Weeds, weeds, weeds

When is a weed a weed? I was pondering this question last week as I pulled quack grass out of my ornamental grasses. Grass is grass, right? But it was ugly and I wanted it out of there. So I made a choice of one grass to keep and the other to go.

Dandelions are edible

There is a wonderful saying that one person’s weed is another person’s lunch. What many consider lawn weeds are simply green additions to the lawn and can be delicious additions to a salad. Like chickweed, purslane and dandelion greens. 

If I may get a bit philosophical for a minute, what exactly is a weed? Some say it is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. Others define it as a plant that is simply in the wrong place. And still others say it is any plant that chokes out another, more desired plant.

What is a weed?

Chicory is edible and beautiful

Some weeds have beautiful flowers such as violet and dandelion. Others have culinary virtues such as garlic mustard and chickweed. But there’s no doubt that we sometimes need to fight the invasion of these plants lest they take over our cultivated gardens. 

I’ve been fighting violets this year. Beautiful, but they roam at the expense of my cultivated beds. I’m trying to make peace with them. The same goes for chickweed. It’s a groundcover, and who am I to say it’s not preferred over bugleweed, my groundcover of choice. It’s a mind shift – one I’m having a hard time making with some plants.

Weed controls

Annual weeds like purslane or chickweed assure their existence by producing thousands of seeds. So, keeping them from blooming will stop the life cycle. They pull easily. I learned a great garden hack from Diana McCall of the Wilson Community Garden – use an old serrated steak knife to slice off weeds right below the soil line. This leaves the soil undisturbed, keeping other weed seeds buried where they won’t have light to germinate. 

Starry chickweed – beautiful and edible

Perennial weeds like dandelions and plantain are harder to pull, and often need special measures to kill the roots. Chemical control need not be the first line of defense. If weeds are controlled when young, all it takes is a hoe or a hand-pull. In turf, it’s more important to establish healthy, thick grass to choke them out.

Perennial weeds can often be controlled by simply pouring vinegar or hot water in the crown. Other basic non-chemical methods for weed control include using a flame weeder, mulching heavily, cutting weeds off below ground level and keeping them cut as they resprout, and mowing to cut off seed heads. 

A great homemade weed killer is 2 cups of Epsom salts and ¼ cup of dish soap in a gallon of water. Spray in the crown. You may have to spray more than once, but you can take comfort in the fact that you are not poisoning the ecosystem.

Tonic salad with “weeds”

(doesn’t sound so appetizing but it is delicious)

Only harvest weeds from lawns or gardens that have not been sprayed.

2 cups torn romaine or other leaf lettuce (I like to add a few shreds of sorrel as well for a lemony burst)

1 cup chopped chard or kale

¼ cup diced green onions

¼ cup torn chickweed

¼ c. torn purslane

¼ c. torn dandelion leaves (use only the inner ones)

1 small clove garlic, minced finely

3 T. high-quality olive oil, divided

1 T. fresh lemon juice

¼ c. crumbled feta or bleu cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Put the chopped kale or chard in a medium-sized bowl. Add 1 T. olive oil and the garlic. Massage with your hands until the amount of greens is reduced and the greens are dark green and soft. Add the lettuce, green onions and “weeds”. Toss lightly and dress with the remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Serve in wide bowls to show off the greens, top with the cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

The solace of gardening

I know everyone is writing about how gardening soothes right now, especially in these trying times. But it’s true. There is nothing that calms the inner monkey quite like getting outdoors, planting seeds, and then nurturing them into food production. The sun on your face, the scents of earth and plants, the sounds of birds, bees and other creatures have a healing effect unlike anything else. 

I’ve always done it, but right now it seems more important and more effective than ever at being my Zen place. Not to mention making my family more resilient by growing our own food. 

I started my gardening as a manic doer, and it’s taken years to slow down. I’m a huge fan of the slow gardening movement – of leaving things alone when you don’t need to mess with them. It’s all about the soil.

Happily, the move toward regenerative agriculture and permaculture is taking this idea to heart on a larger scale. If you get a chance, check out One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. He is essentially the grandfather of permaculture with his philosophy that plants will thrive in their natural settings, without human intervention. 

It makes us lend a more critical eye to how our food is produced. If we do our best to protect and nurture our soil by adapting his methods of using nature’s cycles, we’ll have healthier gardens that are less susceptible to the vagaries of pests and diseases. Slow gardening, non-intervention at its best. 

And it’s all about the soil. Nurturing your soil will produce delicious results like these baby beets and turnips. With little care except planting the seeds.

Shredded spring salad

½ c. grated raw beets

½ c. grated or spiralized baby turnips

½ c. grated carrots

½ c. grated radishes

½ c. thinly sliced scallions

½ c. thinly sliced pak choi

2 c. mixed torn salad greens

Lemon dressing

1/4 c. fresh lemon juice

3/4 c. olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 t. dry mustard

1 T. chopped fresh herbs

1 t. salt or to taste

1/2 t. black pepper