Mother Earth Living

Round Robin: Note from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

Note from Denver, Colorado
Note from Lansing, New York
Note from Atlanta, Georgia

Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia–When we first embarked on the
so-called “simple life”, I refused to believe that cows prefer
daylily buds to a field of lush forage or that turkeys free to roam
three acres of open pasture will head straight for my seed-raised
petunias. Even when penned in a yard, the turkeys would wriggle
through the fence and gorge on the young chamomile plants in the
harvest bed. Perhaps, being nervous creatures, they relish this
herb for its well-known sedative properties. Or they may just like
its pineapple flavor.

The best time to observe farm animals’ dining preferences is in
the fall, just before frost destroys the last blooms. Perhaps the
animals know that soon they’ll have to return to the barn and eat
the boring hay and grains we offer them.

This morning when I opened the kitchen door, I spotted Victor, a
young Jersey calf, enjoying a quiet stroll around the front garden
and leaning in to sample the shimmering, deliciously crisp pink
trumpets of the ‘Zebrina’ mallow. He apparently had slipped his
tether stake around dawn to go in search of real food. His
breakfast was hearty, his diet varied. Like the turkeys, he sought
soothing, flavorful, nutritious plants.

In an effort to understand Victor’s needs, I retraced his
hoofprints through and around the gardens. Passing up phlox and a
late-blooming unscented rose, he nipped at hollyhock flowers,
chewed down ribbon grass, tasted the nasturtiums, and at last came
into his own among the pansies. Pansies, as you probably know, not
only have heart-stimulating properties but also a nice sweet,
floral flavor.

Until this morning, the old wheelbarrow planter just beyond the
house was packed with beautiful pansy blooms. Victor must have
admired them too–the dark yellows, the burgundy velvets, the
delicate ivories–because he ate every flower, pulling so gently
that he didn’t uproot a single plant. Moving on to a barrel planted
with ‘Jolly Joker’ pansies, all dark purple with orange faces,
Victor again ate every single flower, bud, and seedpod. I hope he
enjoyed them.

When planting for animals, consider flowering shrubs and vines.
Horses especially like lilac buds in early summer and rose hips in
the fall, both of which they nibble as we work with them around the
farm. The best vine is scarlet honeysuckle (Lonicera ¥brownii
‘Dropmore Scarlet’
), which is most delicious when about to release
its colorful, scented flowers. I advise never planting for bulls,
since they tend to mash herbs and flowers rather than eat them.

The following varieties of annuals and perennials should please
the most discerning palates among your animals as they did ours:
‘Swiss Giant’ and the aforementioned ‘Jolly Joker’ pansies;
‘Bodegold’ chamomile; ‘Dwarf Jewel’, ‘Double Gleam’, and ‘Empress
of India’ nasturtiums, all beautifully colored and peppery in
flavor; annual mallows, especially ‘Zebrina’ and the improved tree
mallow ‘Bibor Felho’, which has tasty, roselike flowers; and any
daylilies. Also include ribbon grass, all young hostas, and
fall-planted cowslips (Primula veris). Animals enjoy veronica for
both its buds and its foliage, so it’s economical feed.

And don’t overlook sweet alyssum, especially the improved white
‘Snow Crystal’, which survives rough treatment. Even if it is
tossed out of the garden in early summer by roaming livestock, if
it is quickly replanted and nursed along, it will form new, sweet
buds by late summer.

–Jo Ann Gardner

  • Published on Oct 1, 1998
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