Dateline: 21 May 2007
I began the work of this year’s gardening last weekend. As I walked among my raised beds, I was faced with the reality of decay. Since I am loathe to use chemical laden pressure treated lumber, I have to replace the 2x pine lumber framework every few years. That is not an economically sustainable situation and, after eight years, I have decided to remove half the beds. I’ll roto-till the ground until it is level and plant in the flat land.
Some perennial plants in the beds-to-be-removed needed to be transplanted. This work of transplanting and removing wood frames gave me an opportunity to reconnect with my garden. It was akin to seeing beloved old friends after a season of separation. And I was able to experience a variety of fresh, earthy tastes that I have not experienced for many months. We who garden are privy to fresh, and sometimes unusual, culinary delights that the non-gardener will never know.
The most prominent plant in my spring garden is the rhubarb. I look under the mass of greenery and select a slender, tender stalk. You can’t buy the slender, tender stalks of rhubarb in the store. It is succulent and tart. My boys help themselves to a lot of raw rhubarb stalks in the springtime.
Dandelion leaves are the next course. Reaching down I select a clean leaf and put it in my mouth. I do not find he bitterness of raw dandelion to be especially enjoyable, but it is especially good for a body. I once made a “spring tonic sandwich” of dandelion greens. The sweetness of my wife’s homemade oatmeal bread, and some salad dressing, helped to offset the bitterness of the Taraxacum but it was still a difficult sandwich to swallow.
Chives come on strong in the spring and I ate more than a few of the long, thin, tubular, green tops. Chives are the smallest member of the Allium family. They tasted especially sweet this spring.
In one bed, all by itself was a small growth of miners lettuce. Also known as Claytonia, I planted this salad green back in 1999. It has come up of its own accord here and there in my garden every year since. If I see it growing in the corner of a bed, I’ll often let it alone to grow bigger. The round leaves, with a tiny gemlike flower in the center are a mild and pleasant tasting green.
Marlene came out to visit me in the garden and noted that there were many dill seedlings starting to grow where we planted dill last year. She picked some small, feathery sprigs and tasted them. I did the same. Baby dill. It was good. I love it when plants reseed themselves. It took only a few moments for me to transplant a few bunches of the small seedlings to a new bed.
Then Marlene plucked a leaf of spearmint and urged me to try it. Spearmint’s Genus is Mentha and the menthol flavor was unmistakable. Later, in the summer, we will make naturally-mentholated iced teas with the leaves of our spearmint and peppermint. But, for now, I must move the plants to another bed. I will transplant only a small section of these plants, but they will flourish and spread quickly.
Last year’s parsley roots have put up a lot of fresh, curly green leaves. Marlene and I have a special fondness for parsley. I like it in “summer sandwiches” and she likes to juice it with carrots. In fact, a short while after rediscovering our spring-garden parsley, Marlene brought two glasses of vividly-green, carrot-apple-parsley-and-a-bit-of-chives juice out for us to enjoy together. Ambrosial "earth juice." It just doesn't get much better than that.
Late last summer I planted some radishes in part of a bed. I never really tended them like I should have. I don’t remember even eating one of them. This spring the roots put forth 3-foot tall stalks topped with lots of small yellow flowers. I pulled the plants out and threw them on the ground. A short while later I looked over and saw one of our hens eating the flowers. She wasn’t just idly pecking at them. She was intently devouring one flower after another in rapid succession. The flowers were too high for the hens to get to before I pulled them out. Seeing the bird’s enthusiasm I went over and tasted some of the flowers myself. They were dry and sweet. Not bad. But I left the rest for the birds.
When my son James came out to the garden he focused on some small carrots that never got harvested last year. There were several rows of them in one bed and they were putting up fresh green tops. We pulled a few and they looked perfectly good. James pressure washed one....
And then he tasted it. And it was good....
Finally, there was the lavender. I love lavender, but not to eat. In my next blog entry, I will share with you a unique way I've discovered to enjoy fresh lavender greens. You won’t want to miss it.