Eat the Invasives: Wild Thistle

I’m a big fan of foraging and when I saw a podcast on the “Sustainable World Radio” series entitled, “The Wild Wisdom of Weeds with Katrina Blair” I got pretty excited!  I learned SO much from this podcast!

One of the most intriguing wild edible featured was Thistle.  This spring I pulled a few wheelbarrows full of this prickly invasive out of my lawn.  It spreads SO fast and is SO painful to step on.  I absolutely don’t regret removing it but I do regret not juicing it!

The kids and I decided to sample some thistle juice for ourselves yesterday.  Finding the plants around the periphery of the yard was pretty easy. Even my 22 month old was pointing them out!

Thoroughly soaking the greens seemed like a good idea to removed dirt and whatever else might still be lurking.   Washing them was especially fun as lots of little creatures came to the top and I removed slugs and bugs and put them into bowls for the kids to watch.IMG_1544

 

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We don’t have a juicer so we put them into the blender with a little orange juice.  After blending I strained them twice to remove any remaining spikes. Once thought a metal strainer and then a second time through cloth. The juice that remained was surprisingly tasty.  We made a second batch with just water added and all agreed that the orange juice was an important addition.

My kids loved it and it was really fun to experience this plant in a new way!  Apparently thistle is great for detoxifying and has lots of healthy benefits.  The process was a little labor intensive so I don’t think this will be a regular thing but it was a fun experiment for sure!

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Here’s a video by someone who knows MUCH more about this stuff than I do!

The little Azalea that could…

In February of 2014 we moved out of the city in to a house surrounded by the woods.  It was what I had always wanted and working in the yard has been even more wonderful than I could have imagined!  In Spring of 2015 I decided to tackle the overgrown area between the lawn and the street.  Pulling up invasive Burning Bush, Barberry, Multiflora Rose and other little mangy things was very satisfying work!

The previous Spring I had noticed two Azalea blooms among the thick of it but figured the plants were as good as gone.  As I cleared I found that there were actually a handful of Azaleas that were bring strangled by the brush.   Seeing that the previous owners had at one point planted a little grove of flowers made me feel even better about the work I was doing.  It was like I was unearthing some of our home’s history and the love that had been planted so many season ago.

Here is a “before” picture:

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Here is the “after” from that year:

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I was walking around feeling quite pleased with myself after this.  Doing work around the house is the gift that keeps on giving… sitting in the yard felt that much more satisfying when I could see the results of my hard work.

But the real gift came this year, a year after the land clearing.  The plant that had only had a few blooms the past few years finally was able to shine!  I guess having the soil all to itself helped it to regain health?  I moved some of the other plants around the property and they are also doing well.  Clearing out invasives and reinvigorating the plants I already have is TOTALLY sustainable and joyful! Yay!!!

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The story of our backyard… In time lapse…

We have lived in our current home for over two years now and are finally getting to some of the bigger projects we dreamed about since we first saw the property.

When we moved in the back “yard” was a completely overgrown field that was completely unusable and mostly impassable.  It was covered with multiflora “rose” plants, forsythia, barberry and who knows what else.Getting rid of invasive plants is an ONGOING battle around here!   BUT there was a knocked down apple tree that whispered of a time when the land was loved and used. We were inspired..

Prior to moving in I had grand plans of clearing it all myself.  I enjoy clipping vines and clearing quite a bit.  Videos of land clearing with a Bush Hog were REALLY fun to watch! Once we got to our new home and were able to assess further it seemed like a lot for us to do on our own with all of the other house and yard projects we had as well as me being pregnant at the time.

SO we hired it out to some local tree specialists.  And it went a little something like this:

Yeah, it was a pretty good show that day!  They were only mildly creeped out that my husband wanted to take a time lapse video of the project!  But I can watch it all day…

Anyway, we had the land cleared in the fall and then tilled and planted the following spring.  This spring we jumped in and I got to work on creating my new garden beds!!!  I’m quite proud of it so naturally I wrote a blog post .

Last weekend we hired out yet another project and had the garden fence installed.  I had dug holes for the posts last fall but then kept putting it off and new if I waited much longer spring planting would get delayed.  Also, we did our other garden fence and it was a BIG job.

So yeah, this post is basically just chronicling all of the work we hired out to create our back yard. Yet as I write this I realize how MUCH we have done on our own too.  It’s crazy how much work goes into working the land and creating your own space!

Here’s a lovely photo I took of the beds to highlight my new pretty fence (happy Mother’s Day to me!).  It also shows the fruit trees we planted and fenced (ourselves… we aren’t THAT lazy!).  And the grass… that I have been working to pull large rocks and thistle out of… A work in progress for sure!  I can’t wait to see what’s going to grow back there!  The yard is bleak to look at but also full of SO much potential!  And it’s ours!!!13062356_10154233416464203_8214981081303999173_n

Springtime Magic

Every year I am STRUCK by all of the magic that surrounds me as the earth begins to wake up. Yeah, I know there are scientific explanations for all of it, but birth and rebirth of anything is about as close to magic as I have seen.

