“Nothing is more beautiful than spring
When weeds in wheels shoot long and lovely and lush”
As the poet, Gerald Manly Hopkins said
Alas, most farmers and home owners waste them and poison the soil destroying them. A sort of scorched earth policy is being enacted around here, with heavy applications of glyphosate turning nature strips and road sides into dead brown areas. Saturday’s paper, 21/9/19. revealed that North America has lost 30% of its song birds in the last century and even house sparrow numbers are declining. And people wonder why there are more insects in our gardens when we make life so hard for those who would happily eat them!
If a weed is just a plant out of place and most of the ones which have European origins were bought here by early settlers, because they have useful properties, we should be using them as a resource. Broad leaf plants like Docks and Dandelions are full of minerals and make excellent green tea fertilizer for the garden. Even put into compost tumblers and heaps they add their goodness. And more immediately, made into cleansing teas they help us with a spring tonic too. The Nettle is a marvelous blood cleanser and young leaves steam up into a good soup, or can be added to stir fries. All these plants make good green pick feed for chickens and ducks too.
Bitter greens are very good for the kidneys. I have plenty of French Sorrel and nettle and radicchio to add to salads right now. Rocket leaves, celery stems, coriander are ready to pick now as well as Russian Garlic ( really a leek) Rainbow Silver beet , Florence fennel and Egyptian beetroot. Here is my favourite recipe for beetroot chutney.
4-6 nice firm beetroot, 2 medium onions, 4 large cooking apples, peeled and chopped, 2 large oranges, peeled and chopped, 1 cup brown sugar, juice and rind of a lemon, 2 cups of real apple cider vinegar and 2 teaspoons fresh coriander seeds.
Simmer the beetroot till tender then peel off the skin and chop into small chunks. Combine with the remaining ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered , stirring occasionally for about an hour or till mixture thickens. mash lightly with a potato masher or fork. It should be slightly chunky but nor not a sauce. Put into sterilized jars and seal when cold. Excellent with all red meats.
The ducks are finally laying too and finally I have surplus eggs to sell. The rhubarb is very good now, with wide red stems and it blends wonderfully with strawberries in any kind of dessert or jam. The Florence fennel goes well with any fish meal and can be sliced raw into salads. It has a slight aniseed flavour and a lovely crunch.
The local hardware store and supermarket have tomato plants for sale, but we have had late frosts and I think it is much too soon to try growing tomatoes around here. Accepted wisdom in Central Victoria is to have the plants ready to put out on Melbourne Cup day, early November, but in recent years we have had frosts right up to December. I will get out my heat tray soon though and start some tomatoes, basil and chilli. In the meantime, a bed is ready for more peas, Hurst’s Green Shaft shelling peas go in next. The Haw Lan Do snow peas are doing well. They are growing under a tent of an old nylon curtain which protects them from birds and frost. My Delta Moravia snow peas have been continuously attacked by earwigs which lurk in the middle of nearby celery and silver beet plants. i am going to try a saucer of beer to maybe trap and drown them !
Uncle Dick’s Turnips are doing OK but they did not get enough sun over winter, so next year I need to be aware of shadows cast by adjacent buildings. There are still plenty of Jerusalem Artichokes in the ground. In the USA they are called Sunchokes, and I noticed with astonishment that Sunchoke Ravioli was on the menu at the State dinner in The White House last weekend! No one around here wants them and I gave away a lot to the pet pig of a friend. Food has fashions too.
I am getting plenty of exercise mowing the grass but it is great to see everything green and many plants growing again.. We have had enough rain to encourage us and the local crops look magnificent. The Desert Ash trees are wearing spring green and the fruit trees have flowered well. Long term planning is the key to success in the garden, although every year is different now and climate change adds increasing challenges. The olives I got from the wild trees are ready to be put into smaller jars and can be enjoyed in summer salads.
Here’s hoping for more sunshine and more rain and a good growing season this spring.
The Ark of the Future is the Home Garden.