By Heather Jo Flores
"Weeds are weeds only from our human egotistical point of view, because they grow where we do not want them. In nature, however, they play an important and interesting role. They resist conditions that cultivated plants cannot resist, such as drought, acid soil, lack of humus, mineral deficiencies, as well as a one-sidedness of minerals, etc. They are witness of man's failure to master the soil, and they grow abundantly wherever man has 'missed the train' — they only indicate our errors and nature's corrections. Weeds want to tell a story — they are nature's means of teaching humanity, and their story is interesting. If we would only listen to it we could apprehend a great deal of the inner forces through which nature helps and heals and balances and, sometimes, also has fun with us."
— Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, Weeds and What They Tell.
I once asked a mentor to name his 10 favorite plants. He laughed and told me it was like asking him to name his favorite finger. He reminded me that our own attachment to the idea that one plant is better than another stalls the creative cycle that builds and maintains fertility of thought and action. The primary emphasis should always be on biodiversity: Use diverse strategies, experiment with diverse plant material, and work with a diversity of people. Do this, and your projects, both in and out of the garden, will undoubtedly thrive.
The best way to improve our garden soil is to diversify the living community within it. How to diversify it depends on what is already there, and what the soil needs to achieve optimum balance and fertility. There are a number of good ways to help determine these needs, from simple pH kits to expensive laboratory soil analysis. These store-bought solutions are effective in some settings, but unnecessary for most home gardeners.
Before you spend money on soil testing, go out into your garden and look at what's already growing there. For centuries, organic gardeners have relied on the plants to indicate soil conditions, and common weeds provide excellent clues for how to improve your soil. By learning to recognize weeds (and what they tell) we can learn about our specific soil conditions and take action accordingly. We can also plant relatives of the wild plants that will thrive in the same soil conditions, or replace unwanted weeds with our preferred cultivars.
Here is a quick-reference guide to a few common weeds. Unsurprisingly, most of these plants are also edible and/or medicinal, but for now we will focus on what they tell you about your soil. If you don't know what these plants look like, take some time to find out. As a rule, I never pull a plant I don't recognize, and neither should you.
Yellow dock & horsetail.
Soil is acidic or increasing in acidity. Plant cover crops, improve drainage, add non-acidic organic matter like straw and lime (but not wood chips.)
Morning glory/bindweed, wild mustard & pennycress.
Formation of surface crust or hardpan. Plant deep-rooted cover crops such as ryegrass and daikon. Allow dandelions, burdock and other tap-rooted weeds to remain, as hey will help break up the compacted subsoil. Add thick mulch and consider tilling/digging less often.
Lamb's quarters, buttercup, pigweed, teasel & thistle.
Too much tilling and cultivation. Gardens that need a break will put out a lot of spiky and aggressive weeds. If it feels like you are constantly battling thistles and losing, consider letting that section of your garden fallow for a year or two. Sheet mulch with cardboard, straw and wood chips, and plant a cover crop of fava beans, vetch or ryegrass. Or, if you have the space, replant the area to perennial herbs, berries and trees, and start up a new veggie patch in a spot that isn't so overworked.
Sweet peas, clover & vetch.
Sandy or alkaline soil, needs nitrogen. These weeds are an excellent cover crop. Leave them alone and let nature do the work for you. When they start to bloom, cut them down and mulch over, then plant your veggies on top.
Wild lettuce, lemon balm, self-heal, cleavers, chickweed & plantain.
Soil pH is balanced and/or ever-so-slightly acidic, soil is well-drained and fertile. Congratulations! These are the green-light weeds in your garden! This spot is ready for a fresh crop of vegetables. But be careful not to overwork, over-till, over-fertilize or add too much acidic material. Consider a careful rotation of crops to give your soil a chance to recover and re-adjust to the varied things you grow, and above all, enjoy yourself!
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
By Heather Jo Flores
In a foggy, temperate climate, most of us know the drill: Start seeds indoors in early spring and use grow lights if you have 'em. Plant in fertile soil with plenty of space in mid-June. Trellis, water, prune and pray and maybe, just maybe, get some homegrown tomatoes before the rains come again in September, when what started out as a savory dream of salsa and gazpacho turns into six pounds of green tomatoes topped with powdery mildew and hopeful plans for next year.
