Organic Gardening
Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Planting Leeks


Overwintered leeks, photo by Twin Oaks Community 

Unlike onions, leeks grow independently of day-length and will stand in your garden at temperatures colder than many other vegetables can handle, getting bigger until you harvest them. A flexible harvest date during fall and winter is a boon to gardeners seeking a steady supply of vegetables. Planting dates can be chosen to suit your climate. Both the white and the green parts of the leek are delicious. Only the tougher parts of the outer leaves need to be composted. Late spring or early summer is the time to transplant leek seedlings started earlier in spring. That is the aspect of growing leeks that I'll cover in this post.

Photo by Small Farm Central 

Leek Varieties

Leeks come in two main types: the less hardy, faster-growing lighter green varieties, which are not winter-hardy north of Zone 8. We like Lincoln, and King Richard (both 75 days). They are hardy down to 12°F (-11°C). American Flag aka Giant Musselburgh (105 days) is good for overwintering in climates milder than our 7a. It and Jaune du Poiteau, are hardy to 10°F (-12°C).

The blue-green hardier winter leeks such as Bulgarian Giant, Laura, Tadorna (100 days) are hardy to 5°F (-15°C). For winter leeks we also like King Sieg (84 days) and Bleu de Solaize (105 days) and Bandit (120 days). A few leeks (Alaska, Durabel) are hardy down to 0°F (-18°C).

Crop Requirements for Leeks

Leeks do best in well-draining soil rich in nutrients, with a pH of 6.5, and good sunlight. Ideal growing temperatures are 55°F–75°F (13°C–24°C). Growth is slow above 77°F (25°C), but the plants do not deteriorate and will resume growth when cooler weather arrives.

Growing Leeks from Seed

If you have a long enough growing season and don’t want leeks in summer, you can delay sowing till March as we do. We transplant in late May or early June, in beds cleared of early spring crops. People with a longer growing season (zones 8–9a) can plant two crops: the first 12–14 weeks before the last spring frost, and the second in mid-July, to transplant in late September or early October. In zones 9b–11, sow only in July, and use a bolt-resistant variety for leeks to harvest in the new year.

Step-by-Step Leek Planting Instructions

The ideal leek size for transplanting is between a pencil lead and a pencil in thickness. We plant at 6" (15 cm) spacing, four rows to a 48" (1.2 m) bed. People wanting really huge leeks use wider spacings. We use a special planting technique, in order to develop long white shanks, which are prized more than the equally edible green parts. If you have a crew, divide up and specialize. If not, take it one step at a time.

1. If the soil is dry, water it well, preferably the day before.

2. Make parallel V-shaped furrows, 3" (8 cm) deep, along the bed.

3. Set out a fiberglass tape measure along one row.

4. Make holes 6" (15 cm) apart in the furrows. Use the tape measure for one row and then eyeball the other rows to offset the leeks in alternate rows. The best tools for this job are homemade “dibbles” or dibblers made from broken shovel or digging fork handles, with the end sharpened to a point. The tool needs to have a diameter of 1.5–2" (4–5 cm). The depth of the holes is determined by the height of the transplants, and probably needs to be 3" (8 cm) or so.

5. If the holes cave in, stop and water the soil more before proceeding.

6. Transfer some leek seedlings from open flats or a nursery seedbed to a small bucket containing an inch or so of water. We make buckets from one-gallon (four-liter) plastic jugs with the top cut off. A rope handle knotted into holes at the top of the new bucket makes it easy to carry.

7. Resist any temptation to trim either the roots or the tops of the leeks.

8. To transplant, take a leek plant, shake it free from its neighbors and decide whether to plant it. Discard the ones thinner than pencil leads. If the plant is a good size and looks healthy, twirl it as you lower it into the hole to prevent the roots folding back on the plant and pointing at the sky — they need to grow downwards. This works best if the roots are still wet and muddy from the water bucket. Bobbing the plant up and down as you settle it in the hole will help a transplant that has slightly bunched roots.

9. If at first you don’t succeed, remove the plant from the hole, dip it back in the water and try again. Soon you will develop this quirky planting skill, and will be able to move along the row at a good pace. Ideally just the tips of the leaves will poke out of the holes, not more. Get the depth of the hole-making adjusted to suit the prevailing plant height. The furrow-and-hole combination creates the depth for growing a long white shank.

