Am I Working Too Hard? Bumbleweed Pesto

I’m not sure whether I’m going about this gardening thing the right way. I do hours of research through the winter to plan the garden. Then I check my reference books weekly to keep things growing well. I listen to You Bet Your Garden every Sunday on the radio and take notes.

I have been gradually reclaiming the garden from the forest. The previous owners of our place had a wonderful garden, but it hadn’t been worked for a couple years when we moved in, so the tree roots and weeds had taken over. As I reclaim each bed I dig out all the dirt, cut out any large tree roots in the way, lay down landscape cloth to keep the roots from coming back a little longer, then put the soil through a screen to remove smaller roots and weeds. As I go I add buckets of seaweed and compost for fertility. It’s a lot of work.

Last year we had a cool damp summer and a soggy fall. Many of our plants were a month to 6 weeks behind our average harvest time. The tomatoes in the greenhouse began to get color in mid-September! The plants were loaded with green fruit. I found myself looking up recipes for fried green tomatoes.

We had many meals from the garden. They were mostly fresh salads and braised greens. Cool weather crops to you folks down south. I made a couple soups with thinnings from the carrots, beets, onions and kale. One exception was our cauliflowers, which have been grocery store sized and sweeter than can be believed. But many plants were dwarfed and seemed to be waiting for a day or two of sunshine to “please come warm us up so we can grow.”

The “native plants” did very well though, especially the chickweed. This is a problem situation. Weeds that grow prolifically and dwarf plants are a gardeners’ nightmare. Creativity to the rescue!

My family happens to love pesto. Most recipes for pesto have cupfuls of fresh basil, but I got a recipe at a gardening conference a few years ago that was based on kale. The gardener who shared it had too much kale in his garden. Kale grows very well in Southeast Alaska, where basil is tricky even in the greenhouse. I was weeding the garden and throwing piles of fresh green chickweed in the compost wishing that I could do something better with them. I knew that they were used in salads sometimes, so I tried a leaf. Not bad, just a fresh green taste with a little tang. If pesto could be made with too much kale, why not make it with too much chickweed?

Thus was born “Bumbleweed Pesto.” I have been making various versions of pesto ever since. I even got my teenage nephews and niece to try it. It’s rather like a salad in a blender with plenty of garlic. We like it best on angel hair pasta. Usually the ingredients include whatever is overgrown in the garden, including kale, bok choi and broccoli that have gone to flower. Sometimes it includes beach greens like lovage. Always it includes chickweed.

This year the weather was warm and dry and the garden grew wonderfully. Even the seeds from a “Time Capsule Garden” that I planted flourished. The tomatoes were ripe in early August and I even had ripe tomatoes outside, not just the greenhouse!

Chickweed loves all weather. It grew gloriously. I weeded it out from around the other plants, but now I keep a couple designated chickweed patches for pesto.

The other night when I told Mark we were having Bumbleweed Pesto for dinner his face lit up. He even opened a special bottle of wine to go with it. Hang on—special wine to go with weeds for dinner? Am I working too hard in the garden?

Bumbleweed Pesto
1/2 cup olive oil
1 to 3 garlic cloves (depends on size of clove and personal taste)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup fresh basil or 1 T dried basil
8 cups fresh greens (chickweed, kale, chard, arugula, choi, spinach, etc.)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Blend first 4 ingredients in blender or food processor. Slowly add greens until well blended. Stir in Parmesan cheese. Serve with pasta or crackers. Works great on cheese sandwiches or wraps.

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