‘Tis the season for Curried Pumpkin Soup!

Photo by Aaron Burden

Get Cozy With This Warming Autumn Dish

Botanigals Curried Pumpkin Soup

(Vegan)                               

2 cups steamed and cubed pumpkin (set aside 1 cup)

2-3 large sweet potatoes peeled and cubed set in a dish of cold water to prevent browning

4 cups of vegetable broth (we make our own and that includes the salt for this dish)

4 Tablespoons of canola or coconut oil

1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds

4 Tablespoons ginger paste (grated ginger in a bit of water you can blend if desired)

4 Tablespoons garlic paste (cloves grated garlic in a bit of water you can blend if desired)

¼ cup fried onion paste (mashed caramelized onion) but ¼ cup of diced red onion will do

4 teaspoons of your choice of Botanigals’ Masalas (we mix 2 tsp of each sometimes)

2 teaspoons coarse or kosher or sea salt (add it to your broth if you make your own veggie stock)

1 can of coconut milk

2 Tablespoons of honey

¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems

Botanigals Bottle Masala spices

Glorious curry leaves used in our Botanigals Masala blends. Photo by Botanigal.com

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Sprinkle mustard seeds across the shimmering oil and firmly fit the lid.  The mustard seeds will pop like popcorn for 30 seconds to one minute.

Carefully add the garlic and ginger pastes, it will spatter.  Stir fry until brown about 1 minute.

Add the sweet potatoes and brown.  Sprinkle botanigals’ masala curry powders overtop and heat until fragrant, without scorching the spices.

Add 2 cups of the vegetable broth, the Fried Onion Paste, and 1 cup of the pumpkin.  Scrape the bottom of the pan to release the browned bits and spices.  Add the remaining broth.

Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the and simmer, stirring, until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender, 20 to 25 minutes.  Divide half of the soup and puree (or use a hand blender sparingly on half of the contents).  Add the remaining cup of pumpkin and the honey.  Stir to dissolve the honey, remove from heat, and let the flavours blend for 10 more minutes.

Stir in the ¾ of the cilantro and serve.

Garnish with pumpkin and or sunflower seed, toasted or not, more fresh cilantro, and a bit of yogurt.

Photo by Hanna Balan

Now, light a few candles or a salt lamp, and curl up with your warmest blanket while you enjoy what you just created!

Botanigals Thrifty Tricks: How to make a Homesticker’s Leafy Greens Garden.

So, is anyone wondering how to eat their greens like good little humans these days? 

“How safe are transported greens?”

“How do you wash them once they get home?”, or

“Screw it, I don’t want to gear up to brave the store at all!”… 

You know,… those runaway ponderings and questionable conclusions.

Well we’re going to try an experiment.  Let’s see how many of us can get some greens going!

We aren’t going to create the idyllic garden pictured in the title—c’mon guys, times have changed—we’re thrifting!

We thought that this Rubbermaid tub garden idea is perfect to start greens throughout this foolish time of year called April, when temperatures fluctuate wildly from snow squalls to sunshine.  The tubs are fairly manageable, they can be moved outside for sun and rain, and brought back inside for cold nights here in Muskoka and Haliburton.

Shout out to our friend Marty who gave us this Sweet idea!

So… we’ll try our best to explain this through photos:

MATERIALS:

  • A tub (Rubbermaid are best because they are indestructible, we know this because we destroy tubs)

30 Litre bags of:

  • Peat Moss
  • Soil-less Mix
  • Nutrient Rich soil—Manure or Compost, or Triple Mix
  • Sharp Sand (sand from the side of the road which you can flush the salt out of—not play sand).

METHOD:

1. Pick a tub size.  The smaller tub would be best for greens, the larger could probably produce two determinate tomato plants with decent yield.

2. Fill ¼ of the tub with peat moss to allow for ‘drainage’ and to hold moisture. *  If you want to get fancy and add some carbon chunks in the way of WET charcoal, go at it. Seriously though, soak your charcoal for a couple of days, you don’t want your bin to catch fire, and it will if it is not saturated.

3. Mix together equal parts Soil-less Mix, and your Nutrient Rich choice, throw in a few handfuls of sand, mix well, pour over top of peat moss drainage base.

4. Break up clumps and pick out detritus.  Pat down gently.

5. Sprinkle a thin base of sand on top of the mix (sand being pure mineral will lend to more efficient ion action within the soil mix and it scrapes the seeds up a bit to stimulate them)

6. Sprinkle your greens of choice (arugula, baby kale, mustard greens, spinach, lettuce, cilantro,… anything you want) on top of the sand.  We sprinkled our seeds chaotically and will thin them out to eat, or to plant in other places or tubs, but you can plant rows and label too if you are more organized.

7. Sprinkle a bit more of your soil mix on top then,

8. Sprinkle a bit more sand on top to finish.  This kindov keeps the seeds from floating when watering, but still, water with care.  A good deep misting would be ideal.

9. Water deeply (with a better watering can than this botch-it can).  Misting patiently is your best bet. You want the soil to moisten and allow the peat moss base to soak up some water, but you don’t want your garden to float.

10. We brought our tub into the house and put it beside a heat vent for the first little bit.

11. Get yourself some bubble wrap—it is a wonderful invention! Cover with bubble wrap.  This insulates the seeds from wild temperature fluctuations, and it holds in heat and moisture while allowing light to penetrate.

*13. So, “What about drainage?” you might be asking.  Well, we’re leaving our tub whole—without holes—BUT we are in complete control of watering.  If you want to leave the tub out in the rain, or accidentally leave it out during a downpour, perhaps you will want to sacrifice your tub and drill holes in it just a little bit above the bottom so that the water can still be retained and absorbed rather than run straight through.

Voila!  You’ve made a garden container!  Hope this works.  We’re flying by the seat of our pants these days, this could all be gibberish! 

We’ll post our tub on social media as it develops.  Good luck!

Prickly Pear Pause

Prickly Pear 101

The bear necessities of life will come to you when you are not afraid of the Prickly Pear.

Paws down, Prickly Pear is one of the most interesting, delicious, and easy to prep fruit we’ve come across.  We have to give a shout out to our Auntie Katrina Del Mar who first introduced us to the exotic bounty and preparation methods for this juicy fruit.

We don’t see this species of prickly pear often—if ever here in Haliburton and Muskoka—but we found some this week in Bracebridge Food Basics!

(Optunia ficus-indica) is in fact a cactus, a.k.a. Tuna, and it’s an example of yet another prickly edible where the precious fruit is protected by spikes and thorns—so the plant needs to be treated with respect to get to the sweet flesh of the ‘pear’.

This ‘pear’ fruit is a complex fruit that is apparently difficult to describe,1 and has the water-filled sweetness of a watermelon, but holds dense, round, ‘bb’-sized seeds.  Other species of Optunia are also edible coming in all shapes, sizes and flavours.  The green cactus segments—or ‘pads’ a.k.a. Nopals or Nopales, —are edible too, and the O.ficusindica species of cactus can become invasive in ideal conditions, but we’re not going to dive into that rabbit hole.

How can you tell Prickly Pear are ripe?  The fruit should hold quite a bit of red and pink, and even some purple, with a little green at the base.  The real key is the callous on the bottom, which is the wound where the fruit was removed from the mother plant. 

So, take a closer look at the callouses of the harvest offered to you and pick those with the flattest, best calloused bottoms with a hearty diameter. The flatter the callous, the riper the pear, easy as that! 

So now your prickly pears are in your kitchen and you can’t wait to see what they taste like.  Patience now—they’re prickly.

It is wise to prepare prickly pear with gloves. The fruit is covered in glochids; glassy barbed spines, that are hard to see and difficult to remove.  Typical to cacti.  They are on the most part, removed by the producer, but many of the tiniest wily spines are left behind—so the pear still needs to be approached with caution. 

Next step is to select your ideal cacti fruit for the dish—the fattest-bottomed pears—and stick them in the fridge.  Leave the deeper calloused specimens room temperature to ripen more.

After the chosen pears have chilled for a few hours you can get them ready to eat.

Cut off the ends of the fruit and proceed to carve a shallow groove around the length of the fruit.  Peel off the outer flesh as it will go.  The outer skin with the spine clusters is best left uneaten because you don’t want any glochids in your digestive tract.  Don’t feel guilty because the potassium and phosphorous contained in the flesh are a nice addition to the compost.

When we eat prickly pear with our family, we just eat mouthfuls and swallow the seeds.  It is because of this seed swallowing that one does not want to have a feast of prickly pear alone.  Prickly pear is best eaten with other foods, or—as our prickly pear mentor and feisty card shark Madeira Mama Maria Faria tells us— “It will back you up”.

Prickly pear are a good source of potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which in human digestion actually balance each other out.  Interesting how our bods have figured out the plant nutrition stuff.  We just have to swallow it.  Enjoy!

