We had a big thaw back in February, and I put all my cabin fever energy into build a raised garden bed that was, conveniently, taller than the piles of snow around it.
I planted it, watered it, and rolled the plastic up like a snug burrito. When things warmed up in early April, I opened it up and was excited to see that the seeds had germinated. I watered everything and wrapped it back up.
A few weeks later I opened things up and there were more plants, but they were still tiny. I figured everything was stunted by the alternating temperatures if winter cold and daytime high, made worse by my negligence in watering. I wrapped everything up again, and figured it would be a loss.
I planted onions a week ago and needed to waster them because it’s been a warm, sunny, dry, wonderful week. After that, I figured I open up the bed and see what had happened. I expected dry soil and stunted plants. But instead it was lovely:
Things were exactly as I’d originally hoped, and better than I ever would have actually expected for starting a garden in February.
This experiment was a success!
I cut some greens, watered everything, and wrapped that burrito back up again.
The trout lilies are blooming! This is a good sign that spring is really here, and a great time to go out in the woods and check out all the spring ephemerals before the mosquitoes come out.
Trout lilies also provide a great opportunity to do a little bit of citizen science. The Trout Lily Project is collecting basic data on some plant characteristics where you live to answer questions about plant-to-plant variation and pollen trails.
All you have to do is go outside and take a look at the trout lilies nearest you and see whether they have red or yellow anthers (don’t worry— it’s easy to tell!). You’ll make a few observations (detailed on the site if you have questions) on the following:
Date of observation
Number of flowers observed
Presence of yellow anthers
Presence of red-orange anthers
Estimated percent of anthers that are yellow
Once you do that, you enter your observations through the CitSci.org website. And then… you automatically become A SCIENTIST!!!
Please go look, post your data, and then tell us what you found!
Foraging is something I’ve said that I want to do more of this year. I keep waiting and waiting, but it’s still early spring. Even a week ago we had enough snow to cover the ground.
The forest is just starting to wake up for spring. And, in this case, waking up seems to be more like the prolonged lingering one does on a weekend morning when you really don’t want to get out of bed. The earth is sleeping in, and won’t wake up and get going until it has to.
This makes me extra grateful for leeks (aka ramps, aka Allium tricoccum). The leeks started to emerge a few weeks ago, just after the silver maple began to bud out and the geese started to come back. Now the leeks have grown to their full height and are found in large patches in the woods near our property.
I’ve been going out to collect leeks in the woods. I don’t collect the ones nearest to us; instead, I make sure to go a little farther into the woods and find areas where they are especially dense.
Often I’ll just use a scissors to cut of the green leaves, removing a handful here and there to thin out the patches. I figure that this only temporarily sets back the plants and doesn’t disturb the soil. Most the time the leaves are enough anyway, adding just a bit of onion-garlic taste to a dish.
One day I went out with a digging fork to dig up entire plants, and I suspect that I’ll do this more in later spring as the leaves start to decline and the bulbs grow. The digging fork is preferable to a shovel, as it helps lift and break apart the soil so that it is easier to grab individual plants without breaking them. Just like when I cut the tops off, I only disturb a small number of plants in any one place. I dig up a forkful on one location and then move several feet away to a new place to minimize disturbance on the site.
There are still seeds on many of the leek plants left over from last year. I’ve been gathering some of these and placing them in the hole as I replace the disturbed soil. If the seeds are still viable, hopefully they’ll grow new plants for next year. When I cut the roots off of the plants to cook them, I dig a hole in the right type of soil and bury them close to the cottage, hoping some of those might manage to grow into new plants as well. And perhaps I’ll gather some seeds and plant those as well.
Cooking with Leeks
I’m still gathering and playing with recipes for leeks, but here are a few that have caught my eye and my imagination:
Wild & Wonderful Ramp Chowder (via Health Starts in the Kitchen) — I made this simple chowder for dinner and it worked really well. Not being one to ever follow a recipe as written, I only used about half the cream and cheese that the recipe called for and instead cooked about a quarter of a cauliflower and creamed it with an immersion blender to get the thick, creamy consistency.
Ramp Pesto (via Hunter Angler Gardener Cook) — To be honest, I didn’t follow this recipe too closely at all, and I borrowed a lot of ideas from this simpler one that omits the fancy cheese and uses sunflower seeds in place of pine nuts. In this case, the recipe mash-up was important because the first one described the importance of blanching the leek leaves in order to keep the pesto from turning that yucky brown color. The result from the recipe mash-up was amazing.
