Into the Old Wood Together

Daphne is a a great hiker, but tends to be constantly distracted by every lovely flower.  Here, she examines a thick patch of bunchberry.

Daphne is a a great hiker, but tends to be constantly distracted by every lovely flower. Here, she examines a thick patch of bunchberry.

Daphne accompanies me to the Old Wood to check the progress of hidden groves of beaked hazelnut. The hazelnuts look to be 3 to 6 weeks from harvest, but Daphne was finding herself distracted by carpets of bunchberry on sphagnum moss.

Serviceberries are rare in the highland forest, so it was delightful to find this tree.  I will return in two weeks to harvest.  We'll eat some, but many of the berries will be planted in pots and spread around our homestead as they mature.

Serviceberries are rare in the highland forest, so it was delightful to find this tree. I will return in two weeks to harvest. We’ll eat some, but many of the berries will be planted in pots and spread around our homestead as they mature.

Trekking through the woodlands, we found service berries nearly ripe at a break in the forest. They are duly noted and I’ll return in a fortnight to harvest, and some will be reseeded onto Twa Corbies Hollow land. Thornberries should be about ripe by that time, too.

A good size black bear sow, right forepaw, and traveling along with her was a single cub.  We got close, but alas my Daphne gave our position away when she happily yet loudly exclaimed she had found a large patch of beaked hazelnut growing nearby, laden with young nuts.

A good size black bear sow, right forepaw, and traveling along with her was a single cub. We got close, but alas my Daphne gave our position away when she happily yet loudly exclaimed she had found a large patch of beaked hazelnut growing nearby, laden with young nuts, and the bears, just a few hundred yards ahead, heard us and rapidly departed.

Deep in the Old Wood, I picked up the trail of a black bear sow with a cub and thought to trail them and catch up. I trailed them two miles when Daphne was delighted to espy an especially large patch of hazelnut and loudly declared, “I bet we can fill a whole sack from those trees.” I found steaming piles of bear dung only a few hundred yards up where it had overheard her and taken fright and set off at a lope. Alas, two miles of tracking for naught.  Oh well, we still had a blast.

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Modern Industrial Agriculture “Discovers” Compost

Daphne was reading the Maritime agriculture journal called Farm Focus. She looked puzzled and said, “Cliff, they said that new science indicates it might be best to grow potatoes on soil prepared with compost.”

The Potato Patch, enlarged by about 50% since this photo was taken, is enriched by compost and produces all the potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes our family of four needs in a year.

The Potato Patch, enlarged by about 50% since this photo was taken, is enriched by compost and produces all the potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes our family of four needs in a year.

“You don’t say,” I said.

She read on and said, “They are right now doing a research project to see if potatoes can be grown more productively on soil that has been enriched with compost, and they hypothesize that it will take three years to do the study.”

I said, “Hmm, that’s odd, because on my website and in my last book I wrote that it takes just about three years to prepare ground and maximize harvest using organic methods and compost..”

Daphne read on. “They’re suggesting that farmers can get higher yields with compost-prepared soil.”

“Well,” I told her, “I have written many times that we get about 1500 lbs of food annually from the 3000 square feet of soil we use to grow potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes. Do they have any other original science that seems to be plagiarized from my last book, website, and the magazines, books and websites of just about every organic and permaculture farmer on the planet?”

***   ***   ***

And what does a couple tons of compost, and nothing but compost, direct from our livestock, kitchen and last year's garden detritus, do for our gardens?  See for yourself?  And the harvest is even better! You might also note that we do not use an ounce of pesticide.  We let the local insects and birds eat any pests and everything is fine.

And what does a couple tons of compost, and nothing but compost, direct from our livestock, kitchen and last year’s garden detritus, do for our gardens? See for yourself? And the harvest is even better!
You might also note that we do not use an ounce of pesticide. We let the local insects and birds eat any pests and everything is fine.

What is really interesting is now industrial/battery farming is acting as if returning to these very old, very successful models of farming is something new and radical.

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Don’t Waste Those Lilacs–Eat Them!

Lilacs come in white and various hues.

Lilacs come in white and various hues.

It’s lilac season. Don’t let them go to waste! Cut a few blossom clusters and let them sit on your table for a couple hours so any insects evacuate. Then immerse them in liter jars of tepid water for a couple days and let them slowly steep. After, add a little honey and maybe a bit of lemon juice (I prefer a bit of tart forest shamrock or sheep or meadow sorrel) for a fragrant, floral beverage. (Also blends nicely with black tea, chaga tea and sumac-ade.)

Another nice thing for lilacs: make a thick sugar syrup and dip them and let them dry on wax paper for candied lilacs (nice on pancakes).

Or you might make a light batter and dip and fry the clusters, then dip in honey like Mexican sopaipapillas or use powdered sugar for a treat like English elderflower pastries.

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Don’t Use That App to Forage

Four people taken to hospital after using phone app to identify mushrooms.  Click to read the article.

Four people taken to hospital after using phone app to identify mushrooms. Click to read the article.

Last weekend at our foraging class, the question came up: Can I use one of those new phone apps to identify forageables?

I cautioned against it. The fact is identifying plants and mushrooms is a whole-sense process. Some plants, like dandelions are very obvious, but wild lettuce has an uncannily similar appearance to dandelion. Fortunately, if you confuse them, it won’t kill you. But deadly nightshade has blossom bunches vaguely reminiscent of wild carrot, and it will kill you if you confuse them. But you can always tell them because deadly nightshade smells nothing like carrot.  Boletes may look delicious, or they may turn blue if you bruise or cut them, and you don’t know if they’re edible or will give you terrible cramps til you see.

