Archive for March, 2008

Still Waiting On Spring…

March 26, 2008

I check my neighborhood dandelion and pokeweed patches on a regular basis, but there is no new growth yet. A little impatient to get this year of experiment off the ground, I pulled a dandelion leaf last week, but it was apparently old growth, as it was unbearably tough and bitter. I’m looking for topics to cover during this stretch, so this week’s post will be about my limited foraging experience as of now. I’ve already covered purslane, walnuts, and rosehips, but here’s the rest of what I’ve tried so far…

Grapes

These are easy and unintimidating. My one attempt at making wild grape jelly was a failure, but the fruit is edible if not delicious out of hand, and I’ve used the leaves as an addition to pickling brine (it is reputed to keep pickles crisp) and for stuffed grape leaves.

Greens
I expect this to be my biggest area of exploration this year. I’ve nibbled, and I’ve had commercial products using wild greens, but I’ve never assembled a salad or pot of greens from foraged food. I’ve tried watercress, which grows in streams, and sourgrass, the very sour clover-looking weed that crops up in disturbed ground, but that’s about it.

Vegetables

Outside of greens, my vegetable experience is even more scarce. I’ve found wild asparagus while hiking, but not when it was in season. I’ve seen milkweed and burdock, but haven’t eaten them yet.
Berries

As a child, my mother would take me to a blackberry patch on the grounds of an old county jail, where we would pick gallons of berries to freeze. Since then, I make note of any bramble patch I see, and revisit it when it is bearing. I’ve got 2 or 3 areas in my neighborhood that didn’t produce well in last year’s drought, but I’ll be checking them again this year. There’s also a mulberry tree, but I haven’t worked up the nerve to ask its owner for picking rights. I don’t know what to do with mulberries, anyway. They aren’t very good out of hand, and I’m not sure what to cook with them.

I occasionally come across a low-profile wild strawberry patch in an open field, and there are few pleasures greater than a wild strawberry in season. They are hard to spot, but their jagged leaves and tiny white daisy-like flowers are distinctive if you know what to look for. I revisit any patch I find every week starting in June, waiting for them to come into season.
Nuts

I’ve tried chestnuts, beechnuts, and acorns raw, and they weren’t very palatable. It’s my understanding that white oak acorns are better than the tannin-rich red oak acorns, but I haven’t had the chance to try them. I’ve found a white oak grove, and am looking forward to harvesting this year.

Meat

I’m not a hunter, but as a child I gathered frogs for the legs. My father cleaned and fried them, so I missed that part of the experience. We also caught crayfish to eat. With the current state of Michigan’s waterways, I’m not sure I want to get back into eating from a stream.

Herbs

Wild onions, wild mint, and spearmint.  I’ve never really used them in a culinary way, though–just something to chew on.

I think that’s it.  The crocuses are up, but the the weather report predicts snow and freezing temperatures for the forecastable future.  I’m not sure we’re getting a spring this year.

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First Signs of Spring

March 6, 2008

We’ve melted off a huge amount of the nearly two feet of snow that has accumulated since our mid-70s days in January, and I’m seeing traces of edibles coming up in the yard. Normally, around this time, I would be putting lettuce, spinach, and bok choy into a cold-frame greenhouse, but a terrifically windy storm has sidelined that structure. I’ll need a good, long weekend to reassemble it, and it may be warm enough to open-seed by the time one of those come along.

Last fall, I put in three patches of rhubarb around the house. I found a woman online who was thinning her patch, and I picked up a few plastic shopping bags full of trimmed roots off her porch. One of my three spots is still covered in snow, but the other two have apparently survived both a very wild winter and my incompetent transplanting technique. This is the first time I’ve seen rhubarb sprouting, and it looks weird–like bright red button mushrooms. I’m not sure how long I’m going to have to wait to eat some, but I’m eagerly anticipating some rhubarb cobbler.

Also last year, I found some artichoke seeds at a farm supply store. Of the four seeds in the packet, one sprouted. Artichoke is not winter hardy in my area, so I planted it up against the house’s foundation in the hope that that would be warm enough to keep it alive through the winter. I upended a bucket filled with dry leaves over it as further insulation, and piled snow on top of it through the winter. I peeked during a warm day, and there doesn’t appear to be any growth yet. Time will tell if it returns or not. An eternal optimist, I’ve already purchased another packet of artichoke seeds this year. Fresh, homegrown artichokes are an enticing enough return to justify significant risk.

Asparagus is entering it’s second year, at which point the very impatient are allowed to do some very light harvesting. However, there is no sign of asapargus in the garden, yet.

Garlic, on the other hand, is looking beautiful. Last october, about the time I was putting in tulips and daffodils, I broke up some of last year’s garlic, harvested that July. I put the biggest cloves a few inches into the ground about 6 inches apart. They put up a little growth last year, and are back at it this spring. Planting them early gives them a month or two to build a root structure before winter’s freeze, at which point they go dormant. As spring arrives, the garlic is well established and ready to begin the growing season. It’s hard to do garlic wrong.

I can finally find last fall’s kale, which I’ll need to use before it starts growing again. The same goes for parsley. It won’t be long before the first of the wild greens start growing. I’m making a point this year of trying a few of them, which is slightly terrifying–most of them become unfit for human consuption at some point in their growing season, some to the point of being lethally poisonous. Should this weblog suddenly go dark, blame pokeweed.

Worm Update

Seeing as my worm post was far and away my most visited, I’ll give a brief update on my livestock. I continued to have problems with the worms congregating along the rim of the containter, although it was never as bad as the first day. I tried a number of solutions–adding water to increase moisture, adding dry bedding to decrease moisture, “fluffing” the bedding to add oxygen, and relocating the bin to adjust the temperature. I’ve settled on removing the lid and covering the bedding with a black plastic garbage bag, and it seems to be working. The lid, apparently, was a bit too airtight for the worms’ comfort, and the plastic bag fixes that without letting moisture out or light in.