Saturday, November 07, 2015

What a harvest!

Yesterday was a dream Friday. Last year, I had contacted the director of horticulture and conservation at the Holden Arboretum, Roger Gettig, about harvesting slippery elm. It wasn't the right time of year, but he was welcome to the idea and said whenever I needed it, to let him know. After I visited the field station in Bath last week, I realized that I should contact him again to see if there were other harvests to be had. Here he is, showing us the Miscanthus and Amsonia that his staff had already so generously harvested ahead of our visit (because they knew it would rain on the day we were coming).
I invited Mimi, because she is working on a project that requires weaving materials from plants traditionally used by Native Americans for basketry. Luckily, there is a lot of overlap between papermaking and weaving plants. I already forget what this tree is but it's a species that has been around since the dinosaurs. I'm still hesitant to go for woody bark fiber but I will someday.
Bigger Amsonia, used as landscaping outside of some administrative offices. Very easy to cut down, related to dogbane, and looked immediately like good fiber to work with.
Stalks down! It was so much easier to do this work with two other people. I was glad for Velma's recommendation years ago to get Felco pruners for small hands. It looked like Roger had a similar pair, which made me feel like I was in the best company. I did get slightly mauled by thorny stems on the way into this patch, but it was much less traumatic than last week's tickseed.
After we dumped our stash on the lawn, Roger walked us down the road, pointing out native and invasive plants along the way (bulrush, cattail, bittersweet, Phragmites, porcelainberry, honeysuckle, some grasses that I forget the names of, etc.). It was raining and windy on and off, but we managed to find the gold mine a ways down.
Dogbane! This was the height of the rain but so very satisfying. He talked about how he started as a college wrestler and ended up in conservation and horticulture, and about how so many of the issues that we are struggling with today come from inadvertent mistakes made by humans. I loved hearing about the migration of these plants to places they never should have gone, how the highway and railroad systems hastened those migrations, and how they may potentially have some elm saplings growing now that could be resistant to the disease that has killed them completely in areas like Detroit.
The weight of a fresh harvest bundle in your arms is a wonderful, wonderful feeling.
These were really heavy from rain. After our walk back (talking about how they have an endangered species of milkweed: Sullivan's milkweed!), we moved our first lawn stash closer to the parking lot.
We were able to meet several staff members and talk to them about what we were up to, as well as what we might be able to get in the future as they maintain the land. They are happy to help harvest in the right season for the right plants and call us up to pick things up! Though the harvesting is the most fun part; I'd feel a little weird just coming to pick up someone else's hard work. Then again, this place is HUGE and GORGEOUS, so it would be enough just to come and walk around. We squeezed into a little cart and drove to the butterfly garden, which was stunning and fragrant. So many beautiful grasses, herbs, and trees. There were even Korean grasses! Mimi was over the moon when we were able to nibble on native onion and take in bayberry, mint, thyme, dill, and other delicious scents in variety.
Then we went to the wildflower garden and harvested dock and prairie cord grass on the way. Roger showed us grapevine, willow, more bulrush, prickly pear cacti that live very happily in this region, and a zillion other plants on the way and through the deer fencing, but eventually had to get back to work. We tried to find Sullivan's milkweed without him, but it was like losing bionic vision now that it was the three of us (their editor, Cait, took over as our guide) with zero real horticulture knowledge. We stared into a field and nothing looked to me like milkweed (he had explained the direction of the leaves before letting us go out on our own). We gave up because there was a massive treat for us in store.
The new canopy walk! It opened this September for the first time but closed at the start of this month. I was so sad about it but apparently we qualified for the VIP tour, which meant we got to sneak in. It was fine given the weather, and I was delighted to walk among the (mostly leafless) trees.
My new muck boots, on the fiberglass.
Indeed (and especially pertinent after seeing Ta-Nehisi Coates speak on Monday night this week).
And then even more exciting: the emergent tower, growing up where an old tree had left a gap in the woods. They wanted to disturb the area as little as possible and have the tower blend in. It's visible from the canopy but goes up WAY higher.
It was over 200 steps to wind up and clear the trees. You can see Lake Erie from here, as well as lots of other markers. Cait showed us the pond that they had dredged and talked about how the fancy people back in the day had a resort in the mountains to escape the hot, humid summers (pre-A/C). But now those resort areas have reverted back to forest.
Once we got back into reality, the big task was loading our bounty into my vehicle. Mimi helped get the seats and tarp down, and Roger did a pro job of lashing our bundles. I saw so much Miscanthus seed in my rearview mirror while driving back and have been having lots of insect visitors on my dashboard in the following 24 hours.
I somehow managed to drive Mimi back home, and then go to the Morgan, without passing out from hunger. Here are dock leaves soaking. It's absolutely the wrong time of year to get their stems but I couldn't resist trying.
Tom and Radha were finally putting the Valley back into running order! David Reina had finished our new bedplate a while back but we were so busy with events that this kept going onto the backburner.
I had four pounds of Japanese kozo waiting to be rinsed and chilled, but I was also trying to fight the setting sun so that I could de-leaf outdoors to keep down the mess (Tom of course scolded me as soon as I brought all the plants inside because of the leaves tracked onto the floors. It's really NOT worse than the 200 pounds of iris leaves tracked and trailed into the building twice from a donation).
This always takes much longer than you expect. Interesting branching on the Amsonia stems; amazing how it's the same from plant to plant, and then you know what to expect.
Left: compost. Right: ready to strip. But when? There's dock on the stove, kozo being rinsed, ash water that needs to be strained, a bag of hosta on the floor, bags and bags and bags of irises all over the tables, and Miscanthus ready to test for weaving papermaking screens.
I'm dying to find out if and how this works for paper. There are still two smaller bundles of the related plant from the butterfly garden, previously harvested for us, waiting on a shelf to be de-leafed and trimmed.
Somehow I managed to trim the dogbane and gather remaining pods (in the little blue container). I'm covered in cuts and scratches, and was dirt tired, so I didn't bother going home to shower and change before attending two openings and dinner. Thursday, I had already given a presentation for a panel of women with "hidden jobs" in the book/paper arts at the library of Cleveland State University (and harvested milkweed from a parking lot before the event), so I never really rested up from that. Today I got a massage and almost couldn't walk afterwards. The fall is so challenging because there is so much to do before winter comes, but less light, and the body's adjustment to the change in seasons. But it's a golden window, and I'm so grateful to be able to jump through.

2 comments:

  1. what hard, wonderful work. i would love to trade one kind of hard work for another, perhaps next fall, and maybe help you harvest!

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  2. amazing post, amazing everything.such hard, wet work but very satisfying. hope you take time to eat and rest.

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