We just finished harvesting the last of the wild leeks (ramps) that we’ll be drying and using throughout the next year. This spring harvest season has brought about a lot of questions and confusion about how to live a sustainable life without a consistent home. Kerry and I have both moved around quite a bit over the past few years but are trying our best to settle down and make a stable home. Until that happens, however, we need to continue to spend time finding new harvest sites for each of the wild edibles that we depend upon for our sustenance throughout the year.
We were lucky this spring since we saw a lot of last year’s ostrich fern growth at our sugaring site and knew that it would be a great place to return later in the spring to harvest fiddleheads. From previous experience, we also deduced that the site could be a great spot for harvesting wild leeks, but when the time came, they just didn’t seem to be around. We drove the road slowly, peering into the maple forest looking for that vivid green carpet in early spring that indicates an abundance of wild leeks. We talked continually about how it was the perfect environment for them and that they “should be here,” though we both know that there are countless factors in nature that we will never understand about why a plant is one place and not another.
Finally, we decided to park and walk up a hill a bit, just on a hunch. We wandered through dried raspberry canes, and weaved through the maples, scanning every direction for the elusive wild leeks. “Well, I guess we’ll just circle around and back down to the car,” Kerry finally said, a bit of defeat in his voice. Just then I saw a hint of green a few hundred yards uphill of the direction he had started to wander. “Ok, well how about we head just a bit further that way” I said, and pointed to the hint of green way off in the distance. We exchanged a hopeful glance and continued closer, finding a wild leek here, and another there, until we were finally in the midst of a large patch that extended as far as we could see! That hunch sure paid off this time.
Once home, we enjoyed delicious meals of wild leek pasta, eggs with leeks, venison stews with veggies and wild leeks, and made a delicious leek pesto for eating with crackers. The rest of them, we chopped up and spread out on our window screens (which haven’t yet replaced winter’s storm windows), and let them dry before storing in plastic buckets for use throughout the rest of the year.
The height of the summer season is quickly approaching - the days are growing long, there is only one small patch of snow left in a shady spot in our yard, and the spring leeks and fiddle heads are peeking through the leaves. I'm sure it will prove to be a busy one as I spend much of it with the Forest Service - paddling through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, maintaining campsites and portages, and conversing with other human visitors to this vast and beautiful area.
I'm also looking forward to continuing to learn about traditional craft and to sell the useful items that we make. As of now, we're scheduled to be at the following festivals, and hope to add more later in the summer, so be sure to check back often!
And we're also scheduled to teach classes at a few Folk Schools throughout the season.
I hope you'll stop by one of the festivals or sign up for a class!
As I’ve been immersing myself in the world of “Northern Craft” over the past year or so, I’ve had the amazing experience of learning about and participating in black ash basketry. The exact origin of this craft is unknown, but black ash baskets have played an important role in both native and Euro-American cultures of this area for hundreds of years or more.
My first experience with black ash came during the winter of 2014-2015, when I started learning to weave with some material that Kerry had pounded the previous summer. I learned how to prepare the material by cutting it to width, and also that by peeling one ring into two layers, I could not only double the amount of material for weaving, but that through this process, the smooth, shiny inner surface of the black ash could be exposed for a more “polished” look. I wove a few small and simple baskets, learning about the importance of even width weavers, strong uprights, basket proportions, and wished I had a few extra arms.
After moving to Minnesota and meeting numerous people who were interested in black ash basketry, but had little or no experience, Kerry and I decided to host a black ash weekend in which we could all learn about and experience the process together. It was a wonderful affair with nine people participating in some way or another. We pounded a log, removing ring by ring to produce a bathtub full of splint, wove baskets, ate delicious food, played music, relaxed in the sauna, and had general all-purpose fun.
We were out at our sugaring site on county land near out home today, when I noticed some movement from the corner of my eye. Since I haven’t spent much time in the “North Woods” for quite some time, I was startled to see a small bird with a beak almost as long as its body startle from the leaves! I had no idea what this little bird was, so I called out to Kerry who was emptying buckets a few hundred yards from where I was. I thought for sure that the bird would fly off at the sound of my voice, but it just stood there, stock still, while Kerry slowly and quietly made his way over to check it out. I quickly learned that this little bird was a Woodcock, and that they are considered a game bird in the area and usually flush when they detect a human nearby. We were able to watch this one up close for a few minutes and managed to snap a picture before made its way further into the forest.
