Glad to be Hunter-Gatherer

So the hunting is more about going to Foodtown to pick up some ribs for my partner to smoke (and are they good, and I mean damn good!) but the gathering part I’m also starting to really dig.  Right now I’m borrowing from my very-most-awesome- neighbor-friend the book Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places, by “Wildman” Steve Brill with Evelyn Dean, 1994, and trying to not get the pages too covered with pricey dirt or, earlier today, the really good Sunday Bloody Mary my hunter made for us.

Notwithstanding, I believe I am starting to get closer to the question of whether my three bushes out back (I think I described them incorrectly before as a single bush) are dogwoods or elderberry.  Knowing as you do now that there are three, not one, you can see why this question is ever so pressing, as Brooklyn garden space is premium real estate and I don’t want to waste it with something that might poison the kiddies who frequent the place, or my dog for that matter, nor am I sure I want to leave it if it isn’t behaving usefully, like giving me some tasty berries to make wine or jam, or hiding in its bark the secret cure for hay fever.  Sure, I am getting sold on the idea that native plants are good to have around in their own right and for the simple sake that they are part of an ecosystem that’s been messed with for too long but I’m still not 100% convinced on that matter.  Regardless, I like the thought of eating the stuff in my yard.

It must be on other people’s minds, too, because I found myself in my backyard Saturday in a group of people, all nibbling on these cute delicate little creatures with soft tangy leaves like clover, all trying to remember the name of this same thing that we knew from when we were kids.  Someone suggested ramps (which was way off as it turns out – I know because a good-old fashioned real-live farmer showed up later and went into how they found ramps behind their property in a swampy wasteland but now folks are flocking for them).  Ultimately, we grabbed the book (thanks neighbor!), and found that they were sorrels.  Yummy ones, too!

I’m definitely interested in eating more stuff in my yard and maybe your yard too.  But before I do, I think it would be responsible of me to get a little more educated on the subject.  Toward that end, I’m thinking about taking a tour with author and forager, “Wildman” Steve Brill, author of the book I’ve been devouring (not literally).  There’s one at Central Park on the 11th and another in our conveniently located Prospect Park on June 18.  Just wondering….

QUESTION: Has any one of you taken a tour with Wildman Steve Brill?  Would you recommend it?  Do you know other people doing these sorts of tours?  Any of you brushing off your gathering skills (it must still be in our DNA somewhere), and foraging for your own fare?  Any words of caution?  Words of wisdom?  Any stories of watching someone keel over after eating what looked like an elderberry but was really from a weird strain of dogwood?  Any anything?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt.

SCREEEEEECH!  STOP THE PRESS!!!  Okay, so I thought it would be nice of me to link y’all to sorrels on Wikipedia and when I did, I saw that they do not AT ALL match the description of what friends and I were dining on in my backyard Saturday.  Someone help me out before I kill us all … I will post a pic tomorrow in daylight and let me know if any of you recognizes it.  In the meantime, for those wanting to know what real sorrels look like, here ya go (then again it is Wikipedia, could be wrong?  Maybe?  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorrel).  I also couldn’t find sorels in my handy dandy Edible Plants book, which leads me to another …

UPDATE as of 8/10/11: they were wood sorrels.  Wikipee was showing me a different type of sorrel.

QUESTION: Does anyone out there have any other recommended sources for checking out edibility of wild plants?  Anything more recent, anything forthcoming?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt on this one too.  Oh, and thanks!

Update on Dirt Cheap and Three Question Sets

So I went back to Shannon’s, my local garden supply store, because I needed to confirm the price of that dirt I’d been complaining about.  Well, I was wrong – wouldn’t be the first time but it also means I need to make sure I always get an itemized receipt there.  Not that I think anyone was intentionally trying to scam me but I do think I paid for a bag of soil I did not get.  The way it works there is that they ring up your order, then you go and pick up the soil you want.  Since I’m a regular there (or maybe they’re just trusting), they don’t usually closely examine the receipt that I hand to them – just a quick eyeball and they hand me my goods.

