Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Early Squirrel Season

Squirrel Cuttings

Early fall squirrels is my favorite time of the year.  If you get a good rain, it will usually cool off enough to make being the woods quite fun.  It's still early enough, that you will almost certainly have the woods to yourself, and best of all, the squirrels are still uneducated to the dangers of humans hunting them.

Hunting squirrels is always about finding what they are feeding on.  In the last summer/early fall, they are almost always feeding on hickory nuts.  My brother and I went a few weeks ago, and we found one, and managed to shoot it, the next thing you know there wear at least 8 to 10 squirrels leaping everywhere around this tree, fleeing.  It was the most fun we had had hunting in a long time.

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During this time of the year, I prefer #5 or #6 shot in a 12 gauge.  You really need the extra penetration this will give you to punch through the leaves.  Which brings me to another reason I love this time of year.  All the leaves on the trees make it a lot harder for the squirrels to see you, which lets you get away with a lot more mistakes while hunting them.  This is a great time to bring a youngster with you to teach them woodsmanship, and squirrel hunting.  Just look for where the leaves are shaking, and you've probably found a squirrel.

While I prefer walking and making the squirrels move, another good strategy can be to find a good hickory tree, and sit off to the side with a .22 and pick them off one by one.  With a good quiet .22, you can relax, and pick off quite a few squirrels in the same tree.  This can also be great practice for larger game later in the season, and again, can be a great way to teach a child to hunt proficiently.

Foraging: Goldenrod

What to say about goldenrod?  Yes the same but different goldenrod
 that is found in teas.  Goldenrod is plant that is found abuntantly through much of the nation.  It grows wild just about everywhere.  There are over 120 species,  all of them can be used for teas, but some varieties are better than others.  Luckily, goldenrod is very easy identify once it starts flowering.

Alternating Leaves
Goldenrod is plant that can grow up to 6 feet tall.  The flowers are a very bright yellow.  The leaves are alternating, with no stem.

You can use the leaves and the flowers for a tea.  You should harvest the leaves before the plant starts to flower, as the leaves will start to fall apart soon.  Collect the flowers before they open, hang upside to dry, and use to make tea.

One important thing about foraging for Goldenrod,  they flower in the fall, and are a very important source of food for honeybees in the fall.  Be very careful how much you harvest, and make sure you leave more for the bees than you take. 
Goldenrod Plants

Goldenrod is a aquaretic (it promotes the loss of water from the body).  It has been used to help with kidney stones, and some diseases of the urinary tract.  The young leaves can be used in salads.   It can also be used to make tinctures.  It has also been used as a mouth rinse.  It has also been applied to the skin to improve would healing.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Foraging: Chantrelles (Cantharellus ...)

Disclaimer:  Never ever eat any wild mushrooms without first having a qualified mycologist positively identify them.  Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms will kill you if you eat them instead of chantrelles.  The writer of this blog is not responsible for any harm that may befall you if you eat them.  

While it's still very hot in many place around the country, it is time to start thinking of fall pursuits.  Hiking, hunting, and foraging.  We had quite a bit of rain a few weeks ago, and the temps dropped just enough to make a day hiking in the woods enjoyable.  My brother and I loaded up and headed off to the squirrel woods.  While hiking around, lo and behold to my eyes we found tons of Chantrelles (Cantharellus).

Underside of Chantrelles
Chantrelles are of the considered one of the foolproof 4 or 5 (depending on who is doing the talking).  Chantrelles are usually a yellow or orange color.  There is only one poisonous species that is similar (Jack-O-Lantern Omphalotus olearius).  The inside flesh when cut open should be white, if it's not it's not a chantrelle.  It has false gills, that are a part of the actual cap, and the false gills will usually run down onto the stem.  Jack's will grow in clusters, while chants will usually be found individually.  Jacks have true gills while chants have false gills.  And Jacks will be orange or orangeish on the inside when cut.

 Chantrelles are delicious mushrooms.  As with all mushrooms, they must be cooked before eating.  You can saute them in some butter with a little garlic or salt and pepper.  They are delicious when cooked with eggs.  Saute them, and then freeze them for use later.  You can even dehydrate them, boil them, and reconstitute them for later use.  When preserving them like this, use them in the water to make a wonderful wild mushroom risotto. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Summer Foraging: Blackberries

Hopefully everyone can remember a time of picking and eating blackberries with their grandparents.  For years my Grandma had a secret patch, that was guarded by a big red bull.  We were always warned to stay away from the bull.  I'm pretty sure she just wanted us to stay away from the blackberries.   If you don't have a great blackberry story with an older relative, now is the time to get out with someone, (a wife, kids, Grandma/Grandpa) and make some.  I remember plenty of times being at one of my Grandparent's houses, and wandering through the woods, and munching on blackberries. 

Blackberry Plant
Blackberries are one of the foolproof berries to harvest.  As far as I can tell there are no poisonous look-a-likes, although there are a few other berries that look very similar, but they are edible and delicious.  Blackberries can be identified by the dark colored berries that are clustered together at the end of the cane.  They have between 3 and 5 leaflets per leaf.  Blackberry stems (called canes) are a light green, with alternate leaves, filled with thorns (never ever forget they have thorns, they can be quite painful), and the canes are filled with ridges and angles.

