Ed’s Corner

At the beginning of each camp day we – campers and counselors –  might share a special or unusual natural happening or event that we experienced the day before. We call these sharings and the actual event or thing, Natural Moments. As we are out and about in our world, which is also the world of nature, there are many opportunities to see, hear, smell or touch something ‘cool’. It’s a moment that might make us just whisper inside ourselves, WOW, which I contend is the acronym for ‘With-Out-Words’. A Natural Moment takes us out of ourselves and makes us feel part of a bigger something.

To increase the chances of Natural Moments, two things have to happen: A) be outdoors and B) pay attention.

A Natural Moment that I recently experienced:

I took my youngest, Nathaniel, to a local mall for a bit of Mother’s Day shopping. When we got out of the car we saw, no, we were in the middle of, waves, close-to-the-ground, of delicate white petals being blown first in one direction and then in another. We just watched for two minutes as the waves of petals scooted across the strip mall parking lot, around cars, some being ‘caught’ in puddles. Nathaniel said it was like snowflakes that never melt. We wondered where the final resting places would be for the petals. Or even it there is such a thing as a ‘final place’.

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There is no ‘right’ place for nature, for Natural Moments, for the chance to say WOW. Every place, even the mall parking lot, can be a nature place.

Garden Swarm

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A swarm of bees

April showers bring May flowers. But what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims! And honeybees. This past Saturday a swarm of bees left one of our hives near the garden and took up temporary residence in a nearby cherry tree, fortunately not too high from the ground. Bill Day, our local bee expert, came with a few volunteers to gather the swarm and give it a home in our apiary (no easy task).

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At the cherry tree

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Some bees are still on the tree after the swarm has been caught

Bill put a hive box underneath the branch where the swarm was gathered, and then cut the slender branch, causing the cluster to fall into the box. There was a lot of intense buzzing in the air with many bees flying all around wondering what had happened. Our hope was that the queen, formerly in the center of the cluster, was in the box, which would draw the other bees to her. To our surprise, many of the bees began to cluster upon the same tree again, making us uncertain whether we had gotten the queen or not. There wasn’t any clear way to tell as there were so many bees in the box and yet so many on the tree. Even the bees seemed unclear about where to go. We waited and waited, and eventually the bees that had clustered on the tree made their way to the box. Bill took the box to his basement so the bees could calm down in the cool and dark environment.

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Putting the lid on the swarm-catching box

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Bees going in

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These bees are fanning their wings to spread the scent of the queen inside the box so that other bees will know where she is

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Bill tells the bees to go inside the box and points the way

On Sunday this new colony was introduced into its new hive within our apiary and all is well.

Wild and Edible Milkweed

Milkweed

Milkweed

One of the things I love most about this month is the appearance of Milkweed plants. These miracles of nature contribute so much to our world that they deserve far more respect than we give them. They are the major food source for the Monarch butterfly. Millions of these majestic little creatures migrate every year between the USA and Mexico. However, so many of the milkweed plants have been killed off in recent years that it has seriously diminished the Monarch population.

Monarch butterfly on a milkweed plant

Monarch butterfly on a milkweed plant

For this reason, I am very cautious about harvesting milkweed as food. In May, I harvest the shoots, knowing that the plant will reestablish itself, so long as I leave the root intact. Even then, I am careful not to pick too many. The cooked shoots (with the leaves removed) taste a lot like asparagus. The leaves too can be cooked and eaten, much like spinach.

Milkweed shoot noodles

Milkweed shoot noodles

The next parts of the plant that are edible are the flower buds. Each plant has several clusters of flowers, but I’ll rarely remove more than one bunch from a plant, to ensure there’s enough for it to reproduce. The unopened blossoms can be cooked and used in place of peas or capers, or used to decorate dishes. Once opened, the flowers make a nice addition to salads and soups or a garnish.

Sauteed milkweed pods

Sauteed milkweed pods

Once the flowers have gone, they leave behind seed pods, which are crunchy and delicious. However, after a couple of weeks, they become tough and inedible. I only gather pods when there are a lot of them, as this is the most important part to protect. Once they have ripened and the seeds turn brown, the pods split and allow the seeds to escape on the wind. That is a good time to gather them, if you want to start growing your own plants.

Milkweed pods

Milkweed pods

The silky parachutes that carry the seeds, provide a very effective tinder for starting a flame, using flint and steel or a bow drill. The stem of the older plants can be stripped of its outer layer, which can be twisted into twine, and used to make the bow. So, from the time it first appears, until the plant dies off, it can be used in a number of ways, not to mention that the sap is very effective for removing warts.

 

Paul Tappenden is the Rockland Forager. He leads identification walks once a month in our area. See regularly updated blogs, videos, events, and what he and other foragers, herbalists, and naturalists are up to at www.suburbanforagers.com.