Tag Archives: wild garden

Gardens – New Home, New Gardens

Our new home has brought us a new opportunity to grow some new wild gardens, and we are going to try and take them in a little bit of a different direction this time around.

We’ll still be wildcrafting some of our favorite wild and native species from our surrounding area to fill our beds, but we are also going to be working with local businesses and entrepreneurs to determine the market potential for the different species we grow as well!

Since moving to the Texas hill country this past Summer, I have been fortunate to meet and work with several other individuals dedicated to sharing and educating others about these wonderful, wild resources. From reknown restaurants to urban farms and markets, there is growing interest in these products as healthy, holistic and delicious cuisine. In working with landowners and small farmers, it’s also important to be able to share as much data on the potential of these resources as possible. That includes productivity, economy, but also market value.

Throughout this next yearly cycle of foraging then, we’ll be actively marketing the products of our wild gardens to local restaurants and businesses that are interested in showcasing local and willd fare, to determine which species are the most profitable, what is the value of all other species grown as well, in addition to the usual data we collect on productivity and environmental impact (i.e: wildlife).

We’re also stepping up our overall construction in terms of design and bed size this year. The Texas hill country is *blessed* with an abundance of beautiful limestone, and we’ve been able to re-purpose several hundred pounds of flagstone and loose fill. The number of species we are growing has also increased. We are adding several aquatic species, so we’ll also be building tanks to house them, along with a few native fish species to act as mosquito control-cum-aquacultures. That will be especially exciting!

New Garden Layout

In all we’ll be propagating between 15 and 20 different wild and native species of edible plants. Including: Turk’s cap mallow (Malvaviscus arboreus), American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.), canna lily (Canna spp.), winecup (Callirhoe involucrata), passionfruit (Passiflora incarnata), wild onion (Allium spp.), cattail (Typha spp.), American lotus (Nelumbo lutea), wild grapes (Vitis rotundifolia) and an assortment of native herbs and flowers.

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Our hope and purpose for this new project is to set down a blueprint which can be followed or applied to any small to moderate sized property or urban farm and garden. We’ve touted the potential benefits of working with these resources for many years, and have seen success in the past in propagating them both for ourselves and others. But now we are unequivocally stepping forward to create a new potential dynamic in the arena of land and habitat management. Proverbally putting our money exactly where our mouths are.

Within the next two years we will have definitive data on the potential and value of managing landscapes for wild and native edible plants, both in terms of their impact on human standards of living and economy, as well as the positive impacts they can have on urban and rural environments.

We will have the basis for forming  a new pact with our Land; the seeds by which we can reap a greater freedom and securty for all.

 

 

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Seasonal Update: Book Announcement!

It’s almost here!

 

~The Cycle of Foraging – A Book of Days~

The book I’ve been writing since the end of the Wild Foods Garden project is basically done, there’s just some last minute touches that need to happen and then some final editing, but then it’s off to the printers.

Here is a quick sneak peek inside at what it will look like:

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There are about 50 different species covered, all arranged according to when they appear throughout the year. They are organized by month and seasons; details for each include seasonality, identification, habitat preference, propagation methods as well as uses. I’m publishing it through CreateSpace, on Amazon, so it will be available online for any kindle readers, as well as in print form.

In addition to hundreds of full color photographs, the book is also filled with dozens of original paintings and beautiful illustrations. These have been added to highlight important details of different species and to give a better picture of how the world changes from one season to another.

Foraging, for my family, truly is a cycle. We mark our calendars for when the dewberries will come into season. We celebrate the ripening of the wild grapes at every Midsummer, and spend all year waiting for the beautyberry harvest to come again. Learning about and coming to enjoy and look forward to all the different wild foods available in our environment naturally connects you to a deeper cycle of Life; a different world. The world we are all born into, but for which many have lost sight of. This book is my attempt to share that world with you. To show how our natural resources can improve our lives, improve our communities and provide a more sustainable and secure future.

Over the next month I will be posting updates on when the book will become available, but it will hopefully be before the end of March. I have several events planned for the next couple of months, and I hope to have hard copies available for anyone wanting to attend. This weekend I will be at Ave Alegre’s Feast in the Forest fundraiser and next month I will be hosting a wild foods potluck, and then gearing up for Earth Day 2018!

In between all of these events, I will doubtlessly be sharing what wild edibles are currently coming into season, and any unique and delicious recipes my family creates with them. Over the next month, we are avidly waiting for the cattail shoots to emerge. We had a fluke burst of them at the end of last year and the opportunity gave us some inspiration for when we meet them again. HINT HINT: noodles…..

