Monday, October 31, 2011

More Apples and a Wapato hunt

Fall was in the air today.  It was sunny and cold as Katrina and I walked over to Beacon Hill Park to meet Ryan for some Apple picking.  We thought we were already saturated with Apples, but we couldn’t turn down a harvesting adventure with a good friend.  The picking couldn’t have been better.  With the salt breeze in our hair and the sun warming our rosy cheeks we filled our bags with the free fruits of the earth.  The trees we picked from may possibly pre-date the park, and though they were partially obscured by a ring of Snowberry, they proved their fortitude by supporting me as I tested some of the highest and farthest reaching limbs.  I believe that Apples, like many other wild food plants, have co-evolved with bears and their strong wood is nature's design for supporting beasts with a larger belly than my own.  However, when limbs do break, instead of harming the tree, they stimulate new, more productive growth.  When we prune Apple trees, we are only making up for our dainty picking habits.

After lugging our Apples home Katrina and I walked over to the Royal BC Museum to visit Ken Marr, the curator of the Provincial Herbarium.  We wanted to find herbarium specimens for some food plants that we have been having a hard time finding like Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum edule) and Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia).  Herbarium specimens include information about where they were collected, which we hoped would give us clues for finding these food plants.  Many herbariums have all the herbarium data catalogued on an electronic database, but due to funding cuts, this herbarium hasn’t completed a database for the 218,000 specimens at their facility.  To my surprise, we found several Wapato collections from Vancouver Island—A few even from Thetis Lake.

We decided to run out to Thetis Lake to see if we could find some Wapato but I think the recent frosts have killed the above ground vegetation and the Wapato is happily hibernating in its tasty tubers.  I still hope to pick some Wapato from a few spots that I know on the Fraser River, but it looks like it might be too late to collect from all but the places that I know exactly where the plants are.  Our afternoon foraging mission was not a bust, we found two amazingly large Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius).
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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Results: Balsam Root Experiment

Members of the Capital Nut Tree Project had a meeting this evening not too far from our house so Katrina and I decided to check it out.  My motivation for attending was to try and meet someone that has a Davebilt Nutcracker in the hope that I could borrow it for a day to crack all of our acorns.  Nobody in attendance has one, but one member was very interested in getting one.  I also wanted to share the virtues of acorns to people that I felt would probably be receptive, so I cooked up the English Oak (Quercus robur) acorn meal that has been leaching for the last week and brought it along for everyone to sample.  It was my first batch of English Oak, and I thought it turned out well.  I sweetened it with maple syrup.  They enjoyed the totally tree bread and were very excited to learn more about acorns, so I arranged to lead an acorn workshop next weekend.  This group is working to plant more nut trees around Victoria and will likely host workshops on nut tree propagation and care.

My Balsam Root (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) experiment, like many others that don’t have the fortune of benefiting from very detailed traditional knowledge, has not turned out as well as I had hoped.  This afternoon the roots had a rich black-brown color that suggested to me that they might be done.  I decided to let the water boil down so that any sugars that leached out of the boiling roots might concentrate to the point of precipitating back onto the roots.  When all the water was finally gone I pulled a root out and sample it.  The cooked roots are incredibly fibrous.  They tasted like a hemp rope sweetened with molasses and flavored with Fir needles.  My conclusion is that I harvested them too late in the year.  A woman named Sandra Peacock did her PhD dissertation on Balsam Root, so I will try and get in touch with her, or her dissertation, to learn more. 
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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cider Pressing

Today we pressed the Apples that we picked on Thursday.  Kate rented a nice cider press for only $30/day.  A bunch of folks came over to use it and we all pitched in for the rental.  The press has an electric masher and a hand crank press and was very easy to operate with 2 or 3 people.  In less than an hour, Katrina and I made 6 gallons of cider from our 80 Kg of apples.

An even simpler cider press!
My little brother is fond of breaking apples with his bare hands, so I thought I would show him up by crushing apples with mine.

