Integrating Your Weeds I: lambs-quarters

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I’ve written a lot at various times about the Holy Trinity of edible weeds: lambs-quarters, amaranth, and purslane. In this post I don’t plan to say anything much about harvesting and cooking lambs-quarters, Chenopodium album,  since I’ve said that already and the short version is “harvest them young, collect as little stem as possible, and use them like any other mild-flavored leafy green.” Personally I dislike the texture and mouthfeel of the raw leaves intensely, and only like them cooked, but others see it differently. This is their great season; after midsummer they are very eager to make seeds and are no longer very usable as a leafy green.

The focus today is on how to have them in your garden without losing everything else. They are highly competitive. First, don’t just let a nice big plant go to seed in your garden, unless you have a lot more space than I do, because they get six feet tall and nearly the same across and tend to flop around, and nothing else in that bed will survive. Instead, look over your self-sown lambs-quarters (which you almost surely have,) choose one right at an edge or corner of a garden bed, cut it down to an inch from the ground, and keep hacking at it until late summer, allowing it to make exactly one branch which lies out horizontally over the ground of the bed. This branch is allowed to go to seed, and everything else is clipped off. It helps if the planned plants in that bed are large and robust. All other lambs-quarters in that bed are pulled out by the roots after harvesting. Your mother plant will dry out in early fall, very unattractively I might add, and when you are sure that it’s dropped its seed, you can dig the husk of the mother plant out. This will take a lot of effort and a good shovel.

Next spring, you will see a fine mist of seedlings on that bed. Keep them watered for tenderness, harvest them at 6-8 inches tall, and be sure to pull out the roots. If you are growing other things in that bed, be sure to give everything else a head start. In the bed shown above, I hoed up the ground when the seedlings showed and planted collards and onions. Don’t worry about hoeing the seedlings. There are millions more to come.  Then I let the second wave of lambs-quarters seedlings grow up among my plantings. Today I’ll harvest the lambs-quarters, and mulch around the remaining veggies and let them take over.

No doubt this decreases the total yield of collards and onions, but if you use a rich mulch like stable bedding they will make up for the slower start, and overall you are getting remarkable yields for the space. The returns are especially remarkable if you consider nutrient density, since lambs-quarters are among the most nutritious greens that you can eat.

You should only have to do this once, or maybe once every several years. You will then have millions of potential lambs-quarters in your soil and can grow a crop of them at any point in late spring or early summer that you have a bit of empty space. Just water the ground and stand back.

The marvelous foraging guide by Dr. John Kallas called “Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate” will enable you to identify and cook your bounty.

 

5 responses to this post.

  1. Aahhhh! That picture! I love it! So many people I know would hate it. This is a fantastic article. Thanks so much for articulating how easy it is to get such an excellent harvest with so little effort. I’ll be posting a link to this on my own blog.

    Reply

    • Posted by wooddogs3 on May 26, 2015 at 8:13 pm

      Thanks so much! Yes, some people who see my garden are horrified by it and think that I lack a decent sense of shame (which is probably true.) But I love to see soil utilized and love to eat greens, so for me it works out nicely.

      Reply

  2. […] propagating it. Your soil has plenty of seeds. If there are only one or two plants, proceed as for lambs-quarters the first season, and you will have amaranth in perpetuity. I have two varieties, one with smooth […]

    Reply

  3. Posted by wooddogs3 on April 26, 2016 at 9:20 am

    Reblogged this on My urban homestead and commented:

    I decided to reblog this post from last spring because this is the time to start thinking about utilizing your edible weeds, before you have hoed them all out. Lambsquarters, I also called wild spinach, is one of the most accessible of wild greens, with a mild flavor that can be used in any spinach dish that you fancy. it grows everywhere and grows with lightning speed, and so you can get an excellent crop around your standard crops. Just be sure to harvest it at about six weeks so that the other crops in the bed get a good start. If you are unsure how to identify it, get “Edible Wlid Plants from Dirt to Plate” by John Kallas, and no doubt you will learn to identify several wild greens in your immediate area, and learn delightful ways to prepare and cook them. Just keep in mind that lambsquarters is more nutritious than many of the things you are planting on purpose.

    Reply

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