To stay up to date with progress on the book or what events I have coming up, follow me on Facebook and Instagram!

Update: After the Rains…

 

This week will see our third class at The Wild Foods Garden here in Bryan, Texas! The rains we’ve been having this Spring have really helped it flourish and grow. The Garden has NO artificial irrigation, so the plants are totally dependent on ambient rainfall for life. Wild plants are extremely drought tolerant, in addition to being extremely nutritious, so there is little to worry about though.

However, now that the rains are passing, and the new moon is coming, everything is starting to dry out and ripen for Summer. All of the early Spring greens are transforming the returning sunshine into energy to ripen their swelling seeds – you can watch the warm, Northern winds blow them away on the sunny days. The wildflowers too, blooming in the humid heat after the storm, have begun going to seed.

The whirring song of the cicadas has announced that the dog days of Summer are coming. The last of the Spring harvest, immature cattail flower heads, has given us something new to look forward to every Spring though: Cattail Fritters! Warm and rich and delicious, they were an impromptu creation due to the abundance of cattail flowerings this year – we simply didn’t know what to do with them all!

Now we’ve moved on to gathering their golden pollen and looking through the forests for wild amaranth, grapes and the juicy, nectar filled blooms of the Turk’s cap mallow. Our young Turk’s cap cuttings we planted at the Garden, during our first class back in March, are just now starting to show their first leaves. You can also see the lemon bee-balm and black nightshade flowering around the Garden, and around town, now too.

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I’ve been dreaming for a while about trying to illustrate all these different changes, either as different moons or seasons, or just different points in a yearly cycle. And all the beautiful colors of the Earth have been the perfect medium to bring them to life!

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From raw hematite to sparkleberry juice – using wild pigments to paint and color with has had the dual benefit of showcasing the beauty of the natural world, while also being a pleasant art form in and of itself.

I was actually able to showcase some of my traditional works as well recently at Revolutions cafe and bar, here in downtown Bryan. In addition to several of my paintings, I brought an array of different wild dishes and had a great time talking to people about Nature and the environment and what we’re doing at The Wild Foods Garden. It was actually the perfect backdrop for my paintings, because that’s the message, the inspiration that they’re really meant to convey: to inspire people to reconnect with their environment, in a meaningful and beneficial way.

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And so it’s to that end, that I’ve decided to make a commitment with my artwork: I’ve decided to start donating a flat percentage of every piece or reproduction I sell to the Brazos Valley chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists and the work that we’re doing together at The Wild Foods Garden to try and bring people and Nature closer together. Because the true message in my artwork is the opportunity for community, and at its core, community is what The Wild Foods Garden is all about; showing people how they can have a positive impact in their environment, and how it can have a positive impact in their lives as well.

Recipe: Curly Dock Soup

In honor of the passing of the early Spring season, I’ve decided to post this recipe for curly dock soup. A delicious and simple recipe, it makes use of the most prolific, perhaps, of all the Spring greens and the result is a soup which is both light and filling.

The ingredients you will need for this are:

2 tbsp. butter

1 cup wild onions (bulbs or buds)

1/2 cup young wild lettuce stalk (or celery)

4 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 cup heavy cream

2 1/2 cups chopped curly dock leaves

thyme, black pepper, salt to taste

 

Mix the butter, onions, lettuce (or celery), salt and pepper in a large pot or dutch oven on a stove at medium heat until the vegetables start to sweat. Once they are glistening, add the stock and bring to a boil. Next, reduce the heat and let simmer for 15 – 20 minutes. Finally, add the cream, chopped dock leaves, and thyme. Allow the soup to continue to heat until the dock leaves are wilted, then remove from heat, allow to cool, and serve.

Aside from its simplicity and tastefulness, this recipe is a wonderful way to make use of curly dock leaves even after they have grown large and over-matured. As such, this soup is able to embody the full flavor of Spring long after most of the tender greens have given way to the early seeds and fruit of Summer.

A good pairing for this dish are cattail fritters, or more poignantly, flatbread made from the ripe curly dock seed, and sweetened pine needle tea early in the Spring or lemon beebalm infused tea later towards Summer.

I personally love dishes like this, because they can embody the fleeting nature of a given time or season; and after they’re gone, the memory of which gives us something to look forward to and allows and feeling of continuity and certainty….

Because Spring will always come again

Happy harvesting!

The Wild Foods Garden

This past weekend, I finally began one of the most important projects that I’ve been working on over the past several years. As a joint effort between the City of Bryan department  of Parks and Recreation and the Brazos Valley chapter of Texas Master Naturalists, we have started the first ever Wild Foods Garden.

