Category Archives: Creative Gardening

Ding Ding Ding, end of round one


Yesterday saw the end of our first batch of syrup making. Leah slaved away at the cooker and stove for what seemed like days on end. With the weather in the mid 50’s and lower 60’s for most of the week, the sap had stopped flowing but there was the risk of it spoiling on us if we didn’t get it cooked down. This meant that we had to get it cooked, soonest. Because of that, we dragged the propane cooker out of the basement and brought the sap to a boil on it before putting it into the big cook pot on the rocket cooker. Not what I would have preferred to do as propane costs money that winter keeps in short supply. But we make do. When the temperature drops back below freezing at night and the sap freezes, only the water freezes, not the sugar. This allows us to pull water out without expending any energy. It also speeds the process along. That didn’t happen this time. Which has to be one of the oddest things I’ve witnessed in the years I’ve cooked sap. Remember, we are in the Northeastern corner of Ohio, and this is JANUARY!!! Why the temperatures are that high is beyond me. But no matter. We got a little over 2 gallons of syrup and the season hasn’t officially started yet. Here’s hoping for a long one.


Let the Sap Flow


The weather outside has certainly turned to the weird. My folks, who live in western Central Ohio, had a low of -2 F just a couple of nights ago. And though it didn’t get that cold here on the shores of Lake Erie, we are facing temps in the 50s tomorrow or the next day. Up and down, up and down. Like a regular ping pong ball. What that means to us, here at the farm, is that the Maple trees will be giving up their life blood in the days ahead. Now, I know that the going wisdom once said that the day to tap trees wasn’t until February 15, we have been tapping our trees in January for, at least, the last few years. Any time the temperature goes above and below the freezing mark can be considered Maple season. So we put out our 20 buckets.


I decided to tap a bunch of different trees this year. Rather than going all the way to the end of the driveway for the 2 clusters out there, this time the buckets are all right by the house, particularly at the north end of the house. We’ll see how that goes. Several of the trees are pretty small (8-12″) so they only got 1 spiel. Also different this year, I read on some tapping page or other to try and set the spiels either above a large root or below a large limb. Makes a lot of sense. That and to stay away from trees with any large dead sections. Every year we learn a little more. Like drilling the tap holes to 2″ so that the sap can drain from the phloem, cambium, and the xylem. I don’t think I was drilling deep enough before. We shall see.


We had freezing rain and then rain on top of the 8″ of fresh powder that got laid down in the last few days. This made the snow, Oh So Packable. Leah made a bearded snow creature (I think it is Old Man Winter) to say Thank You to the trees.


I just rolled up a bunch of giant balls and stacked them up into a lumpy monolith. Maly said that the stick belonged in his mouth, NOT stuck into the snow. Always the critic. I’m looking a little rangy. Winter. Grown ass adults making snow sculptures. We have a long way to go til spring.


Fungus season


For whatever reason, this year has seen an explosion of Boletes in the area around the farm. At least 5 or 6 types of them have come up. These look to be Baorangia Bicolor  Bolete.

We haven’t eaten many yet. We ate what we are calling King Bolete the other day. Today we ate a few of these.

crinkled shroom

Xerocomus hortonii (“Corrugated Bolete”)

What I get to feeling when I think about  all these things coming up out of the ground is that they are all expressions of the underground here abouts. These Boletes come in such profusion around North America  that some of them are only identified with certainty under a microscope. (over 400 species) It’s the shape of their spores and the tubes they fall from. Beats me. These things are what they are. They aren’t the spore shape ones. They are certainly delightful to eat.

I’ve had a couple of experiences of eating mushrooms from the woods that have ended poorly. Once by my own hand, once by the hand of another person. the mistake I made was concerned with bitterness levels and a total inexperience identifying Boletes. Upset stomachs were the extent of things. The event by another’s hand was a misidentification of a mushroom that GLOWS IN THE DARK!!!  General rule. Don’t eat things that glow in the dark. We were actually out again today gathering Chanterelles behind the barn. It’s been a good year for fungus.

I am growing to think that the world is a far more subtle place than any of us realize.

Not hot bees

hive hot hot

Leah came and got me yesterday with a note of panic in her voice. “I think the bees are getting ready to swarm!” she cried. Okay, so she wasn’t panicked or crying out. She just sort of said it with some concern. The image is what we found. We sent some messages around and got word back to just chill out, just like they were doing. And to open some doors and windows in order to help ameliorate the situation.

hive hot not

So this morning we did just that. Granted, the first image was taken at the heat of the day (mid to upper 80s ) with almost 90% humidity. This put the day somewhere between what other people define as “Miserable” and “Why do I live here?” The day was a cooker, don’t get me wrong, but for days like that, winter’s -13 degree kiss becomes all the more unbearable. So if you were a bee, wouldn’t you want the doors and windows open too?

