Monthly Archives: June 2016

Weeding To Mulch, Mulching With Weeds

Made some good progress in the Popcorn Patch today.  Well OK it’s more of a row than a patch; and I’ve interplanted some snow peas and cucumbers.  I got the weeds out of a good chunk of the row; then watered thoroughly, then laid some mulch down.  For those of you who don’t know, laying mulch down after a good rain (or in this case, watering) will help keep the soil moist; and it also prevents weeds from taking over again.  An added bonus is that mulch will also enrich the soil as it decomposes.

For many years, I’ve been mulching with whatever leaves I can get.  Come fall, I travel around the neighborhoods with my trailer and pick up as many bags of leaves as I can,  This of course has to happen after I help my Honey Pie get the leaves off the lawn at our house.

I didn’t get as many leaves last year as I was hoping; and I’ve used some already.  However,  I’ll need the rest to make “leaf dust.”  I pulverize leaves with our lawn mower and then sift the leaves to get a nice pile of really small particles.  That’s the perfect stuff for getting in between the carrot seedlings you see.  Anyway, I didn’t want to use up all my leaves, so I pondered a bit on what to use as mulch for the popcorn,

Our trailer is full of wood chips right now for my Beautiful Honey Pie’s ornamental gardens.  I’ll use some too, for covering my walkways in the vegetable garden.  But since the trailer is full, I won’t be using it to get more mulch right now.  During this time of year everyone’s bagged leaves are long gone, so I’ll go after lawn clippings.  Those are in bags too, but again, I need the trailer to go get them.

The answer:  use weeds for mulch!  Say what??  Well you see we are blessed with 5 acres, and although we only use a fraction of it; there are lots of “wild” places where all kinds of things grow.  One area behind the vegetable garden is near our pond.  I’ve mowed the monster weed growth a couple times; and have even planted some squash down there.  But there’s also a large stand of very tall weeds down there.

Today, the light bulb lit up inside my tiny brain.  Might as well use those weeds for mulch!  So I grabbed the wheelbarrow and the sickle that our Good Friend Mike gave me; and got to hacking weeds.  Also cut some new growth off the sumac saplings that were down there.  Turned out to be the perfect material for mulching behind the corn.  The photos below are not the best quality because I took them with my phone, but you can click them to get a better view.








I showed my beautiful girlfriend my idea and she was a little doubtful.  “Won’t they make more weeds?” she asked.  A very good question!  The key to using weeds for mulch is to:  1)  make sure the roots are removed first and Q) make sure you don’t use any weeds that are going to seed.  Flowers are OK, but seeds are not so good.

Because the weeds I used are green, they won’t rob any nitrogen from the soil.  They may even add some.  And the worms will love my offering.  And to top it off, all I have to do is wait, and I’ll have plenty of new mulch growing in the back!

Popcorn: A Really Fun Crop

I love growing a little bit of everything; and popcorn is one of my favorite toys in the vegetable world. Only problem is: I don’t really have enough space to grow a lot of popcorn; but because it’s so much fun I’ve been hooked on raising it these past several years. Before popcorn I grew some sweet corn, but here in Beautiful West Michigan sweet corn is very plentiful and inexpensive come harvest time.

My garden is about 50 long and about 20 feet wide. As I said, I like to grow a little bit of everything; most of which is in beds rather than rows. Through companion planting and crop rotation, this method has given me pretty good yields over the years.

To save space in the garden, I only grow one row of corn. Often I’ll interplant beans and cucumbers with the corn to make maximum use of the space. Beans will make nitrogen with their roots, which of course benefits the corn. Cucumbers will shade the corn roots and help keep weeds out and conserve moisture. In turn, the corn provides some shade for both the beans and cukes; as well as some wind protection.

However, with only one row of corn; pollination can be uncertain. That means I have to help the corn pollinate if I want the cobs to be full of kernels. With multiple rows of corn this is usually unnecessary, because the pollen density is high enough to pollinate the corn.

The tassels make the pollen which falls onto the silk to make corn babies. As soon as the silk pokes out of the ears, I skim some of the flowers off the tassel and rub it on the silk. Then I repeat this every couple days or so until a) the tassels quit making pollen or 12) the silk starts to turn brown at the end. This process can be used if you have even less space than I do. In other words, even if you only have enough room for one plant, pollinating the corn by hand will ensure you get cobs full of kernels. If pollination doesn’t happen effectively, you’ll still get a cob but very few kernels.

Here’s a video I made awhile ago that shows how I help the corn pollinate:

Once pollination is finished it’s just a matter of waiting for fall to arrive. I wait for the ears to turn brown; and then I make sure I pick them when the weather is dry to prevent molding. Then I pull the husks back (but not off) so the corn will dry.

After the husks are pulled back, I’ll lay a length of bailing twine (string works fine too) down on a flat surface; and place 6 to 8 cobs down with the husks positioned so they all lay on top of the twine. Then I pull the twine up and tie the husks together tightly so they can be hung up. I make sure the twine is a bit longer than needed so hanging is easier.  Each year I hang the bundles on a coat rack that stands near our pantry.  Click the image below for a better look.

A coat rack with lots of hangers has been commandeered and renamed "The Popcorn Tree."

