Book Review: The Family That Forages Together Stays Together

When I picked up this book, I was looking for practical information on foraging for food in an urban environment.

I like to garden and (frankly) would prefer to live in the country on a little hobby farm, but I work in IT Security, so my job keeps me city-bound. Identifying and using wild plants is something I’ve had a long-standing interest in, but was never able to pursue, so I started poking around different blogs and forums, looking for information on plant-identification classes and nature hikes. That was when I stumbled across this book.

The family lives in a suburban environment. Midwestern cities tend to look very suburban, even in the inner city – this is not universal, of course, but as a general rule, we have a lot more green space than people in much more densely populated areas (particularly along the coasts). Therefore, this book describes a living situation that is very close to my own.

If you are living in the inner city (a truly urban environment) you will probably find this book equal parts interesting, entertaining and not-entirely-useful.

The book is filled with hands-on practical advice, but the facts are provided through the medium of the journey of discovery this family experienced during a year of living off of what they could forage. Every family member had been involved in learning these skills – and they clearly had a wonderful time playing outside together as they pursued this interest. So, the decision to attempt living off of their foraging for an entire year was a natural and logical progression of this pursuit.

Personally, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was fascinating and eye-opening from the perspective of what is possible, even within a suburban (or urban) environment. There are several points where they decide to collect apples, berries or rose hips off of public land (e.g.: the decorative bushes planted in the medium in the middle of a road or an apple tree in a public park) and find themselves asking – or being asked – if that was even allowed. Of course, the next question was always – who’s going to stop us? After all, there aren’t any official apple-protecting-police-officers assigned to the park.

There are also a lot of really good tips and commentary on raising a family. The beneficial aspects to simply setting a goal and pursuing it together, as a family and as a team, are beautifully illustrated by this book.

It’s an excellent read. I strongly recommend taking a look.

Quotes from this book can be found HERE.

Browsing Nature’s Aisles: A Year of Foraging for Wild Food in the Suburbs by Wendy Brown and Eric Brown

Bragging Rights: My Tiny Garden

When I moved into this duplex, the landlord gave me permission to do a little gardening. It was one of the many questions I had before moving in and the representative from the company that manages this building assured me it was ok. Of course, this is a place I rent, not a place I own, so I have been both cautious and careful about what I plant and how much money I spend.

We’ve had an unusually large amount of rain this year, and most of the plants in my little garden plots are doing extremely well – therefore, I have decided to brag about my garden.

Herbs In The Front Yard

I removed the weeds, put down mulch, and planted (from left to right) Swiss Chard, Cilantro, purple Sage and Chives (purple flowering). The Hosta (in the center) was already there.

All of these plants are doing really well except the chives. For some reason, the chives are struggling.

Pretty Flowers Beside The Door

I’d taken the time to give this bush a much-needed trim before putting down mulch and planting some pretty purple and pink flowers for mother’s day (a family tradition). I’m glad we chose the flowers we did because, soon after, the bush burst into bloom with pretty pink (bright pink!) flowers in the spring. Sadly, I did not take a picture before the flowers were all gone – they are rather short-lived.

For some reason, this house has two doors, and two sets of cement steps leading up to those doors, on the same side of the house. The bush in this picture is the same bush in the previous picture. Since this second door is never used (it even has a ‘do not use’ sign), I played around with using this stoop as a home for plants in pots.

This flower is the only thing that really took to this location (and survived the squirrels). It’s such a pretty flower! I wish I’d thought to take a picture when the whole thing was in bloom. I’ll have to try to remember to snap a photo with my phone the next chance I get.

Strawberry Patch

I pulled all the weeds out of this area along the side of the house, put down mulch and planted strawberry plants. They have not started to produce strawberries, but they have been growing strong. A few are starting to send out little vines, so they should spread out nicely.

The large leafy flowering plants behind the strawberries were already there. They produce pretty orange flowers when they are in bloom. The low leafy flowering plants (tiny purple flowers when in bloom) around the edges are all over the yard. There isn’t much grass on this property because these plants cover everything, so the grass grows up around them. It’s actually kind of nice because they are just as soft as grass, so it doesn’t get in the way of lounging/playing in the backyard.

I allowed some of the purple flowers to remain around the strawberries because they were pretty when they were in bloom but they spread aggressively, so I have to weed them away from the strawberries from time to time.

Old Laundry Line Pole

When I did the walk-through on this place, this old metal pole in the backyard stood out like a sore thumb. It’s left over from a time when people did laundry outside. There’s nowhere to attach a laundry line/rope, so it has no purpose except to just stand there looking like…well, like this.

I was trying to find a way to make it less ugly when I noticed that it was both extremely solid/sturdy and it had holes drilled into the arms. So, I went out and bought some hanging baskets, planted some flowers and decorated with a wind chime. Much better! (Not perfect, but BETTER!)

If I owned this place…or if I had the tools, time and skills…I would seriously look at turning this thing into some kind of hanging garden with several tiers of wide (the width of the arms) garden boxes. Another option is to plant a flowering vine (of some sort) at the base and let it consume the entire pole.

Hmmm…

This is an excellent example of one of the primary reasons why I find renting so frustrating – I just want to get out into the yard and fix it!

Former Wood Pile Is Now A Garden

When I moved in, I noticed a wood pile in the back of the yard. Throughout the Midwest, burning wood in your yard is extremely common. Even in the middle of the city, on rented property, people will have city-approved fire pits. So, the wood pile wasn’t unusual.

