The Fascinating Osage Orange ‘Fence’ Tree

This is from the root of an Osage Orange. It is a fascinating tree that seems to have escaped extinction. Although related to the Mulberry, the Osage Orange is the only species of its genus in the family Moraceae. The roots have had a year to dry out and the small one [at the end of this post] is able to slid out of the encasement. I re-wet the root trying to bring back it’s vibrant orange, but it has lost much of it’s color since it was dug up a year ago. When dry, it is possible to peel off the tissue-paper like protective layer around it’s roots.

The fruit is fascinating in it’s other-worldly appearance. The kids are drawn to it every time they are at the farm. I have no desire to even try to eat it, but apparently something in my forest is having a go at it. I’ve seen them driven over before, but here it appears that wildlife has developed a taste for it. There are four such ‘Horse Apples’ torn up with in a few feet of each other over a four-week span.

The Native American Osage Indians in the area the tree was discovered were the inspiration for the naming of the Osage Orange. As a kid I always assumed the name came from the orange sized fruit that had a bumpy ‘orange peel’ texture. Until I brought this fruit home I didn’t even notice the slight citrus scent. However, no where can I find the root color discussed. It was the basement digging project which exposed these beautiful orange roots. Just guessing here, but this might be where the dye value of the Osage Orange lies.

Hedge Apples, Horse Apples, Bowwood, Thorny Tree or Osage Orange; regardless of the name, this captivating tree is described as ‘picturesque’ instead of beautiful. It’s limbs are dark and dramatic against snowfall. In the heavy shade of summer they create a bit of mystery. Our small farm is blessed with many fully mature Osage Orange trees that border the ravine running down the center of the property. Thousands of miles of Osage Orange were planted in the early 1800’s as a ‘living fence’ around properties to help manage livestock wandering off. By 1874 barbed wire had become king of fencing….ironically often hung on Osage Orange fence posts.

Not only do the branches provide some very large, blunt thorns to discourage a way-ward cow, but the branches tend to grow low near the ground where that would be the most benefit. These thorns are directly responsible for the development of barbed wire…an improvement on nature I suppose. The branches are surprisingly springy and hard to break off which we discovered while trying to dig a basement near an Osage. This springiness is one of the reasons it is also known as
‘bow wood’ because the tree was known to produce very powerful and resilient bows for archery.

This hardy wood is full of irritating sap that makes it hard on the skin but fantastic for repealing insects. The wood is believed to be one of the best available for fence posts because of it’s natural resistance to pests and rot. Supposedly it is possible to cut new growth off them every five years for these fence posts.

This very large, heavy fence post at the corner of the field shows no sign of rot even though the hardware attached to it is obviously many decades old. It was not milled at all and has the limb nubs and taper of a young tree cut off near the ground. It’s black appearance (once the rain washed the dirt away) and texture suggests it is an Osage Orange.

If you want to do a deep dive on the Osage Orange it doesn’t get much more authoritative than the US Forrest Service. This is the type of tree that deserves its own book…and luckily someone wrote just such a book. If you want to plant your own, you can get seeds here.

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Perpetual Resource Cycling™©: A Big Idea Who’s Time Has Come

Let’s spend a little time on some ideas that are worth digging deep into. The idea of Perpetual Resource Cycling™© combines three innovative ideas into one lovely package. This idea can be applied to all sorts of businesses, social and household functions, but I love applying it to small farms because it offers solutions you can literally lay your hands on.

Perpetual Systems are systems that when set up properly need minimum maintenance. If you owned a perpetual motion toy as a kid you know that they don’t truly work forever without any intervention, but they do make amazing use of the natural forces around us that we don’t have to exert energy for. Gravity, centrifugal force, hens digging up the ground….these are all unstoppable facts of nature. Designing systems that not only account for these forces but count on these forces, adds efficiency. Having even one Perpetual System on a homestead or farm is a worthwhile investment of time and money.

A ‘Perpetual System’ example would be the old grain mill making use of the river’s water power. A smaller version would be throwing scratch grains inside the chicken coop in the winter to encourage the hens to fluff and turn the deep litter.

Everything is a Resource refers to anything you have (or know), not just the things the neighbor thinks of as valuable. Why nit-pick the distinction? If you’ve been reading about homesteading for a while you’ve probably come across ‘a weed is just a useful plant in the wrong place’. This mindset helps us see past what we currently don’t have and ask ourselves how we can get where we want to be using the resources we already have. One thing I know we all have a lot of is household waste. After we take our donations to the Salvation Army and flatten our milk jugs for the recycling bin, we still have quite a bit of waste coming out of our homes. From grey water to egg shells, a small farm offers opportunities to reuse these resources that city life makes impossible.

An ‘Everything is a Resource’ example is the humble dandelion. Although poisoned by homeowners all across America, the French adore them as salad fixings, with some European chefs eating petal to root. Horse manure is another example an organic gardener can appreciate. The stable owner is oppressed by so much poo…the gardener eagerly pays good money to have it delivered.