But there's hope! Tomatoes are native to the foggy forests of the Andes mountains, and with well-chosen heirloom varieties and a few useful tips, you can grow more tomatoes than you'll know what to do with.
VarietiesIn this case, size matters, and smaller is better. Cherry tomatoes are always a good bet. Salad and plum tomatoes are bigger than cherries, do well in this climate, and come in a wide variety of flavors, shapes and colors. Avoid giant slicing tomatoes like Brandywines and Oxhearts.
Here are my favorite tomatoes for a temperate garden, based on disease resistance, early and extended harvest, and yield:
A gorgeous, green-and-yellow-striped salad tomato with a bright, sweet flavor. Very prolific, a single plant can yield several dozen fruits.
Named for the subtle fuzz and pinkish-yellow color, this salad tomato is one of my all-time favorites. Not as prolific as the Green Zebra, but with such a distinct, delicious flavor, you just have to try them!
Bright yellow, it's one of the larger varieties of salad tomato. More saucy and savory than Green Zebra or Garden Peach, Taxis can be quite prolific and are a good choice for canning.
This is a classic red plum variety that does really well in a marginal climate. Fruits are shaped like a small Roma, and ripen quickly in tight, savory clusters. Excellent for canning. As with many of these varieties, San Marzanos have a long, wonderful history that I don't have space for in this article, but it's worth looking up online.
The "old faithful" of the temperate tomato world, Early Girls are a mid-sized, sweet slicer that won't disappoint.
Willamette & Oregon Spring.
As the names indicate, these two similar varieties were bred for temperate gardens. The mid-sized, orange-red fruits ripen early and provide a juicy flavor that is perfect for slicing, sandwiches and fresh eating.
Another mid-sized variety, with bright red fruits and an early harvest. Saucy and savory, great for raw eating and also for cooked recipes.
This is one of many varieties of tomato bred for success in Russian climates. They are tolerant of hot days and cold nights, which makes them a great option for Southern Humboldt gardens. The large, blackish fruits are juicy and savory, delicious in salsa or salad. If you can't find Black Krim, keep your eye out for other "Siberian" tomatoes, as they tend to do well in temperate gardens.
Grow tomatoes in the hottest place in your garden. Prune low-hanging branches of nearby trees to get as much sun as possible. If there is a wall or a fence nearby, paint it white to maximize the heat reflection of the sun onto your plants. Mulch with bright rocks. A greenhouse is a perfect microclimate for tomatoes, as long as they don't get over-watered.
Once they start to bloom, tomatoes need little water, and young plants get moldy if they're too wet. Overwatered tomatoes are more susceptible to rot, mildew, yellowing and split, watery fruit. Also avoid irregular watering — don't dry them all the way out and then drench them to make up for it. This will cause "blossom end rot" and weird-shaped fruit.
Set a regular, light watering schedule and stick to it. Once the fruit starts to ripen, reduce watering by half. Also, when you do water, avoid spraying overhead or you could cause the leaves to get spots from "sunburn." Hand-water in the early morning, pointing the hose toward the roots of the plants, or use soaker hoses or drip irrigation.
Tomatoes can grow in many different soil types but it's important not to over-fertilize them or they will turn into big leafy bushes with no fruit. Sow seeds in a light soil and transplant them into a rich compost. I don't use high-nitrogen fertilizer (read: poop) but I do recommend seaweed, oyster shells, wood ash and comfrey compost tea.
Weeding & Trellising.
Successful gardening requires good air circulation. Use vertical space to create it. Tomatoes love to climb. Trellising makes use of vertical space and lifts ripening fruits off the ground and away from would-be marauders like slugs and rats.
Use Handi-mesh tubes like the cages used by pot farmers, to build space-saving, easy to harvest tomato towers: Set up the cage, anchor it down, and plant tomatoes 10 inches apart around the cage. Stick a sunflower in the middle so it can grow out the top. As the tomatoes grow, poke them in and out of the Handi-mesh.
I plant marigolds and cilantro on the ground between the towers. The marigolds repel tomato-loving insects, and the cilantro tastes great!
