This blog post comes from Sheila Wiebe, Natural Heritage Education Specialist at Bronte Creek Provincial Park. Don’t forget to visit the Bronte Creek Harvest Festival on September 28-29, 2019!
Anyone who tends their own garden will know firsthand that you have to be resourceful when it comes to harvesting. The size of your garden and what you have grown determines how you harvest, consume or store the yield.
When considering this, it is evident that there are similarities between the way humans and wild animals prepare for winter.
Some creatures, such as birds, bats, and insects, migrate to places where temperatures are warmer and food and water are always available.
Similarly, some of us humans are unwilling to experience cold temperatures and messy weather, preferring to retreat to warm, sunny places during those winter months.
And some of us hold on
Small mammals and invertebrates resist low temperatures and develop tunnels under the insulation of a thick layer of snow. These tunnels help the creatures stay warm and provide them with enough food and water so they only need to come out occasionally, if at all.
We humans are masters at dodging the elements: we often move as quickly as possible from home to the car, to the train or bus, and then to work and back again.
Hibernation: Good for bears, not people
Some of us behave more like bears and hibernate during the cold winter months. Eat as much as you can while food is available, build up layers of fat, and then sleep all winter. Unfortunately we are not bears and this is not good for us as humans!
And the similarities don’t end there! Like squirrels and beavers, humans who live off the land must stock up during the summer months to prepare for winter.
At the beginning of the last century, people used various methods to store the annual abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables they grew in their gardens.
For example, root cellars were popular. This is an underground room that maintains a temperature just above freezing where people store things like preserves and jams, potatoes, turnips and carrots.
This can be equated to how squirrels and mice use a central “pantry” to accumulate large reserves of nuts or seeds deep in the soil.
Restraint (not glamping)
Clamping (not to be confused with glamping) is a method of storing tubers similar to cellaring, but without the building structure.
A clamp is a hole or trench about 16 cm deep, lined with straw, in which a pile of vegetables can be stored in a pyramid shape and covered with a thick layer of straw and soil.
Clamps were used to store root crops such as carrots, beets and parsnips. It’s not hard to see similarities with chipmunks and beavers that build their homes near their hiding place.
Drying fruits, vegetables and herbs is a way to preserve the nutritional value of food while ensuring that insects do not spoil it. Dried apple rings, beans, and herbs are examples of dried foods that help provide delicious meals in the dead of winter.
Additionally, berry-producing trees and shrubs are an important food source for overwintering birds such as northern cardinals and sage-grouse. These birds eat the fruits that have been left to dry on the branches of trees such as Chokecherries, Staghorn Sumac and Arrowwood.
Of course, some fruits can overripe or ferment, but that’s another story.