Cycling is just the process of going around…those outside of homesteading might first think of a bike. Recycling is perhaps the next most common word association. How about we leap frog our thinking out to the ‘Velocity of Money’? In the world of economics we find that the faster (velocity) money moves around an economy the more good it does. Don’t get me wrong, savings are great for individuals, but that dollar bill does more good for a community when it is put to work than when it is put under the mattress. With just a modest inflation of 2% a year, the value of your money is cut in half every 35 years. The same sort of effect happens to our resources that can rust, rot or spoil. Keeping the resource engaged means it does more good. The faster it moves, the better.

A ‘Cycling’ example is the simple compost bin where all spent plants, ‘weeds’ and grass clippings go into the compost bin. The contents of the bin are then added back to the garden. To increase the velocity of the compost, we could introduce chickens to the compost bin that will eat the food bits that interest them, returning them to ‘soil’ in less than 24 hours and constantly turn the compost causing it to break down faster.

A perfectly closed loop can be cost prohibitive, so I would argue that good Cycling can simply increase the number of uses before disposal. An example are the innovative sinks/toilet combinations that allow hand washing water to drain directly into a toilet tank that then becomes the water used to flush. There’s even a kit to add a sink to your existing toilet. There are other great water examples that really got my mind working in this grey water book.

When we put all three concepts together we can see how complimentary they are. If you are reading this, you probably do a few of them currently. The idea behind Perpetual Resource Cycling™© is to up level what we are doing to enjoy even more of the abundant life we’ve chosen.

The best way to see the distinction is to compare what we typically do in our farms and backyards with what we could be doing. A typical mindset might be: the chicken gives you an egg; you eat the egg; put the egg shell and other kitchen scraps in the compost bin; 6 months later put the compost bin contents on the pumpkin plant; 4 months later give the chicken the pumpkins that were too damaged to sell at market; chicken eats pumpkin; chicken gives you egg. In this long cycle you have continued to feed the chicken for the 10 months between the first egg they gave you and when you finally reward them back with a pumpkin.

Perpetual Resource Cycling™© would take this great start and up level it by digging into all three concepts. The end result might be: the chicken gives you an egg; you eat the egg; tomorrow the crushed egg shell and other kitchen scraps are fed as chicken treats; 1 day later the egg shell and kitchen scraps are fully broke down and ‘deposited’ in the chicken run (and the chicken gave you another egg and you gave it more eggshell and kitchen scraps….); a row of Amaranth and pumpkins are interplanted on either side of the chicken run (roots and young plants protected by hardware cloth); 3 months later seeds begin to fall into the run for chicken treats (Amaranth seeds continue to fall until early winter); chicken gives you an egg; 1 month later pumpkin matures and is fed to chicken; chicken gives you an egg. In this shorter cycle you have still continued to feed the chicken, but the eggshell itself was cycled back to the hen within 24 hours and the hen cycled that into plant nutrition within 24 hours. By skipping the step of moving the chicken poo, you save man hours, and all the nitrogen and other minerals that the chickens produce (a resource) are available nearly instantly to outstretched plant roots. You get your pumpkin 6 months earlier and your chickens get a treat of egg shell calcium the very next day. Less vitamins, minerals and nitrogen are lost to rain and sun exposure. You may not want to eat Amaranth and pumpkins growing so close to the coop, but your hen’s diet is supplemented and there is plenty of extra chicken poo to compost for human crops.

Hens supplementing their diet and speeding up home composting while entertaining themselves.

In this Perpetual Resource Cycling™© example we have expanded on all three areas. Perpetually we recognize that we can save energy/man hours by planting crops at the very edge of the source of nutrients, this proximity also allows it to capture extra moisture and nitrogen that would be lost in waiting for a move to the compost bin. Perpetually dropping seeds also allows us to extend the Amaranth harvest until every seed is mature (bonus entertainment for the hens). Resources are everywhere in the form of the edible egg, the calcium rich egg shell, the kitchen scraps, Amaranth seeds, pumpkins and yes, chicken poo. Cycling keeps it all moving as quickly as possible by allowing the chicken’s digestive system to speed up the break down of eggshells and food scraps. Cycling is naturally improved by the use of Perpetual systems because automatic is always faster than waiting on a human to find time to do something. Cycling is also sped up by recognizing Resources because we value Resources…if we have a well-designed system then putting that Resource to use is faster/easier than storing it.

Perpetual Resource Cycling™© on a industrial scale is displayed in Sweden’s ‘Waste To Power’ program that uses trash to power their electrical grid. Sweden has a long history of innovative ecology and they know that trash/waste is a perpetual issue. They have been quick to recognize that waste can be a Resource. They Cycle waste quickly by sorting out recyclables and converting everything else into electricity. It has become so successful that they actually import trash!

Perpetual Resource Cycling™© always works towards zero maintenance, waste and storage through smart design and integrating systems….not by adding machines or equipment. It looks at the bigger picture, and often finds innovative breakthroughs in our forgotten pasts.

We will be offering training in Perpetual Resource Cycling™© with an over-all designation of Perpetual Resource Management™©. See the homepage under Services Offered for more information.

