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2018 Foraging Classes

beaked hazelnut smallThis year is going to be busier than ever. I’ve been asked to teach classes in various places around the Maritime provinces, and we intend to maintain 3 to 6 classes at our backwoods homestead, too. Because the schedule is so heavy, I am going to start taking registrations as of today. I believe everyone should have an opportunity to learn, so as always, the cost is low. Classes at the homestead will be $50 for the day, payable at time of registration to hold your place.

Classes are limited to 12 persons per class to allow all students time for questions and focus.

Participants must be adults or children over 12 with guardians.

Three to four miles of hiking over old dirt roads, meadows and woods are required.

Because of new demands on my time for these classes, I will have to be firm about my booking policy. In previous years, I have allowed persons to shift to different classes or cancel even with only a few days notice, even though our policy is that no changes can be made with less than 30 days notice. I will not be able to do that this year. There are just too many classes in the works to juggle that. As always, you can reschedule to a different class or cancel up til 30 days prior to the class. After that, all bookings are final.

daphne-of-the-woods clippedThis year’s classes at Twa Corbies Hollow homestead in northeast Nova Scotia will be:

Saturday, June 16: Emphasis: early spring wild plant forage and medicinal lichens.

Saturday, July 14: Emphasis: midsummer wild plant and blossom forage.

cliff teaching wild food 2.jpgSaturday to Sunday, July 28 to 29: Foraging camp-out, emphasis late season bush foraging, evening review of material and camp-out and bonfire in the woods. ($100 due to the fact this class is 2 full days)

Saturday, August 18: Emphasis: late season wild plants, fruits, nuts and a special focus on edible and medicinal fungi.

To register, please message me. Payments by email accepted.

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Chaga & Conservation

25 lb chaga

The second enormous chaga I stumbled across as I hiked home through the forest. My hatchet is about sixteen inches long, included for scale.

As people are thinking about spring, I am getting many requests about our upcoming foraging classes, and this year a lot of interest in chaga.

It is important to understand that chaga is a very slow-growing fungus. It can live up to twenty years on its host birch. It will eventually kill the tree it lives on. It will fruit several times during its life cycle, which means it will make several of the nodes that people like to harvest.

There is an odd myth that when you harvest chaga you have to leave 20% of the node so that it can reproduce. This is untrue. The nodes will not produce spores (these are like the seeds of fungi) til the tree dies. For conservation purposes, you might as well harvest the entire node and make use of it. This will not harm the chaga since all the node is a sterile fruiting body. The chaga itself is actually a bunch of fibers called mycelia that live within the birch tree.

It is important to avoid harming the birch when you harvest a chaga node. If the tree has chaga, that means it’s already weak. It is dying. Try to do as little harm to the tree as possible by using a knife to carve away the last of the chaga over the bare wood where the node emerges. That may help the tree to persevere for many more years, and it will allow the chaga to create more nodes.

If the tree has died, whether it is standing (a snag) or fallen (a log) and you see a chaga node, DO NOT HARVEST IT. This is the only time in chaga’s life cycle that it will produce spores (its seeds). If it cannot reproduce, eventually there will no more chaga.

A myth has evolved in the trendy world of health fads, which is often driven by the most irresponsible of pseudo-science, that the last node is the most potent. It may or may not have a little more polysaccharides or antimicrobials, but if you harvest it, that means that an organism which needs as much as 20 years to reproduce will never get to. Slow reproducing organisms are extremely vulnerable to over-harvesting, and right now chaga is the new ginseng–preyed up furiously and being rapidly wiped out of areas. You can harvest chaga without reducing the chaga population in your area by leaving the node on the dead tree.

40 pound chaga

One half of the forty pound chaga I found. Sadly, this monstrously large specimen broken in half when I knocked it off the tree. It was also partly molded within and could not be used. Still, it was impressively large and I’ve seen others growing in the forest, higher up where I couldn’t get to them, much larger.

As a side note, there are many other fungi with as much or more polysaccharides and antimicrobials, such as most of the shelf and bracket fungi, i.e., turkey tails, horse hooves, and bracket.

