Thanks for putting yourself out there. I'm 53, on the upper end of your ten-year acceptable range.
I started my homestead and permaculture projects young... built a passive solar stone and log home without a mortgage thirty years ago, and later installed solar panels to run the meter backwards. I was married for 21 years and raised four children, who are all out of the nest. My marriage ended a decade ago.
Being self-employed with few bills has given me oodles of freedom to pursue my dreams as a homesteader, writer, and adventurer, and I'm super easy to get along with. That would seem like an asset in dating, but not really. I'm so deeply rooted here that it is challenging to create a new life with a new partner when I already have an established home and career. I've been off the dating sites for some time, but if I were to sign up for one, I would look at a Latina dating site. You are definitely a 10 on my chart!
Please take a look and reach out if you want to connect:
Hey, I'm new to the badges, etc., but I do know plants and foraging, so please fire away with any questions you have.
My book Botany in a Day is used worldwide for plant identification based on plant family characteristics. For example, when you know that plants of the Mustard family have 4 petals and 6 stamens (4 tall, 2 short), then you can recognize 3,000+ species of plants around the world as mustards, and they are all edible. It's pretty simple, so I also wrote a kids version of the book called Shanleya's Quest: A Botany Adventure for Kids Ages 9 to 99, plus a related plant identification card game. And for serious foragers, I wrote Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat. Here are the links:
Yes, you will have a great opportunity to practice while your kids are young. Wildlife Web is a fun adult game, and it can be highly competitive when players try to eat each other before anyone can reproduce. Practice now, knowing your kids will have an innate aptitude for the game when they come of age in the not-to-distant future. Maybe you will stand a chance! :)
Are you looking for a fun and engaging way to get kids excited about nature? Wildlife Web provides a unique opportunity to participate in the web of life, designed for kids ages 9 to 99.
Do you want to be a mountain lion, deer, or elk? Created by author and educator Thomas J. Elpel, this surprisingly realistic game enables players to experience life as any of 50 different wild animals.
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Wildlife Web simulates the dynamics of a real world ecosystem with astonishing accuracy. With fifty animals to choose from, players can become anything from a mouse to a moose or a bird to a bear, each foraging or hunting for food to mate and reproduce while trying not to become food themselves. The game is fun, competitive, and addictive!
Thanks for sharing. Great photos! My neighbors have a peach tree growing in a chickenhouse/greenhouse. Seems like a great way to grow! We have too much wind here to have much plastic, but it is definitely easier to grow indoors than outdoors.
Thanks for your detailed response. Your note brings to mind the term "noxious weeds," which is even more emotive and judgmental than "invasive species." That was the terminology I learned when I started getting involved in "weed" issues, and I later purged that term and adopted "invasive," at least for those species that appear to dominate certain ecosystems. I think that the term "introduced plants" is a nice, non-judgmental term to refer to nonnative species, although it does help to distinguish between those that integrate well and those that seem to alter ecosystems.
Interestingly, as I understand it, bison, elk, deer, moose, grizzlies, black bears, and caribou were originally Eurasian species that came across the Bering Land Bridge, making them "invasive" species, not natives. Thus, in the long view, whatever grows here will be "native" some day. At the very least, they are not going away.
Exploring some related, somewhat random thoughts, I also think it is important to look at the issue from the another side. For example, we (Non-Native Americans) are an invasive species (well, race), and we are also not going away. Directly or indirectly, we eliminated ninety percent or more of the native population in North and South America. We are new here and still trying to figure out how to become native to this place. Part of our own process of learning to connect with our new home is figuring out how to relate to it ecologically. Do we embrace native species or do we import those we are ancestrally connected with? Can we declare our interest in permaculture as unbiased, or is it a fundamental part of our European heritage to tinker with ecosystems, import useful species, and make a property "better" and more productive? Sadly, the invasion of the Americas hasn't yet come to a close. Pretty much any ecosystem that has been altered by our imported culture, such as any place with a road plowed through it, becomes susceptible to the invasion of the Old World species. I am old enough (almost 47) to have seen many landscapes rewritten by green soldiers from the Old World. In many cases, the result is the same as our own invasion, with ninety percent or more of the natives wiped out and replaced by introduced species.
In my book Living Homes I included a pretty good rant telling people not to seek out that pristine and remote parcel. Plowing in a road and building a house horridly fragments the ecosystem, contributes to habitat loss, and invites invasives into fresh territory. It really annoys me when people ignore that and bulldoze Eden to build their house! On my own five-acre homestead on the edge of town, I am attempting to be ecologically aware and responsible, and I am also noticing that my presence here, as an "introduced species" greatly faciliates habitation of other introduced species. We Westerners and our plants seem to be a package deal!
