Painted Bunting

 

WatermarkPhotoSquare™2015-12-29 03:12:37 +0000This little fellow got sidetracked from his migration and ended up in Prospect Park in the native flora area. I finally got a chance to go see him today and he was as spectacular as anticipated. Right now he should be hanging out in southern Florida or Central America, not in Brooklyn. There have been as many as 100 people a day stopping by to gawk at his stunning coloration. This little guy seemed completely unfazed with all the attention he’s been garnering. He’s been sticking to a very small area and munching on the grass and pokeweed seeds.

He’s puffed up like a little ball in the picture because it was a little chilly today. Hopefully we’ll get some more seasonal temperatures here and that will kick his migration instinct back into gear. Cross your fingers for a good outcome for this beautiful creature!

Bloodroot

IMG_1The first flower to bloom in my garden this spring is bloodroot. I got this native plant from my favorite plant nursery Project Native in Great Barrington, MA. My first encounter with this sweet flower was on a hike in early spring a couple of years ago up in the Berkshires. Although spring was definitely hitting, it was still too early for anything more than buds on the trees. As we walked along, we spied lots of these beauties popping up. They just screamed spring. There was something so hopeful about this flower springing up out of what still looked like winter. I was smitten.

I bought a plant a few years ago. Last spring was to be the first time I would have bloodroot in my garden. Unfortunately I let my chickens loose in the garden and they ran right to that spot and danced a cha cha on the plant and shredded it beyond repair. I was afraid that they had killed it. Needless to say, I didn’t see a flower that year.

On my early spring rounds of the garden, when I’m searching for any signs of life, I noticed the small curled leaf of the bloodroot plant! A couple of days later the little flower opened. Isn’t it lovely?

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is so named because of the dark red of its root. It has been used medicinally for ages. Applying the root directly to skin, kills the cells, which has led people to try and use it as a way to kill cancer cells. It is currently added to toothpaste and mouthwash as an anti-placque and antibacterial agent.

Bloodroot grows in part shade to shade. It prefers woodlands. I have it in a particularly shady spot in my garden. It already looks as though it is spreading, so hopefully a few more blooms will pop up this spring. After it is pollinated, the petals drop off and a seedpod forms soon afterwards. I’m looking forward to seeing the whole process this year.

 

How to Make Sumac Juice

Berkshires-14I know what you are thinking… You are thinking Poison Sumac. Relax. There are other varieties, which are completely wonderful and harmless. Check your guides before you eat any wild edible, but a good rule of thumb with sumac is that if the flower stalk is red, it isn’t poisonous.

The juice you make from a sumac has a wonderfully tart lemonade-like flavor that is very refreshing in summer.

Berkshires-12 Berkshires-13We drove along the roadsides with garden clippers and a big shopping bag. I can’t tell you exactly how many we picked, but it felt like several pounds worth. It filled the bottom 1/3 of a large shopping bag. Here’s a photo of our haul.Berkshires-15

Okay, so once you have gathered a bunch of flower stalks, grab a big canning pot, or stock pot. Fill it halfway with room temperature water. DO NOT rinse the flowers off before you use them or all the flavor will wash away.

Drop a few stalks into the water. Grab and squeeze the flowers. The flowers will fall off the stalk and that’s fine. Just keep kneading and squeezing the flowers. You will notice that tiny red hairs from the flowers will start sticking to your hands. They will wash off.

Take the flower stalks out and add new ones. Keep doing this until you run out of flowers. The more flowers you have, the stronger the juice. Here’s a photo of our concentrated juice to give you an idea of the color it will be.Berkshires-18

 

The juice is really great, and lends itself well to many things. You could cook with it, but we just added seltzer to make spritzers. There will be a cocktail recipe coming up shortly!

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Butterfly Safari with Project Native

Berkshires-6This past weekend we went up to the Berkshires. I always get my nature groove on when we’re up there. This weekend was no exception.

My favorite plant nursery in the world (it’s so much more than that!), Project Native, was hosting a butterfly safari. They specialize in native plants as a means to promote a healthy ecosystem. I’ve probably gone into it before, but without native plants, there aren’t food sources for native insects and bugs, which then in turn affects what the native birds eat, etc. etc. etc. There are also some insects that will only lay their eggs on one type of plant (called a host plant). Monarch butterflies are one such insect. They will only lay their eggs on plants in the milkweed family. And their numbers are declining drastically. In fact our guide mentioned that their numbers could be down anywhere from 30-90 percent, and that they haven’t seen one all summer! But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Berkshires-4During our safari, we were given butterfly nets and instructed on the best way to catch and then release the butterflies into the holding box. Our guides were amazingly knowledgeable about the different plants and butterflies we saw. They walked us through their property, which was a fun glimpse of the different plants they sell growing in a wide, open setting.

