Friday, August 24, 2012

Hot and Dry Garden

[Below is a short article I wrote for my local newspaper.  So far, the editor's not gotten back with me.]

A hot and dry summer keeps many of us indoors.  As a result, our gardens can become parched and overrun with weeds and bugs.  On the positive side, however, we don’t have to mow as often.  Lawns and gardens can become crispy in the heat when we don’t tend them.

All I harvested from my plantings were a few stunted tomatoes and about a dozen squashes which volunteered from the mulch pile.  The raccoons even thought my peaches were ripe before I did.  This dry hot season is still far from a loss.  Though the garden was a domestic failure, wild edibles flourished.  It takes minimal research to discover the treats which may still be in that otherwise ugly garden.

Although maybe an acquired taste, dandelion is one of the heart-healthiest plants you can eat.  After tasting lamb’s quarter and purslane, both bursting with wonder-nutrients, it’s easy to wonder why we don’t find these available commercially.  Lamb’s quarter has a generic leafy green vegetable taste and texture while purslane adds a pleasant crunch and light tartness.  Curly dock leaves are still available and they’re substantial enough you can collect a big mess in a short time.  Curly dock is much like spinach with a bit of a tart bite added.  Other “weeds” you might easily overlook are the pods from milkweeds, green amaranth leaves and seeds, foxtail grass seeds, redbud pods, multiflora rose hips and more.  The raccoons conveniently dropped the peach pits, from which, a very almond-like kernel can be harvested and roasted.  So even the peaches weren’t completely destroyed.

Hot and dry also seems to bring out grasshoppers which can eat up an already hurting garden in no time.  Now don’t retch on that suggestion.  Eating insects is where sushi was about 10 or 15 years ago.  You can already find insects at some of the more upscale restaurants, so why not try them at home?  The Johnson County (Missouri) Historical Society’s September, 1979, issue of “The Bulletin” featured an article on the 1875 grasshopper invasion and subsequent feast, right here in Warrensburg.  Entomophagy (eating bugs) is not without precedent for us Warrensburgers.

Yes, many of our local insect pests are edible and most are actually good.  They’re easy to prepare, too.  Collect them in any manner you find successful.  Kill them by freezing for about 15 minutes.  Rinse well in a colander, and boil your catch for 10 to 15 minutes.  They’re now ready to eat, but you may want to re-cook and season them to your own personal taste.  I like to marinate mine in a sweet and spicy sauce, and dehydrate them until crispy –to match the leaves and grass outside.

Our edible garden pests include grasshoppers, crickets, June bugs, tomato worms, army and cut worms, Japanese beetles (the metallic green ones, not the orange ladybugs), click beetles, shield bugs (stinkbugs), ants, walkingsticks, roaches and more.  If you’re curious about edible insects, but don’t want to catch your own, you can buy them canned and frozen at some of the bigger ethnic groceries in the Kansas City area.

So check it out.  Between the wild edible weeds and bugs, your garden might still be pleasantly fruitful.

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