Is that a weed?

June 30, 2010 at 11:10 pm 13 comments

The only thing I hate worse than weeding is herbicides.  I love my garden. I love the way it looks. I love the way it smells. I love the way it tastes.  I love the idea of growing my own food. And of using something other than generic labor and water intensive ornamentals in the landscape.

What I don’t love is the work it takes to keep my garden in magazine cover condition. So I don’t.

I’m a lazy gardener and I take shortcuts. I plant most of my beds very intensively. More plants means less space for weeds.  I let spreading viny plants like pumpkins and other cucurbits take over much of the garden in late summer. They conveniently crowd out weeds when I get tired of pulling and hoeing them.

I mulch. I do what I can to water plants directly instead of watering the whole garden (though in a place like Minnesota where we get regular rain I’m not sure this makes a real difference). I pull handfuls buckets of weeds and feed them to the chickens.

But sometimes it makes more sense to call a freaking truce.

So when this mullein plant sprouted in an out of the way corner of the rock garden I let it go. Baby mullein plants are fairly easy to control and the fragrant spikes of the mature plants provide a nice contrast to the pumpkin, tomato and lily plants in this area.

I let wild field violets fill in the border next to the anchos. They crowd out just about everything else and contrast nicely with the oxeye sunflowers thriving next to the drain spout. Wild violets, being much more invasive, are not allowed to gain a foothold anywhere.

Another common ‘weed’ I tolerate is purslane. Purslane, colloquially known as little hogweed, is an annual succulent that’s been grown as a leafy vegetable for centuries. Purslane doesn’t just add a hearty crunch to your salad – the leaves contain more omega 3 fatty acids than any other land plant. Add beneficial quantities vitamins A, C, B, magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, cyanins and xanthins and you’re crazy to toss this pretty little invader in the compost heap.

Purslane may be invasive but it’s shallow-rooted and requires little water or nutrients. Given its relatively innocuous nature there has been some interest in using it as a living mulch. Because I think the plant is both attractive and quite tasty I’ve decided to give the living mulch thing a shot. I’m going to experiment with letting it go in the places it sprouts to evaluate how good it is at crowding out other more problematic weeds.

What does one do with a surfeit of purslane? Today I made purslane potato salad. I took a dozen or so golfball-sized redskin potatoes, half a large sweet onion, 3/4 Cup of purslane leaves, 2 ribs of celery and a handful of fresh dill leaves and dressed them with a nice homemade lemon vinaigrette. It was delicious.

And no, I’m not going to provide detailed directions. This is salad people, not rocket science!

The stems and extra leaves were pureed with tomatoes (also from the garden) and added to tonight’s dog food. Nom nom!

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rob McMillin  |  June 30, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    General awesomeness!

  • 2. Rachael Roper  |  July 1, 2010 at 9:05 am

    I found it hysterical that the ad at the end of this blog is for Roundup!

  • 3. SmartDogs  |  July 1, 2010 at 10:56 am

    That is funny! I don’t see the ads so I missed it.

  • 4. LabRat  |  July 1, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    My stomach is growling.

    Sadly our native “weeds” tend to fill the weed’s worst image. Pardon me while I pick six million goatsheads out of my dogs’ coats…

  • 5. SmartDogs  |  July 1, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Purslane is listed as native to N.M. – I’ll send you a care package of seedlings if you like. It’s a hardy succulent, so should hold up relatively well to your climate.

  • 6. Jan Gribble  |  July 1, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Not LabRat, but also in NM and would love a care package

  • 7. Rob McMillin  |  July 1, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    I may pick up some purslane seeds when we come visit next month. We can grow damn near anything, if you can get water to it.

  • 8. Rob McMillin  |  July 1, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    And, yeah, our weeds tend to end up as burs in our dogs’ coats. And then there are foxtails. Nasty, nasty things. When I was a boy, we found one had worked its way to the other side of my dog’s eye. It required surgery to remove it.

  • 9. Dorene  |  July 2, 2010 at 6:38 am

    I don’t think the purslane will last as a living mulch — around here, it grows like crazy in the early to mid summer, but after it flowers, it tends to disappear. Then other weeds will fill in, So I would use it for feed for humans, dogs and chickens, rather than leave it as mulch. I would think it would be really good for the chickens and up your eggs’ nutrient content.

    There are lots of good recipes for purslane on the web — when I had the community garden, we ate it regularly with things on our Tuesday night dinners. There isn’t a summer salad that isn’t better with purslane added. Supposedly, they deep fat fry it in Mexico, but we never tried that.

    Purslane is also a sign that your soil is in good shape for veggies, so if it’s growing well, it means you are taking care of your soil properly. The mullein isn’t such a good sign, but being in the rock garden, it’s probably not that important and rich soil might not do so well for rock garden plants.

  • 10. SmartDogs  |  July 2, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Foxtails are nasty things. When I was in undergrad school in Idaho a friend inhaled one and it worked its way into her sinuses.

  • 11. SmartDogs  |  July 2, 2010 at 10:39 am

    The rock garden is quite large (60ish feet long by 15-20 feet wide. I’ve done a lot of work to the soil in the more accessible areas where I grow veggies. In nooks and crannies I let it go and get creative with weeds etc.

    Mine only came up recently. I wonder if I’ve got a later variety? And – if it dies back later that’s fine. By midsummer the cucurbits will be taking over anyway.

    So – what can I use for living mulch in the spring?

  • 12. Dorene  |  July 2, 2010 at 10:57 am

    There are several varieites of purslane — you can actually buy culitvated varieties of it from folks that specailize in salad greens, but we has so much on our own that we never planted any.

    As for a living mulch in the Spring — depends on what you want to do. Dutch white clover is good for perennial area, but most folks are doing cover crops that they grow and then use a roller to knock down the plants into mulch and then plant their veggies in the rolled down mulch. Or you can cover-crop in the fall and let the frost kill it, then plant in the mulch.

    Cover cropping is becoming its own science so I would go to http://www.attra.org and do some surfing — it’s my favorite website for “what the heck do I do now” in sustainable ag.

  • 13. AJ Myhem  |  July 2, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    A very informative post, especially the creative use of Purslane.

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