Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Edible Wild Plants - Bull Thistle

DISCLAIMER: Don't believe anything I or anybody else tells you about edible wild plants. Don't eat edible wild plants based on what you see in a book or on the inter-net. Get a qualified instructor to show you the plants, and don't eat them until the instructor shows you how to prepare them, and then eats them him or herself. Be aware that you may be allergic to a plant that someone else can eat without harm. Be sure that any plants that you gather have not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Pictured below: Bull Thistle

One of the edible plants that appears in the early spring in East Texas is the Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare). Bull thistle is not native to North America and is believed to have been introduced from Europe in colonial times. Bull Thistle is pretty easy to recognize. It pops up, seemingly overnight, out of pastures, fields, and other disturbed areas. It has a round, hollow, green, stem that has ridges on the outside kind of like celery. It has spiney leaves. The stem grows up out of a rosette of these spiney leaves. The stem or stalk can grow up to 7 feet tall, but most of the one's I see are around 3 or 4 feet. The Bull Thistle will have several flowers on it. The flowers are purple and have the classic thistle shape, and are maybe two inches tall. When the plant is mature the flowers open and release a white down. The down is excellent for fletching blowgun darts, but that will be the subject of another post. If you want to collect some thistle flowers for making blow darts, be sure and collect the flowers before they open and then use a short length of string to tie them shut. Otherwise the flowers will open, and you will have a useless bag of loose down. Pictured below: Bull Thistle flower

The stalk is the edible part of the Bull thistle. It has a pretty good taste; a little bit like sugar cane, a texture kind of like celery, and maybe just a hint of honeydew melon. You want to collect the stalks while they are still young. They become tough and more bitter as they grow older. To harvest the stalk, cut it off just above the bottom rosette of leaves. Be careful, these things will stick you. Trim off the side leaves and the top of the stalk. Pictured below: Trimed stalk

If you turn the stalk up and look at the bottom you will see that there is a dark green outer layer and a light green inner layer to the stalk. The outer layer is very fibrous and needs to be peeled off. Pictured below: End view of Bull Thistle stalk showing outer and inner layers.

Once the outer layer of stalk has been peeled off, you can cut the stalk into strips, wash it off, and eat it. Pictured below: Bull Thistle stalk with outer layer removed and Bull Thistle stalk cut up and ready to eat.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

An Emergency Cook Stove

I learned another one of those lessons this winter. I learned that when the weather gets really cold, and if you have any water condensation in your gas lines; your gas regulator can freeze up, and you are out of business as far as getting the old cook stove lit.. We have a gas stove in our kitchen. It runs off of the small 20 pound size bottles; you know, the kind that are on your outdoor grill. Here’s the problem. Our bottles and the gas regulator are above ground, and this winter we had a spell where the temperature got down into the teens. Apparently our regulator froze up, and no matter what I did, the kitchen stove wouldn’t light. I guess I could have disconnected the regulator and brought it inside to thaw out, but this seemed like a lot of hassel, especially in 14 degree weather; so I went out to the shop, dug around on the storage shelves, and came up with my Coleman camp stove and a couple of small bottles of propane. This little two burner stove worked like a champ, and as long as you don’t need to bake something it will take care of any cooking job.

I remember when we lived in Dallas, years ago, I think it was the winter of 1979. There was a really bad ice storm. Tens of thousands of people lost power; a bad deal for people with all electric homes. Then for some reason, which escapes my memory, the above ground gas meters started to explode. So whole areas of town had the gas shut off. Now you had people without electricity or gas, and temperatures in the 20’s. It took less than a day for every camp stove in town to disappear from the shelves. You couldn’t buy one for any price. People who could afford it moved into hotel and motel rooms in parts of town that still had power. After all the rooms were rented, or for people who couldn’t afford a room; it was wrap up in blankets and eat cold beans. Not a pleasant situation. So my point is, don’t wait until the power goes out and then have to fight for a cook stove. Buy yourself a nice, two burner camp stove and ten or twelve mini-bottles of propane now. It doesn’t cost much, and it can sure save you a lot of misery

Monday, March 21, 2011

Primitive Fishing - Catching Fish

So now we’re down to where the rubber meets the road. Will my primitive fishing gear actually catch fish? Well it’s time to see. First thing I had to do was take my worm can and throw a few grubs from my garden into it. Pictured below: Closed worm can, and open worm can with grubs inside.

