  • Of the 7,000 apple varieties that were grown in the 1800s, fewer than a hundred remain.

Experts estimate that we have lost more than half of the world's food varieties over the past century. As for the 8,000 known livestock breeds, 1,600 are endangered or already extinct.

If disease or future climate change decimates one of the handful of plants and animals we've come to depend on to feed our growing planet, we might desperately need one of those varieties we've let go extinct.

—National Geographic, July 2011

Some 12 plant species provide approximately 75 percent of our total food supply, and only 15 mammal and bird species make up more than 90 percent of global domestic livestock production.

—Harvard School of Public Health

An important example of this is the Irish Potato Famine. One variety of potato wiped out a nation because of one little strain of blight.

Sunflower Savannah is committed to keeping as many species as we can going.

Thanks to Slow Food St. Louis, Sunflower Savannah has vastly improved the fruits of our farm labors (no pun intended) and provided Cayuga ducks for roasting and their eggs plus an array of heirloom tomatoes and tomato products to market.

Check out your local chapter of Slow Food for the possibility of grants, as well as programs for propagating disappearing foods, plants and animal food sources. Check out the Slow Food Ark of Taste to see for yourself what sources have become endangered just in the US. You will be surprised. Add some to your farm. Be that one more person to continue that one more food source. Maybe you will be the one who stops it from disappearing ... even if you don't know it.

God's blessings on you and yours,
Sam and Bill

Out in the Barn ... Again

Sam WisemanI am a shepherdess of a small hair sheep flock.

This is a job that I take very seriously. Our flock is made up of a permanent set of ewes that may be added to as a good specimen is born on the farm, and varying aged lambs, including males being raised for market sales. Some of our ewes have been on site for the entire 11 years that we have been raising sheep. In the beginning, we had sheep only for pasture control but eventually it grew into something else.

July Flock

As our flock, which I call “My Girls,” frequently includes males, we can lamb as early as January sometimes, and generally it is stretched out over a couple of month period. If it’s not too busy I try and schedule it a little better. During this time, I keep careful watch over my flock. Many shepherds will disagree with me on frequent checks and bringing my girls in at night when they are close. Which I do, especially if it is cold.

When I first started I read that losses of up to 5 percent were to be expected every season. I was determined to break this statistic on my own farm. Call me silly but it only took once, carrying a cold slimy lamb from the field to the barn in the dark while holding it in front of a mom to smell it so she would follow, for me to absorb the idea of it being easier on everyone for the girls to be in the barn when it was time to lamb. This seems to me to be especially important with wool sheep that do not have near the resistance to the cold or stress levels that hair sheep have.

Now I am not saying that I keep my flock in the barn the entire time that they are getting close, but I do keep an eye on them, and there are some signs to watch for to get them in a sheltered spot when they are ready. 

  1. Full BagTheir milk bag is full. This takes experience and can be deceiving, but when you add it to other signs, it helps to pinpoint things.

  2. Mucus Plug. You will see a slimy, mucus discharge from the vulva area. It can still be awhile from here but still …

  3. The ewes will stand off by themselves. They almost get modest at this point.

  4. The rams will become excited and try to circle the ewe as if to keep the other rams (and you) from messing with their “woman.” I haven’ read about this, but have seen this phenomenon many times. It seems as if the labor pheromone is the same as the heat one.

  5. The ewe will stare at the ground and smell it, almost as if she is looking for the lamb.

The way that you notice these things is by paying attention. During the day I do frequent checks and at dusk, I do a count. And before anyone says anything, I realize that if you have 1,000 animals, it is a whole different ball of wax, but for the average homesteader, this is an easy thing that can save a life.

A lamb can get separated if you have many fences and pastures, a new mom can be off hiding and get locked out or will stay out until her lamb is too cold for her to warm. A simple count will soon help you realize what’s wrong.

The Bible says, “What shepherd that has a 100 sheep and seeing that one is gone will not leave the 99 and go in search of the one that has gone astray?”

A good lesson there.

Another thing of importance is to listen! A ewe who has been separated from her lamb will literally be crazed with grief and fear. She will bellow and run about looking for it for hours. A ewe who has a breech presentation will also dash around trying to get away from the pain. Sheep are placid animals and even in the throes of labor will rarely complain with more than a grunt or a groan. If they are making racket for no apparent reason, there’s something wrong.

Which brings us to the next point. At night when I know I have an ewe close, I make several trips out to the barn after dark and sometimes, if it is a new mom, I get up and get dressed in the middle of the night to check.

While it is rare, even a seasoned mom can have issues with tangled limbs from a mal-presentation of multiple births. A new mother will sometimes know she is supposed to do “something” but not be sure what “the heck that thing that just caused her so much pain wants from her.” I always make sure a new lamb from a new mom is nursing before I walk away.

Some farmers say it’s not worth it to them, it’s too many hours and not cost efficient. I say, how can it not be worth it? A lost lamb because of something simple is a loss of several hundred dollars in breeding capacity. I mean think about it, ewes that we have had for 12 years have given us approximately 23 lambs. For the ram lambs, the issue is loss of meat that we have available for the market. If nothing else, you have lost the time wasted while the ewe was pregnant with that lamb. What profits you to lose a lamb or a ewe? Besides, how do I know which animals to keep and which to cull if I don’t see their instincts and what traits they will pass along? I might help a ewe the first time she has to nurse her lamb but if it’s a continuing pattern, she’s gone. Simple rule on the farm, “be nice or be tasty.”

Bottom line, the success of your flock is in your hands. Small is easy but to grow a flock, it takes dedication.

Happy Lambing,
Sam Wiseman
Sunflower Savannah Farm 

He who tills the Earth shall be satisfied with bread. Proverbs 12:11

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