The Balsam Root  (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) continues to simmer in the slow cooker.  They are starting to turn brown which I think is an indication that the inulins are cracking.  Camas (Camassia spp.), another plant that stores its carbohydrates as inulin doesn't get sweet until the roots have been cooked long enough to turn black.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Balsam Roots

This morning was pretty soggy outside so I thought it would be a good time to finally work on the Balsam Roots (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) that I picked in North Central Washington last month.  While I was washing the dusty pine forest earth from the roots I was trying to figure out a good way to cook them.  They are traditionally cooked in earthen ovens for 24 to 48 hours at which point the indigestible inulin is converted into sweet tasting fructose.  I wanted to use my slow cooker to simulate the traditional method, but I unsure what to do about the bark on the roots.  The slow cooker, differs from the earth oven in that it boils the food instead of steam/bakes it.  My concern was that I might infuse the roots with extra phytochemicals by boiling them in a tea of the root bark, so I opted to remove the bark.  The bark is very thick, hard, and deeply fissured, so I was not looking forward to peeling them.  What I thought would be an irksome task turned out to satisfy my more manly needs.  A hammer was the perfect tool for pounding that bark to smithereens; it flaked off like the shell on a hard-boiled egg.  The roots are cooking now and they fill the room with a godly aroma of balsam.

Once the bark is removed the Balsam Root looks really strange
When the rain stopped Katrina and I biked up to UVic to harvest some more Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) rhizomes.  We dug one up that was much smaller than the one we got last week.  It was about 1 cm in diameter and was about 10 cm underground.  I also learned that, when wet, the brown, dead fronds make an excellent hand rag for scrubbing dirty hands.  Back home, I steamed the rhizomes but the pan went dry while I was on the phone and the roots burned (temporarily replacing the godly aroma with a god awful one), so that is strike two for Bracken Fern rhizomes.

 After dinner we put yesterday’s Haw through the fruit mill.  I steamed the fruit to soften it first and both Katrina and I agreed that the flavor is really improved with cooking.  The mush that comes out of the fruit mill looks like pumpkin pie filling.  Evidently, the Chinese make pies out of Haw, so we are going to try a bake one with ours, but no time for that tonight.
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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Urban Foraging, making the most of non-native street trees!

After hearing about the Chinese Hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida), Kate really wanted to try some out, so today her, Katrina and I went to pick some on McClure Street.  I hadn’t realized how many are planted along that street: for a block on either side of Cook Street and on both sides of the road are large Chinese Hawthorns.  There have been several frosts this fall and a fairly hard frost last night, which has softened the fruit and makes picking them much easier than last time.  Katrina and I picked about a gallon in a half hour.  A ladder would make the picking much faster because the trees are tall and the branches don’t bend down enough to easily pick while standing on the ground.

Afterwards, we biked down to Superior Street to check on the English Oak (Quercus robur) acorns.  Once again we spent most of our time collecting from the same sprawling oak.  This time the acorns were very brown and loose in their caps; some have fallen on the ground.  I tried out a new technique for picking acorns that I found really fun.  I found a “go fetch” sized stick and hucked it into the branches to knock the acorns down.  When a laden branch was struck they came raining down like a piñata spilling candy.  We actually thought that there might be some connection to harvesting Pinyon Pine (piñon) nuts by knocking the cones to the ground, but evidently the etymology is from the Italian pignata, which is a fat bellied pot.  I also learned that the tradition of breaking a piñata was brought to Mexico by the Spanish, who in turn got it from the Chinese.  In any case, I felt like a child filling my pockets with loot as I scampered around pawing at the ground picking up acorns.  I know, the acorn addiction worsens....

From there we biked up to Fernwood to help Kate pick an Apple tree as part of the Victoria Fruit Tree Project.  From a Spartan variety tree on semi-dwarf rootstock we picked 230 Kg, which was divided up between the land owner, the pickers, and the food bank.  On Saturday we are going to make some more apple cider from our share.
On the way home we stopped by a Chestnut (Castanea dentata) tree in Fernwood that we have been watching for about a month.  Last week when we checked on the tree, only unfertilized nuts had fallen, but today we found a few excellent looking nuts.  I think more good ones will fall, but in general, it looks like it was a very bad year for pollination.  Considering that they aren’t native and throughout most of their native range they have been devastated by Chestnut blight, I was happy to get what I did.  I think Chestnuts might be like oaks in that they drop the nonviable nuts first.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Crabapple Butter