We were thinking that perhaps this was a female that is nesting or preparing to nest and that is why she was so slow to flush, but any insight would be greatly appreciated!
Sugaring season is just about wrapping up (for maples at least – birch is next!) and I finally have a moment to sit down and reflect upon the busy season. We were planning on sugaring with a group of friends, all of whom decided fairly late in the game that they had other priorities. I’m not trying to dish out any blame or anything—just setting the stage. We had been fairly dependent on their land, firewood supply, equipment, etc., to make this season a successful one, and on top of finding out last minute that we needed to go it on our own, the trees decided to start running a few weeks earlier than normal.
We were able to scramble, borrowing some taps and buckets from a friend, carving the rest of the taps out of local hazel wood, borrowing more buckets from another friend, getting free 55 gallon steel drums from a local food distributer to use for storage and sap cooking, and at the very last minute we were able to get a permit to tap on county land a few miles from our house. We were tapping literally a half hour after the permit was issued and the trees started dripping as soon as the bit got through the bark!
Our goal for the year is to not have to buy any commercially produced sugar. For every gallon of maple syrup produced, we had to harvest about 40 gallons of sap, all carried or hauled on a sled about a quarter mile out from our site then brought back to the house to boil off gallons and gallons of water. It is estimated that it takes about a cord of wood to produce 10 gallons of syrup—all of which we had to cut and prep in addition to the 5 cords we needed to heat our house for the winter. As the season is winding down, we’re figuring that we’ll harvest and make about 12-13 gallons of maple syrup total. It seems like we’ve put in a lot of work, but figuring that the local market demands about $65 per gallon, we’ve made over $800 in maple syrup and should have plenty of sugar to use for the year!
In addition to making syrup, it is also possible to make granulated sugar from the maple sap. We’re planning on doing that once I have a sugaring trough carved (which I started last week). I’ll post about that when the time comes!
Well it’s been quite a while since I last posted! The winter season proved to be an exciting start to the business of brooms, bowls and spoons – we attended a few art fairs, now have our wares in multiple stores, and the online sales have been steady. After much thought, I decided to move away from Colorado, where the business originally started, and to head to the land of hardwoods and water. I’ve been living in the southwest for over ten years now and have been struggling to find my place in the world of traditional craft. The oaks grow in miniature, the aspen is incredibly soft, the junipers are twisty and difficult to work with, and pine, fir and spruce just can’t provide what I want. Though I have been extremely grateful for the apple and apricot trees on my land, and they have generously provided much spoon wood and many broom handles, it was time to move to where black cherry, sugar maple, beech and birch grow in abundance. Where the rivers flow and the lakes are not formed by dams, where gardens are watered by rain and not irrigated from reservoirs, and where the traditional crafts so common to my heritage have been practiced for generations. I’ve been busily working in the shop where I’ve been tying brooms and making bowls and spoons from cherry, birch, maple and beech. This summer should prove to be exciting and interesting and I’m looking forward to spending more time creating beautiful and useful items and less time hunting down suitable wood!
Be sure to check out our booth at the following art fairs this summer:
One of the most common questions I’m asked by customers is “How long does it take you to make a broom?” This is often a difficult question to answer. It is easy enough to determine how long it takes me to take a prepared broom handle and to tie on the broomcorn to make a finished broom, but the most time-consuming and difficult part of the process is finding suitable handle material and preparing it in a way that will allow it to lend a functional and aesthetic charm to the each broom.
The first necessary part of obtaining a broom handle is finding a source of sustainably harvested saplings or tree branches. Saplings are ideal because they grow straighter, however some tree branches, such as apple wood water shoots, can also grow straight and long enough to be used as a broom handle. The majority of our broom handles come from aspen saplings sustainably harvested with a commercial permit on a local National Forest. These are often the most time-intensive broom handles, since we must drive high in the mountains to large aspen stands and hunt around for the perfectly sized and shaped saplings. The rest of our broom handles are a conglomerate of harvesting invasive Russian olive saplings, pruning fruit trees, or “rescuing” the wood from neighbors’ burn piles.