Berkshires-5We caught several butterflies. Lindsay was by far the best at it. And then we brought them to their newly built butterfly house to release them. The butterfly house is a hoop house, with netting instead of plastic. It is filled with native plants for the different butterflies to feed  and lay eggs on.

Berkshires-2Inside, we saw loads and loads of caterpillars. This one is particularly great with its false eyes on it.

And, you might have noticed that after I said that they hadn’t seen any monarchs, my first photo is of a monarch. That was from a woman who donated monarchs she used in a classroom setting. They were from PA, so aren’t considered native to the Berkshires. They will not release the monarch when they release all the other butterflies for the winter.

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Mother’s Day in the Berkshires

This weekend we went up to my in-laws in the Berkshires. We got in two beautiful hikes in which we searched (to no avail) for morel mushrooms. Although it was disappointing to miss the morels, the gorgeous wildflowers and critters more than made up for it. There were loads of red-spotted newts (also called Eastern Newts). These sweet little guys live in the water when they are tadpoles and adults, but during their juvenile phase (when they are called red efts), they live on land. They are most visible when it is wet out, which it was this weekend.

 

What difference a week makes

Things are popping up and growing like mad in my little garden. You can almost hear the green shoots popping out of the soil.

I took these photos on May 3rd.

I wish I could share how delicious the crabapple blossoms smell! The lily of the valley are just poking up and the currant bushes look very promising.

This is a week later.

And now the cherry and crabapple tree blossoms are gone. The clematis is getting ready to burst, which means the hydrangea and elderberry bushes aren’t far behind. I love looking out of my kitchen window and seeing green

Garlic Mustard


During my morel hunting last Saturday, I noticed other wild edibles in the woods. There was winter cress, garlic chives (as a kid, we called this onion grass), watercress, and two highly invasive plants – garlic mustard and Japanese knotweed.

Being the somewhat nature-deprived city gal that I am, I took the opportunity of gathering some wild edibles while I was in the woods. I gathered all of the above except the Japanese knotweed. Lindsay took ownership of the garlic chives, and delighted in pulling them up to get the bulbs. We made scrambled eggs with chives that were delicious. The eggs, of course, were from our backyard chickens.

The garlic mustard looked hopelessly wilted by the time I got home, so I put it in a big bowl of cold water hoping to revive it. It seems as though nothing can kill garlic mustard, and it perked up in no time. I made a delicious pesto sauce, using 50% basil leaves and 50% garlic mustard leaves and buds. Now is the time to pick garlic mustard to eat, because after the flowers bloom, the plant becomes too bitter.


In searching online for garlic mustard recipes, I learned more about the plant itself. It is a highly invasive plant that European settlers brought to plant in their kitchen gardens. It is a prolific producer of seeds and will blanket an area in a very short time, choking out all other native plants, including jack-in-the-pulpit, solomon-seal MOREL MUSHROOMS, and others. Wild animals don’t like to eat it, so it grows completely unchecked. And if that weren’t bad enough, the roots send out a chemical compound that makes the soil inhospitable to other plants. A very primitive form of chemical warfare.

There are many groups that host garlic mustard pulls. The amount of bags filled with the weed is astonishing. Unlike other weeds, you can’t pull this one up and just leave it on the ground. The flowers will have enough energy to produce seeds even after the plant has been uprooted. You have to pull it up by it’s roots and bag it.

Here’s a video that talks about the problems with garlic mustard. It helps you identify it and learn how to get rid of it. There’s even an annual Garlic Mustard Challenge, in which you help them log how many bags of garlic mustard have been pulled. Take a peek here.

Garlic Mustard Identification and Control from Barbara Lucas on Vimeo.

Spring Has Sprung

Happy first day of spring everyone! We’ve got freezing rain as a way of keeping it real. Here’s a link to some great gardening events around NYC. A couple took place this past weekend, but most of them are still to come.

I’m itching to start some seeds that my mother-in-law gave me this weekend. She took a seed collecting class at Project Native (amazing native plant nursery in the Berkshires) and collected loads of native species. Many of the plants are specific to that area, so do well in moist, rich soil. There were a that I thought might do well in my poor, dry, neutral to alkaline soil.

I chose little blue stem grass (which favors poor, dry soil – wahoo!),
foxglove beard tongue,
ironweed,
and steeple bush.

I also have some veggie seeds coming my way from Territorial Seed Co., so I should have some fun starting all these guys.