Spring is springing here in Beautiful West Michigan, and I even got some radish seeds (already up!!) and parsnip seeds in the ground. Got my beds tilled, just waiting for a little warmth and rain to get cracking with the planting.
Friends and family know that organic gardening is permanently embedded in my soul. Some of them think I’m a bit off when they learn that oak leaves are one of my primary soil building materials. I also put all our coffee grounds, egg shells, veggie and fruit waste in a compost pile along with more leaves and garden waste. Compost has become a very valuable fertilizer. Gardening is a lot of work, but it’s a labor of love you see. And there’s absolutely nothing more yummy than home grown food.
I simply love all of it to pieces.
I’m a bed planter. No, that does not mean that I dig really large holes and put bedroom furniture in them. What it actually means is that, because I like to make the most of my miniature farm, I plant in beds about 3 feet wide rather than many single rows. Walkways between the beds are usually 2 feet wide. I do a lot of companion planting; which involves a little “reminder research” each year; during which time I read up on what plants like to live with each other.
Rows are nice and tidy, and relatively easy to maintain. However, I can get much more production from beds once they get established. Of course, bed planting also invites weeds, and for the first several weeks of the garden season it can be a challenge to keep the “uninvited guest” plants out.
Most of you call these uninvited plants weeds. No, I’m not talking about “weed,” although I’ve grown some of that in my time too (hey, I’m a child of the sixties) (and no, we don’t grow it anymore!!) (and yes I know it’s legal, but I guess I’ve “outgrown” weed) (anyway, enough of the parentheses awreddy!!). I guess a weed, by at least one definition, is a nuisance plant. Many weeds are useful and even edible, however. My Dad introduced us kids to “sour grass” when we were very small. It’s actually called sheep sorrel, and is sometimes used sparingly in salads to perk them up a bit. I still munch on sheep sorrel occasionally, but one mustn’t eat too much because of its high oxalic acid content.
After my Beautiful Girlfriend let me marry her, my interest in natural foods grew and I started gathering books on native plants and such. Friends still think I’m a little off when I stop in my tracks and pick some wild greens for munching. One of my personal favorites is lambs quarters, which is actually quite nutritious. Actually tastes pretty darn good too. Then our friend Pam introduced me to purslane, another common “weed” that is packed with nutrients including omega 3 fatty acids. And yes, we harvest it for food.
I know now that many weeds can be yummy and useful, but I have to admit that for many years I focused on keeping “weeds” like lambs quarters and purslane OUT of the garden. Hey, I figured if I really want to eat them, all I have to do is do a little weeding, or else venture outside the garden a bit and find all I want.
A couple years ago however, our lovely, tree-hugging daughter (the nuts don’t fall far from the tree, so to speak) informed us that she spent $4.50 on a one gallon bag of lamb’s quarters at a local organic produce market. Upon hearing this, I had to chuckle a bit.
“You bought lamb’s quarters?!?!?” I snickered. “I’ll have a bunch soon… how much can I get for them?” I wondered aloud. “Yeah,” she said a bit sheepishly. “It’s the only fresh greens they had.”
Couple days later, I called her while I was weeding out in the garden.
“Hi, this is K&K Hansen Farm calling. I have lamb’s quarters coming, I can sell you them for $2.50 a pound. That’s a bargain you know. I have a produce scale in the shed… just weigh up what you want and leave your money in the jar.”
After the joking and poking, I asked seriously if she wanted them (for free of course).
“I’m weeding right now… if you want some of these I’ll forget to pull them out of the ground and save them for you.”
So I did. And I did something historic: I ACTUALLY MULCHED AROUND THE LAMB’S QUARTERS TO HELP THEM GROW BETTER. Never in my living life would I have guessed that I’d be mulching “weeds.”
Then to make things even more interesting, we brought some rhubarb to one of our favorite local restaurants, Mia and Grace, and were talking to our server. A nice gent, probably around the same age as our lovely daughter. He mentioned that he enjoys eating both lambs quarters and purslane. So, I approached the owners, and by golly they actually welcomed my lambsquarters and purslane. “Yeah, nobody else is doing that around here,” Chef Jeremy remarked. The restaurant closed down a couple years ago… we really miss their food and the staff.
To this day I cultivate these “weeds.” I already showed you the lambs quarters, but here’s a picture of some of my purslane:Maybe I’m on the cutting edge of a burgeoning market!! Planting could be pretty simple next year. Just make my planting beds and water, then watch the food sprout! Actually if you go looking about on the interwebs, you’ll find gobs of recipes for both plants. We eat both lamb’s quarters and purslane raw as well as cooked. They both make great additions to things like green salads, soups or stir fry dishes.
OK, maybe I’ll also plant some beans, corn, and squash and such too just for the halibut (we also love fish) (but we don’t plant fish in the garden) (they don’t grow well in the dirt) (there he goes with the parentheses again).
We have a nice sized garden that provides lots of good food; but we have no livestock. But if we did, I’m sure they’d all behave exactly like this…