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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wild, Native, AND Edible! Oh my!

This morning was the first lesson for our friend and new volunteer, Peter, who took in the new experience like a champ! 
Now that the students have gotten used to the Edible Peace Patch and everything involved with it, our main challenge is not so much getting them engaged, as getting them to focus on the lesson plans and not all the exciting things going on in the garden!  This normal chaos didn’t seem to faze Peter a bit though, and he rolled with the punches, coming out at the end gushing about the experience. 
Distraction number one today was a mysterious hole which has appeared next to the tomatoes.  We all suspect a groundhog and a bunch of the boys wanted to stick the hose down the hole to flush the varmint out.  Although not completely opposed to the idea, I knew this would turn the day into either absolute mayhem (if we did flush it out) or be a major distraction while we waited for something to happen, so we nixed the idea… for now.  Besides, I really wanted to focus on the lesson today, it is one of my favorites: native plants!

At the garden workday this weekend, I had noticed a common nightshade had popped up next to the fence and was really excited to show this to our class.  It has tons of berries all over it which will be ready to pick very soon!  I loved pointing out that our little berry bushes (growing in beautiful soil and getting watered almost daily) would take another year to produce and would not have nearly as many berries, while this wild native edible had popped up out of sand, was not watered at all, and still was twice the size of our bushes and overburdened with fruit!  Ah the abundance of undisturbed Nature. 
I was quick to emphasize that although the ripe berries (a beautiful deep purple, verging on black) were edible and taste like a mild and sweet cherry tomato, the plant and the green berries were toxic (a common trait of the nightshade family in general).  I think this frightened the students though and only Elijah was brave enough to follow my lead and eat one of the few ripe berries we found.  

Students were a little bolder in eating some Spanish moss, Spanish needle, pepperweed, purslane, and sour clover which we found popping up around the schoolyard.  For the grand finale we got to split our first cucumber and a bunch of purple beans from the garden!  Despite repeated calls for Ranch dressing, most of the students seemed to enjoy them straight.   
One more little joy of this morning was being able to tell concerned students repeatedly, “No, we don’t have to wash these off at all because we don’t use any toxic chemicals in our garden, so there is nothing bad on them to wash off.”  One more win for sustainability!
Weeds are in the eye of the beholder, so think before you pull up everything around your lettuce!  You could just be killing purslane… look it up.

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