Morels in the Snow?

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This morning I awoke to snow. Large flakes falling heavy on an April morning. My 1st thought was, hmm, I have never found morels in the snow before. So I got ready, and headed over to my favorite morel spot (the same one I wrote about here). The path to my spot was beautiful.

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When I got to my spot, I saw that most of it was too covered in snow, but a few of the prime areas were more clear, because they were protected by a pine and some shrubs. Right away I found the one above. As I mentioned last time, I like to leave the 1st one, so I kept looking.

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It took me a while, but found one in slightly more snow.

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I picked it, and scanned the surrounding area.

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I ended up only harvesting two. Not exactly a lot of food, but as I had expected, finding morels in the snow was a magical feeling.

Thanks for reading,

Nate

 

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1st Morels of 2016.

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Yesterday my kids and I went to the creek/woods where I have my morel spots. It is earlier in the season than I usually find them, but I tend to go on the later end of the season. We went to my best spot, and I looked around while the kids played. After a couple minutes, I spotted the one pictured above. Part of being a forager is being a good caretaker, so I generally leave the 1st one, and harvest moderately after that. It took me a little while, but I found and picked the one bellow.

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After that, all I managed to find was one more little one that was just emerging from under the leaf littler. I left it to grow, but am hoping there will be more popping soon.

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While we were at the creek, I figured it would be nice to return the favor of all the wild food we pick there, so we gathered some litter on our way back to the car.

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We collected a grocery bag full in no time. We will need to go back soon, this time with full size trash bags. It is always important to try to find ways to have a reciprocal relationship with the places we gather. Some times it feels overwhelming, but every little bit makes a difference.

Thanks for reading,

Nate

Book Review: Nature’s Garden.

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Nature’s Garden by Samuel Thayer. Forager’s Harvest Press 2010.

Sam Thayer is my favorite foraging author, and so far, this is my favorite of his books. That is no insult to his other book, The Forager’s Harvest. This one just happens to have plants that are more common and widespread. I recommend Nature’s Garden for beginners because it lays down such a great foundation of knowledge, is accessibly written, and also covers each plant in so much detail. I also recommend it for advanced and intermediate foragers, because it corrects a lot of myths that have been repeated in many other foraging books, and because it helped me to move beyond just foraging, to wanting to learn about how people, plants, and other organisms all interact.

Nature’s Garden has a great line up of plants, but it would be worth the price of the book for the 50 page chapter on acorns alone.

The book starts out with introductory chapters that encourage best practices in plant ID, and put foraging in context. After that, each of the chapters features a different plant. They begin with a quick story from Sam’s life, then proceed to cover all aspects needed to confidently learn how to interact with the plant.

A true gem, the only complaint I have heard are that is doesn’t cover as many plants as some books, but this is a situation where quality is more important than quantity.

Thanks for reading,

Nate

A Few Plants From my Recent Class.

Saturday was the 1st monthly class in my 2016 Foraging and Rewilding Course.

Here is a sampling of some of the plants we discussed and interacted with.

I’m also planning a one off class sometime in May. Stay tuned.

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Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta).

 

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Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

 

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Common chickweed (Stellaria media).

 

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Insect gall on a hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) tree.

 

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Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) cane.

 

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Field garlic (Allium vineale).

 

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Wound on a beech tree (Fagus grandifolia). Probably from the tree trying to contain a fungal attack.

 

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Ramps (Allium tricoccum). These are one I transplanted.

 

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Eastern Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).

(Obviously don’t just go out and eat these, find some good resources and educate yourself).

Thanks for reading,

Nate

Beyond the War on Invasive Species.

Photo of the cover of the book Beyond the War on Invasive Species by Tao Orion.
Beyond the War on Invasive Species by Tao Orion.


Beyond the War on Invasive Species by Tao Orion, Chelsea Green Publishing 2015.

So I have a new favorite Permaculture/rewilding book! I know this book covers a controversial issue, that tends to incite strong emotions, but I just had to review it. There have been a few authors over that last 10 or so years that have challenged the status quo view on invasive plants, and I respect them for putting their reputations on the line, but their books have maybe gone a little too far and almost glamorized invasives, and they haven’t offered many solutions. This is not that kind of book.

