Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You mean that isn't normal?

"Daddy, hold these little worms while I get more."
-Miniwether, handing me a bunch of maggots.

A coworker asked what I did this weekend so I started telling her. She seemed to like me taking Miniwether to her ballet rehearsal and how I spent the entire time flying Mambowether around the studio's waiting room (boy are my arms tired. Ba-dum Bump!) She was envious about the crawfish boil, but her smile wavered when I mentioned the zombie suppression team meeting. It seemed to go downhill from there. By the time I got to Miniwether and the maggots she told me I really need to get cable TV then she backed out of the breakroom.

Funny, squirmy pets.

I didn't get to even tell her about the big fish. :-(

It seemed like a normal weekend to me. Miniwether's first ballet (Sleeping Beauty) will be next Saturday so last Saturday's rehearsal was a complete run-through which seemed to take hours and hours. Misseswether had her Chinese class so it was me, Mambo and a dozen or so stage-moms crowded into the waiting room watching the dancers through the big two-way mirror. Well, they watched while I flew Mambo around. Watching ballet really isn't my thing. I figure I'll see it all next week, there's no need to get overdosed on it. Miniwether's part is "Handmaiden #1 to the Lilac Fairy". Her big moment is when she hands a birdcage to the fairy... I offered to catch them a live bird to put in the cage but the lady in charge declined. Oh well.

Eventually the studio door opened and a huge wave of leotarded girls poured out. I grabbed mine and ran for the door. In an hour Pushy Broad's crawfish boil was starting and I wanted to get a prime spot at the table. I love the cooked crawfish, Miniwether loves the live crawfish, Mambowether loves the Zydeco music, and Misseswether loves not having to do dishes. We got there just after the first batch of boiled crawfish/sausage/potatoes/corn/mushrooms/onions/garlic/oranges/artichokes were dumped out onto the newspaper. Two hours and five pounds of crawfish later I had to excuse myself for a bit. It was Zombie Hunting time!

Believe it or not, Houston does NOT have an official zombie suppression team. However, one is trying to form. This area has a large number of rogue zombie hunters and we finally decided to meet, compare notes, drink beer and try to set up an official Houston Zombie Squad chapter.

Zombie Squad: We make dead things deader!

I'd say the meeting was a success and everyone at BJ's Brew Pub felt much safer when we left. Sadly I had to leave this meeting early to return to my lovely wife and fine children. Note to husbands: you can actually score a few points by returning to your wife earlier than you told her you'd be. Spending at least eight minutes a day kissing her is also a good thing. Be sure to brush your teeth or at least chew some gum first and also shave. Eight minutes of stinky, scratchy-face isn't going to create the mood you were hoping for. Hygiene, fellas! It can make/break a marriage.

But I digress...

Anyway, the Wetherfamily reunited among crawfish and spice, consuming mass quantities of both. Which made working out later that night awfully hard. The girls ran themselves ragged with the other kids and each only burst into tears once. What a great party!

Of course, the downside of every great party is the next morning. At least this time the mess was at someone else's house (Love ya, J-Ro!). After a brief discussion it was decided that spending the morning fishing with Mini and Mambo while Misseswether continued to sleep was actually a very loving and Christian thing to do. There's an amenity lake in our neighborhood filled with all sorts of fish...

...among other more interesting critters. See GG, there are alligators here! Note to self: no more Aerosmith videos for Miniwether.

I gave Baba Brad a call and met him and his Bradlet down at the lake. The girls alternated between fishing and running around playing with assorted flotsam deposited on the shore from last week's heavy rains/minor flooding (as opposed to this week's major flooding!). The high point of their discoveries was a dead, maggot-filled fish. Miniwether rushed back to me with a handful of squirming maggots, excited to show me her new pets! We spent the next few minutes discussing the life-cycle of flies, how maggots can be used to clean out wounds and could be used as bait. The last one did not sit well with Miniwether as she didn't want her "pets" eaten. Correction, she didn't want them eaten by fish, but she was intrigued by the idea of cooking them up for ourselves.

You know, sometimes after writing things like that I have to stop and wonder what sort of horrible problems revealing this will cause later on in life...

Anyway, we didn't cook them. A while ago Misseswether made the rule that no critters are allowed in the house without her approval. She's very strict about it.

Anyway, the morning was spent feeding worms to fish, though Brad did catch a really nice one.

Fish, the first white meat.


Eventually it was time to wander back home. Lunch was made, followed by an afternoon of gardening, trimming more trees, mending the fence, digging up an elderberry tree, turning the compost, reading to the girls, making supper, playing hide-and-go-seek with the girls, and working on my wild edible plant blog. You know, just a normal weekend...

Adventure! Excitement! No TV!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Edible Plant Class with Me!

UPDATE: Both classes on May 16th are full.
UPDATE: Due to the huge response there will be two classes on May 16th. The 9:30am class will mainly be members of the Spring/Woodlands Vegan/Raw Foods Group and the 2pm session will be Zombie Squad and ETS members along with long-time readers of my blog. If you haven't received an e-mail from me asking you to attend the 2pm class then it is safe to assume you are signed up for the 9:30am class.

Cost: Free

When: 9:30am on Saturday, May 16th, 2009. Class will take approximately three hours. If more than 20 people sign up I'll run a second class starting at 2pm.

What to bring: Water, bug repellent, snacks/lunch, camera, notepad, shoes appropriate for walking on uneven dirt trails.

Where: Peckinpaugh/Old Riley Fuzzel Nature Preserve located at 1209 Old Riley Fuzzel Road, Spring, Texas 77386

View Larger Map

This is a primitive nature preserve. There are mosquitoes, snakes, alligators, poison ivy, and dirt paths. There are NO bathrooms, running water or shaded pavilions! The nearest bathroom/cold drinks/food is a new gas station just north of the nature preserve on Riley Fuzzel Road.

Since this is a nature preserve we are not allowed to actually harvest any plants so again, bring a snack.

The class is open to children ten years old or older. Children younger than ten may get eaten.

Please reserve your spot in the class by emailing me at "merriwetheradventurer -AT- yahoo -DOT- com". I find classes work best when they are under 20 people. If more than 20 people sign up I'll run two classes that day with the second class starting at 2pm. Please include in your RSVP if you are willing to attend a class at 2pm. I will email you if that turns out to be the case.

Attention Zombie Squad members, it would work great if y'all attended the second class if a second class is needed.

For those of you looking for my latest tale of adventure you'll have to wait another day. Sorry. If it's any conciliation it involves ballerinas, zombie hunters, excessive Cajun-ness, maggots, a beautiful fish and more!

Adventure! Excitement! Non-Stop Action!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Return to the Garden

Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw.
-Henry David Thoreau

We received 4" of rain between Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon. About half my corn may have been wiped out. The stalks lay flatten to the ground. I'm hoping maybe they'll spring back up for the beans have just sprouted and the squash should pop up any day now. It's my first attempt at Three Sisters Planting. Supposedly such a setup requires minimum 10'x10', mine is only 6'x3' but I figured it was worth a shot. Losing half the corn may be fatal to this experiment.

My garden. The Three Sisters reside in the center square of stones.

Looking at the above picture one might think I have just a small section of the yard devoted to food crops and the rest is just woods. Well, the rest is "just" woods but being an adherent of permaculture, those woods are still sources of food. The basic goal of permaculture is to create a small-scale, self-sustaining ecosystem capable of supplying a household with a generous amount of food. By "self-sustaining" I mean that it does not require the application of fertilizer, herbicides/weeding, or pesticides and even it's watering needs are lower than normal. This is accomplished by setting up a multi-story ecosystem ranging from soil microbes to towering trees, thereby mimicking a natural forest. In this case though the plants are specifically chosen for their edibility. Traditional crops are just as welcome in a permaculture system (I need my tomatoes, beans, peas, kohlrabi, etc...), but they aren't grown in the wasteful straight lines of a traditional garden. Instead they are nestled in niches properly designed for both productivity and aesthetic beauty.

Moving food production from the country to the city returns to the wild land that had been used for crops. It also reduces the energy requirements of fertilizer production and transporting food to the city. Utilizing nitrogen-fixing plants, deep-rooted plants, leaf-drop mulches, and thick ground covers removes the need for man-made fertilizers, tilling of soil, and weeding. Creating habitats that draw in birds, bugs, and other wildlife may seem like a recipe for losing all your crops to thousands of hungry little mouths, but nature has a way of keeping things in balance. If one sort of "pest" population explodes it's predator will soon follow and correct the problem. Releasing an occasional bag of ladybugs or praying mantids is a heck of a lot more pleasant than spraying your food with bugkiller.

Sadly, ten years ago when I started creating my backyard borderlands I was unaware of the concept of permaculture. All I knew was I wanted a woods, dark and deep, in my 30'x70' slice of suburbia. There would be a lot more mature fruit and nut trees back there now if I had, not to mention a lot less Asian Jasmine. As it is my food-producing trees are limited to loquat, fig, maple, and oak. Second layer shrubs/small trees include waxleaf myrtle, yaupon holly, greenbriar, and elderberry. I need to add some more edible three-story bushes such as American Beautyberry. Ground cover is currently dewberries and betony.

Spot the five foods.

A really great introductory book on the subject of permaculture is Gaia's Garden. It gives an excellent overview of the what, why, and how of permaculture without being preachy or human-hating. It is written for non-technical, novice gardeners yet it's has the best explanation of dirt chemistry I've ever encountered. I feel like I truly understand my soil now!

Cool shade from hot sun.

