Monthly Archives: April 2013

In The Weeds!

asparagusweedsAsparagus before weeding

To read my post for Our State Magazine, follow this link:  http://www.ourstate.com/grow-asparagus/ 

After yesterday’s drenching NC rain, a weak Spring sun was out today and I knew I had to face one of gardening’s most dreaded tasks . . .WEEDING!  When my son, an executive chef, says he is “in the weeds,” he means the kitchen staff is overwhelmed with orders and his staff has to scramble to achieve the optimum balance required to please restaurant guests.  When I am “in the weeds,” that term constitutes an entirely different meaning. 

Why is it that weeds triple in size in a matter of hours when it takes plants we try to grow much longer?  Also, have you noticed that many weeds mimic the look of plants growing nearby?  In my herb bed, I discovered a “new” weed this year, lurking in my thyme plants.  With its trailing tendrils and tiny leaves, I had to look closely (and even smell it!) to be sure it wasn’t thyme.  Last year, I planted black garbanzo beans, a new crop for me, and learned a painful lesson when they began to grow.  Unfamiliar with the foliage of young garbanzo bean plants, I mistakenly pulled many of them, thinking they were vetch, a weed that was growing alongside.  By the time I realized my mistake, the damage was done.  There are also weeds that look like marigolds, eggplants and mums.  I am grateful to my grandmother, Lora Minton, who gave me invaluable training in weed identification.  Recently, I saw a woman using a chemical spray to kill weeds in her flower bed, where her young granddaughter was playing.  I know herbicides make weeding easier, but I was saddened to realize the missed educational opportunity those two could have shared. 

            Most gardeners can easily name their nemesis, that most hated and hardest to control weed.  I once read that if you were unsure whether a plant is a weed or not, try pulling it.  If it comes out easily, it is something you wanted to grow; if it is resistant, it’s a weed. I love a morning glory for their beautiful blooms, but there is a kind of morning glory that grows at the farm that is very different from those pretty garden types.  I think the name of this particular plant is “Grab Ankle and Throw Person to the Ground” Morning Glory, but I could be mistaken.  Seriously, these weeds have sticky tendrils that are deceptively strong and the vines could probably be used in tractor pulls!  In addition to a tap root that can reach about 5 inches in length, these weeds grow at an incredible rate and spread in diameter.  Last summer, I witnessed an incident that made me realize weeds torment animals, as well as humans.  

 

I was cutting okra and noticed something small and brown jump from the weeds at my foot.  I first thought it was a toad because we have lots of those at the farm, but it was a baby rabbit.  He scooted off into another bunch of weeds (sigh) to hide and as I stepped by his previous hiding place, I heard something scurry out behind me.  Actually, it sounded pretty loud, so I expected a large animal when I turned to look.  It was the mother rabbit and she was running for cover when one of those killer morning glories became wrapped around the rabbit’s neck.  There was a moment of eye-rolling, flailing in all directions and a mad pirouette before the animal broke free and dove for cover.  I had to laugh aloud! 

Although weeds certainly make gardening more difficult, some varieties are quite tasty.  When my daughter was in middle school, she told me about a fast-food meal she enjoyed while visiting at a friend’s home.  “You,” she noted, “just go out in the yard and pick stuff for us to eat!”  Her comment was not meant as a compliment, but now that Kate lives a big-city life as a young career-driven professional, she has come to appreciate local food, even weeds!  If you have access to chemical-free weeds, try this tasty and healthy dish: 

Weedy Pasta 

3-4 cups dandelion greens, washed and shredded 

2 cups cooked pasta (any type) 

2 wild onions, washed and white parts diced 

1 tablespoon olive oil 

Sea Salt & Freshly ground black pepper, to taste 

Grated Parmesan cheese 

Cook pasta, according to directions, drain and set aside.  Heat oil in a Dutch oven, add onion and saute until translucent.  Add pasta and stir to combine with onion.  Add greens and cook with pasta until wilted.  Season with salt/pepper and top servings with cheese.

Asparagus after weeding

Asparagus after weeding

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, It is About Knowing the Questions to Ask . . .

Does this jar hold the seeds for this year's pepper crop at Heart & Sole Gardens?

Does this jar hold the seeds for this year’s pepper crop at Heart & Sole Gardens?

In the past few days, I faced the fact that the old seeds I rediscovered in my garage are probably not going to germinate.  Extreme temperatures and improper storage have robbed them of life and they do not appear to be viable.  I mourn their loss, but at the same time, I rejoice in the living seeds I have, treasured heirloom seeds that once thrived in my grandmothers’ gardens and now grow in mine. 

