Monday, June 29, 2009

The Lilac Line

I was reading the British magazine Country Living the other week and a feature article about lilacs suggested drying the flower heads on a line.
New idea for me so I had a go at it with shrivelled results. Not sure if there was too much humidity in the air, but they are not the most beautiful things and no great lilac smell remains. Perhaps try again next year....
In the meantime, the linden trees on the property where I live are about set to blossom and those will be fabulous fragrant flowers for drying. Anyone who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia will know the smell well as the downtown streets are lined with linden trees and summer nights are filled with the clean grassy smell of the blossoms.

Lupin Season

The season of the lupins is here and the roadsides & fields
of Prince Edward Island are brimming with their
wonderful colourful selves.
Personally, I've always thought roadsides the best place for them. After flowering they are pretty untidy wretched looking things and very prone to insect infestation.
Apparently, they are highly useful plants and one of the great unexploited possibilities for multipurpose greenery. In 1917 Dr Albert Thomas hosted a conference for botanists which featured the many splendid uses of this plant - they had lupin coffee served on lupin tablecloths and were even served liqueur distilled from lupins.
Sounds like the possibilities are pretty broad - for now am going to stick to admiring them on roadsides. Experimenting in the future is always possible - just need to find the time.

Foraging season is well underway. The roses are out now and so am harvesting in between gardening jobs. Very soon I'll need to be harvesting varieties of other plants for drying aswell - meadow sweet, pineapple weed, ferns, yarrow, etc...
Its all go...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hummingbird Feeder

This is another nature side note but truely one of note for me.

A little female hummingbird got herself stuck in the back porch the other evening. I left the back door open hoping she would find her way out. No luck as she was still there the next morning in a very battered state. I coaxed her outside where she continued to frantically fly about in the roof of the outer porch.

Finally got her down from the rafters and she clung to branches I have fixed around the doorway. There she stayed for a very long time quivering and covered in spider webs. Her mate whizzed about close by. He appeared so quickly that he must have been watching for her.

I thought she must be dehydrated after her long bad ordeal so brought out a small bowl with sugar syrup for her. She did not respond to the bowl held closely but when I dropped some syrup from my finger tip she began feeding. I could actually feel her tongue

It was an amazing experience. We stayed feeding for quite a long time and she flew off shortly afterward.

A rare and wonderful happening that will last with me for a lifetime.

Wild food harvesting

This really is'nt wildcrafting, but once you are out in the countryside looking for useful, lovely things you just naturally end up broadening the range of possibilities.

Wild food is now available. Took Dianna Linder of Historic Maplethorpe B&B on a fiddlehead identification jaunt recently. View her Blog at to read all about it. A visiting friend came along and we later turned our harvestings into cream of nettle soup and fiddleheads in parmesan butter. Tasty stuff.

I've also been into the streams hereabouts for fresh watercress - lovely peppery greenness.

The cooking experimentation continued with fiddlehead tart concocted the other night and inspired by Dianna's comment that you could use fiddleheads in pretty much any recipe calling for asparagus. Its true.
Busy these days getting the gardening side of the Forage operation fully up and running. Am now at capacity for clients and am just fine tuning their scheduling - need to forage aswell. The growing season is going to be very very busy. Hopefully better Summer than last year or things could be very challenging indeed.

Garden Toad

While prepping my "Potager" bed the other day I unearthed a good sized toad. He hung about for a while posing for photos. Someone told me largish toads are becoming a rarity here on the Island. Glad to have this guy in the garden. Now I just need about a million bats to deal with the recently emerged mosquito population.....

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Spring harvests

Cattail shoots ready for prepping Spring bouquet of marsh marigolds

Tis the Season

The foraging season begins in earnest....
I have always maintained that Spring in the Maritimes is not really a season but two weeks of frenzied growth. Living on Prince Edward Island has done nothing to change my mind on this contention.

The gardening season is in full force after a slow start due to lingering snow and cold temperatures. I have a growing band of gardening clients and will soon be at maximum for the season. Must be careful to retain a balance between the gardening and the foraging - both must be done during the growing season and there are only so many hours in the day and only one me. Plus there is always the weather to consider....

I get quite a number of queries from folks who want to come foraging with me. An interesting development I had'nt really considered as foraging has always been a largely solitary occupation of mine and not something I thought of others as being interested in. Frankly, I always thought I was considered odd but mostly harmless in my foraging ways. I don't mind sharing knowledge at all, in fact I enjoy it, so this may be a business development down the road.

In the meantime, I am taking a local chef on a fiddlehead hunting expedition tomorrow. She would like to learn how to identify the right type of fiddlehead. While I can't show her extensive beds of ostrich ferns at present because I hav'nt found them myself - yet - I am happy to show her a couple of small patches and talk about habitat and such.