Chaga only grows on 1 in 10,000 birches. Like many fungi, it needs more than just a host tree, it requires very specific circumstances to succeed. It is very vulnerable to over use. I hope to see DNR soon regulate the harvesting of chaga.

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T’was the Curse Before Christmas

unseelie santaChristmas drew e’er closer so Santa Curse took flight,
a sleigh drawn by zombie reindeer, eyes flaming bright.
My daughters were huddled, in warm beds and ready,
pitchforks and bowies sharpened and steady.
While Daphne in her long tee had just settled down,
I was hunkered outside lying flat on snowed ground.
Then what to my leery eyes should appear,
but a flaming mistletoe sleigh drawn by eight vicious deer.
So many times, Santa Curse and I had fought through the night,
I was tired of it but it just seemed my plight.
First stop made he to the Hollow’s small cottage,
he had a candy cane lance that sparked with high wattage.
But soon as I saw that dread sleigh again fly its course,
I bound to good Aval and mounted my warhorse.
An arrow I drew from the quiver at my back,
and Santa Curse dove at us to begin his attack.
I kicked Aval’s flanks and started our run,
firing arrows from saddle as if into the sun.
Each shaft was tipped like archers of old,
the point was a bodkin but of tinsel and gold.
Like angels they flew, each green shaft fletched red,
once again I’d strive to make Santa Curse dead.
The first shots, they missed, gone high in the night,
the fourth and the fifth, though, cut the zombie deer mid-flight.
His vile sleigh carrying poison candy and undead elfs,
came crashing down but could not kill Santa Curse himself.
We locked in mortal combat ‘neath a silver Yuletide moon,
one or the other this night must surely fall soon.
Santa thrashed at me with ooze-dripping claws,
said, “Consume and buy junk, and join my ill cause.”
He hissed lies if I didn’t the economy would fail,
the land descend in poverty that would make us all quail.
He raged and he swore it was trickle-down theory,
but at last my Odin-blessed puukko took the fight out of he.
And so he was down and we burned Curse and sled,
just to make sure for that night the liar stayed dead.
So Santa Curse is gone another Yuletide season,
be warm and be well; live free from fell reason.
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A Rickety-Crickety Samhain Racket . . .

We were sittin’ in the livin’ room, the forest all about proper dark, when we heard a wild racket and a rickety-crickety commotion coming from out the garden way.

Natalia said, “Somethin’s a-bugger in the old pumpkin patch, da.”

So I went to the library on the lowest level of the cottage and threw on my duster and old tall, wide-brimmed hat. I stuffed my bowie into my belt and took my musket from the wall. I poured a pinch of powder down the barrel and packed in a wadded ball, then opened the lower door into the deep, dark night of the enchanted wood.

Natalia came behind me and happened to grab my camera, perchance to catch a shot of a deer.

Into the eerie dark we went, through the Old Garden where fat leeks grow, but the rickety-crickety racket was from further on. Through the New Garden we passed, where tall, bare stalks of corn a-rustled and a-rasped in the ebon breeze ‘neath a silvery gibbous moon. But still the racket came from farther on.

“Somethin’s a bugger in the old pumpkin patch, da,” Natalia said again, her voice silky flat and eyes refectin’ a flame, for not far down yonder hidden gully a’tween two hillocks, pushing up against a hedge of woods we espied a bright bonfire betwixt and between yon old pumpkin patch.

And there he stood, Ol’ Lord Jack his-self, all a-speakin’ and a-chantin’, a-callin’ up eerie tunes and fine spells while around him the pumpkins yet vined bowed to the Pumpkin Lord, and shadow-fey wights danced round flame and lord alike.

Natalia, just behind me, said, “Somethin’s a bugger in the old pumpkin patch, da,” and pressed the camera’s shutter.