Blackberries grow from second year canes, meaning a blackberry cane will grow one year, then the next year it will produce fruit.  Depending on where you are foraging (ie, private vs public land), if you have picked all the berries from a cane, you should cut that cane off at the ground level to prune it back.  Blackberries are prolific growers, spreading from roots underground.  I've collected a few specimens of blackberries, that I am going to try and propagate in my own back yard.

3 Leaf Blackberry
Almost all blackberries I have found have been growing in the shade of larger trees.  They are not always growing in the deep forest, but the particular patch I've found are.  There are also issues of legality, if you are on private land, you must obtain the owners permission to harvest any of the berries.  On National Forest land, it is illegal to harvest berries.  On State owned lands, you will need to see what the laws are in your particular area.  In my area, harvesting berries on state land is illegal.  I wish it wasn't, I find it to be an unjust law, and while I am hunting I find it perfectly ethical to harvest a few and pop in my mouth.  I would never harvest bucketfuls though.

I've found the best time of the year to harvest blackberries is the second or third week of July.  You will find some that are ripe in June, and you will find some that are ripe all the way into September, but I find the most are ripe in the middle of July.

A few things to be wary of are snakes and bears.  Bears can be an issue depending on where you live.  They love berries, and you can easily run into them in a thick berry patch.  Snakes love to hunt and hide under the thick patches.  Make sure you are careful where you put your feet, and always look before grabbing any berries to make sure a snake is not hiding.  And always make sure you are protected from bugs.  Blackberries are infamous for chiggers and ticks.  And always look out for the thorns.  They can be quite painful.

Now to the fun part.  Blackberries can be eaten raw, made into a cobbler, and made into jellies and jams.  Here are links to a few recipes.  Try one, try all, and share your own in the comments section. 
I hope you can find a place near you to go and harvest some blackberries this weekend.  Take your kids, take your wife, take someone elses kids.  It's an easy fruit to find, and harvest, and the berries are delicious. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Permaculture Thoughts: Borage Plants

I've managed to plant a few trees around my urban homestead, and one of the big movements is permaculture.  I like the idea of permaculture, and I think it help my trees look better.  One idea I keep seeing is planting plants around your trees for compost.  The big plant that is mentioned is comfrey (Symphytum officinale) or Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum, or Symphytum asperum x officinale).  Comfrey has lots of uses, it can attract beneficial insects, it can ward off bad insects, and the most important part in my opinion is it's fast growing and can be composted right where it grows.

When discussing plants, one problem that always crops up is identification.  Many plants can go by many common names, but plants will typically only go by one scientific name.  This is not always true, as our genetic science gets better, our understanding of plants and animals gets deeper.  Things can and will be reclassified in the future.  It will be much easier to identify and use Symphytum officinale  even if it gets reclassified into  Borage officinale (this is facetious, I know of no plans to do this), than it is to look back in a hundred years and try to decipher whether they meant Symphytum officinale  when they listed medicinal usages of Comfrey, or whether they meant Cynoglossum officinale.  I am going to do my best in the future to give scientific names to all the plants that I discuss in the future.

Russian comfrey is a natural cross between two different types of comfrey (rough comfrey and common comfrey, Symphytum x uplandicum, or Symphytum asperum x officinale).  Russian comfrey is high in protein, (20-30% dried).  This is a great food for chickens and rabbits.  It is also very high in biomass.  While alfalfa can yield 18 tons per acre,  Russian comfrey can yield up to 100-120 tons per acre.  The plant is also high in potassium, somewhere between 5 and 7%.  The NPK ratio is also very similar to manure.  All of this sounds great, but I do have one problem, it is a hybrid plant, so the seeds won't produce true.   It is cultivated by the root stems.  I still prefer open pollinated, seed bearing native plants.  Russian comfrey is a cross, not a GMO, so you could plant the different kinds of comfrey, and make your own hybrids. 

If I could find some locally to purchase and grow, I probably would just for testing purposes.  I like the idea of it, but I'd have to order it.  I've never ordered live plants or seeds before, but I prefer to deal with locally owned and operated business's.  This leads me to search for alternatives.  One thing I have learned is that Comfrey is in the Borage family of plants.  And Borage plants are native to my area.  The one I am most interested in is Cynoglossum virginianum (Hound's Tongue, or Wild Comfrey).

This plant sounds promising to me, it has a very similar common name, it is in the same family, and while I may not be able to buy it locally, it is a native plant that I can probably find growing wild nearby.  But how does it compare to Russian comfrey?

This is a good question. While many people have done studies on the "true" comfrey's, I can't find any research on the Cynoglossum's.  I did find one article that discussed the nutrients of the plant when eaten.  (https://journals.tdl.org/watchbird/index.php/watchbird/article/view/1973/1944).  When using these numbers to calculate the percentage of protein was about 3%, while the potassium was about .3% and the phosphorus was .01 to .02%.  I'm not positive that this is a one-to-one ratio as I originally intended.