I push little seeds into the wet earth and part of me just doesn’t believe it’s possible for such a tiny speck to become a plant.  But then it does.  A little sprout pops up and it grows and grows.  It brings forth new life.  AMAZING!!! It’s like what I always say about the human birth experience… it’s crazy how the most EXTRAORDINARY thing can also be so incredibly ORDINARY!  Like, how is this happening EVERY day?  EVERY second even! (Don’t get me started…)

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Getting to share the magic of spring with my kids makes it that much more special too.  I know it’s such a cliche but seeing the world through their eyes is priceless.  Also, getting a chance to retell the story of what is and what might be to them helps to renew my own belief in what is possible.

The other day I was hanging out in the yard with my sweet 4 year old Ada when a Swallowtail butterfly landed right in front of us.  We both knelt down to get a closer look.  Ada asked if she could pick it up and I encouraged her to very gently.

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The butterfly let her hold it in her hands.  The joy on my little girl’s face was perfect.  Luckily I had my phone in my pocket… What was I saying about detaching from my phone?

Anyway, the butterfly then flew off and jumped around on the ground for a few minutes.  I was pretty sure it was injured.  I suggested to Ada that we say a little “prayer” to Mother Earth (because I’m like that) to see if we could help the little guy.

I kid you not.  Only seconds after we wished for it to find health and happiness the butterfly flew off.  And not just a little bit… it flew to the top of the tree line and disappeared into the sky!  Now THAT’S magic!!!IMG_0378

How have you been experiencing the magic of Spring?

 

DIY drainage swale using a reverse hugelkultur

FullSizeRender (8)Last year we had our our back yard cleared of invasive brush in the fall and then planted with low mow grass in the spring (some conventional grass seed as well, which I regret).  Over the course of the summer I couldn’t resist and put in my first attempt at at hugelkultur to house the many tomato plants that had seeded themselves around the garden.

This year I decided to take down the hugelkultur and put in a larger garden bed in it’s place.  It’s the one part of our yard that gets full sun but unfortunately it also has a bit of an underground stream flowing through it that becomes a problem during rain storms.

We got some HUGE quotes from local landscaping companies to deal with the drainage. Um, no thanks, I don’t want to spend 16k to make my back yard pretty! I’d much rather keep our money and just have a stream!

But then I started thinking about using a swale.  I’m kind of obsessed with permaculture but actually incorporating it into our landscape is an ongoing challenge.  Basically a swale creates a holding tank for excess water that will then slowly release into the land below.  Conventional drainage just moves the water away to the side of the yard or whatever.  This allows you to still USE the water for the garden!

I had made a small swale as part of my hugelkultur last year but it didn’t quite do the job. I decided to expand it to cover almost a quarter of the 20×10 garden space.

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I dug a hole about 18inches deep.  Deeper would have been better but getting through the clay and rocks was a challenge.  The water quickly filled the area, delighting my kids but somewhat frustrating me!

I tried my best to keep it in line with the grade of the slope.  I want it to really hold the water rather than just funneling it away.

While digging I was sure to separate out the topsoil from the lower levels of clay. The best part though was dismantling the hugelkultur and finding tons of worm castings and nicely broke down compost!  When I put it up last year I had said, worst case scenario it will be a big compost pile and I can use the soil for my new garden.  Score!

I decided to fill the trench with rotting wood.  In the same way that a hugelkultur uses rotting wood like a sponge to hold water above ground, this should do the same under ground.  Well, I hope it does…  I looked it up again in Gaia’s Garden to make sure my line of reasoning made sense and it seems like it should work!

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I just can’t help myself.  I LOVE the idea of a closed system where you just use what you make and make the things you use.  I’m REALLY far from that reality but I do have lots of rotting wood so I figure it’s worth a shot!

After I filled the trench with rotting wood I had a chance to see how it performed before covering it fully.  After a full day of spring rains I could see that it was holding a lot of water but some was escaping out the side.  I decided to go with that and create an overflow drainage ditch that is higher than the rest of the ditch so the runoff will go where I want it to.  I also caved and just bought a drainage pipe to use in there. I couldn’t figure out how to keep it open enough to move the water while also having it be just shallow enough to just catch overflow?  Maybe one of you knows?

I then filled in the crevices with some smaller sticks to help keep space for air and water.  IMG_0003

I separated out the dirt, soil and compost to rough in what will be the garden beds.  The local tree guys fortuitously called to ask me if I wanted more wood chips the week before so I used those to cover the swale and the garden paths.  They had pine, which apparently isn’t so great for plants but I’m hoping it will be fine since I’m not planting directly over it.

A traditional swale would usually have a raised mound directly down slope from the ditch.  I’m not doing it that way though. Sometimes I like to just half follow directions and see how it goes.  And when I say sometimes I mean usually.  But anyway, I’m hopeful it will work!

