Saturday, June 28, 2008

Passive Agriculture

Eat me!

Passive Agriculture . . . what a great expression and what a great idea. It's the notion that I can harvest what's growing in my yard that I didn't plant, that it actually has some use—say, for dinner!

Some people crave unbroken expanses of green in their yards, every blade of grass identical in color, shape and height, not a weed anywhere. Such yards typically are obtained through the meticulous efforts of a truckload of guys laden with chemicals and machinery. But I find that kind of yard really pretty boring. I prefer the wild 'n wooly look, with a variety of types of grass and plant life giving the place some diversity and interest. AND incidental food.

As a Southern girl, I understand the soil and climate of an entirely different region of the country from where I live now. Living in the desert just doesn’t come naturally to me, and I struggle to get anything to grow in our sandy, nutrient-deprived, full-sun yard in Los Angeles. Even if I succeed in getting anything to grow, the squirrels and possums—and rats—come through when I'm not looking and help themselves to what’s out there. So taking advantage of what's hardy enough to survive in my little postage stamp of desolation—without attracting the attention of the local varmints—is a necessity.

Let’s face it—whether you buy plants or seeds and place them in your yard yourself or you pick a few dandelion leaves to incorporate into your salad, you’re getting plants that have had the same water and care, regardless of which side of the little artificial border from the local weed-n-seed those plants grow on.

A weed is merely a plant that isn’t where you wanted it to be. Nettles, dandelions and chickweed all grow in my yard and I’m happy for that, as they nicely augment the lettuce, chard, sorrel and herbs I’ve planted. Incidentally, you can batter and lightly fry the yellow dandelion blossoms and eat them as well as their leafy appendages.

Sometimes I rely on things that were planted for other reasons. I garnish salads and dishes with nasturtium blossoms. And while I never manage to get any grapes—the birds harvest them long before they’re ripe—I pick the leaves, blanch and brine them and use them for making dolmates.

With a little research to be sure I don’t poison myself, I find grazing in the backyard to be a good way to trim the food bill a bit and take advantage of what Mother Nature offers.

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