Saturday, August 16, 2014

Last Workshops Coming Up - A Bit About Invasive Plants

Summer goes by so fast and now it’s more than half over. But some summer events remain and one
Garlic Mustard
of them is the free wild plant workshops I put on at Spruce Point Inn in Boothbay Harbor.

My last two workshops take place on Tuesday, August 19 and Tuesday, August 26. All a visitor need do is register at the front desk. Workshops run from 1:30 to 3:00 in the afternoon.

As an interesting note, this marks the third consecutive season I have taught at the inn and only this year, did I find garlic mustard growing there. How it arrived at the edge of the sea on a steep overlook remains a mystery. But it’s there and has already dropped seed.

The State of Maine lists garlic mustard as an invasive plant and suggests ways to combat it. The state list of locales having garlic mustard is now incomplete, since I have found it in a number of non-listed places and it’s for sure that it has spread farther than anyone might imagine.

The good news is that garlic mustard is a culinary plant of some value. It has a heady, garlic flavor, making it useful in all kinds of dishes. I can envision using the leaves in various ferments. Brined green beans, with garlic mustard, should make a nice combination.

We have more and more invasive species each year showing up around Maine. Many of them have culinary uses, so it only makes sense to use them.

Some time I plan on doing a special presentation on invasive plants. I may work on it this winter. But my presentation will differ from other invasive plant presentations because I will also include native invasives. To most people, a plant must be an alien in order to be considered invasive. Not so. For instance, groundnuts are a highly-invasive plant that once established are impossible to get rid of.

Groundnuts are edible tubers that send up long, weak-stemmed vines. These look much like pea vines and have twinned, opposite leaves. The vines depend upon other plants for support and in twining around the support plant, often end up strangling the plant to death. I have see groundnut vines kill Japanese knotweed.

Groundnuts, along with other wild edibles, are carving out a niche for themselves and as such, were offered last year by the Waldo County Soil & Water Conservation District in their annual plant sale.

But no one has mentioned anything about the plant’s invasive habits. That’s because groundnuts are a native plant. Cattails are another invasive native plant, but that’s another story for another time.

So much for invasives.

Back to plant workshops, perhaps I’ll see some of you at my workshops in Boothbay at Spruce Point Inn. It’ll be fall before you know it and then our wild plants will have been killed by frost, not to return until next growing season.

Happy foraging.

Friday, July 4, 2014


Wild Plants And Wooly Bears


I’m just now finishing up the last of the goosetongue, Plantago juncoides, that I picked almost two weeks ago. I got so much of it that I home-canned 13 jars, gave a copious amount to a neighbor and had enough left for daily eating for several weeks. Goosetongue keeps well in the refrigerator for a long time. To use, just rinse in cold water to freshen the leaves.

Hitting goosetongue just right is key to easy cleaning. By that I mean harvesting the leaves just before the seedstalks appear. After that, separating the leaves from seedstalks becomes quite tedious.

But today, on July 4th, I see that other plants are coming along nicely. Weeding my garden now always means lots of meals of great, fresh green vegetables. Lamb’s quarters, amaranth and quickweed, or Galinsoga, are all of a size to be useful now. And they all taste more or less like spinach.

I must add that I have a new “wild” plant that I started from seed last winter. Hundreds of years ago, the English cultivated a wild member of the goosefoot tribe called Good King Henry. The botanical name, Chenopodium bonus-henricus, says it all. It’s a Chenopodium, just like lamb’s quarters. And it tastes something like it. This has been an important experiment for me, since GKH is a perennial. And as such, it can be relied upon to provide food year after year.

But having never tasted the plant, it was a gamble devoting garden space to it. Now I see that it was a good bet indeed. Next year I plan on adding another row of GKH.

The season progresses quickly and it’s hard to grasp that we are in midsummer now. And with that, my time at Spruce Point Inn in Boothbay Harbor begins anew. I’m there teaching wild plants every Tuesday from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Although these sessions are aimed at clients of the inn, the public is invited, at no charge. So if you would like to partake of a casual, and hopefully informative discussion and plant walk, feel free to show up at the inn by 1:30 every Tuesday from now until the end of August.

