Thursday, August 5, 2010

Urban Foraging

Apples and pears laying unharvested on the ground, maple syrup rising untapped in the spring and urban meadows bursting with goat's beard, dandelion and nettle.

I know right, what a tree! Those apples are near full sized but the label (yes I was in the arboretum. No, I was not pilfering from NCC land. I happened to be walking there and figured it was worth a pic-ture) as the crab apple variety Geneva.

My friends have been passing around my book on urban foraging for some time now so I don't have it in front of me to give you the title but it encourages us to eye that giant crabapple, the black walnut and bird started sunflowers with a little more hunger. Of course, some might be concerned because of the unknown growing conditions of this food or whether or not a tree overhanging an alley is ripe for the picking.

I admit to contemplating running to the hawthornes in our local park, basket in hand, but something has always held me back. Maybe because, with the exception of some clambakes and blackberry bonanzas, all my food has been traded for currency. Seed donation (my seed list in side bar) has been a nice departure from money for food. In fact, one thing I do harvest frequently from the urban jungle are seeds.

Edible times three,: mallows, cattails and sumac. I always worry about waterway pollution.

Once I grow the plant, I don't have to worry about whether it was sprayed (Ontario has banned 'cosmetic' death-icides) or is growing in lead contaminated soil. I never take many, just a few from a wide population of plants. If it is a tree / plant that overhangs public property but originates in a private residence, I ask and after giving me a weird look they generally say, "go for it."

Of course, you can chat with your neighbours who seem to be neglecting to make sorbus jelly * or choke cherry wine and ask if they would mind sharing. You could offer in exchange to take care of cleaning up windfalls and prune in the spring if needed. Or how about have an urban sugar bush next year? Our block is lined with gorgeous, well grown sugar maples. Someone could build a boiling vat in their backyard. At the end, everyone gets maple syrup taffy. Sounds better than the usual block garage sale.

So tell me, what have you plucked from the concrete maze?

* The author of the linked article speaks mediocre about the taste of sorbus/rowan berries but my kids like them after a couple weeks of hard frost when they sweeten considerably.


Urban Orchards - I would post a link but I couldn't find one. There are rumours about a group in Ottawa who offer to take care of your fruit trees for a percentage of the produce. However, I have never met these ghost people. Are you there? Can you hear me? Knock twice... I'm waiting for a message. I suspect that, at the very least, it is going on in an informal way. If anyone knows contact detail, I'd love to pass it along.

Instead, here is the Hamilton Fruit Tree Project
Some other fruit tree projects in BC cities

Guerilla Gardening Ottawa - break the rules and plant something. This is another mysterious entity in that there seems to be a loosely connected group of people who do some dig and dash gardening but they don't appear to be well organized?? Go on, correct me with details!


Robert Brenchley said...

The Council used to plant loads or Rugosa roses round here; they're all gone now. They never sprayed or anything, so I used to collect the hips and make wine with them.

Luise said...

We've lots of "feral" fruit trees in the area and plenty of orchards that are seemingly ownerless, so two years ago we made a Google Earth map of all the bounty in the area, as a memory-aid. It's mostly apples, prunus varieties and walnuts.
we also forage wild edibles such as nettles, other greens, and wild edible berries (hawthorn, rowan, rosehip and sloe). Life is great with so many plants around! :)

Ottawa Gardener said...

I remember that there were lots of Rugosas, still around some of the older box stores. I've never tried wine with them.

Luise: Great idea. I'm going to pop over to your site and see if you are in the Ottawa area.

Anonymous said...

I've been collecting cherry plums and blackberries like crazy and am eagerly waiting for the wild greengage tree and the wild apple trees to ripen! As for the Hawthorn - the Haws will be ready any day now where I am and I plan to use them with some other fruits in a fruit leather. They're a bit time consuming for not an awful lot quantity wise but they have a great texture. We've got lots of sloes here as well, but I don't have anything to use them for, not being a gin drinker! Come Autumn proper I'm looking forward to foraging some chestnuts and cobnuts but haven't managed to psych myself up to trying beech nuts yet!

You say Rowan berries are edible? I was always under the impression that most varieties are slightly toxic to humans. Do you have any links on Rowan berries as an edible, I'd love to have a read!

Also the goat's beard - I was thinking of growing some of this next to my water butts to soften them up a bit - does it have an edible use too?


Daphne Gould said...

Two blocks from my house is the bus stop. We have plenty of time to wait for the bus and while doing so have eaten many of the mulberries that hang over (and horribly litter) the side walk. I see kids doing it all the time too. Maybe next year I'll ask the homeowners if I can pick it and make some jam.

Sheryl at Providence North said...

I am glad of that law in Ontario too! We have a huge arboretum nearby in the city. I occasionally walk there and pick the crab apples. No ones minds and they just go to waste anyway.

They have a woodland area in the park where wild black and red raspberries grow. I used to pick those when I lived nearby in the city. I am too far away now in the country and I have my own :-)

Stefaneener said...

I harvest blackberries, and ask neighbors who have unharvested fruit. Some mallows, but not too many. . . I'm always open to more suggestions.

Ottawa Gardener said...

Nellie: Assuming we are talking the same rowan / sorbus then yes. I'd look up recipes with the latin name. They are not very palatable unless hit by hard frost. That might take out some of the bitter components and make them more edible. I'd check about your local rowans though just to make sure they too can be consumed.

By goat's beard, I am talking the dandelion look-alike with the huge seed heads of the Genus Tragopogon. Salsify is the blue/purple flowered cultivated version. There are several edible varieties but I'd check wild edible identification books first.

Mmmm mulberries and blackberries...

Luise said...

Not in the Ottawa area, no. Quite a bit further away, actually: Frankfurt, Germany!
We're thinking of moving, though, too many people, too much noise here, and since my husband is from Vermont, we might end up there. We'll see. ;)

Katherine said...

Great post! I know that Unstuffed does alot of urban foraging ( Hit Pay Dirt has a section on their site:

Also Experiments in Efficiency has done some - most recently milkweed flower capers:

All from Ottawa.

I thought these guys would also take fruit but it's a no go for now: but Transition Ottawa is looking into it (along with nuts):

Katherine said...

p.s. Found this post from your right-hand list of great ideas - love it!

And would you know anyone in the Ottawa area who offers services like this:

I'm in a new house with limited space (and most of the sunny space in my front yard) so definitely hoping for some advice for next summer! : )