Happy Berm Day

A year ago the city installed a sidewalk on our street (March 28, 2016, to be exact), and we asked them to not spread the dirt and lay sod after the work was done. We wanted to keep the “berm” created by the displaced soil. At first it was a lot of work to remove big rocks and create a somewhat uniform mound, so we wondered if we made the right decision. And it continues to take effort to (attempt to) fend off the bermuda and crab grasses. Would we do it again? Unequivocally, yes. If entertainment value alone were the only metric: yes, yes, yes. The berm has given us so much:

  • Food for humans and other animals: culinary and medicinal herbs, eggplant, okra, winter peas, sunflower seeds, nectar, and more to come.
  • Community: We are playing or working out there often, so we get to wave to drivers or chat with walkers. The berm is a conversation piece. Some people clearly are baffled and others are inspired. Either way, we eagerly share our experiences, challenges, and future plans. Also, we were flush with cowpeas and now winter peas, so we share with our neighbors.
  • Activity: The berm hums with life. The berm provides opportunities for wonderment and movement with purpose — both are a joy to share with our daughter.
  • Beauty: Flowers! See photos and plant varieties below. I sought out advice for seeds that might have a fighting chance against the invasive grasses. The best performer was cowpeas: They thrived all summer and fall and they’re pretty, edible nitrogen fixers.
  • Buffer: Our house is situated on a curve and the berm gives me a sense of security when we’re playing in the front yard and a car takes the bend too fast. I feel less exposed in general, but even more so when the mammoth sunflowers are up and we have a “living fence.”
What we planted in the spring:
“bee feed” mix*
Oriental scarlet poppy
assorted sunflowers
brown cottonseeds
Heliopsis helianthoides
anise hyssop
calendula mix*
red marietta marigold*
Michels cowpea*
butterfly weed
purple prairie clover
What we planted in the fall:
Austrian winterpeas*
golden sweetpeas
Windsor fava beans
crimson clover

*Most successful

To save money, we planted a lot of seeds and just a few transplants (eggplant, sage, rosemary, hibiscus). We’re hoping that many plants will readily re-seed this spring and we’ll plant seeds I saved at the end of the season.

Show and Tell

I’m repeating myself when I say foraging might be the perfect pastime, but that realization is one of those persistent happy thoughts. Wilderness, hiking, food — all things I love. Jackie Dill’s foraging walks have become an annual opportunity to meet interesting people and continue learning about Oklahoma’s wild edibles, as well as techniques for cooking and preserving them. And of course, there’s always delicious food at the post-walk potluck.
Here’s a show-and-tell from the June 2 outing that focused on medicinal uses of wild plants:

Jackie explaining uses for wild sage
Jackie shows the group prairie sage, which can be used to make smudge sticks, scent bath water, or to replace culinary sage. It’s a ubiquitous prairie plant that’s easy to identify, and it smells wonderful, as you might expect.
Jackie is a busy woman. I met her in 2008 when she hosted one foraging walk per year. This year there have been at least four at-capacity walks, and she is organizing next month’s wildcrafting festival.
Beautiful Logan County
pleurisy root/butterfly bush
Pleurisy root/butterfly weed is the host plant for monarch larva and a nectar source for the butterfly. After the blossoms have wilted, you can pulverize the dry root, and use it as an expectorant tea.
buffalo gourd
Look closely: There’s a buffalo gourd in the center of the photo.
Vicki and Don foraging buffalo currant
Vicki and Don dug some buffalo currant to plant at Rose Ranch.
buffalo currant
Buffalo currants in June
Buffalo Currant
Buffalo currant blossoms in April
foraging caravan
The foraging caravan
Sarah picking sand plums
Sarah Warmker picks sand plums.
lead plant
Like a lot of things we identified on the foraging walk, lead plant can be used in tea form, but I don’t remember which part or for which ailment. Oh, well! I sure like the look of it.
bergamot/bee balm
Bee balm/wild bergamot. The dried petals and leaves are used as a tea, or blended with tea leaves. Jackie warned against using bergamot essential oil, or for that matter, any essential oils. I’m looking forward to learning more about this at the festival.

prickly lettuce
Young prickly lettuce leaves can be eaten in salads.

Foraging basics:
Before ingesting a positively identified plant, rub the plant on your cheek or inner forearm to check for sensitivity.
Leave no trace.
Leave enough for others and to ensure another growing season.

Blog entries from previous walks: 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Foraging Walks

I went on Jackie Dill’s spring and fall foraging walks this year. These walks appeal to many of my interests: the aspiring amateur naturalist and photographer, cook, hiker. I love learning to identify the plants. I like hiking around real slow, crouching, ducking tree branches, looking for mushrooms or interesting critters. I enjoy hearing Jackie explain the medicinal uses of some of the plants and how she uses them. Recently she’s developed a process for using thistle to make a rennet-like substance for cheese.

Jackie Dill
Isn’t this a gorgeous photo? This is at the spring walk. Photo by Chelsey Simpson.
Jackie Dill separates some wild onion.
Jackie divvies up wild onion.
Curly dock in April (2008).
Curly Dock Seed
Curly dock in September. Jackie said the seeds could be ground and used to make crackers. I brought some seed stalks home; I hope to get some curly dock growing in our yard.
Kentucky Coffee Tree
Kentucky coffee tree. The seeds (in those big, black pods) can be used for—you guessed it!—a coffee substitute.

More photos here.

Check out my blog posts from the 2008 and 2009 wild-food walks.

Compost Corrals

The compost bin Matt built back in May made it too easy for the dogs to root around in the rotting food, so we revisited the pallet version that we had when we lived in Yukon. Instead of securing the pallets with rope, I was inspired by this site to make something sturdier.
For years I’ve thought how great it would be to have multiple compost piles, so I could let one pile “do its thang,” and still continue composting our waste. Well, folks, I’ve finally made it!
pallet compost bins
pallet compost bins

Compost Happens

This is our new compost container Matt made from salvaged fence panels Chelsey scouted in her neighborhood. I’m a low-maintenance/low-results composter; though I’m considering adding red wiggler worms for some assistance and entertainment. Mostly, I just don’t like throwing kitchen or garden scraps in the trash, so I bury them in shredded paper, shredded leaves, or this wheat straw that Chelsey and I picked up from a farmer in NE OKC.
I like to take a peek now and then and see what funky things are happening under the covers. I’ll be sure to share if anything interesting turns up.
compost pile

Uncharacteristically Mean Thoughts

Little spastic white butterflies (cabbage whites) laid their little eggs on my kale.
Then their little babies proceeded to devour the kale.
I tried to spray them off with the garden hose. But that didn’t work.
So I got revenge by eating them. Well, not on purpose—but they camouflage so well! We did get to eat a satisfactory amount of kale, and along with it, probably our fair share of cabbage white caterpillars.
Last week I decided to pull up the kale plants, hoping to prevent the caterpillars from traveling to my other vegetables (wishful thinking).
Then I removed the bird netting in case the birds might want to help out by eating the caterpillars, rather than the seeds they were munching in early spring.
However, something has clearly been munching on radish greens and on one of the tomato plants, sending me into a head-shaking, swear-word-muttering fit.

Damn moth larvae
Cabbage moth caterpillar

Mother Nature is Snickering

By the way, this is one of the last photos featuring these ugly countertops. We’re moving soon! More light, better countertops, no more streaky stainless steel, and lots of other good things to come. Can’t wait!