The next step is allowing the wood to dry slowly so the broom handles don’t exhibit excessive checking (cracking), so after harvesting, we paint the ends with wax and store them for a few months to allow them to dry. After obtaining and drying the wood for the handles, we have to decide whether each handle would look better with the bark still on or whether we should remove it. The majority of fruit tree woods have interesting color and texture in their bark, so we generally leave that on, while aspen provides interesting coloration and texture both with and without the bark, so we peel some to provide a mixture of options for our brooms. The handles are then coated with a clear-coat, both to preserve the bark on the broom handle and to keep the broom handle clean. Each broom handle requires hours of attention and adds unique charm to the finished product!
Though it's Thanksgiving Day and we, like most others, are excited for turkey and stuffing and pies later in the day, there is no rest for the weary here as we are preparing for three craft fairs over the next three weekends. The kitchen table is covered with wood shavings, finished pieces, and string tags in preparation, and late nights in the shop are becoming common. Fortunately, this work is ever-exciting, and leaves us in eager anticipation at the end of a long day.
Almost daily, a new piece is created around here, a chunk of raw wood becomes a serving spoon, or a soup bowl, or a pile of sticks and broomcorn becomes a handy and elegant Appalachian sweeper. Today we are giving thanks for this craft which is our life, and the opportunity to pursue it.
Look for us at the Veterans Craft Bazaar in Cortez this Saturday. We'll see you there!
There are few things in life that put crafting for Traditional Necessities, or life in general, on hold. One of the most predictable is the arrival of canning season. As the summer days grow shorter and mornings grow cooler, the counter fills with a bountiful harvest from the gardens and orchards that must be put up before winter. Canning season usually starts for me in mid-July when the apricots, our first fruit of the season here, ripen. Unfortunately the late spring freeze nipped the blossoms of the apricots, plums and peaches this year, so canning season started a little late. But my kitchen is now overflowing with green beans, zucchini, kale, peaches (from a nearby orchard that escaped the late freeze), pears, apples, pumpkins, and tomatoes, with so much more fresh produce yet to come. So daily I wake up to search for new recipes for canning—this year peach salsa and spiced peaches are being added to the list—and I start washing, chopping, packing jars and processing food to line the root cellar shelves for winter. It is such a wonderful feeling to go down to the cool, dark root cellar during the coldest days of winter and pick out onions, garlic, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, and winter squash to add to a fulfilling stew that bubbles on the stove and lends a savory scent to the air when I walk into the house with an armload of firewood.
I recently had the remarkable experience of attending the Telluride Mushroom Festival. I’ve always been fascinated by the world of plants. Fungi, although it has been something that I have wanted to learn about for many years, has been a world in which I have not yet been immersed. Sure, I’ve gone out foraging with friends and I’ll eat what they, and the identification books, tell me is safe, but beyond that I really know nothing. You might be wondering where this is going, being that Traditional Necessities is a business focused on craft. Although the festival had amazing presentations about bioremediation and medicinal uses of mushrooms, mushroom cook-offs, mushroom beer, and foraging field trips, I also had the opportunity to participate in a wonderful workshop about dying wool using mushrooms. I learned that this is a centuries old tradition that is particularly well practiced in Scandinavia—another opportunity in my life for me to explore my heritage. I signed up for the class not really knowing what it would be about. The website was sorely lacking in information, but I figured that brown is one of my favorite colors, so why not go learn how to dye my own wool for knitting projects? Little did I know that out of the nineteen different dye pots with which we would experiment, only ONE would actually turn out brown. I walked out of the class with a swatch sheet filled with yarns of bright coral, goldenrod yellow, sage green, ocean blue, lilac purple and every shade in between! Throughout the workshop we learned about the preparation of wool and mushrooms, which mushroom families tend to produce interesting pigments, and the methods for extracting those pigments. We experimented with mushrooms ranging from the commonly eaten boletes and lobster mushrooms to the deadly poisonous tender nesting polypore. Now I’m prepared to head out into the mountains, armed with baskets and identification books, to forage for a whole new world of color to add to my faire-isle knitting!