Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I Eat Weeds

Ok, two years ago, the only weed I would dare to eat were Dandelion leaves - that was pretty much it. Today, I enjoy eating several and the term "weed" has a whole new meaning.

I have a job because of weeds. When you truly examine plant life, you realize: weeds are just unwanted vegetation. But not all weeds are unwelcome.

The recent welcomed additions to my diet are:

Lambs Quarters

Lambs Quarters (Chenopodium album) is common in nearly all disturbed soil sites, in perennial borders, park land and growing in areas where turf is situated. It's a heavy seeder and will self seed virtually everywhere.

I only eat these when they are young plants. I prefer the tender new leaves.

Note: I've read you should be careful with large quantities of Lambs Quarters when eaten fresh. The plant has Oxalic Acid, but the acid is eliminated in cooking.  Adding a handful to salads as a fresh, crisp crunch and mild flavour. Similar tasting to Swiss Chard and Beet Leaves.

You'll find tender, newer plants in May and June. Although, new plants are also found all throughout the growing season- if you keep your eyes open and can recognize the difference.

Notable identifying flower buds. Silver underside leaves, with silvery flower buds. When it has gone to flower, this indicates tougher leaves.
Also known as Wild Spinach, it is loaded in Vitamin A and C.


The second - Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Growing under my cedar bush, I only take a stem or two at a time. The mature, fleshy stems have the best leaves. They are quite juicy, when picked fresh.

If you are foraging, take as much of the root as possible when picking. This helps with storing and lessens wilting.

It shows up later in the season, usually by mid July. Found in nearly every growing situation.

I came to know this weed as food, when several years ago my crew and I were removing a heavy cropping of Purslane in one of our annual beds. A lady approached us and eagerly asked if she could take a bag full of our weeds.  I stopped to watch her diligently remove purslane from other weeds and gingerly put them in her bag.  I couldn't help but ask her what she did with them. English was her second language, and from what I could understand she made: 1) tea with it, 2) ate it in salads and soups and 3) used it in stir-fries.

Googling its uses, I was very surprised on its health benefits and how many Asian and Mediterranean meals have it in their recipes. Highly nutritious, it too is loaded with Vitamin A and C.

Last year I transplanted a few plants into two of my containers and added the leaves to my salads. Now I find some pop up in my front yard. I leave some stems and tip growth to full maturity, as they generate flowers and seeds at their tip. This ensures they return next year.

The leaves have a slight tangy-ness to them and a great crunch. Lots of work to de-leaf them from their stem, but I got the hang of it.

The great thing about Purslane, it is edible up until frost. It doesn't get overly woody and unpalatable when the plant ages. It regrows quickly, is drought tolerant and loves the heat of summer. Leaves are also rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

Here is one salad recipe:

Wash the Purslane thoroughly. It grows right along the soil surface. Lots of grit usually comes with foraging it.

You can eat the stems, but I enjoy the leaves more. I remove each leaf; by holding on to the tip of the stem and running my index finger and thumb over the leaves, pulling the leaves off the stem as I go down. Watch for leaf-miners feeding inside the tissue of the leaves - discard. They love Purslane too.

I generally add 1-2 tablespoons full in each salad I make.


Green beans
Cherry Tomatoes
Garlic Chives
Swiss Chard
Fresh Oregano Leaves
2 tbsp Purslane Leaves
2 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 an Avocado
Salt & Pepper to taste
splash of Olive Oil
1/2 tsp of dried Oregano flakes
1 tbsp of Black Olive tapenade
1/2 tsp of Dijon Mustard

Yum, Yum, Yum!
Next time you see it growing in between the cracks of the sidewalk or in your own garden, think twice about composting it!

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Planter Risers

One of the biggest struggles I have in a shaded garden is proper drainage for my planters.

This past June, we had immense rainfall in the GTA. 165mm worth. I never had to water my planters last month. They have holes at the bottom, but sometimes the gap between the ground and the pot doesn't allow for adequate drainage.

In the planter above, I lost one annual from rotting, even though there are 8 drainage holes.

Raising planters and pots off the ground also keep the pots from harbouring slugs and pill bugs. At night, they crawl out from beneath perfect hiding spots and devour foliage.

Having looked online for potted planter "feet", I was shocked on how much they were asking. I tried to find cheaper alternatives.

Below you can see, I used small interlocking stones beneath my larger planters and when the pot is removed, there hid the culprits. This method wasn't working.