A rainy day has at last allowed me to spend some guiltless time indoors.  I spent most of the day publishing my blog.  The Crab Apple (Malus fusca) butter simmered all day until it was thick enough to stand a chopstick up in.  I sweetened it with maple syrup, but even after 2 cups of syrup to my 8 cups of apple butter, it was still very sour, so I just canned it hoping it would mellow with age the same way that canned whole Crab Apples do.  I left the dregs out to dehydrate further for fruit leather.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rose Hips for Tea

Another morning spent bending metal.  I fabricated another berry rake out of the remaining copper and fashioned handles and spill guards for both of them.  Now all I have to do is solder them together.  I tried once again with the soldering iron, the stove, and even a clothes iron, but none of the tools can deliver precise heat with enough intensity to solder sheets of copper together.  I delight at how little copper remains from the original sheet but loathe recycling such a useful metal.  Surely I can put it to good use at another time.  As Ric would say, I’ll put it in a neatly labelled box next to the one that reads “pieces of string that are too short to save.”

This evening’s foraging began as the shadows lengthened across Cook St.  Katrina and I walked along the periphery of Beacon Hill Park and collected Rose Hips (Rosa sp.) to dry for tea.  The hips are very large, some about 1” in diameter and a beautiful red that give them the appearance of cherry tomatoes.  Many have insect holes or soft, discoloured spots, making the picking slow despite the abundance of hips.  The smaller hips appear to be less damaged by insects.  We picked until the sun set, and I actually skipped out a little before Katrina to enjoy the golden glow over the Strait of Juan de Fuca and mysterious veil of shadow and clouds obscuring the steep Olympic foothills on the opposing shore.  The water was tranquil, and my thoughts drifted to kayaking alone in the still darkness on the silent Salish Sea.

We ran the Crab Apples (Malus fusca) through the fruit mill and put the sauce in the slow cooker to thicken for either fruit leather or apple butter.  I have been changing the acorn water three times a day and the water hasn’t been very dark on the last few decants.  I noticed an unpleasant odour in the acorns this evening, and I fear that they are starting to ferment.  I think that the thick layer of fine flour in this batch has been fully leached for some time now and bad things are starting to happen to it and it smells of burnt Styrofoam, but the larger acorn meal still has to be further leached.  What to do....  More stirring and leaving the container top open to the air might help.
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Monday, October 24, 2011

More Cattails

Despite the beautiful weather, I was so excited to work on the berry rake that I delayed wild food adventuring until the afternoon.  I managed to cut and bend the copper to the appropriate shape, but I still have to solder the joins, install a handle, and figure out what I am going to use for the wire bottom tray.  The rake is roughly 3 inches tall, 11 inches long and 6 inches wide.

Shin finally roused me from the house and Katrina, he and I went to collect more Narrow Leaf Cattail (Typha angustifolia) rhizomes.  I dressed in shorts with sandals and neoprene socks.  Had I had gloves I think I would have been warm enough, but the water was very cold and I was only able to pick for about an hour.  We cleaned our cattails on site, which I think is the best way to do it, because nobody wants to deal with a bag that smells of swamp when they get home hungry and tired.  My technique for peeling the sponge layer has evolved recently.  After cutting the tips off the rhizome, I used to use my thumb as a blunt scrapping tool to push the sponge layer off of the dense core.  Now I cut through the sponge layer all the way around the rhizome at a point a few inches from the end with the most abundant rhizoids (usually the sprouting end).  Then I use the back of my knife to scrape away the sponge layer between my cut and the end.  Then I turn the rhizome around and either use my thumb as previously, or continue using the back of my knife.  If the rhizome is loose enough, and has few rhizoids, I can pull the core out from the sponge layer with one hard yank.

