What is A Community Supported Forest

A Community Supported Forest is a place in which the people actively and deliberately care for the light, the trees, the soil, and the plants to create a healthy system which provides sustenance in a myriad of ways.

Hazelnut

From wild strawberries and wild ramps (onions) in the summer, to linden blossoms and black raspberries in the summer, to hazelnuts and butternuts in the fall, the food from a well planted and cared for forest provides deliciously diverse and bountiful food.

There are other benefits as well. The wood can be made into walking sticks for hikes and charcoal for drawing. Firewood can be used to create the evening campfire, or boil sap down into maple syrup. Woodchips can be thrown in the smoker for succulent, flavorful meat dishes.

Sumac drupe

Maple syrup and honey can grace the breakfast table. Bluebirds can nest in the tree cavities and catch mosquitoes. It is a beautiful and intricate system, and what comes out of it is, like most things, proportional to what goes into it.

Humans have had a hand in Iowa’s woodlands for as long as Iowa has had woodlands. They have planted, gathered, cut, and burned. And how much of that we do today really determines how fruitful the forest will be for us. Dense stands of trees need to be thinned to improve sunlight. Honeysuckle bushes and other invasive species need to be grubbed out. Missing species need to be planted, fenced from deer, and watered the first few years. Every ten years or so, trees will need to be thinned. Community members support the forest.

Through that process, calories will be burned, muscles will be toned, and friendships will be formed. Knowledge will be learned and shared. Ultimately how productive the forest is for the community is a measure of how well the community cares for its Forest.

Sap, a mideason report

When does spring start? Does it start when the chickadees change their call? Does it start when the red-winged blackbirds return to the Lynch Wetland? Or does it start with the first harvest of the year?

A small snap of warm weather this year in mid February, combined with the enthusiasm of my colleagues Gabe and Syd, sent us into the forest. Vecny Woods has a ravine full of old sugar maples.

The blue tape on the drill bit takes the guesswork out of drilling to the right depth.

The sap started flowing immediately, which is both tasty and rewarding.

The sap from a sugar maple is usually 2%-3% percent sugar, and we set 26 taps in the Vecny Woods sugar maples. We will also be tapping silver maples in the floodplain (77) and box elders (a handful) in the former barnyard of the Penningroth Barn. While all three types of maple trees provide good sap, the silver maple sap has a sugar content of 1.5%-1.75% and the box elders have 1% sugar content. That sap requires longer boiling time, which in turn makes a darker syrup with a more robust flavor.

Reducing that sap to syrup requires a lot of firewood, a lot of boiling, and a lot of steam. It also requires a lot of patience. While the sap was flowing on February 11, our night time temperatures have been hovering around freezing, and the days have been cloudy. Those are not conducive to sap flow, and the trees have just been trickling. We might have enough to make three gallons of syrup. Fortunately, sap season has only just started, leaving us with a good month left for the weather to start cooperating. Next week is looking promising.

Solstice Lindens

After spending three seasons missing the linden flower harvest, I finally got it right: summer solstice. The blossoms have a beautiful delicate scent, and make a lovely tea. As the elderberry flowers are also in full bloom, I’ve been enjoying the two together in the evenings.

We planted linden trees in and around the parking lot of Amazing Space. Not only will they grow quickly, to provide shade for the vehicles, but their blooms are popular with the bees (and me!). The leaf buds and young leaves are also edible.

It was difficult to pick the perfect tree for landscaping the parking lot. On a completely practical level, the criteria were straightforward: native, edible, and no messy fruits or large nuts to drop on cars. The linden gives us that. I hope, as they mature, the landscape will evoke the same feelings one has when visiting the Lindenhof in Zurich, Switzerland. It is a place rich in cultural history and a place people gather to share time with one another.

What goes into a Community Supported Forest?

My friend Shannon just left a sack of bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) seeds on my desk. I know it was her, because how many of my friends know what a bladdernut is, much less that nothing would make me happier? A few years ago, Jerry brought home a pappery husk and asked me what it was. It took me a while to identify, because not only were they lacking from our forest, but as a diminutive understory tree, the bladdernut doesn’t make it in to many of the tree guides. The bladdernut is a delightful understory tree with an edible, if small, nut. We’ve only seen the single grove, a small layer in a larger grove of oaks, in the one location. I couldn’t find any one who sells them to plant at Amazing Space.

Next year, this important little cog will be replanted in the ecosystem, replacing a stand of invasive honeysuckles that currently do nothing more than provide a home for a feral cat and a handful of cowbirds.

in 2017 we planted paw paws (Asimina triloba) from Red Fern Farm. Another species once native, now vanished, will yield a mango-tasting, native fruit in coming years. It was likely originally native a bit south of here, but global warming is with us to stay. Ticks are now still active in February.

There are a handful of butternut (Juglans cinerea) trees on the property, but all are heavily cankered. Another friend, Roger, stratified a handful of nuts we collected in 2016, and started them in the spring. If I can keep the seedlings mulched, watered, and weeded, I can worry less about the species dying out here. And nothing is tastier than a butternut pie.

