To Weed, To Learn, To Eat

By | June 15, 2013

20130612_171645I had weeded the carrot and onion bed last week, but bouts of rain and sunshine plus a family camping trip in the meantime helped weeds come back with a vengeance. They brought some friends too, they must have, otherwise I cannot explain the wild party in our backyard.

An elderly neighbor of my parents’ used to say that weeds are a sign of a good nourishing soil. If they grow, then edible crops can grow too. I guess that only applies to small scale farming though.

Weeding is this interesting process that I cannot resent in any way, as repetitive as it is. You take some weeds out, your hands are busy and so is your mind. There is something cleansing about weeding, you do it with both plants and thoughts and at the end of the day, the garden looks better and the mind feels fresh. It’s like that.

20130612_171745[1]This would be a good time to mention that dandelions are not on my weed list. In early spring we use the leaves to complement greens salads or slide into sandwiches. The roots, washed and dried, make an excellent detoxifying tea. Maria Treben, an Austrian herbalist whose book was one of my favorite when I grew up, used to say that dandelions hold the key to many people’s health. If only they knew how valuable this “weed” is, she wrote.

20130612_171553[1]I weed around the beets and garlic chives. It is late afternoon and the sun is still hot. My youngest son picks various leafs and some other plant parts in order to prepare a veggie feast, as he calls it. Lettuce, spinach, green onions, carrots – baby ones but big enough to feel the sweet crunch, even beet greens and garlic chives.

Will he eat them all, I ask. Of course. “We will eat it together once I’m done picking.” Things I never thought I’d see him try before his 10th birthday, such as beet greens, are on the menu.

20130612_172205[1]I prune the thick tomato plants to expose the green tomatoes to the sun. It’s a bit of a guessing game still at this point, the whole gardening adventure. I remember spending time with my father in the garden as a kid; with my aunt too, observing and copying their moves. It looked so simple.

I am a green gardener though, pun and no pun. Committed to chemical-free gardening on one hand, but also a mere beginner gardener, playing the guessing game often. For now, things grow, they do so fast and they taste delicious. Confidence grows with every crunchy radish we pull out of the ground.

“Are there still tomatoes in the wild?” My son is perched on the ladder of the backyard fort, one hand holding onto the wooden contraption while the other carries a green bounty.

“There must be,” I tell him. “That’s how all crops started anyway.” People started growing them on purpose and kept selecting the best one. Taste, appearance, ability to withstand bad weather and bad bugs. “Tomatoes and eggplants are in the same family, you know…” He smiles. Kids always find the word eggplant funny.

“What about carrots?” he asks. I like this, learning happens best in nature. “They used to be yellow and red, and mostly leaves. People kept growing them and somewhere between then and now they became juicy and sweet.

20130612_171350[1]“When are we going to eat the tomatoes?” Soon, very soon. I finish weeding around the tomato plants just in time. Veggie feast, in the fort, by special invitation only.

He leads the way but comes out of the little fort fast and wide-eyed. “There’s a wasp nest in the fort!” No bigger than my son’s fist, the nest spells trouble. We exit, have our feast at the picnic table and think of evacuation solutions.

Appetite unspoiled, we eat our way through various shades of green. More? Sure.

He runs to the lettuce patch and takes another handful. Wash and eat, water dripping on bare toes painted in dirt and grass stains. Afterwards we inspect the potato plants. Big leafy hats sitting on the ground, forgotten by some gnomes that sleep in the garden at night…

New potatoes should be ready soon too…Expectation of new edibles to try runs on par with appreciation. All that weeding, it sure pays off… Sometimes getting a kid to eat veggies is simply a matter of growing them. It sure beats the nagging and the pretend gagging. The way I see it, those can be weeded out too…

(Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News under the same title on June 15, 2013)

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