ramp it up
Happy April, people. I know I’ve been talking about the weather alot, but I’m going to talk about it some more. I guess that’s what farm life does to you, because the weather often dictates what you can do on any given day, and how your crops might fare. We have people on greenhouse duty now that it’s full of seedlings, and we’ve reached the tractor out to start working the soil. This time last year it was so wet that very little outside work could be done. Some places couldn’t be worked until June! So talking about the weather has become something more than small talk.
So thanks to the warm temperatures over the last few weeks, (and well, the entire ‘winter’), some things are happening earlier than usual. As I mentioned before, the apple trees are budding (some have actually opened), birds are returning (the tree swallows came back this week) and things are growing. One notable plant that’s growing is wild leeks!
Wild leeks (ramps) have been something of a mysterious entity to me, especially since my days at the restaurant, where people were really into local food and as such, got pretty excited about wild leeks. But they were hard to acquire – such is the nature of a wild food with a short season. Any mention of wild leeks seemed to come with a side hint at how elusive they are, making them seem like even more of a delicacy. So when I heard it was wild leek season, and Don tipped me off as to where they might be found on the farm property, I figured I’d go looking. A couple days ago after work, Nic and I ventured into a forested area and came across these!
A lovely little stand of wild leeks. Not as hard to find as I expected. We each took a few and then decided to wander a bit, and once we got a bit further in, we found this:
Pretty much everything you see that’s green is wild leeks! And there were so many that I couldn’t fit all of them in the shot. Amazing! I hadn’t expected to find many more than that first small bunch, and now I’ve got all kinds of delicious leeks in my fridge.
Before our leek expedition, we did a little research to be sure of what we were looking for. Many plants are edible, or at least not toxic, but there are some very poisonous plants out there. Luckily wild leeks are pretty easy to distinguish from other plants – not much else is growing yet in the woods, the leaves of wild leeks are fairly distinct, and they smell like green onions. (This book was helpful in identifying them!) As we harvested some I reflected on my first time attending an edible & medicinal plant walk a few years ago in Guelph. I learned about things like wild carrot and had my first taste of watercress. I also learned that harvesting wild foods responsibly is important.
Avoiding over-harvesting is essential to maintaining a population of plants. A good rule of thumb is to take no more than 10% of what’s present, and if someone else has been foraging in the same spot, take that into consideration. Through researching wild leeks I discovered that it can take 3-4 years for their seeds to germinate, meaning that if a population of them is over-harvested, they may not return the next year (or at all). Apparently instead of digging up the entire bulb (roots and all), you can cut them above the roots, and what’s left in the ground can continue growing into a new plant. So I took 2 or 3 from each little cluster and tried making my way off the (barely) beaten path to get some that were harder to reach.
I also found out that ramps contain all kinds of nutrients, one of which is quercetin, which supposedly combats seasonal allergies! Oh the beauty of eating in season. When I got home today I made some of the leeks into a scrumptious pesto (recipe + other cool info here!)
In other news, Jaye and I have been rifling through some children’s books that we saved from the garbage while helping out at the office building on the farm property. We found one about birds and it included a very clever Australian bird called Mallee fowl, which is a relative of the domestic chicken.
Do you know how to make a compost heap? Are you wondering who came up with the idea of intentionally composting material in a contained area? You might think it was a human, but I think the Mallee fowl has us beat on this one.
Check it out. This bird builds a self-heating nest by digging a hole, collecting things like bark and leaves to put in it, then tends to it to encourage decomposition. An egg chamber is dug in the centre of the compost heap and then everything is buried with sand, creating a huge nest mound. As the collected debris breaks down, heat is released, and this heat keeps the eggs warm. The birds are even able to monitor the temperature inside the mound using their tongues so they can adjust things if needed. Incredible! Here’s a wikipedia page about the Mallee fowl.
Diagram of the nest mound
If you want to know how to build & maintain a compost heap (for nest-warming purposes or otherwise) check this out.
Also (not really farm related): if you’ve never checked out Alison Bechdel‘s work, you need to. I’ve been re-reading some of her stuff, and every time it’s like visiting old friends. Or looking at a warped mirror of my life. (I probably could have landed a job with some massive “agribusiness” company like monsanto when I finished school, but I’d like to maintain some integrity.) So thankful that I have the choice.