When I 1st got into plants, I bought strongly into the standard notion that native always equals good, and non-native always equals bad. It seemed pretty straight forward, and I could see the pattern all around me in the woods. As I was exposed to more nuanced views, I reacted like many people do, with anger. As I read more about Permaculture, I slowly warmed to the idea that weeds could play an important role in healing the disturbances that modern humans have caused, however I still held firm on my opposition to invasives in later succession or less disturbed areas. Finally a couple years ago, when I was exposed to the critique of the ties between Monsanto (and other chemical companies) and some of the larger organizations that encourage large scale chemical control of invasive species, I flipped and went to the rah rah invasives are the solution to all our problems end of the spectrum. Since then I have continued to evolve a more balanced and nuanced view, and started to develop an approach to invasives that I feel is solution based, and should work no matter what the ultimate truth is about these controversial beings.

That is where Tao Orion’s book comes in. It basically lays out everything that I was trying to figure out how to put out there, but it does so in a much more compelling manner that I would have, and it comes from someone who is not only more well read than I, but also has much more hands on experience with managing invasives. Tao got her start in the ecosystem restoration industry, but spent years using less conventional techniques on her own organic farm.

This book lays out a strong critique of the war on invasive species, but just like you don’t have to naive about the problems with drugs to be opposed to the war on drugs, the same is true for invasive species and the war that is being waged on them. Tao delves into the issues that come from viewing all ecological change as “harm”, what happens when the chemical industry and environmental groups share economic interests, the poor quality of safety testing on many herbicides, and the lack of systems thinking in our approaches to invasives. This critique is important and well laid out, but much more important is the positive vision that is put forward. While there are specific techniques offered, the main strength of this book is that it it refuses to get caught up in laying out universal solutions, and rather focuses on how to see what might be causing invasions, and whole system solutions to the problems.

My favorite section comes in the last chapter, when Tao gives an example of a Permaculture solution to an actual situation near where she lives. The example is of a park that is filled with a tall invasive grass, that is not only changing the local habitat, but also providing cover for homeless people. The park’s current strategy is to spray the grass with large amounts of herbicides, but Tao asks, what if instead the homeless people where allowed to build themselves small homes, using invasive species (including the grass) as construction materials, and allowed to live there in exchange for managing the land.

Yes, I know this scenario is not likely to be taken up in most towns in this country, but what does that say about us? What if we stopped forcing homeless people to be homeless? What if instead of declaring war on all our problems, we started living into them? What if we moved away from spraying ecosystems with industrial chemicals, and instead learned how to provide for our selves and our communities from them? What if the most abundant and competitive species were the best ones to use for food, medicine, clothing, and shelter?

I don’t know, but I am glad this book is out there reminding us to take a step back and look at our problems with new eyes.

Thanks for reading,

Nate

More Morels: Spring 2013

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Just a quick post to update on my morel season, I harvested 13 more small yellow morels (Morchella spp.) today. Passed over a few to let them spread their spores.

My one spot still hasn’t produced anything, not sure if it has run it’s course, or if it is just a little later than the others. Oh well, I have found more this year than any previous ones.

This afternoon I will head back to the woods to gather some violets (Viola spp.), honewort (Cryptotaenia canadensis), and sweet cicely (Osmorhiza spp.)

Nate

Morels and Dryad’s Saddles: mushroom hunting in spring 2013.

So this past week turned out to be a pretty good one for mushroom hunting as well as foraging.

In terms of plants, I gathered a lot of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) to dry for future use, some wood nettle (Laportea canadensis), Violet (Viola spp.), ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), broad leaf dock (Rumex obtusifolius), chickweed (Stellaria media), purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), and common plantain (Plantago major).

I also gathered 4 different varieties of mushrooms (3 of those varieties were different types of morels). This is my 3rd year hunting morels, if you want to read about my 1st and 2nd years check it out here and here.

