A lot of people dream about having a vegetable garden. Fresh vegetables every day, full of flavour and at a cost of virtually nothing, except a bit of water and maybe some fertilizer.
Yes, of course, another cost is your time and patience during the growing season.
And then there are the problems which will take up more of your time and sometimes money. Things like pests, including slugs, caterpillars, ants, and other insects that seem to like your home-grown vegetables more than you do.
Or birds, mice, squirrels, and other little critters who want to eat your tasty seedlings. Or bigger animals who dig out your vegetables and take them home to feed their families.
I’ve been doing a lot of research lately, because as you may know, there’s a vegetable garden in the planning at our house. It’s happened a bit sooner than I expected. I was planning this for my retirement years, but I’ve got a huge, empty garden to fill with wonderful food for us and also to share with our friends and neighbours.
But, there’s also another problem. Timing.
We bought the house at the beginning of December, and moved in a few weeks later. Just in time to start the new year with a new life.
And, just in case some of my Australian friends have forgotten, we’re in the northern hemisphere, and December isn’t the middle of summer. It’s the middle of winter.
So, it’s not growing season. In fact, for some of the winter the ground is covered by snow.
And often the ground is frozen, so even if you wanted to plant something you couldn’t.
And when the temperature goes up a little, and the ground thaws out, you still can’t plant anything because there’s still the risk of frost and anything that you try to grow can be killed overnight. Frozen to death.
So we have to wait until spring arrives and the threat of frost is over.
Of course, there are some things that can be planted towards the end of winter that are frost hardy, but they won’t grow fast enough to provide you with food until spring or maybe even summer.
So that means that from December to March there’s not much activity in the garden. We’re just sitting around, waiting out the cold weather.
Waiting for the real spring weather. And even though it’s now officially spring, it’s still too cold to plant anything outside.
Which is why I’ve got something like 80 seedlings in the house right now. I’m ready, but nature is not.
But we do have a few things in the garden already. Let me tell you what’s there.
What’s growing now
I planted some garlic in early December, and it’s growing nicely. It is very frost hardy, which means it can live through the cold winter months without a problem. It’s still too early yet, it’s nowhere near ready to eat so I just have to leave that alone and wait.
There are also some carrots in the ground that the previous owner left for us. They are very, very small. I’ve pulled a few up to check, and although we’ve eaten some of them, they are not really enough for even a salad.
I found some onions growing randomly in the ground. I guess they’re also left over from the previous owners. And they’re not ready to eat, either.
There’s some parsley, and some dill. Not a lot, but I have managed to pick some to use in our kitchen. I will be growing more of these when the time is right.
And also there’s been quite a lot of little lettuce’s popping up. They’re also frost resistant, and although they’re really, really small, I’ve pulled off a few leaves and had a little nibble from time to time.
But like the carrots, it’s not nearly enough for even a one-person salad.
I started thinking, “There must be something I can eat in this garden, without having to wait until the summer harvest!”
So I had a look around, and guess what I found?
Not the kind of food you’d find in a shop. Probably not the kind of food you’d even find in a market.
And I’m guessing not even the kind of food that you’d recognise as food.
Because they’re weeds.
Yes, weeds. I’ve been eating weeds.
Let me tell you about them.
Before I do, I must tell you that it’s not advisable to go outside and eat any plants that you find. Do some research, and make sure that you don’t poison yourself, ok? I will not take responsibility for you eating something you shouldn’t and getting sick from it.
The first weed I ate is called ‘chickweed’. You may have heard of it, or maybe not. I’d heard the name, but I never knew what it was or what it looked like.
I saw someone online asking people to identify a plant in photo, and the answer came back – ‘chickweed’. Realising that I also had a lot of this weed, I decided to find out what I could use it for.
And I was so surprised at what I found!
The little white flowers, the leaves, and the stems are edible. They can be used in salads, or ground up into a pesto. They can be cooked in stir-fries or stews.
And they’re so full of goodness, it’s almost hard to believe! They contain vitamin A, D, B complex, C, as well as rutin (a bioflavinoid), calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, sodium, copper, iron and silica.
And they taste really good! You have to make sure to wash off any dirt, which isn’t a problem if you pick the longer stems which are shooting upwards and not the ones that are crawling along the ground.
Chickweed is what I snack on while I’m in the garden doing the weeding.
There is a toxic look-alike for chickweed, called Scarlet Pimpernel, which has orange flowers. If you’re not sure if your weed is chickweed or the toxic Scarlet Pimpernel, wait until it flowers before eating any of it.
Apparently these are called ‘dead nettle’ because although their leaves resemble those of the stinging nettle, these plants have no sting at all. They’re a part of the mint family.
I admired these beautiful carpets of colour before I even knew what they were. Then one day a friend was complaining that it was almost impossible to get rid of this weed, so I decided to find out what I could use it for.
Food! Yes, these lovely little colourful plants can be eaten. Some people eat them raw – why not add them into a mixed salad? Or put some into your soup?
People also mix them into smoothies. I don’t make smoothies because I don’t have the right equipment, but I think they’d be a great addition.
And, best of all, you can make a tea from them. I just put a few flower heads into a cup, add boiling water and let sit for about 10 minutes (I cover the cup so it doesn’t lose too much heat).
The taste of this tea is very ‘earthy’, so I put a big teaspoon of local raw honey into it to improve the flavour a bit. But it’s not unbearable even without the honey.
This tea can have a laxative effect if used in large amounts, so if you want to try it maybe just a cup or two a day is enough.
You can use the flower heads fresh, or dry them and store them for later.
I must admit that I don’t snack on these ones while I’m in the garden. And that’s because they really need to be washed before eating or making tea with them, because ants and other little insects often hide among the flowers, and I don’t really want to eat those!
Dead nettle is high in vitamins C, A, and K, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and fibre.
I won’t go into the medicinal properties of dead nettle here, but if you do a bit of research you’ll find a lot of health benefits and different ways to use this plant, including for allergies, and it’s also an anti-inflammatory.
And the good news is that there’s no toxic look-alike for this plant, so you can’t accidentally poison yourself thinking you’re eating dead nettle.
There are also some other edible weeds in my garden. I have dandelion, stinging nettle, and little blue violets dotted all over the place.
I won’t write about them today, I’ll save them for another time. But here’s some photos of them for you.
Some stinging nettle in my garden.
And some dandelions.
And here’s some very pretty violets.
As you can see, although I’m going to have to wait quite some time to harvest the vegetables I plan on growing this year, I have enough to keep me going for now just from the weed population!
What edible plants do you have in your garden? Have you incorporated them into your regular cooking or are you unsure about how to go about it? Also, let me know any other ways you use ‘weeds’ in the kitchen or for other purposes.
Shared in Natalie the Explorer’s Weekend Coffee Share.