10. Surprising as it may sound, it is not necessary or desirable to fill the holes with soil (you don’t want to bury the seedlings). The soil fills in naturally as the plants grow tall enough to survive the depth.

11. Next gently fill each hole with water, either from a low-pressure hose or watering can. The goal is to water the plant roots, adding little or no soil to each hole. The shelter of the hole helps the plant get over the transplant shock, and because leeks have slender tough leaves, they do not lose a lot of water by transpiration. This means that transplanting is possible in quite hot weather.

12. Keep the soil damp for several days after planting,

13. Then give one inch (2.5 cm) of water per week as needed.

14. Like other alliums, leeks do not compete well with weeds, so hoe as needed, at least once a month. Hoeing will help fill the holes.

Some people hill up their leeks, but with this method it is not necessary. Our method avoids the problem of soil getting above the point where the leaves fan out from the stem, which makes them very hard to clean later.

Pam Dawling works in the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs. Pam also writes for Growing for Market magazine. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available at, Pam's blog is on her website and also on

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Thin Fruit to Create a Better Harvest

Apples, pears and some other tree fruits will naturally drop their fruits in early summer during the so-called ‘June drop’, but further thinning by the gardener can improve the quality of the harvest.

Thinning out fruits prevents them from rubbing together, which can cause wounds that provide entry points for diseases such rot. It also avoids the phenomenon known a ‘biennial bearing’, where trees crop heavily one year, only to produce very few fruits the next. Some fruits, especially plums, can become too heavy if they aren’t thinned out, with the result that branches may not be able to take the strain and will snap.


Thinning gives fruits plenty of room to grow into bigger, healthier fruits that are more useful than lots of tiny ones.

Thinning Apples

You’ll need a sharp pair of pruners to thin apples, or if the fruits are really close to each other scissors may prove easier. Thin to just one or two fruits per cluster by first taking out any misshapen, damaged or diseased fruits, then removing the smallest fruits and any that are badly placed. Thin until only the biggest and healthiest fruits remain, spaced 4-6 inches apart for dessert varieties, or 6-9 inches apart for cooking types.

Thinning Other Fruits

Pears: It’s less crucial to thin pears than apples, but thinning will help produce consistent harvests. Thin fruits clusters to two fruits, with 4-6 inches between fruits.

Plums: Plums can be thinned using just your thumb and finger. Leave one fruitlet every couple of inches, or one pair every six inches if it’s easier.

Peaches: Thin in stages. Once they reach the size of a hazelnut, thin to one fruit every four inches. Thin again when the fruits are golf ball size to their final spacing of 8-10 inches.

Nectarines: Thin once, to six inches between fruits.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

How to Use a Farmer’s Almanac

Farmer's Almanac 2 Options 

Predicting the weather has been a mild obsession of mankind’s since the first cavemen got caught in a storm. (Okay, maybe that’s not the exact reason… but we’re making a confident assumption here). There are numerous global – even galactic – variables that affect weather, and each is affected by their own set of conditions. Furthermore, the weather isn’t restricted to any one consistent pattern, which means predictions made on historical data are far from definitive. Forecasting the weather weeks or months into the future for purposes of gardening is a bit like gambling, and sometimes the table goes cold.

However, an educated guess based on what is known about the weather – historical and regional trends, scientific research, etc. – can reveal what is most likely to happen. Going back to the gambling metaphor, a card shark using strategy and knowledge may not be able to predict the cards with absolute precision, but they can get pretty darn close. That is what a gardener’s trusty friend, Farmer’s Almanacs, do. They offer high-probability regional weather predictions that won’t always be exact but are very often in the ballpark.

Gardeners who want to successfully grow year-round need to know what climate changes they are up against. Will it be hotter or cooler than previous years? Will more or less precipitation allow me to grow during the summer? Instead of turning to a crystal ball, they use the Farmer’s Almanac.

Know the Difference between the Two

The Farmers’ Almanac and The Old Farmer’s Almanac are often referred to as one and the same, but they are actually different resources. Created within 30 years of one another, they both claim 80% accuracy and use protected secret methods to predict the future of our climate over a year in advance. Before using one of these almanacs, it’s nice to know how the predictions are formed.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac:

Established in 1792 by Robert B. Thomas

Predicts weather 18 months in advance for 18 U.S. regions

Predictions based on solar activity, weather patterns, and meteorology

Incorporates satellite data, ocean temperatures, and new weather-reading tech

Their secret forecasting formula is locked in a literal black box in Dublin, New Hampshire.