There was still a little daylight after our rhizome picking, so we drove out to Island View Beach and collected more Crab Apples (Malus fusca).  Almost all of the apples are soft and pinkish red; only a few are still yellow.  They pick much easier in this state and frequently detach at the apple, leaving the stem on the tree, which makes them much easier to process.  The leaves are also falling, and I often stripped an entire branch with my cupped hands, getting fruit and leaves together.  I wonder if leaves mixed with the fruit would help preserve the apples longer in the same way that wrapping domesticate apples in paper helps preserve them.
Back home I decided to remove the leaves from the Crab Apples and put them outside for the night (no room in the refrigerator).  Then I rinsed and chopped the cattail rhizomes.  Despite a late start I feel we still got a full day’s foraging in—here it is almost 10:00pm.
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bracken Fern

Today I experimented with some Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) rhizomes that I collected in the Cowichan Valley last week.  It appears from the ethnographic literature that the rhizomes were used variously in the fall after the fronds die, or in the spring just as the fronds emerged.  The frond was dead on the specimen I harvested, but it was intact enough for me to stand it up to its full height of seven feet.  I dug into the ground with my small digging stick and found the ground to be difficult to dig even though there were only sporadic cobbles in the loamy soil.  I imagine that annual harvest of rhizomes would keep the soil aerated enough for easy harvesting.  The rhizome was as thick as my thumb and longer than I could unearth to see.  It was very smooth with black bark.  There were a few branches and at the end of smaller branches I found the dead growing tip of a previous year’s frond.  I read that only the rhizomes that were juicy were eaten, and I could easily see that the dead portion of the rhizome was not good to eat; the live portions were indeed juicy.  Shin tasted the milky juice and found it mildly sweet.  After harvesting the rhizome I left it in the car until today and it dried out considerably making the bark wrinkle longitudinally.  I read that the rhizomes were roasted on coals, or steamed in earth ovens, but I didn’t have a good way of doing either, so I boiled some and baked some.  The baking quickly rendered a very hard and brittle product that I couldn’t remove the bark from.  I should have tried pounding it, but didn’t have a hammer handy.  The boiled rhizome rehydrated considerably, which enabled me to slice off the black skin.  I was also able to slice along the fibrous layers inside the rhizome, but the amount of starch between the layers was so thin that I couldn’t imagine this technique being very practical.  Next time I want to try and pound or sear and pound the fresh rhizome.
Cross section of Bracken Fern rhizome showing a matrix of starch (white) surrounding tough fibrous material (brown).

I purchased some copper (in the form of a firewood rack) at the second hand store in the hopes of making a berry rake.
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Saturday, October 22, 2011

BBQ Clams, Smoked Salmon, Elderberry Jelly, and Acorns

Shin, Katrina and I went out to the Sea Change and 100th Anniversary of BC Parks Celebration at SNITCEL (Todd Inlet).  JB and Earl Claxton Jr. were leading several events: JB lead an ethnobotany hike which I missed because I was helping with the fires.  Earl was BBQing salmon and manila clams.  The clams tasted amazing!  He had steamed them before he came, and then put them on skewers next to the fire.  He said that his grandmother used to use snowberry twigs for clam skewers and spreaders to keep the salmon from curling as it cooked.  Earl also brought along some hard smoked Chum and some dried clams.  He dries the clams by steaming them, then laying them on a cookie sheet and putting them in the oven at low heat.
I finally got around to making jelly out of the elderberry (Sambucus caerulea) juice.  I started with about 15 cups of juice and brought it to a boil.  It actually simmered for about half an hour while I biked to the store to get some pectin.  Then I added 4 cups of sugar and two packets of no sugar needed pectin.  It set weakly on a cold plate and on the bottom of the pot after I emptied the jelly into the jars.  I don’t want it to set as strongly as last time that I made elderberry jelly—it was like cheese!
I also ground up some Quercus robur acorns.  I let the blender work for longer to try and attain a finer acorn meal.  Then I ran it through my 2 mm kitchen sieve.  It all passed through the sieve after a second blending, but there are still some small chunks that I think a 1 mm sieve would catch.  I am leaching enough for several meals since I would rather not have multiple jars leaching at a time.  I think I can refrigerate the finished product for a few days while I use it.  The fully dried acorns grind much better than the partially dried ones (unless the difference has to do with the species of oak—they were Garry Oak last week).  There was not nearly as much clumping, due—I think—to less moisture.  However, the hard dry acorns are very loud.  We found refuge from the clatter by sticking the English Oak acorns in our ears.  They are perfectly sized for earplugs!
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Mushroom Workshop

