Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Getting the Better of Dandelions

You've got to admire dandelions. They've got a tough, fibrous root like a rat's tail. If you pull up a dandelion and leave even the tiniest fragment of the root, the dandelion grows right back. It sends up a thin little root from that tiny piece you failed to remove and over time that thin little fragment thickens until it is as thick and tough as the previous root. Soon that dandelion you tried to kill is hale and hearty again and back to the business of attracting bees and making baby dandelions. They seem to live forever, too. I've got granddaddy dandelions in my garden with roots almost as thick as my wrist.

Dandelions can grow in almost any soil, under almost any conditions. We've all seen dandelions growing in cracks in the pavement and out of crevices in brick buildings. In my garden, there are dandelions growing in moss, and in dry, shady corners with next to no moisture. Really, there is much to admire in a dandelion.

This is not to say that you want to let them grow unheeded in your garden; if you do, pretty soon, that's all you'll have. When you get rid of them, you can rest easy in the thought that there will always be plenty more where they came from; dandelions won't go extinct in a hurry no matter what you do. And you needn't poison dandelions to get rid of them. Personally, I dig them up. I spend a lot of time doing this. In fact, I find digging up dandelions an interesting diversion from writing and the business of raising kids, and a marvelous way to get exercise. The fact that I am amused and entertained by digging up dandelions is no doubt a sign of just how badly I need a life, but there it is. I'm a great believer in making the most of life's small pleasures, and you've got to start somewhere.

It's easy enough to do, even in the lawn. Just position your garden fork at the base of a dandelion, sink it into the soil, and wriggle it around. If you're lucky, you can gentle the dandelion out of the soil, slowly and carefully, then pat the ground back into shape with your toe. If you're unlucky, you'll snap the root off, but never mind: it'll take a few weeks to grow back and you can try again. The most important thing is to catch the dandelions before the flowers turn into seed heads. Blowing the seeds off dandelion heads may be one of the joys of summer, but do it outside your garden if you want to save yourself some work.

God knows I have plenty of dandelions, so I never run out of opportunities to divert myself. And here's a useful tip: you can eat dandelion greens. They're tastier when they're young and tender. Find a good strong dandelion root that hasn't been treated with a herbicide, dig it up, and plant it. When all you want is a bit of green for a garnish or the odd couple of leaves to add to a fairly blah salad, your potted dandelion will come in handy.

Hardy, irrepressible, tough, edible, and absolutely free. Yes, you've got to admire dandelions.


Though we dug them out and sprayed ‘em
And we mowed ‘em into shreds
We were powerless to dissuade ‘em
From filling up our beds
They doubled and quadrupled
And it was the cruellest thing
Oh, when it comes to weeds, I swear
The dandelion is king

Yes, we dumped on glycophosphate
But they came back anyway
So we poured the vinegar on straight
(The grass died right away)
We weren’t stingy with the 2,4-D –
It hardly did a thing
For when it comes to weeds, indeed
The dandelion is king

They were impossible to beat
We reckoned we were foiled
Until we learned that we could eat
‘em finely chopped and boiled
We sautéed ‘em and we fried ‘em
And they added quite a zing
For when it comes to freebies, well
The dandelion is king

Now we gather them in bunches
As their tender leaves emerge
And they feature in our brunches
And we’re mighty proud to serve
the weed that used to drive us wild
Yes, now we welcome Spring
For when it comes to salad greens
The dandelion is king


Eryl Shields said...

Once you've fricasseed and roasted and finally got bored with eating your dandelions yourself I'm pretty sure my tortiose, Rollo, would be delighted if you passed some his way. They are just about his favourite food and since I've had him I've decimated the ones in my garden to keep him happy.

Mary Witzl said...

That does it -- I'm getting a tortoise!

Ages ago, I knew a man in New York City who swore that his pet lizard ate all his cockroaches. I was sorely tempted to buy a lizard at the time; I certainly had plenty of roaches for it to eat.

But what would I do without any dandelions to dig up? I'd have to go and dig up my neighbors'!

Still, I'll be happy to bring your tortoise some dandelions one of these days, Eryl. There are still plenty, and they're probably multiplying even as I write.

Brian said...

Great poem Mary

Re pot-plants : many of my alternate neighbours at Dondingalong grew them in hidden hothouses in the bush . Police helicopters often flew low over my own place as they searched them out .

Not sure how many police themselves were involved in the trade , but there were a couple of shotgun murders attributed to drug

My wife's pot plants of the legal variety are causing me some problems , but that's another story -- and though the pots may get curl grubs etc they have grown no
dandelions !

