Forage, Fricassee and Feast

We’re pleased to be partnering with Dailys Catering for this 2 part, locally unique event. Limited space is still available!


Insect Pests? No such thing…

So many wild species struggle to survive in the face of human activity. Serious population declines over the last half century should instill fear in every human heart – we need these wild animals for our own survival.

  • 76% population decline in freshwater species
  • 70% decline in seabird populations
  • 68% loss of common birds in the United States
  • 40% of terrestrial populations lost worldwide
  • 40% worldwide loss in marine species

Humans, by-and-large, disdain insect and arachnid species, either fearing them or labeling them as pests. Reasons are, for the most part, based in ignorance of the value these animals provide. We call these ecosystem services and natural capital, functions rooted in Nature upon which Homo sapiens depend for our own lives.  Some of these, like the water cycle, are obvious to us – although we still foolishly complain when it rains. Also trees often get lots of credit for their oxygen production, however, when allowed to form a forest, trees up the ante on the services and capital we rely upon – erosion and flood control, water purification, lumber and paper products, etc., etc.

Insects, Spiders and other such animal species, however, do not get much credit for anything other than being “pesty”.  When one considers the full web of life, it does not take long to realize that these invertebrates are critical to all life on Earth. I might even risk saying that they are second only to plants in importance, which explains why they vastly outnumber all other animal species.

This 1st and 2nd place rating is no coincidence. Without plants, no animal eats – none of them. All food is based in the plant world – and many, many plants greatly depend upon insects in order to reproduce, be it through direct pollination services or the protection certain invertebrate species provide to plants.  Consider that approximately 75% of flowering plants rely on animal pollinators to reproduce. Of the over 200,000 species of animals who perform pollination services, 99.5% of them are insects, such as beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies, and moths, or spiders.

Clearly we must educate ourselves on these essential animals.  We need them or Homo sapiens becomes extinct.  The factors that threaten invertebrates are far more than just fear and disdain. While we directly target some for annihilation with chemicals, others are being threatened by our use of resources – habitat loss, pollution (air/water/ chemical) and climate change being the top factors.

And our best-loved insects, the Butterflies, are not immune to humans’ insatiable use and misuse of natural resources. A recent study states that the Monarch Butterfly, an icon of Nature’s beauty, may be only 20 years from extinction. Why? Habitat loss in both its Winter and Summering grounds (they Summer and reproduce in Western New York), pesticides, genetically modified crops and climate change are the reasons.

And let’s think about those devaViceroyButterlfy_inHandstating population numbers above.  What is the link to the invertebrate world? Many of these animal populations feed upon invertebrates, be it the adults, larvae and/or eggs. Mosquitoes are a favorite food of both birds and freshwater animals. Is it any wonder there is a rise in Mosquito-borne disease recently? The interconnectivity of Nature is still a mystery and we need to understand these complex relationships as they relate to our own behaviors and use of the natural world.

What can you do to help reverse such trends? Here’s some suggestions:

  • Become knowledgeable about insects and spiders. Learn what services they perform that eventually trickle down to our own survival. And remember, the vast majority of these species pose no harm to you.
  • Put the chemicals and fly-swatters away. First, it is a losing battle – their numbers are too great and many evolve quickly to survive chemical applications. Instead, make sure your screens are tight and intact, turn off lights near windows and doors, use natural repellents (like citronella, cloves and lemon balm).
  • Create wildlife habitat, especially for those native pollinators in peril. All of Nature will benefit – see for lots of information on environmentally sound gardening, native plants and our invertebrate friends.

The future of Planet Earth is literally in our hands now. Our actions and failure to act will not only dictate the further existence of wild animals and plants, but our own existence, as well.


Native American Plant Wisdom at the Roycroft

Looking forward to presenting this program next weekend!

Native American Plant Wisdom at the Roycroft

Autumn Programs for 2014

We are excited to share our upcoming programs readying you for the holidays and Winter ahead. See you soon!

Autumn Herbs Series
Country Cupboard (586 Main St | East Aurora)
$5.00 each – call 716-652-9115 to register

  • Tinctures and Extracts
    Saturday, October 25th – 1:00 to 2:30pmmortar-and-pestle
    Demonstration on making these potent preparations for health and cuisine.
  • Salves and Balms
    Saturday, November 15th – 1:00 to 2:30pm
    Learn how easy it is to make these healing preparations.

Roycroft Campus Fall Series
Roycroft Powerhouse (31 S. Grove | East Aurora)
See the RCC website or call 716-655-0261 for cost and registration

  • Native American Plant WisdomThree Sisters
    Sunday, November 16th – 10:00am to Noon
    Inspired by Roycroft son Ralph Hubbard, noted for his work to advance understanding of 20th century Native American culture, we’ll look at how local Indigenous people historically used plants for both food and medicine followed by a demonstration on employing these ancient herbal crafts in modern times.
  • Herbal Crafts for Gift Giving
    Thursday, November 20th – 7:00 to 9:00pm

    A hands-on demonstration of lovingly crafted herbal treats for body and mind – perfect for gift-giving.