We like to have nitrile gloves around the nursery but didn’t use them here for the photos.  If you go ahead without gloves, like in this demo, there is a makeshift remedy that many of our peers may understand—as this is something we’d mess around with while bored in school—white craft glue fingerprinting. Seriously.  Smear white craft glue over the area with the spines and thin it around and work it until it is clear and dry.  Kind of fun!  Once it is dry and clear, peel it off and hopefully the spines will come out. This technique works for most fine cacti spines.

May the forest be with you. R.

  1. https://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/10.1139/cjb-2018-0074

Adaptation: A delicious Canadian version of Manousheh with Canadian Zaatar.

We have fallen in love with Manousheh—a Lebanese breakfast pie—and have adapted a Zaatar recipe to work with our local grocers’ spice aisles, along with a recipe for Manousheh that fits right in with our hectic seasonal business lives this time of year.

Our friends from the city say we’ve pretty much nailed the authenticity of the taste—even without the Lebanese Wild Thyme—which is hardly available to us in Canada, let alone our small town.

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Our grocers are ever expanding upon what used to be a limited ethnic food selection available here in cottage country.  We don’t make our own bread this time of year and Naans make a fine substitute.

For two large pieces of Naan or 4 Mini Naans you will need:

  • 1 TBSP Botanigals Canadian Zaatar spice mix
  • 1-1.5 TBSP of a good quality olive oil
  • 1-2 pieces of Naan bread or 2-4 mini Naans (white or whole wheat),

and though this is the first Botanigals Odd Spice to contain a bit of kosher sea salt, you may want extra salt on hand to cater to your tastes.

You can store the extra paste in a covered container in the fridge for up to a week.

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This is 2 Tablespoons of Zaatar Mix because we are making Manousheh for many today so we’ve doubled the recipe.

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We are adding 2 Tablespoons of Olive oil (and perhaps a splash more) to the 2 Tablespoons of Zaatar spice mix, again remember that the images represent a double recipe.

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You want your Zaatar and Olive Oil mix to be not too pasty AND not too oily—though we find that too much oil does no harm—other than reducing the sour bite of the spice.

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Spread the paste to the edges of the Naan so that it sits about a 1/4 inch thick.  Evenly distribute the oil as the ingredients will somewhat settle out from each other.

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Mini Naans.  Aren’t they cute?!

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Place paste-coated Naan on parchment paper, which will catch any dripping oil.

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Place your Manousheh and parchment on a middle rack and set the timer for 10 minutes (more or less depending on your texture preferences).  You want the oil to sizzle, not scorch.

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Cut your Naan Manousheh with scissors while warm.  The bread is easier to cut while warm.

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A nice addition to your Manousheh is fresh tomato and/ or fresh mint and/ or both.

Waterfront Style is Wild: The Hottest Trends in Shoreline Fashion

HOW HAVE YOU FRINGED YOUR SHORELINE? The latest gossip in riparian fashion is all about which shorelines host the bees, and which host…the geese.

It is most satisfying to overhear rave reviews regarding one’s waterfront attire such as: “This shoreline has a great blend of colour and texture, what a stunning promenade!” or, “I wish I had that! A perfect balance of the vernacular—and the extravagant!” or best yet, to catch a whisper of: “What beautiful trees! I can see the boat, but I can’t see the building; how elegant!”  Wow.

To be certain, dear reader, that you don’t get caught eroding in the rain without a canopy, we will highlight here our most successful tried-and-tested shoreline swatches, with nods towards the ideal textures and palettes; from the sensational to the subdued.  Take your pick according to your style – no choice is the wrong choice—all of the following species roll out the red carpet for shoreline diversity, stability, pleasure, and vitality.

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For the demure and private type, a tree palette is recommended.  Eastern White pine, Hemlock, Cedar, and Silver Birch will work even on the rockiest of shorelines. Tamarack, Balsam fir and White birch are best for those sandy shores.  Remember that conifers, with their higher thread count, are far less translucent than the lacy, winter-bare deciduous, and one must always stay mindful of the effects of sun exposure!

For botanical trims and fringes, where sight-lines and vistas must remain clear, shrubs such as Wild Raisin, shrubby Willows, Elderberries, Sweet Gale, Bush Honeysuckle, and Wild Roses add just the right hint of pattern and fragrance.

For colour and texture accessories: Sweet Flag, Blue Flag Iris, Sweetgrass, Joe-Pye Weed, Swamp Milkweed, Asters, Sensitive Fern, and Cinnamon Fern will bring glittering insects and flittering birds into a space—and are a most divine way to soften the hem of a lawn!

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Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)     Height: 20m     Spread: 2m

This fragrant tree lines many a shoreline along our watersheds.  Deer love to eat cedar and this is quite evident along cedar shorelines—you can see the precise line along the waterfront where deer have nibbled the lower branches as far as they can reach from the ice in the winter.  If you are planting young cedar, they must be protected until their upper foliage has grown out of the reach of a deer.  Once cedars achieve this height (and one should think twice before removing existing cedars as they take a very long time to grow), they will bring graceful, cascading texture to any shoreline habitat.

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White Pine (Pinus strobus)

Height: 30m     Spread: 7m          Shade intolerant

One of the most famous icons of the North is the stately White Pine whose invigorating scent is said to speed healing. Pine has historically been placed in sick rooms where it can be inhaled often during recovery from illness.  The scent of sunbaked pine needles is indeed sweet and uplifting.  White pines whistle in the wind like no other and they bring shelter to many a bird.  The mature White Pine is the top-hat-and-tails in shoreline high society.

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Wild Raisins love shoreline soils and are showy all year round!

Wild Raisin (Viburnum cassinoides)

Height: 6m   Spread: 2m          4-6 hours sun

This shrub thrives on shorelines and when given more than 5 hours of daily sun, produces plump, pitted fruit. These drupes are adored by birds, which prefer to eat the raisins (along with Elderberries) after they have fermented. It is in this way that birds celebrate a successful summer season, and can they ever get tipsy!  Do our feathered friends imbibe and fly?!  They sure do—though not very straight—or far for that matter, which brings flocks of those ornithological paparazzi!  The roots of the Wild Raisin reach deep and far, and when paired with willows, are an excellent shoreline stabilizer species.

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Sweet Gale (Myrica gale)     Height: 1.5m   Spread: 1m

The yellow nutlets found on the Sweet Gale shrub are highly fragrant and resinous. The scent is rich and woody like frankincense, and the leaves of the Sweet Gale will give off a lovely, spicy scent when crushed.  Sweet Gales skirt the majority of sunny shorelines upon the Canadian Shield, are one of the main shelter species for so many creatures in the riparian zone and are an invaluable asset to any shoreline ensemble.

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Sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata)  Height: 0.5m   Rhizomes

This grass (of rich land) is dried, braided and considered sacred by many of Canada’s Aboriginal Nations.  This practice is being widely rediscovered among those who meditate. The end of the braid is ignited and then calmed to a smoulder.  The resulting smoke is used to purify the area in which the meditation is taking place.  Ebony Jewelwings (among other dragonflies) can often be seen twinkling on blades of sweet grass swaying in the breeze.

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Wild Roses (Rosa blanda)(R. acicularis)(R. paulstris)

Height: 2m        Spread: 2m          Sun for bloom

Wild Roses hold single pink flowers with an enchanting scent.  Their hips contain more vitamin C than an orange and make a wonderful tea.  These beautiful specimens also create thickets that feed, house, and protect many species of birds, butterflies, and dragonflies.  Wild Roses will run, so set them well back from pathways and access points.  Or, if you like to stop and smell the roses, the runners can be cut back from your paths and be planted elsewhere for more colourful habitat.

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   A Monarch butterfly sips nectar from a Joe-Pye weed bloom.

Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum)

Height: 1.5m     Spread: 0.5m          Sun to part shade

A wonderful, late-summer addition to any shoreline collection!  From pink to lavender, these blooms look and feel like a feather boa!  Light and feathery on sturdy stems, the members of Genus Eupatorium are preferred nectar plants and shelter species for butterflies and bees.  The weed known as Joe-Pye loves to have its feet wet, so shorelines, swales or ditches is among its favourite places to grow.  The seeds take flight in fall like baby spiders on delicate fluffs to grow elsewhere, though colonies do establish quite readily around the parent plants.

Now get ready for the attention- this is your year! With these hot new swatches under your belt, it is time to accessorize with a cool pair of binoculars.  Dress the coffee table with field guides and enjoy the show that a biodiverse shoreline will surely bring your way!

May the forest be with you.

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Muskoka Trails Council Blog Project: Ski Through an Historical OMNR Garden BRACEBRIDGE RESOURCE MANAGEMENT SKI TRAILS

1. R.K. Skiiers BMRC Feb 13 2018 wtm_RXB1637.jpg

The winter of 2017/ 2018 can not be hailed as a great winter for snowfall here in Muskoka.

I had set my next blog mission for the Bracebridge Resource Management Centre Ski Trails in the fall, not knowing what the winter would bring.  It started off by snowing a good deal, and then the rain melted the snow away.  It snowed again nicely when we had a house full of guests for the holidays, and then it rained immediately into the new year—so the snow melted again, leaving a hard crust—and it simply had not snowed significantly since!  Knowing that my skiing skills were close to their expiration date, having not skied for a very long time, I was none too eager to hit the trails only to fall on hard, sharp, crusty snow.

