Thursday, April 29, 2010

Worst Public Road In The State Of Maine

I live on the worst, most ill-maintained public road in the State of Maine.

Sure, we all hear of people who have gripes about roads. But this beats all. The last gravel hauled in here was about 15 years ago, and that was only in a few spots. The road gets graded twice each year, but these are ineffective, since the man running the grader goes so fast that a person running would have trouble keeping up with him,

The end result of high-speed grading is that the blade bounces, creating ridges that, in time, become gaping, horizontal ruts. The other negative end is that the blade never goes below the level of existing potholes. So within less than one week after the grader passes, the potholes are back in all their tire-breaking, wheel-bending glory.

In fact, some of these potholes are actually historical. Since they never fully disappear, I have names for them. We have Judy’s Pothole, Walt’s Pothole, The End-Of-The-Road-Pothole and on and on.

Our selectmen could not care less about our plight and repeated calls and letters have gone unanswered. So today I contacted newspaper and television people.

The road is so bad that people stopped jogging on it. Bicycles no longer use the road, either. Modern bikes cost big money and it’s no wonder the leotard-clad class has learned to avoid East Waldo Road like the plague.

People on the road are organizing and in the end, I suspect that something might get done. But it’s a long, hard battle.

My 2008 Ford Focus has developed squeaks and rattles that are directly attributable to this horrible excuse for a road.

There. I have vented. But believe me, my description of this hellish highway does not do the thing justice. It must be driven to fully appreciate the criminal neglect on the part of Waldo selectmen and our road commissioner.

Again, this is, without a doubt, the most ill-maintained public road in the State of Maine. The Waldo selectmen and road commissioner should be ashamed of themselves.

Knotweed Time

I’m a knotweed apologist. I mean Japanese knotweed, Polygonum cuspidatum, the stuff that so many people incorrectly refer to as “bamboo.”

Well, knotweed is at the perfect stage for picking, here in Mid-Coast Maine. The basic recipe requires steaming or briefly boiling the tender, young shoots in a scant amount of water. The other recipe, one for knotweed chutney, somewhat more complicated, involves home-canning the stuff. That recipe is found in my new book, Wild Plants of Maine, A Useful Guide. Look for the link to that on this blog page. The book is scheduled for release very soon, hopefully within one week.

But back to knotweed. Yes, it’s knotweed time and for at least the next week, I will probably consume a side dish of knotweed every day. That’s how these things go with me, a mad fling while the plant remains at its prime and then on to the next wild, edible.

The accompanying photo shows some knotweed growing along my driveway. The story behind those plants is worth sharing.

Termed an “aggressive, non-native,” most people despise the stuff. However, the aggressiveness is somewhat understated. Knotweed only spreads when its roots are disturbed. Left alone, it expands at something slightly less than a snail’s pace. All the same, homeowner efforts to remove ancient plots of knotweed usually fail. Like horseradish and mint, once established always established.

Anyway, given all that, who would think that anyone in their right mind would purposely attempt to encourage knotweed to grow on their land? I plead guilty. Here’s the reason.

Much of my foraging takes place on other people’s property. Each year, more and more of these sites are placed off limits by posted signs. New property owners typically erect no-trespassing signs before the ink has dried on their deeds. That spells doom and gloom for foragers, hikers, bird-watchers, hunters and fishermen. Requests to continue using the land, with all due respect, are usually denied. It’s a new age we live in, definitely not in the old-time Maine tradition of permissive trespass.

Therefore, I try to encourage as many of wild, edible plants as possible to grow on my own property. And knotweed, being one of my favorites, stood at the head of the list. Oh, yes, I have long ago distributed seeds of common dandelion and curled dock, to name only a few.

Back to knotweed. I dug some clumps and planted them in a convenient location. They did not grow. My clay soil was too hard and the stuff never gained a foothold. After three years, more than long enough for my knotweed to begin growing in good shape, it was clear that my efforts were in vain.

Not to be thwarted, I tried again, this time planting the root clumps in the loose, gravelly soil along the edge of my driveway. Now, again three years later, my knotweed has finally become established.

So much for its “aggressive” tendency. I won’t pick my own knotweed this year because I don’t want to set it back. But in one or two more years, I should be able to enjoy at least a limited harvest.

Picking knotweed takes little time or effort. Just bend the young shoots until they snap. This usually produces a fairly loud, popping sound. Take them home and rinse. Then, set perhaps a half-inch of water to boiling in a frying pan, introduce the knotweed shoots and cook only until they turn a light shade of green and become fork-tender. Drain thoroughly and serve with salt, pepper and butter.

I forgot to mention, knotweed does have one, other use. It makes a delicious dessert. Stewed knotweed tastes something like stewed rhubarb. Just boil knotweed stems and add sugar to taste while stirring. Cool and place in the refrigerator. Use as is or as a pie filling.

Yup, I’m a knotweed apologist. And glad of it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Blackflies And Wood Chips

Wild Plants and Wooly Bears

Blackflies intrigue me. These pests begin life as aquatic larvae, living in clean, running water. Then, when temperatures rise to a certain point in spring, they hatch out in droves and mate.