And the fact is, even experts often have great difficult identifying individual plant and mushroom species; how can an app possibly do it with a photo?  What if a bird snipped off a petal of that blossom?  What if that particular plant just grew a bit unusual, i.e., a four leaf instead of three leaf clover?

A photo cannot tell you what the plant looked like at different stages of growth, nor what it smells like, feels like, tastes like. Nor can it tell you what’s under the dirt of a mushroom fruiting body, or what the spores of a mushroom are shaped like, nor if that agaricus smells phenolic or cuts yellow.

There are no shortcuts to learning to forage. DO NOT use an app to identify plants and mushrooms.

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The Wildwood Way–Coming Soon to Your Local Bookstore

In your bookstore this November.

In your bookstore this November.

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Wild Food Is Good Food

curly dockDinner is free range chicken (real free range, as in raised in meadows and woods Twa Corbies chickens), served with potatoes and steamed young curly dock and a salad of dandelion greens, wild chives and sheep sorrel served with bacon grease and bits. We don’t eat like other folk in the Hollow, but we usually eat better because most of what we eat is wild or all but.

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July: Wild Food Foraging Class II-A

Daphne takes a break while foraging in the forest.

Daphne takes a break while foraging spring beauties in the forest.

Due to the immense popularity of the Wild Food Foraging Courses, which have been booked out almost since they were offered, we are offering at least one additional foraging course in July. Details are located here. Message me if interested. Because the demand for these classes is so high, a small deposit of $25 is required to hold your place.

Click the photo to jump to the course description.

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New June Course: Cheesemaking: From Grass to Round

Click the photo to go to the course description.

Click the photo to go to the course description.

Join Daphne at the end of June to learn cheesemaking. This summer the topic will be “From Grass to Round”. You will learn all you need to know to start making your own cheeses with cow, sheep or goat milk. And if you live in the country and have a little land, learn how to turn that grass into cheese!

Cheese has been a household staple for thousands of years. It’s easy to make and keeps well when made right. Learn how at Twa Corbies Hollow.

The course is only $25. Prepayment is required to reserve your place.

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Update: Wild Food Foraging Classes of June 6 & June 13

The first spring leaves of wild carrots sprouting eagerly in the warm, full sun.

The first spring leaves of wild carrots sprouting eagerly in the warm, full sun.

Hello everyone,

The wild winter we enjoyed a few months ago is finally vanished and spring has begun in earnest here on the mountain.  I have been out scouting on horse and on foot four times since I last updated everyone and green up is finally happening.  Now that there is some greening happening, I can give everyone a better sense of what to expect.

You may expect that we will certainly cover the following species: devil’s thistle, dandelion and associated wild lettuces, creeping charlie, wild blueberry, bramble fruit, the wild cherries, birch, various wild mints, lamb’s quarter (cannot guarantee, it hasn’t emerged yet), wild carrot, possibly feral rhubarb (still waiting for emergence), staghorn sumac, beaked hazelnut, yarrow, wild rose, plantain, cattails, wild strawberries, bladderwort (if emerged), dock and burdock (waiting for emergence), and the uses of birch bracket and old man’s beard.  There will be more, too.  Right now, foliage and fungi are about a month behind due to the late melt of last winter’s heavy snows.  I expect that within two weeks all the things that we are waiting on for emergence will have emerged.  There will undoubted be other things, too, rare finds and things out of season (as can oft happen with mushrooms).

We will also cover three  oft neglected topics in foraging manuals: when to use, what to use and how to use.  In the case of wild foods, these are often more critical questions than they are with domestic foods.

Please park in the lengthy driveway between the dirt road and our cottage and please stay to the edge of the driveway.  Do not park on the green as we begin cultivation of many things just off the edge of the drive.  As persons arrive, we will guide you to the learning site.

Please remember that much of the way will be over rough ground.  This is a wild food course and often the only way to get wild food is to go over wild territory.  Tough hiking boots are absolutely required, and please expect that you might get your feet wet.  You may want to bring extra shoes for later.  At least two of the plants we shall study–aquatic mint and cattails–grow in wet ground, and it can get slushy getting to them.

Also, please, please do not wear shorts and I suggest a light jacket to protect your arms no matter how hot it may be.  Expect that you will get a few scratches due to the omnipresent raspberries and wild rose in this area.  The best way to minimize this is by wearing clothes that protect you.  No matter how hot it gets, I always wear heavy hikers, a jean jacket, tough blue jeans and good hat when heading into the sticks around here.  It really is a necessity.

If anyone get’s tired and needs to take a break or go back to the base area, my daughter will be present to lend assistance and help you find your way.  She grew up in the Alaskan bush and in the woodlands around here and knows her stuff.  She is just turning eighteen and is studying to be a violinmaker but this is her first real job and she’s very excited about it.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best!

Cliff

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Garden Weeds–Veggies That Cultivate Themselves

As the snow melts, and those of you who garden prepare to till your land and sow your seeds, reconsider your weeding strategies.

Humans have been cultivating for millennia. Over thousands of years, some plants have been cultivated and then were abandoned, like lamb’s quarter, dandelion and clover. Others are cultivated vegetables elsewhere in the world which have gone feral in N. America, like burdock. These weeds have gone feral but, having long histories of cultivation behind them, favor our gardens. All possess the hardiness of wild plants and a habit of appearing in abundance in tilled soil. Many “weeds” we now see in our gardens are edible.

Don’t just yank them, learn them! These feral former domestic vegetables grow very fast; much faster than most contemporary cultivated plants. So let them grow til they are useful, and then HARVEST them. You’ll be eating fresh veggies when modern vegetables are just beginning to sprout.

Burdock and wild lettuce.

Burdock and wild lettuce below, only weeks after the snow broke.

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