Thankfully, it snowed the entire second week of February, and sufficiently enough to give trails crews the chance to set good trail with a wee bit of cushion again.  Realizing that this may be the last fluffy snow available this winter, I grabbed my skis, boots, poles, and camera, threw them into the car, and headed off to the Bracebridge Resource Management Centre.

2. R.K. Bracebridge Resource Management Center Sign Feb 13 2018 wtm iPhone 007
The Bracebridge Resource Management Centre trails are located at 5140 Highway 11 North.

The Bracebridge Resource Management Centre Trails offer 16.5 kilometres of ski trails in the winter.  19+ kilometres of trail are available for hiking and mountain biking in the spring, summer, and fall.  This is a municipal trail system, brought to us by our taxes, so one can ski the trails at the BRMC at no cost, which is amazing, but you need to have your own equipment, as there are no rentals available.  No dogs are permitted on the ski trails.

3. R.K. BMRC Snowshoe rules wtm_RXB1733
If there is a member of your party that is a staunch snowshoer, there is an allowance for them, there is a small half-kilometre snowshoe loop—snowshoes are not permitted on the ski trails.

Before I began working on the Muskoka Trails Council Blog Project—the BRMC trail system wasn’t even on my radar.  I have cross-country skied many times in my life, and I may have heard someone mention that there were winter ski trails near High Falls in Bracebridge, but my brain tuned out because I am a snowshoe girl at heart, and I’ve always considered cross-country skis a pain to shuffle around.  This year however, I was bequeathed a pair of beautiful back-country skis and boots.  They belonged to a very dear friend who will no longer walk alongside me in the forest.  The skis inspired me.  This would be the year I’d start cross-country skiing again—or at least just this once.

I arrived at the BRMC parking lot, which was quite full for a Tuesday afternoon.  I had no idea what my next move would be as I got out of my car with my skis—other than the fact that I would eventually have to click into them.  I watched the other people in the lot.  All of them were very athletic, spry, and jovial and it didn’t take long for me to realized that every single one of them had more experience in years than me.  I marvelled at how fit and happy they were and was promptly snapped out of my daydream as my skis and poles rattled down the side of my car into a heap.

Now, I am quite comfortable going anywhere with my snowshoes, I know how to have my gear on, ready to go—right out the door.  I drive to the mission destination, put my snowshoes on, grab my walking stick, camera, and backpack, and off I go…  Standing there at the BRMC, with skis in hand, I felt like I was in a whole new universe.  Cross-country ski trails are different: there are rules, there is skiing etiquette and I didn’t remember any of it!   What I did remember was that skiing would involve pushing myself over the crest of hills where I’d build velocity, with two flat sticks, set in tracks, bound to my toes, pointing downhill.  This made me nervous.  I really didn’t want to be that lump of flesh and sticks on the trail that others had to jump over to continue their workout.

4. R.K. BRMC Entrance Map wtm_RXB1497
I quickly discovered that the BRMC ski trails have no shortage of signage, which is quite helpful – at least I wouldn’t need to worry about getting lost.

I decided to study the map at the trail entry adjacent to the parking lot to further familiarize myself with my route (this was a delay tactic to avoid binding skis to my feet until the experienced skiers had left the vicinity—just in case I fell over), when a pleasant, spritely woman, approached and spoke with me about her bird sightings of the day, and what a weird winter it had been for birds and migration patterns.  When we ran out of birding anecdotes I asked her about the Lookout Trail Loop – Trail #1, “Was the lookout worth the extra 1.3 kilometres?”  She said it was ‘nice’, referring to it further only in that it added extra distance to a workout.   I imagined the ‘lookout’ to be a typical Muskoka precipice of land with a vista to photograph—when a mind’s eye vision of me clumsily skiing over the edge appeared—I shook the thought away.  It would be well worth it to apply the extra 1350 meters of effort to burn calories and see what was there.   I became anxious again once our conversation had wrapped, and we had waved and wished well.  I looked sideways at the skis and poles that I’d stood upright beside the map panel.  ‘Just put the darn things on and get going’ I said to myself, and so I did…  and I didn’t fall over.

With my feet buckled to my skis I set off towards Trail 1 which would take me to the Duck Chutes Lookout.  The trail was beautifully groomed, I managed to manoeuvre down the first hill without falling and was pleased to see that there was still nobody behind me—the pressure was off.   Thrilled, I found my stride, I began to recall what my mother taught me about form, I got into my kick, glide, kick…   I…. Was… Skiing!

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Botanigal on skis—reality check number one:  It is difficult to aim a camera when there are unreasonably long poles looped around your wrists.

Having x-country skied twice in the last twenty years, my plan for the day was to:

  1. Dress in my normal forest cammo outfit (warm, puffy, bed-like—best for resting in snow)
  2. Mosey along, slow and steady—to let my muscles and joints acclimatize—rest in snow,
  3. Stop for plenty of re-hydration and recoup breaks,
  4. Sleep in the snow,
  5. Study ski trail etiquette and be ready to step off the trail for those who are more athletically inclined (which would be everybody there but me).
  6. Ski perimeter along the river to get sufficient coverage of the trails—fall in snow,
  7. Take lots of photos.

Five minutes in, my body started to rebel.  My lungs were pleading for breath, my triceps were, ‘like, what the heck?!!’, and my thighs were shaking.  I hadn’t even gone up a hill yet!   I had to stop and take a photo to recover.   I looked back again, still nobody behind me – thank goodness.

I skied on a few hundred meters, taking in the plantation landscape, then stopped again to catch my breath at an aged interpretive panel.  It was still legible and allowed me to understand a piece of the history of the Bracebridge Resource Management Centre.

6. R.K. BRMC Plantation with interpretive panel wtm_RXB1510.jpg

The BRMC property is a solid example of silviculture practice and has been tailored to educate trail users about forest management.  There are many interpretive panels throughout the property highlighting points of interest that are typical of our forests here in Muskoka, along with explanations as to how the OMNR managed many of the forested properties that were under their mandate.

The Bracebridge Resource Management Centre was, in a way, an experimental tree farm and the plantations of Red Pine were the gardens!  Sun-loving Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) were chosen by the OMNR in 1970 as the species to plant across what were once open fields.  Once the Pine Gardens had reached the age of twenty-five in 1995, the trees were thinned to allow crowns of the trees to expand and catch more sun.  As these trees grew taller, they were scheduled to be thinned every ten to fifteen years to keep the stand robust, and the final harvest was set to occur in 2020.

Just a few hundred meters beyond the Pine Garden, is the midpoint of Trail 1, where it forks towards a small loop so that skiers can visit the ‘lookout’—but don’t get your hopes up, this is not a photo-op lookout, there is no hill, and the view is quite overgrown.  The point of interest is a set of rapid chutes across a small bay adjacent to the ski trail.

I had to remove my skis and bushwhack to get to a clearing with a view of Duck Chutes Bay.  In doing so, I noticed that the botanical history on this little spit of land seemed quite rich.  There was an array of native and non-native tree and shrub species.   It was fun to imagine this spot being another type of garden; perhaps it was a nice picnic and swimming destination back in the day.  I romanticized that many people may have held a fondness for this spot in their hearts, planting special seeds and roots, along with trees and shrubs, in the name of love and loved ones.  Truth be told though, many of these species could have self-seeded, as foreign species (such as the invasive Scots Pine) tend to do.

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8. R.K. Duck Chute Lookout zoom BRMC Feb 13 2018 wtm_RXB1512
To get a glimpse of the Duck Chutes, one must go off-ski and plow through a thin covering of Alders and Hazels.  If this little bay has been named as such, perhaps the waterfowl viewing here has potential.

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Precious evidence of Wild Clematis (Clematis virginiana) and other botanical treasures on this little peninsula which juts out into the Muskoka River, made the ski around the loop to the ‘Lookout’ worth it – because you can just feel the love.

10. R.K. Forest cultivars BRMC Duck Chute Feb 13 2018 wtm_RXB1537.jpg
Norway Spruce (Picea abies) and the invasive Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) are relics from past reforestation and erosion control campaigns, which offered tree seedlings to private landowners.  One can tell by spending a bit of time here that this little spot on the BRMC property was treasured.

With the lookout loop under my belt I continued to the Main Trail section where the trail turns into a double trail with a skate trail running down the centre.  I stuck to the right, like I do on the roads, and hoped for the best.  The groomers sincerely do a wonderful job here, and the fact that I didn’t have to pay a fee made me feel quite grateful.  I herringboned up my first hill and made it to the top.  My confidence was building, and my legs were limbering up!

11. R.K. Herring bone and Oak leaf BMRC Feb 13 2018_RXB1721.jpg
‘Herringbone’ technique helps one get up a hill that is too steep to maneuver with their x-country skis set parallel.  This is accomplished by pointing the ski tips outwards and tipping your feet inwards towards each other so that the inner edge of each ski digs in to the hill and allows the skier to push upwards.  Poles have a big role in this too.  This technique can also be referred to as the ‘Duck Walk’.

