First Corn Shoot

First corn shoot of the year, emerging from the ground!
I think it’s so beautiful how they unfurl, almost like a little green scroll. Once they emerge, it’s amazing how fast they will grow…
(And also plenty of weeds coming up around that, but those are inevitable…)

Chokecherry flowers


Seen on a plant walk for the Culture Day at Selfridge Public Schools. I led walks around the school grounds for groups of students from different grade levels. Although they all knew how to identify a chokecherry plant from the presence of ripe cherries, few of them could identify it based on the leaf or the flower.

Many of us, especially when we are first getting to know a plant, rely on just one or two visual cues. That may work fine if it’s a cue that will always remain constant — for instance, the color and texture of the bark — but it can lead to problems if we’re relying on cues that are highly seasonal, such as the presence of fruit.

On this plant walk, we discussed several other ways to identify a chokecherry bush, such as the alternate leaf arrangement, and serrated leaf margin. Even the elementary schoolers were able to master this concept, and successfully identify the next chokecherry bushes we encountered on the walk.

2018 SBC Mobridge Standing Rock Seed Exchange

After the success of our first Standing Rock Seed Exchange in Fort Yates, ND, in Spring of 2018, we started hearing that people on the south side of the reservation wanted a seed exchange, too. So, the first Mobridge Seed Exchange was born. We met on a Saturday afternoon at the Sitting Bull College Mobridge Campus, and set up in the student lounge.

The first Mobridge Seed Exchange attracted a mix of Native people from Standing Rock and the surrounding community, and European-Americans from the Mobridge area. We started with an opening prayer led by Mobridge resident Luke Black Elk, and shared potluck meal. Then, one by one, everyone who had brought seeds to share stood up and introduced us to their seeds, sharing the seeds’ story and any growing tips that people might want to know. Then, we opened it up for people to take seeds.

Here are some of Prof. Linda Black Elk’s Ethnobotany students, and members of the local community, getting seeds:

Enough people (and seeds) showed up that we wound up having to add extra tables!

Overall, we had more than 30 attendees of all ages and walks of life. I didn’t count seed varieties, but many, many seeds changed hands and went home to new families that afternoon.

While, as you can see, there were some seed packets that were donated, the focus was really on sharing locally-adapted seeds from community members’ gardens and farms.
Overall, it was a very successful event! We planned a second Mobridge Seed Exchange for a bit later in the spring, to include a seedling (live plant) exchange and also some brief gardening lessons. I’ll share pics from that event soon.

In this pic, on the bottom on the far left, you can see a milkweed rope, made by Bill Rosin of Rosin Organics (Selby, SD), using a skill he picked up in Prof. Linda Black Elk’s Ethnobotany class.

Pšíŋ Hinápȟe: Onions Emerging, over 5 days

Pšiŋ. Onions. There is an indigenous wild onion, pšiŋ šičámna, but this post is about domestic onions. These are a special North-Dakota-adapted variety bred by Dr. Frank Kutka at NDSU extension in Dickinson. He gave me the seeds at a seed exchange at the Indigenous Farming Conference hosted by the White Earth Land Recovery Project in Minnesota. They are supposed to be a good storage onion. They germinated in less than a week, and I took daily photos as they emerged.

One interesting fact about baby onion plants is that the top of the plant does not emerge first — a loop of the middle does, and you can only guess which end will wind up staying attached to the soil.

Onion loops getting bigger…

Some onion loops starting to unfold…

Once the tops emerge, they will usually have their seed husks still attached. Some seed heads are visible here, as the onions unfold:

This was the last day I took a picture, before the onions got their first haircut. You can clip the tops off. If you’re starting onions indoors (which is necessary in ND due to the short growing season), you will need to regularly trim the onion plants to keep them focused on producing a wide base and thick root structure.

Frank recommends starting onions indoors in February in order to have them ready to go out into the garden in May. These are from March, so they may not do well this season. But Frank advised me that if I plant them close together, I might be able to convince them to produce seed, rather than bulbs.

 

I’m going to stick the rest of my onion seed in the freezer, with hopes that the cold will extend its life and keep it viable for next year.

Wažúšteča – Wild Strawberry Leaves in April

On an early spring walk along the Moreau River, when the ice was still melting away and the first leaves of our local plants were just beginning to show themselves, I saw this wild strawberry plant.

It was very close to the ground, disguised so it would be easy to miss. Not even a hint of a flower bud yet.

Wild boreal strawberries are one of the sweetest, most amazing wild fruits around. There is simply no way to describe the taste. While the berries are often only about a quarter of an inch long, and hard to find, they are well worth it. Ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer has a fantastic chapter on the strawberry plant and the lessons we can learn from it in her book Braiding Sweetgrass.

Kȟáŋta Twig Tea

Kȟaŋta. Prunus Americana. Wild Plum. While this shrub is most famous for its small but delicious fruits, the spring is a good time to harvest the stem tips, which are another kind of medicine, You can make a tea from the twig tips that treats asthma or other breathing difficulties.

This is what the tips look like in April:


Identifying plants in the winter, when they don’t have foliage, can be challenging. One way to identify kȟáŋta this time of year, before it gets its leaves, is by its distinct thorns. They are nothing like the sharp, long thorns of the Hawthorn tree, but you definitely don’t want to stab yourself. If you’re not sure, get to know a kȟáŋta plant during the summer and then come back to it the following spring.

 

This one, which I harvested from, was chewed by a porcupine or some other kind of hungry animal over the winter, but it was still in good enough shape to harvest a few twigs:

That day, with a friend, I actually harvested the ingredients for several different spring teas. Some made use of plants that had been drying/ripening over the course of the winter:
-Last year’s sage (Pȟežíȟota, Artemisia ludoviciana): still strong enough to make a good tea.

-Uŋžiŋžiŋtka (Rosa Woodsii, Wild Rose Hips): They actually get sweeter after spending winter on the bush.

And the other two focused on fresh ingredients:

-Igmú čheyáka (Nepeta cataria, Catmint): The first fresh shoots emerging this time of year.

-Kȟáŋta twigs, of course.

 

To make the kȟáŋta waȟpékȟalyapi (wild plum twig tea), put about 1-2 tablespoons per 2 cups of water in a pot, and let it boil about 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature, remove the twigs, then serve. For breathing difficulties, this should provide fairly quick relief.