Hannah with Chanterelles.  Photo courtesy of Trevor.
Hannah asked me to lead an edible mushroom workshop today for several of her friends.  I started with a 45 minute presentation on how to ID mushrooms and several other intro topics, and then took the 6 participants to the Hundred  Acre Woods to pick mushrooms.  We found several Matte Jacks and Fat Jacks, some nice Shaggy Parasols, a few Shrimp Russulas, some small Hedgehog Mushrooms and Amethyst Laccarius, a nice Boletus mirabilis, and a large Oyster Mushroom, and then just when we started dragging our heals, Trevor spotted a massive clump of White Chanterelles.  Several more clumps surrounded the first one, and we all ended up with large baskets full.  They were growing in fairly open terrain toward the top of the hill.  Some were under salal, many growing out of moss.  A few of the Chanterelles were exceptionally large and there were a couple doubles.  Some had maggots in them, which I don’t often see in chanterelles around here because most places always get thoroughly picked.  We cooked up three pounds of mushrooms for some Chanterelle pasta.
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Acorn Bread

Full days pass quickly, and I have a hard time believing how much foraging there is to do.  I feel like a farmer that always has chores to do, except Nature does all the tedious work and leaves me with only the most enjoyable tasks.  I scouted out the English Oak (Quercus robur) trees along Superior Street today and found that the acorns are starting to brown, but for the most part, are still hanging on to the tree.  I suspect they will start to fall in large quantities soon.  The ones that I picked are much larger than those Katrina and I picked from the tree a couple weeks ago. 

My acorn meal finished leaching and I drained the water to make some flat bread.  I added maple syrup and fried it on low heat for about 10 minutes on each side.  The final product was very tasty!  As we were cooking the rest of dinner, Shin and Andra came over with a large basket of mushrooms.  They had been picking at Durrance Lake and had some nice young Fat Jacks, Milk Caps, a Short Stem Russula and a few Shrimp Russula to show for their labour.  We fried the milk caps and Shrimp Russulas, which were tasty.  Then we tried the Short Stem Russula, which was rather tasteless, but was improved (like everything in this world) with soy sauce.  I made some wild rice and the entire meal—save the onion—was all free, farmed or wild.  Shin and Andra helped us shell a bunch of English Oak acorns which I will leach next.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cooking Mushroom and Collecting Acorns

I cooked several of the Fat and Matte Jacks for breakfast.  My intention was to mix them with eggs, but we didn’t have any eggs, so I just ate them with a side of porcelain.  They are a moist mushroom and require thorough cooking in order to attain the fried mushroom texture that I am accustomed to eating.  Nevertheless, I found their flavour pleasing.  Shin invited us over for lunch and he cooked a fried rice dish with Chanterelles, Russulas, and Fat Jacks.  He also made a miso soup with the Gomphidous mushrooms that I enjoyed, and didn’t notice that the mushrooms were slimy.  Shin said that the Japanese enjoy many slimy foods, and he is accustomed to eating miso soup with a Pholiota sp. that is very slimy.

After lunch we processed the Sambucus caerulea by removing the large stems and leaves, steaming the fruit until it became soft, and running it through the fruit strainer that I purchased at a thrift store last week.  The fruit strainer is poorly designed and would be improved with a larger hopper, and higher pulp and refuse ports to allow larger receptacles to be place under them.  We came home with a little better than a gallon of juice, and Shin had about twice that much.

Just before dinner Katrina and I went to Playfair Park to gather Quercus garryana acorns.  In an hour we harvested 3 gallons.  There are definitely still acorns at the park, but we have picked over the best spots.  I heard a couple acorns fall while I was there, but I think most of them are on the ground now.  I find great joy in hearing the acorns fall.  As one hits leaves on the way down I can’t help but try and predict where it will fall, a spark of trepidation fills me, will it strike me?  Will it fall in an area that I already picked, will I miss it?  I was amazed to see how many new acorns had fallen in the places that I had collected from last Friday.  Someday I aspire to collect all the acorns—both good and bad—from a particular tree so that I can extrapolate the food value of an oak forest and compare it with those that produce more mundane fruits of civilization.  Generally, I don’t think this was a good year for Garry Oak production—very few are producing in Victoria.  We examined several trees in a school lot at Cook and Hillside on the way home: all but one had no acorns and the one that did only had a few small acorns.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Blue Elderberries and Mushrooms in the Cowichan Valley