In years gone by, it took a community to manage and harvest the bounty from the forest. Today, it still takes a community to do the same. We just have better shovels (or on lucky days, PTO-driven augers) for planting seedlings and chainsaws for faster tree cutting. This should leave us plenty of time to enjoy a cup of tea by the fire with friends.

Hunting Red in October

Every fall, two things happen that mark the shift from summer into the fall. The first is when someone calls to ask when to stop feeding the hummingbirds. The answer is whenever the hummingbirds stop eating the sugar water. They know when they need to fly south, and no amount of enticement on our part will convince them to stick around for winter.

The second is when someone brings me a beautiful red leaf to identify.

This is poison ivy. Stunning, and still full of oil. Off of its vine, there are no "leaves of three." The characteristic "mitten tips" curl under almost immeidately making it a tough one to identify.
This is poison ivy. Stunning, and still full of toxic oil. Off of its vine, there are no “leaves of three.” The characteristic “mitten tips” curl under almost immediately making it a tough one to identify.

There is, of course, plenty of non-hazardous beauty out there.

Oak leaves after a rainstorm.
White oak leaves after a rainstorm.

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Sugar maple leaves. Both the oaks and the maples produce golden leaves as well this time of year.

Sumac leaves only turn red before falling off.
Sumac leaves, on the other hand, only turn red before falling off.

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The red I was most excited about discovering on my last walk was a lovely patch of rose hips. Not only are the hips edible, I was able to cut them in half and save the seeds for future plantings, while drying the rose hips for turning into tea.

On the Wild Menu

As part of the wild foods foraging program today at Indian Creek Nature Center, we were able to bring together a  very local, very fresh, gourmet menu.

Appetizer: serviceberries

Salad: purslane leaves, lambsquarter leaves, dandelion leaves, yarrow leaves, red clover blossoms

Salad dressing: orange champagne vinegar and basil infused olive oil

Main course: milkweed blossoms sauteed in butter with catnip and mulberries on the side

Common milkweed buds are edible when cooked. If you arent sure about what youre picking, develop a relationship withyour local nature center or other outdoor enthusiasts so you dont eat something poisonous
Common milkweed buds are edible when cooked. If you aren’t sure about what you’re picking, develop a relationship with your local nature center or other outdoor enthusiasts so you don’t accidentally eat something poisonous.

Drink: sumaconade (staghorn sumac drupes, honey, cinnamon stick)

Staghorn sumac drupes are edible and high in antioxidants. Posion sumac has white drupes, not red.
Staghorn sumac drupes are high in antioxidants.* Posion sumac has white drupes, not red.

Dessert: paw paws and aronia berries (frozen last year), and elderberry jelly and wild plum jelly (preserved last year)

After dinner tea: chamomile leaves and buds, stinging nettle leaves, red clover blossoms, wild ginger root, wild rose blossoms, mountain mint leaves

chamomile
Chamomile isn’t native, but it is also not a problem for restoration. It prefers dry, sandy soil and no competition.

* Sumaconade Recipe*

Gather 9-12 staghorn sumac drupes in late summer. Hang them and cover with a paper sack to keep them clean and dry-they will keep until the following summer.

Soak them in 1 gallon of cold water, 2-12 hours

Wring or muddle the drupes with your hands into the water.

Pour the mixture through  clean t-shirt material 3 times to filter it.

Add 1/2-1 cup honey (may be mixed with a bit of warm water to dissolve)

Add 1 stick of cinnamon

Chill before serving

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_13

 

Huge Black Bristly Caterpillar!

The David Suzuki 30×30 Nature Challenge comes to end today!  Or tomorrow if you missed a day.  That would be our family.  Earlier in the month we enjoyed a day with my parents — space museum visiting, dining out, and swimming at their hotel pool.  That night I was horrified to discover that we hadn’t had any nature time!  We failed!  Alas, our habit was broken and the challenge lost.

However, out we went again the next day and the next, and the next… And we’ll go out again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…  As Dr. Scott Sampson says in his new book How to Raise a Wild Child, it’s “abundant experiences in wild or semi-wild places, typically close to home” that forge the deep connection with nature that I’m hoping to create with my children.

Discovering a HUGE black caterpillarOn one of our “close to home” outings we came upon a huge, black, bristling caterpillar.  Imagine a solid black wooly bear, traditionally seen in the autumn, twice the usual size.  My son picked it up and as it crawled over his hands we noticed that between the black bristles, the caterpillar had skin of dark red.  Even I took a turn letting it crawl on my hand to experience the disconcerting feeling of its myriad of scratchy, sturdy feet marching relentlessly forward.

After everyone had a turn to hold this amazing creature — he really was huge — my daughter set him on a fallen log a few feet off the path from where we’d found him.  And on we went.

