Saturday, May 9, 2015

Springtime Edibles On Sale Now

Okay, the wild edible plants aren't really on sale. But now that I have your attention, let me announce that all of the early spring wild edibles are ready now in most of Maine.

Lingering cold throughout April, followed by unusually-warm conditions in early May have served to make emerging plants grow like rockets. Also, the timetable for many plants has gone askew. For instance, all plants follow an emergence pattern, as in one comes out, followed by another and so on, in a regular sequence. But not this year.

For the first time that I can remember, everything has come around at once. Coltsfoot, dandelions, purple trillium, ostrich fern fiddleheads, stinging nettles, blunt-leaved dock and false Solomon’s seal are all up and ready now. And while I haven’t looked for it, I’m certain that wintercress is up as well.

What does this all mean? Well, it’s good that we get to take our pick of favorite wild plants, but it’s kind of too bad that emergence dates are not spread out. It’s akin to giving children their Christmas presents two weeks early. Anticipation, the great magnet that draws us afield, is nowhere to be seen.

However, there are ample wild edibles that haven’t come out yet, plants that are likely to follow their predictable emergence tables. So all is not lost.

For those who put up wild plants by canning of freezing, the next week or two will certainly be a busy time. And if the task seems a bit overwhelming, just harken back to those bleak days of winter, when a package of fiddleheads or a canning jar of dandelions helped to dispel winter blues. So yes, it’s all worth it. Persevere, I say.

Here’s something positive, at least for those living in the Midcoast area. While I have spent much time in the woods and fields this spring, much of it in prime whitetail deer habitat, I haven’t noticed one deer tick. Usually by May, I have found at least two or three ticks crawling or already attached to me.

This is no excuse to forgo nightly tick inspections. Sure, it’s a nuisance to inspect every inch of skin before going to bed. Sometimes I’ll forget and have to get up and go in the bathroom and do my check with sleepy eyes. But I do it. And so should you.

In the end, it’s far better to conduct nightly tick searches and find no tick, than to not do the searches and find a tick already embedded and fully engorged.

Happy foraging season, my friends. It’s going to be a busy one.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Next 2015 Presentation - Old Bristol Garden Club

Tom looks at cattails.
Come enjoy a presentation of spring edibles for the Old Bristol Garden Club on April 9. Meetings are held at the 2nd Congregational Church at 51 Main Street in Newcastle.
The meeting begins at 1:30PM and the presentation runs from 1:50PM to 2:30PM. The public is invited to all meetings and there is no fee.
Pick up your own copy of Wild Plants of Maine after the presentation.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tom's 2015 Seminar Schedule

With bi-weekly snowstorms and nighttime temperatures hovering around zero, it’s difficult to imagine that the foraging season is nearly upon us. But people who organize season schedules for organizations already have most of their slots filled. Accordingly, I am slated to give presentations at several different locations around the state.

Here, below, is my schedule of events as it stands now, March 4, 2015. I do have a few other events scheduled, but these are mostly for private groups and participant lists are already filled. What you see here are all open to the public and if you would like to attend, just contact the organizations listed.

I’ll update and revise the list as the season progresses. Here, then, is my 2015 schedule thus far:

Presentation for Old Bristol Garden Club at the 2nd Congregational Church in Newcastle on April 9. Meeting begins at 1:30PM and the presentation runs from 1:50PM to 2:30PM. The public is invited to all meetings and there is no fee.
Merryspring Nature Center, Camden, lecture and walk, April 16, 10 – 12 a.m.

MSAD 20 Adult Ed class held at Union Elementary School, May 9, 10 a.m.
Eagle Hill Institute, 59 Eagle Hill Road, P.O. Box 9, Stuben, ME 04680. (207) 546-2821, Participants welcome. Visit website or call. My seminar is for Saturday and Sunday, May 30 and 31, with a get-acquainted time on Friday night. This is a stay-over session. Eagle Hill has lodging, food, etc. The topic is springtime foraging for wild edibles.

Deer Isle Hostel, begin 9:30 a.m., June 20. More info to follow. Indoor presentation followed by field trip.

Islesboro Land Trust Plant Walk, July 11. More info to follow.

Eagle Hill Institute, same contact info as above. September 12 and 13, course title: Making Medicine from Wild Plants.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Harbor Pollock Centerpiece of Foraged Meals in Winter

Wild Plants And Wooly Bears

Cold, windy and snowy. That’s the way things look from now on. And yet, foraging continues, in a way. While foraging for wild plants is pretty much out, I have contented myself with catching and eating harbor pollock and when the opportunity presents itself, brook trout and brown trout.

While trout fishing opportunities are limited now, given that only a few streams are open this time of year, pollock fishing is permitted anytime, anywhere. There is one rule, though, and that’s a daily bag limit of 12 fish. And truthfully, I wouldn’t want to clean more than 12 pollock.

These plentiful fish are available around piers, floats and breakwaters for most of the fall and into winter. Really, the only thing that stops me from catching them in midwinter is the extreme cold.

It aggravates me to have to buy fish when there are so many underutilized species out there that few people bother with. Which explains my fascination for pollock and other less-than-glamorous species.

I like to skin and fillet my pollock. These fish have been running about 12 inches and weighing close to one pound, so each fish gives two, hefty fillets.