Thanks for mentioning the connection between Botany in a Day and HerbMentor! Botany in a Day is used as a text book at dozens of schools, everything from the East West School of Planetary Herbology (https://www.planetherbs.com/) to Wilderness Awareness School (http://wildernessawareness.org).
It looks like something from the Nightshade family, probably something in the nightshade genus (Solanum). Most likely, the fruits contain the glycoalkaloid poison solanine, the same substance found in green potato peels (Solanum tuberosum). The fruits are probably bitter tasting and technically poisonous, but like green potato peels, not harmful in small amounts. I would taste the fruit to see if it is bitter or not. If its not bitter then it is likely edible, but would be good to identify it and research it before using it in quantity. If it is bitter tasting, then it is not likely food, but it would still be nice to idenifty the species, just to know.
Yeah, siberian almonds are not quite silver dollar sized!
Yes, cyanide in Prunus pits can be neutralized easily. However, keep in mind that the pits will have a bitter almond flavor. Here is an excerpt about that from Foraging the Mountain West:
"You can experiment with processing and eating the fruits and/or nuts from any species of this genus. However, be mindful that the nuts contain amygdalin, a glycoside that breaks down into benzaldehyde and cyanide. Benzaldehyde is the source of bitter almond flavor, often utilized in cooking. The degree of bitterness is a good indicator of the concentration of amygdalin in the raw nut.
Amygdalin, also known as laetrile or Vitamin B17, is considered beneficial in small doses. But excess consumption of amygdalin leads to cyanide poisoning. Adding to the name game, cyanide may be referred to in other texts as either prussic acid or hydrocyanic acid (its liquid form) or hydrogen cyanide (its gaseous form).
"Whatever the name, cyanide prevents cells from utilizing oxygen in the bloodstream, resulting in asphyxiation at the cellular level. A lethal dose is somewhere between twenty and fifty raw bitter almonds (a different variety from the sweet almonds we normally eat).
"Anything else in the genus is theoretically less bitter and less toxic than bitter almonds. A typical cherry pit, for example, contains only about .078 milligrams of cyanide, while the lethal dose of cyanide is between .5 to 3.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. At that rate, it would take at least 500 raw cherry pits to kill a 180 lb. (80 kg) person, and even then, the seeds are more likely to pass through the gut intact. In any case, proper cooking, drying, and/or oxidation destroys the cyanide, making the pit – or rather the nut inside the pit – edible."
Living in Montana, especially east of the continental divide, has a way of reducing expectations.
As a child I lived in California and had several wonderful apricot trees in the yard. Here in Montana, I live at 5,600' on the dry side of a hill with sandy soil, and I have several hardy apricot trees that are more-or-less adapted to the climate. I once harvested six small apricots from a branch that was touching a stone wall, so the thermal mass kept those few blossoms from freezing. I do know of a productive apricot tree in a parking lot in Missoula (three hours west of here and much lower in elevation), which I like to raid when I can get the timing right. It probably takes four of these apricots to equal one of those from California. My apricot tree froze back after a serious winter storm in October a couple years back, but it is growing well again. I am hopeful that I might harvest a dozen or more apricots next year. We'll see!
In regards to the dwarf siberian almond, my planting criteria is simple: I'll plant just about anything that won't die on my land. My almonds are about three years old and two feet tall. I love the pink blossoms. Attached is a photo of a whole almond, along with the broken shell and nut meat. As you can see, the dime in the picture is significantly bigger! The almond has a typical bitter almond cyanide flavor. Almonds are in the same genus (Prunus) as cherries, plums, nectarines, apricots, and peaches. They all have an almond in the middle, and most are more worthwhile than the siberian almond.
Native Americans ground up whole chokecherries and dried the mashed cakes in the sun. The cakes are crunchy because of the crushed shells, however, they have the nutrition of both the fruit and the nut. And drying the cakes in the sun neutralizes the cyanide content, making them safe to eat, as detailed in the text and photos of Foraging the Mountain West.
Optionally, the nut can be extracted from any of the fruits mentioned above and used as an almond. They should be roasted or dried to destroy the cyanide content. See Foraging the Mountain West for details:
Many books refer to certain ferns as having carcinogenic properties, suggesting that they should be eaten in moderation. Given that kind of advertising, and more significantly, the fact that I live in a grassland desert with very few ferns, I haven't worked with ferns.