Huge black caterpillar with spiky feetWhen we got home we searched online and found a link that fit our description of “huge black bristly caterpillar” and as I scrolled down through the pictures, I knew we’d found a match: The Giant Leopard Moth!

But when the actual picture of the moth appeared, I jumped up — I’d seen this moth before in Hunting Red! I found our copy and started thumbing through.  I had to go through several times before I found the picture on the dedication page.  Yes, there it was — the moth and the caterpillar.  Very exciting!

We found a huge, black, bristly caterpillar -- turns out it was a Giant Leopard Moth fromAccording to the article, the caterpillars eat the non-native invasive honeysuckle.  We enjoy plucking the honeysuckle blossoms and sipping the tiny drop of liquid nectar.  If you’ve never tried this, The Magic Onions has a short post on how to experience this sweet summer foraging ritual.

(Book links are Amazon Affliates: read our full disclosure here)

Crus-galli Grove

Forests in the not-too distant-past once provided primary sustenance for people, not just the other mammals and the birds. Today, agriculture and urbanization have made that relationship more challenging. The felling of many trees has reduced both the size and species composition of the woods. Forests are increasingly unhealthy, and lack many of the sustenance-providing species they once held. Among the foods we do eat regularly, it is a crop’s harvestability and transportability that have become valued over many other traits. Foods are increasingly single-sourced, and bear little resemblance-including nutritional value-to the myriad of plants on which we once depended.

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This spring, we planted six cockspur hawthorn¹ (Crataegus crus-galli) trees at Indian Creek Nature Center, as part of a woodland restoration project. For restoration purposes, the hawthorns are native trees that only grow about 25 feet tall, easy to overlook when we discuss the grandeur of the mighty oaks and hickories. Yet they provide a lot of ecological benefits, with their thicket-like tendencies that protect young nestlings, blossoms for pollinators, and edible berries for wildlife.

For human guests, the hawthorns² are the latest addition to the native edible forest at the Nature Center. Both the blossoms and berries are good to eat. The trees were planted in a wide circle, forming a grove around one of the maturing oaks. In the not-too-distant future, guests will be able to come, spread a picnic blanket in the semiprivate shade of the grove, listen to the birds all around them, and harvest a handful of berries³ for tea later that evening.

A few notes:

1. The hawthorns serve as a host plant for Cedar Apple Rust, which is hard on apple trees.

2. To find out if a species is native to your state, visit www.plants.usda.gov

3. Consuming hawthorns can help lower blood pressure. To learn more about the medicinal benefits, check out an herbal book, such as the Woman’s Book of Healing Herbs. If you’re under the care of a doctor for a blood pressure condition, talk to your doctor first.

Poison Ivy :(

My challenge in loving nature  isn’t usually the “getting outside” part, its avoiding the poison ivy that thrives in the woods. Poison ivy is beautiful, especially in the spring and fall, but the oil causes my skin to break out in open, weeping, ever-expanding, never-healing sores, which causes me to go to the doctor for prednisone, which wreaks havoc on my immune system. Last summer, I  avoided the doctor/prednisone, and I am going to do my best again this summer.

Step 1. Identify.

I nearly walked into this poison ivy branch, hanging face-high from a tree.

The fine hairs on the main vine gave it away.
The fine hairs on the main vine gave it away.

Step 2. Avoid.

The young leaves in the spring are a deep red.
The young leaves in the spring are a deep red.

Step 3. Wash thoroughly, assuming avoidance wasn’t good enough. Always a good idea after playing outside, because it provides an opportunity for a thorough tick check.

If I was in the general vicinity of poison ivy, I just use soap and water. If Im fairly sure I actually contacted the plant, I use Goop first, which binds with the oil.
If I was in the general vicinity of poison ivy, I just use soap and water. If I’m fairly sure I actually contacted the plant, I use Goop first, which binds with the oil.

Step 4. At the first sign of breakout, start drinking copious amounts of tea made from reishi mushrooms, stinging nettle leaves, and budding goldenrod flowers. The challenge is on-we’ll see how this season goes!

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The stinging nettle leaves that emerged mid-April are getting too big too harvest, but there are young plants still coming up around the edges of the nettle patches.

Chirping on Twitter as @pocketmousepub!

Connect with Pocket Mouse Publishing on Twitter @pocketmousepubPocket Mouse Publishing is on Twitter!  Yes, you will hear Jean (itsabeeslifeforme) and Lee (brightskymom chirping tweeting as @pocketmousepub now!

Since we’re brand new, we will bumble around like the fledgling social media-ites that we are.  If you’re on Twitter, we’d appreciate well-known, obvious, how-could-you-not-know tips — I don’t think we’re ready for amazing insider secrets yet!

We hope to see & hear you in the fields and trees, tweeting interesting tidbits about #nature and #forage and #organic and all kinds of things!  After all (to quote Robert Louis Stevenson, April IS National Poetry Month!):

The world is so full of a number of things,
I ’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.