For now, enjoy your summer and don’t forget the insect repellent. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cold, Wet Spring No Problem For Foragers

For most of this spring, I have had to continually remind myself that the sun is still there; we just can’t see it.

To make matters worse, I’m drawn to flipping through my personal copy of Tom Seymour’s Forager’s Notebook. Entries there indicate that in 2012, I had planted all of my garden beds by now. This year, the soil in my raised beds is wet and cold and not even ready for tilling. That would only compact it and make it harder to deal with later.

Also on this date in 2012, dame’s rocket was in full bloom, hummingbirds had returned nearly one week prior and jewelweed was ripe for picking. Today, only one of these annual events has occurred. A hummingbird came buzzing around the greenhouse looking for its sugar feeder.

And on Saturday, May 26, 2012, the first June bugs (May beetles) had come buzzing and crashing into my porch light.

Will everything come out alright in the end? Well, sure. Wild plants will do just fine. They’re programmed to endure tough and changeable conditions. It’s the cultivated stuff that has me worried. Everything depends upon the first frost date. If, for instance, tomatoes haven’t ripened by that time, they will need to be picked and taken inside to ripen. And house-ripened tomatoes are never as good as the vine-ripened variety.

So everything depends upon getting our crops in the ground and growing so that they can germinate and mature before the first frost. There’s still time, but it’s growing shorter and shorter.

This is a good lesson for those who would compare a totally agrarian society to that of hunter-gatherers. The agrarian types raise all their own food and eschew wild things. But weather, climate, disease and a host of other factors often disrupt the system, plunging this entire class into chaos. That ultimately leads to famine and possibly death from starvation, which in turn dictates population migration.

On the other hand, the hunter-gatherers just put on an extra jacket and hunker down by the campfire. The wild plants, fish and animals they seek remain unchanged. “Ho-hum. It’s cold. Better throw another log on the fire.”

Of course we here in America are no longer hunter-gatherers. But we are an agrarian society, or at least our food comes by that means.

However, remainders of the hunter-gatherer society still exist in the form of modern-day foragers. These individuals glean what is best from every source. This gives foragers a leg up on those who totally depend upon supermarkets for their sustenance.

In 2009, the weather was so wet and cold that all my crops failed. I managed to get a few pallid stalks of Swiss chard from inside my greenhouse. But everything else died from standing in water and lack of sunlight. However, I harvested enough wild food so that I could home-can and freeze enough to last me through the winter. This was in addition to eating fresh, albeit wild, vegetables all summer, too.

So if this year turns out to be another one like 2009, it’s not the end of the world…at least not for foragers. It won’t be fun, but it won’t be a disaster either.

Friday, April 25, 2014

You Can Go Home Again

Brook trout and dandelion greens, quintessential components of late April in Maine, are finally available. I dug the first mess of dandelions last week and at the same time, caught several brook trout.

My meal that night was completely foraged and home-grown. The one non-foraged item was some of my home-grown and home-canned corn, a real treat that I save for special occasions. In partaking of this, I knew that the winter had officially passed and spring was here in truth and deed.

I have a little anecdote to share today. This warmed my heart and I hope it touches readers in the same way.

This morning saw me upstream on a local brook, by a little waterfall, happily catching and releasing 8- to 10-inch brook trout. I kept two for dinner. On my way back, nearly to where my car was parked, I saw two youngsters fishing. These boys were probably 10 years old, give or take a year. They had caught nothing and neither would they, since the place they were fishing held no trout. I knew that because I had tried it earlier.

I greeted them in passing and one of the boys politely asked, “Mister, do you know where we can catch some trout?” This was the kind of question I wait for people to ask, especially youngsters.

