The Virginia Creeper

Back before I liked girls, back when the tiny cone-shaped holes that pockmarked my elementary school’s windows mystified me, it took exactly 45 steps to walk from gym class to the boy’s bathroom. And 96 steps from Ms. Grey’s classroom to the cafeteria.

Some kids avoided cracks. I counted steps. “One, two, three, four, five . . .” This compulsive, hypnotic drone filled my head everywhere I went.  Fortunately, I grew out of this odd habit, but recently, a new savant tic has taken its place.

These days as I walk though our fields, eyes to the ground, it’s “Pigweed, Lady’s Thumb, Goldenrod, Lambsquarter . . .” as I scan every plant though a recently memorized catalogue of weed names.

IMG_5020Lets play a quick game.  Which of the following are weeds?

Multifloral Rose
Queen Anne’s Lace

If you said crabgrass and dandelion, congratulations, you’d be right.  But if you said daisy, you’d also be right.  In fact if you said none of them at all – you’re right too. The term “weed” is relative – it describes any plant growing in a place that we humans deem inappropriate. And unfortunately, many plants with fascinating histories and uses are lumped together in this generic category and targeted for eradication.

One such ‘weed’, Purslane, is a creeping succulent that we energetically yank from our vegetable beds. An irony, though, because it’s actually the most nutritious plant we grow, loaded with cancer-fighting Vitamin E and brain-building Omega 3’s, and it’s tasty to boot – a crisp, lemony green.

Wild lettuce is another ‘weed’ flowering on the farm right now, and it can apparently be used to make a form of opium. Extract the milky substance, reduce it to a solid, smoke it and you get a mild sensation of euphoria. More than a few of us grumbled in mock frustration at this disclosure, which was made only after we had chosen our independent projects for the year.

Yet another, Foxglove, is a stunning ornamental plant that may have been the inspiration for Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ painting.  But not because of its beauty.  Doctors used extract of Foxglove to treat Van Gogh’s epilepsy, but relief was often accompanied by the side effects of slightly yellowed vision and haloing around points of light – two attributes common to many of Van Gogh’s works. I don’t recommend loading up on Foxglove in the hopes of producing great art. Too much of it can be fatal, which is why it is also commonly known as Witches’ Gloves, Dead Men’s Bells, and Bloody Fingers.

Great names right?  As we walked with our weed teacher, Dan Green, fellow student farmer Eliza and I speculated about the stories behind such spectacular and bizarre names.  “Did the Lesser Stitchwart have an inferiority complex?” Eliza wondered.  “Was she always trying to live up to her big brother, the Greater Stitchwart?”  And what about the Box Elder, the Mad Apple, Shaggy Soldier or Everlasting?

IMG_5007This sent me into a bit of a daydream, the tall-tale results of which I’ll share here. But if you want to know the real story about each weed and learn more about their actual uses, Eat the Weeds, is a fantastic resource.

The Virginia Creeper lived in a broken-down motel on the outskirts of town.  Behind his back, the neighbors called him Nonesuch.  But he didn’t care.  He could still remember a time when his life amounted to something.  As a younger man of Nimblewill, he would venture down to the boardwalk just to sit and watch the world go by.  For hours he would imagine himself a handsome Blue Sailor chatting up all the pretty young Hay Maids.  But those days had long since past.  Ever since the terror of the Poverty Rush, he had stopped sleeping.  The memory of the Devil’s Guts splashing out on the sidewalk haunted him.  And now, his Beggarticks were so bad he dared not set foot outdoors.  Confined to the light cast by a rickety Blue Nightshade, he would scowl at the faces peering in his window sent to look in on his life of Shattercane and torment. “Touch Me Not!” he would bark sending them scurrying back into the light beyond the window. “Touch me not.”

–It’s hard to believe but there are only two more weeks of Farm School left!!!  We’re busy picking our way through $5000 tomato harvests, processing poultry and raising the nicest timber frame wood shed you’ve ever seen – But then we’re off, into the great farming unknown.  Updates to come…


  • September 2, 2013 at 5:11 pm // Reply

    Anybody interested in starting a wild lettuce farm hit me up. I’m gonna call it Iceman’s Wild Lettuce Farm. The name is not up for debate but I am taking donations and looking for investors. Oh, and there will also be an Iceman’s Wild Lettuce Farm app so if you have computer coding skills that’s a big plus. You’ll get paid in, of course, Iceman’s Wild Lettuce.

    • September 3, 2013 at 9:00 am // Reply

      I wish I owned a grocery store. Then I could order Iceman’s Wild Lettuce ™. When the delivery truck arrived, I could stand on the steps and declare, “The Iceman’s Wild Lettuce ™ Cometh!”

  • September 2, 2013 at 8:35 pm // Reply

    well hello ,from va. were is your farm at? i love growing to , not a big farm but a back yard its fun to watch plants grow and the pay off always wanted a big one but no money still have fun and eat good free food. maybe i can help you plan what and how to make money ,stores like food lion-kroger ,farm fresh is always looking for good produce .i donot know were you and your farm is but you make a deal with them. or sell at farmers markets , i hope i gave you so help. and if your close by maybe i will vist your farm..theres money to be made .just do it! have fun. c,ya.doc.

  • September 3, 2013 at 1:24 pm // Reply

    Sounds like you are eating your way out of the weeds (from the last post). Hope this season blesses you with a clear road, well marked and inviting. Live and never stop learning. I love a quote I heard a few months ago “so if you a potato farmer, and you’ve been farming for 20 years, you’ve really only grown potatoes 20 times. That’s really not a lot, and you probably still have a lot to learn”. Love that attitude.

  • September 3, 2013 at 1:37 pm // Reply

    Wonderful topic to cover Erik! Obviously important on an organic farm, to separate out what you don’t want from what you do want.

    I just found, during my book donating project, the childhood book (will get back to you with its title), showing how dandelions are most resilient in many locales – an all-time favorite of Kim’s brother when he was a toddler.

    Thanks again for your wonderful writing a la photography. One needs the other.

    See you soon, at graduation, Erik!

    our best – Kim’s mom

  • September 3, 2013 at 4:59 pm // Reply

    As the days wind down for your time at the farm – you have already transitioned to counting fingers and toes and I have started staking out my next-years dandelion garden.

    The world is a circle – the plants we view as modern day weeds are actually medicines of the past – and so they shall be again someday in the future.

    So soon you will be formulating the next huge paradigm shift in your world. Do not forget the universe is connected and there are some who view ideas as weeds while others view them as opportunities.

  • September 4, 2013 at 2:05 pm // Reply

    Great stuff … you are well on your way my friend!


  • September 8, 2013 at 4:56 pm // Reply

    Like Eeyore says: weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.

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