June 30th, 2014
June 2nd, 2014
What is by many accounts the hottest crop in home gardening today?
Hint #1: It is not tomatoes.
Hint #2: It is neither flower nor vegetable. It is an herb.
Hint #3: It is not a weed, but is often referred to as “weed.”
OK all you baby boomers, if you haven’t gotten it by now, you lose your AARP-BSC card (AARP But Still Cool). If the marijuana legalization trend continues the hottest home gardening crop in the U.S. (both for indoor cultivation and outdoor growing) may quickly become marijuana.
At last count 22 States and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana use for medicinal purposes, with most of those allowing homegrown plants with proper legal approval. Home gardening of marijuana for recreational purposes has been approved in two states – Colorado and Washington, and more are likely.
While there have always been companies selling lots of equipment to help gardeners grow crops “indoors,” not surprisingly this recent legalization has led to an explosion of interest in serving this “growing” market. But individual views on the medical and recreational legalization of marijuana are still highly divided. Among the many arguments for and against marijuana legalization, some believe legalized marijuana will provide needed medicine to many and boost tax coffers and the economy overall (as Colorado seems to be proving), while unburdening law enforcement, our court systems and our prisons. Others believe that marijuana is immoral, a danger to users, children and others, and a “gateway” to harder drug use.
But what do home gardeners think about this issue as we are interested in your perspective? As a company, Gardener’s Supply takes pride in helping our customers become better gardeners and grow their best gardens ever. We help gardeners grow everything from astibles to zinnias, from Roma tomatoes to Jerusalem artichokes. So, should we help our customers be successful at growing marijuana as we are getting more interest in our Vermont garden centers and from catalog and web customers across the US? We’d like your opinion. Would you please take this quick and anonymous survey?
Please also feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
May 1st, 2014
Our First Steamed Milkweed Greens of the Year (like Spinach and Green Beans)
What "weed" feeds Monarchs, bees and you?
What is a weed? When I was living in Scotland years ago a very savvy gardener told me weeds are simply good plants growing in the wrong place. Of course the “wrong place” tends to be defined according to our goals, like food production, landscape beauty and pristine lawns.
Over time I have had to change my understanding of what’s a weed. One chore I had growing up was plucking Dandelions from our lawn (my father would not use herbicides). After marrying a wild foods forager I needed to reassess Dandelions as they are now our first steamed greens in spring, plus Lynette uses Dandelion root as one of 20 wild-crafted ingredients to make the most effective anti-cold and anti-flu remedy I know.
In the past decade I also learned to view common Milkweed differently. Lynette loves Milkweed and it is allowed to thrive in our front garden amidst perennial ornamentals like lilies, peonies, grasses, balloon flowers and shrubs. Unlike these cultivated garden plants our Milkweed is a “weed” in that it grows and reproduces aggressively, and can dominate a planted area. It has become 10-20% of our garden plants.
But this weed is uniquely important. I wrote this piece last year about the importance of milkweed as a food source and breeding habitat for Monarch butterflies when I learned 90% fewer Monarchs made it from the US to Mexico to overwinter. I encouraged gardeners to help reverse this Monarch emergency:
“It starts with growing millions of milkweed plants. This vibrant wildflower…is native to much of the US. It is not only beautiful; it's essential to the life cycle of Monarch butterflies. They sip the plentiful nectar; lay their eggs under the leaves, and then their fat striped caterpillars gobble the leaves (the only food that can sustain them). No milkweed plants, no Monarch butterflies.”
Young Milkweed Flower Pods (Like Broccoli)
When we plant Milkweed it's blossoms will also help feed many other kinds of butterflies, as well as hummingbirds and honey bees. But did you know Milkweed can also offer food for us from early spring through late summer?
Milkweed provides early greens; some describe the flavor as reminiscent of spinach, green beans and asparagus. Milkweed’s new-growth shoots reach out of the soil when hardwood trees are leafing out. At this stage they taste like asparagus. In mid-summer the unopened flower buds can be harvested and prepared like broccoli, which is what they taste like at that point. After the flower pods whither each milkweed plant will produce 5-10 seedpods that grow up to 5 inches long. Harvest the pods at under 1 inch in July-August and they can be prepared and eaten like okra.
We cook common milkweed by steaming or boiling it and we have not found it to be bitter as some foragers claim. Any toxins in milkweed are washed out of the edible parts by gentle boiling.
So, this perennial weed grows easily and looks and tastes like spinach, green beans, asparagus, broccoli and okra. Why not plant it to feed Monarchs AND yourself?
Lynette harvested several thousand Milkweed seeds last fall. Let us know your address by clicking here and we will send some to you, with planting instructions and some recipe ideas, free of cost to help you HELP SAVE THE MONARCH.
Three years ago my wife, Lynette, was touring an innovative display garden in the cool rainforest of Costa Rica. She noticed a medium green plant with lots of shiny and crinkly round leaves connected to center stems.
Lynette asked our guide about it and he said it grew all year long and can be harvested continually for fresh salad greens and plus be cooked like spinach. He said it is a perennial called Sambu lettuce or Sissoo spinach. We later discovered it is native to Brazil and is also called Brazilian spinach (Alternanthera sisso).
Being a very adventuresome gardener, Lynette cut a few sprigs, stripped the leaves and popped them in her mouth, and then pocketed the stems. The next day she planted the stems in a pot on our patio (see photo). This wonderful little plant thrived in our hot Guanacaste climate, and with regular watering, it grew equally well in sun and partial shade.
Brazilian spinach has become our favorite tropical green because it grows vigorously and is easily propagated from stem cuttings. During our winters in Costa Rica, we add the leaves to green drinks almost every morning, plus use them in salads and sauté them with other vegetables.
During Costa Rica’s dry season, November-April, we operate a small organic farm. In 2012 we added several 30’ rows of Brazilian spinach. Our region of Guanacaste overwhelms most edible greens, with heat, strong winds, pests and no rain from December through March. But not Brazilian spinach. It keeps right on growing as long as we keep the soil moist with drip lines, and it’s now the farm’s #1 cash crop.
During the wet season, when the tourists aren’t around and there’s a lower demand for fresh produce, the rows of Brazilian spinach “go wild” and form a ground cover as the stems reach out and self-root. In November we simply cut it all back to the original rows and start new plants from the cuttings.
We wondered if this “ground cover” spinach could also succeed up north and found we can grow in Vermont from May-October. Again, we harvest it for six months for green drinks, salads and cooking. We grow the plants in containers so we can bring them indoors in the fall, where they mostly hibernate over winter and become our first fresh greens in spring. We gave cuttings to a friend in Florida who now grows it there year-round. Brazilian spinach is probably a perennial in zones 8-10, and if protected from cold in a sunroom or greenhouse, it may continue to produce right through the winter.
Would you like to try growing Brazilian spinach? We will be growing it on our Vermont organic farm this summer and in June, would be happy to send you a few stems, ready for you to root in a pot or raised bed (instructions included). If you’d like to give it a try, please email me with your name and address at email@example.com.