Farming failures, foraging fortunes

No matter how successful your garden, there’s always something wild growing right around the corner.

First the bad.

With the cooler temperatures (the past few days aside), kids back in school and the incessant lamenting of summer’s end on the radio, it seemed like a good time to take stock of my first season of (very) small-scale farming. Sadly, there isn’t too much to take stock of, so I keep telling myself this was a trial year – and that I’ll go into the next growing season armed with more knowledge.

Of my four raised-bed gardens, only one was planted by late June, shortly after the local frost-free date. This garden is pulling more than its weight, with four harvests of radishes, hearty and beautiful beets ready for harvest, and onion-tops that look promising.

Sadly, the other gardens are not doing as well. To my great disappointment, the spinach plot was a complete failure, although I did everything right, or thought I did, in any case. The plants never got more than four leaves apiece, and many bolted before they were even close to harvest-able. I chalk this up to the hot weather, and will plant earlier next year.

Worst of all is that my largest garden – which was promising to deliver a great harvest of kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, chives and tarragon – was half eaten and half trampled by a neighbour’s horse, who had once again found a way through the porous fence surrounding its pasture. I’m hopeful, but not too hopeful, that some of those veggies will grow back in time.

Now the good

But all is not lost! The hyperlocal food adventure does not end in the garden, and opportunities for foraging abound. Although the blueberry crop may have peaked, there are still a lot out there and seem to be growing along every trail around St. John’s. Furthermore, it seems to be a bumper year for chanterelle mushrooms. If you have never had one of these, I cannot urge you enough to go find some – they grow in sparse, mossy woods. Their meaty texture and gorgeous colour make them an excellent addition to almost any fall meal. Plus, with our weather, it never hurts to have a little extra Vitamin D, which chanterelles pack in spades.

Wild mint, harvested and drying in the kitchen. Photo by Genevieve Brouillette.
Wild mint, harvested and drying in the kitchen. Photo by Genevieve Brouillette.

I spotted a huge patch of Scotch lovage (aka Scots lovage) on a recent trip to the Bonavista Peninsula. Tasting somewhere between celery and parsley, I’ve been using it as a garnish and as a nice addition to salads. The folks at The Moose Curry Experience have a nice recipe for tabbouleh using Scotch lovage instead of parsley. Although I have never come across this plant on the Avalon, it is here – I guess I just haven’t been in the right place at the right time. Close to where I found the lovage, near Port Rexton, I identified and ate my first skunk cherry. There are few things more appropriately named, and I don’t recommend that anybody follow my example unless they are lost and desperately hungry.

Closer to home – that is, very close to home – my partner discovered a large crop of wild mint growing (which seems to be in prime season right now, so go out and get it!). So far, we’ve used it to make a yogurt-mint dressing for a roasted-beet and apple salad, tea, and plans are in the air for mojitos later this week. Speaking of tea, raspberry leaves (now that the berries are pretty much done) can be harvested for the purpose – as mentioned in an earlier article, this drink has a number of health benefits, particularly for women.

So, all in all, this growing season hasn’t been a total failure – although most of the success is credited to Nature. How lucky are we to live in a place with such easy access to the woods and trails, where foods that are considered the height of decadence and sell for a hefty price at the grocery store grow abundantly all around us?


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