Friday, May 22, 2009

Unreliable, That's What You Are...

You're supposed to be humming that to the tune of "Unforgettable", of course.

I've been away from the farm for a bit, traveling/talking.  Got back a few days ago, to the usual stack of urgencies, old standards and new surprises.

One of the few nice ones was this:

Click the pics for bigger.  The best crop of morels we've had in quite a few years.  I knew they were out there; and all 3 of us (minus any mushroom stomping dogs) went out looking this morning; with just this one basket.  What we have here is the yield from just 2 patches, one grey morels, and one brown (or white and yellow, depending on your vernacular.)

Unreliable; is what they are.  I don't have a clue how to predict the morel yield; it's just wildly variable, from year to year.  We have no shortage of dead elms, ever; so that's not it.  I think I do remember a year when we had nearly so many per tree, but it was decades ago.

So how is this a problem?  There's all this food out there- just screaming to be harvested.  Irritating, disruptive, and pretty much impossible to ignore.  My guess is we'll wind up freezing some.  It's a little hard to dry things here right now- we're off wood fuel for cooking and on propane; and the weather is frequently cool/cloudy.  One mushroomer friend dries his - on the dash of his car.  But I'm a little too afraid of bad plastic stuff in cars- you know, that lovely "new car smell"- which is in fact toxic.

So; work, work, work.  On top of regular chores.  :-)

Then; there's the cat/kitten problem.

Our regular cat is missing in action.  He's been gone for 3 weeks, and we're guessing he's not coming back.  He was (or is) an intact tom, and extraordinarily sweet and well behaved; which is why he was intact; we were thinking about arranging for kittens one day.  But he would, like most toms, take off occasionally; usually for 2-3 days.  He'd come back a little scarred and scabby; but happy.

Not this time.  It's very sad, of course; we'll miss him.  He was part of the family.

We also have mice, however; and we need a cat.  I casually discussed this with Spice a few days ago, basically saying "we'll probably need to think about a replacement eventually..."

The result, one day later:

Two black orphaned kittens.  2 weeks old- a dicey age.  Spice took Smidgen to her end of school picnic, on the teacher's parents' farm- and there the 30 pre-schoolers were confronted with a dead momma cat, and 6 dead kittens.  Shocking, and fascinating, of course.  Spice noticed that 2 of the kittens, cold and very hungry, were in fact still moving slightly...

She proceeded to rescue them, right in front of the kids.  Just like in the movies.  "I'll need a sharp pen knife, and a ball-point pen..."  

Ok, what she actually said was, "I'll need an egg, condensed milk, sugar, water, and some kind of syringe with no needle."  Which was not quite right, but close enough to revive them.

You can buy "kitten formula"; which is wildly expensive, and not quickly available out on the farm.  Or you can make your own.  This formula works for most young mammals; I've used it for baby cottontail rabbits, too; quite successfully.

Actually- condensed milk is not the right thing- you want to use dry milk; it's more digestible.  So; something like this; 1/2 egg yolk (only) counts as "1 part"; then add 3 parts reconstituted dry milk, 1 part cooking oil, and 1/3 part sugar.  Get it into them, somehow.

It's time consuming as all get out.  They need to eat frequently, including in the middle of the night; and kittens this young need help just to pee; you have to massage their tummies.  Their eyes are open; vets give kittens this young a 50-50 chance.  So far, we've been tending them 2 days; and they seem to be doing ok; one coughing a little.

But it's rewarding, too, of course.

Both males.  Probable names, Snowball, and Henri.  Smidgen loves saying "chat noir".


Update, 5/23.  We started giving Snowball, the cougher, a pinhead's worth of antibiotics yesterday- and today he is a good deal more active.  Both still with us; seem to be thriving.

And the morels?  Ha.  Unreliable is right.  Just got back from looking at another 60 or so reasonably appropriate dead elms.  2 of which had appreciable numbers of morels.  My first statistical sample included 10 elms; 2 of which were absolutely loaded, and another 3 of which had moderate crops.  So much for statistical predictions.  Hm.


Lisa Carroll-Lee said...

Wow, all those morels look fantastic! I know what you mean about how disruptive plentiful, wild foods can be -- delicious bounty but you've gotta hurry and gather it fast, then find a way to preserve it. For me, in my area, it's wild grapes, persimmons, cactus pears, and dewberries that I scramble with!

Great blog, BTW.

Anonymous said...

Morel of the story:

Tradition! Tra-di-tion! Roaming nonneutered non-native pet cats killing endangered wild birds, getting hit by cars, and otherwise disappearing forever from their 'families'. Must keep up tradition at all costs. Sigh.