Thinning & Pruning.
If you don't have full sun, and/or if you're growing large-fruited tomatoes, pinch off a third of the unripe fruits before they get too big. This allows the plant to focus on ripening fruit better. As for pruning, don't. Those fruitless, lateral branches provide balance, support and photosynthesis, and anchor the plant to the cage. Leave them. If leaves turn yellow, bust them off.
Save Your Seeds!
Finally, when you get a good crop, save the seeds! Tomatoes are self-pollinated, so you can save seeds without worrying about inbreeding problems. It's easy:
1. Collect ripe, undiseased fruits and squeeze the gooey seeds into a glass jar.
2. Add enough water to fill the jar halfway and cover with a piece of cardboard to let air in but keep bugs out.
3. Set on a shelf and let ferment for 5 to 7 days or until it really starts to stink! This fermentation process removes the slimy seed coat, kills seed-borne diseases and separates good seeds from bad. Bad seeds float, good seeds sink.
4. When a thick skin of mold forms across the top of the seedy liquid, fill the jar with water and swirl it around to sift and separate the contents. Carefully pour off the mold without dumping the good seeds out. Add water again and pour it off. Do this a few more times until all you have is clear water with clean seeds sunk to the bottom.
5. Pour through a tea strainer and carefully tap out the clean, wet seeds onto the inside of a folded piece of paper bag. Label and set in a dark place to dry for at least two weeks (or run them through a food dehydrator on the lowest setting overnight) and stash them in a tightly sealed jar or envelope.
Good luck and happy harvesting!
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
#foodforest #temperategardens #homegrowntomatoes
by Heather Jo Flores
Take a moment to ponder your relationship with the wild plants in your garden. Chickweed, thistle, pigweed, plantain. Cleavers, lemon balm, nettle. These not only provide forage for insects, birds, and animals, they also provide food for you.
Most of the common vegetables we enjoy in our salads, such as lettuce, carrots, parsley and mustard, were once considered weeds.
So why not let their wild kin act as volunteer herbs and vegetables?
Edible weeds taste great in a variety of recipes, and are known to be more nutritious than domesticated plants. You probably already know about a few of these, and perhaps you've even tried dandelion greens or purslane in your salad.
Here I offer a rundown of my favorite weeds to eat and ways I like to prepare them, organized by season.
Fresh Eating. You can make a delicious salad with the very early leaves of just about any of the plants listed in this article, but my favorites are dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), chickweed (Stellaria media), sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) and purslane (Portulaca oleracea). Chop them all together with lettuce, sunflower seeds and a light vinaigrette.
Weedy Smoothies. When the weeds are still young but starting to taste bitter when eaten raw, try putting them in smoothies. I love a smoothie with avocado, kiwi, peeled cucumber, hemp seeds, lamb's quarter (Chenopodium album), sheep sorrel and purslane.
Baked Weeds. Use weeds like spinach to make lasagna, enchiladas or spanikopita. Try it with lamb's quarter, pigweed (Amaranthus palmeri), burdock (Articum lappa) and/or chickweed (Stellaria media).
Yum-Yum. Collect the large, bitter leaves of late-season dandelion, burdock and broad-leaf plantain (Plantago major). Add some long branches of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and pigweed. Hang them in bundles in a warm, dry space for a couple of weeks, to let them dehydrate. When dry, shuck the leaves off the stems and crumble them together with sea salt, powdered cumin and dried seaweed. Use this to sprinkle in soups, salads, salsa and everything else, to boost nutrition and aid digestion.
Weed Pesto. Collect the earliest shoots of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), cleavers (Galium aparine) and miner's lettuce. Put them in a blender with olive oil, garlic, asiago and a handful of seeds from the milk thistle (Silybum marianum). Spread on fresh bread or tortillas.
Proper identification. Some plants are quite poisonous, and I have included the botanical names in this article in hopes that you will be careful to correctly identify any plant you eat. With any new food, it is wise to always try just a little bit first, then wait a day or two to see if your have an allergic reaction. Chances are, everything will be fine, but better safe than sorry!
#foodforest #edible weeds
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