It’s All There!

September 18, 2014

 

 

DSCF1925The 2014 Midwest Wild Harvest Festival was held at Badger Camp, overlooking the Wisconsin river valley.  I loved it.  The people were friendly and excited to learn.  The instructors were inspiring.

I learned about food preservation from Leda Meredith.  Sam Thayer was his usual irreverent self.  And Doug Elliot was as entertaining as he was informative.

Below is the largest poison ivy vine I’ve ever seen.  Doug said loggers used to eat a little bit to immunize themselves against its effects.

 

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I visited with Doug over the course of the weekend and I heard him say, “It’s all there,” several times.  It’s a vague enough saying you can use it just about anywhere.  I think the first time I heard him say it was out on a nature walk, and the next time was in exclamation of the excellent chili, (great food, by the way).

It’s all there, that’s your motto isn’t it?” I asked.

“Well I don’t know if it’s my motto,” Doug said.  “But’s it’s not a bad one to have.”

“It just about says it all,” I said.  “I think I’m going to make it my motto.”

And I am.

I think about my boys who used to love to put lego projects together.  We would scissor open the bags containing all the tiny pieces, and they would follow the instructions step-by-step, ending up with the prescribed toy.  I remember the drama that would ensue if one piece was missing, as now it wasn’t all there, and everything was ruined.

Now we have a drawer filled with loose lego pieces.  My five-year-old nephew makes a bee-line to that drawer when he comes over.  He happily builds something excellent, and then we let him take it home.  We joke that we are slowly transferring the contents of the drawer to my sister’s house.

But we never worry about drama with the lego drawer.  I think it’s the combination of  passion with autonomy, and the sense that it’s all there.  Nothing is missing, and they are confident in their abilities to create something cool.

 

 

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Attracting Native Pollinators

September 8, 2014

 

 

 

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I lost my mind for a couple of months this past spring.  I purchased and planted, weeds.  As with many insanities, mine started with the premise of a good cause.

I’ll admit to being a sucker for good copy, and the marketing department at Prairie Moon Nursery has got to be one of the best.  They don’t even call their spring catalog a catalog:

“Native Gardner’s Companion. Presented by Prairie Moon Nursery. Seeds and Plants of Authentic North American Wildflowers for Restoration and Gardening.”

There isn’t even the word catalog anywhere on the cover.  They aren’t in business to sell me something.  They want to partner with me to restore North America.

I had an open area in my permaculture windbreak which could use something, but I didn’t want large trees or bushes.  So, in the interest of restoring North America, I purchased the “Butterfly and Hummingbird Kit for Moist Soils” from Prairie Moon.  Below is a photo taken June 20th, a couple of weeks after planting and mulching.

 

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This next photo was taken August 10th.  It was fun to see results so quickly.  The flowers are already attracting many native pollinators.

 

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Attracting Native Pollinators” is a book published by the Xerces Society.  The Xerces Society works for invertebrate conservation.  I read their book and I studied the Prairie Moon Nursery catalog and website, as well as the Prairie Nursery catalog and website.

As a consequence of all this learning, I now see flowers.  It amazes me every time I learn something new and my vision changes.  We see with our brains, not our eyes.

So I couldn’t help but notice this huge colony of pink flowers along Highway 23 between Darlington and Mineral Point.  It’s Joe Pye weed, a great flower for native pollinators.  The top photo in this post gives you a closer view.

And I realized how crazy it is for me to plant wildflowers thinking I’m helping the native pollinators.  If I really wanted to help the pollinators, I would start a movement to stop cutting and spraying herbicide along the roadsides.  There are acres and acres of excellent habitat alongside every road.

 

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Hummingbird Moth Caterpillar

June 30, 2014

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The forage peas continued to grow, reaching over four feet in height.  They are flowering now and producing pods.  I snapped these photos when I turned the sows into fresh pasture.  The caterpillar in the bottom photo is a big one, and the second one I’ve seen, so I decided to try and identify it.

It looks like its a White-lined sphinx caterpillar, (Hyles lineata), commonly known as the Hummingbird moth.  This is exciting to me because I’ve only seen a Hummingbird moth once in my life.  They’re really cool because they look like a hummingbird, until you watch their movements and realize they’re too slow to be a hummingbird.

I read a book this winter, “Attracting Native Pollinators,”  by the Xerces society.  It’s all about what we can do to improve the habitat for our native pollinators.  In a future post I plan to share some of the fun plantings I’ve done this spring.

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Permaculture Guild

November 25, 2013

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A permaculture guild  is a strategic design of organisms benefitting the whole.  Like all the best concepts of permaculture, this mimics the way nature designs.

The photo above shows an abandoned fenceline along Oak Grove Lane.  I started thinking about this fenceline when I noticed the Nannyberry bush, which is in the left of the photo with yellow, red, and green leaves.

It’s a little bit humbling, but I realized if I’m successful with my edible windbreak planting, in fifteen years it will look like this abandoned fenceline. It’s also reassuring to know I’m mimicking nature, which uses space so wisely.

