Find your Food

Want to live off the land? Playing a survival game? Or maybe you just want to see what all the ‘foraging’ fuss is about? All it takes is a little know-how to find your next feast.

blackberry-226824_960_720Before you forage on your own, take a walking tour or field class with a native plant expert or foraging group. Those in the know can help you locate and identify plants that are safe to eat, as well as offer advice on preparation. (Some have specific cooking requirements to make them safe and palatable.) Look to your local Native Plant Society to find an expert near you.

Familiarize yourself with what plants, bushes, and trees grow in your area, even in your own neighborhood. Invest in a quality field guide that offers detailed descriptions and color photos. Don’t be afraid to jot notes in the margins or include your own photos to help you remember where and what time of year you found a particular plant.

Popular Foods to Forage

Weeds: Purslane, stinging nettle, dandelion

Greens: Watercress, wild mustard, miner’s lettuce

Mushrooms: Morel, oyster, chanterelle

Fruits: Raspberries, rose hips, blackberries

Roots and bulbs: Wild leek (ramps), wild garlic, onion

Nuts: Acorns, black walnut, beechnut

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Don’t eat a wild plant without having it checked by an expert first!
  • Don’t eat plants from a questionable environment, like a golf course, farm field, parking lot, or manufacturing plant. It’s possible there could be chemical run-off or pesticides present.
  • Do go slow. It’s hard to know how your body will react. Eat only a little to check for an allergy or intolerance.
  • Don’t collect from nature preserves, harvest at entire area, or pick a threatened species.
  • Do only pick as much as you need — overharvesting can easily lead plants to extinction.
  • Do harvest in the morning after the dew dries, but before the heat of the day.

Transplant Shrub Roses

The best transplanting time depends on where you live. From the warmer parts of zone 5 on south, the shrubs will do best if moved in early fall, though early spring is also a possibility. In colder climates, the preference is reversed: it’s best to move the roses in spring, as soon as the ground can be worked, but you can also move them in the fall if you do it at least six weeks before hard frost is expected.

Assuming you move them to an area that has good soil, good sun, and good air circulation, relocation should be no problem. But digging up and moving plants does always create some stress, so for best results:

  • If possible, choose an overcast day for the transplanting operation.
  • Water the roses thoroughly two days before you plan to move them.
  • Be sure to prepare the new planting holes before you dig up the roses; the less time the roots spend enjoying the light of day, the better. Err on the side of generosity when deciding how big to make the new holes; filling in one that turned out to be too big is a lot easier (on the rose, anyway) than last-minute expansion of a hole that turned out to be too small. It’s also wise to have dampened burlap handy to cover the roots if they are going to be exposed for longer than a few minutes.
  • If you’re transplanting in spring, take the opportunity to remove weak growth and prune for shape. But if you are transplanting in the fall, wait until the following spring before pruning anything unless it has been injured.

Roses and Epsom salts

While Epsom salts belong on every gardener’s shelf, its primary use is in the gardener’s bath after a hard day of bending and digging.

There are many gardeners who swear by the salts for their roses or spinach. And perhaps it does help sometimes because Epsom salts contains magnesium and sulfur, two essential micronutrients. Magnesium is found in chlorophyll, which helps plants turn sunshine into food, and sulfur is used to make several proteins. If your soil were deficient in one of these elements, Epsom salts might do some good, but most specialists in plant nutrition say that average garden soil contains enough sulfur and magnesium in forms that are readily available to the plants to keep everyone happy and healthy.

Trick Your Weeds

by Sharon Morrisey, Consumer Horticulture Agent in Milwaukee County

sow-thistle-weedIn fall, weeds’ natural biology changes gears from growth mode to storage mode and they start moving carbohydrates into their roots for winter. By applying herbicides to weeds at this time, you trick them into doing some of the dirty work for you. They will carry the chemicals into their roots along with their carbohydrates where these products kill the plants, roots and all. Shorter days and a string of several evenings with temperatures in the 30s are the signals for plants to shirt to storage mode and for you to get out your sprayer.