Aside from that, most plants growing in soil contaminated with heavy metals will absorb the toxins, some more than others. Cattails have been used to extract heavy metals from contaminated water, so keep that in mind when grazing on cattails near industrial sites.
On the other hand, keep in mind that fear is also a toxin.
Given a choice, I greatly prefer eating all natural, organic, roadkill venison. However, I do feed my family non-organic chicken, beef, pepperoni pizza, etc. I eat what is available and in front of me, and I think that is healthier than imagining that every industrially produced steak or apple is full of poison. Toxins are so pervasive in our air, water, and food supply, that even organic foods are increasingly questionable. Think healthy thoughts about whatever you eat. And no, that is not an endorsement to eat the ferns. Ferns are beyond my first-hand experience.
Thanks for the thoughtful note and the book recommendation. Ecology is so complex that black-and-white answers are only right by being mostly wrong.
On the subject of introduced and invasive species, many introduced species add wonderful diversity to the landscape, such as plantain (Plantago major). What a wonderful and useful, yet thankfully not invasive plant! I just learned this week that wild turkeys are not native here in Montana, but were introduced by wildlife biologists to encourage new hunting opportunities. I love seeing wild turkeys!
Then there are plants like spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), which has taken over millions of acres in Montana and pushed out many native species. The usual treatments for it include grazing with sheep or goats or spraying with herbicides. However, knapweed thrives in neglected ecosystems where the soil is already dying from lack of concentrated animal impact. Theoretically, recreating the movements of the buffalo (with wild or domestic stock) can stimulate succession and invigorate other plants to compete with knapweed. Knapweed was introduced to my watershed principally through mining and other major soil disturbance and is now approaching the critical threshold where it is too thoroughly embedded in the ecosystem for pulling or spraying to have any permanent effect. Therefore, we need to look at alternatives such as bringing in a herd of sheep or goats, or stimulating succession with other livestock, such as cows:
I order a lot of shrubs and trees through Lawyer Nursery (Montana/Washington). They are a wholesale supplier, but they accept orders from anyone for a minimum of $250, I think, plus shipping. They don't have as many natives or fruits as I would like, but they do have many interesting trees and shrubs, often for a buck or two per tree:
Okay, the hardest plant for a lazy gardener to kill? Well, I'm an expert at neglect, and about the only thing left in my garden is cabbage, which won't form heads, but I bring in a plant every couple days and use the leaves on sandwiches. Otherwise, I harveseted a lot of weeds out of the garden, which are mostly edible and delicious.
Easiest plant to kill? That probably depends on your local climate.
Most rewarding plant? Hmmm. The challenging aspect of these questions is that I don't normally rank plants in terms of which ones are better or worse than others, so I'm really just making it up on the fly. I pretty much like all plants for different reasons, and the criteria for my homestead is pretty simple: I'll grow just about anything that won't die here. I like wild plants. I like cultivated plants. I just like plants!
Grafting: I've never done grafting myself... there are just too many things to learn and try in this world! But I knew a guy on a remote homestead near the Snake River in Idaho, who was grafting apples onto serviceberries and peaches onto his wild plums. I thought that was pretty cool.
Guerrilla gardening: Anything tossed in the lawn is going to get sprayed or mowed or won't have sufficient room to germinate and grow. Planting trees seems like a good way to go. Plant something big enough that it will be seen and protected and worked around. Fruit trees seem pretty ideal. Whether or not the adults do anything with the fruit, the neigbhorhood kids sure will. It used to be common for people to plant fruit trees by the front sidewalk, and kids lived like a tribe, grazing around the neighborhood, but now people tend to plant landscaping plants out front, and fruit trees (if any) hidden in the back. Plant them in front, and you will help grow neighborhood kids that are aware of and care about fruit trees.
If you light a strip of birch bark, it curls itself up backwards into a tight roll and burns a surprisingly long time, like a torch. Dipping the bark in hot water softens the resins enough to fold the bark orgami style to make pots and such.
In regards to the hawthorn pectin, attached is a photo from my book, Foraging the Mountain West.
Yarrow seems like a good choice for your top five!
Interesting question. I have my favorite teas, so there are a lot of things I've never tried, but that seems like a good research project to try making tea from all the different tree and shrub leaves in your area (after a bit of research).
I would approach the issue by families. For example:
Pine family (pines, spruce, fir, etc.): Use the needles of any species for a vitamin-C rich tea. Enjoy it thoroughly once in a while, but don't overdose on pine resins. Compare the Pine family with the Cedar and Yew families in Botany in a Day, so you get the right trees.