- Mousetrap

Greenpa said...

Mousetrap- ah, but- none- and I do mean none- of those things are actually true.

I kind of forgot that we'd never had that conversation here; because I've had it on like 4 other blogs.

"roaming" - not really; he's outside all night to eat local mice; staying pretty close; 2 days out of 60, in the summer, he travels a little further.

"non-neutered" - he's a male. Males, never, ever contribute to population growth. Fact. Only females have babies- neutering males is a TOTAL waste of time. Ask a professional populations biologist. Oh; right- I am one. :-)

"non-native" nope; cats are native here; as of 1520 or so. Feral cats over ran the New World very promptly; just like red foxes. They're native now. The thing is- the truly wild ones are never ever seen by people- just the half-wild ones. You can, indeed, decrease the half-wild population; but you will never touch the truly wild ones.

"killing endangered birds" - uh; just like they have been, and the foxes too, for about 500 years now. The birds are really really used to it; in fact the cats and foxes displaced other predators, weasels mostly; so the total pressure on the birds has not changed. The truth of bird reproduction is- most baby birds are predator fodder; from the outset. One pair of crested whatnots will be extremely lucky to generate - 2 more ADULT crested-whatnots, in 5 years. Out of 20-40 babies.

This is the truth- ask a professional ornithologist if cats are a problem for birds. Not somebody who has 3 birdfeeders, but someone who studies bird populations (like me- mentioned a couple posts ago.)

I'm greatly in favor of birds. Cats associated with human households are just irrelevant to their survival. That can be hard to understand, when you see the neighbor's cat eating baby robins- but the real truth is- those babies are being eaten, right before your eyes, because their parents are incompetent. If the cat were not there- the same babies would be eaten by: squirrels; mice; rats, weasels, foxes, or hawks; in descending order of probability. Rodents eat every baby bird- and egg- they can find. Cats keep the rodents down.

Etc, etc. :-) I liked "morel of the story", incidentally.

So. The idea that cats are responsible for the decline in birds is a ... um... canard. The real cause of bird declines are virtually 100% habitat destruction. By non-native humans. :-)

Susan Och said...

Thanks. I caught our cat sitting on top of the bluebird box while the bluebird perched on the wire above giving him dirty looks. I was trying to figure out i I should feel guilty about the cat-bird dynamics and your comment above puts it in perspective. I knocked the cat down with the rake anyway.

We've had a so-so year for morels. If I knew the secret I'd tell you.

tickmeister said...

15 years ago, we found lots of morels under dead elms, but not lately. Who knows why? About 7 years ago, our 10 acres of creek bottom had so many morels that we simply quit picking them. Many hundreds. This year, about 10 total. I got more ticks than mushrooms in that plot.

We still had enough for a couple of meals for at least 25 years in a row.

I completely agree about habitat being the controller of all wildlife populations. It's sort of like performing musicians. The number of gigging banjo players will be controlled by the number of bands needing one, not by the number of folks who own a banjo.

RC said...

Hey, why don't you get my email from Gallinazo already? I am in bad shape and may finally capitulate to letting one or two interns {educated peons} "help" me grow out the next acre. I have the dirt, seeds and market, even just bought a store for retail, but I have to honestly assess my physical capabilities and they are more like debilities. I live on a very beautiful island of a hundred spectacular beaches, and the growing is just fine. Any suggestions from you about the fastest routes to solving my labor problem? I have no qualms about letting the help end up with the greater part of the spoils, I just need to see events progress. Naked lots full of fine soil make me anxious.
Yes, I need real help and real labor, meaty guys and dolls, not flimsy flakes that don't wake early.
I know there are several trajectories to the resolution of the problem varying from gazettes to on line to word of mouth.
Puhleeese opine if you will.
I enjoyed the defense of cattiness.
I've many of the critters. They kill the rats and the iguanas under 18 inches. Indispensable. Can't have a farm without cats. I neuter the males though, much less trouble for them to cause, less stink. I prefer the siamese females, or the females in general. Much better killers.
Remember Russ Meyer's 1950s bizarro epic? "Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill?" Oh wait, I think that wasn't about a farm.
Anyway, I can start prepping the new acre right now, I will set seed and tubers on it gradually over the summer with a massive plant out as the rainy season commences at the end of August.
I really need the help to groom the place once production starts.
That would be in 90 days. I have a friend doing the greens raising on his farm {his business} and I will be putting most of the other truck farm stuff he isn't doing on the new lot.
I read the Times and I did notice that interns are dying for a learning opportunity. But I do have severe helperitis and must vet the new folks extensively.
Many of my mangled tools have small brass labels: "Helperized for your aggravation".
Happiness to you, the morels, the dolls you live with and of course the felines and guineas.