Next I covered the swale with wood chips which will serve as the pathways for the garden.

I also put in the beds.  I used large rotting logs to create the boundaries of the bed on the lower level of the garden.  I kind of love dragging big rotting trees from the forest! My hope is that they will help create a barrier for weeds, store extra water and break down over the next few years to eventually add more biomass to the garden. I was lucky enough to find a whole pile of rotted wood that crumbled into soil as soon as I picked it up. I filled up several wheel barrows with this and mixed it in with the soil I saved from digging the swale.  Again, rotting wood from around the property serves as a great free recourse!  And don’t worry, there is still PLENTY of rotting wood out there to feed the forest floor!

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Now all I need is to put in a fence and add some extra compost and amendments to the soil.  I’m planning to break down a few more rotting trees to enrich the soil too. I hope it all works!

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Edible invasives: Garlic Mustard

IMG_0110I’ve been excited by the idea of foraging for food since I was a little girl. I remember sucking the sweet nectar from clover buds in the fields around my childhood home and the delight of finding wild raspberries or blueberries on summer walks.

It seems like foraging is really having a moment now though, which is equally as exciting! Foraging gives us a cheap source of  food that is high in vitamins and minerals that occur naturally in the forest floor. Unfortunately, over foraging can negatively effect healthy growth of the foraged species as well as the health of the overall forest.

That is NOT the case when it comes to foraging for invasive species though!  Eat all you want! PLEASE!

Garlic Mustard is a terribly invasive plant that was believed to have first been introduced in the late 1800s as a culinary and medicinal herb.  It spreads rapidly  when left to go to seed and not only does it push out other native plants but it also releases chemicals into the forest floor that interfere with tree growth.  So yeah, not so good!

BUT it is very tasty and easy to harvest and prepare.  Look on forest floors, around the edge of the forest and in shady rode side area.   It has a somewhat heart shaped leaf and grows in bunches so it’s easy to find. If you are unsure just press a leaf in your hands and smell it.  Do you get a big whiff of garlic and onion?  You’ve got it!

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The leaves can be large or small.  These ones are pretty big.  Lovely, right?

Make sure to pull out the root too to stop this guy from spreading even further!

I decided to use mine to make pesto!  You could even just use the leaves in sandwiches or to add a spicy kick to salads though if you want to keep it simple.

You will need:

  • Garlic Mustard
  • Parmesan cheese shredded (or whatever hard cheese you have)
  • Olive oil
  • Walnuts (or pine nuts, or whatever you think would be good)
  • lemon (although vinegar could work too)
  • Salt (I LOVE salt)

Call me crazy but I kind of just do all the ingredients to taste and based on how much I have.  I’m not much for measuring…

Next take it in and wash all the dirt off.  I like soaking in a big bowl of water as it’s an easy way to separate the dirt from the plant.  I threw in a few pumps of my Dr. Bronners soap since I put it in everything I wash.  You can read about how I make mine here.  Then rinse well with cold water and you’re ready to go!  I just used the leaves but you can also eat the roots like horseradish apparently?

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Toast walnuts in the oven until fragrant.  We were roasting a chicken at 375 and that worked but I think 325 is the ideal temperature.  Maybe 5-10 minutes?

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Combine Garlic Mustard, walnuts, olive oil and shredded cheese  in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Add in some lemon if you want. I like squeezing lemon into a strainer so that the seeds don’t get in.  Add salt to taste.

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Use your own judgement as to what it needs until it’s just right!  Toss with pasta, use it as a salad dressing by adding extra oil and vinegar or spread on sandwiches!  It is surprisingly delicious!

So yeah, Garlic Mustard is a super healthy ingredient that you can find in your own yard from spring until fall!  The flavor is usually best in spring though so test a leaf before going too far with the recipe.  I LOVE the idea that we can decrease invasive plants, help encourage native species AND feed our family well.  Now that’s permaculture right there!

Which edible invasives are your favorites?!?!

 

“Mama, I love nature.”

“Mama, I love nature.  I love nature more than anyone else loves nature!” said my four year old daughter as I was putting her to bed tonight.  Obviously my heart melted.  And it gave me the feeling like I’m doing something right!

Today we went for what is becoming a weekly walk with friends through the forest.  We dress the kids up for wet and muddy play.  That usually means Bog boots, waterproof rain pants and jackets.  Then we just let them free.  They climb, they run, they jump.  They WALK in streams and mud.  They draw lines in the mud with sticks then use those same sticks to stir in the stream.

IMG_3475Today they surprised me by climbing up a huge rock outcropping.  I watched as my little girl scanned the area for the best path up then carefully climbed with her hands and feet to the top.  At one point I couldn’t help myself and so I shouted up, “do you feel safe?” To which she answered, “yes!”

These are the moments I dreamed of before becoming a mother. Giving my kids the space to explore their own limits and the world around them.  It just doesn’t get much better!

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