Willow family (willows, cottonwoods, aspens, poplars): Okay for tea. May have some super mild analgesic properties. Don't over do it (true for anything).
Rose family trees (cherry, pear, apple): The leaves may contain some cyanide, like cherry pits or apple seeds. A little bit won't hurt you, and cooking it (making tea) destroys the cyanide, as does drying. Use in moderation.
Walnut family: I would try that.
Olive family (olive, lilacs, ash): I would try tea of lilacs and ash and research other species a bit more.
Lucus - Most trees (not pines) are considered flowering plants. Apples, for example are in the Rose family. The flower structure is the primary pattern (most reliable), but there are often useful secondary patterns as well. For example, most plants in the Rose family have more-or-less oval, serrated leaves, which can be a good clue (not a sure answer by themselves) for the family. Take a gander:
Eva - Thanks for the apples! I'll have to work on the field guide size!
Erica - Chickens and other species have vastly different digestive systems than we do. People foods can be poisonous to animals, and animal foods can be poisonous to us. If you are going to experiment with unknown plants, please start by learning some family patterns, so that you can at least elminate the most poisonous plants:
So, basically, we are packing for a one-way trip to Mars, and we can only bring five plants? How about 1) onions for food, flavor, and medicine, 2) a starchy tuber, such as potatoes, yams, or sweet potatoes, 3) if I could only eat one fruit en masse, I would have to go with bannanas, 4) how about avacados for food and rich oils, and 5) some kind of salad green... maybe dandelions for food and nutrition. What's your five?
Favorite plants from different climates:
I don't have much experience with tropical climates, but I do have a nice greenhouse on the front of my house, which includes orange trees, hibiscus, grape vines, a bannana (no fruit yet), guava vine, passion flower, lots of herbs, gernaniums, and a seven-foot tall Mexican marigold which smells amazing. I really like it when the orange trees bloom. It makes the house smell so good!
A few of my favorite plants here in Montana include saskatoons (service berries), cattails, and whitebark pine nuts... actually pretty much everything that's included in my book Foraging the Mountain West:
Eaten: I've been pretty fascinated by hawthorns lately. We did a foraging class at Rabbitstick Rendezvous in September and harvested a bunch of black hawthorns. We then squeezed the pectin out thorugh a screen, separating it from the seeds. There is so much pectin that the juice solidifies on the edge of the container without running all the way in. For the fruit portion of our meal, we ate chunks of hawthorn berry pectin.
Grown: I live in a cold desert. I've grown increasingly fond of plants that have Siberia in the name, notably Siberian elms and siberian almonds. Siberian elms are invasive in many places, but that isn't a risk here. However, they do seem to thrive with minimal moisture in places where it would be challenging to grow anything else. And my Siberian almonds are only two feet tall, but already producing some small, fuzzy, bronze-colored almonds.
There are two main components to plant identification. The first is to learn the major, common plant families, seven of which are introduced in my online article, "Learning to Identify Plants by Families: It will forever change the way you look at plants."
Take the Mustard family, for example. Mustard flowers have four petals, plus six stamens (4 tall + 2 short). There are more than 3,000 different species in the world, and they are all more-or-less edible, if not always palatable. Therefore, with that much information, you could be wandering around Mongolia and encounter some plant you've never seen before, but identify it as a Mustard by the information above. You don't have to identify the species, just identify it to the Mustard family. If its a mustard, then you can try it. If it is palatable, then add it to your salad and enjoy! My kids book and card game teaches eight core families and their basic properties and uses:
If a plant specimen doesn't match any of the plant families you already know, then you can turn to Botany in a Day to key it out. Botany in a Day covers most of the plant families in the northern latitudes, and a great many from farther south. In regards to the question, "What's the first step in narrowing down the species of plant you're observing?" - The literal first step is to determine if your specimen belongs to the Plant Kingdon, Animal Kingdom, Fungus Kingdom, etc, and yes, there is actually a diagram in Botany in a Day guiding the reader along. The second step would be to determine if your specimen is a nonvascular or vascular spore plant, a naked seed, or a true flowering plant. Assuming you have a flowering plant, you move to monocots versus dicots, and then into the family keys.