The Farmers’ Almanac

Established in 1818 by David Young

Predicts weather 18 months in advance for 7 U.S. climate zones

Predictions based on mathematical and astronomical formula involving solar activity, lunar activity, and the position of planets.

Does not incorporate satellite data or new-weather reading tech

Secret forecasting formula known by Caleb Weatherbee – a pseudonym for the Farmers’ Almanac’s weather professional

How an Almanac Help Your Garden

Garden plants are sensitive to their environment and can thrive or die depending on the weather. When to sow plants depends on final frost dates, too much water can drown plants, and too little can starve them. Higher than normal temperatures can wilt or bolt, and lower than normal can freeze plants. Taking into account weather forecasts is an important aspect of gardening if you don’t want to be caught unaware and potentially see your plants die.

Both Almanacs are helpful in projecting what’s to come. As stated earlier, they might not always be perfectly accurate, but it’s better to prepare and have a guideline for gardening plans.

What’s the 2018 Forecast

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, summertime should bring below-average temperatures to the west coast, Hawaii, Colorado, and most of Texas. The rest of the U.S is expected to suffer from hotter-than-average temperatures.

As for precipitation, most of the southeast U.S. and southern U.S., like Texas, are going to receive above-average rainfall, while the rest of the U.S. is looking at below-average rainfall.

Hurricanes – affecting the western and central Gulf regions as well as Florida to North Carolina – will most likely occur between August and September.

For more detailed information, you can find the Old Farmer’s Almanac here and The Farmer’s Almanac here.  Choose your favorite and put their information to good use in growing your best garden yet!

Theresa Traficante, Founder at notes: “Being located in Florida, the biggest concern for my garden is usually heat. I like growing lots of greens (mustard, kale, spinach, swiss chard) in our raised gardens, but greens don’t do too well with temperatures consistently above 80 degrees – they go through what’s known as bolting. Farmer’s Almanac’s come in handy for me to predict when spring will begin to consistently hit those higher temperature and when fall will make its way out of them so I can plan my planting.”

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

All About Sowing and Harvesting Cucumbers

Photo by Getty Images/Garsya

Some cucumbers, often called ‘ridge cucumbers’, can be grown outdoors in cooler climates, and are often rough or spiny-skinned. Greenhouse cucumbers produce smoother fruits but do require extra warmth and protection for success. There are also varieties that can be grown both inside and out.

Sowing Cucumbers

Sow cucumbers into small pots of seed starting or general-purpose potting mix. Either start them in a propagator, or wait until late spring. Cucumbers need temperatures of at least 68ºF to germinate.

Sow two seeds about an inch deep, then water well. Once the seedlings appear, remove the weakest to leave one per pot.

Growing Greenhouse Cucumbers

Plant greenhouse cucumbers in beds, large containers, or growing bags. Train the vines up supports such as bamboo canes, vertical wires, or trellis. Pinch out the growing tips when they reach the top of their supports to encourage side shoots. Pinch out the side shoots after each developing fruit so that two leaves remain beyond each fruit.

Don’t allow cucumber plants to dry out. Fertilize them every two weeks with a high-potassium liquid fertilizer.

Remove all male flowers from greenhouse cucumbers to prevent bitter-tasting fruits. Female flowers have a small swelling at the base of each bloom, while male flowers have none. Some varieties only produce female flowers.

Growing Outdoor Cucumbers

Transplant outdoor cucumbers once the soil has warmed in late spring or early summer. Gradually harden plants off for a week or two first – a cold frame is useful for this. In warmer climates, sow seeds direct where you want them to grow.

Cucumbers need a fertile soil, so add plenty of well-rotted rich organic matter such as compost before planting. If you’re growing your cucumbers upwards using supports, grow plants 18 inches apart, or if you’ll be leaving them to sprawl over the soil surface instead, plant them three feet apart.

Pinch out the growing tips after six leaves have formed to promote fruiting side shoots. Tie climbing cucumbers in to vertical supports.

Make a Cucumber Frame

A cucumber frame is a great way to grow cucumbers. To make one, stretch chicken wire or netting over a simple wooden frame and staple or nail it on using U-shaped nails. Make an A-shaped frame using sturdy bamboo canes, then prop the cucumber frame against it at an angle.

This arrangement means that you can grow salad leaves such as lettuce in the shade of the cucumbers – great for growing cool season crops in hotter climates.