Pulling the bigger of my two trout from my creel, I held it up and said, “I sure do.” The boy’s eyes grew as big as saucers. They were that excited over the prospect of catching a few brook trout.

I told them exactly where to go and how to go about it. With all the ambition, hopes and dreams that 10-year old boys have for trout fishing, the two began running to the appointed location. There, I’m certain, they made lasting memories, catching handsomely-appointed brook trout.

But there’s more to this than just my satisfaction of directing two youngsters to a productive trout hole. The boy who asked me if I could tell him where to catch some fish somehow reminded me of myself when I was about his age. Many years ago, when I was 10 or 12, I had a trout fishing buddy and we two would walk for miles in search of trout. Distance and time meant nothing to us. We only cared for the sound, smell and ambiance of the stream, and the trout that it held.

There was the essence of magic for us in the quest for trout. Along the way, of course, we learned many things, not just regarding trout. We saw nature because we encountered it firsthand. It’s amazing what a person can see by walking, rather than driving. Our trout fishing times were part of our early education.

The boys today had no way of knowing how they had helped something in me to come full circle. But they fulfilled an important task. They allowed me to see myself…myself and my buddy Dan, as we were so very long ago.

Who says you can’t go home again? 

Here's a note to Don from Enfield. I answered your comment. Just go to the April 15 blog post to see it. Sorry I missed it earlier. Tom. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sears Island Plant Tour

I’m happy to announce that on June 21, I’ll conduct a wild plant tour on Sears Island. The island is a 940-acre, publicly-owned, undeveloped (for now) island with access via a causeway, in Searsport, Maine.

This is a step in a new direction for me, since up until now, all my classes and seminars were for groups or organizations. Now, I’m going to organize and conduct an event all on my own.

I chose Sears Island because it contains a wide variety of plant types, typical of different parts of Maine. From edible plants of the seashore to those more typical of far inland, Sears Island is the perfect vehicle for discovering new plants and learning something about them.

Planning a trip to the island requires some thought, since part of the route follows the seashore, meaning that section of walk must be accomplished during a cooperative tide. On June 21, 2013, low tide occurs at 12:45 a.m.

And so we will meet at the island end of the causeway on the Sears Island Road, just across from the Maine DOT facility on Route 1 just east of Searsport. We’ll gather at 10 a.m. for introductions and a brief outline of what we’ll do and where we will go. Beginning at this time means that we’ll be following an outgoing tide for the beginning of our walk. And by the time we reach the far end of the island and start our walk back to the trailhead, the tide will still be near dead-low.

In addition to identifying and discussing wild plants, I’ll note some of the historical features of Sears Island. All in all, this looks to be a fun and informative trip.

I would ask that participants sign up ahead of time so that I can monitor the number of people. Call or email me so I can jot your name down on my signup list. My phone is (207) 338-9746 and my email address is

Ideally, I would like at most, 10 participants. That way, I can give everyone close attention. If, given sufficient interest, the list fills in quickly, I will host another trip the next day, Sunday, June 22, same time, same place.

The trip will take at least two hours and may run over by a half-hour or so. The fee per person is $75. We’ll go rain or shine, with the exception of thunderstorms, with danger of lightning strikes present. If weather looks dangerously bad, please call me the evening before or early on the morning of the trip.

Woodland Scene, Sears Island
West Shore, Sears Island

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


The natural world awakes and changes come quickly, one atop the other. The ground continues to thaw, heaving areas where snow cover was shoveled or plowed, allowing frost to penetrate deeply. But soon, all frost will have left and the tortured, frost-heaved landscape will become level once again.

Plants respond to lengthening hours of daylight and warmer temperatures. Now, for those fortunate enough to have a good crop close at hand, is time for to harvest wild evening primrose, Oenothera biennis. The carrot-like, whitish root, with its strawberry-colored crown, is an excellent root vegetable. The foliage, which at this time appears as a basal rosette (leaves radiating out from a central point and spread flat on the ground), makes a fine potherb and the very young, tender leaves add spice to salads.

