Budding Horticulturist

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I’ve been doing some volunteer gardening work at a couple of different places here in Brooklyn. Two days a week you can find me in the native plant gardens at Brooklyn Bridge Park. One day a week I’ll be digging away at the Osborne Garden, which is in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and pictured above. I am learning a lot about native plants vs. weeds. I also feel a bit like a home cook amongst chefs. I am used to gardening on a much smaller scale, so I think I’m a bit too precious when I’m weeding. It will be interesting to learn tips on how to speed things up.

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Don’t Pick Up That Baby Bird!

baby birdEvery Spring, I hear about people finding “abandoned” baby birds. They “rescue” them, bring them home and care for them until they inevitably die. Here’s the thing. Those birds aren’t abandoned! They are fledglings. They fly out of their nest and spend a few days on the ground learning how to forage. They haven’t been abandoned by their parents. Imagine the poor parents watching a giant human carrying their baby away!

The Wild Bird Fund in NYC gets inundated every Spring with these baby birds. Take a peek at their pdf below for what to do on this topic. In case you haven’t heard of the Wild Bird Fund, they are the first wildlife rehabilitation center in NYC. Take a peek at their website to see the cool things they are doing.

I had this post all ready to go out (minus this really helpful diagram from the Wild Bird Fund) and then I found my own fledgeling bird today. It was on the sidewalk calling to its parents. This sidewalk is extremely busy with foot traffic, dogs being walked, strollers, etc. The parents weren’t going to go down. They were calling to the baby, which was making the baby hop towards them. Unfortunately it was hopping into traffic on a very busy street. I scooped the little guy up and put it back on the sidewalk. It kept hopping into the street.

Now I was attracting passersby, who were adding their helpful comments. “It fell out of the nest and can’t fly”. Not true. It’s a fledgling. “Don’t touch it, the parents are going to smell you”. Also not true. Gah!

I knew I couldn’t stay there all night to keep scooping the baby out of the street. There weren’t any trees nearby to put it in. I noticed some starlings peeking out of a cornice *way* up in a building. I knew I could never get the baby back up there. There was an abandoned lot across the street, which had wooden boards all around it. It’s been neglected for so long that ailanthus trees are growing in it, and the wooden boards are sagging. I figured that if I could catch this baby, I could fit my hands through the boards and it would be in this lot and unable to hop back into the street.

It took a little bit, but I was able to catch the little guy. He was hunkered behind the tire of a parked car. Fledglings aren’t particularly afraid of people yet, so that made things much easier. I got him into the lot. He let out a big shriek, so his parents were able to hear him and see where he was going. I’m feeling very hopeful about his survival.

That’s him in the top photo. I love his grumpy, yellow mouth! And just for the record, I wouldn’t have touched him at all if he wasn’t in imminent danger of getting squashed by cars or strollers.

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Postcards from the Cloisters

On Saturday we went to visit the Cloisters. We had a beautiful Spring day, which was perfect as the gardens at the Cloisters are as stunning as the museum. The medieval artwork was a great mix of stunning and creepy, with several reliquaries to tip the scales towards creepy.

We lucked out and went on their Garden Day, so we were able to hear about one of the lovely gardens. That particular garden was divided into sections including a culinary and household bed, an arts & crafts bed with dye plants (weld, madder, woad, indigo, nettles), a magic bed (deadly nightshade, dragon arum, mandrake), a brewer’s bed (licorice, hops, ground ivy, costmary). In the center of all of these beds were 4 lovely quince trees, and there were espaliered pear trees along the outside walls.

Of course there were the famous unicorn tapestries, but one of the most amazingly detailed piece was this rosary bead. How the artist carved such detail boggles the mind.

The view from the garden shows the protected Palisades.cloisters-1 Dragon Arum. This bud was getting ready to open. It was about 2 feet long, and when open smells like rotting meat. It was considered an aphrodisiac based on it’s form. I may be more pure at heart because I thought that the bud really looked like a dragon’s tail.

cloisters-2 Espaliered pear treecloisters-3 Quince treecloisters-5 Hops growing in the brewing bedcloisters-6 Another espaliered pear treecloisters-7 cloisters-8 I love this water pitcher. Check out the little man in the dragon’s mouth.cloisters-9 These ladies were reliquaries of saints. The shape of the relic often depicts what it contains. So I guess we’ve got 3 skulls inside. The carving and painting was stunning, but I think their expressions are wonderful.cloisters-10 One of the unicorn tapestries.cloisters-11 Rosary bead.cloisters-12 I thought this depiction of Jesus made him look as though he could actually be from the Middle East.cloisters-13 View from the Cloister’s gardens.cloisters-14Seed packets in the gift shop.

Our CSA begins

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So excited!! Our weekly fruit and veggie share began today. After getting apologetic notes from both of our farmers about the rough winter, I wasn’t expecting much. It was a pleasant surprise to get such bounty. Rhubarb, apples, asparagus, flowering chives, tatsoi, dried black beans and kale rabe and Jerusalem artichokes. Time for more creative cooking!

Morels at last

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I have been watching for morels for weeks. I thought I had my hunting timed perfectly, but with the cold winter, the morels were slow to appear. We came up to the Berkshires 2 weeks ago, which was way too early.

But this weekend was perfect. We took three different hikes and found morels at two of them. Yesterday we went to a place where we found them last year. We found about a half a dozen. I was hoping for more. Today we went out and found over twenty! There were a few other people carrying bags with mushrooms, so we knew we weren’t the only ones out looking.

It was hard not to shout when we found one, so we shouted “pickle!” to let each other know when we found one, without alerting other mushroom hunters. Super sneaky, eh? Bet nobody could crack that code!

It was fun to spend so much time in the woods. Now we have to figure out what we’re going to make with them.

Early Foraging

5-3 foraging-3This past weekend Neil and I went out with the NYMS for a morel hunt. The spot is about an hour and change outside of the city. You have to be a member to get directions to this spot!

There wasn’t a morel in sight. It seems as though this hard winter we’ve had has pushed the morel season back a couple of weeks. Not wanting to go home empty handed, I collected a big bag of garlic mustard and some japanese knotweed.

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Garlic mustard is a terrible invasive plant, so you are doing everyone a favor by picking as much of it as you can. Forager’s etiquette (not over harvesting native plants) does NOT apply in this case. Garlic mustard leaves are at their tender best before the plant blooms. As with all foraging, please consult a guidebook for identification of plants!

I wanted to make pesto with the greens and followed a recipe I found on a fellow forager’s site. Against my better judgment I used walnuts instead of pine nuts. The whole batch came out too bitter. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s usable.

5-3 foraging-5Japanese knotweed is good right now. It is also terribly invasive. Large bamboo-like stands grow up on the side of streams, roads and in disturbed areas.

The shoots are quite tender at this time of year, so don’t require as much peeling as the older/larger stalks do. Knotweed can be substituted for rhubarb in recipes.

5-3 foraging-6I decided to wait on making the japanese knotweed into anything as I read it freezes well. And because my pesto was such a stellar failure. I washed it carefully as it seems to attract large numbers of ants.5-3 foraging-7

Strip off the leaves and chop into 1″ pieces. Then freeze.5-3 foraging-8

Although we didn’t find any mushrooms, there were still plenty of lovely natural things to look at. We saw crows chasing a great horned owl out of its tree. 5-3 foraging-1

Beautiful spring ephemerals were blooming. 5-3 foraging-2