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The Wild Foods Garden is a living classroom where members of the community can come to learn about wild species of edible plants. In addition to teaching people how to identify and locate these abundant resources, we also focus on showing people just how easy it is to plant and spread these species as well! The importance of which is: because wild foods are so efficient, because they’re so nutritious, because they’re free and most importantly because they’re important actors in the local ecosystem, the more we plant and restore these species, the more we can provide people with a free and nutritious food source while at the same time supporting valuable natural habitat.

We were all so pleased with the amount of people who signed up for the first class and turned out to begin this amazing project. It was so beautiful to see people of all ages working together to build a connection with each other and their environment. I’ve said it all along, what we’re doing is trying to re-establish a thriving community of life, an ecosystem, with humans as an integral part of it. Seeing so many different people come together and taking an interest in their world, that was the essence of that community.

Classes are free and we’ll be holding them the last Saturday of every month, at 10am, in Camelot park in Bryan, TX. If you’re interested in attending the classes, you can register for them here.

So much has started to come together here, from finishing my current portfolio (finally!) to at long last getting this project off the ground, it can be really difficult keeping everything in focus. Times like that it’s important to keep yourself grounded on the things that matter most; on the people and ideals which will help you persevere and stay on the track when everything else starts to become a blur.

For me, that’s a sense of Home. And the notion I have of myself as an extension of that home. I am a human being, but I am also an artist and a teacher. Living that role isn’t so much an obligation, as it’s a fulfillment of who I am as an individual. Keeping in touch with that feeling keeps me connected to what I love, and who I love. I suppose that’s what Home means to me: Love.

It’s the message I try to convey to people with my art, and showing people the reality is my hope and my goal for this amazing opportunity we have just begun at The Wild Foods Garden.

Recipe: Blackberry Cake!

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Blackberry Hunting – by Lacie Wall

About two blocks from our house is an elementary school, with a playground, large field, hidden oak tree, and a church with a food pantry sign. Just beyond that sign we have an endless field of blackberries.  It’s a little ironic.  When Sean first realized what was growing there we were thrilled, our last bramble of blackberries grew near the highway and was mowed down, so we immediately began watching and planning.

blackberry-flower

This past year has afforded us many adventures and opportunities to build a community for ourselves, with new friends and the wildlife that hunted the berries with us.  Berry picking was a great opportunity for us to get free treats, but it also gave us a chance to learn so much about our environment: hemlock loves to grow with blackberries,  birds are not patient and will eat them ALL before they are ripe, Luna loves blackberries and can be trusted to pick the right thing every time, our dog is only trusted within a 12 foot radius, scratches from thorns are worth it, and sunset berry picking is absolute magic.

blackberry-juice

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We ate our berries in cobbler.  We ate them frozen.  We ate them as jam.  We ate them warm and tart in the middle of the meadow.  We glazed barbecue with blackberry syrup.  We ate them in a house,  we ate them with a cat, in the dark, here or there…. we ate them just about everywhere.  Then, we saved them.  As our ration dwindled, we became more and more stingy, until finally we decided (after our success with beautyberry flour) that we would try the impossible and make blackberry flour.

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Blended and dehydrated, then ground as fine as possible, we used a blender, but would have used our coffee grinder if it wasn’t gummed up and we weren’t so impatient.

blackberry-flour

 

I tried two different versions of this cake, and I was more pleased with the second.  Alternately I think you could probably add blackberry flour to anything and it would be delicious!  Dehydrated and ground berries – think waffles or muffins; just throw some in a yellow cake mix or add to pancake batter – the options are pretty much endless.  What we ended with is a gluten free product, with minimal sugar. I used inspiration from http://christinascucina.com/2012/12/yule-log-made-easily-delicious-and.html to get me started, and altered as needed.

The final product is a very light sponge cake, filled with whipped cream that won’t leave you dragging.  For version 1, I soaked lavender buds in cream and then strained and whipped;  I wasn’t a fan, but Sean was. Maybe with less lavender and real sugar I would’ve like it. Next summer, I’m going to make a blackberry jam to swirl with whipped cream for the filling.

Start with this very basic, and short list of ingredients:

1 C. blackberry flour

6 large eggs  – separated, at room temp.

¾ c. sugar, stevia, or preferred sweetener (honey or molasses would be delicious and you could get away with less)

¼ tsp. cream of tartar

2 tbsp. cream cheese, softened   (take the remaining 6 oz block and make a delicious curly dock cream cheese spread!)