Come to find out, the hive was all out of order in the first place. Apparently the “top” is the thin sheet with the oval cut into it. This goes under the “lid,” which is exposed to the weather. This oval holed sheet does not separate the inner boxes. My mistake. Also, we hadn’t removed the “door reducer” from across the bottom lip of the box. That hive had to be screaming hot, with only the one way in and out. Also, I drilled a 7/8″ hole in the upper frame. This will provide a lot more cross ventilation and it will create new travel patterns inside the box. I hope it helps.

Here’s the trick. Part of me thinks I’m a complete idiot for doing this, but the entire time I was drilling and opening and prying and examining the box and it’s parts, both Leah and I were totally unprotected. No mask/safari hat. No hazmat suit. Just open it up and go about the business at hand. We were out there first thing in the morning so everything was cool and calm at the box when we got there. My memory of my Dzeda working the his hives will be forever with me. He didn’t not care if he got stung. He just knew how to not get stung. Don’t upset things any more than necessary. Do what needs doing and be decisive though gentle about it. Much like doing a head to toe, full body assessment on a trauma patient in an ambulance. Thorough, complete, no mucking about. As apposed to getting all weird about it. Be it hesitance and fear, or ill intent and mischief. These critters would know the score. They smell me more than I smell me. If they smelled even a hint of malice or fear, they would have nailed me. I never gave them that. I was just something that was repeatedly getting a little too far into their flight path. This, however, changed once I started manipulating the hive itself. I knew that I was upsetting things when I was working at getting the door spacer out of the way. They had already glued it into place pretty good and I needed more than a little effort to break it free. All the while, the buzzing around my head got louder and louder. I don’t know if everyone came home and were blocked from getting through or as a response to an alarm call. But they were there. Leah, wisely a step or 3 back away from the hive, said that the bees were a cloud around me. From my perspective, just a little less than arms length from the bottom of the box, I saw some extra bees, but traffic didn’t seem to slow down or speed up all that much at the door. As soon as the spacer had been removed, I stood up, and the cloud was gone. PooF! The angry buzz was gone. Everything was just as suddenly “Okay.”

Then we took the boxes apart and moved the ‘top’ to the actual top of the uppermost frame. The “new” frames are all clean up and seem to be getting used, if only a little, so far. Having moved the massive restriction from the box, I’m hoping things will progress at a better rate. Totally for their sake. The honey they are making is all for them. At least at this point. If they make WAY more than they can use, even on a harsh -20 winter, then we might take a frame off once everything is settled. Only time and the season will tell that one though.

Spring Events

Although we still have cold temperatures ahead, it’s clear that spring is upon us. I have seen turkey vultures, geese, bald eagles, and robins. I have seen the tips of crocuses poking through the snow. The maple sap is running slowly but surely. What signs of spring have you seen? Please join us as we celebrate spring with classes on plants and trees.

Work Exchange Program
We are so close to having work parties to finish the Seed House, our straw bale sunroom and greenhouse – we just need the freezing temperatures to vanish so we can start getting our hands dirty making cobb for the walls and the bench rocket stove. But don’t let that stop you from contacting us to start banking work hours in our Work Exchange Program – we need help getting seeds started, planting the green house, preparing seed beds, making trails, and more. Write to to schedule your visit.

Volunteer Program
For those who’d like to get involved and volunteer, there is no requirement to participate in the Work Exchange Program. If you simply want some time out in the woods and have a strong back or some busy hands, let us know. We always have things to do!


Monthly Plant Walk and Making Maple Syrup
March 22 – 1 PM-2:30 PM

Join us for the second plant walk of the year, which is actually a tree walk. We will be identifying trees that have medicinal and edible properties.  We will also demonstrate our process for making maple syrup. Plant walks are $10 – all funds go to the Seed Fund for the Trillium Center. Send an email to to sign up.

Serpentine Project Plant Study Group
March 22- 3 PM -5 PM

The Serpentine Project is a monthly experiential study project that allows participants to learn about plants directly from the plants. Read more about the study groups at: The cost is $10 and includes a 2-hour workshop and a sample of the plant medicine to take home. Space is limited, so please send us an email to reserve a seat at

Community Herbal Intensive
March 29 – 10 AM-6 PM

Monthly series that includes basic identification of wild edible and medicinal plants, herbal medicine making, basic anatomy and physiology, frameworks for developing community projects. Cost per workshop is $75, but early birds get a special price. Full description is on our Programs page.