When spring arrived (I moved in during the winter) I realised it was a wood and trash pile, filled with all sorts of rotting things that needed to be dealt with (somehow). There were also lots of broken glass, beer bottle tops and cigarette butts all over the yard – I guess the former tenants had many gatherings (or something). When you rent, this sort of problem is common. People just don’t take care of places they don’t own.

So, I sorted out the wood pile, got the trash hauled away (including the glass and cigarettes, when I found them), put everything into the yard-waste garbage can that was allowed and used the former wood-and-trash-pile space to create a tiny vegetable garden.

I had several pots full of dirt that I’d attempted to use for gardening-from-seed, but the squirrels kept digging in the dirt. Every single time little shoots of plants would appear, I would come home to find the entire pot dug up – it was as if the squirrels had decided to stir it up (like a soup).

I finally decided to just dump all of the dirt into the former-wood-pile location, use some of the large wood pieces (not allowed in the yard waste bin) to create a garden border, and planted some already-grown plants purchased at local garden centers.

The end result is two tomato plants (in the back) and (from left to right in the front) zucchini, cucumbers and pumpkins.

There’s also a section of those flowering plants that are growing in other parts of the yard. This fence is really ugly, and a portion of the flowers was over-grown (potentially root bound), so I moved a small section out of the overgrown area and replanted it in this tiny garden plot. The thought was, long-term, these flowers would spread and cover up the fence line.

Wish It Were My Own

I really enjoy doing yard work on the weekends and playing around with little gardening projects. Obviously, I’m not a master gardener, but it’s fun.

Sadly, this is an apartment and, sooner or later, we will have to move. I’m going to miss this place when we leave.

Gardens Are Heaven

Quote

Amazon.com

The late Harold Epstein said that the first thing he did after he got to Heaven, after picking a flower he’d never seen before, was to thank God for the priceless gift of garden insanity.”

God Bless You Dr. Kevorkian, by Kurt Vonnegut

Note: In this book ‘Garden insanity’ = being an avid and passionate gardener.

Dandelion Ambition

Quote

Amazon.com

“Home at last! It knew just what to do. Right then and there, the little seed started to grow…Soon many more seeds filled the sky again. Each one had a dream. They bloomed in their own time. And each one made the world more beautiful.”

Dandelion Seed’s Big Dream, written by Joseph Anthony and Illustrated by Cris Arbo

Letter to a Fairy

Quote

Amazon.com

“If you have an old tree in your garden with a knothole or hollow in it, you are very lucky! This is a fairy mailbox and, for hundreds of years, people have used these to communicate wishes to the fairies. On a new moon, write a short letter with your wish on a small piece of paper. Place a flower in it and put it in the hollow. By the full moon, they should give you an answer!.”

The Magical Garden: Spells, Charms, and Lore for Magical Gardens and the Curious Gardeners Who Tend Them by Sophia Sargent

Magic Sunflowers

Quote

Amazon.com

“Growing sunflowers in your garden, especially in the front of your home, is said to bring all sorts of good luck. They dispel pests and negative energies as well. Marigolds do much the same, but to a lesser degree. If you cut down a sunflower at sunset at the winter solstice, and then make a wish, it is supposed to come true before the next sunset!”

The Magical Garden: Spells, Charms, and Lore for Magical Gardens and the Curious Gardeners Who Tend Them by Sophia Sargent

Giggle Book Award: Worm Puppets

dGiggly Wiggly Worms is written for very young children (age 3 and up). It has simple rhyming phrases and five finger puppets. It tells the story of five worms living in a compost bed. They are an amazing collection of worms living rather exciting lives and sporting a rainbow of bright colors, so it isn’t exactly compost realism.

Amazon.com

I picked this book up at a second-hand store. It was well used, with a binding that had seen better days, but the rest of the book was (and still is) in very good condition, so I thought ‘what the heck.’ It was something different and puppets are always fun.

As it turns out, this book has been regularly and repeatedly requested over the handful of years that I have owned it, which is why I am awarding this month’s Giggle Book Award to the five little composting worms in Giggly Wiggly Worms.

Quote:

“Purple worm slimes on moldy cheese. Purple worm yells out yip-yippees! He wriggles and giggles, and tickles your knees.”

Giggly Wiggly Worms by Neecy Twinem

Magic Ferns

Quote

Amazon.com

“If you stand silently at midnight surrounded by ferns and you can hear no sound, then Puck, the most feral fairy, will appear to you and give you wealth—this is called “watching the fern” and is an ancient custom.”

The Magical Garden: Spells, Charms, and Lore for Magical Gardens and the Curious Gardeners Who Tend Them by Sophia Sargent

Magic Stones

Quote

Amazon.com

“Specially shaped stones express the powers of the Earth in special ways and should be treasured. Stones with natural holes in them grant wishes and should be hung up in a garden. Stones with faces are said to contain gnomes—powers of the Earth—and can be planted in the garden and asked for help. They are said to help heal ill plants.”

The Magical Garden: Spells, Charms, and Lore for Magical Gardens and the Curious Gardeners Who Tend Them by Sophia Sargent

Refusing to Think

Quote

Amazon.com

“When people say “X is infinite,” what they are actually saying is “I refuse to think about X.””

Green Wizardry: Conservation, Solar Power, Organic Gardening, and Other Hands-On Skills From the Appropriate Tech Toolkit by John Michael Greer