12. R.K. BMRC double groomed wtm_RXB1550.jpg
There are several chances for one to link up with the Main Trail, which is a double track for high traffic, and allows for skate style skiing

13. R.K. White Pine cone single track BMRC Feb 13 2018 wtm_RXB1579.jpg
This White Pine (Pinus strobus) cone had settled in nicely beside the single track alongside the Muskoka River on trail 2a.

14. R.K. BRMC Well-signed Feb 13 2018 wtm_RXB1555
There is no shortage of ‘You are Here’ maps and signage at the BRMC.  As a new visitor, I was thankful for them and found them reassuring

15. R.K. Thank God I'm Here BRMC Feb 13 2018 wtm_RXB1599
When I took this photo alongside the river on 2a after about 2500 metres in, I was thinking,   ‘Thank Glob I’m here’. 
A crew of senior skiers passed by me, light and swift, to take the extra 1100-meter loop that Trail 2b offered.  My groin muscles, which I have totally ignored for years, told me to take the 300-meter shortcut to 2c.  When I got to 2c, those sprightly skiers passed me again… ‘That’s okay”, I told myself (completely out of breath), ‘I’m reporting.

16. R.K. Ironwood seed drop with skis BMRC Feb 13 2018 wtm_RXB1611.jpg
2017 was a great mast year where trees produced plentiful seed.  These are the seeds of a beautiful and compact tree species known as the Hop Hornbeam or Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana).  Many species of seed were evident upon the fresh dusting of snow and one could tell which tree species made up the canopy above by the seeds cast about on the trails underfoot. 

17. R.K. BMRC Cathedral Feb 13 2018 wtm_RXB1624.jpg
The BRMC Ski Trails run through both Plantation and Mixed forest canopies.

18. R.K. Riverside skiing BRMC  wtm_RXB1563.jpg
The trails along the river were peaceful and the treetops were full of birds.

19. R.K. Ski Posse BMRC Feb 13 2018 wtm_RXB1634.jpg
This lovely group of skiers passed me three times.  Being the age of my parents, they skied twice the distance I did, and were much savvier with their attire.  I plan to wear lighter clothes next time, it makes for ease of movement and less sweat.  Cross-country skiing is not like walking, it is like running, with reduced impact.

20. R.K. Goldeneye profile BRMC Feb 13 2018 wtm_RXB1694.jpg
I scored a pair of Goldeneyes at the half-way point of Trail 2c, which made the mission that much sweeter.  Falling into the river, as I almost did to get the shot, certainly would have put a new twist on things.

Near the end of my cross-country ski mission I forced my back-country skis through the deep snow of an open plantation to study a cluster of Red Pine that were bent over at the middle.  This stem-bending is common among monoculture plantations.  The trees were planted with the intent to have them grow and be thinned over 50 years, after which they’d be harvested (a bit like carrots as one interpretive panel points out).  These Red Pine are all the same age, being planted all at once, and grew tall, fast, and lean, because they were all competing to be taller than their classmates—to gain bonus points in the sun.  This gardening method produces the ideal timber trunks for forestry, which is why they were planted here in the first place and now they are OMNR educational timber trees.

21. R.K. Plantation bend BMRC Feb 13 2018 wtm_RXB1707.jpg
These bent Red Pine are an example of what restoration ecologists call         ‘The Lollipop Effect’.

The Bracebridge Resource Management Centre plantation gardens show us the ecological differences between mixed forest and plantation ecology.  When skiing through the BRMC trails one can see that the plantation forests have little to no understory (a.k.a. mid-level plant stems).  Understory plants are beneficial to forest ecosystems because they create a buffer that slows wind gusts.  Mid-level plants also provide food and habitat.  In this case here, a clearing was cut into this plantation for the trail grooming equipment.  When a good gust of wind came along, it was able to build across the gap and catch hold of the heavy crowns of this cluster of Pine, bowling them overtop of their lanky and elastic timber stems.

In restoration ecology, we often see the ‘Lollipop Effect’ in areas where vegetation is abruptly cleared along a linear edge—and this doesn’t always apply to plantations, it happens along the edges of most new clearings cut squarely into forests, where height competition was involved.  Trees along these edges, or those that are left in small forest islands with no forest friends are labelled ‘Lollipops’ and often share a predictable twist of fate, like these pines seen here.

Speaking of Forest Friends, I experienced so much kindness and friendliness throughout my ski, from my lovely fellow skiers to the volunteer trails crew, they had me laughing out loud, and to myself.  You can certainly tell these ski trails are well loved by the community and are thought of fondly year-round.

22. R.K. Bun Warmers BRMC Feb 13 2018 wtm_RXB1703.jpg
Nice touch for one’s tush.  Thank-you BMRC Trails Team!

23. R.K. Please Please no... herring bone hill BMRC Feb 13 2018 wtm _RXB1724
Hoping this is the only HUGE hill nearing the end of my cross-country ski mission. 
Please, please, please— my legs and triceps are spaghetti, no more herringbone!

24. R.K. BMRC Downhill to the right rules wtm_RXB1731.jpg
What goes up, must come down – and to the right.  
Please let the rest of the way be downhill.

Overall, the BRMC ski trails were very beginner friendly.  If you are a green-circle skier, I found that if you stick to the trails along the Muskoka River, it is not too hilly.  There is just the one large hill to climb near the end to get back to the parking lot.  Despite my lack of practise, I sincerely enjoyed these trails!  By the time I got back to the car, cross-country skiing no longer intimidated me.  It was a fantastic whole-body workout.  I am now driving around everywhere with the skis in tow.  Botanigal is going to try to ski at least once a week and hopefully the weather will cooperate, though it is raining now, as I write this.

It takes a lot of work by an inspired crew of volunteers and an excellent trails crew to bring Muskoka the privilege of having a free cross-country skiing destination.  If you haven’t tried cross-country skiing, you really should.  The Bracebridge Resource Management Centre trail system is as friendly a place as any to give cross-country skiing a try.

HOW TO GET THERE

The Bracebridge Resource Management Centre is located right off Highway 11 Northbound, just north of Highway 117.  If you are accessing the site from the Northbound lanes keep your eyes peeled after you pass under Highway 117.  You will pass one road (do not exit onto this road because the BRMC is the next road up #5140).  If you are accessing the site from the Southbound lanes it is a bit more complicated—you need to either exit off Hwy 11 onto 117, go over the highway and re-enter Northbound.  You could also use the median lane at High Falls Road to jog-back northbound to the BRMC entrance, but this is a high-adrenaline option.

Heading back towards your destination after your ski is another feat because you must drive north on Highway 11.  If you need to head south, some study of the roads on a map ahead-of-time would be a good idea.

25. R.K. Highway 11 entrance wtm 029.jpg
Important note: Successfully exiting the BRMC parking lot towards your destination takes a bit of study and sober second thought.  YOU MUST TURN RIGHT and head Northbound.  Please remember that the average speeds on this highway range from 90kph -120kph. 
Take your time to judge the speed and density of the vehicles approaching.

Muskoka Trails Council Blog Project: HUNTSVILLE Hunter’s Bay Trail – Boardwalk Empire

Huntsville has always been a part of my existence, and I am ashamed to say that it has taken me a lifetime to realize that Hunter’s Bay Trail is a fantastic trail!  Though my pals often spoke of the virtues of this trail, I was just content to stay in the forest.  The Muskoka Trails Council Blog Project brought me to walk this historical path, that meanders between Hunter’s Bay on Fairy Lake and the railway tracks, for the first time.

It was so interesting, I had a hard time focusing on any one area of the Abiotic, Biotic, and Cultural triangle of our ecosystem exploration here with any brevity.  This is a waterfront and water-centric trail with impressive floating boardwalks, beautiful scenery, and again, great birding.

This trail was, and still is integral to the history of Huntsville, and it shows; being peppered with relics that represent an interesting history, and by sporting a promising new floating trail extension from East Airport Road – under Highway 11 – to Lakeshore Road.   Huntsville is close to becoming the Boardwalk Empire of Muskoka!

R.K. 1 Loon and Worker Hunter's Bay Trail October 18 2017 wtm_RXB9022
A Common Loon is oblivious to the new change coming to Huntsville, as a contractor is one day away from finishing the new access boardwalk which will allow pedestrian traffic to travel along Hunter’s Bay Trail to and from the north side of Highway 11.

Hunter’s Bay Trail is easily accessible.  There are four locations where you can park close to the trail, which allows one to adapt a route in accordance with one’s hiking abilities and those of their companions.  The investment into extending the trail from East Airport Road under Highway 11 to Lakeshore Road is absolutely brilliant, as Huntsville now has a safe pedestrian connection to the other side of this major trucking route.  This is a game-changer for Huntsville, as well as for the Trans Canada Trail!

