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.