Choose your weed killer carefully. Although some products can tell a dandelion from a blade of grass, they do not distinguish between that dandelion and your prized dahlia. That is why it is so difficult to use broadleaf herbicides in mixed flower and vegetable beds where the weeds and your precious plants are all broadleaves. Other herbicides kill everything green and living, dandelions, dahlias, and your lawn alike. Making this mistake for spot treating your lawn leaves dozens of little round dead spots where you sprayed.

Fall Lawn Fertilization

by Lisa Johnson, horticulture educator for Dane County UW-Extension

Fertilize lawns every year to maintain grass density and ability to shade out weed seedlings and prevent runoff. Nitrogen fertilizers should be applied at least twice a year — around Memorial Day and Labor Day. An application can be made around the Fourth of July, if conditions are moist enough. Apply no more than 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per application, with a total of 3 pounds of nitrogen per season.

Fall is the most important time of year to fertilize, especially in early September. This promotes faster green-up and growth next spring. For conventional lawn fertilizer, choose one with at least 25 to 50 percent slow-release (insoluble) nitrogen by formulation. This information is on the bag.

Avoid blends with high rates of quick-release (soluble) nitrogen. Turf grown in sun needs 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Turf in shade needs 1/2 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. You can reduce the amount of fertilizer you need by up to one application per year by leaving clippings on your lawn. They release nitrogen as they decay.

You can use organic lawn fertilizer products versus conventional ones, but realize they contain less soluble nitrogen and grass won’t green up as fast. Soil microorganisms must break them down to release the nitrogen, unlike conventional soluble products. In general, you need to apply about twice as much of the organic products to get the same result as conventional products, but this depends on the form of the organic product and how much nitrogen it contains. A benefit to organic products is that after roughly 10 to 20 years of use, organic nitrogen accumulates in the soil and grass begins to need less fertilization.


Better Vegetables Ahead

by Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce and St. Croix counties UW-Extension

As you harvest your vegetable garden, there are things you can do to improve your soil for better crops next year, including planting cover crops! Cover crops, sometimes called green manures, are relatively fast-growing plants that improve the soil’s physical structure and fertility.

Seed cover crops into areas as you harvest your vegetables. As they grow, they act as reservoirs for plant nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as micronutrients. When worked into the soil, cover crops return those nutrients to the soil, making them available to future vegetables crops. They also increase organic matter to improve the soil’s overall physical structure. Cover crops in the pea (legume) family are able to convert nitrogen from the air into a form useable by plants. Cover crops also reduce bare soil, which helps prevent soil erosion and weed growth.

Cover Crops for Late Summer and Early Fall
Cover Crop Seeding Rate Comments
for 100 Sq. Ft.
Oats 4 pounds Medium growth rate dies in winter
Field Peas 5 pounds Fixes nitrogen; outcompetes weeds dies in winter
Oilseed Radish 1 pound Fast growth rate; breaks compacting dies in winter
Winter Rye 4 pounds Fast grower; can be planted late
Annual Ryegrass 1 pound Fast growing dies in winter
Winter Wheat 2 pounds Fast growing; not for low pH soil

Which cover crop is best for your garden depends on your needs. While some cover crops should be planted early in the growing season, cool-season cover crops are planted in late summer to early fall, early enough so that they establish some growth before winter. Some crops will be killed by freezing temperatures, while others will go dormant for winter and begin growing again in spring. Those that are killed by freezing, such as oats, are good for use in areas where you will do an early spring planting of cool-season vegetables. If warm-season vegetables will be planted, cover crops, such as winter rye, which will resume growth in spring, may be a good choice.

To get the most from your cover crop, mow or till the plants before they flower to keep them from storing nutrients in their seeds and to prevent self-seeding in your garden. After working the plants into your soil, allow at least a couple of weeks for them to decompose before planting your vegetable crops.

Small Trees with Big Fall Color

by Lisa Johnson, horticulture educator for Dane County UW-Extension


Carpus caroliniana

The color of trees and shrubs this time of year is one of the best things about fall. Maples are often the stars of the show, but some small-scale trees can bring the colorful leaves closer and light up the mid-level of your garden. One native tree hardy to Zone 3 that thrives in partial shade and moist to average soil is musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana). Its fall color ranges from yellow to orange to red orange. It grows 20-30 feet tall. Musclewood, sometimes called blue beech or hornbeam, has interesting sinewy-looking bark (hence the name) and ornamental seedpods. Local Wisconsin nurseryman Mike Yanny of Johnson’s Nursery and JN Plant Selections introduced a lovely variety, Firespire (‘JN Upright’), with a tight, upright growth habit and red-orange fall color.