R.K. 3 The Great Trail Hunter's Bay Trail wtm_RXB9011.jpg
The Town of Huntsville’s Hunter’s Bay Trail is a connective section of the Trans Canada Trail.

We hiked Hunter’s Bay Trail near the end of October and the weather was still superb.  My hiking partner was reluctant to hike in Huntsville at all, as he is a Woodsie like me, so I decided to cut the hike in two with the ultimate hope that I could manage to manipulate him into exploring the trail in its entirety (between ‘town tasks and too many errands’) by the end of the day.  We began at Avery Beach and were drawn right in when we saw the boardwalk extension under construction.  My plan had worked!  My buddy now had a destiny with curiosity.

R.K. 2 Hunter's Bay Floating trail West Side October 18 2017 wtm_RXB9040

Though we divided our hike in two, whereas we parked in two different locations to explore the trail in a dissected fashion, this blog will explore the trail from the east end, starting at KW Pipe, and run through it westward to the new extension at the west end.

R.K. 4 Hunter's Bay Tannery relic...October 18 2017 wtm_RXB9109
This old relic sits between the trail and the river where the tannery once operated.  It was located at the base of Centre Street* (because the bridge wasn’t built yet).  The tannery used Hemlock bark as their key ingredient.  Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) was as good as gold in those days!

R.K. 5 Grand Trunk Trellis October 18 2017 wtm_RXB9123
The Grand Trunk Railway originally serviced the lumber industry and the tannery, along with other commerce of the day, and was key to the birth of Muskoka’s tourism industry.

R.K. 6 Concrete Clown Hunter's Bay Trail October 18 2017 wtm_RXB9137
My trekking companion warmed up to the idea of hiking in town after noticing that the chunks of Huntsville’s history got him off of the ground so he could display his fall plumage.

While walking along the waterfront we noticed that the soils and terrain have been repeatedly altered and effectively reflect the cultural history of Huntsville.  Since Captain Hunt decided to start a community along the shores of Fairy Lake in 1869*, there has been a bustle of human activity along what is now Hunter’s Bay trail.  The town seems to have been built to avoid the bedrock of the Precambrian Shield, which forms the hills above the downtown core.  If there were any bedrock outcrops along the trail we didn’t pay them any mind.  The trail traverses the outwash sandy soils typical to land along shorelines in Muskoka, and pockets of clay that have either existed as a true mineral pocket, or have been dug up and redistributed throughout the town’s development.  The soils here have been pushed and pulled for the construction and maintenance of the rail line, as well as both the construction and destruction of several waterfront commerce operations throughout the town’s history. There have been many a fire in Huntsville.  Songs have been written about them.

R.K. 7 Hunter's Bay Trail Shoreline Square rocks October 18 2017 wtm_RXB9145.jpg
These chiselled rocks are an example of the spirit and resolve that drove the early industrial years of the Town of Huntsville.

R.K. 8 Hunter's Bay Piers October 18 2017 wtm_RXB9151.jpg
Evidence of one of the grand wharfs that accepted steamships back in the day

R.K. 9 Muskoka Wood Manufacturing Plant 1902 Hunter's Bay botanigal mod w text 2000.jpg
This photo of the Muskoka Wood Manufacturing Plant at the mouth of the Muskoka River was taken in 1902.  We couldn’t believe that anything could possibly grow back after this, but as you can see along the trail, it did!

The rich cultural history of the trail is evident in the plant life found here too.  There are many species along the trail that are inherently connected with early small-town settlements across Ontario.

R.K. 10 Highbush Cranberries Hunter's Bay October 18 2017 wtm_RXB9028
Highbush Cranberry is an old school fruit from a hardy shrub of the north.  It was used to make jams and jellies.  They are not a conventional fruit and taste best after a bit of frost has hit them. These fruit were ready for harvest when this photo was taken, as the first frost had arrived.

R.K. 11 Wild Grape Hunter's Bay Trail October 18 2017 wtm_RXB9032.jpg
Wild Grapes were planted by the area’s first travellers and settlers as well.  Frost Grape and Riverbank Grape are our two native grape species here in Central Ontario.  Aptly named, the Frost Grape is sweeter after frost and families would rejoice when it frosted because the wild grape treats were a free source of sweets for everyone.

There are also examples of several invasive species that arrive with modern town life.  The area around Hunter’s Bay Trail has been a historical tourism and industrial corridor.  It still has an active rail line used for importing goods and livestock.  Plants always take advantage of the open trail by spreading their roots and seeds through manure.  They sit in wait, warm and moist in the digestive tracts of livestock or migrating birds; patiently waiting to put roots down in new destinations through pooh.  Whether it rattles off a train, or walks, or flies off to a new home; pooh really does help plants succeed!

The European Buckthorn is often found next to Ontario’s rail lines and in railway towns.  It is much more common south of The Shield but can be found along Hunter’s Bay Trail.

R.K. 13 Large parsnip species Hunter's Bay Oct 18 2017_RXB9029.jpg
The location of this newer invasive species – Wild Parsnip, right next to the tracks, suggests that arrived to establish in Huntsville by train.

There are many beautiful examples of native early-succession forest from White Birch groves to Poplar and Cherry groves along Hunter’s Bay Trail.  These tree species love the sun and establish quickly after a site is disturbed. There is also a cultural grove of trees in Orchard Park; a truly historical apple orchard along the trail.

R.K. 14 Hunter's Bay Birch Grove October 18 2017 wtm_RXB9146.jpg
White Birch (Betula papyrifera) do best in deep soils that sit just above the water table and prefer to grow in groups like in this beautiful waterfront grove.

R.K. 15 Hunter's Bay Trail Orchard Park wtm_RXB9043.jpg
Orchard Park is just that, an orchard.  It is full of fruit in late September and the Town of Huntsville and other partners have worked on planting new apple trees to keep the tradition alive.

The fact that the trail meanders through a significant length of the Riparian Zone of Fairy Lake allows us to wander about the richest biodiversity area in town.  Pedestrians can mingle with the array of wildlife that uses this ribbon of life for food, shelter, breeding – and for water of course.  The birding is excellent.  We spotted several butterflies during our hike, and there were still Meadowhawk dragonflies present, which led us to believe that the Odenate observing in July could be spectacular.

R.K. 16 Hunter's Bay Lady Butterfly wink CROPPED October 18 2017 wtm_RXB9051.jpg
This American Lady butterfly was flittering about Orchard Park in search of Self-heal flowers.

R.K. 17 Loon Hunter's Bay Trail October 18 2017 wtm_RXB9017.jpg
The Common Loon is a regular sight on Hunter’s Bay.  This photo was taken on October 18th and this Loon is displaying its winter plumage.

We marvelled on how the grippy composite decking along Hunter’s Bay Trail’s original floating boardwalk made us feel safe and secure.  Seriously, it was excellently grippy, and there was no danger of slipping when wet and are pleased that the Town of Huntsville and the District of Muskoka has invested in extending the trail 840 metres from East Airport Road to Lakeshore Road on the north side of Highway 11.  It just so happened that the extended trail wasn’t open yet, but we spoke with the contractor and discovered that the extension was scheduled to open the following day.

R.K. 18 Hunter's Bay Trail Extension bridge October 18 2017 wtm_RXB9070.jpg
The new bridge for the Hunter’s Bay Trail is the gateway to the new Hunter’s Bay trail extension which runs another 840 meters, under Highway 11 to Lakeshore Road.

R.K. 19 Hunter's Bay Trail Extension October 18 2017 wtm_RXB9083.jpg
The new floating boardwalk, made with composite decking, runs under Highway 11 to Lakeshore Road.

With the trail extension there are now four parking and access points for Hunter’s Bay Trail:

North of Highway 11: The end of Lakeshore Road off of Aspdin Road and Lakewood Park

West Side: Orchard Park off of East Airport Road

Central: Avery Beach Parking off of Yonge Street

East end: K.W. Pipe (Hunter’s Bay side) immediately south of the Centre street bridge (note: this is practically a hidden entryway – it is hard to spot and is a hairpin turn).

R.K. 20 A Hunter's Bay Parkin at Orchard October 18 2017 wtm_RXB9065R.K. 20 B Avery Beach wtm w TEXT_RXB9010

 

 

 

 

 

 

R.K. 20 C Centre Street Parking wtm w TEXT_RXB9635
Hunter’s Bay Trail parking can be found in four locations around Huntsville.
From west to east: Orchard Park off East Airport Road; Avery Beach off Yonge Street North; K.W. Pipe just off of Centre Street North at the south end of the bridge.  Parking on the north side of Highway 11 is located at the end of Lakeshore Road by taking Lakewood Park Road right off Aspdin Road

The adaptability of the trail certainly worked for me on that October day.  My hiking buddy got back into the car (both times) completely charmed by Hunter’s Bay Trail and stated that it will now be a hiking destination that he is exited to explore more often.  As for me?  I’m looking forward to walking along it again whenever I have time to spare between my tasks in town.

Hope you can enjoy the sights, sounds, and history along this trail as much as we did!

May the forest be with you.