Dandelions, Taraxacum officinalis, appear on lawns and in gardens. The little first-of-the-year plants are yet too small to bother harvesting, but a week of decent temperatures and some sunshine will change that.

Common chickweed, Stella media, a perennial groundcover that persists over the winter, makes a good vegetable dish now when slightly steamed.

A friend who lives in Freeport writes me, telling of having pulled a number of rootstalks of cattails and taking the white, starch-laden shoots. These work fine rinsed and eaten raw or chopped in salads or even in stir-fry dishes.

There are other wild edible plants available now in addition to those I’ve mentioned here. Suffice it to say, anyone with a good ration of determination could conceivably go out and gather enough wild plants for a meal.

Basal rosette of evening primrose
So it has begun. From now on, the pace will only increase as other plants begin showing. And until next fall’s first killing frost puts an end to our bounty, we foragers have the world by the tail. Here’s to another season. Enjoy.
New shoot of common cattail

Friday, April 4, 2014

Welcome To RFD Maine

RFD Maine is a newspaper column that I wrote for the Republican Journal, a weekly newspaper in Waldo County, Maine. It appeared on the opinion page and was highly popular among readers. But the editorial staff wished for the opinion, or editorial page, to carry politically-oriented material rather than the folksy, down-home country stuff that I wrote. So they decided to drop it and replace it with a political column. When they told me of this, I put in my bid as writer for the political column and it was accepted. So I still have work, but not the kind I began with. I miss writing RFD Maine.

In the less-than-one month that RFD Maine has been absent from the paper, countless readers have called and written me, asking what happened. Of course I have no control over what a newspaper does. But it appears as though the editors and publisher don't have an ear to the ground regarding what the readers want, either. In fact, when I found out that the editorial page was going political, the editor mentioned that he had never read RFD Maine. 

However, it was the most popular column that paper had had in many years, and I have written for it since 1986. I'm wanting to peddle RFD Maine to some other paper, since I see that it "has legs." But in the meantime, I'll offer past columns to readers of my blog. If you, my readers, enjoy it as much as readers of The Republican Journal say they do, then I'll have more incentive to try and either get it back with TRJ, or else find another home for it. 

Meanwhile, here is my first installment of RFD Maine. It gives details of rural life throughout the seasons. I hope you all like it and please, do leave comments. 

Best wishes, and happy spring. 