31 Days of Nature is a challenge to spend every day of May 2017 outdoors. All you have to do is spend at least 30 minutes outdoors each day. In order to make the 30 minutes count, you have to get your hands or feet on the earth in some way, shape, or form.
I’m going to play along, even though I’m a little nervous about being able to pull it off. I’m especially nervous about May 1, given the forecast for 40 degrees, rain, and strong wind.
I’m good at getting outside when the weather is nice and when my schedule allows, but I still wimp out a lot more than I’d like to when it’s not as easy to go out. This should be a good opportunity to see when and where I run into resistance and experiment with getting over it.
I hope you’ll do the challenge too!
Here are a few ideas for what to do this May to spend time outside:
April has flown by, and I can’t believe that it’s been over a month since I last posted. It’s not like anything too out of the ordinary has happened—there was work travel at the beginning of the month, maple sugaring on the weekends, and a lot of time getting our cottage up and running for spring—but I’ve been pulled in more directions than normal the past month and not able to write.
The weather has been yo-yoing between nice and not-so-nice. We’ll occasionally have a beautiful spring day, which will invariably be followed by days of cold, rainy weather.
When I looked at the weather forecast this week, Tuesday was supposed to be the best day of the week and so I planned to meet Sara at Silver Mountain to go for a hike and deliver some gardening goods. The “mountain” (which is only about 250 feel tall) in only about a half hour from my house, so it’s someplace that I seem to go about once a year. Usually I go there in the fall to see how the colors are shaping up; I don’t know if I’ve ever been there in the spring.
It was a gorgeous early spring day, with the temperature warm and near 70 degrees. The trail was pretty dry, and we meandered around the top of the mountain catching up on everything that was new since we last talked in the fall. The scenic views aren’t particularly exciting this time of year since the trees are only just starting to bud out. The real action this time of year is in the forest understory, where plants are just starting to pop up and flower.
As we walked along, Sara told me how Silver Mountain is amazing because its made out of the lava that used to be the center of a volcano. She told me this repeatedly, and each time we’d stop and try to imagine how where we were standing would have been somewhere inside of a volcano. Later on, we hit an area where the rock was smooth and undulating, almost like waves on water. A small sign tacked on a tree said ‘glacial striations’ to point out this phenomenon. I couldn’t help think that Glacial Striations would be a really good band name, and imagined a group of gray-haired individuals strumming guitars and signing upbeat oldies music
We kept meandering and found a trail that seemed to lead down the mountain on the south side. Neither of us had ever been that way before, so we decided to go that way since it would be a slower route back and give us more time to be outside. We worked our way down the mountain, from rock outcrop through oak and pine and down to the bottom of the mountain, which is northern hardwood forest.
The spring ephemerals are just starting to come out, which is always exciting. These plants are visible for just a little while, popping up around the end of April or early May and only sticking around for a few weeks. I’ve been seeing wild leeks starting to come up since mid-April, but it’s only now that the other plants are starting to show and flower.
The trail we were on wound around the south side of the mountain and then curled northward back toward the parking area. It was not far from the parking area that we encountered a stretch of sheer cliffs. I’d heard that there were some cliffs on the mountain, but never seen them. A friend just recently mentioned that the area is becoming more popular for rock climbing, and I could immediately see why after seeing this clean, rock wall.
I feel a little silly that I’d never seen this part of the mountain before, even though I’ve probably hiked to the summit about 15 times in as many years and these cliff faces are not more than a quarter mile from the parking area. It’s a good reminder to explore places a bit more and not be in such a rush to get to the top. And, also, to revisit familiar places at different times of the year since a different season will make it a different place.
I have a lot of questions. Many of these are of the existential what-does-it-all-mean variety that I suspect I’ll never have answers to.
But, for the purposes of this blog, I generally have two big questions that I’m trying to learn more about:
1) What are the ways that nature can enhance our health and happiness?
I think we generally have intuitive sense that nature is good for us, that it’s good to get fresh air, to go for a walk, to get a way from it all. As I dig more deeply into this subject, it’s amazing to learn just how good spending time in nature is for people and for entire communities. In many ways, it’s the perfect antidote to our many of our modern problems, including stress, busyness, and disconnection. Time with nature can reduce anxiety, improve creativity, and boost immunity to diseases like cancer. It can lead to longer lifespans and provide inspiration and a sense of belonging.
2) What are some practical ways to spend more time with nature?
