Dandelions Part Two

Dandelions Part Two

Today is fifty and bright. As I stepped off the porch, I checked my black berries soaking up the morning sun. I am going to have to research what they need, maybe even fertilize them, because I want fresh blackberries for breakfast.

Blackberry bushes grow in the Courtyard
Blackberries in the Courtyard

I walked into the Persephone Garden with an eye for dandelions. I am harvesting heads to make wine. Yesterday, I filled up a quart sized plastic pot with pretty little yellow flowers. As I recall, I need about 1 square foot, or an overflowing hatful to brew up this nectar of the gods. It is not easy to collect that many flowers at once, and brew them while they are fresh.

I could make a day of it, as I did in 2013, and again in 2014. I collected them from the fields surrounding Shaws Cove with my Dad, Quahog Johnny, who offered advice and support as I crawled around and foraged with the ants. After that second batch, my thirst was slaked. Elderberry, offering easy to pick fruit waist to shoulders high, famously enjoyed by native Americans, might be more my style. I planted three elderberry shrubs from Sylvan Nursery, and they have spread to 7.

Reading about elderberry winemaking, I learned the berries can be frozen at the peak of flavor, and accumulated in the freezer until there is enough for a brew. Just yesterday I wondered, Can dandelions also be frozen? If so, can I just collect them every morning from my own yard until I have enough? This may go badly, but I am trying it, and I will tell you why.

The singular reason I collected dandelions in the first place was because my dearest neighbor, who has now moved away to Florida, told me gently, as a friend should, really asked me gently, if I had ever noticed that no one else had dandelions? And then asked if I ever wondered how people felt when they noticed my dandelions? I am quick to draw conclusions, and I think I was huffy, which of course I regret.

Since then, I am stuck wondering how to control my dandelions. For me, this was a crisis, because I was reared to appreciate a weedy lawn. Every Spring, Quahog Johnny would gesture to the beautiful blue blush across our front yard and say, If we put that weed and feed on our lawn, it would kill every one of those tiny blue star flowers.

Many of my happy memories are contests with my Dad and Mom to see who could blow the most fluff off the dandelion. My Mother, would ask, Lets see if you like butter. And she would tickle my chin with a buttercup. I do not understand it, but I loved it. We would suck the bits of honey from the clover petals, and look for a four leaf trophies, which somehow my mother could always discover. Once, Quahog Johnny produced a four leaf clover, and we all cheered until my Mother noticed he had cleverly found a way to afix the extra leaf himself, and then we laughed and marveled. Even now, I wonder how he did it. Anyway, none of this happens on a Chemlawn yard. I just can’t go Chemlawn.

And I was surely not about to engage in hand to hand combat. I remember my Gram, a sweet, gentle, hardworking soul, holding a long metal rod with a fork at the end, which she muscled it into the earth. From atop her dirtied gloves, she explained dandelions had tap roots, and if you did not get every bit, they grew right back. Gram was a fighter in the garden. She squirted aphids with cigarette water. She crushed Japanese beetles underfoot on the blacktop. Watch out, she would say, as she sprayed earwigs with Raid.

I am a fighter, but not in the garden. My garden is my place for rest, and playful rejuvenation. If I do not like doing it, it can’t continue.

So, the question of dandelions went deep like a tap root. Neighbors do not like them. Fair enough. I took my dilemma to my father, who was alive at the time. Dad suggested I get a tool, called Grampa’s Weeder. It is clever, effective metal contraption fastened at the end of a stick. As you push it into the earth with your foot, the prongs narrow and close onto the tap root. And the pedal you stepped on, makes a lever to help pluck the weed out. I bought two, and Brooke liked the novelty. We gave chase for a while.

But once I hit on the idea of wine-making, I was saved. There is so much joy in hunting dandelion. Look for the yellow. Go for the gold. It is simply my kind of meditation. Yesterday, I deliberated about how to move. Practice squats? Deep knee bends? Or toe touches? I decided on stretching my back and shoulders with some sweeping forward bends. Foraging yesterday was as good as any Easter egg hunt I had been on.

Today, I only saw two yellow flowers, and I did not take them. My bag was already full with dead heads. To my surprise, the old blossoms I left on the ground yesterday, had swelled up white and puffy, and now look ready to fly. According to the internet, each head has 40-100 seeds. I might have guessed more. I think I will count myself at some point. Maybe I found twenty, but maybe forty. That is potentially, four thousand new dandelion plants.

White balls on ground are actually dandelion seed heads ready to fly
White balls on ground are actually dandelion seed heads ready to fly

Talk about hazardous waste, how can four thousand dandelion seeds be responsibly discarded? I though at first I would kick them under some mulch, as I often do with weeds. But they would only thrive. Fortunately, I have a super weed containment disposal plan.

It is a dug in Rubbermaid barrel, partly covered by an ornamental quince. All but invisible, it is where I brew compost tea. It stinks when opened, so I do not open it often. I put into it my worst weeds, bittersweet, greenbrier, the ones that cannot be trusted to compost nicely, and after several weeks, they are rendered to nutrient rich water and slime. It is the best liquid fertilizer.

New weeds to be added into the Rubbermaid barrel for compost tea
Dandelions seed heads added to Compost tea

Thank you, dandelions for sprouting in my yard. With your flowers, I plan to make Hansie 147, a wine that tastes like summertime. I accept your potent nutritious leaves, and potent procreative seeds, your beauty, your grandeur for my compost tea. May your goodness be leached into my Plant Elixir. My heart is full of gratitude, hope and faith for all the goodness of this Earth. Amen.


Barbie Burr

Barbie Darwin Burr was born in La Jolla, California into a Navy family. Moving every year made gardening difficult, but not impossible for her father, a disciple of Scott and Helen Nearing and a man with a vast ability to imagine and create.

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