A Circle Of Seasons

          For me living in RFD Maine, signs of a past or soon-to-arrive season are always close at hand. This topic came to my attention when I noticed a vase of pussy willows atop my refrigerator.
          In perhaps one more month, the silky-gray catkins of  pussy willows will appear. Pussy willows fall into that fuzzy category of plants sandwiched somewhere between large shrubs and small trees. The still-naked twigs and branches, with their crop of furry catkins, are a time-honored symbol of spring. And as such, we revere them. If pussy willow catkins came on in summer, we would pay them no homage. But in late March and early April, we cherish our pussy willows.
Four Seasons
          Winter-weary souls go out in early spring in search of the first catkin-bearing pussy willows. Successful pussy-willow hunters usually cut a handful or two to take home and put in a vase. First-timers often make the mistake of placing their fresh-cut pussy willow sticks in a water-filled vase. That’s a mistake, because the branches continue to grow and become covered with pollen. Leave them in water long enough and they’ll set roots. Seasoned pussy willow fans know to put their prize in a dry vase, that way the display will remain intact until the following spring, when it’s time to go on another pussy willow foray.
          After considering pussy willows, I turned around and observed the old-time Mason jar with it’s bouquet of tansy sitting on a shelf above my television. The golden-yellow buttons (flower discs) have faded a bit, but there’s no help for it, because they are destined to remain there until late next summer, when they’ll be replenished with a new batch of cuttings.
          Besides the tansy, little wisps of the summer season remain in plain view on my back deck in the form of a folding lawn chair leaning against the house and of course, my barbecue grill.
          In my house, autumn, the fall of the year, is represented by several deer antlers adorning a wall, plus the “fan,” or tailfeathers of a particularly handsome partridge, or ruffed grouse, that I shot last year.
          Winter, my least favorite season, has no reigning ambassador at my place, at least not one I have expressly invited. But even the cold season gets passing notice at different times of year, because of my fondness for Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi. His trademark work, The Four Seasons, is something I play frequently. This four-part concerto is appropriately enough broken down into Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. So even when listening to this timeless work in spring and summer, I’m reminded of winter.
Lesser Lights
          Reminders of the different seasons are visible in other places, too. These “lesser lights” are often in my way, only to get moved from where they are stored when their own season arrives and I dust them off and use them for their intended purpose.
          For instance, I keep my air conditioner in the greenhouse over the winter. The AC is heavy and the greenhouse is the closest outbuilding to the house. Besides that, my barn is very small and fully populated with outdoor equipment. So the greenhouse wins, or loses, by default.
          Even the woodshed shows signs of different times of year. Just the other day, I nearly tripped on one of the boards that I use at the bottom of each row of firewood. These serve the purpose of keeping my firewood from freezing to the ground. And by the time spring, or something like it arrives, the boards are free of piled wood and ready to serve yet another purpose. Now, they become walking boards.
          Mud season creates the need for long boards across low areas along the path between my house and car and house and barn. When genuine spring finally arrives and these vernal pools dry up, the boards go into storage back in the woodshed.
          Right now, inside the house, my humidifier works hard to keep indoor humidity levels at somewhere near the 50 mark. But when spring arrives and outdoor relative humidity rises far above winter’s desert-like state, and the woodstove goes to sleep for another season, the humidifier gets sent to the woodshed…literally.
          Even the food I eat is representative of the different seasons. For example, I’ve had a hankering for dandelions as of late, so to satiate my desire, I’ve been digging into my lode of home-canned dandelions. It’s impossible for me to feast on a meal of dandelions, even canned ones, and not think back upon the season and the circumstances from which they came.
          I just ate the last of the trout that I vacuum-packed and froze last summer. This not only brought to mind the joys of open-water fishing, it made me yearn for the upcoming spring, when open-water fishing on brooks and streams resumes. Eating that trout fillet also reminded me of the trout I raise in my farm pond, and the fun I have sitting by the pond in evening twilight, sipping ale and watching my fish rise to the floating trout pellets I throw out to them each evening.
Kodak Moment
          Well, it’s not really a “Kodak Moment,” but all the same the background on my desktop computer screen is always pleasing to me. I constantly change the background photo, choosing from the large crop of digital images stored on my computer. Currently, in view of and as a respite from cold, snow, more cold and more snow, I have a summertime photo for my desktop background.
          This photo shows a pastoral scene, a gentle hill, covered with hayscented ferns in the foreground and mature maple and white ash trees in the background. In this photo, everything is green. Gazing at it, I can almost smell the sweet fragrance of the ferns, coupled with just a hint of spruce gum. The photo was taken in an inland section of Sears Island, one of my favorite summertime haunts. And yes, the island abounds in spruce trees and the spicy aroma of spruce sap wafts about inland areas, toying with the senses and making each visit that much more enjoyable.
          I visit Sears Island regularly, from spring through fall, and am familiar with most of the plant life there. But now, in winter, I’d just as soon sit in my office by the woodstove and stare at the delightful summertime photo on my computer screen.
          Soon, it’ll come time to change my desktop background. I’m thinking of putting up a picture of springtime flowers, perhaps crocus or hyacinth. By the time the real crocus comes into bloom, I’ll switch photos and post one of me holding up a fresh-caught trout, taken along one of my favorite trout brooks.
          I suppose this circle of seasons awareness is an inherited trait, something from deep inside, reaching out over the millennia. And, thinking along those lines, I kind of pity people who live where there is no change of seasons. To someone from RFD Maine, even the most congenial climate would become old if taken in too-large doses.