Springtime has come early to Sunny Hill Farm in the high tunnel. When the weather is sunny, the tunnel is usually 10-15 degrees warmer than outside, especially when it's windy. The green things have already begun growing for the season and the smell is wonderfully warm and verdant. My daughter likes to go in there and take off her shoes, enjoying the feel of grass between her toes a few weeks early.
Spinach, arugula, mustard and lettuces are waking up and growing again from last Fall's sowing. Other green things are growing in there, too: clover, purslane and especially chickweed. These weeds need to be removed before we plant the space anew for the Summer season. I know that many of the plants we consider "weeds" are actually perfectly edible, nutritious, and quite yummy. Back in the past, many of these cold-hardy greens were a welcome addition to the diet in the earliest days of Spring, when folks were living off their winter store of starchy roots and rich meats and were ready for a fresh change. Chickweed, in particular, is especially sweet and nutritious, and it grows abundantly in a low spreading carpet.
Even though discarded weeds are composted to return their nutrients to the soil, I still look for ways to capture even more of the nutrition and resources available on-farm, to minimize our off-farm inputs, reduce costs, and keep our ecosystem as healthy and diverse as possible. One way we do this is to harvest plants such as grasses and weeds to feed to our animals, especially those who cannot always be out on pasture. Feeding the animals grasses and weeds is closer to their natural diet than grain, and provides the myriad of vitamins and minerals often needed to be supplemented else-wise.
So my daughter and I have been going out to the high tunnel daily and harvesting this abundant chickweed to feed to our pigs and poultry. I was unable to find definitive evidence that it was suitable daily for our other animals, so I only feed it to them, not the sheep, cows or horse. Many of these weeds are good for one species of animal but not others, so always do your homework and check first, being sure you have a positive identification. In order to keep the horse from getting jealous, we also grab a few handfuls of clover to give to her, too.
This time together is very enjoyable for my Gwee and me, and we are doing two jobs at once, weeding in preparation for this coming season, and giving our animals a little nutrition boost. Fun, easy, and cost-effective recycling!
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