And here be what she caught . . .

the pumpkin lord

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Bark River Bravo Vortex vs. Tops Pasayten–6 Months Later

bravo-vortex-a2-jimped-green-linen-micarta-269.95__48592.1455315386.1280.1280Back in spring I picked up a new knife model from Bark River–the Bravo Vortex.  I wrote a post about it and compared it to my favorite knife, the Tops Pasayten.  I had noted at the time that I had only just gotten the Bravo Vortex and would share my thoughts on it after using it a while in the field.  So here is that promised update.

The old Bravo has been one of Bark River’s all time best sellers and one of the most popular high end knives in America.  Bark River’s new spin on the Bravo, the Vortex, really spoke to me.  The elongated clip point looked both practical and gave the knife a little fight on the off chance I might need it for that role.  The blade is stout and hardy.  The grips are fat and squared, which I like.  It tells you where the knife is in your hands, handy when butchering game in the dark.

bravo-vortex-a2-sheath-shot-correct__36981.1455907888.1280.1280I won’t go into a lengthy discussion of its specs because that’s available everywhere, but the Bravo Vortex is 10.5 inches, with a 5.5 inch blade–exactly in my sweet spot.  At 9.8 oz, it’s also a good weight, enough heft to be tough without being weighty.  The balance is superb and it feels lighter than what it really is in the hand.  I liked the leather sheath too, which is a very high quality hybrid of a drop sheath and secure snap sheath.  You can drop the knife in there and leave it unsnapped and it’s quite secure.

The knife is an interesting, beautiful and practical blend of traditional and modern design.  It is very practical for just about any purpose, a real jack-of-all-trades.  I often carry it.

Okay, that’s the good stuff.  Here are the problems.  The knife is made of A-2 steel.  A stainless version in a super steel is available, but Bark River knives are already absurdly expensive.  I wasn’t paying 50% more for a stainless version.  Now, the A-2 is good stuff, and as long as you keep it oiled and clean it won’t readily rust.  But still, it’s maintenance you have to concern yourself with in the field.

I also consider the convex edge a flaw in design.  I suppose it has a cool factor for those that are into that sort of thing, and it’s a little better for carving, but it complicates field sharpening.  Rather than a tiny diamond stone, I have to carry a couple 4 inch bits of leather impregnated with sharpening paste to properly resharpen in.  And since I live on a homestead, and my days are filled with activities from repairing barns and fences to making fires and foraging, playing around at carving spoons is the least of my concerns when it comes to a knife.  I don’t go into the woods to carve toys.

The rakish drop point is great for piercing but only adequate for skinning fish and game.  You have to pay attention so as not to punch through hide or guts.

The leather sheath looks really great but it is, after all, leather, which will hold moisture and encourage rust.  That’s a problem in a wet place like Nova Scotia.  During the summer, I went on a canoeing trip and while I wanted to bring the Bravo Vortex, I knew if I went in the water and got the sheath wet, I’d have to bury the knife in a backpack for a day or two while the sheath air dried, so I left it behind.

And the design flaw coup de grace is the lanyard hole.  I learned from Bark River that the hole is lined with an A-2 steel washer.  It’s very narrow so it’s hard to get into the area and clean it in the field.  They said it would almost certainly rust over time.  I don’t know about you, but I find rust unacceptable.  Upon learning this, my first thought was: “Geez, at about $250 CAN for this knife, you folks couldn’t spend an extra dollar for a stainless steel or titanium washer to line the lanyard hole?”