There are other benefits to using the native comfrey.  It is attractive to bees, both honey and native bees.  This is a huge benefit to growing it around your fruit trees.  It also puts down long taproots, so it will help to add trace minerals closer to the surface.  Cynoglossum virginianum also is purported to have medicinal benefits.

There needs to be more research done to determine if native comfrey can replace the other comfreys in my garden, but any renaissance person worth their salt can do research.  Hopefully, I'll get a chance to get in the woods next weekend, and do some foraging for wild comfreys.   


Sunday, May 8, 2016

How-to: Fishing Jugs

With temperatures steadily rising, and the Sun starting to shine more and more everyday,  my thoughts are turning to fishing more and more.  My whole life I've been focused solely on pole fishing, and while fishing with poles will always be my go to fishing method, but one thing that every Renaissance man should know how to do is efficiently gather large quantities of food.  One way to do this in the summer is with passive fishing methods.  Since I just recently acquired a boat, my horizons have been opened a little further. I'm now able to try more methods of fishing, jug fishing, trotlining, even netting.

As always, before you do anything described below, make sure you read up on all the rules and regulations for fishing in your area, and state.  At a minimum, you probably need at least a fishing license.

In my opinion, jug fishing is pretty easy.  Get an old jug, tie on some line, a hook, bait it and throw it in the water.  The first thing you need is some type of large floating item.  I save old bleach bottles.  I like them the best since they have a screw on lid, and lots of ample storage inside.  You could also use coke bottles.  I would use anything that is waterproof and has a screw on lid.  You could use milk jugs, but I would be careful simple of the snap on lids.  You wouldn't to hook a giant catfish, only to lose it by having your jug fill up with water, and the catfish sinking the jug to the bottom of the lake/river.  You can also use pool noodles, just cut them to about a foot or two in length.

Where I live,  you have to have you name, address and either fishing license number or drivers license number.  I like to number my jugs,  that way I know how many I jugs I've set out, and whether I've missed any.  Another thing I like to do is either add some reflective strips, or paint a fluorescent strip on them, so you can shine a flashlight and find them at night.

My set up right now consists of tarred bank line, some swivels, and 30lb test monofilament line, and circle hooks.  Use your favorite fishing knot,  I tie the tarred line to the jug, and then add a swivel to the bottom.  Tie a length of the 30 lb test line to the swivel and add a circle hook at the bottom.

There are many variations you could use to this rig.  Testing is needed to match the conditions at your local fishing hole.  I'm using a one foot length of bank line, and then another foot of monofilament with a 2/0 circle hook at the bottom.

Right now, I'm going after crappie in the shallows.  If I was going after catfish, I would probably add a little more length to both the lines, and go with a bigger circle hook.

Baits can be just about anything you want,  for crappie, bass, and walleye I would use minnows.  For catfish or turtles, I would go with panfish, liver, or stinkbait.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Seed Starting

I've got spring fever here lately,  even though our winter wasn't particularly cold, it was still too cold to do the things I really like to do.  Woodworking, fishing, gardening, and foraging.  I did spend some time trying to figure out how to get my seeds started early for my gardening adventures.  I've wanted to do square foot gardening for a long time, but I always seem to get really small seeds, and I just scatter them in place.  I figured this year, I would start my seeds early, and the plant them in a square foot combo.  Here are a few of the ways I've found of trying over the winter.  I always like to experiment, here are three methods, I wanted to try this year.  You may remember the blog on using plastic coke bottles as a way to start seeds.  And if not here is a link Coke Bottle Seed Starters

Egg Carton

Egg Carton Method
This method is pretty easy. Get an egg carton, I try to buy the papery type egg cartons.  Add some dirt, and plant a seed in the middle.  This method I think may be best if you buy the egg cartons that are not plastic.  That way you can just cut the carton apart and plant it in the ground.

The plastic egg cartons can potentially be reused.  I think my wife actually bought some eggs in this carton last week, so I'll see how it does.

Update:  The egg carton method didn't seem so promising at first, but as of today I have quite a few seedlings sprouted.

Plastic Bags
I really like the plastic bag method.  You take a paper towel, wet it down, place your seeds on it, and then put the paper towel inside a ziploc bag.  I like doing this, I can make a ton of these very quickly, they are relatively cheap, and they can be stacked in a warm dark place out of the way.  I've had good luck with these in the past.  The bags can be reused for years, and they take up no storage space.

Toilet paper rolls
Toilet Paper Roll Method
This is a method, I've wanted to try out for a few year, but every time I try and save the rolls, some one always throws them out.  Well, this year I finally found a good spot to save them that won't let them get lost.  This also seems like a good way to start seeds, cut the rolls down, add them to a cheap plastic container, add some dirt and a seed and let them go.  One nice thing about this method is that they are very stackable, but they do take up more room than a plastic bag.

Bonus: Potting Mixes
A long time ago I used to keep various species of Reptilia in terrariums, and one my of my favorite seed starting mixes comes from this era.

1 part ground coconut husk
1 part partially composted leaves

Just mix it thoroughly together, and add water.  It will hold moisture for days.