Magical Nodding ladies tresses

Nodding ladies tressesThree years ago I found this beautifully blooming plant at the edge of the woods near the asparagus bed.  After some research I identified it as a Nodding ladies tresses (Spiranthes cernua).  Wow!  I’d never seen a plant like this before.  To help me avoid stepping on the Nodding ladies tresses, I placed a tomato stake near it so I could find it again.

I was thrilled to see the same plant bloom again the next year.  As I was walking through overgrown grass which I had neglected to mow, I saw some white peeking through the grass.  How wonderful — there were several more plants which had come up and bloomed in this grass — more than seventy feet from the original plant!  Carefully, I transplanted these new-found Nodding ladies tresses to reside near the first plant.

Nodding ladies tressesLast year, all the plants survived and bloomed.  Earlier this year I realized I did not have the plants clearly marked and they were at risk of being walked upon.  Their leaves are so small and not easily seen within any other green growth.  In fact, I had trouble finding them myself — until they put up flowering spikes a month ago.  I weeded around the plants, mulched them and marked them with red flags.

Nodding ladies tressesI counted over a dozen plants getting ready to bloom.  And bloom, they have!

Nodding ladies tressesTo cap off the magical aspect of my discovery of this plant, I found three more plants recently — again, some distance away from the “mother” plant.  They are now part of the growing “Nodding ladies tresses garden.”  I envision the space filled with these beauties in a few years.

Nodding ladies tresses


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Watermelon smoothie

WatermelonThis year’s garden produced one large 23 pound watermelon and many smaller watermelons.  After getting them to the “ripe and ready to eat” stage, I wondered how to eat so much watermelon.  I experimented with making a watermelon smoothie . . .  and it worked!

Watermelon smoothieI cut up and removed seeds from chunks of watermelon to place in the blender.  Then added one banana.  For the watermelons which were not quite as ripe as I’d like (and therefore not so sweet), I added a dried date to the smoothie mix.

Posted in Fruits, Harvest, Vegetable garden | 1 Comment

Boneset appreciation

BonesetYears ago, I planted some boneset seed in a new herb garden bed.  It sprouted and grew.  Since then, the plant has expanded and grown stronger.  For the past several years I’ve been harvesting the boneset leaves for both a tincture and (mostly) for tea.  When I feel a bit “icky” during cold season, drinking boneset tea really helps relieve any symptoms of an oncoming cold.

Although the plant has expanded in breadth and seems more lush with growth each year, I have wished for it to grow in new places.  Despite all the flowers and subsequent seeds it produces, I’ve never seen the plant spread elsewhere.  Until a few days ago when I began pulling tall grass from an area I wanted to clear.  I thought I spied a small plant with a familiar leaf.  It was only about six inches high.

BonesetI carefully cleared around the plant and checked it over.  Yes, it has the boneset leaf shape.  Yes, the leaves are perfoliate.

BonesetYes, the plant is hairy all over its stem.  Yes, the new growth at the top looks like the larger and more mature boneset.

BonesetHurrah!  I finally have a new boneset plant started.  Thanks, nature!

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Making maple syrup

Red mapleI love maple syrup.  Living in the mountains of western North Carolina, I see lots of red maple trees but have yet to find a group of sugar maple trees.  I always  “knew” that sugar maple sap is the ingredient for maple syrup.  Until recently — when I learned that any maple tree (Acer spp.) could be used.  Since I have so many red maples (Acer rubrum), I decided to attempt maple syrup from the trees I have here.  I researched the method, decided on the tools I would need and purchased them, and began to gather the sap.

First, I placed taps in three trees (after asking guidance and permission for which trees to tap, of course).

Maple tapThen I hung the “sap saks” from the spiles.  And waited for the sap to start flowing.

Maple tapI knew I was a bit late in the season to be starting this process and I wondered if I would get any sap at all when it did not start flowing within a day . . .  or two . . .   or three or . . . .   Finally, the sap began dripping from the taps.

Maple tapFirst one tree would flow, then another.

Maple tapMaple tap

There was so little sap available at any one time, that I chose to freeze it in a large pot so it would not spoil before I had enough to work with.

Maple sapI watched the weather forecasts hoping to get enough sap to be able to boil down for syrup.  When the weather turned warmer and it didn’t look like there would be much change back to nights of below freezing temperatures, I decided to start the boiling process.  From my research, I had learned the sap to syrup ratio is 40 to 1.  That means the approximately one gallon of sap I gathered would possibly make about 1/4 cup of syrup.  I wanted to try this anyway and discover what red maple syrup would taste like.

