Wednesday, August 16, 2006

“One year’s seeding makes seven years weeding”, so goes the nineteenth century proverb. So when we saw our field covered in dandelion clocks (their puff-ball seed heads) soon after we’d moved in and before we’d got round to mowing the field, we were concerned. A permaculture approach is often to try to see the solution in the problem rather than trying to change things. Bill Mollison, one of the founders of permaculture, offered one example: “you haven’t got a excess of slugs, you’ve got a deficiency of ducks” (who love eating slugs!). And I remember one from my permaculture design course when Patrick Whitefield suggested that one shouldn’t think immediately of a “solution” to an overly damp area of land—i.e., digging trenches and installing drainage pipes—but rather think of it as an opportunity to plant up a willow plantation for fast-growing fuel wood.

Do we have a dandelion problem? We’ve got loads of them but they’re certainly not a problem as our ten getting-bigger-and-hungrier-every-day geese just can’t get enough of their leaves. Due to a lack of rain the grass is looking very thin and brown at the moment but the dandelions, with their long taproots, are sprouting and growing prolifically. As we move the electric fence around the field, the dandelions are eaten first and we also give the geese a bucket of leaves with their wheat grain when we shut them up in their house each evening. A veritable “cut and come again” salad vegetable for our birds. They are edible for us as well and we often add a few young leaves to a mixed salad; they’re a damn sight easier to grow than lettuce!

The name dandelion originates from the French for lion’s tooth but modern day French has moved on and they are called pissenlit here, which literally means “wet the bed”, echoed by the English folk name, "pissabeds", all apparently due to it’s diuretic properties; we haven’t noticed any nocturnal problems after eating them, happily!