In their defense, it is a busy place and they’re quick with the transactions.  Still, isn’t it just good business practice to give an itemized receipt?  I remember when I was a kid in Beloit, Wisconsin.  We’d go to Shopko with my dad nearly every weekend.  He’d watch as the clerk entered each item in the register (yes, I think it was entering it, not scanning it back then), then when the total amount came up – cha-ching – he’d look at each item, counting them in his head, reviewing the receipt.  Then, when we were out in the car, all our goodies packed up and ready to go, he’d look at the receipt again, counting each item thrice.  If everything was right, he’d pull a Fred Sanford, “This is the big one, Elizabeth,” clutching his hand over his heart in homage to Redd Foxx, in mock protest.  If he found something wrong, though, he’d go into mode, his voice dropping a couple octaves and his brow growing into a little furrow.  More than once we kids found ourselves back in the store, with the manager standing next to Dad, reviewing the receipt again, and, almost inevitably, my dad would leave with his wallet just a little heavier than before.

All that aside, here’s a CORRECTION to my previous speculation that a bag of organic top soil at Shannon’s of Brooklyn costs $5.00.  I inquired and found out the following: Fafard Premium Topsoil (Organic), 30 lbs. bag is $5.00 [no price listed on their site], and Hamptons Estate Topsoil (Organic), 30 lbs. bag is $6.00 [also not listing a price on its website – this product is made by the Long Island Compost Co.].  Please don’t take my word for it – go somewhere and confirm for yourself.  I’m curious though, ….

QUESTION: What garden supply store do you recommend for a good deal on soil?  Keeping in mind that many of us (namely me) live in urban areas and may not have a vehicle to drive to pick up a bag, is there a deal that may not be near by but is good enough to bother a friend for a ride, or pay a willing car service to do the dirty work with you?  All of this leads me to another …

QUESTION: Can anyone tell me whether it’s standard business practice to give itemized versus non-itemized receipts?  Why?  Do businesses try to add products thinking the customer won’t notice?  Does a lowly clerk not care enough to bother?  What if it’s a ma and pop shop, and the clerk is the owner?  Do you think people are inherently honest or apt to get away with as much as they can?  Are they just sloppy?  Am I just paranoid?  Did I spend one too many days as a kid in a hot car while my dad counted and recounted our ShopKo supplies?  Or is it that people are no longer careful enough to watch their money, count their change and review receipts?  Have we become sloppy with our money, a hallmark of the credit card generation, and symptomatic of our debt acquiescence?  Do you ask for an itemized receipt when you don’t get one?  Do you ask for a receipt at all?  All of this leads me to another …

QUESTION: Why is it my local garden supply store, Shannon’s, is named the David Shannon Nursery & Florist if it has, as its site says, “been a family operated business for over 30 years by Joseph Perrotta and family.”  Joseph Perrotta, is there something you want to tell your customers?  And, which is it: 30 or 40 years?  Later the site says: David Shannon Florist and Nursery, is the leading florist, nursery and greenhouse in Brooklyn New York. Family owned and operated business for over 40 years by Joseph Perrotta and family.”  David Shannon, whoever you are, wherever you are, how bout you?  Do I smell a story here?

Go ahead … gimme the dirt.

Triscuit Seed Card – Moldy Oldy?

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And maybe these are oversoaked? Does anyone know? Can you over-soak a seed? I did go longer than the two to four hours on the instructions but I thought that would rather kickstart them.

QUESTION: should I use or toss this seed?  Anyone ever use the Triscuit card seeds on the back of the box? Anyone know whether they are trustworthy?  Where are these seeds from? What about the glue that keeps the two sides of the card together – harmless or heinous?  Do seeds grow mold?  Does it matter?  Should I use these seeds anyway?  Anyone see anything other than basil or dill on the Triscuit’s box?  Triscuit’s seed cards: marketing gimmick, good samaritanism, or terrorist plot?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt.

Whatever Happened to Dirt Cheap?