Amelanchier, or serviceberry, trees are Wisconsin natives, hardy to Zone 4 with a similar range of fall color and height as musclewood. Many cultivars are available and most are multi-stemmed plants. They display best fall color in sun, but tolerate some shade and need a moist to average soil. They sport beautiful clusters of white flowers in spring, bird-attracting fruits in summer and silvery bark and an elegant form in winter.

Eastern fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a native multi-stemmed tree hardy to Zone 4, growing to about 15 feet tall. It prefers full sun to part shade in soils with adequate moisture. Fringetree bears large panicles of confetti-like, white, lightly fragrant flowers in spring, shiny green leaves in summer and a good deep golden fall color.

Appleton Seed Library

by OCMGA Master Gardener Kari Witthuhn, Interviewed by Master Gardener Bev Kindschy

Appleton Seed Library is a relatively new endeavor that has gained a strong following in a short amount of time. Master Gardener Bev Kindschy interviewed Master Gardener Kari Witthuhn who envisioned the program and has been behind its success.

What is the history behind Appleton Seed Library? ASL was conceptualized in the winter of 2015. Throughout the course of the next year, I studied the history of seed libraries, visited four different branch locations within our state, attended the annual Seed Savers Conference in Decorah, Iowa, worked on design elements/handouts, took seed saving courses, and created the vision and execution to open the “drawers” at Appleton Public Library. For me, I really wanted to promote community building, elevate the importance of heirloom seed saving, and engage in collecting the stories of seeds themselves. Being an artist by nature, the idea of curating a creative project like this was a great fit.

What was the need you saw? Seeds are an overlooked link to human survival. Historically, seeds have always been a shared commodity; today we face their control, patenting and stricter regulations. After listening to Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” interview about seed libraries, it helped me understand the importance of seed biodiversity, appreciate local flavor via produce and the importance of creating a common place for like-minded folks to share in this seed based reciprocity. The ecological impact, enjoyment of growing seed to seed and the nutritional aspect all resonate with me. Regionally, the closest seed library is in Waupaca, so the need for one in the Fox Cities was present.

How did grant writing go? All seed libraries are designed, governed and established in various ways. Having some “seed money” was a clear need I identified early on. As I considered all the ways to raise money to launch the program, I was connected with the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley. Learning the grant writing process was fairly easy because I had a niche that definitely could impact a diverse array of patrons and help promote sustainability. What hurdles did you have? The biggest hurdle I face is the lack of other core members to help maintain, grow and foster the potential behind all that a seed library could be for a community.

What successes? The heirloom seed sharing community is generous; I’ve connected with an array of wonderful large and grassroots seed companies that are working hard to maintain seed diversity and heritage. I’ve successfully held a celebratory ‘Seedy Saturday’ event to celebrate the years we’ve been open to the public; both years have drawn over 100 community members. I’ve created a ‘Seed Stewards’ program that helps to maintain seed stock inventory. In 2017, we had five local growers signed up to grow our various seeds and that number is rising for 2018.

What is the status of your project today? April 2018, we celebrated our two year
of seed sharing and seed education. We’ve dispersed over 2,000 seed packets and have held over a dozen hands on learning and educational workshops. We continue to remain open to various community partnerships, and will begin working to integrate our seeds into local school garden programs.

Do you have any call to action? To impact the community as I’d envisioned, I definitely need more OCMG’s to step into various roles; organization, volunteer support, education, long range planning, seed packing, etc. I also wish to document local seed stories from people who have acquired saved seeds from a lineage of past growers. If you know an old farmer/gardener or personally have seeds that you save from year to year, I’d love to set up interviews. I’m looking to develop a core group of OCMG seed savers to assist in sustaining the seed stock which would be a more intensive mentorship than our current ‘Seed Stewards’ program.


For more information about seed saving and the Seed Savers Exchange, read our previous blog here.