Today, I was in my local hardware store, walking down the plumbing isle, when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted these:


Don't ask me what they are for. Just some PVC plumbing rings. $17.85 & 28 pieces later, I bought enough for my needs.

One on each corner and within 1 minute of placing them, water flowed through.

For square/rectangular pots, I used one on each corner and for the round, 3; spaced equally.

The PVC ring won't be a sheltered pedestal for these pill bugs or slugs anymore.

My plants have suffered enough.

Bring on the rain. I don't need to worry anymore.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Viburnum Beetle - Pyrrhalta viburni

Ok, this has to be the worst sight to a gardener:

Nothing breaks your heart more than coming across this sort of devastation too late in the season.

The Viburnum Leaf Beetle. There's only a handful of Viburnums this beetle doesn't eat (link here).  Unfortunately, when I first had a look at this Arrowood Viburnum in early June, it was too late. 3 weeks ago, I gave it a major prune anyway.

I had to cut the shrub down hard as a preventative. Had I done this in early April, I could of averted this ugly scene below:

Brand new, succulent growth that the adults are now feeding upon. However, the bulk of stem growth that is left has been drastically reduced, which in turn will reduce egg laying sites after mating.

A relative new-comer to North America, (originates from Europe and Asia) these leaf eating beetles are by far the most frustrating.

The adults poke and lay their eggs in the tender, new growth shoots. Here on the previous year's growth, you can see the exit holes from the egg laying piercings. 

The beetles have (in this photo above) placed their egg piercings just above a leaf node. Close to possible leaves when they hatch in spring. Smart, eh?

When the eggs are laid, there are abrasions on the stems that are not as noticeable as these. Especially, when the stems begin to harden off and go brown in the autumn. Sometimes, the tissue around the pierced holes go grey and discoloured instead of the normal brown healthy colour. Above, you can see how they look on new stem growth. In relation to my had, they are so tiny, but probably 10 or so eggs are laid in each pierced lesion.

This time of the year, the adults feed voraciously and mate. Soon to lay eggs and pierce holes in the tender stems, starting the process all over again. 

I removed as many adults by hand and squished them. Yuck. It is easier to remove the adults rather than the larvae.

Life Cycle and Treatment: It's hard to believe this little beetle could be so damaging.

In early May, eggs hatch and larvae push through their winter home and devour new leaves emerging.  They feed on the undersides of the leaves. Going unnoticed until the damage is done. In June, they crawl down to the base and sometimes fall to the ground to pupate. I've read: cleaning up fallen debris and leaves help to remove pupating sites and reduce their chance to become adults. But, I still saw adults emerging from below after doing so.

Now that I have removed as many adults as I could see, I will keep my eye on the remaining foliage to see if I see more of the lace pattern on the leaves from their feeding sites.

In October, when the leaves drop, I will reexamine the stems for egg laying sites and cut away more growth to prevent the eggs from hatching next spring.

You can use dormant oil treatments before bud-break in spring, but it will only marginally reduce larvae numbers and not kill them all off entirely.

One note: you can use some contact sprays during the larvae stage, but sooooo many beneficial insects feed off the larvae. Direct spray contact will kill them too.

Pruning and a watchful eye will save what's left, better than any chemical.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Plant Profile: Rubus odoratus - Flowering Raspberry

Choices for mass plantings can be daunting. However, if you need drought tolerant, disease resistant, full and easy to maintain shrubs; choose Rubus odoratus.

 Having learned about this plant in school, I had my doubts.

It had been given a bad rap for being aggressive in my learning years.

However, in the right spot - it shines. Large pink flowers which fade in coloration as they unfurl. Fuzzy flower buds which look so interesting, cover the entire plant. This shrub flowers from mid June to August. Their fruit are considered to be edible, but not palatable as its raspberry cousins.

Thornless stems and palmated, maple like leaves are tough as nails. Never have disease and cover large areas - keeping weeds at bay.

The plant is so versatile in various light conditions. I have had good success with both full shade and full sunny locations.

One trick. DO NOT prune back hard in the spring. Wait until the plant responds by showing bud break and growth in late spring. Only cut out dead wood. Do not shape or do not manipulate. Leave it be.

If you prune it back too hard it will begin to naturalize and run.

Here you can see a baby plant emerging close by:

This came from a running root. In this case, I left it to fill in a gap.  Like other rubus plants, they have running roots that can spread. If it does spread, it's easy enough to remove and control in spring.

Bees love their simple, open flowers.

I am convinced now of its benefits. Great choice in a sprawling area which needs coverage.

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