I’ve had this can for so long I don’t even remember what it held originally. I think it might have been saddle soap. I set up my pole with a home-made hook, a split shot weight, and a cork float. I set my cork so that I would be fishing about two feet below the surface. With bait and pole in hand I made my way down to the pond. I threaded a grub onto my home-made hook and tossed my line out into the pond. Pictured below: Grub on hook and line out in water.

I swear, as God is my witness, that on the first cast; I caught a fish. It wasn’t a mount on the wall kind of fish; just a little pan fish about six inches long.

In the next twenty minutes I caught four more. None of them were huge, but combined they would make a good meal for someone that was trying to live off the land. So, that's how it's done. Nothing fancy, just a little old time ingenuity, and the next thing you know; it's fried fish for dinner.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How to Make a Cricket Cage

When I was a kid we used to carry our worms in an old coffee can or one of the flat type tobacco tins that would fit easily into a pocket. If we were going to carry crickets, grasshoppers, roaches, or some other type of bug we made what we called a cricket cage. This was a simple device made of stuff from around the farm.

First we cut a couple of discs of wood out of a dried pine limb.

Then we drilled a hole in one of the pieces and banged a couple of fence staples into it.

Next we took an old piece of screen wire and tacked it around the two wooden discs.

A strap of leather or cordage was attached to the fence staples so that the cage could hang over our shoulder, and an old cork was used to plug the hole. That’s it. Plain and simple country engineering. Just gather a few bugs to go in the cage and head out for the pond. All that’s left is to catch some fish.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Finding Fishing Bait

Once you accept the premise that fish will eat about anything, it makes it a lot easier to find bait. Of course the classic fishing bait is worms, and worms can be gathered while working in the garden and saved for later use. Worms like darkness, they like moisture, and they like rich loose soil. In the spring and summer I keep a plastic bucket in the shade next to my garden. I poke holes in the bottom of the bucket and put a few rocks in the bottom, then I fill the bucket about half full of dirt, compost, and manure and then I wet the contents down. When I come across a worm or a grub, I throw them in the bucket; not every worm, because earthworms are good for the garden. When I water the garden I water the worm farm as well. When I want to go down to the pond and go fishing, it's a simple matter to grab a few worms or grubs and drop them into my bait can with a little dirt. Pictured below: A grub worm, and my mini worm farm.

Another good source of bait is wasp larvae. My granddad used to grab a bunch of broom grass, light it with his cigarette lighter, and hold it up to a wasp nest to chase the adult wasps off. He'd then knock the nest down and carry it with us to the pond. We'd remove the larvae from the nest as needed and use them for bait. Looking back on it I don't know how he kept from getting stung. Pictured below: top, a red wasp nest; bottom, a black wasp or dirt dauber nest.

Grasshoppers are another good bait. It is best to gather grasshoppers in the early morning when the temperature is a little cool. This way the grasshoppers are not as active and are easier to catch. Crickets, roaches, water bugs, and other assorted insects also make good bait. We used to carry these critters in a little cage with a strap on it. I'll show you how to make a cricket cage in my next post. Pictured below: Grasshopper.

If you are gathering bait in the wild, look for old rotten logs and bust them open. You will often find bugs or grubs in these logs. If you see a log that an armadillo has been digging on, it is a sure sign that there are bugs or grubs in the log. Pictured below: a log that an armadillo has been digging in, and the same log busted open to show a beetle inside.

You can also turn over rocks, and you will often find something to use for bait under them. Pictured below: Worm under a rock.

Don't forget your refrigerator or the dinner scraps when you're looking for bait. Any small scraps of meat, fat trimmings, unused organ meats, fish guts, spoiled lunch meat, or etc. will make good bait.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Myths and Facts about Fish

Before I post my blog about finding bait, I wanted to go on a brief rant about the myths surrounding fishing. I personally am a fly fisherman, and Lord knows that I have spent some bucks on equipment, but what I have written below needs to be said, and I promise that once I have got it out of my system I will continue with my posts about primitive fishing.