With all of those benefits, it seems clear that many of us could benefit from spending more time with nature. But how to we realistically do that when we feel busy and overstretched? Where do we find time in the day to go outside when the rest of the world is increasingly inside? I struggle with this as much as anybody—even living rurally and being a moderately outdoorsy person, I still have plenty of days where I don’t spend any time outside or connected to nature. This is why I’m interested in finding ways to experience ordinary, everyday nature as I am in planning big, wild adventures.
That’s where my mind is these days, so I hope that you’ll come back and learn more with me!
Admission: I avoided snowshoeing for the longest time. It always seemed so slow and boring compared to cross country skiing. My thinking was: Why plod when you can race?!?! But I changed my tune this winter and have been snowshoeing a lot, to visit the cottage, to find chaga, to gather water (more on that in a future post).
I contributed a post to the Hike Like a Woman site that went live today (and we still have snow here!). It’s called “Winter is for Snowshoeing,” and you should read it and check out the posts by other Hike Like a Woman contributors and ambassadors. Read it now!
Although it’s still winter, there are signs that spring is on its way. A week of unseasonably warm weather made me start a gardening project in February and we’ll be making maple syrup before too long. Like most years, I slipped into a bit of a funk starting sometime in November, which lasted into January. I think I fought it less this year, allowing myself to be lazy, to hibernate, and to explore winter in new ways—very slowly, and generally on snowshoes. By late January, I felt my energy start to go back up.
Light is a tremendous part of this. I definitely get a little bit S.A.D. in the winter with the short days. By late January, the days are lengthening so that there is some daylight left after work—enough that it’s easier to go snowshoeing or skiing, and a headlamp is optional rather than required.
But I think that the change in light conditions has as much to do with clouds as a longer day length. The clouds are much different now than during the darkest days of winter. Rather than the constant, overcast gray clouds that bring the lake-effect snow, there are more white, patchy, billowy clouds that let the sunshine be visible during the day.
I just finished reading The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the the Cloud Appreciation Society. It’s a great book, and I definitely recommend you check it out, as it described the major types of clouds and conditions under which they form.
One time I was in southern Illinois in the spring and participating a competition to identify trees. I had no idea what one was and so I just wrote down “the tree with pretty pink flowers.” Of course, that was not the correct answer, and all of the foresters from southern states giggled that us northerners were so clueless to not know such an obvious tree (it was a redbud, and I’ve never forgotten it since). That pretty much sums us my relationship with clouds: I’ve known that there is a difference between the fluffy white clouds and the thick gray ones and the patchy pretty ones that look really nice at sunset—but I could never tell you what they were called (stratus? nimbus? the ones that look like animals… Der…).
But now I know the different clouds… or at least I am learning them, and have a better appreciation for them.
I went to the cottage over the week to continue my tree-cutting project. It was about 20ºF and cloudy, with a bit of lake-effect snow falling. There was a strong wind from, oddly, the southwest that was blowing right in my face as I was cutting trees. It was not the most pleasant day to be out, but I was already at the property and figured I should cut at least one or two trees down. I cut most of the smaller trees already and upgraded to a larger saw for the remaining big trees, so each tree takes longer.
I was cutting down one tree, about 14 inches in diameter. While sawing, I was thinking about how boring it was to saw this tree, about how sluggish I felt, and about how my arms got tired after a few minutes. I stopped to take a break, and looked up to see the sunlight start to peek through the clouds.
I’ve been thinking that lake-effect snow clouds, our most common winter clouds that can cover the sky for days and days, are probably status clouds—the low-lying, formless clouds that are essentially a layer of thick fog only a few thousand feet in the sky. It was nice that the sun was visible at all, a sign that the strong winds were breaking up the cloud layer. I watched the wind move the clouds around a while, the patch of sunlight moving accordingly, and then when back to sawing. When I was ready to leave, the clouds had opened more to allow more beams of sunlight through.
The sky continued to open, and by the time I trudged back to my car, there were even patches of blue sky. The wind and warmer temperatures had changed the clouds. I’m still learning, but I think these new clouds were probably stratocumulus—large, billowly rolls of clouds that are half-way between the thick, shapeless stratus clouds and the cotton balls of white fluff that are cumulus clouds.
During the past few years I’ve really been trying to spend more time appreciating nature (which is really where this blog comes from), and I think one of the biggest changes that I’ve made is that I’m routinely paying more attention to the sky whenever I’m outside, even at night. I spent a lot of time last fall looking at the sky and enjoying the clouds in general, and that was nice. Now I’m looking forward to looking at the clouds with a bit more knowledge, and expecting that I’ll appreciate them even more.