*  Historical dates and references researched from the book Huntsville: With Spirit and Resolve by Susan Pryke with Huntsville Heritage, 2000.

Written by Rebecca Krawczyk aka Botanigal. www.botanigal.com @botanigals

 

Muskoka Trails Council Blog Project: LAKE OF BAYS TOWNSHIP – The Oxtongue Rapids Trail

The Oxtongue Rapids trail is a fantastic exploration of white-water ecology.

White-water ecosystems are special because they take in water, roll it about, and improve the oxygen and mineral content of water as it moves downstream.  They provide specialized niche habitats for countless creatures, and are a vital asset to the planet.

Turbulent high-oxygen waterways are used by many animals, including humans.  Many of the natural heritage attractions along the Oxtongue Rapids Trail highlight water’s power to carve through stone, as well as the local plant and animal community’s ability to adapt to the wild ways of white water.  As you will find, humans were pretty good at carving out a niche through this landscape as well.

R.K. 2 Oxtongue Rapids Hiking along the rocks July 24 2016 035 wtm.jpg

As you walk alongside the Oxtongue River Rapids, you will see many interesting geological features; the result of a long history of water vs. rock.  Potholes are evident here and are very interesting to gaze into. You will also find interesting patterns in the rock below your feet, which are the result of igneous intrusions eroding at a different rate from the surrounding material.

R.K. 3 Oxtongue Rapids Geology July 24 2016 092 wtm.jpg
Potholes begin forming when pebbles catch in a fissure in the river bedrock and are tumbled indefinitely drilling deeper over time.

R.K. 4 Oxtongue Rapids Rock patterns July 24 2016 134 wtm.jpg
These igneous intrusions are not as easily persuaded by white water to erode away, and therefore leave raised patterns in the surrounding river bedrock.

 

R.K. 5 Oxtongue Rapids 'Hog's Trough' July 24 2016 131 wtm.jpg
The main point of interest is what the locals call the ‘Hogs Trough’ and can be found at the end of the trail, which is where the water is the fastest and the most dangerous.  This landform is the reason why the portage and trail evolved in the first place.

Turbulent water systems are biologically rich, providing habitat for many macroinvertebrate species who breed and thrive under the surface.  These are an invaluable food source for local wildlife.  From mammals to songbirds, fish to insects, macroinvertebrates (and the resulting adults) are key for sustenance.  With Mayflies, Caddisflies, Dobsonflies, crayfish, minnows, and tadpoles living in this habitat, it is a hidden city in itself.  And what a high-speed environment!

Rapids are a ruthless and dangerous place to live.  Not only do the inhabitants have to endure the pounding current, but they must always be on guard for their lives!   Several species of aquatic macroinvertebrates even prey upon their own relatives!

Some dragonfly species can spend four years or more as an aquatic larva and will ambush minnows, and even tadpoles for a meal.  All the while, they themselves are hunted by frogs, birds, fish, and other dragonfly nymphs!  Dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus) dragonfly larvae will morph from preying on other dragonfly larvae in the river, to catching other species of dragonflies right out of the air!  They can be seen hunting above the mist of the rapids on warm, sunny days.

R.K. Dragonhunter hot feet Lower Oxtongue July 30 2017_RXB4454 wtm.jpg
The Dragonhunter.  Note the size of this dragonfly’s hind legs along with the tiny size of this species’ head in relation to its massive thorax!

R.K. 7 Ebony Jewellwing and Blondie IMG_9763 wtm.jpg
Another dragonfly found here is aptly named the Ebony Jewelwing.  With its distinctive black wings, and an iridescent emerald body, it is truly a dainty gem representing the vitality of this ecosystem.

Many birds, particularly Flycatcher species, can be seen swooping across the expanse of the rapids to net flying insects.  Kingfishers find the calm pools and eddies between the white-water ideal for plucking up frogs and minnows.  Whereas mammals, such as Raccoon, Mink, Weasel and Otter, rely on the rapids and shallow pools to provide crayfish, frogs, fish, and plant tubers.  Talk about meat and potatoes!

R.K. 6 Dobson Fly wings Oxtongue Rapids July 24 2016 016 wtm.jpg
This deposit of Dobsonfly wings depicts the important role macroinvertebrates play in the food chain here.  Dobson fly larvae appear quite frightening, and the adults are apparently quite delicious.

The flora that take root along these rapids really hold on to survive through fluctuating water levels, unpredictable saturation, and a turbulent environment.  The Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) miraculously grows from the tiniest of seeds.  These seeds are driven down into crevices between the rocks which are full of sand.  Here they tumble in the grit, where the seed coat is scratched thin so the root can break through and take hold.  The Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) eject microscopic spores which stick to organic deposits, often in fissures, where their roots can take hold.

R.K. 8 Oxtongue Rapids Cardinal Flower Royal Fern July 24 2016 006 wtm.jpg
Cardinal Flower and Royal Fern are tenacious companions along the edge of the Oxtongue River Rapids.

R.K. 9 Oxtongue Rapids Spotted Joe Pye Weed 051 wtm.jpg
Spotted Joe Pye-weed (Eupatorium maculata) is another fine-seeded species that seems to thrive here, despite the fine size of the seed.  They are another wonderful addition to the Oxtongue Rapids floral palette.

Hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators love Cardinal Flower and Joe Pye-weed blooms.  Plants at the water’s edge are very important for aquatic larvae so they can climb above the water and stay sheltered as they dry in the sun and transform to remain a valuable link in the Oxtongue Rapids food chain.

The areas First Peoples used the Oxtongue Rapids as a route for travel efficiency and optimum health.  They created the original human trail here.  It was a valuable portage route with reliably clean and oxygenated water. As water levels dropped later in the summer, the river bed made for easier trekking and foraging, with a clear path and a steady breeze, rather than competing with the foliage and biting insects.

In 1892 David Gilmour bought the timber rights to the Oxtongue area where he would become Lake of Bays’ most famous logging baron.  Gilmour envisioned the Oxtongue river system as a tool for logging efficiency and profit, though it turned out to be quite an exhaustive endeavour.  The failure of the operation and the resulting bankruptcy is part of what brought him fame, though the Log-lifting Tramway in Dorset was quite a feat of engineering!

R.K. 10 Gilmour Tramway Jackladder 1024 120dpi Dorset Heritage Museum wtm.jpg
This five-kilometre Jack-ladder took many years and many men to build in harsh and dangerous conditions.  You can learn more about the Gilmour Tramway with a visit to the Dorset Museum, which has an impressive model depicting this feat of human industry.

Aside from a lumber run, the Oxtongue River Rapids portage was seen by Gilmour as an ideal path to drive cattle to his Canoe Lake logging camp for his men.  What he didn’t know was that cattle poo is a major distributor of poison ivy and other foreign weeds.  Poison Ivy is still evident here along the river’s edge, so watch out, but it is rare to non-existent in the surrounding forests.

R.K. 11 Oxtongue Rapids Poison Ivy July 24 2016 006 wtm.jpg
Poison Ivy:  Note how shiny the leaves are. Leaves of three, let it be’.

Next time you are on your way to or from Algonquin Park, take a brief detour off Highway 60 down Oxtongue Rapids Road, stay on the LEFT fork, and pass by the municipal landfill (which is where you’ll end up if you take the fork to the right).  The road is quite rustic, and is shared by hikers, cyclists, and ATVs, so take your time as you make your way to the parking landing by the picnic shelter, which is on the right shoulder of the road.

We hope you enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the Oxtongue Rapids Trail!

 

Wild Dyes for the Wildest Fibre Art

First thing’s first.  If you have your heart set on using a wild dye plant not listed below, please buy your wild dye plants from a native plant supplier.  For example, DO NOT harvest Wild Indigo for dye use from the wild.  There are many ways to cultivate and grow these wild crops.  You can still label them as native plant dyes, even though they were cultivated, and still fill a niche market.

There are so many available plant dyes in this Muskoka and Haliburton territory we call home.  The flowers, berries, nuts, bark, roots, stems, and leaves listed below are all useable and reasonably sustainable.  All we need to do is notice when these plants and their parts become available for use and respect each plant’s ability to reproduce the parts you are using.

Several of the dye plants that I’ve researched produce a great dye, but because of their nature, they are at risk for exhaustion from over harvesting, so I’m only going to discuss plants that are very commonly found, plants that can be classified as weeds, and some that are even invasive.

Fritillary on Milkweed Pete'sThe dark inks used in this Buwalda drawing on watercolour paper were created using the husk of Black Walnut and Purple Loosetrife pulled from a client’s wetland.

When you are gathering plant material for dyeing, the blossoms should be in full bloom, berries ripe, and nuts mature.  Remember, never gather more than 10% of a stand of anything in the wild when gathering plant stuff for dyeing.  If you are using tree bark, only harvest from plant parts that have separated from the living specimen, ie. Branches downed from a storm or bark from a fallen tree that is still sitting on the ground and separated from the heartwood and cambium that has long begun to rot.  You must take the opportunities as you happen upon these offerings rather than seeking them out.