Sometimes I’ll use my fresh pollock fillets in conjunction with preserved, wild edible plants to make a wholly-foraged meal. Home-canned goosetongue and frozen dandelions go well with ocean fish. Other times I’ll mix and match homegrown vegetables such as carrots and squash to make not a foraged meal, but a combination of foraged and homegrown.

So even during the gray, cold days of early winter, we can still enjoy our foraged foods. It just takes a bit more work. But it’s worth it. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Tom Digs Dandelions Ahead of Season's First Nor'easter

It’s November 1, opening day of firearms season on deer and I’m sitting inside by the woodstove. But a stiff north wind blows, carrying a cold rain, and my tolerance for such adverse conditions declines with each passing year.

Besides that, I have plenty food even without a deer. With the summer bounty of homegrown and foraged foods, my pantry bulges at the seams. Even so, it was hard to resist the young dandelions growing in my garden beds and so I went out this morning and dug a mess.

We’ve had several hard frosts here in Waldo and dandelions lose their bitterness after undergoing several good freezes. So if readers have an interest in some late-season foraging, now is the time to go out and do it. Snow is predicted for this weekend and even after it melts, which it must, more snow will certainly follow in the not-too-distant future.

In addition to dandelions, I still have kale, good-king-Henry and even eggplant growing in my unheated greenhouse. The eggplant can’t last much longer, but as long as it continues to grow, I’ll continue to water and nurture it.

Sitting here writing and watching the smoke from my chimney sweeping down toward the ground as a result of the low-pressure system moving in, I think back to years past and how the season’s first Nor'easter always seems a bittersweet event. Bitter, because it signals an unofficial start to winter. Sweet, because it feels so cozy and comfortable to sit in a warm house and watch the fir trees sweep around, buffeted by the wind.

There’s nothing we can do about bad weather, so we may as well sit back and enjoy it to whatever extent we can. It’s all part of nature, after all. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Foraging Season Draws To An End

After two heavy frosts, most of the plants that we foragers seek have withered and died. The season, sadly, draws to an end. But a few plants continue to offer their bounty, particularly those plants near or right on the coast.

One plant, an old familiar one that grows nearly everywhere is the dandelion, Taraxacum officinalis. But aren’t dandelions too bitter now for eating? Well, they became bitter immediately upon flowering and remained so until right now. But after a heavy frost, dandelions lose their bitterness. And in Waldo where I live, dandelions have since become palatable once again.

So if you yearn for some wild foods before they go by for the year, and you live in a region that has had a frost or two, try digging some dandelions. It’s a fall bonus that all dandelion lovers ought to take advantage of.

Another tenacious wild plant, curled dock, Rumex crispus, has the determination of a Timex watch; it keeps ticking when the others begin quitting. Specifically, curled dock pretty much dies back in mid-to late summer, but then in the cool of fall, starts putting out new growth. This it does until constant freezing temperatures put an end to new vegetative growth.

Tree nuts are a perennial fall favorite, but nut-bearing trees are widely scattered and therefore, not a dependable food source, at least here in Maine. If you have access to shagbark hickory, American chestnut or butternut trees, be thankful for your good fortune. Beechnuts, a common mast crop in Maine and liked by animals as well as people, are notoriously coquettish and for the last several years, I have not found any beechnuts to harvest.

A number of wild plants remain, plants that, like curled dock, experience a second shot of growth. What you find and where you find it depends upon serendipity and a bit of luck. But since we have so little time left before a hard freeze and even snow puts a finality to our foraging days afield, I suggest you get out now and have a season’s-end fling. It’s a long winter and the shorter you can make it the better. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Farewell To Summer

My summer of teaching foraging throughout the State of Maine draws to a close. This brings at once a sense of melancholy as well as an invitation to a quieter, easier time to come. As per my personal foraging, mushrooms make up the bulk of it, as well as such seasonal delicacies as Jerusalem artichokes and late-lingering garden “weeds” such as lamb’s quarters.

Garden produce takes up a big part of my time now. Canning, drying herbs and to a much lesser extent, freezing, have become regular activities. But all this has its own rewards past the enjoyment of knowing that I’m providing for my future. I know I’m taking part in an age-old practice, something that inexorably ties me to my ancestors.

Here’s an observation for you to consider. Writing this in late August, I’m thinking that society rushes the season. Advertisements for fall clothes, firewood and all sorts of fall and winter-related items bombard the airwaves. But it’s still summer and will be until September 23. So why is everyone in such a rush to bid farewell to the warm season?

Well, much to my chagrin, something happens just around the last few days of August. Changes in nature become noticeable. Colors, scents, sensations, no longer have that “summer” feel. Skies lose their summertime milkiness, water in lakes, ponds and streams takes on a marked clarity and the air, while still warm and congenial, acquires a different feel.

But this should come as no surprise. As I frequently point out, we in Maine have a short growing season. Plants change their physical appearance from week-to-week and even the stars and deep-space objects in the heavens reflect the ever-revolving wheel of time. In other words, every week brings change…sometimes subtle, or as in right now, quite pronounced.

So relish those fresh, green things. Soon, they’ll be gone and we’ll have to wait for next year to enjoy them again.

The year, botanically-speaking, draws to a close. And with it, we have a chance to ponder and reflect upon those things that we can’t buy with money, but are worth more than diamonds and gold.

Enjoy the late summer and embrace autumn. We’re all on a merry-go-round ride on the great wheel of changing seasons. Enjoy that ride.