In many cases, it is only necessary to identify the family. But you will often want to key out the species. There are some species examples included in Botany in a Day. However, I typically start with the family (Yes, I actually have to key some plants out in my own book to identify them), and then move to another book, such as Wildflowers of North America to narrow it down to the genus or sometimes the species:
By itself, Wildflowers of North America is pretty useless, but it includes thousands of flowers grouped by families, so you can ID the family in Botany in a Day and then flip through the samples shown in Wildflowers of North America (or any local book organized by families, such as the Lone Pine guides). To identify a plant down to the species, I sometimes turn to a botanical key and start at the proper genus. Or I do a Google image search for the genus and see if my specimen pops up. That works pretty well for me, since I take a lot of pictures in summer and key them out in winter.
I don't know about the buckwheat side of the issue, but Canada thistle (which is actually an import from the Old World), is a plant that has adapted to cultivation. Cultivating the soil chops the roots and greatly spreads the thistles. In your case, it sounds like the thistles might be there as a result of overgrazing by horses. They will eat the grass again and again, giving opportunity for the thistles to spread. Someone may have addressed the issue already, but grazing with sheep or goats could have the opposite effect, knocking back the thistles and favoring the competition. Good luck with it. Canada thistle can be a challenge!
Try crushing and smelling the leaf. All mustard species have a unique smell, but there is an underlying pattern of mustardness that can be highly useful for identifying most members of the family. If you have other Mustard family plants in the yard, try smelling them, and comparing the smell to your plant in question.
I am pleased to finally sign up for the Permies forum board. I've enjoyed some of Paul Wheaton's YouTube videos, and I've been to the Permies website multiple times, but always too busy with my own quest for World Domination to sign on as a minion of Paul's Glorious Empire.
My work is rooted in the basics of survival: shelter, fire, water, plant and animal foods, etc. We all have these same basic needs, just different methods of meeting those needs, depending on whether we are lost in a vast wilderness, homesteading a country farm, or living in the suburbs or the concrete jungle.
Wilderness survival skills are a big part of my life, because I love nature, wilderness, and not growing up. For example, as I kid I loved to built "forts." Now I call them "shelters" to legitmize my continued fort-building. My book Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills is all about playing in the woods and reconnecting with nature. I've also produced four videos in the Art of Nothing Wilderness Survival Video Series, covering the same kind of fun. I teach wilderness survival skills to school kids through our Outdoor Wilderness Living School (OWLS) program: http://www.owlsschool.org, and I've produced a video about our work with the public schools, titled Classroom in the Woods.
Being able to identify and utilize wild plants is a big part of wilderness survival and a particular passion of mine. I wrote Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification for myself initially, and it has proved useful to tens of thousands of other people as well, becoming my best-selling book. I also have a children's botany book called Shanleya's Quest: A Botany Adventure for Kids Ages 9 to 99, along with the Shanleya's Quest Patterns in Plants Card Game, which are becoming increasingly popular with young and old alike.
Homesteading is also a big part of my life, because it is nice to be able to come home from playing in the woods and have an actual house to live in. But I hated the idea of getting a job and working all my life, so I worked a little, saved nearly everything, bought land, moved into a tent, and built a homestead from the ground up, avoiding the need for a mortgage. My permaculturist mentality shows through in my permanent approach to architecture: I like to build with stone. I built a passive solar stone and log home with a big greenhouse on the front. This project, and several others, are featured in my book Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction, along with my Slipform Stone Masonry DVD and Build Your Own Masonry Fireplace DVD. I also wrote Direct Pointing to Real Wealth and Roadmap to Reality: Consciousness, Worldviews, and the Blossoming of Human Spirit. Being a do-it-yourselfer, I founded my own publishing company, HOPS Press, LLC.
Growing actual vegetation is a bit challenging here at home, living on a dry, south-facing slope of decomposing granite at 5,600 feet in elevation in the Northern Rockies, where the trees don't leaf out until the middle of May. I've probably killed ninety percent of the trees that I've planted over the last twenty-five years. And yet, I do have something vaguely resembling permaculture now. This place will be specatacular by the time I am two hundred years old!
My grand plan for world domination is to nurture our Green University, LLC program into a legitimate, credentialed alternative to mainstream education, connecting the dots from wilderness survival to sustainable living. Instead of freshman, sophmore, junior, and senior levels, we have Hunter-Gatherer, Homesteader, Caretaker, and Ecopreneur. Mostly we just play in the woods, but the name sounds pretty important and official: http://www.GreenUniversity.com
My hobby project is the Jefferson River Canoe Trail, a segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. We recently raised funds and bought a parcel on the river to be used in perpetuity as a public floater's camp. Yay!
So, that's me in a nutshell. Thanks for allowing me to join the group!