There are a lot of myths floating around out there (no pun intended) about fish. One myth is that the fish is a wily creature that is cunning and nearly impossible to catch unless one is intimately familiar with the habits of the fish and knows exactly what equipment and bait to use. Another myth is that the fish is an extremely picky eater that will only eat certain things, and it will only eat them if they are presented in a precise and totally natural manner.

Fact: fish are stupid. They have a brain about the size of a pencil lead, and the most intelligent fish on the face of the Earth is only marginally smarter than most fishermen.

Fact: fish will eat about anything. If a fish is hungry, and if something looks even vaguely like it might be food, a fish will bite it. The fish may be stupid, but it knows enough to know that, “Hey, if its food I’ll swallow it; if it’s not food I can always spit it out.” I have caught fish with bugs, worms, shrimp, chicken livers, canned corn, bacon, spam; hell, I even caught a fish once with a piece of bubble gum. So don’t tell me the cunning fish will only take a number 20 caddis fly that is properly presented on a 5X tippet that is attached to the leader with a correctly tied surgeon’s knot. The fish doesn’t give a care. It just wants a meal.

So why do these myths about fish persist? Have you been into a sporting goods store lately? There is a whole industry that is depending on you to buy a $35,000 fishing boat, a $200.00 boron/graphite fishing rod, a $50.00 reel, a $200.00 pair of breathable waders, a thousand dollars worth of tackle boxes, lures, fish finders, electric filet knives, etc., etc., and etc. Where would these guys be if you went out and caught fish with $2.00 worth of equipment like I do? Answer: they’d be in line at the soup kitchen instead of having their own fishing shows on cable TV.

Here is my open challenge to “professional” fishermen everywhere. I can catch more pounds of fish per dollar spent than any of you guys. Does that sound crazy? Well put the pencil to it. Let’s say a pro catches 1000 pounds of fish using the equipment listed above. That would be $36,450 worth of equipment divided by 1000 pounds of fish, or 36 dollars and 45 cents per pound of fish. If I catch 10 pounds of fish with my $2.00 fishing rig, that works out to 20 cents per pound of fish. See what I mean.

So, sport fishermen, forgive me. I don’t mean to rag on you and demean your choice of a hobby. That’s fine. Spend the money and have a great day on the lake. But this is a blog about survival, and I just want people to understand that if you want to catch fish to eat it doesn’t really require a bunch of costly equipment. Just remember, fish are not that smart. If they were they’d be mounting humans on their walls.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Primitive Fishing - Weights and Floats

For fishing all you really have to have is a hook and a line, but a weight and float will make fishing easier. For primitive weights I use lead rifle balls or buckshot and partially split them with my knife. These weights are almost identical to split-shot weights that you buy at a sporting goods store. Of course you can use anything for a weight as long as you can attach it to your line and as long as it is heavier than water. Remember, the main purpose of a weight is to hold your bait down in the water. If it will pull your hook down, that's all you need. Pictured below: Splitting a lead rifle ball with a knife and the finished split ball.

A float or strike indicator is not at all necessary for fishing. I've caught many a trout with a fly rod and no strike indicator, but an indicator does make it easier to know when you're getting a bite, and if you are fishing multiple lines you almost have to have an indicator. Remember a float is not just to see if you are getting a bite. It also serves to keep your bait suspended at a certain level in the water.

If you are making floats at home you can use old wine corks to make some good ones. Use a sharp knife to cut the corks about an inch to an inch-and a-half long, then drill about a quarter inch hole through the corks. This the hardest part because the corks will want to split if you go too fast. I actually made a little tool to drill corks with. I took a piece of quarter inch metal tubing about 3 inches long and filed little teeth into one end. I chuck this up in my drill and drill very slowly through the cork. Pictured below: Drilling a cork with my home-made bit and cork with finished hole.

Once you have your cork drilled you can cut a small stick that will fit tightly in the hole. Don't make the stick too oversize or you may split the cork when you push the stick in. Pictured below: Cork and stick, finished assembled float, and float attached to linen fishing line.

I saw an article recently that showed how to make floats out of dried corn cobs. Basically the same procedure as above but you use a section of dried corn cob instead of a cork. I haven't tried this one yet, but it sounds reasonable. I plan to save a few cobs out of my garden this year and give it a try.