Wednesday, November 12, 2014

_The Hancock News_ Column-- November 5, 2014

Don’t believe everything you read, especially if it’s on the internet. I do a half-decent job of following this maxim until I see a recipe on a blog that promises to be the most scrumptious way to eat brussels sprouts, a method of cooking that makes them taste like candy your children can’t resist.

Earlier this year, I trusted the internet for information on a much larger endeavor than a new recipe. You see, our dog and two sons have been unfortunate enough to have Lyme Disease. Although we check for ticks, we knew some action was necessary this past spring after picking ticks off of ourselves, the children, our dog, and even the refrigerator.

Poison for the ticks, we figured, would be too expensive, and, well, too poisonous. I didn’t like the idea of toxins coating my kids’ stomping ground. 

Our next idea was to raise chickens. What could be bad about free-ranging chickens darting here and there chasing ticks and other annoying bugs? They’re fun to watch plus they lay fresh eggs that taste so much better than store-bought.

Our trusted world wide web squelched that notion. Evidently, chickens are brutal on vegetable gardens, scratching here and pecking there and generally making a mess of all your hard work. Since we put up quart upon quart of our own garden vegetables for winter use, those feathered agents of destruction were out of the question.

Some of the same sites that clued us in to the downfalls of chickens also suggested that guinea fowl were excellent when it came to insect and tick control. We could still eat their eggs if we could find them, and they supposedly attack snakes and small rodents, too.

Most importantly, we read that guineas keep gardens pest-free. One source even wrote that he’d seen his guineas strip bugs off of his tender garden plants without so much as a peck mark. That certainly sounded better than chickens.

At the same time, we read about drawbacks of guineas. Mostly they’re loud, really loud. When we started mentioning to friends we were thinking about guineas, those who’d experienced them underscored the noise factor. However, by this time, our minds were basically made up. We knew we’d be using guinea fowl to be our pest protection. I figured we already had six young children running around; how much louder can guineas actually be?

Besides, guineas eat ticks and wouldn’t wreck the garden. Throw in a fresh egg or two, and the satisfaction of having farm birds running about--yes, I was a goner for guineas.

Pretty much our entire late spring and summer were spent gardening and preparing for and taking care of our guineas. We transitioned our fourteen surviving keets (baby guineas) from our garage to their newly finished coop and outside enclosure. We kept them in their enclosure to get the idea through their amazingly not-so-bright brains that this was home.

Guineas in their coop soon after we moved them outside

In the meantime, I was experiencing a victory in the garden. I’d tried before to plant a fall garden to extend our growing season, but it had been a failure. Whenever I planted kale in late summer, it failed to grow. This year, come mid-September, I had small but healthy lettuce and kale growing strong.

Then came the big day to let our birds out to range free. It went well enough. We only let out  a few at a time so they would return to their buddies in the coop. We’d give them a treat of millet to reward them when they came back in the evening.

Guineas "free-ranging" next to the enclosure where their buddies are

Then something bad happened. 

The guineas found my nice kale bed and dusted themselves in it, making decent-sized valleys in the bare dirt. We tried to make it inaccessible to them by criss-crossing the raised bed with sticks and fence posts and by setting empty water jugs around the perimeter to keep them from getting in it. It seemed to work. 

Our attempts to keep them out of the dirt

Soon that kale was ready to harvest, but my children came running in one day to tell me excitedly that the guineas were messing up the kale again. I’m not certain, but there may have been a note of joy in their voices. Upon inspection I found the birds hadn’t just dusted in the bed again. They had trampled it, the kale beaten down and nibbled on. Nibbled on! These birds with the alleged supernatural power to eat bugs off plants with their eyes closed had ruined my precious kale. It went downhill from there so that now all that’s left of my gardening victory are small, stubby spines of the leaves.

Sad, sad kale

So much for the internet’s great wisdom. At least there’s still the lettuce. The kids like that better than kale anyway.


I’ll be honest. I haven’t found a way to make all of my children like certain veggies (like kale and brussels sprouts) all the time. I try to hide them in sweet smoothies and such, but while they will eat the required amount of cooked vegetable if prodded, they certainly don’t eat them like candy.

Lettuce, on the other hand, is a little easier to go down. And with this wilted lettuce recipe, they eat even more healthy greens in a sitting. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the bacon. This recipe is a difficult one to write down because I make it like my mother-in-law taught me--no measuring involved. Can you believe I consulted the internet to try to approximate some measurements? 

Safety precaution: Don’t, don’t, DON’T add the vinegar to very hot grease. It will splatter, burn you and make a horrible mess. Trust me. Also, don’t make extra; it’s just not good the next day.

Wilted Lettuce

A large head of leaf lettuce (NOT iceberg)
Onion (or green onion), sliced very thin, to taste
2 tsp. sugar, or to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
6 slices of bacon, cut up
1/4 cup cider vinegar

Wash lettuce and tear (as for salad) into a large bowl. Layer it with very thinly sliced onion, sprinkling sugar, salt, and pepper between layers.

Cook bacon in a skillet until crisp. Remove from skillet and set aside. Allow the bacon fat in the skillet to cool down a bit before adding the vinegar and stirring. Bring the vinegar-bacon fat mixture to a boil. Pour this hot dressing immediately over the lettuce and toss with the bacon bits. Serve immediately.

This post was shared at New Life on a Homestead for Barn-Hop Mondays.


  1. Greens with bacon, yum!

    I've never heard of anyone keeping guinea fowl before. They have an interesting face on them. Hope they at least got some of the ticks before eating all your kale.

  2. Yes, they were new to me, too. But since we've got them, we've seen them at a zoo and on a PBS cartoon, Wild Kratts.

    I don't know if they've eaten any ticks, but the ticks have picked back up around here for a fall season. My son found one about 5 minutes ago crawling on the baby's quilt!