A coat rack with lots of hangers has been commandeered and renamed “The Popcorn Tree.”

I keep the ears in the house to prevent mice from chowing down on my popcorn. After about a month or so the popcorn is dry enough to cook. Before Santa Claus brought me a corn sheller, we’d leave the cobs hanging until we wanted some. Then I’d just pull one cob at a time from its husk (and off the bundle). To remove the kernels, I’d get a deep pan or plastic storage container; then hold the cob toward the bottom of the container and rub my thumb forcefully over the kernels to get them off the cob. Doing it this way prevents kernels from flying all over the place; as they tend to shoot off the cob when they’re dislodged. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s a good idea to wear work gloves while doing this!  Otherwise, you’ll get ouchy hands.

Now that I’m blessed with a corn sheller I can process lots of cobs much more quickly. We get about 10 pounds a year, and believe me, you don’t want to shell that much corn with your hands alone.

One good sized ear of popcorn yields enough to make a pretty good sized bowl of deliciousness when popped. We use an air popper, but everyone has their favorite cooking method.

After all that, it’s time to melt about a tablespoon of butter and drizzle it on top; followed by some garlic powder, salt, pepper, maybe even some cumin. Depends on our mood. Then I put a bowl of equal size on the top as a cap and shake until the seasonings are mixed with the popcorn thoroughly.

And you know what?? HOLY MOLY IT’S GOOD!!

Makes you want to settle in and watch a movie or something, doesn’t it??

Did You Eat Your Weedies Today?

Anybody remember that old commercial slogan, “did you eat your Wheaties today?” Well if you do, you may not want to admit it; because it means you are getting older. Maybe not as old as me, though. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m old enough to remember when The Beatles came to the US on the Mayflower!! Sure, I can remember that; but I can’t for the life of me remember when I had my last bowl of Wheaties.

Well, this post is about a bowl of “Weedies.” Yes, I’m talking about just what you might think that means. During this time of year, I’m known to feed weeds to my to my Beautiful Girlfriend and our family.  We’ve eaten them many times, and we all survived! Yep… I’ve made many a “skillet dinner” and weeds that I harvested from the garden were thrown in there for extra yumm and nutrition.

My two favorite weeds from the garden are delightful, annual “volunteers,” as Grampa Bunny would call them. In other words, I didn’t plant them… they just magically appeared from somewhere. Some of you may recognize them: lamb’s quarters and purslane. Click on the images for a better view.

Lamb's quarters above, purslane below.

Lamb’s quarters above, purslane below.

purslane6-28-13 - compressed

A closer view of purslane.

Before I knew better, I spent several years cursing their very existence. Now we are glad to see them because they are one of the first things that are ready for picking in the garden. But one may well ask, “ummm first things ready in the garden?? Aren’t they weeds??” Well lots of folks call them weeds, and as I said, I thought that way also. Then I learned that both plants are not only edible; but taste pretty darn good! And an added bonus is they are packed with vitamins and minerals!! And to top it off, purslane has the highest concentration of omega-3 fatty acids of any leafy food plant.

Yet another cool thing about purslane:  it’s a succulent, which means it requires very little moisture to survive.  It lays pretty flat to the ground and becomes a sort of “living mulch” as it spreads.  This is good for the plants I actually wanted to grow.

Lamb’s quarters have been eaten by humans for thousands of years, and have even been cultivated as a food crop.  Just like purslane, the leaves and tender parts of the stems are of course edible, but lamb’s quarters seeds are very nutritious too.  Those are great in soups and stir fry dishes (can you tell I like skillet recipes?).

But hey, we just eat them because they’re yummy. We like lamb’s quarters and purslane either cooked or raw in salads.   Sometimes I’ll bring them to work for lunch. I think my friends at work are beginning to wonder whether I’m from a different planet. I often kick off the silliness by announcing what I’m going to eat:

“I’m having weeds today… anybody wanna try some? I picked them from the garden.”

“You actually eat the weeds??”

“Oh yeah,” I reply. “I actually mulched some of the purslane because it was doing really well. I wanna get some more of that stuff.”

Then comes a few quizzical looks, and the question, “you actually want weeds to grow in your garden??”

“Only the good ones,” I say, smiling. Then the person or people will get a glazed look over their face… and I can tell they don’t really want to know any more.

There is hope for us “weed eaters,” though.  Restaurants, for example, are getting interested in wild foods again; and “weeds” like lamb’s quarters and purslane have gained recognition as valuable additions to various dishes.   Apparently they’re even being sold at local markets!!  One year our daughter confessed that she paid $4.00 / lb for lamb’s quarters.  I couldn’t help but chuckle when I heard that, and told her I had all she would ever need for free.  This year I did try to sell her some at $3.00 / lb; but she wouldn’t take the bait.

Oh well, maybe when I retire I’ll try selling some weeds.  I’ll need the money a lot worse then I’m sure.  I can picture it now… a customer leaves my house in a hurry with a bag full of purslane on the front seat.  They get stopped by the police for speeding, and the officer spies the produce and says, “what’s that on the seat there?”

“Oh nothing officer, I just bought a bag of weeds.”