Horse Photo: Highsmith, C. M., photographer. (2014) Scene from the Cannon Quarter Horse ranch near the town of Venus in north-central Texas. United States Venus Texas, 2014. -09-02. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, Bike Race Photo: Highsmith, C. M., photographer. Bike race on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. Washington D.C. United States, None. Between 1980 and 1990. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

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Small-Scale Farming is Better Than Prepping

Prepping has become incredibly popular over the last decade, but it is a difficult and expensive route to take. Is there a better way to spend your time and money? I would suggest that building a small farm is a much better approach that will cause you less stress in the short run and long run.

Please let me explain: There are several really big categories of prepping, mostly based on ‘scenarios’…economic collapse, natural disaster, EMP, martial law, etc. In each of these big categories the prepper generally makes a decision of if they will ‘bug out’ or ‘shelter in place’. This can quickly spiral into an obsession of purchasing and preparing for every possible eventuality. That is a lot of work that I’ve seen have a detrimental effect on relationships, work performance and life savings.

I went down the ‘Prepper Rabbit Hole’ for a few years. After only a few months I had rejected the idea of storing several years of MRE’s, hundreds of batteries or maintaining a huge cache of drinking water. It became clear that the “Amish Prepper” model was a better fit for my personality. Even with that less wasteful approach and the ability to cover it all with the label of ‘homesteading,’ eventually I had to ask myself some questions:

What will I do with all this stuff if nothing happens? If something does happen, do I have enough to get through a really bad situation? Can I ever have enough to feel secure? Would I really have the heart to turn away people who hadn’t prepared for trouble? What is the long-term effect of dwelling in this ‘lack and fear’ mindset?

The Prepper mindset had been an alarming call to action at first that gave me the motivation to break free from my consumerism mindset. Unfortunately, the thought process quickly began draining my energy and scattering my attention. After rejecting the task of ‘prepping’ I spent about a year researching and planning out a ‘Homesteading’ plan, which was not fear based. However, the wide range of possibilities can still stifle progress. I won’t rehash that, feel free to read my article on homesteading here.

How does a very small farm correct these shortfalls? Quite simply, a very small farm gives you the benefit of the Pareto Principle, better known as the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the benefits you seek are met with just 20% of the work you put in. Instead of having to become Bear Gryles, and an organic gardener, and a dairy goat expert, and an Herbalist…you can choose just one thing. Choose the one thing you enjoy. Pursuing one thing will cause you to purchase tools and stock (livestock or seeds) that you might have piled up with regular prepping, but it allows for focused attention and energy to gain the head knowledge and skills it takes to actually make something work.

Lots of business people believe there is a Pareto Principle of the Pareto Principle. Or, in other words, there is an 80/20 inside the 80/20 rule. That means that 64% of the results you want come from 4% of the effort you put in! If you don’t mind, I’d like to give you my opinion on what that might be for the average prepper or person looking for an alternative to prepping.

The number one thing would be real paper books written as tested how-to guides. Not a digital copy…actual paper books. If you can only start with one I recommend this one, but there are so many you can get to create an at your fingertips library. That would be the tippy-top of 4% effort. You don’t even have to read them right away….just have them.

The number two thing I would recommend is spend time only on what is the most likely scenario for your geographic or economic situation, and then walk away from prepping thinking before it drains you dry. Where I live tornadoes are a big concern. Our area lost 250+ homes to tornadoes in 2013, so our family’s buildings must have basements, we keep digital backups of photos off site, crucial documents are stored in a firesafe in the basement, and any tornado warning means everyone dresses in good shoes and weather appropriate clothing and hangs out in the basement together (a little praying doesn’t hurt!). Took a little time to set that up, but we increased our chances of surviving and bouncing back. And I don’t worry as long as all my babies are home when the warning goes out. Decades ago we lived an hour from the coast. In that home hurricane shutters came standard when we bought the house, and our emergency plan was to be the first mini-van to evacuate if a hurricane was called for. Depends on where you live and where your extended family/support is located.

The number three thing I would recommend is part of the original 80/20 rule. The effort for #3 might be beyond a 4% investment if you live inside the city limits, but it certainly falls within a 20% framework. We are talking chickens. If you have your heart set on a different kind of livestock and you are able to bring them home this week then fine. If you have had chickens in the past and hated them then okay. However, let me challenge you to name any other single agriculture option out there that gives you 6-7 grams of protein per day, keeps producing even when it’s cold, known as the farm’s garbage disposal, will forage her own food if allowed, raise 5 new babies each year (more if you use her as a foster mom instead of incubator) and provide a family-sized portion of meat if absolutely necessary. Not every neighborhood lets you, I know….just give thought to how much faster you can be up and running with laying hens than any other livestock or even a garden.

If those two things sound like more than 4%, it’s really not very much compared to full-on prepping. You order the one book, maybe two more that look interesting. Next you decide what your most likely emergency could be and you take a few common steps that your neighbors also know about. The third, a few hens, may be a problem if you live in a subdivision, but gifts of eggs and kindness smooth over a world of potential ruffled feathers. Give it some thought. Once you’ve taken those three steps, you can relax a bit, or you can pursue a small farm knowing you’ve got your basics covered. In my humble opinion, those three steps get you 64% there.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.