Today Katrina, Shin and I went on a trip up to the Cowichan Valley to collect Blue Elderberry (Sambucus caerulea) and hunt for White Chanterelles.  We stopped at the granary in Duncan and harvested some Blue Elderberries.  The crop wasn’t excellent as many of the berries had fallen or were eaten by birds, but we managed to get several gallons worth.  Many of the bushes were under power lines and they had been coppiced back to keep the branches out of the lines and the bushes had 4-6 food suckers on them.  The berry clusters on the suckers were vastly larger than the older branches.  If I were managing a blue elderberry bush I would cut it way back every couple years to stimulate better production and to keep the berries low enough to reach.  We put our berry hooks to good use, but I frequently had to climb into the bushes to get the upper berries.  We drove west on Trunk Road and around to the highway to Cowichan Lake hunting for more bushes, but mostly just found bushes that were finished fruiting.  Then we drove to Mt. Tzouhalem and hiked through the municipal forest and collected mushrooms.  There were several Fat Jacks, and a few Shrimp Russulas.  Shin collected numerous Hideous Gomphidious and Rosy Gomphidious.  Then we drove up to Shawnigan Lake to look for white chanterelles.  We didn’t find any white ones, but we found a few Yellow Chanterelles and many Fat Jacks and Matte Jacks.
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Monday, October 17, 2011

Cleaning Berries

I spent most of the day today cleaning Vaccinium ovatum berries.  Yesterday I separated the green berries, dead flowers, and leaves from the good berries by floating them in water and today I was left with the irksome task of sorting through the layer of material that floated to get the ripe berries that had floated because they were attached to unripe berries.  I tried a ¼ inch screen and found that the ripe fruit didn’t fall through it, so I went to the hardware store and purchased enough screen to make a tumbling wheel.  Then I purchased an old cookie tin from a thrift store and riveted the hardware cloth between the lid and the base of the tine and perforated the entire cylinder with a threaded rod.  When I filled the cylinder with fruit and spun it, the small unripe berries, pine needles, and other chaff fell through the mesh and the ripe berries tumbled to the low side and out into a bowl that I placed there to catch them.  I put a blow dryer, set to blow cool air, on the bowl to blow away the leaves that were too large to fall through the mesh.  This process worked well, though it made a mess in the kitchen.  This would be a good thing to do while still in the field collecting before coming home.  Just plug your blow dryer in to a currant bush!  The most troublesome part was loading the berries in to the sieve, because I couldn’t lean it over to poor them in, or they would all tumble out the other side.  A custom designed funnel that fit between the spokes on my end piece would be perfect for the job.  I also should have left the tin on all but one portion of the lower end piece so that I could load the berries in with sieve tipped up and the bottom end piece in a position so that the open part is the 12 o’clock position.  After the sieve was full of fruit, I could centre the fruit, and begin spinning it in a nearly level manner.  A future version of this apparatus should also use stainless steel mesh instead of galvanized steel.

I am also seeing the advantage of having a screen built into your picking basket or berry rake so that the small unripe berries and chaff fall out as you pick.  This evening Andra mentioned that Lee Valley carries a very nice berry rake that I might look at before making my next one.  Perhaps I will bend my next rake out of tin. Pin It submit to reddit

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Evergreen Huckleberries

The plump blue variety of Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)
Today Katrina, Stacy, Becky, Fiona, her two boys, and I went up to “blueberry flats” near Jordan River to pick Evergreen Huckleberries (Vaccinium ovatum).  Two weeks ago, when I last picked Evergreen Huckleberries, I noticed that some of the bushes on the NW side of the clear-cut, just before going down the hill towards Jordan River, looked heavily laden, so we started picking there.  The fruit was in the peak of ripeness with some of the bushes fully ripe, and some that will probably be perfect in another week.  Katrina and I picked about 5 gallons in 2.5 hours.  At this particular spot there was a good mix of both the blue and the black varieties in about a 1:3 ratio favouring the black.  The blue variety has larger berries, and when I measured 10 at home, found them to be on average 9 mm in diameter compared to the black variety which had an average diameter of 6 mm.  I also found the blue berries to be less acidic, and more firm.  As the day progressed and the sun’s heat warmed the berries, I started targeting the blue variety because the black variety seemed to be getting soft and squishy from the heat whereas the blue berries remained firm.  I always marvel at the diversity of Evergreen Huckleberries and would wager that they are among the more genetically diverse fruit around.  Besides having fruit of two colors, I notice that some bushes have berries that all ripen at the same time, others that ripen first on the tips; some bushes have berries that are all clustered together, others that are spread out along the branches; some bushes that have berries mixed with leaves, and other that have only stalks of berries.  A plant breeder would do well to try and select for bushes with not only large firm fruit, but also berries that were densely clumped on stalks without leaves.  However, I also suspect that these bushes may be prone to disease, and perhaps it is precisely the genetic diversity of the stand we picked from that kept them so healthy.