I had purchased a commercial grade hot plate so I could boil the sap outside.  Apparently the moisture from boiling was sticky and would coat everything in the kitchen if I boiled the sap there.  I didn’t want to create an outdoor wood fire arrangement and I didn’t want to use oodles of propane, so I chose to purchase the electric hot plate.  This worked out quite well.  These photos show the status of the sap from when I first started boiling (there’s still some frozen sap in the mix) through the hours until there was a little sap left in the pan.

Maple syrup 8.13 am

8:13 am

Maple syrup 8.57 am

8:57 am

Maple syrup 9.29 am

9:29 am

Maple syrup 10.37 am

10:37 am

Maple syrup 12.40 pm

12:40 pm

Maple syrup 1.23 pm

1:23 pm

At this point, I switched to a smaller pan and monitored the level closely.

Maple syrup 1.25 pm

1:25 pm

Maple syrup 1.49 pm

1:49 pm

When it looked like about a quarter cup of syrup remained, I strained it through cheesecloth.

Maple syrup 1.51 pm

1:51 pm

Maple syrupHere’s the finished product.  Red maple syrup definitely tastes different from sugar maple syrup.  I like the flavor and have kept the uncovered cup in the refrigerator.

Maple syrupOver the subsequent weeks, I occasionally scoop up a small spoonful and taste it again.  I’m savoring it this way rather than using it quickly on a couple batches of pancakes.  Lately I’ve noticed the syrup has thickened considerably — probably from losing moisture in the refrigerator — and it even has some sugar crystals at the bottom of the cup.  The hard sugar reminds me of a childhood experience — eating a large piece of candy shaped like a sugar maple leaf which consisted solely of sugar maple syrup boiled further to make maple sugar.

Next year I plan to have more taps and start a bit earlier in the season.  The weather is so tricky that it’s truly a gamble as to whether the sap will flow sufficiently before the trees start to bud (which reportedly makes for an “off” flavor).   I’m hopeful.

Posted in Conscious nature collaboration, Foraged, Trees | 1 Comment

Revised and renewed trellis

Honeysuckle trellisA couple years ago I made a simple Black locust trellis to support two newly planted Coral honeysuckle vines (Lonicera sempervirens).  I have read many times that Black locust is a long-lasting wood that does not decompose quickly and therefore it is used for fence posts.  Well, my experience proved otherwise.  The structure basically rotted and collapsed in about one year.

The next thing I tried was a simple fan-type trellis (plastic) purchased from a local box store.  I even tried two of them — leaning against each other at the top and tied together to make a stronger structure.  That did not work either as the wind repeatedly blew the trellises down (and the vines).

Now I’ve come up with a system I believe will withstand those gusty winds.  I used 1/2″ PVC pipe to make two diagonal hoops.  The PVC is screwed to four T-posts sunk into the ground.  The two hoops are also screwed together at the top.  I let this arrangement stand (with the older double-fan-shaped trellis leaning inside it) for the latest wind storms.  It held up great.

Today, the sun was out and the temperature was high enough for me to paint the white PVC a lovely brown color.  Then I used some Mountain laurel limbs to create interesting supports within the overall trellis shape.  (I’ve noticed that Mountain laurel does not decompose very fast at all.  And these limbs can be easily replaced in the future.)  Lastly, I arranged the two Coral honeysuckle vines on their supports and tied them in place with stretchy tree tie tape.

I’m enjoying how this turned out and am looking forward to the vines filling out and blooming on their new supports.

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White pine blessings

White pineI’ve been reading about Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and how its needles (with Vitamin C) can be used to make pine tea.  Today I also found a recipe for pine oil, pine oxymel and pine salve (reportedly useful with muscle aches).  I decided it was time to make one or more of these healthful creations so I went for a walk in the woods.

I’ve always appreciated the white pine tree.  I love its overall growth habit, the hint of blue in its green needles, how it moves in a breeze, and how calm I feel when I sit beneath it.  After asking permission of a number of different white pines, I gathered some pine needles.  Then I found a few trees with small bits of pine resin on their bark.

White pine resinI was able to gather some of the resin — including the small protruding bit of white visible on the right in this image.  There was less than one teaspoon’s worth which I was able to harvest.  I proceeded to make the smallest batch of pine salve imaginable.  And yet, it was enough to fill this small container.

Pine salveNow I have even more reasons to love the white pine and be thankful for its blessings.