tch pasayten

pasayten 2Now, to me the closest competitor to the Bravo Vortex (and the standard Bravo) is the Tops Pasayten.  The knife is 10.25 inches, very close to my sweet spot.  It matches the traditional roach design of the Hudson Bay company, issued to trappers and woodsmen–so it’s a time-proven design.  It has a traditional handle that is shaped somewhat like a bone handle but is squared.  It is extremely comfortable in the hand.  It has a drop point with a lot of belly, less fight in it but better for skinning.  It comes with a very practical and high quality, adjustable Kydex sheath.  And it is made standard with 154cm steel, an amazing stainless that strongly resists rusting yet takes an edge easily and is soft enough to be durable and resist chipping.  The knife is twice cryo treated, too, and this perhaps explains the knife’s almost preternatural ability to hold an edge.  Last year, I harvested two deer, a dozen hares and grouse and on the homestead we butchered 100 chickens.  I processed them all with the Pasayten and it remained functionally sharp through all that work without even needing an edge touch up.  The amazingly comfortable and versatile handle allows the knife to be used in any position and in reverse it’s sort of like an elongated ulu, and it is unbeatable for foraging and butchering game.  It is a hair more slender at the spine but equally well balanced and weighs about an ounce less–still very tough but a little more graceful in the hand.    When it rains, or I’m canoeing, I don’t have to worry about it rusting. When I get blood or sap on it, I don’t have to rush and clean it in the field–it is almost maintenance free.  The edge is easy to field sharpen with a good diamond stone, or sharpen at home on water stones.  Pricewise, the Pasayten comes in at around $200 CAN, very reasonable for a knife and sheath of this quality.  The Pasayten hits my sweet spot but in an imminently more practical way.

The Bark River knife is beautiful and I wanted to like it more, but the Pasayten is the clear winner.  In fact, it is hard to imagine a better knife.  Combine this with a decent hatchet and you have everything you need to get by in the bush.

Still, it was a close competition.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate the Bravo Vortex a 9.  But I’d rate the Pasayten a 9.75.  It is more practical, tougher, more versatile and more affordable and comes standard in one of the very best knife steels.  It is, quite simply, a better knife for the real woodsman always in the field.

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Pulp Plantations: Ecological Dead Zones

Over the last twenty-five years, nearly half the forests of Maritime Canada have been clearcut. This is an ecological disaster of apocalyptic scale, but as if it were not enough, the pulp cartel behind the cutting–with the assistance of its allies in government and the Department of Natural Resources–will not even allow the natural forests to regenerate. The forest is systematically exterminated and replaced with pulp plantations consisting of monocropped conifers. These now cover thousands of square miles, depriving wildlife of food and shelter and ruining the forest’s ability to purify air and water as well as absorb atmospheric carbon which is a causative factor in global warming.

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The Maritime Pulp Holocaust

Canada is the world’s leader in deforestation, accounting all by itself for over 21% of global clearcutting. Its high temperate and boreal forests are critical carbon sinks. Its Acadian forest is a unique woodland environment of which less than 1% remains. The Maritime provinces along the east coast have suffered more than most at the hands of unbridled timber interests and pulp cartels, and still the mills keep on cutting and the woods keep on falling faster than ever.

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Advanced Foraging Class–August 2017!

coral mushroom small

A coral mushroom. They can be delicious, or make you regret eating them. Do you know how to tell?  Click the image to learn about the class.

Did you know that if you learn the process of taxonomy and telltales, the number of plants you can forage goes from a handful to tens of thousands. For example, if you learn how to differentiate the mustard family, you have added over 80,000 species to your list of forage plants.  Likewise, learn to distinguish the bolete fungi and the telltales that tell you if they’re edible, and you can safely forage many species of Maritime mushrooms.

In this advanced class, we will take an in depth look at plant and fungus taxonomy, the use of telltales, and reinforce it all with daily field expeditions to give students opportunity to practice what they’ve learned.

Classes are kept small to give each student personal attention.
Only one month away. Register soon!
Twa Corbies Hollow Homestead & Bushcraft School is located in semi-remote northeast Nova Scotia, roughly one hour from Antigonish.
Click the image for full details:
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A Day In the Canoe

It’s a fine July day in the Canadian north woods. Let’s get in the canoe and glide over a lake. Who knows . . . we might find some interesting things. Perhaps even some lovely Labrador tea.

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July 2017: Wild Foraging Class Almost Here!

Only one week til the July foraging class. There are still a few openings. Get ’em while they’re hot! First come, first served!

To find out more, click the image:

coral mushroom small

A coral mushroom. They can be delicious, or make you regret eating them. Do you know how to tell?

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