Sunlight opening disturbance also helps these bushes fruit well.  We primarily picked along the roadside and in a clear-cut that must be about 5 years old.  The bushes in the clear-cut were 2-4 feet tall.  I felt that the berries produced best in areas with a little more shade than the clear-cut, but berry production definitely declines with a closed canopy.  The berry bushes also get strange mistletoe-like growth called Witches Broom Rust (Pucciniastrum goeppertianum) on them when they get to be more than about 5 feet tall.  You can read more about this disease here. This bush, though it grows in areas of high rainfall, probably fruits best in a patchwork mosaic fire regime.  I wonder how it responds to pruning.

The black variety
There are many more questions I would like to answer about Evergreen Huckleberries.  Fruit production is boom or bust, but why?  Does it flower in a time when pollination success is not very reliable each year, or maybe rain knocks the flowers off?  Are dry summers costly to berry production?  Does berry size change with bush age?
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Saturday, October 15, 2011


Shin has been after me for a few days to take him cattail harvesting, so today he, Katrina, and I headed out to a large patch of Cattails to harvest the rhizomes.  We started by collecting a rhizome from a plant that was on mostly dry land, but quickly discovered that they were much easier to extract from completely saturated, submerged soils.  We picked for about an hour and then sat around in the sun and cleaned the spongy outer layer off from the hard starchy cores.  Just as we were finishing up, Kenn Marr, a Botanist for the Royal BC Museum stopped by to collect a specimen of the Cattails for the herbarium.  They are Typha angustifolia, an invasive species.  They are the tallest cattails I have ever seen and some were more than 3 meters tall.  The female spikes are also unusually long.
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Friday, October 14, 2011

Acorn Workshop

I have become an acorn addict, and today I did my best to share the affliction.  Amanda from the University of Victoria Ecological Restoration Club contacted me about leading an acorn workshop.  We went to Playfair Park, where there is an abundance of Garry Oaks (Quercus garryana) that are actually producing acorns this year.  I started by reading a nice passage from Wild Fruits that captures Thoreau’s fascination with acorns:

“How munificent is Nature to create this profusion of wild fruits, as it were, merely to gratify our eyes!  Though inedible they are more wholesome to my nobler part, and stand by me longer than the fruits which I eat.  If they had been plums or chestnuts I should have eaten them on the spot and probably forgotten them; they would have afforded me only a momentary gratification, but, being acorns, I remember and as it were feed on them still.  Yet as it respects their peculiar and final flavour, they are untasted fruits, forever in store for use, and I know not of their flavours as yet.  That is postponed to some yet unimagined winter evening.  These which we admire but do not eat are the real ambrosia—nuts of the gods.  When time is no more, we shall crack them."

"I cannot help liking them better than horse chestnuts, which are of similar color, not only because they are of a much handsomer form, but because they are indigenous.  What hale, plump fellows they are!  They can afford not to be useful to me—not know me or be known by me.  They go their way and I go mine.  Yet sometimes, I go after them.”  (October 28, 1858 HDT)

And go after them we did as well.  I started by having everyone collect 5 acorns and we examined them together pointing out the various signs of insect damaged acorns.  Then I talked through the process of drying, cracking, grinding, and leaching the acorns.  I brought some acorn meal that I had started leaching that morning to show what it looked like.  Then we collected acorns.  Most people stayed for longer than I expected, but even after the last left, I couldn’t stop myself and picked until my bike bucket was completely full.
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