Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Bird's foot trefoil vs the Strawberries

A lovely weed, commonly known as bird's foot trefoil, has invaded and is threatening to take over the bed and wipe out the strawberries at our local community garden.

Bird's foot trefoil does have a place in the garden. It is a fabulous nitrogen fixer, it makes a great warm season cover crop and it can be used with good effect as a beneficial ground cover in orchards and under tall crops such as corn. Its good qualities don't stop there! It is good for bees and it attracts beneficial insects, it can help stabilize slopes, and it is pretty to look at. However, it grows taller and much more vigorously than strawberries--so it is definitely a weed in regards to our strawberry bed.  Meanwhile, there are varieties that are much esteemed as wildflowers by the British.

"Eyebright and birdsfoot starred the grass, and already vivid green clumps of marjoram reached up to bloom." 

 John Fowles, speaking of English wildflowers in, 'The French Lieutenant's Woman.'

There are several varieties of bird's foot trefoil, the one in our garden produces 'stolons,' which are modified stems that the plant uses to spread, much like mint. When you pull the plant up, you will notice these white runners, which are just a little thicker than its stems and roots. Those are the stolons. If left in the ground or put, fresh, into the compost they will root and produce more plants. In addition, our lovely bird's food trefoil produces 'adventitious' roots--that is to say, the above ground stems can root. And as if all of that was not scary enough, after flowering it produces viable seed.

Once you learn to identify bird's foot trefoil, you will see that it is found in various places around the garden. Here is the good news. It is easy to pull, and it is easy to shake the dirt off the roots. (Please do your best to make sure the dirt stays in the garden beds. The more dirt we get into our rock pathways, the more weeds those pathways will grow.) It wilts quickly, and if pulled before it sets seed, it can be left to wilt on the edge of the rock pathways. If you have a big pile of it, spread it out, you might have to turn it over once or twice every few days before it is all thoroughly wilted. Once it is thoroughly wilted, as long as it doesn't contain viable seed, it makes an excellent addition to mulch and compost. Just remember to get it into the compost as soon as it is ready. Weeds temporarily wilting along the walk ways are all good. Leave them there too long, however, and they start breeding slugs, and after that, they start decomposing and turning into top soil. Which will encourage more weeds . . . 

If the bird's foot trefoil shows up in your own bed, or if you decide to be the strawberry hero, you are certainly welcome to bag up the trefoil and take it away. A word of caution is necessary of you are thinking of feeding it to animals. There are several species of bird's foot trefoil, some make good forage and fodder and some are considered toxic. Don't plan on feeding this to animals without taking samples to the County Agricultural Extension for proper identification first!

Meanwhile, our precious organic strawberries are imperiled, and our coordinator has her hands full with the food bank bed.

If the weather (and memory) agrees, we will try to get a photo of the bird's foot trefoil for you on Wednesday. It looks a bit like clover, with the familiar compound leaf made up of three leaflets . . . if you check the strawberry bed it is the most rampant plant in there.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

BBQ Garden Connection

Sharing another note written for our local community garden members . . .   Some of it won't apply to the public at large, but some may prove useful!

While everyone knows there are many things we can grow in the garden that are tasty cooked on the grill or used in a sauce, some people may not have started experimenting with using garden grown natural smoke flavorings yet. Get your taste buds ready!

Rosemary is the most well known garden smoke flavoring, and we do have some rosemary to share in the garden. We have two varieties of rosemary, one is a tender version and one is more woody. The woody one is the one you want for the BBQ, and ours is a little over grown and needs cut back. It is growing in the large octagonal bed that was formerly tended by Adam and Melissa. This is the one closest to both the rows of rectangular garden beds and to Water Street. The part that needs cut back in hanging out of the garden bed. If you pruned a four inch piece, that would give you enough to try, and it would leave the rest for other people who wanted to try it as well. This is also the best rosemary for drying and grinding to use as a spice. If it turns out that no one wants it for the BBQ, maybe latter in the season someone will want to dry it for use in their kitchen. 

Another thing we have in the garden, which makes an excellent smoke flavoring is our raspberry canes! In fact, all the related cane fruits--raspberry, black berry, thimble berry, logan berry, and so on—produce a very tasty smoke. The canes themselves add fruity flavors, and the leaves which also have fruity notes, are more complex and hard to describe. If you have used fruit wood on the BBQ or in the some house, cane fruit is more like cherry wood than anything else, but really, it has a taste all its own.

I recently pruned back one corner of our overgrown raspberries in the garden, primarily to get them to resprout as more compact plants to give away through the food bank. That left a little pile of young canes with their leaves attached. Looking at that pile made me drool; however, I no longer run a little smoke house and I won’t be BBQing at anytime in the foreseeable future. If you would like to take some or all of those canes, they are on the ground between the new staked beds near the black compost bin and the berry patch. If no one is interested, once they are thoroughly dry, they will be safe to bury in a compost trench or to be clipped up into small pieces and put in a compost pile. If nothing else, they will contribute to our topsoil! Nothing need be wasted in an organic garden!

Questions are always welcome, in person at the garden or right here as a comment. In fact, if you want to share some BBQ tips on using anything from the garden, that would be grand.