Blue spruce, picea pungens, is native to the Rocky Mountains, but can be found as ornamental trees throughout the United States. The young shoots can be used to make tea high in vitamin C. This bitter, resinous drink is surprisingly refreshing, although it is not uncommon for people to add a sweetener. Click on the image for a larger view.
Red trillium, or wake robin, is appearing on the forest floor. It is one of the first flowers of the season, taking advantage of the light before the foliage returns. Trillium is a striking plant, but its scent of rotting meat is for a slightly different audience. Click on the image for a larger view.
I explored our land this weekend. We have had unusual amounts of rain, freezing rain, and sleet this winter. The snow pack is hard and slippery–normally when I wear snowshoes, it is so I don’t sink too far into the snow, but now I just need the crampons on the shoes to stop from slipping.
Our blackberry field is like an abstract painting of hard black strokes on a brilliant white canvas. This is such a stark transformation from what this field looks like in the summer. Click on the image for a larger view.
Small cranberry, Vaccinium oxycoccos, can be found in peat or acidic soils, which gives it its other common name, bog cranberry. This is one of the first plants to colonize burnt bogland and native Americans would burn bogs to stimulate its growth. Like the cultivated cranberry, these are tart. Naturally, this fruit is sought after by wildlife. This plant is on Little Moose Island at the tip of Schoodic peninsular in Acadia National Park. Click on the image for a larger view.
Naomi and I were collecting blackberries from our field last evening. This time of year there seems to be a richness to the variety in the greens in the landscape. The yellow greens of spring remain, but there is a shift to blue greens of the maturing foliage of the trees. The blackberry canes start their transition to the reds of fall. Click on the image for a larger view.
Our fruit plants are going through their annual flowering cycle. At the beginning of May, our wild plum was in bloom. The middle of may brought the blossoms out in our apple and peach trees. Now our blackberry canes are blossoming. These are in our field, but the blackberry under our forest canopy are also out. Click on the image for a larger view.
Yesterday was April 26th (not March 26th, although it looked like it). It snowed all day. This is a bit disheartening. Naomi and I hope the cold has not harmed the budding plants. We are supposed to go below freezing for the next few nights. The daytime temperatures should be in the 50s, which will help. Click on the image for a larger view.
We have been having a stretch of warm weather, at least in the low 60°F. The warmth has felt really good, especially since the last two winters have been really long. And with this warm spell, we are seeing a return of life. One of the plants that has just returned to our forest floor is the red trillium or trillium erectum. Like the robin, it is a herald of spring, which gives it its common name—wake-robin. But it is a spring ephemeral, a short-lived plant, surviving long enough to complete its reproduction cycle. By the time the fern return, this plant will be gone. Two things about this herbaceous perennial: it is toxic and the bloom smells like rotting meat (flies are its primary pollinator). Click on the image for a larger view.
Naomi and I don’t eat meat. For Thanksgivings we made a stuffed kabocha. Kabocha is a well known squash in Japan. You can eat the cooked flesh by itself or stuff the entire fruit. For the stuffing, we used ingredients from our garden: plantain, spiderwort, day lilies, goutweed, and bush beans. We added some vegetarian sausage, mushrooms, croutons, and cheese. (This would be good for other holidays, feasts, or an everyday meal.) Click on the image for a larger view.
Throughout Maine are lost varieties of apples growing in old fields. While our supermarkets limit our choice, usually red, yellow, and green, thousands of apple varieties have been cultivated. Some have been saved in seed banks and specialty orchards, but many have been lost to time and memory—it can be hard to identify an apple by appearance.
We have one lost variety on our land. It fruits biennially and produces large, round apples. The flesh is white and very light; despite the size, they do not weight that much. It is not a sweet apple, but neither does it have a sharpness of a Granny Smith. Lemony would be a good description. If you cook it, it takes on a pleasant sweetness, but it does not retain its shape. We eat this raw or make apple sauce for itself or as pie filler. Click on the image for a larger view.
Our blackberry harvest is drawing to a close. We had a great crop, which we mostly froze to use over the winter. We kept some fresh for our breakfast, though. The blackberry canes in our field are starting to turn color. They tend to be the first signals of the ending summer, even while our golden rod remain in bloom. Click on the image for a larger view.
A month ago, our blackberries were green. This week, we began our annual harvest. This usually lasts about a month depending on the size of the crop. It looks like it might be a good year. Click on the image for a larger view.
Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota, was once cultivated in Europe as a vegetable and is a biennial plant. Like carrots, the roots and leaves of the first-year plant are edible. Flowers can be used raw in salads or fried. Seeds can be used for seasoning.
While outside has been in the firm grip of winter, inside is showing signs of spring. Our sage has come into blossom. In Maine, sage is supposed to survive in the garden through winter, but we lost most of our crop during the ice storm at the end of 2013. Naomi saved one of the surviving plants in a pot. Click on the image for a larger view.
Sage has a refreshing sweet scent, which makes it a wonderful indoor plant. We used it in cooking and for tea. Among Native Americans, sage is considered sacred and one of the most important ceremonial herbs: it has power to balance the body, mind, and spirit.
Prunella vulgaris, commonly known as Self Heal or Heal All, is known in many cultures to have healing properties. The entire plant is edible and can be uses in soups, salads, and stews. Like with our Goldenrod, we make tea from the plant. Unlike the bitterness of Goldenrod, this tea has a mild flavor. Click on the image for a larger view