Perhaps as a your own moderator you could remove my duplicate posting from previous times


Kim Ayres said...

When I was a kid it was a well know FACT, in the playground, that if you picked dandelions you'd wet the bed.

There was an old woman around the corner who used to make a Dandelion and Burdock drink. We figured she had to be incontinent anyway so picking them wouldn't have made any difference to her.

Mary Witzl said...

Brian -- what in the world are curl grubs? They sound interesting, and I wonder if I have them in my garden. I seem to have just about everything pesky that there is to have -- or I will pretty soon, at any rate.

I tried to remove your double posting (as you know, I have achieved quadruple postings before, so I am no stranger to this interesting phenomenon), but could not figure out how to do this. I will try to pick the brains of a computer savvy person -- Kim, for instance!

Kim -- I hate to think what levels of incontinence I have earned for myself, having dug up all those hundreds of dandelions. So far, I am fine, whereas my kids have never picked a dandelion in all their lives, so I think we've just disproved that theory. Or perhaps we are exceptions that prove the rule.

Have you any idea about how to delete multiple postings? I feel so foolish not knowing these things, but there it is.

Brian said...

Curl grubs is the only name I know them by . They are plump , brown , live in the soils and do nasty things to the roots of plants . If you touch them they curl up tightly . I have tried to ring the local Nursery to get their proper name , missing out by two minutes as they closed ! So what's new ?

Googling it as a name gives me an account of what in my youth were called mulligrubs , fat , white with brown heads that I think developed into our Christmas Beetle . They too curl up when touched

Neither of these is to be confused with the edible ( to Aborigines and daring organic eaters ) witchetty grub that I dug out of gum trees now and then , though not for use as any gourmet delicacy .

I'll see if I can get the right name -- grubs are pretty universal things and someone must know . I could , of course , put one in a box and let it pupate and become whatever it becomes . If I do I will give you the answer in the far future .

Just finished taping all my poems -- Phew !


Eryl Shields said...

What I really need is some seeds so I can grow my own - I can't believe that I'm saying this I actually want to plant dandelion seeds!!!

Mary Witzl said...

Brian -- I particularly resent bugs that eat the roots of plants; it seems so unfair. At least you can generally see the leaf, fruit and flower-eating bugs, even if you can't always kill them.

I've just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel 'Prodigal Summer,' which is about vegetarians and carnivores, both vertebrates and invertebrates, and the importance of having carnivores in the food chain -- especially among insects. Wish I could get hold of an army of insect carnivores to take care of my insect vegetarians!

Eryl -- In a few more weeks, you'll have all the dandelion seeds you can possibly use. Until then, just say the word and I'll dig you up some big ones. You can plant them for your tortoise to nibble on, and unless he eats the root, they'll just keep on producing leaves for him to eat -- how perfect is that?

Brian said...

Greater love hath no man than this that he should do his damnedest among nurserymen and entomologists from Departments of Agriculture to track down the elusive curl grub.

All nice people , but when did you ever get much satisfaction from folk when you try to describe a grub for them over the phone?

Best I can do-- they are probably the larvae of one of the scarab beetles , and this may be confirmed by the fact that Bet found a big black beetle under the pots as she moved them -- unusual in its shape .

We have had to use a poison to get rid of them -- but better than letting them chomp on roots where you cannot easily dig them out

Happy beetling !


Mary Witzl said...

Thank you, Brian -- I'll be keeping my eye out for those. Wish I could get your grubs to eat dandelion roots, but maybe then I wouldn't have enough bees to pollinate my tomatoes.

My father, who really preferred plants to people, used to run a gardener's hotline and do just what your Department of Agriculture people do -- advise the gardening public on the identification of garden pests. He loved this, and would bend our ears with talk of nematodes, beetles, plant parasites and viruses. If he were still alive, he'd be thrilled to have a go at identifying your grubs; never managing a visit to Australia was one of his greatest sorrows.

Jean said...

I made cooked dandelion greens for part of the meal in my Advanced Nutrition class at College and they were pretty awful. My poor roommate had the job of picking them, and she was not too impressed.

Mary Witzl said...

Hello, Jean, and welcome to my blog!

I feel like a hypocrite posting this poem; for all that I do harvest and eat dandelions occasionally, I can't say that I live on them, as this poem almost seems to suggest. They do spice up a salad, and I've heard they are higher in a lot of nutrients than even spinach or other leafy green vegetables, but really, there are only so many dandelion greens a person can consume...

But if you have to eat them, I really recommend eating them raw, or serving them in a Chinese stir fry. They're better that way than boiled!