Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A salad we didn't plant

Well, this blog has been mostly dormant since its inception, but I've decided to make a stab at posting regularly. So here goes a quick entry to start things off, and I have some further posts in the pipes that will hopefully show up here soon as well.

My parents bought the house we currently live a few years ago. At the time, the soil was fairly degraded, and apart from a lawn in need a good dethatching and your usual smörgåsbord of overutilized shrubs and trees, the flora consisted primarily of invasive European grasses, annuals, and a particularly obnoxious species of sorrel (Oxalis pes-caprae). Since then, the yard has been divided into several zones marked by various phases of ecological warfare. Our eventual goal is to have a rain-fed, low-maintenance garden that supports native wildlife
[1] and produces food. Toward that goal, we have begun an aggressive but organic campaign of weed suppression and soil improvement. In the photo below you can see a stand of "green manure" in our side yard.

These plants, which include nitrogen-fixing fava beans (Vicia faba) and vetches (Vicia sp.), are then dug into the ground before setting seed, adding valuable organic matter to the soil. We then cover the soil in a thick layer of straw (foreground in picture), which helps suppress weeds until we are ready to landscape.[2]

Anyway, today I was scything[3] the patch of green manure in the photo above, and realized I was mowing a fair amount of miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) that was growing in the understory of the larger plants. My brother John had planted this California native from seed less than two years ago in a nearby bed, and it had spread prolifically.

Well, as the name implies, miner's lettuce happens to be one of the ~1000 California native plants that are edible. Without much trouble, I harvested enough plants from 3 square feet to make several salads over. For dinner we chopped up a portion of this, and added greens or flowers from four other weedy non-natives: Common chickweed (Stellaria media) tastes much like the Claytonia, Oxalis leaves add a tart zing, and borage (Borago officinalis) and nasturtium (Tropaeolum sp.) flowers add color:

All around a great crispy and refreshing salad, and all of it from naturalized plants!

[1] In our case, we live half a mile from the nearest extant native habitat, so local wildlife means mostly birds and microfauna such as insects.
[2] Since we are currently also beginning a renovation of the house, we are holding off installing much of our permanent landscaping, to avoid having transplants crushed by contractors.
[3] Yup, my mother owns a honest-to-goodness scythe. Not only is it the most efficient and quiet weed-mowing tool I've ever used, it is by far the most fun!!

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