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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 20 September, 2018
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Chickweed: 'Not only is it edible, it’s considered to be a nutritional powerhouse'

It’s a nice surprise to discover that what you have considered a real nuisance in the veg patch, could in fact turn out to be a blessing, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

IT’S A NICE surprise to discover that what you have considered a real nuisance in the veg patch, could in fact turn out to be a blessing. I’ve been plagued with chickweed for well over a year now in the small polytunnel.

God knows how it got in there, but clearly I unwittingly let some of it go to flower, and the result has been a persistent, interminable weed problem. It’s a formidable foe with each flower being self-fertile and each seed pod producing up to 2,500 seeds. Once it starts to grow, it is rampant and has an extensive root system that makes it hard to knock back.

Annoyingly, it seems to thrive and particularly enjoy growing right beside other seedlings making it even harder still to get at. I covered the soil in the tunnel down with black polythene for five months this winter in the hopes of getting rid of it once for all, but it’s back with a vengeance again in the last few weeks.

I recently read that its seeds can lie dormant in soil for four years. Persistent hoeing is the only way I can seem to stay on top of it, and that’s all I seem to be doing – staying on top of it, rather than getting rid of it.

Upsides to chickweed

Thankfully there are upsides to chickweed. Firstly it is a sign of fertile soil, so I suppose you can console yourself with that fact as you weed it.

Secondly, not only is it edible, it’s considered to be (to use that awful phrase) a nutritional powerhouse. This is good news indeed since I regularly find it in the salad bowl in among the oriental greens, among whom it grows happily in the tunnel. The leaves have a mild flavour and can be used by adding them raw to salads and sandwiches. They can be tossed into soups and stews as well.

Check out the soup recipe below which uses fresh chickweed soup to bring colour and flavour to a standard veg soup. Though I am always somewhat sceptical about so called superfood health claims, it can apparently be used to reduce inflammation and relieve gastrointestinal problems (yes, but in what quantities?).

Still, the fact that its edible gives some meaning to my persistent battle against it. You can recognise chickweed by its oval leaves, starry white flowers and if you pull the stem apart you find a second elasticated stem inside – our kids love that.

The Basics – Getting Ready for Carrots

Carrots are fussy and they need a deep, fertile soil to do well. Think about the length of a decent carrot and ask yourself the question – are these seeds going to be able to push down in to my soil and turn in to a nice, long carrot?

If it’s heavy and stony, they probably won’t. So ideally, the soil should be in decent nick up to a spades depth. That means they are one of the only parts of the garden where I do a good bit of work on the soil prior to sowing.

I turn the soil in the carrot bed over with a fork about 3-4 weeks before sowing – so around now is good for me, since I will usually sow my main crop carrots at the end of May. Though this might seem late for a main crop carrot sowing, I find germination far more reliable (and carrot root fly far less a problem) if I wait until then.

Also, since I am primarily interested in having carrots as a late autumn/ early winter crop to be eaten straight from the soil, I really don’t want them ready too early. Using the fork I break up any big clumps of soil, and then I leave it settle for a few weeks.

Then about a week before sowing, I will get in there and get the bed ready for those tiny carrot seeds.  A key mistake that people make when sowing carrots is that they don’t have a fine seed bed, and the carrot seeds end up being too deep or too shallow to germinate.

Raking over and back does an amazing job of breaking up the larger clods of soil, and getting a really fine tilth. I also add a general purpose organic fertiliser (a handful of seaweed dust per square yard would do the trick).

Recipe of the Week – Chickweed Soup

Have your revenge on chickweed by making a tasty, nutritious soup.  This recipe is from Ciaran Burke’s Blooms n’ Food blog, bloomsandfood.com.  Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 small potatoes
  • 1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 good handfuls of chickweed, pulled from the garden, only use fresh green growth which has not flowered.
  • Water
  • A good knob of butter and some olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper

Directions

Peel and finely dice the onion. Peel and finely dice the potatoes. Remove any big stalks from the chickweed and wash well.

I find if you fill a sink with clean cold water and dump the chickweed in, any soil or dirt will settle to the bottom of the sink. You can then scoop the leaves from the water, leaving the dirt behind.

Melt the butter in some olive oil in a large saucepan. Saute the onion until soft and golden but do not let it burn. Add the diced potatoes and stir in the oil for a couple of minutes. Now add a little water, enough to cover the potatoes and simmer until the potatoes are soft.

Then add the chicken stock and cook until it is boiling. Throw in the chickweed leaves and simmer for about ten minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove pan from the heat and use a hand blender to blend the soup.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. The GIY TV series GROW COOK EAT is on Wednesdays on RTE 1, presented by Michael Kelly and Karen O’Donohoe, growcookeat.ie.

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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