If you are interested in hunting morels, Michael Kuo’s books 100 Edible Mushrooms and Morels are a good place to start. Also check out his excellent website here.

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I have been working on a plant DVD, and on Thursday morning I had just finished filming and was about to head out of the woods to go pick my son up from preschool, when I almost stepped on the morel pictured above. I was excited and a little surprised because I had never found black morels (Morchella angusticeps) before (previous years I have only ever found the small yellow variety [Morchella diminutiva]), and I was in a part of the woods that I travel on a regular basis.

It was somewhat damaged, so I decide to have a quick look around.

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A couple feet away, I found this even more damaged one.

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And then within a few more feet I found 3 more black morels in great condition.

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About 20 feet up the trail I found a few of these smaller morels, which I at first took for younger black morels. Upon further inspection they turned out to be half-free morels (Morchella punctipes). All morels should be carefully identified, but the half-free ones are the trickiest because they look a lot like one variety of verpa (Verpa bohemica). Verpas are of disputed edibility, and should not be collected.

Anyway, it was time to pick up my son, so I headed out of the woods without harvesting any.

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After picking up my son, I told him that I told him that I had a surprise for him in the woods. He asked me “is it mushrooms?” and I told him he would have to wait to see. I helped him spot the morels, and together we harvested the ones pictured above. The 4 in the middle are black morels and the 2 to either side are half-free morels.

As a side note I should say that while I take my 4 1/2 yr old son mushroom hunting with me, I don’t know anyone else kids well enough to know at what age they are ready for it. 4 1/2 is surely on the young side, but I trust him, and he knows that not only are there deadly toxic mushrooms, but that we only eat the edible ones after cleaning and cooking them at home.

On Friday we went back to the same spot with two friends and found a few more of the half-free morels but none of the black ones.

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On Saturday we got together with a couple other families to go foraging along a creek near the Susquehanna. Our primary interest was in harvesting stinging nettle, but earlier in the week I had seen a dryad’s saddle mushroom (Polyporus squamosus) growing on a log along the trail, and figured I could introduce my friends to this common mushroom.

Not only did I introduce them to dryad’s saddles, but they turned out to be even better mushroom spotters than I am.

We found them growing on several logs and one big old tree.

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They were even growing inside the tree.

Click here to see a short video of my friend gathering them from the hole in the tree.

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We ended up with about 20 medium to small caps (the large ones are often too tough to eat) to split between our 3 families. We could have had more, but decided to leave some for other people.

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On Sunday afternoon my son and I decided to go skateboarding and hang out in the woods for a little. I figured it couldn’t hurt to check one of my morel spots from last year. I wasn’t expecting to find any, because it seemed like it was still a little early for the small yellow morels, but we found a nice little handful of them. Small yellows are supposed to be the best tasting of the morels and sauteing them seemed like a good close to a great week of wild food.

Thanks for reading,
Nate

Pine Pollen, Radiation, and your health.

Close up photo of white pine pollen cones.
White pine (Pinus strobus) pollen cones. Ready (or at least almost) to be harvested.

Right now pine pollen cones are starting to release their pollen. Most people think of this as just a nuisance, but we should be grateful for this wonderful gift.

Arthur Haines is one of my favorite wild food authors, and has greatly expanded my interest and knowledge of plant uses. These videos, and many of the other videos on his Youtube Channel are very important given the amount of pollution we are exposed to every day.

This is my first year collecting pollen cones. I have gathered about three quarts of them over the last two days. I wasn’t sure from the videos how to tell when they were ready, but I emailed a photo to Arthur and he said that they were about ready. After picking a bunch and tasting a few, it seems to me that what you are looking for are clusters with large football shaped cones, possibly with a few just starting to have a touch of yellow on them, or that feel powdery when you chew them.

Arthur has a book Ancestral Plants that covers many uses of over 100 different plants.

If you can’t harvest your own pine pollen, you can purchase it online from several companies including Surthrival, but do try to harvest it your self if at all possible.

Thanks for reading,

Nate