Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Non-food foraging

© 2010 Joshua Stark

...and I don't mean dumpster-diving, or continuing to click on the craigslist "free" category (I've already blogged about that one).  I'm talking about foraging for things that don't make food, but provide other benefits.

Here in the California Delta, we are cursed with Arundo donax, giant river reed.  This plant is highly invasive, and provides no habitat for our native fauna.  It also poisons the ground around it, making for a negative habitat space, in effect.  However, the gigantic reeds make for fine lattices and trellises.  In my tiny town along the river, I grew up next door to master filipino gardeners, who made amazing-looking trellises in the form of five to six-foot tall lean-tos: the cucumbers and beans would hang straight down off of the roofs, where one could easily walk underneath and pick them at eye level.

We also have wild roses, whose shoots can make beautiful and sturdy arrows, and willows, with which one may make a chair, or a concoction for getting clippings to take root.  And the abundant local tules and rushes had been used for centuries by native Californians for everything from houses to boats to duck decoys.  Soon, I hope to gather some up and try my hand at making decoys, just to see if all the hype in the duck-hunting industry has been overblown. 

The occasional walnut tree makes its presence, too, including one 65-foot monster in our back yard.  Now, as the squirrels rain down our beautiful walnuts too early to eat, I hope to gather them up and boil down a concoction into walnut stain to make just about anything dark brown - wood, but also pants, hands, our porch.  The stuff "works", that's for sure. 

Have you ever foraged for things other than food?  Often, our little out-of-the-way spots hold treasures that can save you some money, or contribute free loot to a new hobby.


Bpaul said...

Gathered some obsidian, some red osier for arrow shafts, helped a friend gather late season nettle for fiber making, feathers of course, -- you got me thinking. Oh conifer sap, and dung (for making glue for attaching arrowheads).

Hm, late, maybe I can think of more.


Bud Stark said...

In the old days--when you were a baby--some of the lands on the margin were dumps. You see where this is leading...

Tovar said...

My wife and I sometimes gather medicinal plants and mushrooms for making various oils, salves, tinctures, etc. Some, like St. John's Wort, can be found in predictable places at predictable times. Finding others, like chaga (inonotus obliquus), feels more like a treasure hunt.

Josh said...

Bud (Dad), I know exactly where you are going with this: foraging a 75 cab-over camper, that's where.

Tovar, that is cool. I'm too scared of foraging for medicinal purposes yet. I'm still too simple-minded for it.

Josh said...

Bpaul, I'd love to see the arrows you make. Perhaps we can even trade - I've got wild California rose shoots and elderbushes, and if you use an atlatl, we've tons and tons of river reed.

How does the nettle fiber hold up? Is it worth the effort, or is it just for fun?

Bpaul said...

The arrows I made almost exclusively from "normal" machined cut etc. parts. Dowels, cut fletching, metal target points, etc.

When I got a bunch that shot well from my homemade bow, (hickory flatbow, 58# at 27 1/2"), then I took the best one of those and set the obsidian head in it. That was my "first shot" hunting arrow. Its back-ups were all pointed with Wensel Woodsman broadheads.

I hadn't gotten to the full primitive arrow-making stage of using shoots yet. Then, I switched to guns -- another story entirely.

The nettle fiber was all made by friends, but everything I saw looked really nice. Don't know the lb. test, but it was supple and durable-seeming to my untrained hands.

Josh said...

Bpaul, that's cool! I've got a couple of blanks cut out for board bows (white oak) in my shop, and no time to work on them... My homemade arrows are all dowels right now, too, with Magnus blunt-tips (with the groove for inserting bleeder blades), or home-made broadheads cut from circular saws.

Next winter, I plant to grab a whole bunch of rose shoots and get to work. I'd love to learn footing, too, but I'm going to keep it simple. For now.

Bpaul said...

My first bow was made from a split hickory stave, bark on, with no power tools. I stained it dark cherry, and its a beauty. I had a patient teacher.

I had to decide what hobbies to keep and what to set aside when the baby came. Primitive archery got set aside, but hunting got ramped up.

More later,