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?