MORAN: The late winter is good news for foragers

 


OPINION


This year I was planning on going back to work collecting wild edible plants in the Okanagan shortly after I returned from a winter abroad in Spain. Looking back, I thought a return in early March was really pushing my off season to the edge. This year is one to keep me on my toes (nature tends to do that). I often claim I have a nine month season of foraging in southern B.C. This will not be the case with 2017!

One comforting thought is that there won't be any losses as far as production goes. It more likely be the case that the quality of wild plants, mushrooms, and berries will be better. Plants are going to go through the same life cycle of leaves - flowers - seeds regardless of when they start to pop out of their seeds. The first warm weeks of March and April will bring an explosion of leafy edibles across the Okanagan and southern interior. Perhaps there will be less frost to deal with in a later season, and I will be able to supply the locals with their beloved nettles (my most popular spring product) later into the year when restaurants and markets are busier. This is necessary optimism to help process what I am seeing, fresh snow sitting happily in the crisp minus two Celsius air on March ninth.

The forests will be far more secure from drought. A later snowpack means a prolonged melt, which leads to more water in the earth during the hot summer months. This will help us mushroom pickers out in autumn with the crop of boletes, chanterelles, pine mushrooms, and all the other varied edible fungi that chefs will be drooling over in the fall months.

The most profound impact will be the berry harvest. Changing the date of wild berry crops can affect entire ecosystems, starting with our top - tier predators, bears. If the berries come out early, they are gone before the bears have eaten enough to hibernate. This leads them to sniff around far and wide for other food sources. It is better for everyone if they can eat sweet ripe berries right up to the point where they fall over and go to sleep for the winter. Locally, elderberries are am example of a plant that could lose its harvest to climate change. These berries are meant to be ripe in September, but with an early blossoming in spring, the berries have been coming out in August. The sun is still at full strength and the days are long, which results in a seedy and dehydrated berry crop that is very undesirable. I am positive 2017 will be the first year in a long time that results in consistently plump and juicy berries.

There are many reasons to praise a late winter. I swear it isn't just a coping method to deal with the extended freeze!

— Scott Moran is a local forager discovering his own path to food freedom.


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