Friday, 24 July 2015

Weeding? Or harvesting?

(Originally published May 8 2015, here )

It's hot here, so I'm not turning over any more soil than I have to until the weather moderates and we get some rain (please!). Crazy for so early in May, usually we're fighting frost.

Early though it may be, we're getting plenty from the garden while most Canadians are still waiting to plant. That's advantage #1 for the weed eaters right there. It's hard not to feel a teeny bit smug. It's not the heat that brings out the weeds, they'd be here anyway. But it sure gets them bigger, faster.

The nettles, of course, we've been eating for a couple of weeks. I actually got in there when they were so small I shouldn't really have been harvesting from the patch - they were still reddish, only one set of leaves and still unfurling - but it was between grocery shops and we had no other greens. A few of those in soup was probably as nutrient loaded as a cup of kale anyway. Now they're almost tall enough I'll start picking some for drying and we can keep on eating them too. Nice big patch this year.

I decided to turn a bit of the soil along the edge of the nettle patch so I can squeeze some carrots in there, they and nettles seem to get along okay. One of the great things about this kind of gardening is that once those carrots are thinned, I can just forget about them. The nettles and the plantain that will come up in a couple of weeks and the odd bit of yarrow won't be on the same root level as the carrots, so they're not really competing. I'll find them again in fall as I harvest other things and I've almost forgotten they were there in the first place. I swear they taste better than when they grow all alone. I don't need to water them, either, the natural setting keeps the soil moist.

While turning just that little strip, I accidentally harvested some big juicy dandelion roots. The thing to know about dandelion roots is that those plants with the biggest leaves actually have the smallest roots, because all the energy of the plant is going upward. Once they're in bloom there's almost nothing to them. But the crowns of these dandelions were so small I didn't even notice them in the grass I was forking out - until those fat roots popped out at me. Once cleaned (not too much, I like a little soil on them) and chopped, they netted me just over a cup of dandelion tincture. That's quite a lot, considering we take it 6 drops at a time. I put some of the greens in our stirfry that night. I should have put more.

Just now I was checking on the garlic I put in last fall. It's up all right, and so are some sunchokes that shouldn't oughta be there in the same part of the bed. Sunchokes and garlic may play nicely, but I don't actually know, so since I have tons of chokes elsewhere, I figure it's better to let the garlic have its own space. The young chokes are only about 4 inches high, and it's tricky to pull them so they don't just snap off. If that happens, the damn things sprout back. Doubled. I'm after the tuber, and I've learned it's down about 4-6" diagonally in the soil. So I gently pull, then wiggle my fingers down, then some more pulling .. they're some nice looking tubers, still crunchy. I know this because I ate one on the spot - mmm, dirt. Love it. I'm going to ferment those in a brine, maybe with some kale, they are delicious that way. Again, once cleaned and chopped, a small jar's worth. Maybe even a medium jar. There are more chokes to pull in that bed. There are always more sunchokes.

I don't know whether to harvest or just plain weed out the horsetail that's coming up in the "wild part" of the yard. I'm not one to use it much - no one should use it much - but then again, you never know. So I suppose I will harvest them and that will have to be done in the next few days while they're still young and tender. Looks like I better get that drying rack out .. There are wild raspberries there and elsewhere along the edges of the yard. They never really produce much fruit, or maybe they do and the critters get it, just like they get the wild strawberries. I'll be hacking those canes back in a few days, but before I do I'll harvest the leaves to dry. The leaves of red raspberry make a good mouthwash, and a good tea for the womb. I like to have them around just in case somebody falls pregnant or gets a sore mouth.

Speaking of teas, the blackcurrant is leafing out nicely. On the one hand, that's a very odd smelling bush. You stand there on a warm day thinking "has there been a tomcat back here?". But no, it's the blackcurrant, and once you pour boiling water on those leaves the tomcat smell disappears, I promise you. I love (love!) to throw 3 or 4 of the nicest leaves I can find into a pot of regular tea. They're sweet and delicious. If the bush does well enough I'll pick some to dry as well. Not only is the tea nice, picking the leaves is nice too. The flowers, nearly invisible, are a favourite of the bumblebees. It's still just the queens right now, they haven't raised any broods yet. So as I'm picking I'm surrounded by their majesties humming contentedly. Very pleasant. We bump into one another occasionally but no one's feelings are hurt.

Blackcurrant leaf tea surprises me every year. I keep forgetting how diuretic it is! But it's a good kind of diuretic, and somehow it takes away the ache of gardener's back. The year my hip was so much trouble I drank a lot of that tea and it gave me a lot of relief.

I see the clouds are gathering, good. I want to get the rest of those sunchokes (and most likely some more dandelion roots) out before I start dinner and it would be nice to not have to work in that searing sun. This is one weird spring. Wasn't it snowing just last week? Now it's so hot my feet burn if I don't wear shoes.

And I hate shoes.

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