Wednesday, February 8, 2017

10 Essential foraging tools you can get used at thrift stores,estatesales, and garage/yard sales

Foraging can be expensive. Quality, forager-specific books aren't cheap, but are essential, as they can save your life. You're not likely to find good foraging books used, but most of the other gear you need can be picked up for a few dollars -- if you're patient, and keep your eye out!

My $3 thrifted backpack has held up for quite a while
1. Backpack

A good quality backpack is one of the most essential foraging tools. It's the easiest way to carry your finds through the woods, over rough terrain. It should have comfortable straps, ideally padded, and be a good size for your body. Lots of pockets and pouches for organization are also a plus.

I picked this one up at a church rummage sale for $3. It's perfect because it's durable, has several compartments, so I can store tools in one, and edible finds in another, and it's not too large. As a short woman, bulky backpacks can shift around a lot, especially when overfilled.

Of course, a great haul will more than fill this bag up, which is why I keep 2 canvas grocery bags inside. On a good day, I come out with one in each hand, filled with mushrooms!

Best place to find: garage sales, thrift stores, rummage sales, church/community sales

This large basket would be $15 at a craft store,
but thrifted for only $1
2. Large basket with a handle

Baskets are considered a must-have for a mushroom enthusiast, many guided forays will require that you have one. Many mushrooms squish easily, and the safest way to store them, in-tact, for identification is laid out flat in the bottom of a large basket. For your own connivence, get one with a handle.

In addition to mushroom hunting, I like my basket for walks to through the neighborhood, or to the local park - anyplace that doesn't really require the backpack. Wild herbs and smaller plants and edible flowers (think wood sorrel, young nettles) are better kept in a basket, where they don't run the risk of crushing or bruising.

Best place to find: thrift stores, rummage sales, estate sales, church/community sales

3. Jack knife/pocket knife

You absolutely need a pocket knife for when you have to cut mushrooms off of wood, or peel bark, or cut through thick stems/twigs. I know some foragers prefer a sheathed knife, but I think a simple folding jack knife / pocket knife is the best. It reduces the chance of injuring yourself, and is much easier to explain as a tool (rather than a potential weapon) should you run into someone who doesn't understand.

Remember! You have to check your local laws about what you can carry, legal blade size, and where you can have a pocket knife. Some thrift stores also have rules against selling anything that might be used as a weapon, so you are best looking for this at local garage and estate sales.

Best place to find: garage sales, estate sales

4. Magnifying glass or loop

Positive identification of some plants and mushrooms requires that you look at tiny details, like minute pore size or small veins in leaves, or nearly invisible hairs on stems.

While many books recommend a jeweler-grade loop, (pricey!), a cheap magnifying glass will do for almost any situation. Since you will be carrying it in your backpack, try to find one that is both small and durable, with either a wood or metal handle.

Best place to find: garage sales, estate sales, rummage sales

These books are great examples of exactly what you are looking for:
Peterson guides, local books, and/or books with excellent illustrations/pictures.
I spend 50 cents to $3 per book. 

5. Plant and mushroom books

Unless you really hit the jackpot, you're unlikely to find foraging-specific books used. However, you don't always need foraging-specific books to help you confirm identification. Let's say you have a foraging book that describes the summer flower, bee balm. I recommend that you confirm your ID with at least 3 reliable sources before you eat anything. But a second source could be a website, and the third source could be a quality flower field guide.

My favorite books to keep an eye out for are the Peterson guides, anything from the National Audubon Society, and even the Golden guides. Also keep an eye out for books that are specific ot your region. I find my best local guides used. Estate sales are a prime place to look for these, because many older ladies are keen on wildflowers, and sadly, they pass away.

Best place to find: estate sales, rummage sales, church/community sales, ebay

6. Waterbottle/thermos

Pretty self-explanatory here, hiking around the woods is thirsty work, and you're going to need a water bottle to keep you going. The best quality water bottle I have is actually a "corporate swag" one. You know, the kind that you get for free when you go to trade shows? Anyway, I also see these in thrift stores all the time.

Best place to find: estate sales, rummage sales, church/community sales

7. Scissors and/or kitchen shears

Why do I need scissors if I already have a knife? Well, you don't. But lots of things are easier with scissors then with a knife, and vice versa. Nettles are a great example. Many people harvest them barehanded, but many others don't like the occasional sting. You can't use your knife for them. . .but a pair of scissors can do wonders, acting both to pick, and to move the plant from the cut to the basket--no hands involved. Scissors are also better than knives for stalked plants: burdock, japanese knotweed, thistles and false thistles and more.

What I really have my eye out for is a quality pair of kitchen sheers: something that will cut through small branches.

Best place to find: estate sales, thrift stores

8. Trowel

Of course, depending on the kind of foraging you are into, a trowel may or may not be something you need. But if you want to harvest any roots: burdock, wild carrot, ground nuts, etc, you're going to need a good way to dig them up. A trowel can fit itself in the pocket of your backpack, but it does add some weight. Personally, I only carry mine when I know it's the season for roots.

Best place to find: estate sales, garage sales, moving sales

9. Small containers for berries, fruit and mushrooms

Berries, soft fruits and certain mushrooms are fragile things, easily crushed in a backpack or even a fully-loaded foraging basket. I'm always finding odds-and-ends storage, particularly at garage sales. Look for pieces that still close snugly, especially in small and shallow sizes.

10. Clear glass plate for spore prints

So if you saw my post about spore printing, then you know that making sore prints is essential for separating edible mushrooms from poisonous, potentially deadly ones. 

I'm an advocate of the paper method of spore printing, but some people prefer to use a clear glass plate: the spores fall out onto the glass, and you can move the glass over different colored backgrounds to determine shade of the spores.

If you want to do this, you need a large surface (dinner plate or platter size is best), with perfectly smooth, clear and bubble-free glass in the middle. I also like thinner glass, as it interferes less when you put it over different colors.

And there you go! By finding all of these tools used, you should be able to gear up  for under $25-30, as opposed to over $100. Take your time, very little of this is urgent, you can gather your tools slowly, waiting till you find the right ones. You might even have some of these lying around your house unused.

Do you forage? If so, do you find any of your gear used? Let me know what your frugal foraging tips are in the comments.

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