The amount of solar energy turned into food and fodder for everything from microorganisms to birds to humans is amazing.  Just in this photo there is the Nannyberry bush, growing under a Chokecherry tree, which has Wild Grapes hanging from its limbs.  Grasses and forbs cover the ground.  The rest of the life in this area would take a lifetime to catalog.


Nannyberry

November 9, 2013

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2013 is a good year!  I discovered a wild edible growing twenty yards from our mailbox.  Starting in September, every time I picked up the mail, I popped a handful of nannyberries in my mouth and slowly chewed, separating the meaty pulp from the seeds.  This can take a couple of minutes if you have a mouthful, then you spit the seeds out.

Nannyberries are substantial.  Some people compare them to raisins.  The closest food I would compare them to is figs.

The photo below shows the fruit as it grows, in a cluster, with the green being unripe, and the black ripe.  If you wait until the fruit starts to wrinkle, it doesn’t taste as good.

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It probably seems silly, but I experience real joy when I discover a new, wild edible.  It is so difficult to find a new one on your own.  Until you are able to see it, a thing remains invisible.  I think our mind does more of our seeing than our eyes, if that makes any sense to you.

It amazes me that this bush, which is probably at least fifteen years old and been producing fruit for at least ten years has been invisible to me.  Not only did I not know what it was, I didn’t even see the berries and go, “hey, what kind of berries are these?”  I’ve been yards away from this bush thousands of times.  I don’t think its a stretch to say this bush was ‘invisible’ to me.

I started thinking about nannyberries when I heard Sam Thayer say it is his favorite wild edible on public radio.  I reread the chapter on nannyberries a few times in Sam’s first book, The Forager’s Harvest.  My mind was primed.

And then one day as I picked up the mail, I noticed these clusters of berries.  I guess it would be more accurate to say they jumped out at me, as this is a large specimen as you can see in the bottom photo.  My mind was opened so I could see.

I didn’t go pop a handful in my mouth.  I retrieved my book and returned.  The photos are never exactly like the specimen you’re looking at.  What sold me was Sam’s description of the claw-like bud at the top of the clusters of fruit.

When I saw that, I was 99% sure, but I was still cautious.  I picked a wrinkly one and tasted it.  It wasn’t very good, which made me wonder about Sam’s description.  I picked a less-wrinkly one and it tasted better.

I chewed and swallowed, and that was it for the first day.  I wanted to wait and see if I would get sick later.  I’ve never gotten sick from a wild edible, but when I’m discovering a new one, I’m very cautious.

I didn’t get sick, so I ate more the next day.  Like anyone trying a new food, it took me a few tries to really start to desire it.  I also had to figure out which berries were ready to be eaten.

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The scientific name for Nannyberry is Viburnum lentago.  I noticed the genus name, Viburnum, is the same as the Highbush Cranberry, Viburnum trilobumwhich I planted several of this spring in my Permaculture orchard.

When you see a scientific name, the genus comes first and is capitalized, followed by the species which is not capitalized.  If two things share the same genus name, they’re related.  If two things share the same species name it doesn’t mean they’re related taxonomically, but it could mean something else.  For example, Fraxinus americana and Ulmus americana refer to the American ash and American elm tree respectively.  They’re not related, except for the fact that they’re both found in North America.

I was intrigued to find the Nannyberry and Highbush Cranberry are both Viburnums.  I found there are over 150 species within the Viburnum genus.  I can’t wait until my Highbush Cranberry starts to produce fruit and I can enjoy and compare to Nannyberry.


Longhorn Beetle: Brown Prionid

October 29, 2013

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In an Inordinate Fondness for Beetles, Arthur V. Evans and C. L. Bellamy write that if you line up all the plant and animal species, every fifth one would be a type of beetle.  I came across this beauty when I moved a down tree.

I knew I was probably looking at a beetle and started to research which one I had found.  I quickly figured out I was looking at a beetle from the Long-horned beetle family, (Cerambycidae), but I couldn’t narrow it down from there.

A friend who was visiting the farm mentioned his Dad was an entomologist and I was able to send him my photos and he identified the beetle as a Brown Prionid,  Orthosoma brunneum.  As my experience indicates, Brown Prionid feeds and lays its eggs in decaying wood.

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2013 Wild Plum Yield

September 27, 2013

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2013 is the year of the Wild Plum, (Prunus americana)!  Yields were prolific, bending branches with the weight of the juicy orbs.  I ate my fill, yet the pulp of fallen plums squished underfoot.

I wonder why it was such a good year.  I know the weather at flowering in the spring is a large factor.  It must have been perfect this year.  The wild apples were the best ever as well.

What other factors affect yield?  I read that drought reduces yield for plum trees.  Last year we had a severe drought until August.  This year our drought started in July, following over-abundant rains.

My theory is the plum trees suffered early last summer, but were then recharged with the late summer 2012 and early summer 2013 rain, resulting in huge yields.  I’ll have to wait and see if next year’s yield is affected by this year’s drought.

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