1 C. heavy whipping cream

Vanilla

Pinch of salt

Parchment paper – a must.  Your cake with tear/fall apart without it, it’s an egg-based cake folks.

 

And follow these steps –

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Line a jelly roll sheet with parchment paper – mine is large, —- I think a smaller pan would be better.

 

In large bowl whisk your egg whites at high speed with ¼ tsp. cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Begin adding in ¼ c (4 tbsp ) sugar while whisking until stiff peaks form.  They shouldn’t move if you take the bowl and turn it sideways.

Transfer to separate bowl if you need the same one for your mixer, but don’t worry about cleaning the bowl or your whisk attachment.

Now, take your egg yolks and whisk at medium speed until combined and smooth.  Add in 1 -2 tsp vanilla, depending on preference, the remaining ½ c sugar and a pinch of salt. Turn up speed to high and let whisk for 3-4 minutes until you products resembles a rich, thick cake batter.

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Turn your mixer down to low speed and add the magic berry flour! The finer the flour the better. Mix until combined well. Keep this step on low speed.

Fold blackberry mixture into egg whites.  Be careful not to breakdown the egg whites, and just gently fold until combined into a light yellow/spotted purple mixture.

Spread evenly onto parchment lined pan and place into the over for 20 – 25 minutes until light golden brown.

 

Meanwhile:

Whisk 1 C. heavy whipping cream with 2 tsp vanilla – add sugar to taste if desired.  Whisk at high speed in mixer until you have a thick whipped cream topping.  This is also good on its own, mixed with passion fruit juice and a little sugar.

Take the pan out of the oven and flip onto a long tea towel topped with parchment paper.  Very carefully peel off your layer of parchment that you baked on.  VERY carefully….

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At this point you have two options –

  • You can roll up your cake, and let cool and then fill like a Swiss roll. We did this, and it was good. While the taste was wonderful, I’ll be doing the following option next time.
  • Cut equal sized rectangles and then start stacking: cake, cream, cake, cream, cake – for however many layers.

We loved this cake.  It was delicious, made a pretty good breakfast too, and I’m now dreaming of Summer for more blackberry magic.

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Let us know how yours turns out or if you have any tips to improve the recipe!

Garden Update: Rewilding

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So it’s been a while since I updated about our wild garden. When I’d last mentioned it, we’d run into a set-back, but this past Summer has seen it really take off.

For wild plants and seeds, the process of over-wintering is a crucial step in preparing them for germination in the Spring. Additionally, we found that, by far the easiest step to take, was to work with wild volunteers that were already appearing in our garden! Curled dock (Rumex crispus), wild amaranth (Amaranthus spp.), mustang grape (Vitis mustangensis), and blackberry (Rubus spp.) have all shown up and we’ve nurtured and encouraged them as best we can.

We have had a lot of success this past year seeing a lot of things started from seed or transplantings as well! We found some purslane (Portulaca oleracea) growing, and since it’s such a wonderful, delicious vegetable, we took a couple cuttings and stuck them in, of all places, an old wicker papasan chair we had found, and it went bananas!

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Purslane is a succulent, and can be readily propagated by taking cuttings during its growing season, similar to cacti. It loves to thrive in heat and humidity, when all other plants, wild or domestic, are wilting into Fall.

We were also able to extend the amount of time we had with the amaranth this Summer, simply because we kept introducing its seed into new places! Turns out amaranth seed, like many wild seeds, don’t need much encouragement, if anything. We also grew a rather prolonged crop of tomatoes, wild basil, and even managed to have some chocolate mint for a time.

The effect restoring all these native species has had on the rest of the ecosystem around us has been inspiring to see as well! From tree frogs, fireflies, garden spiders and butterflies to skinks, opossums, bats and mourning doves; we’ve really enjoyed seeing the positive impact we’re having on the world around us!

 

Even though native plants don’t need much TLC, it’s been hard working restoring and reintroducing all these different species to our yard. For that, we’ve been really grateful to have the help of the hardest working grub in the garden.

I feel really happy about the experiences our Luna is getting to have here, because it’s those kind of experiences which can really make a difference in a kid’s life. Seeing where their food really comes from, seeing and touching the earth and the land around them, learning how things change and grow; seeing Life. All too often kids don’t get those kind of lessons today, but that’s something we can change. Wild plants are available all around us, even in a large city like Houston or Dallas. Even if we live in apartments or duplexes, people are learning how they can bring some plants, some greenery, some Nature back into their lives.

No, we can’t change the world overnight, but we can make a difference each day, with each seed, each plant, each child. And, we’re finding, that’s all it takes.

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