When we gather plants to create a dye, we also need to remember how much bulk of the plant is actually required to dye a batch of fabric.  It is very important to keep in mind that if the chemical mixture you are creating will permeate a fibre and  will permanently change the colour, the liquid is a concentrate and should be treated as a toxin, even without the mordant.  All dye projects should be considered as a chemistry experiment and one needs to behave as they would in a lab.  Taking notes is a great habit that will improve future results.

Some will pre-treat a fabric with a mordant (colour fixative) and rinse it well before adding the fabric to the dye solution, while others will add the mordant to the dye solution.

Some will create a dye with plant material, strain it, and then add the fabric, while others will mix the fabric in with the plant material in layers, like a lasagna.  It really depends on how dark you want the dye and what process works with each mordant and each plant material.

One can also create differences in a specific plant dye by allowing the plant to decompose and almost ferment.  We’ve done this with Black Walnut.

To get the fibre or fabric ready for the dye bath you will have to soak the fabric in a color fixative before the dye process. This will assist the color set within the fabric.

The most common mordants are:

  • Cream of tartar, iron, tin, alum or chrome (these are available from dye supply shops, or your local pharmacy).
  • Salt Fixative (for berry dyes) 1/2 cup salt to 8 cups cold water
  • Plant Fixatives (for plant dyes) 4 parts cold water to 1 part vinegar

You could also try making natural mordants from plant material to have a completely plant-based product.

PLANT MORDANTS

  1. Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhinaR.K. Sumac Dwight Bay July 11 2017_RXB3801 wtm.jpg

The leaves of sumac are high in tannin which can be used in the process of mordanting plant fibres like hemp and cotton. Sumac is also used in treating leather.

Some people can have an allergic reaction to sumac so always wear gloves when prepping any plant-based solution concentrate.

Use 40 grams dry leaves and shoots (so about 40 complete compound leaves snapped off of the branch at the base of the petiole) or 80 grams (about 40) fresh leaves and shoots per 100 grams of cotton.

 

  1. Rhubarb (Rheum spp) as a mordant

The liquor from boiled rhubarb leaves is used in Tibet as natural mordant that works best with animal fibres.

How to turn Rhubarb leaves into a natural dye mordant

One pound of rhubarb leaves can mordant several pounds of fibre. Boil the leaves for an hour to extract the tannin. Make sure you boil the leaves in a well-ventilated area, as the fumes will be toxic.  Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, which is a poison, and should never be eaten.

 

  1. Juniper (Juniperus communis) as a mordant R.K. Juniper lil' bush July 19 2017 LOB_RXB3941 wtm.jpg

Gather green Juniper boughs and burn them clean, without any other materials.  This is best done above a grate, then you can gather the ashes from under the grate and use them as a mordant instead of alum. Ashes and water form a natural lye, which is alkaline and can cause burns if not used with care.

 

QUICK AND RELIABLE WILD PLANT DYE LIST

Purple loosestrife (an invasive plant, so harvest away) for gold, brown and black

Saint John’s wort for gold, maroon and green

Lichen – gold, purple, red…

R.K. Rock tripe.jpg

… and a couple of cultivars:

Sunflowers that have escaped from the garden for deep olive greens

Hollyhock blooms and foliage for yellow, mahogany and reddish black

 

NATIVE PLANTS and NATURALIZED ‘WEEDS’ LISTED BY DYE COLOUR

 

BLACK/ GREY

Alder

Blackberry

Black Walnut (husks) – black

Queen of the Prairie makes an amazing black dye.

Sumac (leaves) – black

Sunflower

Yarrow

Purple Loosestrife – black

 

BLUES/ PURPLES

Blackberry (fruit) strong purple

Blueberries

Cherry (roots)

Dogwood (bark) – blue

Dogwood (fruit)  – greenish-blue

Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) – lavender

(fresh berries) – mordant: alum – violet

(fresh berries) – mordant: tin- blue/gray

(fresh berries) – mordant: chrome – blue

 

Indigo (leaves) – blue

Queen Anne’s Lace

Red Maple Tree (inner bark) – purple

 

BROWNS

Acorns (boiled) I like using the acorns that have been compromised by insects for dyes and we leave the good acorns for wildlife and regeneration. Field test: The good acorns for wildlife sink, and the ruined acorns float.  Use the floaters, as it is the husk that holds the dye.

Pine Tree Bark – light medium brown. Needs no mordant.

Birch (bark) – Light brown/ buff – Alum to set

Coneflower (flowers) – brownish green ; leaves and stems – gold

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) (leaves) – mordant: iron – brown

Burdock

R.K. Burdock LOB August 6 2017_RXB5262 wrm.jpg

Dandelion (roots) brown

Oregano – (Dried stalk) – Deep brown- Black

Goldenrod (shoots) – deep brown

Purple Loosestrife

 

CHARTREUSE – YELLOW/GREEN

Birch Leaves

Fireweed

Goldenrod  (Solidago spp.)(all plant – fresh) – mordant: iron – yellow/green

R.K. Goldenrod Harvest August 14 2017_RXB5549 wtm.jpg

Nettle (Uritca dioica) )(all plant – fresh) – mordant: alum- yellowish green

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) (fresh young leaves) mordant: alum – yellowish green

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) (fresh flowers) mordant: alum – greenish/yellow

Lupine

Purple Loosestrife – gold

 

GREENS

Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) – bright olive/apple green

Chamomile (leaves) – green

Coneflower (flowers) – green

Dock (Rumex spp.)(fresh leaves) – mordant: iron – dark green

Foxglove – (flowers) apple green TOXIC

Grass (yellow green)

Peppermint – dark kakhi green color

Pigweed (entire plant) yellow green

Plantain Roots

Queen Anne’s Lace – pale green

Red Pine (needles) green

R.K. Pine flowers June 18 2017 LOB_RXB3023 wtm.jpg

 

Sorrel (roots) – dark green

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) (fresh tops) mordant: iron – dark green

White Ash – (bark) – yellow

Yarrow – (flowers) yellow & green shades

Yarrow ( Achillea Millefolium) (Fresh, all plant ) mordant: iron- olive green

 

ORANGES

Speckled Alder (Alnus rugosa) (Bark).  This makes sense!  Our watersheds in Muskoka and Haliburton tend to be ‘tea coloured’ as they are often moving through and settling around the roots and stems of Speckled Alder as they move through our many bogs (among other reasons).

Balsam Fir branch tips.

R.K. Balsam Fir Tips July 14 2017 041 iPhone wtm.jpg

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) – (fresh flowers) – mordant: tin – orange/red

 

PEACH

Jewelweed – orange/peach

Virginia Creeper – (fruit) – pink (all parts); alum mordant; Peach.

Weeping Willow (wood & bark) makes a peachy brown (the tannin acts as a mordant)

 

PINKS

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) (all plant – fresh) – magenta

Lichens – A pink, brown, or wine colored dye can be produced from British soldiers, but colonies are often small and sporadic.

Raspberries (red)

 

Roses with some acidic Sumac-ade (see Wild Edibles blog) to activate the alkaloids can make a bright pink dye

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) (fresh fruit) mordant: alum – pink

Sorrel

StrawberrieS

 

REDS

Burdock

Canadian Hemlock (inner bark)  – reddish brown

Beets – deep red

Chokecherries

Comfrey ( Symphytum officinale)

Crab Apple (bark) – red/yellow

R.K. Ottawa crabapples before frost John Crosby Ottawa weekend October 2016 009 wtm.jpg

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) (root)

Dock (Rumex spp.) (fresh young leaves) -mordant: chrome – red

Elderberry (Sambucus spp.)

Poplar

St Johnswort whole plant soaked in Vodka – red.   or just fresh leaves – reddish brown color

salt is all that is needed to set this dye.

Rose (hips)

Sumac (fruit) – light red

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratium) (fresh roots) mordant: alum – red

Wild ripe Blackberries

 

YELLOW/ WHEAT

Burdock – yellow

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)  (fresh flowers) – mordant: alum – soft yellow

Dandelion (fresh flowers) – mordant: tin – yellow

 

Dock (Rumex spp.)(fresh roots) – mordant: alum – deep yellow

Dock (Rumex spp.)(fresh leaves) – mordant: alum – yellow

Dock (Rumex spp.)(fresh late leaves) – mordant: chrome – gold

R.K. Dock seedheads IMG_1232 wtm

Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) (fresh leaves) – mordant: alum – soft yellow

Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) (fresh leaves) – mordant: chrome– deep yellow

Goldenrod  (Solidago spp.)(flowers – fresh) – mordant: alum – yellow

Goldenrod flowers – fresh – mordant: chrome – gold

Goldenrod flowers – fresh – mordant: tin – bright yellow

Mullein (leaf and root) pale yellow. (can cause dermatitis)

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) (flowers) bright yellow or light green.