Harvesting Cucumbers

Harvest cucumbers while they’re still small and tender using a sharp knife or pruners. Pick regularly to encourage more fruits. Harvest in the morning if possible, while it’s still cool. Pick gherkin varieties when they are about an inch long for crunchy cornichons, or three inches long for larger pickles.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

Consider Adding Borage To Your Garden

Borage in bloom

Borage is a plant I like to have in my gardens. Not just because it can be eaten, (which it can) or used for medicinal purposes (which it also can), but because it works wonderfully at attracting beneficial insects and at adding nutrients back into the garden.

Borage (Borago officinalis) is an annual that can either be directly sown outdoors in late spring or started earlier indoors and then transplanted. If you wish to have borage in a certain location in your garden, it is best to start it indoors and then transplant. The plant has a long taproot and is best sown in a fiber pot, which can then be placed directly into the ground as the seedling matures. Borage likes full sun to part shade and has no special soil needs. It is a resilient plant and can withstand either extended wet or dry periods. A mature plant is rather bushy, so take into account its mature height (3 ft) and spread (2ft) when planning its future location. It’s growth habit also makes it susceptible to being blown over by the wind.

Although an annual, borage will readily reseed itself. Each year I have a handful of volunteer seedlings that pop up throughout my gardens. I tend to leave only one or two to grow where they wish so long as they are not in an inconvenient location. The others I pull up and add to the compost pile. Because it proficiently reseeds itself, you may find you need to only introduce borage to your garden once.

Borage for Beneficial Insects

 The blossoms of borage protrude above its large leaves and are easy for pollinators to spot. The blue, star-shaped flowers continue blooming throughout the summer, providing a continuous source of nectar for pollinators. Bees in particular visit borage often because they find the blue hue particularly attractive. Borage has the nickname of bee plant and is placed in pollinator gardens. It works well as a companion plant to strawberries, tomatoes, and squashes. It can grow up to 3 feet in height and its tempting blue blossoms dangle above its companions, luring pollinators to itself and its neighboring plants.

Predatory insects are also drawn to borage. The large, oval-shaped leaves have a fuzzy coating and are excellent locations for these insects to hide. Lacewings will choose it as a host for their eggs. In contrast, the insects we consider pests in our gardens tend to be repelled by borage. Deer don’t like borage either - too fuzzy.

Edible Borage

 The leaves and flowers both have a light cucumber flavour. The flowers are delicious eaten raw in salads, frozen into ice cubes, candied as decorations for cakes, and used anywhere a cucumber flavour is desired. The fresh leaves also make a refreshing tea when combined with honey and lemon. Blossoms can be harvested throughout the summer. The leaves are best eaten young, prior to developing their fuzziness and can also be eaten raw in salads.

Borage Makes Wonderful Compost

 Borage is a member of the Boraginaceae family and is related to comfrey. Like comfrey it has a deep taproot that can mine nutrients too deep for other plants to reach. It pulls these nutrients into its leaves, where they continue to accumulate until the plant dies, and through decomposition, the nutrients are once made available to other plants. It’s relative, comfrey, is a popular plant for enhancing compost and for making compost teas. Borage too, produces a lot of aboveground biomass that accumulate nutrients, and is also a valuable compost ingredient and itself makes a potent compost tea. An alternative is to skip the compost pile and treat borage as a green manure. Allowing it to grow, which will aerate the soil, and then tilling it into the soil to slowly releases its nutrients and increases tilth.

Borage as Herbal Medicine

Fresh borage leaves and blossoms are ingredients in herbal medicine and the oil extracted from the seeds has herbal properties as well. Traditionally, herbalists looked to borage tea as a multipurpose tonic that could reportedly speed healing, reduce stress, relieve fevers, promote lactation, soothe digestive issues, and ease throat and chest infections. Furthermore, chopped up fresh leaves could be made into a poultice for skin irritations or used as an infusion and gargled for sore throats.

If you don’t already have borage, why not consider adding it to your garden? If you already have it growing, why not discover the myriad uses of this beautiful and multifaceted plant?

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Starting Seeds in Hot Weather


Use a (well-marked) soil thermometer to help you decide what can be sown. Photo by Bridget Aleshire. 

Season extension and year-round vegetable production include gardening in hot weather, when there are some particular challenges to overcome.  