Foraging Season Begins

Echinacea, a native composite, supports human health and feeds native pollinators

Echinacea, a native composite, supports human health and feeds native pollinators

A concern about the composition of commercially produced food, genetically modified crops and a seemingly endless litany of food recalls has spurred many people to become more knowledgeable about the source of their sustenance. The rise in kitchen gardens, the opening of more farmers markets each year, and the conversion of empty urban lots to community gardens are definitive signs of a surge in the local food movement, allowing us to have a solid grasp on that which nourishes our bodies. Add to this a swelling interest in wild foraging for both food and medicine, and it becomes clear that we are taking self-reliance much more seriously. This can have many excellent benefits for our environment.

But with this rediscovery of “homegrown” comes an important responsibility, particularly in our foraging and wildcrafting. To understand how to be an ethical harvester of wild plants, one must become well-versed about these species beyond just what value they bring to our own personal well being. In addition to the “Six Knows” of harvesting wild plants, we must also consider the following.

      • Know the plant’s value to other species: We are not alone on this planet. While humans can grow their own food, wild animals depend upon naturally occurring plants for their sustenance. If a plant you wish to harvest is an important food source for another species (including insects), evaluate its local availability before harvesting. If its occurrence is limited, perhaps you can forsake the harvest in this location, finding a more prolific source, or forgo that plant altogether until it becomes more established.
      • Understand the plant’s life cycle (reproductivity): Many plants are like animals in that they take some time to reach sexual maturity. Harvesting a plant before it has begun reproductivity can compromise the future population of that species. Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) is an excellent example. While it is a perennial, it takes up to five years for it to reach flowering age. We want to avoid harvesting the Trout Lily in its first year of flowering, which we can determine by the presence of two leaves, instead of one.

So, please enjoy your foraging but remember to take no more than 1/3 of a complete stand and become acquainted with the aspects of your selection to ensure its future availability for the many species who rely on these wonderful gifts of nature.

An Invader Wins

There are few things more frustrating to one attempting to restore and maintain native habitat than the reality that an invasive species cannot be reasonably and responsibly eradicated. Such is the scenario in the wet meadow that dominates “The Acre”.

When first moving to this property in 1999, the wet meadow was more or less a happy balance of both native and alien plant species. Notable, however, was the lack of invasive species, with the lone exception of Spearmint (Mentha spicatawhich created a bright green carpet along the drainage path leading off to the West Branch of Cazenovia Creek, a major channel within the Buffalo River Watershed (this area’s dominant drainage system).

Before the discussion continues, there are two considerations of open field environments in this Great Lakes region that one must keep in mind:

  1. Most open field plant species are alien, long ago (2 centuries at least) having usurped the native populations.
  2. Historically, one has to question the actual identity and dominance of open field native species as both Indigenous tradition and Colonial documentation consistently agree that this area was overwhelmingly deeply forested, so much so that the Onödowa’ga:’ (Seneca) peoples had to clear forest land to practice agriculture. (If told I’ll live to 120, perhaps this question could spur doctoral research).

In the intervening 13 years, the wettest portions of the meadow have seen dramatic change in the plant community, which is most telling as mid-Summer progresses. The colors of white, yellow and crimson have receded and the color purple has inundated the moist areas. And by that I mean Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).

Purple Loosestrife dominates the wet meadow on "The Acre"

Purple Loosestrife dominates the wet meadow on “The Acre”

When the Loosestrife first began appearing, heroic attempts were made to pull it (heroic because it is notoriously difficult to uproot). When it became clear that this type of manual control was not enough, the procedure was augmented with dead-heading what could not be yanked in order to control seed production. Dozens of hours were spent in this hot, wet field accompanied by resident mosquitoes in hopes of limiting the spread. Huge piles of plant material were dried, eventually becoming tinder for the fire pit.

This exhausting process seemed to work for a couple of years but the last few have brought the reality that continued dispersal of seed via road drainage has allowed the Loosestrife to take over. There is no way to control for this and, so, the invader wins. I’ve resolved myself to keeping small patches near the meadow’s edge clear in order to allow re-introduced Common Cattail (Typha latifolia) to take hold and native Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) to continue thriving.

Boneset, a native medicinal.

Boneset, a native medicinal, does well in many spots on “The Acre”.

One positive note to somewhat assuage any guilt from this surrender is that the Bumblebees and small Butterflies are making use of the Loosestrife’s nectar. Perhaps, one day, our native critters will somehow adapt and become important factors in controlling this difficult, albeit beautiful, invader. Other factors that help me to accept this defeat are the points brought up above. Certainly #1 helps to clear my name in that the problem of invasives is older than the nation itself. Point #2 tells me that time and succession itself will one day be the ultimate solution as the field slowly progresses into a wet woodland. More Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) and Red-Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) appear each year so the process has already begun.

In the meantime, the next invasive project involves that looming stand of  Phragmites (Phragmites australis) in the background of the above photo. I hold firm that THIS species will not win as shading with water and salt tolerant trees is the plan of action (serving, also, as a little push along the path of succession).

Shhh… Daylilies in Bloom

Daylilies are obviously not a native plant to Western New York, although Asiatic varieties have naturalized everywhere (and are quite delicious, by the way). But, my daughter’s mother-in-law is a daylily breeder and, well, they are such beautiful flowers.

So I’ve deviated wildly, you could say, from reintroducing native species by adding a few varieties in this flower bed which also serves to hide some septic tank mechanics. Luck is with the flowers this year as a couple of bars of gold Dial soap hanging on either side of the flower bed have worked to limit the nibbling of White-tailed Deer, who have a passion for the flowers. Here’s three varieties in bloom. Enjoy.


Hybridized daylilies in bloom.