Marsh marigolds - or as some Islanders call them "cowslips" - are in full bloom. This is a new plant for me discovered last Spring and while considered edible I have yet to do more than nibble a leaf. Any plant that has instructions to boil before eating due to toxicity of uncook greens is something I approach with caution. In fact, do I really need to eat it at all? Think I'll wait for local guide knowledge before attempting anything drastic. Seems to me there is a tradition in the Acadian community of a special soup associated with a Saint's feast day...?? For now I'll content myself with a bouquet on the windowsill.

While sinking in the marsh picking flowers I remembered bullrush or cattail shoots and harvested some of those growing nearby for supper. A bit messy to pick and clean but worth the eating. Steamed they are similar to a very mild asparagus in flavour and have a nice texture. Need to be sure its a clean bog they are harvested from with serious washing and cooking on the preparation end of things.

An interesting wild food cookbook given me by a friend last year is "A Taste of the Wild" by Blanche Pownall Garrett. It is Canadian and was published in 1975. Some very interesting recipes and ideas included though I think further reading for sure identification of plants would be helpful.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

May Days

First a report on experiments

Forcing branches - the hawthorn started off really well with the leaves opening with their lovely lacey edges. The blossoms failed to mature and withered. Not sure if they were picked just to soon to succesfully force, or could be bacteria in the water or some thing attacked from the air. Worth trying again I think. The bay branches are slow to bud but now seem to be coming along nicely. Finally happening a month after cutting - very long time to be forcing something but not surprising as bay leaves are some of the last to emerge in the spring.

The branch glycerine experiment seems to be working out ok. Time will tell on this but I am encouraged and will follow through on making the door wreath. Must remember to take photos...

Been off in the ditches harvesting willow and red osier for various projects. Its the best time of year to be doing this as the sap is flowing and no leaves to contend with, also the red osier is at its brightest. Time to some sorting and bunching for storage as at present they are all lying outside in strategic clumps.
A local craft store has agreed to take my potpourri blends on consignment. This is a good start and will continue to develop this end of things. Also means must get more blending underway. It takes 6 weeks to mature a potpourri blend and they can only be done in small batches and need to be turned daily. Labour intensive work to be sure.

Nature Side Note: Stinky the Fox has been seen by a visiting friend who was most impressed with his size. He is a fine specimen of fox indeed - too bad he stinks.

Yesterday evening there was a strange metallic rat a tat tat outside. I roamed about to find the source and eventually saw a Hairy Woodpecker standing squarely on the top of the metal mail box. He'd pause for an even space of time and then repeat his tapping sequence - a bird in the groove.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Important Nothings

One of my favourite Jane Austin quotes "Which of my important nothings shall I tell you first?"
Thats pretty much where I am today - a mixed bag of this and that.

Getting the house back together after the wild garden show weekend. This begs the question - how can one woman spread that much plant stuff about one house? It all seemed very strategic at the time but now just looks like a vegetation bomb went off....

Getting plant materials organised for the next great experiments...

Getting in touch with retailers to check interest in carrying the Forage potpourri range.
Marketing with a capitol "M" - its a whole new world.

Also taken to reading a shrub a day from Glen Blouin's "Weeds of the Woods" book. Its a great little book I picked up last year . Provides good descriptions and photos of the various small shrubs growing in the Maritme region as well as their various names - Mi'kmaq, French English, Latin...and uses both folk and practical. Not that folk uses can't be practical they just need to be approached with extreme caution - like using toxic red elder bark as an emetic. Yeweee

Nature Side Note:
Stinky the Fox has not been seen recently though his own particular raunchy funk continues as a reminder of his close proximity.
The raccoon is now becoming more familiar. He was swinging off the bird feeding platform outside the living room window the other evening. I tapped on the window, but he ignored me and carried on with his project of hoovering up bird seed. I went out with my digital camera and got very close to him. His response was to flatten himself on the platform and put a paw over his eyes - I guess like small children his theory was if he could'nt see me I could'nt see him either. The click of the camera sent him rocketing off the platform and in the delay between click and flash all I got was an empty platform. Next time....

Monday, April 20, 2009

PEI Garden Show

The Garden Show

Been super busy the past while getting myself organised for the PEI Garden Show. Lots to do to be ready for my very first trade show. The sewing machine has been whirring away and the laptop churning out labels, signs and tags. Made a banner and bunting from recycled sheets.

I was quite pleased with the end result and the effort paid off for sure - I won an Award!