It's late now and time for bed. Tomorrow morning I'll pick some loquats for lunch and perhaps a small cluster of yaupon holly leaves for my morning tea. The third harvest of spinach is ready for cutting and will end up in a salad at supper. The radishes have all been harvested, freeing up the soil for the carrots. Okra was planted this weekend along with a second crop of kohlrabi. Purslane, lambsquarters, and amaranth are in various stages of growth. Cabbages are swelling while the tomato plants are drooping with fruit. It is a thing of beauty.

Adventure! Excitement! Life Amongst Green!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

How to learn edible wild plants.

Cross-posted to my Edible Wild Plant blog

Learning edible wild plants takes time and effort, there are very few shortcuts. Hopefully I can give you some guidance that will cut out a lot of wasted effort. If you are serious about learning your local edible flora here what you want to do:

The Terrible Secret of Books
I get several e-mails a week asking "what one book is the best guide to edible wild plants?". The quick response is Peterson's Guide to Edible Wild Plants. It is probably the most comprehensive guide to edible plants in North America even though it mainly focuses on the northeast. It has color pictures, line drawings, and habitat info on hundreds of plants.

But I have yet to meet anyone who successfully taught themselves more than 6-9 plants using this book.

There's now such thing as a great edible plant guide. Unless you are already a plant expert it's impossible to teach yourself all your local edible plant from a single book. It's too hard to have clear pictures of every plant in every stage of it's life. For that reason you really need to have multiple reference books. I have over thirty plant books that I use as guides. These aren't all just about wild edibles. They also include wildflower guides, weed guides, tree guides, botany textbooks, gardening books, forestry books, etc... Each book has different pictures and descriptions of the same plants. Once you get some books start flipping through them every chance you get. You want to train you eyes to see specific plants among the Big Green Sea that surrounds you. You don't need to know the name or anything else about the plant at this point, just that you might have seen it in one of your books.

Cross Referencing
Once you've found a plant that might be edible it's time to ID it. Take a bunch of pictures of the plant's flowers, leaves (top and underside), stem, and overall appearance. Compare it to many pictures in your books, match the leaves, it's size and shape, and where it is usually found to similar plants in your books. At this point it's very helpful to understand plant descriptors (sepals, palmate, lobed, etc...) as it makes it easier to search through the books. Don't limit yourself to just using books to ID a plant. The internet is obviously another great resource for figuring out what the plant might be.

Take a Class
The best thing a plant newbie can do is take a class and I'm not just saying that because I teach the subject. A few hours with a good teacher will get you through the first, steepest part of the learning curves. By the end of the class you won't be adrift in the Big Green. You'll be able to pick out many plant all around you that are safe to eat (as well as know which tasty-looking plants are highly toxic!). Once you've been taught a bunch of edible plants, learning more becomes much easier as your "plant eye" will be much stronger. Then when you are on your own looking at a landscape you'll already see plants that you can/can not eat. You'll be left with just a few plants that you don't know, which is no longer overwhelming.

The other nice thing about taking a class is you'll get to see plants in different stages of their life. A particular plant may not be ready for harvest yet, but by seeing a young one you'll be able to go back and follow it's growth. Or if it's past time you may be able to collect seeds to grow your own.

Growing Your Own
One of the best things you can do to learn edible wild plants is to grow your own. Seeds can be either collected in the wild (follow all appropriate laws!) or purchased via the internet. Observing the plant from seedling to maturity is a great way to train your eyes to see it out in the wild.

The Well-Trained Eye
The repeated scanning of your plant books, internet sites, and home-grown plants will have filled your subconscious with key plant-shapes to look for and you'll be surprised at how they suddenly jump out at you! Each time you go out pick a few new plants to research and after a year or three you'll have mastered the all local edibles. You know you are doing it right when you start dreaming about edible wild plants!

Adventure! Excitement! Nature As A Classroom!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Salad Days

So Saturday had me down at the Houston Arboretum teaching my edible wild plant class. Sixteen people attended which is my biggest group to date. Being caught up in teaching I once again forgot to get a picture of the class. It was a good time to be out foraging here in Houston, the greenbriar is perfect right now.

Greenbriar. It tastes just like asparagus but without the funky waste metabolites.

After the class was over I went back and took a bunch of photos of plants for my other website, www.houstonwildedibles.blogspot.com. I'm making a bunch of improvements to that site which means y'all are going to get a bit shortchanged this week on this blog. Sorry about that, but that blog helps pay for this one.

Sidenote: I'm trying to schedule an edible plant class over at Peckinpaugh Nature Preserve some weekend in May. If you are interested send an email at merriwetheradventurer at yahoo dot com (replace at with "@" and dot with ".") and make the subject "PNP Plant Class". I like to limit the class size to 10-15 people but if there's enough interest I'll run more than one session. The class will be free but donations (cash/gold/ammo/backrubs) are always welcome.

Adventure! Excitement! Expenses!