Thursday, May 28, 2009

You know the economy has gone south when...

lawn weeds are described as trendy food by the Wall Street Journal (

Tcamp shared this with me - I stopped my WSJ subscription a couple of years ago. I'm not really craving greens right now, with a garden full of planted ones and a fridge full of CSA greens from a friend on vacation. But the nice thing about those lawn weeds is that they will be there all year, even when my garden lettuce has gone leggy and bitter, and many of them even in winter. Food just doesn't get any more local than the front lawn.

And plus, that's the only kind of leafy greens my kids will eat and consider it fun. They don't get enough to count for a daily vegetable, but at least they'll try them without a fight!

Count me out on the pokeweed, though. I think that if you have to change the cooking water, the plant's secondary chemistry might be just a little to challenging for my system. I'll let it grow, and if someone needs if for the food bank it will be there.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Declaration of Camping Sentiment: I love my can stove

I returned from a too-short but very satisfying trip to Raccoon Creek State Park with 13 other women, 12 students and 1 other instructor. I posted back in winter about how fun it was to run farm equipment with no men around to tell us how to do it, and we had a similar experience with this trip. I love that when some of the young women express fear of mice, spiders, or snakes, it isn't just some tough guy saving them, but instead a bunch of other women showing the others that we're fine out there, and we'll all make it back.

In truth, this was a great group, and we had great hiking, shared fire-building, peaceful sleeping and a lot of laughter.
But the fire-building does hit on a part of this camping trip which I particularly appreciate, my camp stove. The official camp stove in our family, a lovely whisperlite, is my husband's, and wonderful as it is, it seems a bit like a fancy car with lots of gears. This may not be fair to the whisperlite, which I know is a well-loved item by so many campers. But this is my stove, the one I made myself and which I know how to run. It is the one which I can recycle if I break it, the one my friend Kerri taught me to make. One of our students forgot hers, and picked up a new can on the roadside near the trailhead, and used her pocketknife to make a new stove when we got to the shelters. I have an odd amount of affection for this particular one, but at the same time I recognize that its worth is clearly in the emotional energy I have given it, not in its component parts.
Add denatured alcohol, a match, and a pan of water, and Voila! Mealtime on the trail, rain or shine. Add good company and a trail, and it is a party of sorts.

Monday, May 11, 2009


My mother's day was spent exactly as I requested it: a bike outing at Ohiopyle State Park, riding the rail trail there. The experience increased my craving to go on a long-distance bike ride - an overnight, plus - but also increased my realism level about this.

First, no matter how fun I think it is going to be, no matter how happy I am, there will still be whining. Despite the fact that Emily first biked at age 4 and Hazel at 5, despite their general intrepidness, they still were far happier to stop at streamside than to keep on biking to new and beautiful scenery.

Second, the importance of preparation. We learned early that kids can be lured anywhere with a backpack full of food, but beyond that, though I had a tire patch kit, Brian had to take Hazel's tire to the river to find the hole. Next trip I'll have liquid soap for that; next trip I'll have kid-size innertubes, too.

The trip, whether I manage to plan it for this year or next, will involve difficult moments and triumphs, and nature will be both the fun and the refuge. Emily, above, was grouchy at the long distance (0.5 miles in) and sitting alone. But below, 3 stops later, she's happy again. We fixed the flat on Hazel's bike; we stopped for ice cream; we went farther than we thought they could. We all won, especially me.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Home and away

In A Weed by Any Other Name, one of the occasions I write about is a garden bed at Boyd Community Center, where we held a bulb planting one September in honor of Emily's 7th birthday. It sounded good on paper: we had dirt cake (the photo wasn't ours; we were too overwhelmed to take pictures), gave the kids shovels and bulbs, the party favors included flower bulbs and pretty kid-sized hand trowels, and they planted a flower bed which continues to give our family, and perhaps others who visit the community center, a great deal of happiness each spring.

But in reality, the party was hot, and the ground was hard, and the kids' interest level in the featured activity was slim to none. I ended up digging most of the holes, the kids whined about "how many more do I have to plant?", and I ended up replanting a number of bulbs which didn't quite make it underground.

The more long run problem is that since then, the bed had become infested with Canada thistle and wild garlic. (both infestations are discussed in the book, so I won't repeat the descriptions here) I have tried to interest the girls in helping me maintain the beds, but they have expressed Zero Interest. I figured that was my fault, for being too pushy.

But yesterday evening I was at Boyd for another event, and the director told me a story that made me think better of all these memories. At their afterschool program, the children are putting in a vegetable garden (which they will continue to maintain with their summer camp program). The director had come in to explain which couple of weeds the children should pull, and first, Emily breaks in to say Shouldn't they pull the wild onion too? And then Hazel breaks in to say We'll need gloves to pull the thistle, because it has prickers. A little while later, Hazel beckons the director over, and shows her the long root she got from a thistle plant she pulled, and they marvelled together at it.

I looked at the bed, after hearing this story. There are still patches, and it is still infested. But Hazel wasn't kidding when she told me that she pulled a lot of thistle yesterday. And apparently they don't mind weeding, as long as it is in good company, and they can be the resident experts, instead of mom.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Not neat and tidy gardening

Despite my membership in the garden club, my gardening veers more toward the surprise style than the orderly beds of lines and patterns. Surprise means that I plant the seeds, vaguely remembering what I planted last year in that spot, and then fail to label or record the seed types afterward, meaning that whatever comes up is a surprise.

Some years, I think I just end up with an edible mess. Last year, my fencing didn't go up until after my snap peas had been beheaded by deer. I planted potatoes as an afterthought, and chard, and tomatoes, all of which did well, but I was determined to do better. This year, I have thriving potatoes and dill, onions and a few lettuce (plants gone to seed last year), thriving snap peas within their fence, rhubarb, and sunflowers - all before tomato planting, which I will dare to do next weekend, a few days before our frost-free date (I'm betting on global warming giving me a few extra days).

In most of my beds, too, there is also something else coming up - weeds? Oddly enough, I don't know what the seedling is, but in addition to the identifiable friends, there is another I don't know, but hopefully will soon. It might be pokeweed, given that the compost I use has some large pokeweed specimens growing nearby, and which I have never watched growing from seed. Whatever it is, as soon as I identify it, I will have a lot of weeding to do.

Waiting, weeding, and hoping: these are my tasks in the May garden. Waiting, to see what the heck I planted. Weeding, as soon as I distinguish friend from foe. Hoping, that the garden will offer something newly appealing to my picky girls, that they will finally try my purple potatoes, that they will understand the appeal of onions, or that I can coax them into eating strawberry-rhubarb pie before they dissect the rhubarb out of it. Hoping, that the disorder will become something magical, the predictable miracle of food growing from soil.