Best Use of Space - got a plaque and had my photo taken with the judges and everything. An added and practical bonus to the award is it comes with a $100 fee reduction for next year's show. All good grist for the mill.

Spoke with very many people. Lots took garden maintenance service postcards and hopefully there will be some follow through. Also lots of interest in workshops from various groups so I'll be teaching foraging ways down the road.

People seemed to like the new Island potpourri blends - so I'll do some test marketing with craft shops both on and off the Island and see how the response goes with them.

Spring Branch bouquets were slow to move the first day but pretty steady sales the second day - after I dropped the price.

I was one of the guest speakers for the show aswell - all about foraging naturally. Initially, I was seriously thrown by wearing head gear microphone set-up but got over that after a few minutes and settled into the foraging gospel. People seemed interested and the demographic for the audience was interesting - at least half were under 25 - unusual for an event like the garden show.

Start gardening for clients tomorrow - good to get that underway. I have been chomping at the bit for some weeks now.

Nature Side Note: Eagles are back at the impressive nest just down the road from me. Interesting dynamic in play as there seem to be three eagles at the nest. I'm not sure how that works really. Things could get messy......

Monday, April 13, 2009

Snowy Easter

Well, the snow continues to fall.....Pretty demoralizing really.
Hopefully "this too will pass" because it really is time to get out there.

I have consoled myself with plotting the Potager plants for the season including a comprehensive review of my current seed collection. Chucked lots of old/unidentified seeds I have been carrying around for years. A seed purge.

Have been advised by many gardening gurus over the years to make your decisions and list of plants for the season before going to the seed catalogues or garden market. Sage advice indeed.
I have ended up with all sorts of improbable seeds for my corner of the world through being dazzled by descriptions and pictures when launching myself randomly at purchasing.

Seems there is not a lot I need to buy this year and what I do need I can get from either Vesey's Seeds (PEI seed producers) or Seeds of Diversity growers. I joined Seeds of Diversity just this spring. Its a national non-profit seed saving organisation dedicated to keeping strong heritage varieties of plants growing across Canada. Interesting stuff. Check out

I have plans to make teepee plant supports for tomatos and such from willow/red osier and went cruising a willow products website from UK for inspiration. In their workshop photo gallery were images of folks making just the sor of plant supports I was thinking of using a wooden box with holes as a sturdy base. A friend recently gave me a wooden drawer she had no use for but could'nt bare to see wasted and now it has a new purpose - plant support weaving base. I'll post photos of it when it is in action.

Wildlife Note
No sign of Stinky the Fox today . Usually when I go out in the morning the air is redolent of his particular musky funk. Not so today, I figure he must be bummed out by the weather aswell and lying low somewhere in a state of depression.

Preparation of spring branches

Red osier and willow freshly cut and placed in glycerine solution for preservation experiment.

willow and red osier cut and ready materials for plant stands, etc...

Pink pussywillow branches bunched upside down to halt bud development.
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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Stinky the Fox grows bold...

Well, the pussywillows have taken off as I guess pussywillows are prone to do. I've been willow wrangling in the workshop.
I think things are in a state that might be vaguely referred to as under control. For now.....

Been lured outside into the garden by a breif glimmering of Spring. Seems we are back to winter for Easter Sunday. No comment.
There is an awe inspiring amount of work to be done in the grounds. Going to be a challenge all round.

Got some locally grown organic seed and soil in the Summerside Market today. Will do some seed starting during tomorrow's blizzard. Still no comment.

Nature Aside Note
Stinky the fox barked at me through the living room window the other night. Frightened me half to death with his raspy woof sounds.
He's getting bolder by the minute. Will be waiting for me on the front doorstep soon tapping his foot and saying "And what sort of time do you call this to be getting back?"

A robin started building his/her nest on the main door lintel yesterday. Bad place to choose as the robin apparently figured out for itself. When I got back from the market, it had removed the nest beginnings to a new location.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Spring" into action

Bright and sunny today... so far at least
According to the forecast this is not likely to continue so I am off outside to do some yard work/wildcrafting prep while the going is good

Going to cut the shoots from the base of the trees lining the driveway. This has'nt been done for some years and things are looking a little untidy. I can save the longer of the shoots for bean poles and save myself needing to cut more later on when time will be at a premium.

Doing a little experimenting today. Will use the glycerine process to preserve some of the willow and red osier branches in their lusterious bud stage. No idea if this will work, but leafy branches have remained suptle when I've used the process so am willing to test that leafless branches will do the same. This means if used in wreaths and such later on they won't have that dull shrivelled look that dried materials tend towards.
Its worth having a go at any rate.

