April Showers Bring Brassicas (and New Outdoor Opportunities)

One of the surest signs of spring is the presence of new growth from plants in your surrounding community. That growth is slow at first, with buds growing in size, their hairy exteriors ready to burst forth with flowers and leaves. Others like crocus (Crocus spp.) and other bulbs rise from the soil like clockwork while gardeners and folks who are addicted to lawn culture scorn the arrival of onion grass (Allium vineale) and spring beauties (Claytonia spp.). Indeed, as we drive along the highways and pavement covered parts of our land, we yearn for the first signs of leaf growth once more that will herald the promise of spring and the eventual arrival of summer.

Here in New England, spring always feels like it has to shoo winter out. The grip of ice and snow slowly leaves like a distant relative who is a little slow on the uptake. You think of them as a welcome addition at the holidays with the “postcard snow” covering the nearby houses in a glaze of powdery snow while sighing pines beckon you along a snowy glade. As soon as January 7th rolls around, the welcome wears off as the accumulated grime of too many holiday parties gathers from the corners and wears on your mind until it thaws out and washes away.

Even when it seems like winter has finally left us, it leaves little reminders around to make sure you’re sufficiently paranoid it might return. I felt this way on Tuesday morning when, after a significant period of warming, the ice sheet that had been melting over the weekend was bordered by skim ice. If you are unfamiliar with the term, skim ice is the paper thin, crinkled ice you see on the top of puddles when a frost has seen through. It usually melts when temperatures rise above freezing and drifts aimlessly about the water and cruises into the shoreline where it gets crushed before melting away.

Skim ice on Tuesday morning.

Eventually, when the lake is ice free, the water will start to rise and resume its natural lake level. Even though it looks like it’s risen a few inches along our stretch of shoreline, it still has a long way to go in regaining the six feet it lost as part of the lake drawdown, this past October.

Overlooking the lake is our small plant collection consisting of two of my plants (Steve the Golden Pothos and Jeff the Zebra Haworthia) from my adventures as an environmental educator, a Gerbera that was a congratulations gift to Becca and I after getting engaged, and several egg boxes of recently started seedlings. The seedlings we planted included brassicas (kale and broccoli), two or three varieties of tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), onions (A. cepa) and leeks (A. ampeloprasum), and the herbs, basil (Ocimum spp.) and stevia (Stevia spp.). Our hope is to start a vegetable garden when we move to our new home in a few weeks and that by starting the seedlings early, we can guarantee a quicker harvest.

Kale seedlings beginning their sun-craving pilgrimage.

In my perpetual quest to become a jack of all trades, yet master of none (at least when it comes to home care and gardening), I’ve started learning about the general skills I will need to know in order to care for plants. As it turns out while there is a great deal to know about the specifics of certain plants like soil pH, shade tolerance, pests to look out for and so on; they generally need the same things in order to survive. Our young seedlings and seeds yet to grow are currently nestled in rich soil and are watered regularly. They are also positioned on the sun-lit balcony overlooking Northwood Lake with the young and eager brassicas constantly looking to the southwest in the afternoons as they translate the radiant sunlight and carbon dioxide around them and the water they draw through their roots into sugars the plant needs for energy and the oxygen it gives off as a waste byproduct.

Hopefully, by harvest time we’ll be able to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of our labors and feel confident in our ability to supplement our food supply with these organic and local foods. As the spring gives way to summer, I’ll be seeking out opportunities to cook wild foods for supper and have tasked myself with using ten recipes from Hank Shaw’s cookbook, Hunt, Gather, Cook. In addition, I’ve also tasked myself with beginning to practice my archery technique, both as a means to strengthen my arms and as a way to practice for my first hunt. After completing the required safety courses needed for a hunting license, I’ll be able to begin exploring my local public lands for the chance to bring home hyper-local food for my family. As summer progresses, I’ll also be looking into fishing opportunities so that I can participate in that harvest as well. I’ve only eaten my own wild caught fish a few times, but each time I tried it, I felt immediately satisfied that I had provided such delicious food for myself.

A hybrid sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus x macrochirus) caught in Pennington, NJ in 2013.
It was returned to the water after this photo was taken.

It’s all very excited and something wonderful to look forward to. The chance to eat wild food should be cherished and we should do all we can to preserve those chances for future generations to enjoy and current ones should continue to do so. I’m excited to step into the wild once more in search of delights as well as dinner.

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