Magic Gardeners Kitchen Garden journal: March 2015

[Chicklit:  no, not Bridget Jones’s diary: Magic’s foraging journal!]

Having recently weeded the polyveg bed in the Keder polytunnel a couple of weeks ago, I had been leaving well alone in there, apart from a cursory dampening. The recent very low temperatures had slowed weed germination rates right down, so yesterday I was surprised to see a mass of fresh verdery adjacent to the lush carrot tops. I swear this lot weren’t there last time I looked closely, and now there is a tangly mass of greenery sprawling about somewhat luxuriantly. Bending closer so the aged eyes could identify these intruders I saw the mass was spangled with tiny white starry flowers, delicately cupped in green sepals, and standing out on the tips of the branching greens with their pert little pointy leaves.

Ahah! A most welcome and timely invasion of chickweed!. And a sizeable crop for the hungry salad gap.

Back in the 70s when I first read Richard Maybee’s ‘Food for Free’ I really got into chickweed (and dandelion root coffee, and gleaning in harvested cornfields, and fairy ring champignons, and all the rest). We used to spend so much time foraging we were twice as hungry when we got home and shared a sautéed puffball if our luck was in. Chickweed, on the other hand, doesn’t take much effort to find. Ubiquity is its middle name (actually its name is Stellaria media). It is not at all fussy about where it grows, produces flowers all through the growing season (which is long, long, long), and is so pretty I wouldn’t insult it by calling it a weed.

Such delicacy points to salad or sandwich filling. If you want to cook it, be aware it disappears quicker than spinach when heated, so you’ll need plenty to make a dinner impact. Blanch rather than boil, and consider sautéing a few snipped chives, tree onion stems or spring onions, in butter, then add the wilted chickweed for the briefest interval. Trawl the web for ideas many and varied, including a yummy chickweed and sour cream quiche from Eat the Weeds, and remember that many lush greeneries make fantastic pesto – ee MG’s earlier blog on this site: ‘Magical pestos straight from your garden’.

What this has reminded me of are the foraging opportunities afforded by every single patch of space in the garden, let alone the hedgerow. Nature opportunising at every turn is constantly trying to present us with highly nutritious tasty morsels that require no effort from us at all. Yet gardeners still spend much of their time fighting nature for supremacy, and growing, at potentially vast expenditure of effort and money, less nutritious stuff that needs constant pampering.

Now if I let this chickweed rampage all over my polyveg bed, what will happen? Will it smother the carrots and, triffid-like, take over the whole polytunnel? Well, if it looks like totally out-competing everything, I can always cull and eat the stuff with a wave of one hand. It certainly won’t deter the healthy big stuff growing in the bed right now (leeks, sprouting broccoli, spring onions, round carrots, sorrels, tree onions, land cress, Italian parsley, chard and watercress), and chickweed apparently is very good at deterring predation on the crops it grows amongst. It is also great ground cover, and nature abhors bare soil. Chickweed locks in moisture to stop the bed drying out, which is important in a tunnel where you have to do all the watering all of the time. The dense foliage chickweed develops will stop other less desirable invaders from germinating in the top layer of soil (I seem to have inherited growing medium in my tunnel bed that contains a lot of ‘weed’ seeds).

When it’s time for the rocket to germinate (self-set from last year’s crop) I may decide to limit chickweed’s salad days, but in the meantime, it’s wilted, buttered chickweed as a bright green addition to tonight’s Welsh caul, made from the last of our shallots, new carrots from the tunnel, celeriac from the garden (needs to come out now ready for new planting), and spuds from Morgans the greengrocer – the local ones with real Herefordshire red dirt still on them. And, of course, wonderful Weobley Ash organic diced lamb shoulder. We are making the most of lamb because its time is running out at Weobley Ash. Lambing is in full swing up there, and soon we’ll be cooking with mutton and hogget (delicious slow-cook 1 year old mid-point product, halfway between mutton and lamb), perfect for those long outdoor simmerings in the kotllich, hanging jauntily from its tripod over the firepit.

Kotlich kit and inspirational recipes: forget BBQs and getta Kotlich this summer – my friend and Kotlch guru Trish MacCurrach even makes her marmalade outside in a kotlich over a wood fire in the depths of winter. Info and full range of must-haves from:

Outdoor Kitchen:

Twitter: @kotlichcook

Other inks:

Eat the Weeds:

Weobley Ash lamb, hogget and mutton:

Keder greenhouses – the tunnel that thinks it’s a greenhouse, or is that the other way round?: