Have You Enjoyed a Garden’s Delicious Ignored Foods?

Varied Garden Produce

Midsummer. It’s the heart of gardening season as millions of Americans proudly bring tomatoes, beans, squash, and a host of other crops into the kitchen from the backyard garden.

Many don’t realize they ignore eating a typical garden’s hidden delightful food.

Most gardeners spend hours pulling and hoeing incredibly common and prolific garden weeds, only to toss them out. They make delicious food.

Here are our favorite “weeds” to eat

Lambsquarters.  The young leaves of this persistent and fast-growing plant are delicious in salads. Or they can be boiled and used like spinach.

Amaranth or Pigweed. Sometimes called wild beet. Almost as common as lambs quarters, the young leaves can also be used similarly to spinach.

Purslane. This ground-hugging hot weather weed is a commercial crop in India.   Young leaves and stems are delicious raw. They can also be boiled or even pickled.   Grit tends to cling to purslane so rinse it thoroughly.

 Crops with Rarely Harvested Edible Parts
Our favorites are

Beet greens. Beets are the same species as Swiss chard but the leaves tend to toughen as the plant grows. We use young beet leaves as we would chard.

Sweet Potato leaves.  We haven’t tried these yet but will this summer. From what we’ve read they are delicious steamed and can be eaten raw.

Squash and pumpkin blooms.  These plants usually produce more blooms than they need.  We sparingly pick and steam them for a colorful yellow vegetable.

Carrot tops.  Our master gardener friend thins carrots and uses the tops in pesto.  We tried this in a pesto that a friend shared. Delicious!

Radish tops.  Mix a few young leaves into salads. They’re spicy and add zest to other greens.

Resources

Whenever eating a new plant for the first time, make sure the identification is correct.  It’s smart to identify a wild plant from at least three sources. These might include an Internet search, a wild foods book, or identification by a trusted wild food or garden expert.  One online source is www.wildedible.com.   Once you’re certain it’s edible, eat a small helping the first time to make sure you like it and it likes you.

Dollar a Gallon Gas

Want to buy gas for a buck a gallon?  Well, you can but you won’t find it at a service station. It’s available at the electrical outlet in the garage or shop.

Battery-Operated Tools

An array of cordless tools

We switched to cordless tools gradually.

Nearly ten years ago we switched from plug-in carpentry tools to battery (cordless) equivalents. We loved them for their power, effectiveness, quietness, and ease of use. So, when battery-powered yard tools came on the market we gradually switched.

In 2018 we ditched our gas lawn mower and replaced it with a battery unit….with concern. Would it have the power of our gas machine to chew through tall grass and weeds?  Would it have enough battery storage to mow the entire lawn?

 

Mowers

woman with EGO lawnmower

Maintaining the labyrinth is work. And a way to connect.

We quickly learned our concerns were false. The mower chewed through tough prairie grass and buzzed off our traditional lawn with ease. We liked it so much we bought another one so we could both mow simultaneously. Then came a trimmer, chain saw, and snow blower that all run on the same battery system. We love them all and believe gas-powered equivalents are on the road to obsolescence.

How about operating costs?  Experts at our utility, Alliant Energy, told us that one gallon of gasoline has the energy equivalent of 33.7-kilowatt hours of electricity. As of mid-June 2022, gasoline average cost pushed to $4.60+ a gallon in Cedar Rapids. 33.7 kWh of electricity costs, on average in Iowa, $1.03. 


Operating our battery tools costs a quarter of our old gas equivalents.  

Benefits of Electric Tools

Gas and EGO cordless lawnmower

Comparison of a gas mower and the EGO cordless lawnmower.

But, there’s more than cost savings with battery-operated tools.  Here are aspects we love about our mowers, trimmers, saws, and snowblowers:

  • No rope to pull to start the machine.  We save the shoulders! Just press a switch.
  • No filters or oil to change.
  • No need to buy and store gasoline. Fuel is always at hand at the electrical outlet.
  • No fumes to breathe while operating.
  • No noisy internal gas explosions. Battery electric machines are quiet.
  • Easy to fold and store.

So, what are the downsides of battery-operated tools? We had to think about that and came up with only one thing. They may cost more than gas machines, and batteries are expensive. However, the batteries last a long time, perhaps as many as 2000 charge/discharge cycles.

The cost of electricity varies from place to place.  Utilities print the kilowatt-hour charge on monthly bills. To calculate the cost of 33.7 kWh of electricity multiply that number by your per kWh cost and add in any taxes or service fees.  Almost certainly it will cost less to charge a battery than to buy gas. 

Have a cranky old gas mower? We suggest replacing it with a battery-powered equivalent.

 

Why Did Mother Goose Nest in a Parking Lot?

Geese Flying Above Trees

We enjoy the haunting call of geese on the wing.

One of nature’s most alluring sounds is the song of flying Canada geese. Years ago, one had to travel to remote marshes to enjoy it. Not anymore, and a mother goose in Cedar Rapids shows she enjoys urban life.

Giant Canada geese were once nearly exterminated, but a small flock was discovered.  Volunteer groups and biologists carefully transplanted geese to new locations, often to urban ponds. Boy, did the huge birds ever love them!

Favorite Foraging

Canada geese love dining on short mowed grass. Lawns surrounding ponds in golf courses and condominiums are perfect habitat. The big birds don’t mind human activity or noise and have expanded so much that many people consider them pests.

Nesting Preferences

Usually, a goose pair chooses a hidden nest site. It may be near an urban area but often is in tall grass or bushes and is hard to spot. Not so one Cedar Rapids goose. She made her nest in a small island of woodchips and dandelions between a parking lot and road. Within sight is a movie theater, tattoo parlor, and medical building!

We are curious about how mom and dad plan to get the goslings to the nearest pond which is a distance away and through traffic.

Sitting, Hatching, and Raising

Goose eggs take about 35 days to hatch.  Mom does the incubation but dad is normally close by and is a good protector. They mate for life and can live for decades. When the goslings hatch mom and dad lead them to a pond or river and teach them how to find food.

Our urban goose may be wise. The major nest threat is predation by dogs, raccoons, opossums, and skunks. They all avoid busy parking lots. So the goose couple may have chosen a safe nesting location…..or perhaps they just want to take in a movie, get a tattoo, or visit a doctor!

 

Iowa: A Producer of Fine Hardwoods?

An Iowa Woodland

Harvesting Iowa Wood is sustainable.

When we tell people that Iowa is a major producer of some of the world’s most beautiful hardwood, they think we’re nuts. After all, we live in the corn state, where it’s possible to drive a hundred miles viewing only crops.

“Iowa is the sweet spot for the highest quality walnut lumber. Further north it’s too cold for the trees to get big enough and down south they grow so fast the logs contain much white sapwood and wide growth rings. Local walnut is of the highest quality, and it’s beautiful and abundant,” said Thomas Hunt as he led us through the Kendrick Forest Products Mill in Edgewood, Iowa.

Black walnut has been a favored hardwood for paneling, cabinetry, furniture, and gunstocks for hundreds of years. Its dark heartwood has a complex grain pattern that glistens with beauty. It is easy to work with, holds finish well, and is used to create furniture prized for generations.

Walnut log

Log ready to be loaded.

Walnut trees are abundant in Iowa, especially in the tightly wooded valleys of the Driftless Area. Trees grow relatively quickly and produce annual nut crops that squirrels bury by the thousands each fall. They only find some for winter snacks. The rest sprout into new trees. When carefully logged walnuts, along with oaks, hickories, ashes, and basswoods produce crops at long intervals and just as sustainably as well-managed farm crops.

 

 

Logs are shipped to Kendrick’s mill and sorted by species. During our visit, workers were transforming sugar maple logs into boards. No doubt some will end up flooring beautiful and resilient basketball courts.

Logs enter a huge machine that removes the bark and any dirt clinging to it. They then enter a powerful bandsaw. We watched Zippy operate hand and foot controls that fed each log into the blade that squared off a side. He then flipped it over and cut three more times to create a massive squared-off hunk of maple that next moved to another saw. It cuts the log into one of many things. Sometimes they make railroad ties. We watched the saw create inch-thick lumber.

Boards then go to the “green chain”, a room where workers sort them by grade and stack them up. From there they are cured in the open air and eventually in a kiln that removes moisture.

Finished products are shipped to customers far and wide. Walnut is especially valued overseas. Anyone who loves finely-crafted cabinetry, paneling, or flooring may have Iowa-grown wood processed at Kendrick Forest Products. Iowa’s more than a corn state!

Want to see the mill in action?  Kendrick’s offers tours. Information is on their website at kfpiowa.com/take-a-tour/.  Can’t get to Eldridge?  Enjoy a video tour on their website. And, learn about Monday Mulch!

Why Plant Potatoes?

Good Friday Tradition

On a cold April morning, we planted a row of potatoes at Winding Pathways. This plant has made an amazing long journey to reach our yard.

Potatoes are native to South and Central America and were cultivated by native people long before Columbus. Early Spanish explorers realized this humble American plant produces an enormous amount of food that’s easy to store. They brought potato sets back to Spain, and eventually, the plant was cultivated throughout Europe.

Productive Crop

Potatoes produce more human food per square foot than wheat, rice, corn, or nearly any other crop, so crowded Ireland embraced the plant. Potatoes thrived in Irish soil and were so productive they enabled the human population to flourish. Unfortunately, the entire crop was of just one or two varieties. Disaster hit. Between 1855 and 1859 blight killed most of the crop, which lacked resistance to the disease. It caused massive starvation and spurred huge immigration to the United States.

Early Europeans who colonized North America brought potatoes to plant in the New World.  So, an American plant crossed the Atlantic Ocean twice in its long journey.

Vandals and Hawkeyes

We both hold degrees from the University of Idaho.  It’s the potato state, and the plant loves the light volcanic soil along the Snake River in the southern part of the state.  Iowa, where we live, is the corn state, but humble potatoes do well in our garden.

We buy seed potatoes in early spring, cut and cure them, and plant them in early April.   They don’t expect much from us, and by mid-summer we carefully hand dig delicious new potatoes. Later, when the tops die back, we dig and cure a bushel, or so, for winter storage.

Expert Resource at Hand

We hedge our bets by planting a few potato varieties, and this year we’re fortunate to have a potato expert move to Cedar Rapids. Jean Contina earned his doctorate degree from the University of Idaho studying potato diseases.  He’s a fellow Vandal!  We’ll seek his advice on how to maximize our crop.

Inexpensive. Why Grow Them?

Store-bought potatoes are one of the least expensive foods.  So why grow them?

We have two reasons.  First, anything we grow seems more delicious than its store-bought counterpart. It may be our imagination but it is true.  Second, they are an easy crop to grow and store well all winter without the need to can or freeze them.  Having potatoes stored in a cool dark room in our house gives us a bit of food security in a crazy world.