Nettle (Uritca dioica) )(all plant – fresh) – mordant: chrome – tan

Old man’s beard lichen – yellow/brown/orange shades

R.K. Ol' Man Crosby May 10 2017 Marsh's Falls-01949 wtm.jpg

Oxallis (Yellow Wood Sorrel) (flowers) mordant: alum – fluorescent yellow

(Oxallis flowers fermented) – fluorescent orange.

Queen Anne’s Lace

 

Plaintain (Plantago major) (fresh, all plant) – mordant: alum – dull yellow

Plaintain (Plantago major) (fresh, all plant) – mordant: chrome – camel

 

Red Clover (whole blossom, leaves and stem) alum mordant – gold

 

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) (flowers & leaves) – gold/yellow

(fresh tops) – mordant: alum – medium yellow

(fresh tops) – mordant: chrome – bright yellow

 

Sumac (bark) – The inner pith of Sumac branches can produce a super bright yellow color.

Tansy (tops) – yellow

Willow (leaves)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) (Fresh flowers) mordant: alum – yellow and gold

Yellow, Curly, or Bitter Dock all have a bright yellow taproot and give you a yellow/flesh color.

 

Plant dyes from plants that aren’t wild, but common in the kitchen:

Coffee grounds – brown

Onion skins – shades of orange

Pomegranate (peel) – yellow

Pomegranate (skins) orange to khaki green -mordant – alum

Red cabbage – blue purple

Sage (Salvia officinalis) (fresh tops) – mordant: iron –  green gray

Spoiled spinach (leaves)

Turmeric

R.K. Turmeric 003 wtm.jpg

 

Basic How-to-Make a dye solution:

Chop plant material into small pieces and place in a pot. Double the amount of water to plant material. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour. Strain. Now you can add your fabric to be dyed. For a stronger shade, allow material to soak in the dye overnight.

Getting the fabric ready for the dye bath: You will have to soak the fabric in a color fixative before the dye process. This will make the color set in the fabric.

 

Most Common Color Fixatives (Mordants):

Salt Fixative (for berry dyes) 1/2 cup salt to 8 cups cold water

Plant Fixatives (for plant dyes) 4 parts cold water to 1 part vinegar (much easier than Rhubarb)

Other Mordant: Cream of tartar, iron, tin, alum or chrome

 

Add fabric to the fixative and simmer for an hour. Rinse the material and squeeze out excess. Rinse in cool water until water runs clear.

Dye Bath: Place wet fabric in dye bath. Simmer together until desired color is obtained (remember though that wool does not like to boil so keep it at 80 degrees). The color of the fabric will be lighter when its dry. Also note that all dyed fabric should be laundered in cold water and separately.

Muslin, silk, cotton and wool work best for natural dyes and the lighter the fabric in color, the better. White or pastel colors work the best.

 

SAFETY NOTES:

It’s best to use a retired large pot as your dye vessel.

Wear rubber gloves to handle the fabric that has been dyed, the dye can stain your hands.

When using mordants and concentrated solutions it is best to wear safety eyewear. Do not breathe in any of the steam.

It’s also important to note, some plant dyes may be toxic, check with the Poison Control Center if unsure. Again, make sure that the pots and other tools you use for mordanting and dyeing are only for dyeing not for cooking

You will be cooking plant concentrates and mixing plants with chemical compounds under hot to boiling conditions.  Work in a spotless and uncluttered workspace and keep away from children and pets.

 

Blog still in progress.  Thank you for your patience.

May the forest be with you.

 

 

R.K. Balsam Fir Tips July 14 2017 041 iPhone wtm.jpg

Wild Edibles with a Spin: Eat Your Invasives

So many people ask me what the difference is between Native Species, Naturalized Species, and Invasive Species.  Here are my loose definitions from my nutshell.

Native Species have originated from an area, like Muksoka and Haliburton, and belong in that particular Ecotype where they are typically found.  They have always grown there, participating with their wild communities, providing food and habitat without competing with their neighbours.

Naturalized Species managed to take root here when they were either: A. Planted by people who brought them over because they liked to use them at home or, B. Hitched a ride by way of seed or root bit as humans traversed an area.  i.e. Poison Ivy made its way across Ontario often by way of livestock manure.  But Naturalized Species have kind of found their own harmless niche, other than sometimes being a nuisance in the vegetable garden.

Invasive Species take hold and choke out all other floral forms of life and provide little or no food or habitat for local wildlife.  Phragmites, for example can be seen alongside our roadways, choking out the native Cattail marshes and wetlands.  It is a relentless and ruthless plant.

So really, this blog isn’t about native edibles, though invasives do get pretty wildwhich is why they have become an issue.

Since wildcrafting and foraging have become quite popular over the past few years, being advertised in LCBO’s Food and Drink magazine, and being used to advertise the restaurants of large resorts in Cottage Country, we’ve become a little concerned here at Lake of Bays. Concerned that this activity could start to do great harm to our forests on a new level.  Wild edibles colonies in this area, particularly the leeks, ferns, and mushrooms, have taken generations, even centuries, to be what they are today.  There is nowhere where humans can’t reach anymore.

BUT the interest is there, so how can we take advantage of it as a sustainable learning tool?

My Elders tell me tales of caution.  Tales where they have discovered that after teaching perfectly honourable students their knowledge about Wild Edible Survival, the pinpointed wild edible colonies disappeared, even though the Wild Harvest Code was repeated throughout the teachings, and the teachings took place in protected places.

All it took was a positive tale of a student’s experience, solely word of mouth of what they’d learned, over time…  These innocent discussions eventually resulted in the disappearance of those colonies, particularly the mushrooms, which my Elders used to visit to teach.   It is only human nature.  Although there are sustainable harvesters out there, there are others who will not learn proper practise and will keep foraging until all of the Fiddleheads, mushrooms, and Wild Leeks are gone; perhaps for financial reasons, and who can blame them?

I started to wonder, after attending a Lake of Bays Association Invasive Species Tracking Committee meeting, if we, as foragers leading large public groups, can instead help mitigate the harm caused by invasives, AND divert some of the now popular public foraging out of the forest to solve the invasive species issue in Lake of Bays, and perhaps in other communities, altogether!

Case in point:  Japanese Knotweed and Garlic Mustard.

Now, there are many invasive species that are not useful to humans in a food sense, BUT off of the top of my head, Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) and Garlic Mustard (Allaria petiolata) are totally useful to humans as an edible.  Good ones at that!

So I’m going to show you some key ID features for each species and some basic preparation methods for each as well.  I’ll start with recipes, as neither of these are harvestable now, this being August, BUT I’ll post preparation method with photos in the spring when they are again useful.

The late-season photos will help you identify your local colonies NOW, in late summer, as they are quite evident (even though they may not be edible now).  An important thing to remember, especially when harvesting Garlic Mustard, is that you don’t trample down the woodland species intermixed with it.

R.K. Japanese Knotweed roadside form IMG_2526 wtm.jpg

As you can see above, Japanese Knotweed is quite obvious in its height, leaf patterning and density.  It grows in VERY DENSE thickets.  You can’t even walk through because the previous years’ stalks trip you.  The plant dies back every year, leaving the wilted stalks on the ground and put up new shoots, like asparagus every year, which is why people brought it over from their origins in the first place.

Japanese knotweed flowers and petioles IMG_2514 wtm.jpg

The flowers of Japanese Knotweed look like other flowers in the Polygonaceae, or Buckwheat family.

R.K. Japanese knotweed stalks and leaves IMG_2522 wtm.jpg

Believe it or not, these woody stalks are edible when fresh and new in the spring, like asparagus!  Note the red petioles on the heart shaped leaf.

R.K. Japanese knotweed underside shot IMG_2517 wtm.jpg

Note the patterning on the stalks.  They grow so fast the patterns stretch with the growth. You can see why this plant is also called ‘Shrubby Bamboo’.

PREPARATION: The young spring shoots of Japanese Knotweed should be harvested before they are 4″ tall, like a stalk of asparagus.  You would do well to boil them in a change of water as described in the Botanigal ‘Rapini Demystified‘ blog post.

Garlic Mustard whole plant_RXB2266 wtm.jpg

Garlic Mustard, being a Brassica, or mustard, is a hardy traveller.  Mustards explosively dehisce their seeds, throwing them far from the mother plant.  A good ID feature for this plant is that it smells like an Allium, or garlic more specifically, when crushed.

Garlic Mustard cropped for detail_RXB2266 wtm.jpg

Soft and not serrated.  Gentle scallops along the leaf blade is another ID feature.  Cabbage White butterflies are one species that thrive off of the flowers of this particular invasive.

Garlic Mustard Blooms_RXB2263 wtm.jpgNote the flowers of the Garlic Mustard, typical of the Brassicaceae, off of which the Cabbage Whites thrive.

PREPARATION: Garlic Mustard is delicious without changes of water when harvested young.  Though, you can cook it like Rapini (see the Botanigal blog ‘Rapini Demystified’ for further instruction), without the garlic of course…

Bear with me, I’ll keep adding to this post as I get the photos and further information.

By the way, Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), an invasive of wet meadows and fens, is a great source of Wild Dye, which will be the topic of my next post.

May the forest be with you.