Why, then, does digging in wet, wood chips, dirt or compost, stir up such huge swarms of these biting insects? What are they doing there in the first place? In the beginning, I thought that perhaps blackflies spent the night hidden in such places. But time of day appears to make no difference. Stir a pile of wet material and out come blackflies.

So it’s for certain that blackflies spend time in wet, damp, cover. But why? Nothing I have read addresses this.

Such a thing may not count as a big deal to most folks, but since I have a giant pile of wood chips to move, it affects me in a big way. Perhaps 10 minutes of shoveling and the combined result of buzzing, humming, crawling and biting becomes unbearable. It cuts down on my productivity, big-time.

Any, be warned. Wet grass, brush, any sodden material will likely host untold thousands of blackflies, at least for the next month or so.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

God's Creation

There just isn’t much to say regarding this post. The photo pretty much says it all. It is of a lupine leaf group, with one, drop of water in it. Look closely at it and see a tree in the reflected image.

Nature sometimes trumps anything we can do or say…


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Putting Up

My friend Dan grows raspberries and blueberries in raised beds. Dandelions have found their way in and now, crowd the berries. Knowing my fondness for dandelions, Dan told me to come over any time and take all I wanted.

The loose soil made popping the dandelions out with a dandelion digger easy. Soon, I had filled a large, canvas tote and also, a brown ash basket. My plan was to gather enough dandelions for home canning.

Back home, I spread my bounty on the grass and with a garden hose, gave them a thorough rinsing. Then, turning them over, rinsed them again. After that, while sitting on an upturned, five-gallon pail, I checked each dandelion plant individually, removing any clinging debris or grit and giving one, final rinse.

Then it was on to canning. This involved setting out all, needed equipment, including clean jars, lids, screw tops and jar lifter. Then I cut the dandelions into manageable-sized portions and dropped them into a large pot of boiling water, leaving them there only until they wilted and assumed a darker shade of green.

Then, it was into individual, canning jars and on with the process, which took 70 minutes per run. As the pressure weight hissed and jiggled, the house filled with a delicious aroma, soothing and alluring. I made two batches, a total of 25 jars of home-canned dandelions.

Something about putting up my own, wild food not only thrills me but also, provides a great sense of satisfaction and security.

My goal this year is to home-can as many, different wild foods as possible. Even if cultivated crops fail, as they did last year, wild plants always produce. So from now until frost puts an end to the growing season, I plan on prowling about woods, fields, wetlands and streamsides, in search of healthful, vitamin-filled, tax-free, wild edibles.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Keeper of The Kerr's

Wild Plants And Wooly Bears

Many years ago, a dear friend, now long gone, introduced me to a species of potato that he had brought here from Scotland in the first half of the 20th century. Although called Kerr’s reds, they are mostly purple. To my knowledge, nobody else in Maine grows or even knows of, these remarkable spuds.

Kerr’s have a somewhat mealy texture and a rich, sweet flavor. They are small, the biggest running a mite smaller than the average, Maine potato. Also, Kerr’s make the absolute best home-fried potatoes going. I absolutely love them.

Potatoes take quite a bit of garden space and I was never able to grow my Kerr’s in quantity. Sometimes, I’ll grow a few in a five-gallon pail, covering them with dirt as the vines spread. And on occasion, I’ll cover a handful with hay and grow them that way.

At any rate, I consider the ongoing care of Kerr’s reds something of a sacred trust. I am, in fact, the “keeper of the potatoes.”

These are, of course, an heirloom variety. If only for that fact, they should not be allowed to perish. I’m not even sure of Kerr’s status in their native Skye, Scotland. It seems to me that even there, they are a scarce commodity.

If anyone desires to assist me in my charge, I would be more than happy to give them a few seeds to begin their task.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tom Finds Good in The Bad

Wild Plants And Wooly Bears

Last year’s continual rain and cold caused massive crop failure throughout Maine. But they say that every dark cloud (and it seems that those were the only kind we saw last summer) has a silver lining. Accordingly, I can name two benefits that are directly attributable to the “summer that wasn’t.”

First, high water meant that brooks and streams never fell to their usual, low, summertime levels. This translated into more successful spawning, or “recruitment,” as the biologists say, for brook trout. Also, predators had a hard job to catch trout from the unusually-high water. So the native, brook trout population in rivers, brooks and streams has boomed, a very good thing.

Next, one, particular wild, edible plant has managed to pop up in areas where it never before had even the slightest chance of success. Curled dock, Rumex crispus, has appeared on a normally, dry section of my lawn. The leaves of this plant make a delectable potherb, or cooked, green vegetable.

Here’s what happened. Dock, a relative of our cultivated, buckwheat, sets thousands of seeds each summer. These fall to the ground near the plant and also, are spread by the wind to places quite far removed from the parent. In the case of my lawn, dock, growing in a low, wet area along the wood’s edge, sets seed. These are dispersed around my property, to dry out and die. But not last year. Even the most obdurate, hard-pan soil was wet and soft, the perfect host for dock seeds. And now, my lawn has young, dock sprouting up all over, a perfectly agreeable situation.

So last night, I had my first meal of the year of dock leaves. These were only the tenderest, young leaves, prime fare. They tasted something like spinach, but considerably milder. Along with the dock, I had two, brook trout, fresh from a nearby river. My cup truly runs over. I’m so happy to be alive and well in the State of Maine in glorious springtime.