My garden can tell that the coldest part of winter has passed and the days are lengthening. Our street trees (Manchurian Pear) are in bloom. My vegetables and herbs have sprung into life. The chooks have begun to lay again. The fruit trees are in bud, in flower or beginning to leaf up. Even the dye plants are springing to life. The dyer’s chamomile is looking lush:
The austral indigo (indigofera australis) is in flower, though disappointingly it lost a lot of leaves over the colder months. I have not been able to find a source of Japanese Indigo seeds and have had no success with Woad seed as yet. So this is my theoretical source of blue natural dye…
The madder has poked its head up after having died back completely. I think it might be time for me to look up when I could try dyeing with the roots… I have been growing it for two years now and divided it to give some away twice in that time, as well as moving it from one house to another. It seems to be coming on just fine. You can see from all that madder-straw that it was much bigger before the cold sent it back under ground:
And, of course, there are the buckets. On the left, chicken happiness (weeds, mostly). On the right, dinner. Since the chooks are laying and the weeds are growing and the silverbeet is in full flight, I made two spinach and weed pies last night with dill and parsley, silverbeet, dandelion, prickly lettuce and sow thistle. Mmmmm.
When I was in high school, I became fascinated by herbs. I’ve spent a long time learning about them and growing them. I used to read Mrs Grieve’s Herbal (the only one I had) back then and marvel at what a hedgerow was and all the wonder she was able to find in her hedgerow. Later, as na adult, when I took up keeping chooks I decided I really needed to learn to identify weeds so that I wouldn’t poison them. I know now that chooks know what to eat and what to avoid better than we do. I also realise that a lot of things that were growing in Mrs Grieve’s hedgerow were growing as weeds in my suburb and it was only that I didn’t recognise them. But I’ve learned a lot about weeds and their uses.
When I went to Greece a few years back I asked what was in a delicious dish I was eating, and the cook said ‘things they call weeds in England’. We didn’t have enough common language for me to understand what plants she meant or whether they grew here. It was a breakthrough for me though. I had tried eating weeds before but not found it interesting enough to keep doing when I could grow lettuce and spinach. Now that I see cooking them and including them in dishes where steamed greens make sense is the way to go… I eat weeds when my favourites are young and plentiful. The chooks don’t seem to miss the ones we eat!