Little Green Space
LITTLE GREEN SPACE
Originally published in the Peak Advertiser on 25 June 2012
Last year was
a good year for kitchen gardeners. The warm days of early spring got everything
off to a flying start, with bumper harvests of strawberries, courgettes and
beans later in the year.
though, it’s a different story. The cold wet weather has slowed everything
down. The pumpkins and sweetcorn in my vegetable garden, planted out in warm
sunshine back in May, are now looking very sorry for themselves. They like
things hot, and without the June sunshine that we’d all love to see a little
more of, they’re just not growing at all.
I wish the
same could be said for the weeds. They seem to be thriving in the current
conditions, and every time my back is turned there’s a new outbreak amongst
the onions and cabbages.
rob other plants of light, water and nutrients – and while the weeds in my
garden are growing stronger every day, the fruit and veg look weaker and weaker.
It’s time to
take action. As an organic gardener, I can’t tackle this problem by reaching
for a can of weedkiller – besides, using herbicides could kill off the plants
I want to grow. In the past few years many vegetable gardeners and
allotment-holders have experienced this problem by unknowingly using
contaminated manure from farms where herbicides had been sprayed.
One year’s seed
So I’ll need
to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty if I want to get rid of the weeds.
Annual weeds, such as fat hen, chickweed or hairy bittercress, can be tackled
easily enough with the hoe. The problem is, hoeing is best done on a dry, sunny
day, so that the seeds wither and die quickly, and we haven’t had many dry,
sunny days lately. When these annual weeds get bigger I can pull them out by
hand, but I must do this before they flower and set seed – there’s plenty of
truth in the old saying: “one year’s seed is seven years’ weed”.
other, more persistent weeds, too. Nettles, bramble and bindweed are all
problematic in my garden, and hoeing the tops off just makes them grow back with
increased vigour. These perennial weeds have strong root systems that need to be
pulled out. Bindweed, in particular, will grow from the smallest fragment of
root left in the soil, and I never seem to be able to get rid of it completely.
Weeds are not
all bad news, though, so we shouldn’t be too quick to reach for the hoe every
time a thistle rears its head.
A ground cover
of weeds can help to prevent soil erosion, conserve nutrients, and keep moisture
in the soil. Many weeds provide a source of food for wildlife, including birds
and beneficial insects that are the natural predators of pests.
recent research by scientists at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has
suggested that weeds are an important part of the eco-system, and that leaving
areas of weeds in gardens, farms and parks could help to slow down the decline
of many animal species.
One weed that
I have started looking at almost fondly is the dandelion. After years of trying
to get them out of the lawn, I now happily let them grow. Why? Well, for a
start, they’re good for you. The young leaves and flowers can be eaten in
salads, and the roots can be roasted and ground and used as a substitute for
vitamins, calcium, potassium and iron, dandelions act as a diuretic, flushing
toxins from the system and possibly aiding weight loss (although not if eaten as
fritters with golden syrup – see recipe below).
good for the bones, skin, liver and urinary tract. They are high in
anti-oxidants, so could reduce the risk of cancer.
really clinched it for me is that dandelions are good for bees. Sitting in the
garden in the sunshine back in May, I looked at the lawn that needed cutting and
saw that the bees were particularly attracted to the dandelions growing there. A
quick scan around the garden at all the other dandelions growing in places where
they shouldn’t confirmed my suspicions: bees love dandelions.
start flowering in early spring, and continue right through to autumn, so they
are a readily available year-round food source for bees. Butterflies and
hoverflies like them too, and a few weeks ago I saw a pair of goldfinches
feeding on the seeds.
As well as
leaving the dandelions alone, we’re also leaving a small area of our lawn
uncut. This patch of long grass has been growing for a couple of months now, and
already daisies, buttercups and clover have appeared – a mini-meadow with no
effort at all!
wild-flower meadow in your own garden could be as easy as simply leaving an area
of lawn to grow long. Or you could create a meadow from scratch, using a blend
of meadow grass and native wildflower seed.
just that at two local schools recently: All Saints Juniors in Matlock and Lea
Primary. With the help of pupils, parents and staff we removed turf and a few
inches of topsoil, then raked the area before sowing the wildflower seed at a
rate of 4g per square metre. The seed was then trampled into the soil to prevent
it being eaten by birds.
meadows will take a while to establish, but hopefully they will bring pleasure
to pupils for years to come – not to mention food for bees and butterflies.
bowlful of dandelion flowers and wash and dry carefully to remove any lurking
“protein”. Make a batter by whisking together 150g flour, 1 egg and 200ml
milk. Heat two tablespoons of sunflower oil in a frying pan. Dip dandelions in
the batter and fry for a couple of minutes each side, until crispy and golden.
Serve immediately, dusted with icing sugar or drizzled with golden syrup.