Sunday, June 10, 2007

Garden grazing

In the previous post, I mention the greenhouse surprise of non-stop chickweed. This is what it looked like up close. You can detect broccoli plants adrift in this sea of chickweed. This truly is a stellar crop. Sorry, couldn't resist the pun on stellaria, fancy name for chickweed. When they blossom, hundreds of tiny white stars appear, hence the name. This photo by
Patrick J. Alexander captures stellaria's namesake flower and it's perfect symettry.

At the time of my last post, that is mainly what my little greenhouse was growing-chickweed. A grow- it-themselves frenzy of green. Left to their own devices, Stellaria plants will climb up fences and buildings, and grow where no plant dares to go, like under the cottonwood tree out back that shades out everything.

I made a power drink by pulling up these very chickweed plants and stuffing my blender full. I just added some water and tamari. Yum. Talk about turbo-powered. Funny how world class nutrition thrives in the forgotten places, the unplanted wastelands, the gravel byway where someone threw their used motor oil, around fence posts, garbage bins and telephone poles.

The alleys and fence rows are currently full of lamb's quarters ripe for the picking at about 12-18 inches. They have big arrow shaped leaves that are slightly fuzzy. Their appearance doesn't do justice to the succulent feast contained therein. They are much better eating than cooked spinach, in my book. I steam them in a little bit of water. Later in the season, when they're bitter, I boil them in a lot of water. Lamb's quarters are particularly partial to growing around telephone poles on this side of town.

After I peeled the greenhouse off the garden, those broccoli, lettuce, and onion plants started to take off. To that I added more lettuce seed, peas, both sugar snap and edible pod, a couple tomato plants and pansies.You can see me standing behind broccoli surrounded by lettuce, both Simpson Seedless and Red. With all that rain the past few days, the broccoli really shot up. The white backboard to the former greenhouse will hopefully be covered with scarlet runner beans sometime in the next month or so.

Yep. It looks like the grazing has moved from the alley into the garden.

Not only that...Since I signed up for
weekly delivery of locally grown organic produce, I'm buried in baby greens, lettuce , spinach, green onions and radishes. This has been nipping my alley grazing right in the bud. I probably will have to turn in my alley grazer credentials and just poke around my own garden and collect my weekly bale of greens from Julian. That is until the plums start coming. Then you will see me out there with my baskets and Super 1 bags loaded down. Hope to see you then!

Photo credit for Patrick Alexander's stellaria flower: USDA, NRCS. 2008. The PLANTS Database (, 18 March 2008). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


A month ago, I opened up my tiny greenhouse that had not been heated since early February. Lo and behold! The seeds I had planted in January and abandoned in February, were thriving. Lettuce, onions, and a forest of chickweed volunteers. I built a large salad and planted more seeds. As I mentioned in an earlier post, chickweed cut fine with scissors adds an amazingly wonderful taste and texture to salads.

Now there are collards, spinach and new lettuce coming up from my recently planted seeds. In three weeks, I will peel the plastic off the green house and replant. By then, the alley foraging should be getting off to a great start. Between the greenhouse, garden and alleys, I get to fill up on fresh greens for free.

For me, there is something so incredibly satisfying about the ease of growing things when all you have to do is add water. Oh sure, there are a few bugs munching the tender lettuce. But, unless they are hogging the leaf, it doesn't seem to hurt the taste or aesthetics. I like to think of it as sharing.

The steamy ambiance of a greenhouse on a blustery spring day when the wind cuts you like a knife is sublime. A great place to hide out, meditate or dream.

Last fall, I hung a piece of 2x4 on my fence with holes for the PVC pipe ribs , attached some uprights, threw plastic over it and called it a greenhouse. Oh yes, I added a little door (it's behind the tree).

It is an amazingly simple and affordable home project for around $30, counting the seed. A little $30 ceramic heater keeps it warm through the brutal cold. I call it "going to Florida" when I open that door in an icy gale and tuck myself inside for a spell. It somehow makes winter seem more optional, being able to take a break from it. And the salads, oh how they melt in your mouth and lift your winter weary spirits.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Itching to Browse the Byways

Now that March is sliding toward April, my alley grazer instincts are being reawakened. If you read the original entry, you know that I got excited about all the free food lying around my Montana lakeside town just waiting for harvest.

While alley grazing might not excite everyone I know, food that is local, fresh and free, just about sends me into a rapture. I do love to garden. I garden with gusto, with a greenhouse. However, the pure joy of taking a walk and coming back with groceries, is not to be missed.

I had a few winter months of blogger angst when I couldn't post. In the meantime, I was feasting on the fruits of my fall plunder. A quick turn in the cuisinart turned those back alley plums into ambrosia for toast or waffles. Apples from the seemingly owner-less orchard up the hill became pies and apple-plum sauce, and collards gone wild in my two years previous garden nourished me as soups, stir fry, and steamed greens.

In March here in the mountains, gardens are still slumbering, while the alleys begin thier explosion of spring growth. Some brave souls plant their peas now. I start looking for dandelions and chickweed (stellaria). Every couple weeks, another edible green comes along ready to pick. Eulle Gibbons step aside. This smashing photo of stellaria is provided courtesy of Patrick J. Alexander (USDA, NRCS. 2008. The PLANTS Database (, 18 March 2008). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.)

Last February, I was heading over the hill to work when I spotted a stellaria crawling up the hospital wall. I couldn't believe my good fotune! I swung the car around and pirated the works before the maintenance people had a chance to poison it. Best salad green there is. I just cut it up with scissors and splash on a lemon-olive oil vinaigrette.

A south facing fence or wall will be the best bet for March munching. It is a bit early yet, but a warm stretch like this, complete with pussy willows, usually means wild greens in our very near future.

To identify what you find, check out or ask your gardening friends. They usually know a weed when they see one.

Happy munching alley grazers!