I went to my local garden supply store, around the corner – Shannon’s on Fort Hamilton Pkwy.  I wanted to buy a little soil and mulch since I used up the mulch so generously donated by newly known neighbor/friend, and the two big bins of compost I started out the season with are down to about half of one of those bins, and I’m trying to build up some soil in my backyard (literally, build it “up”) because I could not decide between planter boxes, planter pails, or the good old ground for the four heirloom tomatoes I picked up in Saratoga Springs, so I’m doing something kinda in between.  So I decided to buy some soil and mulch to help me out.  Two bags of topsoil, one bag of mulch and one bag of something else but it was, basically, dirt.  That, one pair of gardening gloves not more than $10 (I’ve worn my others out), and $8.00 worth of impatiens, and the bill came to around sixty bucks.  No lie.  That averages to about ten dollars for a bag of soil.  They’re big but they’re not outrageously big.  They’re organic and free of those nasty chemicals that self-water and self-feed and time release and all that junk.  But, still… am I crazy to think that’s a bit pricey?  Am I out of touch?  No, that isn’t my question.  It is….

QUESTION: How much is good dirt these days?   … AND … is it like other things where you might find a better deal online?  Did dirt go up along with every other useful item for living lately?  If it did, is it just to keep pace, to seize on the panic, or is there a real reason behind the increase?  Is it just that expensive here in NY?  Are gardeners elsewhere feeling the pinch too?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt, really, I mean it this time.  Give it to me, preferably for free or really really cheap.

Gee, Dad, that’s great.

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“the Greatest Ever”? As in kick your ass great? As in no whammies great? As in big money great? As in Tony the Tiger great? 

As in, Gee Dad that’s great.  Thanks … FOR RUINING MY LIFE! 

(as in it’s great that I don’t have a five-year old to explain this one to — as seen on 7th Ave, Park Slope, today)

If There’s a Summer Reading List

On rainy days like this week, I like to think about when the slugs have slithered or been salted away, when my garden will be all lush and beautiful, full of flowers in bloom and meticulously cultivated organic juicy red tomatoes whisper, “eat me, eat me,” (yours say that too, right?).  Yes, these soggy days I drift in my mind to when I will finally feel the tickle of perfect, pesticide-free, native grasses beneath my feet, and I will lord over my bounty, a steamy cup of morning joe in hand, gently brewed from individually selected, hand-picked, shade grown, fairly traded, equally exchanged, peacefully planted coffee beans lovingly smuggled from some distant corner of the globe, when bounty bursts forth from each bud in each hand-painted, Gaudi-inspired mosaic-print pot.  Well, maybe not all that.  But I do get through these days without a trowel thinking about what, other than gardening, I will be doing with my long summer days (besides pecking away at my desktop under flourescent glowlights, day in, day out, thinking about what I could be doing with those long summer days).  And that, naturally, turns to reading.  

Assuming those weird Canadians (thanks for the link, Bronwen – see Armagarden post comments below) are wrong, and no one will be whisked needlessly away into the unfeeling blue yonder by an unloving god, I think it’s time we talk summer reading list.  Top of mine is “What Would Google Do,” by Jeff Jarvis.  I’m only twenty pages in but I’m hooked.  I think it’ll be a perfect subway read (being realistic, for those of us not fortunate enough to have a home in the Hamptons or anywhere but our concrete slab of this city, it’s just more practical to think in terms of a subway read rather than beach books).  More on this later but the skinny is it’s about Google, the first “post-media company,” what it’s doing right, and what other companies can learn from it.  Although it’s early to tell, I’m pretty sure he’s also sending out a warning signal to all the rest of the companies who think they can keep doing business as used-to-be: we’re in a new era, folks.  And the old ways just aren’t cutting it.  But, it may take many a more company to flounder and sputter about before that message gets through.  I’m also putting on my list Just Kids, the Patti Smith memoir, just ‘cuz, and maybe…not sure what else.  How about you?

QUESTION: what’s on your list?  What will you be reading this summer?  What’s the last book you read?  Are you glad you did?  Was it on a  Nook, Kindle or in your good, old-fashioned hands?  What are you reading now?  Any suggestions for a good gardening book (tall order, I know, but one worth filling). 

(I just picked up How to Grow Practically Everything by Zia Allaway and Lia Leendertz, DK Publishing 2010, which is a great book to have on hand, easy to peruse & good how-to photos, and also am flipping through, courtesy of my most very cool neighbor, Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich regarding how to give the earth a break and grow above ground, like on newspapers and clippings – inneresting but not sure it’s for me.  I like to dig in the dirt, what can I say?  We’ll see. )

LINKS: http://www.buzzmachine.com/,/ (Jeff Jarvis’s blog)