A sign of a fertile soil are the weeds. Being a bit late at planting my chicories and swiss chard, the weeds had already formed a green carpet over the bed I’d intended to use (nature’s plaster!). I hand weeded this area yesterday, harvesting edible plants as I worked!
Most of my vegetable production is by way of what I call the no dig self-mulching gardening (ultimate no dig)…as perennial vegetables form a long-term vegetation cover that requires little energy and no digging to maintain. Below soil surface the earth is full of roots, binds more carbon than other vegetable growing systems and fungi are now known to play a bigger role than we realised only a few years ago.
However, I still grow a significant amount of annual crops, both leafy greens like swiss chard, potatoes, carrots and parsnip. If I was to use no dig methods, where the undug soil is covered with compost, hay or similar, I would need to produce much more compost and import hay (non-organic). I therefore choose to dig and some of the healthiest plants are weeds like Sonchus oleraceus (my most important vegetable from August to September!
In any case, any nutrients which are washed out from my annual beds ultimately end up in my forest garden and perennial plantings below, so are not lost!
Sonchus kirkii is the original perennial sow thistle (puha) of the Maori which I’ve long wanted to try (see the account in my book Around the World in 80 plants of this species and annual super(healthy)weed Sonchus oleraceus which replaced it in Maori kitchens! Probably not hardy here, I overwintered it inside having finally layed my hand on some seed! Variously known as puha, shore puha or New Zealand sow thistle (syn. Sonchus asper var. littoralis), its habitat is described by the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network as http://www.nzpcn.org.nz/flora_details.aspx?ID=205: “Coastal. Usually on cliff faces in or around damp seepages where it often grows with the blue green alga Nostoc and fern Blechnum blechnoides. This species has a distinct preference for base rich rocks such as basalt, calcareous mudstones, siltstones, limestone or apatite-rich greywacke faces. On some offshore islands this species extends up into coastal scrub and herbfield. It occasionally grows on stabilised sand dunes. Indications are that this species once occupied a wider range of habitats but has retreated to those less suited to other faster growing introduced weeds.”
I will hopefully eat it for the first time next summer!
NZPCN states that “Easily distinguished from all the other naturalised Sonchus species by the very large, glaucous, non-spinose leaves” (this includes S.arvensis –perennial sow thistle and annuals S. asper and S. oleraceus)
Meanwhile, here are a few pictures:
Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of a memorable visit to the Århus CSA scheme and Tom Harald Eckell’s magical vegetables with Rita Amundsen, Margaret M. Meg Anderson and Veronica Samycia!
Never have I been so impressed by a field of vegetables (organic too), the astonishing diversity, many of which I’d never seen before…..and above all Tom Harald’s gentle modest manner in the midst of brilliance….my life changed that day…
We all sensed that we’d passed into a parallel universe for the duration of the visit and we all sensed simultaneously on the journey home our return! My life changed that day
Added a few more overview pictures of my vegetable beds intertwined with poppies! No way are these weeds….so the other so-called weeds are just plants doing their job of repairing bare soil that lack pretty flowers, that’s all! See this page for links to many more pictures: http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?page_id=1967
The article below, published in Grobladet in 2006 is the story (in Norwegian) of how one of the commonest spring flowers in the Mediterranean countries became one of the most important vegetables in Japan, yet was completely forgotten at home…this is the story of shungiku, the edible-leaved Chrysanthemum, Glebionis coronaria.
It would be a great project to select Sonchus oleraceus…for new improved yielding and special forms like was done with wild chicory aIt would be a great project to select Sonchus oleraceus…for new improved yielding and special forms like was done with wild chicory and other vegetables… Last winter somebody found seed of an amazing frilly sow thistle being sold in an on-line chinese vegetabe catalogue….too good to be true…I should have noticed that the seed weren’t Sonchus when I sowed them…it seems it’s just an endive :( Lost in translation?
I read some 15 years ago (but would love a proper reference*) that the Victorians (and some more recent jokers too) were fond of practical jokes and would add various plant parts that resembled caterpillars, snails, worms etc to their salads. I call them collectively joke plants. I should grow them again…I love humour in the garden :)