Pit­falls and prom­ise in a load of top­soil


‘‘If we could get Auck­land's top restau­rants to whip up a salad of wil­low leaf, this­tle and dock leaves... our farmer friend could be the one cash­ing in.’’

Iwas quite sure I was onto a win­ner. Hav­ing a pro­duc­tive vegetable gar­den is al­most a sport in my town full of re­tirees, so when a lo­cal farmer of­fered up a trailer load of top­soil for the tun­nel house, I was stoked.

It’ll come al­ready fer­tilised, I thought. I’m bound to be in the run­ning for Cab­bage of the Year or the like, if there is such a thing.

And while the top­soil had in­deed been fer­tilised and worked up into a lovely fine loam, it also came with a healthy crop of wil­low weed, which sprung into life amongst the seedlings.

If you’ve ever grown veg­eta­bles, you’ll know the weeds grow faster than the plants you can eat - and this stuff was pro­lific. Al­most daily hoe­ing be­tween the rows be­came es­sen­tial to keep the rapidly thriv­ing crop at bay.

But if I was hav­ing is­sues, spare a thought for the farmer, who had acres of the stuff.

Over a dis­cus­sion about gar­den­ing and crop grow­ing at the pub this week, we both lamented this year’s boun­ti­ful grow­ing con­di­tions. Long fine days and a bit of mois­ture at night has been do­ing him no favours.

And the fact that he sowed grass and spread fer­tiliser in the last month, just be­fore the heat­wave hit, means the wil­low weed, or red­shank as it’s also called, is of course grow­ing quicker than the ver­dant pas­ture he was hop­ing for.

His seed mer­chant, who of­fered ad­vice over his pint, had a rather ex­pen­sive sound­ing so­lu­tion in­clud­ing sprays with names no one had heard of (let alone could spell) and he­li­copters. The news was get­ting worse. Wil­low weed isn’t de­rived from the wil­low tree, so he’s not grow- ing a crop of po­ten­tial cricket bats, and it’s a bit toxic for stock to dine on. So ba­si­cally, he’s grow­ing ex­pen­sive pad­docks full of weeds at the mo­ment.

But maybe if the cows can’t eat it, we can, I thought.

‘‘Is it ed­i­ble?’’ I asked, in a glass-half-full kind of way.

‘‘It’s quite bit­ter,’’ farmer friend replied.

I’m not go­ing to ask how he knows that.

‘‘So are radishes, but we eat them,’’ I re­ply.

‘‘So is kale, and we grew that to feed stock till the food­ies got onto it and it be­came all trendy,’’ the seed mer­chant says.

Cripes, we think, per­haps our farmer mate and I are grow­ing a mas­sive, undis­cov­ered cash crop. Wil­low weed smoothie, any­one?

If we could get Auck­land’s top restau­rants to whip up a salad of wil­low leaf, this­tle and dock leaves, on a bed of gorse and broom, served up with sting­ing net­tle tea, our farmer friend could be the one cash­ing in.

I can’t see it hap­pen­ing though. Maybe he needs some new top­soil.

Could wil­low weed smoothie be the cor­ner­stone of an undis­cov­ered cash crop?

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