Friday, August 29, 2014

Farewell To Summer

My summer of teaching foraging throughout the State of Maine draws to a close. This brings at once a sense of melancholy as well as an invitation to a quieter, easier time to come. As per my personal foraging, mushrooms make up the bulk of it, as well as such seasonal delicacies as Jerusalem artichokes and late-lingering garden “weeds” such as lamb’s quarters.

Garden produce takes up a big part of my time now. Canning, drying herbs and to a much lesser extent, freezing, have become regular activities. But all this has its own rewards past the enjoyment of knowing that I’m providing for my future. I know I’m taking part in an age-old practice, something that inexorably ties me to my ancestors.

Here’s an observation for you to consider. Writing this in late August, I’m thinking that society rushes the season. Advertisements for fall clothes, firewood and all sorts of fall and winter-related items bombard the airwaves. But it’s still summer and will be until September 23. So why is everyone in such a rush to bid farewell to the warm season?

Well, much to my chagrin, something happens just around the last few days of August. Changes in nature become noticeable. Colors, scents, sensations, no longer have that “summer” feel. Skies lose their summertime milkiness, water in lakes, ponds and streams takes on a marked clarity and the air, while still warm and congenial, acquires a different feel.

But this should come as no surprise. As I frequently point out, we in Maine have a short growing season. Plants change their physical appearance from week-to-week and even the stars and deep-space objects in the heavens reflect the ever-revolving wheel of time. In other words, every week brings change…sometimes subtle, or as in right now, quite pronounced.

So relish those fresh, green things. Soon, they’ll be gone and we’ll have to wait for next year to enjoy them again.

The year, botanically-speaking, draws to a close. And with it, we have a chance to ponder and reflect upon those things that we can’t buy with money, but are worth more than diamonds and gold.

Enjoy the late summer and embrace autumn. We’re all on a merry-go-round ride on the great wheel of changing seasons. Enjoy that ride.

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.