posts tagged with 'weeds'
In early September we're always on the hunt for interesting, school-adjacent outdoor activities—so it's nice to have the pokeweed berries ripening just when we need them. Pokeweed, if you're not familiar with it, is a tremendous perennial weed that can grow to six feet high in one season. It produces clusters of dark purple berries, which apparently are mildly poisonous; no fear that we would ever eat them, because they smell pretty bad. What they are good for is making ink!
We play around with Pokeberry ink every couple years or so; I thought I'd written about it here before but I couldn't find anything. Even though the quill pens didn't really work (if anyone can show us how they're ever supposed to draw up liquid into the quill, I'd most appreciate it!) but there's still something amazing about the beautiful opaque purple ink. This year we just doodled and painted on some paper; good for 45 minutes of engagement. In the past we've dyed fabric, which looked fantastic at first but which then faded to a sort of purplish-brown. The color holds enough, though, that I was sure to keep this an outside project. And it's a good thing that both of the mashers were already wearing purple!
One of my delights at the farmers market is checking out the prices for things that are growing well at our own farm. Seeing that raspberries—which we have so many of that they're a chore to pick—are going for $4 for a half-pint eases the pain of having to buy kale, because I didn't plant nearly enough. Seriously, I think we've brought in four or five quarts of raspberries so far; say $64 worth, at the low end. Not counting my labor, of course, but any real work (besides the trouble of picking) was so long ago I hardly remember it anyway.
I've always felt that way about crops that do well here—in this culture even we anti-capitalists like to reference market economies to help us feel our efforts are worthwhile—but this year there's a new extreme: purslane for sale, at $4 a bundle!
Now, we've been eating the stuff every now and again for a while, so I won't argue that it doesn't belong on that table next to the basil. Lijah wouldn't either; he's a big fan. As we were picking some the other day—and I was trying to pick faster than he could eat—he exclaimed unprompted: "I like purslane... ice cream and purslane!" (I assume he didn't mean together).
But if you want to count dollar values, we've probably eaten about $8 dollars worth, fed $20 to the chickens, and thrown $60 or $70 on the compost pile. Probably because I always let it grow a bit here and there, purslane is a serious weed on our farm. I wonder if there's any chance we could get in on the market! Actually, as I think about it I assume it's pretty win-win for the farmers: they can set aside a few bundles of the stuff each market day and if it doesn't sell, it's no loss. If I had more space in the garden I'd have at least one dedicated purslane bed and would be willing to sell to all comers.
As it is, I'll pull out most of it and rest happy in the knowledge that, whatever else happens, our garden will always be full of something that somebody, at least, thinks is valuable. And we also have lots of zucchinis.
I had a chance to do some weeding yesterday. As I hand-weed I enjoy noticing what I'm pulling up: some weeds are old adversaries that I've been struggling with for years, others are easy to get rid of, and some are pretty or interesting enough that I wish I could leave them to grow—and sometimes do. Yesterday I noticed a weed that I remembered from our "community garden" plot last year, but which I hadn't ever seen in the yard before. But even with all that observation, I really don't know much about most of my weeds—most notably, I couldn't give you a name for hardly a one.
I wish that weren't so. Knowing a thing's name helps me remember it, categorize it—really notice it in a different way. Take plantain—not the banana looking thing, but the broadleaf weed that you probably work to keep out of your yard. It's everywhere, and it can help treat ailments from diarrhea to poison ivy rash, but for a long time I only noticed it when I was trying to pull it out of my lawn until I learned about it on a historical nature walk with a third-grade class (I've long since given up caring about even non-medicinal lawn weeds, by the way). Now I notice it all the time. Or black walnut: there are several trees around the center of town, but it wasn't until I learned what they were that I even noticed the hundreds of nuts! And what about elderberries? When you learn what they are and what you can make with the flowers and berries, you'll suddenly notice that they're everywhere, free for the foraging! (I noticed after I bought two plants for our yard.)
Even when there's no immediate advantage to knowing something's name, it's nice to have a label to hang your noticings on. I discovered that bird I wrote about the other day is a gray catbird, and just knowing the name and a few facts has let me pay much better attention to the pair in our yard. It was a site called whatbird.com that clued me in: it lets you put in what you know about the bird—color, size, head shape, and location in my case—and gives you a list of possibilities to look at. Now I just need to find something similar for weeds.
Of course, even better would be the chance to hang out with someone who actually knows this stuff. Can you imagine what life must have been like before we got all our learning from the internet? I'm amazed birds or weeds even have names any more... that the knowledge hasn't just disappeared in the last 50 years, leaving each individual to make up their own descriptive names: "spiky grass weed", "lawn cabbage", "lemon hearts". Although sometimes that works: I totally would have gone with "gray cat bird" if I had to come up with something myself. But it's nice to have confirmation!