While planting pepper seeds last week, I recalled Granny dried her beautiful peppers and hung them from strings.  During the winter, she added them to many dishes she prepared, giving a spicy heat to beans, meats and other cold-winter meals.  When spring planting time arrived, her pepper pods served as perfect seed-storage containers.  With this memory fresh in mind, I called my mother.  I told her how I remembered the long strings of dried peppers and how I wished I had taken a strand from Granny’s home when she died, in 1986.  To my surprise, my mother asked, “Would you like to have the peppers I have?”  I never thought to ask if she had any, but Granny gave my mother a beautiful blue Mason jar, complete with a glass “sealer” in the lid, full of her dried peppers.  Her instructions, my mother said, were to put them in any cooked dish she wished to add heat.  The answer to my mother’s question was a joyous, resounding, “YES!  I would love to have the peppers!”  

After so many years stored in this beautiful jar, I had to taste the pepper seeds.

After so many years stored in this beautiful jar, I had to taste the pepper seeds.

I drove to my parents’ home and my mother handed me the jar.  I immediately opened the lid and removed a pepper, grown by Granny, and admired the beautiful color it still held.  Breaking the pod open, I placed a seed on my tongue and offered some to my parents.  My mother was brave enough to try, but my father, who is not a fan of spicy foods, declined.  The seed left a spicy taste, delightfully “hot,” but not painfully so, although I did accept my mother’s offer of a glass of cold water!

Even after more than thirty years, the peppers still hold color.

Even after more than thirty years, the peppers still hold color.

Back at home, I placed some of the pepper seeds in a small bowl of lukewarm water in order to give them a “boost” for germination. 

Seeds from two pods.

Seeds from two pods.

Many seeds immediately sink in water.

Many seeds immediately sink in water.

 

Many of them immediately sank to the bottom of the bowl, which I took as a good sign.  Seeds that sink in water usually are viable and I pray this is the case.  After an overnight soaking, I planted the seeds in a tray of potting mix, added water and prayers, and placed them under a grow light.  Will my Granny’s peppers be included in my heirloom crops at Heart & Sold Gardens this summer?  Is it possible for seeds, stored in the dried shells that held them when they were born, to germinate after more than thirty years?  I’ll let you know . . . 

 

A New Home for the Queen

Richardbeeswarm

Richardwithbeeswarm

After a cool, slow start to this Spring, today’s above-80 degree warmth was welcome.  Just as the sunshine stirred human bodies, our bees’ activity increased.  Richard visited the farm this afternoon and noticed one hive was just about to swarm . .  quickly, he drove to a fellow beekeeper’s home, a dear friend of ours, to pick up a new hive, loaded with frames.  As he hurried back to Heart & Sole, he prayed he would not be too late to capture the swarming bees.

Just after Richard arrived, he saw some of the bees “dancing” on the porch of their packed hive.  Two Queens resided inside and only one could remain.  As Richard watched in amazement, one of the Queens exited the hive, accompanied by a mass of bees.  They flew over his head and settled in a nearby tree, thankfully, one that was very small.  Richard placed the new hive close to the swarm and called me to ask if I would bring a set of shears so he could cut the tree and move the swarm close to the hive, in hopes of enticing the Queen to take up residence there.

When I arrived at the farm, I was in awe of the beautiful, tangled mass of honeybees.  Richard and I stood very close to them and neither of us were bothered by the bees zipping by our heads and around our bodies.  Richard donned his bee suit, tried to ignore the day’s heat, and took the cutters to attempt to gently remove the swarm from the tree.

I captured on film what has to be one of the most textbook-perfect swarm “takes” ever witnessed and I was very proud of Richard’s skill, especially since he underwent minor surgery at the dermatologist’s office just hours before and had been cautioned to “not stretch, strain or pull” his back!  The bees calmly (we have such sweet bees!) settled in front of the hive and, as Richard began a rhythmic tapping on the side of the box, began to explore their new home.  When the Queen finally entered the hive, we breathed a sigh of relief. 

Honeybees are an important part of our farm’s balance and we depend upon these powerful pollinators to help produce better crop yields.  We love the bees and regard them as “working pets.”  Last year, a hive was stolen and we were distraught.  We still think of the “Brookshire Bees” and hope they are alive and well.  Each of our hives is named and today’s swarm came from “Danny’s Bees,” named after the man who called Richard last year to retrieve a swarm from his backyard.  We haven’t yet named the newest addition to our brood, but will do so in the next day or so.  If you have a suggestion, please send it along!