It's dandelion season
You see them everywhere in late spring. Fields of yellow blossoms waving in the sun and warmth of coming summer. The word must be out. Bees need dandelions. More and more people are allowing at least one crop of dandelions to gracefully age into white-headed ladies before casting their future into the air and dying.
It’s a good thing for pollinators, but dandelions are also good in many other ways as well.
If you are harvesting dandelion root, you will see earthworms gather around dandelion roots for it is a natural humus producer.
Humus with one “M” is not the chickpea-kind you eat with fresh veggies. Humus is soil with an ecosystem and is the ultimate goal of most people who grow. Of course, I am not going to plant dandelions in the garden, they proliferate on their own quite quickly. But I do appreciate dandelions for their benefits.
My favorite uses are soap and dying, but I have eaten their young leaves. It’s taken a few years, but my husband now allows them to grow freely. In many cultures, the herb Dandelion was more highly valued than a green lawn.
While I realize I revisit the Dandelion every spring, it’s important information in light of the ever-declining bee population. Dandelions are a common member of the sunflower family and there are about 100 species. Like sunflowers, you may have noticed dandelions open with the sun and close down overnight to sleep. The serrated leaves reminded someone of a lion, hence the French name “dent de lion” or lion’s tooth. I have never been that close to a lion so I cannot attest to that description.
Dandelions are survivors and spread like wildfire. They do not need to be pollinated to form seeds to survive even though insects and bees consume the nectar or seed of these yellow beauties.
Because I love folklore and such, you should recognize the three celestial bodies of the dandelion. The flower represents the sun, the puff ball resembles the moon and the seeds floating away on a summer breeze (in North Dakota, it’s flat line 100-mile-an-hour wind) represent the stars in the sky.
Also, three parts of the dandelion are useful and edible. The leaves can be eaten when young as bitter greens in salads or frittatas. Also, the leaves make good tea. The root can be dried and ground and used as a coffee substitute. Green leaves can be mixed with basil and made into pesto with a healthy kick.
Blossoms can be dipped in egg white and fried or taken off the bitter pod and sprinkled over salad and such. Yes, that’s a lot of work. But if you have small children, they are attracted to the dandelion anyway. What mother hasn’t received a dandelion bouquet in her lifetime.
Do you ever try to grow something that just doesn’t perform well? It may be you or it might be it’s been planted next to something it doesn’t like. Yes, plants either love each other or hate each other.
The elder gardeners in my family always planted marigold borders around the garden to ward of pests. It works, but they have to be thick and planted annually to be effective.
Maybe hate is a strong or wrong word for plants. There is some truth to the fact that some plants fare better when interplanted or planted next to complimentary plants. For instance – I have small garden beds, the first garden we dug after we got married some 13 years ago and planted French intensive to utilize the space. The garlic was planted next to the peas. Of course, they performed, but after researching companion planting I found that garlic and onions hinder the growth of peas and beans. Sometimes things like seem like old wife’s tales, but the book called “Carrots love Tomatoes,” by Louise Riotte, gives scientific facts about how plants either thrive next to each other.
You know that motivational speakers recommend hanging out with like-minded positive people, well the same is true with plants.
Carrots love tomatoes and tomatoes love basil. Sometimes you can pair up your plants according to culinary taste. Everyone loves tomato and basil combos so it makes sense that they will grow well together.
Beans also benefit from carrots. Lettuce also grows well with carrots and radishes grown with lettuce are supposed to be more succulent.
Diversified plants are beneficial to warding off plants’ insect enemies. By planting multiple rows of various companion plants or interspersing plants in a single row will confuse insects seeking their favorite tasty treat.
Native American agrarians planted Three Sisters gardens for good reason. It was a method of companion planting at best. And, the corn, beans and squash made a nutrient rich dish when prepared together. These three plants grew symbiotically to deter pests, weeds, enrich the soil and naturally support each other. (we can investigate this at a later date).
That being said, in a nutshell, the benefits of companion planting are:
When people ask me about planting in straight rows, I simply say, “God doesn’t plant in straight rows so why should I?”
In addition to being of benefit to your garden, Louise’ book has so much more information that would be helpful to maintain your garden organically. I’m so sorry I let it collect so much dust on the shelve before I really read it.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.