A first quote from my man, Francis Bain - Victorian Island Naturalist whose nature journals I have been reading over the course of the winter.
"April 11, 1878
The spring has come with its sunny skies and its balmy southern breezes"

Thursday, April 9, 2009

In the Pink

Been harvesting some really wonderful willow and red osier and getting all sorts of ideas as a result.
Must focus on the task at hand...prep for the Garden Show next weekend.

The spring branches are coming along well, in fact a little too well. Seems the pussywillows really like their new environment and have decided to bud a little ahead of schedule. This means removing them from water tomorrow and bunching upside down to stop bud development.
New to me are the pink pussywillows - not seen these before. Is this a type of willow or is the Island red clay effecting pussywillow colouration? Suspect its the former but will consult with my new book given by a friend, Willows, The Genus Salix by Christopher Newsholme or everything you ever wanted to know about willows but it had'nt even occurred to ask.

A Nature Sidenote
I am supposed to be writing about wildcrafting but live in the midst of such interesting animal times that fur and feathered asides are just going to be a must from time to time
I seem to live with a fox. He's around daily and apparently not the least bit concerned about me. Yesterday, as I was leaving the house, I spied him sitting on the colonaded porch . He was wearing his ears out straight with a half lidded glance and a sort of
"Yeah baby" stance to his whole demenour. I think I'll call him "Stinky" because he does. He probably thinks of himself as more of a Zeus or Max but he's Stinky to me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The orginal wildcrafters

Just in the process of completing a research project to locate images of Mi'kmaq people engaged in basket making activities. Gleaning through provincial archival collections is revealing some profound images that will stay with me for some time to come. These people had an incredibly deep understanding of their natural environment, basket weaving just one expression of that knowledge.
I'm glad to have been given the opportunity to do this research and its definitely given me some food for thought.

Today, am back to my foraging activities. First harvesting forsythia from the massive bushes on the property here. They are in some need of pruning, so the harvest stands as double duty. The workshop is looking increasingly Springlike.

Off into the ditches again this afternoon. This time for red osier and some more alder branches. Considering that perhaps hip waders maybe a necessary edition to my stock of equipment.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Procrastination & Potpourri

Well I did'nt get to the sewing machine after all. Spent alot of time working on the computer early in the day and after that was not inspired to spend quality time with yet another machine.
So I worked on my potpourri blends instead - much more fun, much more me - and needing to be done.
Over the course of the last growing season I harvested and dried many types of plants, some of which I have worked into potpourri blends. My plan is to launch a test selection at the Garden Show and see how the public response goes.

Two blends - named Island Flowers and Island Aromatics - will be simply packaged in cellophane bags with raffia ties. Plant materials have been selected for visual appeal as well as scent for these blends.
Two other blends, Sweet Powder & Island Summer, will be made into sachets using recycled linen (shirts mostly from Frenchies) and finished with colourful buttons.
One of these days I'll figure out how to post photos to the Blog and then some of these things I write about can be seen aswell.

Was listening to the audio book of Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal,Vegetable, Miracle" while working. Friends introduced me to this book just last year and after initial doubts about my enthusiaism for the subject matter, I embraced it wholeheartedly and cannot recommend it enough. Its all about one family's efforts to eat sustainably within their community for a year. If this sounds a bit dire, trust me, it is'nt at all. There is a lot of humour, practical advise, lack of judgementalism and general enthusiasm for life contained in the pages. I missed it when I was finished and was thrilled to recently find the audio book in the local library read by no less than Barbara Kingsolver herself. They do have a website - just google Animal Vegetable, Miracle and it will take you straight there. I could provide a link here am sure but am technopeasant and figuring things out slowly - very slowly - plus things keep changing on me....

Today - well today am not sewing either as I want to finish up a research project am working on and this will involve serious work on my research notes. Onwards....

Monday, April 6, 2009

Witch trees and more

Pussywillows galore!
Went out and about in local area ditches yesterday as planned and got lots of fabulous willow.
There are many varieties of willow growing on the Island, each with its own shade of bark ranging from lusterous greens to deep earthy reds. Lovely in mixed spring bouquets. Also got some alder with catkin buds starting to form.

Harvesting was a bit perilous from time to time. Still lots of snow about in the ditches and every so often the surface I was standing on would give way landing me up to my thighs and involving undignified maneoverings to get out. Largely my own fault for looking at where I wanted to be rather than where I was going.