ExRanger said...

Wow, nice batch of morels! I have never figured them out from year to year either. I guess that it makes it that much more fun to look for them.

Anonymous said...

Ah. Haven't had those since I was a kid in Indiana. I do miss those, and the wild asparagus dad would stop and pick on the way home from work.

I planted an asparagus bed (finally) this year because I so miss the taste of fresh -- every year I get it at the market but it's not nearly the same.

The kittens are cute! Are you sure they're boys? My MIL once fostered a day old kitten, and when FIL took it to the vet to be neutered 'he' turned out to be a Walter became Annie (but she still answers to WalterAnn). She was a professional rehabber for the fish and game society, so she had had some experience with orphans in the small animal category.

tansy said...

thank you for the defense against cats/birds. so true! i wish more could see the full picture in this paradigm.

EJ said...

"neutering males is a TOTAL waste of time"

unless you consider neutered dogs being less prone to roam


for humans the relative ease with which male neutering can be done compared to female sterilization.

both really good reasons to neuter males.

Greenpa said...

EJ- not if your goal is no babies. Indeed, neutered males roam less- but it makes no difference. An uncontrolled female in heat WILL find an unneutered male- unless you neuter 100% of all males within 30 miles. Not gonna happen.

Likewise the ease- it's only effective birth control at all; if you are near 100% of available males. Reality, with feral and abandoned dogs in the picture, it's highly unlikely even 60% of available males are neutered. And everybody knows the stories about both males and females breaking glass and doors to get at each other when heat is on.

healinggreen said...

Oh, my husband will be SOOO jealous. He has been searching high and low for morels this year, since our fiddleheads have turned bad, and has only found one. What was wrong with the fiddleheads? Well, in other years they were fine, just needed the regular soaking and cooking, but this year even 20 minutes boiling in two changes of water didn't take away the bitterness. They were totally inedible. Wierd.

Anonymous said...

Gee, and I always thought it took two to make a baby.

Not so green if you let your cat out.

Personally, I don't think you have a clue about the magnitude of the problem of cat predation on native wildlife - biologist or not.

There are doctors who smoke, too, you know.

Greenpa said...

RE: Anon 3:34. I almost didn't publish this comment, since it's borderline troll puckey. But I thought it would be worth while to remember how fact resistant people can be.

Notice there are no facts in the comment; only granitic opinions, and ancient miscomprehensions like "I always thought it takes two."

Well, duh. The reason that is mistaken however is- the science of population dynamics, unlike economics etc,; is based on EXPERIMENT- not opinion.

Here's the hard fact- in the early days of populations science- the equations people were writing to describe how populations expand, contract, collapse, and explode- all included information on the number of reproductive males in the population. With information on birth ratios, number of males reaching reproductive age, differential death rates. Lots of info.

After a couple of decades of checking how well, or if, the equations actually predicted reality- it was discovered that: 100% of the information on the males- was completely irrelevant. You could strip it out of the predictions and equations- and in fact the equations would work better. Because inevitably, the additional complexities of all that information added some errors, too.

Try to focus on the population. Not the individual. In a population- unless 100% of the males are sterile- then effectively 100% of available females WILL be impregnated.

Now, the actual reality for cats is: the population consists of feral, semi-feral, and domestic cats.

The feral cats, which are virtually invisible and untouchable (as wild as red foxes, easily) will never have a significant number of their males neutered, no matter how hard you try. And, there's what I call the "ocean effect". If you get all the males on your beach sterilized- guess what? There are more males just outside your reach. And they DO respond to the chemical signals of heat.

If you sterilize all the semi ferals, and domestics- you will still get most of available females impregnated.

So. No, it doesn't take two. When you look at the whole picture; instead of the two neighborhood cats eating baby robins under your bird -cat feeder.

Anonymous said...

You said to "ask a professional ornithologist for their opinion if cats are a problem for birds", 23 May.

The ABC video came out and you were "apalled at the lack of intelligent comment from the professional sector", 3 June.

Guess you don't like the opinions of professional ornithologists that disagree with your own?

I doubt that cats were "killing endangered birds" 500 years ago. Who was around to even designate them as such? The first to go were the Great Auk and the Labrador Duck ~150 years ago, and I don't think cats were involved.

Cats are as non-native now as they were in 1520. I'm sure there are plenty of Native Americans who would take offence at Europeans considering themselves 'native' just because they've been here for a few hundred years.

Cats causing bird extinctions - ever study island population biology, with bird species that evolved without mammalian predators?

Cats Indoors.