Friday, April 3, 2015

April Showers More April Showers Apparently

Welcome back to another springtime episode of Lost in the Farmer’s Market. Originally I’d planned to post this episode on April 1st with all sorts of comical slapstick and then well no. If the rest of the internet is pulling the same stunt it’s just not as funny. So today we have some pictures from the field, and then our main topic, the fourth and final installment of the weeds you can eat series. As with all the other episodes this week’s weed comes with a culinary recipe for making a dis that is tasty enough to serve to guests of adventurous palate.
seriously....I cannot un-see the seens!
What could be better than greeting spring with epic Pansies?
Few people realize how tough pansies are. Seriously despite the name of these little violets being considered synonymous with being wimpy, these annuals are almost perennial and may be biennial in climates with shorter cooler summers. These little guys have been frozen repeatedly, buried in snow and ice and yet this spring they bounced back to mock old man winter yet again. I planted these in early fall and they’ll have run their course in early to mid-summer. There is also a chance of them sowing seed that will mean new pansies of random colors next fall.

Wintergreen Barberry – Berberis julianae
This plant was given to me by Marty Williams as he had two but no room for both, and well, I couldn’t pass up such a unique evergreen plant in the barberry family which makes it related to Mahonia, and Nandina (Heavenly Bamboo). I was concearned it had frozen to death over the winter but it much like a mahonia, opened the early days of spring by being coated in little yellow flowers that were clearly pure pollinator crack.

Japanese Camellia - Camellia japonica
It’s not spring in Fayetteville without an obligatory camellia picture. The test gardens have both red and pink camellias but the red camellias had their buds frozen whereas the pink camellias are doing just fine.

Horehound – Marribum vulgare
Last year this plant was a single unwanted herb that no one seemed to want to purchase so it wound up in the crescent garden.  In the second half of 2014 it looked spindly and very unhappy but now it’s sort of exploded. For those not in the know, Horehound is used to soothe coughs and is commonly used in old time horehound candies you see in some pharmacies.

Plantain Lily – Hosta spp.
Ok so hostas, big deal right? Well the hostas in the picture above were part of a salvage effort. A client of mine decided that they simply no longer wanted their hostas and they had to go and my instructions were to put them in the trash. Well I nicked the newly evicted hostas and put them out in the shady rock garden. Thus far I’ve had trouble getting any good bedding plants to stick back there so I figured, “well if they fail it’s a pocket of good soil to try something else in, if they succeed then I’ve saved myself a LOT of money.” As any gardener knows hostas, even plain green ones are pretty expensive, in the catalogs you might get a plain green hosta for five bucks, but at the nursery they range from 8.00 to 20.00 per pot! So I arrived at the test gardens with the truck half full of salvaged hostas which were planted in the newly vacated borders and beds that formerly held plants that failed or were moved to the crescent garden. With the bad winter I was understandably concearned the hostas died especially after all the winter storm damage, but no, the perennials are coming back like gangbusters.

Prickly, Tall or Wild Lettuce – Lactuca Canadensis (Syn. L. scariola or serriola)
Wild lettuce is a member of the Daisy family and is thus grouped with a number of common food plants that we are very familiar with. It is generally considered to be an annual or biennial and is often found in disturbed sites such as fields, roadsides and vacant lots. Wild lettuce is not native as it was introduced from Europe but, it is not considered invasive. A good identification feature for wild lettuce is its height, as it can get to a height of 5-6’ and has a very narrow columnar overall shape. Its flowers look like tiny dandelions and are born in somewhat unruly clusters. Wild Lettuce much like dandelions spreads by producing seeds with a tiny filament that allows them to float on the wind to areas distant. In my studies however it seems the plant’s seeds seem to take root roughly ten to thirty feet away from the last know occurrence of the plant with a flowering body in the prior year.

This is wild lettuce and at mature height it is one of the tallest annual weeds you can find in your garden. Under normal circumstances just before blooming wild lettuce can reach a height of 5-6’ with a strictly columnar habit. It literally looks like a dandelion on steroids and it’s flowers look very much the part also. Its primary method of spread is through wind borne seeds thathave a filament that allows them to drift on the wind, much like dandelion and thus it is in the daisy family. Few people realize that true lettuce like we buy at the store is this plant’s heavily cultivated and hybridized cousin. Both are edible, though wild lettuce has a bit more of the latex sap much like dandelion greens.

But of course what is the discussion of an edible wild green without a recipe to eat it?  For starters I advise picking the leaves of wild lettuce when the plant is fairly young the best time is while the plants are less than 8” tall however, if you are cooking the greens you may be able to manage harvesting a taller plant. You can use the fresh greens chopped like one might do with normal lettuce in a tossed salad. As a cooked dish the greens should be boiled for 2-3 minutes in very little water, a little bit of adobo along with some butter or olive oil. Should the greens be wilted the process is a bit different as you need to pour boiling water over them and let them sit for 5 minutes. Allow to drain and then make a dressing consisting of 3 slices of crispy bacon crumbled into ¼ cup of vinegar with 1 tsp. sugar and ½ tsp. salt. Mix and pour over the lettuce. As a final note, large quantities of this edible weed in some individuals due to the latex sap can cause digestive upset.

If you are still doubtful consider the company that Wild Lettuce keeps. Wild lettuce is in the same family as Sunflowers, Jerusalem Artichokes, Echninacea, Chrysanthemums, Tarragon, Marigolds, Lettuce, Chicory, Endive, Escarole, Santolina, and, Stevia. So doubts aside it’s very unlikely wild lettuce is poisonous and since we eat so many of it’s relatives regularly it’s unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. However always taste test a little bit first to verify if or if not you will have a reaction and if included in a recipe let anyone else who might eat it know that you have included it.

Finally a image of the woodland side of the gardens after storm cleanup.
Yes as you well know in the ice storm back in February, the test gardens took a considerable amount of damage in the woodland area and our photos as posted show a tremendous logjam of branches down making certain areas inaccessible. Well after a number of fits and starts in clearing the damage, mostly due to inclement weather finally the woodlands are clear and have taken on a new character with the changed amount of sunlight now leaking into the woods. As seen in the plantain lily image above, the great gamble of 2014, paid off, every salvaged Hosta not only survived but are actively growing very vigorously. This of course bodes well for the renewal of spring.

But this wraps up another episode of Lost In The Farmer’s Market, We here at LITFM wish you all you gardeners out there a happy Easter and hope you’ll stay tuned for the first of the spring posts next week. I’ll be down at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market tomorrow with spring veggies for sale, and next week starts the inorexible march of the Tomatoes, so check in, next week the first of the Bordeuax Regional Nursery’s GMO-free, Heirloom Organic tomato species ‘Aunt Lou’s Underground Railroad’ will be available for purchase.

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