Plant Walk
April 5 – 1 -2:30 PM

Ever wonder what that weed is growing in your back yard, or that flower that blooms deep in the woods in the spring? Learn to identify plants and trees at the monthly plant walk led by herbalist and community health educator, Leah Wolfe, MPH. She will point out wild edible plants, plants that have a history of being used medicinally, along with folklore and some of the latest science on the wild things growing around us. Cost $10. Dress for outdoors.

Cleveland Museum of Natural History: Field Trip to the Trillium Center
April 12 – 10 AM-1 PM

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History will be bringing a van from Cleveland to the Trillium Center for a tour and plant walk. Come learn about seasonal medicinal and edible plants. In early April, we expect to see the spring ephemerals, the forest dwellers that begin to emerge before the canopy fills with shady leaves. Register at

Plant Walk
April 12 – 1 -2:30 PM

Ever wonder what that weed is growing in your back yard, or that flower that blooms deep in the woods in the spring? Learn to identify plants and trees at the monthly plant walk led by herbalist and community health educator, Leah Wolfe, MPH. She will point out wild edible plants, plants that have a history of being used medicinally, along with folklore and some of the latest science on the wild things growing around us. Cost $10. Dress for outdoors.

Serpentine Project Plant Study Group
April 12, 3-5 PM

The Serpentine Project is a monthly study group that allows participants to learn about plants directly by using their senses, such as taste and smell. Cost $10 – includes a sample of the plant medicine to take home. Read more about the study groups at:

Community Herbal Intensive
April 26 – 10 AM-6 PM

Monthly series that includes basic identification of wild edible and medicinal plants, herbal medicine making, basic anatomy and physiology, frameworks for developing community projects.  This series is closed for 2014, please send us an email if you’re interested in attending in 2015.



The United Plant Savers Botanical Sanctuary Network

Today we received a package in the mail from United Plant Savers. UpS has welcomed the Serpentine Project into their botanical sanctuary network. A bit from the UpS website:

UpS Botanical Sanctuary Logo“The mission of United Plant Savers is to preserve, conserve and restore native medicinal plants and their habitats of the US and Canada, while ensuring their abundant, renewable supply for future generations. To this end, United Plant Savers established one of our most important projects: the Botanical Sanctuary Network. As we became more deeply involved in the complexities of plant preservation, we realized that in order to preserve plants we must first preserve and protect the habitat in which our native plant communities thrive. What better way than to create a network of sanctuaries dedicated to restoring and preserving habitat for wildlife, both plants and animals.” Read more here if you are interested in developing your own sanctuary:

I decided to work toward developing a UpS sanctuary for medicinal plants while I was studying plants in Oregon. Much of my studies centered on indigenous or native plants and naturalized plants. Some of the indigenous plants are rare and require ethical wildcrafting and propagation to ensure that they continue to exist. So I invite them to the places I live and hope that they settle in and get comfortable. Right now I’m inviting plants to NE Ohio. I had a garden in Oregon and then later started another garden around the meditation center at Anathoth Community Farm that is still doing well.

At BLD farm in NE Ohio, a learning garden with the at-risk species has been established closer to the house so that people who want to come learn and see the plants can do so without braving ticks and mosquitoes. So far that garden has a few plants each of Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Black Cohosh, Bloodroot, Goldenseal, Wild Ginger, Great Blue Lobelia, and Red Trillium. The other medicine gardens are in open areas near the garden and the work site for the green house.

Our long-term plan is to establish a center at BLD farm that emphasizes Earth-based skills (such as herbalism) and other folk arts that can contribute to a more sustainable society. We are currently working on the design of the primary classroom and apothecary. If you would like to help us make this dream come true, please donate or volunteer. Send checks payable to Serpentine Project to:

Serpentine Project
c/o Leah Wolfe
715 Furnace Road
Conneaut, OH 44030

Or donate online via PayPal by clicking below:

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The Sanctuary

The root of Elecampane is often used to heal lung infections. It has also been shown in a French study as an effective treatment for MRSA infections.

BLD farm has established a plant sanctuary for medicinal, indigenous, and unusual plants. We are hoping to ensure that some plant diversity in the regionis preserved. Many of the plants that grow here are common (or once were common) in the Appalachias, so we work hard to include those species due to the reduction in habitat in the region caused by mountain top removal (more on that below). We were accepted into the United Plant Savers sanctuary network in the November 2012.

The sanctuary includes medicine gardens, restoration projects, a food forest, and a green house improvement project. The medicine gardens are filled with indigenous plants, some beautiful cultivars, and important medicinal and edible plants. We plant non-native plants like the Elecampane at right as a way to reduce the use of indigenous plants that are on the United Plant Savers at-risk list. Under a canopy of beech, wild cherry, and oak, an indigenous plant garden has been started that thus far includes at least one each of red trillium, goldenseal, Jack-in-the-pulpit, great blue lobelia, black cohosh, and wild ginger.