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Asking for help to cut down tree

Black locustA black locust tree — which a few years ago was a small sapling and was now a nearly twenty-foot tall tree — needed to come down.  I had confirmed this decision with the Deva of the Garden.  Since the time when the tree first began to grow, I had planted many new shrubs and trees in the area.  These presented a challenge with finding the best path for the tree to fall when it was cut.

After studying the situation and thinking about it for months, today became “the day to cut down the black locust.”  In mid-summer, I had seen a yellow jacket nest in the ground near the trunk of this tree so I knew I wanted to wait until the cold weather had arrived before attempting to cut the tree.  We’ve had some bitter cold days and today’s weather provided a warm reprieve with the temperature rising into the sixties and a partly cloudy sky.

I set up the ladder (to remove some lower limbs) and the chain saw.  Next, I opened a “four-point coning” (as explained by Machaelle Small Wright).  First, I asked assistance with removing a large limb — wanting it to fall in between some planted shrubs and avoiding a recently planted yellowwood tree.  I made the cut and the limb fell perfectly — removing one tiny twig from the yellowwood.

Next, I asked the coning team to help with making the best notch cut on the tree as well as with the direction the tree was to fall.  As a novice tree cutter, I was unsure of my ability to make an accurate notch cut.  I successfully cut the notch, checked what looked like the direction the tree would drop, and made the final cut.  The entire tree fell in exactly the right direction!  No other planted shrubs or trees were harmed at all.  Thanks, team!

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Jerusalem artichoke

After recent bitter cold and gray cloudy days, today the cloud cover began breaking up.  I took advantage of the warmer temperature and journeyed out to the vegetable garden beds.  I weeded a few and it felt great to have my hands in the dirt — even if it was cold dirt.

Next I visited the bed of Sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes, scientific name of Helianthus tuberosus).  Last year a friend gave me a chunk of Sunchokes with dried stalks sticking up.  I had broken the clump apart and planted the pieces in the ground — not knowing what to expect from this experiment as I’ve never grown them before.

Jerusalem artichokeThis past spring leaves sprouted and then the stalks grew and grew and grew until they were over eight feet tall.  And they bloomed with incredible “sun” flowers.

Jerusalem artichokeSomewhere I read that it was best to let the first year’s growth of Sunchokes be and not harvest them until the second and subsequent years (kind of like asparagus).  Well, here I was today with dried eight-foot (plus) tall stalks leaning every which way from the latest wind storm.  I decided to break them off near the ground and “tidy up” the bed a bit.  To my surprise, when I attempted to break off the first stalk, it came up from the ground instead and brought with it a group of very large and beautiful Sunchokes.

I re-planted one of the Sunchoke tubers and felt ever so grateful for the unexpected harvest of a large handful of Sunchokes.  Since I wasn’t sure of the “best” way to prepare them, I sliced them thinly, ate a few raw (nice crunch and mild taste) and cooked the remainder in a bit of olive oil with some salt thrown in.  The cooked Sunchokes were delicious as this softened them nicely and brought out some of their sugars.  I ate them all before I thought to take a photo of them.  Next time I’ll take some photos first . . .

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Chickweed harvest

Common chickweed

I found some incredible patches of fresh Common chickweed and celebrated by making chickweed pesto.  The pesto is a blend of olive oil, garlic, sunflower seeds and parmesan cheese — with the chickweed.  Mmmmm . . .

Chickweed pesto

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Herb sprinkles

I recently watched a video of Rosemary Gladstar as she made some “Antioxidant Herbal Sprinkles.”  When I looked at the ingredient list, I realized all the herbs were growing in my garden.  Hurrah for parsley . . .


. . . sage . . .


. . . rosemary . . .


. . . and thyme . . .

ThymeI carefully dried each herb, then used a suribachi set (a Japanese mortar and pestle) to grind them into smaller pieces or a powder.  Some of the herbs dried faster than others.  So I was able to easily space out the grinding process over different days.

Next, I pulled out some dulse (seaweed) I had in the pantry.  Then toasted the sesame seeds.  Here’s everything in the bowl — ready to be mixed.

IngredientsLastly, I mixed all the ingredients together for a taste test.  Wow!  This is so delicious.  The dulse adds just the right amount of “saltiness” to the blend.  And the freshly toasted sesame seeds warmed up the herb sprinkles.  What a delightful taste treat.

SprinklesI now sprinkle this on everything I can think of when cooking.  And I even eat it “out of hand” sometimes.

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