It looks rather idyllic, doesn’t it? Here I am, pottering about in the veg patch. The sun is shining. The robins chirrup and come to watch me rake the earth. Bunnies hop about in the field nibbling the grass. Over the stone wall, I can hear the plaintive bleating of newly born lambs. Spring is in full bloom. If there was a Disney cartoon about a rural idyll, I’d be in it (singing).
But this halcyon vision belies the true nature of an allotment in Springtime. It may look heavenly (and, ultimately, of course, it is) but beneath this Constable painting lurks torment and peril for the Spring gardener. Oh yes, simmering below the surface is an army of horrors just waiting to strike.
Weeds. Thousands of them. At the first sign of warmth they burst forth from the ground like the hands of the undead breakings out of their graves to ruin your tranquility. (I really do hate weeds, can you tell?) In days, your neat, ordered, newly sown patch can become a tangle of tendrils – more like the forest of briers that keeps the Disney princess in the castle than Snow White’s talking-birds paradise.
Nothing grows faster or with more vigour in Spring than weeds. (Except possibly our lawn which currently demands a mow every 4-5 days. And no, it’s not a bowling green.) Put the effort in now, weed meticulously, and you’ll be rewarded with far fewer weeds later in the year. If you pluck them out before they get too big and flower then it stops the cycle of reproduction and colonisation. Take a more lackadaisical approach to weeding (ie: my approach) and you’ll find your patch beset by the little buggers all year. And beware, whilst most weeds can be hoed to death, some (couch grass, bind weed etc) see hoeing as helpful propagation because every piece of chopped root will become a new plant. Honestly, it’s like a virus.
And why is it that you can invest serious time and emotional energy coaxing your veg seedlings into life at this time of the year, but the weeds will flourish despite you attempting to hoe, hack and flame-thrower (yup, tried that) them into submission? If it’s anything, it’s a test of your organic ideals, I can tell you.
There’s only one thing to be done. Eat them. Reframe the issue. They are not a pest and a menace. They are a free and bountiful catch crop to keep you going until the lettuces/spinach/anything else tasty arrives. Most edible weeds taste like spinach. That is, they taste of green. Nettles have a more iron-y tannin flavour but its not overpowering. Some weeds have a slightly peppery mustard-family tang too. But my point is you aren’t going to ruin the flavours of a dish by slinging a handful of weeds in to replace spinach.
Over the past few years, I’ve written a weed recipe every April, my Weed Chicken Kiev and Fat Hen Soufflé being the most successful. I’m also a fan of a weed salsa verde which is the whizzed combination of garlic, capers, olive oil and a selection of weeds of your choice.
Do take care though. Edible weeds can bear an uncanny resemblance to deadly ones, so if you aren’t 100% sure, don’t eat it. The simplest weeds you can be sure of not poisoning you, entry level weeds if you like, are nettles (give away: they sting) and sticky weed (give away: it stick to you) and neither have any look-similar-but-lethal evil twins.
So this sunny weekend, may I recommend one job in the garden: weeding. And if not that, pick them and eat them instead.