Harvested some experimental branches aswell - hawthorn and bay. I have never tried forcing either of these before so it will be interesting to see the results. Bay is so aromatic it would be a wonderful addition to spring bouquets if it works. In Wales it is considered unlucky to bring hawthorn into the house - my maternal grandmother would'nt allow it at all. In my readings I have come across reference to Hawthorn as a "Witch tree" - that is a tree prefered by witches to live in. If you want to harvest you must first ask permission from the potentially resident witch. This maybe the origin of the notion that hawthorn is bad luck.
Naturally, I forgot to ask permission yesterday. Hmmm

Now the workshop is full of buckets of branches in various stages of growth. The challenge will be to get all the different species at the best stage of growth for making the spring bouquets for the PEI Garden Show, April 18 & 19. If pussywillows get too far advanced I can always remove from the water and bundle upside down to stop growth. I don't know if this approach will work for alder and hopefully figuring it out won't be necessary.

Today its back to the sewing machine with me.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Forage Gene

Heard on CBC's Quirks & Quarks program yesterday that there is a foraging gene present in human beings. Marvellous. I should have always suspected this to be the case. I always figured foraging to be a completely natural thing to be doing but to know we are genetically predisposed to do so is just great.
I really am doing just what comes naturally....

Speaking of foraging, my expedition to harvest road side branches yesterday was thwarted by the spring melt. The ditches that are'nt still full of snow are perilous places in either swampy or downright torential condition. A forager's life is so very tied to the vageries of the weather. Think I'll try again today because you just never know and things move quickly during the melting season.

Went for a walk in the Cavendish National Park with a friend yesterday. Definite signs of spring melting there though we mainly stuck to the paved roadway and the beach. Well, there was an incident involving inching along a rail fence because the path was deeply sunk in water. Guess signs the say "Path closed" should be observed.

The peepers have started their song. Now spring is really on the move.

The Knit Pickers newsletter arrived in my e-mail last night. Features article about the new season at Avonlea Village, Cavendish and the six new artisans to join the gang and this includes me and my wildcrafted products. A whole new adventure - should be both fun and rewarding.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Launch Day

Today sees the launch of the new "From Our Atlantic Woods" directory of producers of great things from the woodlands.
Its a great little resource, both hardcopy and on line, filled with all sorts of interesting information. Not only can you find contact info for all sorts of nifty things, the guide includes recipes for food made from wild harvested plants and berries plus information about various woodtypes and more.
check out
My little business Forage Greenery and Heritage is pleased to be included in the directory - now part of a national initiative to promote natural products harvested from the countryside.
Great stuff!

For further inspiration this morning I got out my "a greener life" book and started looking through the pages. The book is British so some information just does'nt apply, but lots does and I love the irreverant tone and personalities of the authors that come through in the writing.
A favourite quote from Clarrisa Dickson Wright "Only for you, dear reader, would I write this section. We all have something we hate in this world and, long before Mr Blair, my hatred has always been reserved for carrots..."

Now onto working with some of the potpourri blends I am maturing for product launch at the PEI Garden Show in a couple of weeks. The blends are made from plants and flowers harvested on the Island during the last growing season. They have such names as Island Flowers and Island Aromatics and are packaged in recycled fabric sachets or cellophane bags for customers to put out in a favourite bowl. It will be interesting to gauge the response to these products.

On my way to meet a friend for a walk (optimisticaly in the sunshine?)later today I am going to harvest some red osier and willow from roadside ditches. Part of my sales offerings for the garden show are going to be bunches of mixed spring branches in flower and bud and I need to start forcing these soon so they are in prime growth for the show. Wish me luck - the ditches are still full of snow and things could be challenging.....

Friday, April 3, 2009

Waiting for Spring....

Here I am just getting started on the new blogging adventure and generally flexing my internet chops such as they are - very much a strange new world for a woman whose perference is to spend her days rummaging out doors to see what the wild world is up to...

Its mucky here and likely to remain so for quite a while yet. I have my wellies by the back door and don't go far without them.
The wildlife is very much on the move. They are sure it is spring and are acting accordingly. There is much fox barking and coyote yipping at night and they are confidently circling the house at all hours. A raccoon lives nearby and enjoys trotting down the front path and setting off the security light - very much "on with the show". The Canada Geese and many other birds are arriving and the bird feeding platform is a frenzy of peaking order chaos. This reminds me - must get more seed as I have run out and feathered friends are counting on me.

My days are getting busier as I prepare for the coming growing season. Am attending my first Trade Show ever as a new business person - exciting stuff. The PEI Garden Show 2009 in Crapaud. Have great plans for my booth decor - all foraged & recycled materials with lots of texture and depth of colour. Hopefully it will stand out well and be a great addition to the show. Will also be a guest speaker - talking about harvesting & using wild plants for arrangements on PEI.

More news tomorrow - the launch of the new "From Our Atlantic Woods Directory"
Stay tuned