Germination Temperatures

Some seeds are hard to germinate when the weather is hot. Sometimes the temperature is just too high for that seed, sometimes the soil dries out too fast. Some varieties of some crops have better germination at high temperatures than others. Consult the catalogs, especially ones from hotter parts of the country, and take a look at what grows in areas one or two zones warmer than yours. There are some techniques that can help, but the first tool is information: know the ideal germination conditions for your crop, the actual conditions, and the expected time to emergence under the conditions you’ve got.

There are excellent tables of germination temperatures in Nancy Bubel’s New Seed Starter’s Handbook and in Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers. Nancy Bubel also has lists of the percentage of normal seedlings produced at different temperatures and flower seeds that need light to germinate, those that need darkness, and those that often do better with light. Get one of these books and a soil thermometer. This kind of information can save you from wasted effort. You may find surprises!

I knew that spinach does not germinate well at high temperatures. The tables say the optimum temperature range is 40°F–75°F (4°C–24°C) and the maximum temperature is 85°F (29°C). One year, after a frustrating time trying to germinate fall spinach, I took a closer look, which revealed that spinach will produce 82% normal seedlings at 59°F (15°C), but only 52% at 68°F (20°C), and a miserable 28% at 77°F (25°C). I hadn’t realized how worthwhile it is to somehow get lower temperatures for spinach, rather than working at the top of the possible range. Crops which germinate best at soil temperatures below 80°F (27°C) include beets, carrots, lettuce, onions, parsley, parsnips, peas and spinach.

Summer temperatures can make it hard to establish crops which will have no difficulty growing once the weather cools down. Notice that if you can lower soil temperatures to get germination, in most cases you only have to do it for a few days. Getting good soil contact is important, so tamp the row well after planting.

These spinach seedlings were sown September 6, using sprouted seed. Photo by Pam Dawling

Soaking and Pre-Sprouting Seeds

Some seeds benefit from soaking before sowing. The soaking time depends on the seed’s size: bigger seeds benefit from longer soaking than smaller seeds. We generally soak beans and peas overnight, which helps the large seeds get all the water they need to absorb for the initial sprouting. After that the smaller amounts needed to keep growing are more easily found. Don’t soak legumes so long that the seed coat splits, as they then lose vital nutrients and may become vulnerable to attack by fungi. Small seeds that have been soaked tend to clump together, so after draining off as much water as possible, mix them with a dry material like uncooked corn grits, oatmeal or bran, or use coffee grounds or sand. If you plan to put soaked or sprouted seeds in a seeder, dry off their surfaces by spreading them out in a tray for a while. Experiment on a small scale ahead of a big planting, to make sure your seeder doesn’t just turn the seeds to mush, or snap off any little sprouts.

Beets are notorious for spotty germination — their seed coats contain a germination inhibitor. Presoaking beet seed for two hours can help dissolve this compound. Room temperature water is better than cold water, and running water is the best, I’ve heard. I suspect when I’ve had failures with soaked beet seed it’s because I soaked them for too long and they suffocated due to a shortage of oxygen. Another option is to pre-sprout them just until small red shoots are seen.

To pre-sprout seeds for extended-season growing, first soak them. Then drain off the water which has not been absorbed, and put the seeds in a suitably cool place. Rinse twice a day, draining off the water. Special plastic draining lids are sold for mason jars, for people who grow sprouts to eat. These are great to use, but you can also make your own with a piece of nylon window screen held on with the lid ring or a rubber band. For large quantities of seed we use plastic jars from catering sizes of mayonnaise and mustard. A pasta strainer is a helpful tool, as is a sieve held upside down closely in the mouth of the jar.

Usually it’s best to sprout the seed just until you see it has germinated. Seeds with long sprouts are hard to plant without snapping off the shoot. For most crops, 0.2" (5 mm) is enough. For lettuce half that length is good, and one day may be time enough. If your pre-sprouting has got ahead of the weather or the soil conditions, slow down growth by putting the seed in the refrigerator.

Spinach sown with sprouted seeds in early September has grown quickly despite high temperatures. Photo by Pam Dawling

Pre-sprouting spinach seeds in late summer is very worthwhile. For this we do the whole sprouting process in the fridge, and I confess we don’t rinse them at all! One week is a good length of time for fridge sprouting of spinach. Give the jar a quarter-turn each day to tumble the seeds and even out the moisture.

If you have leftover soaked or pre-sprouted seeds, you can store them in the fridge for a while until you see if you got good germination. If not, and the seeds still look good, go ahead and fill the gaps in the row. Leftover soaked pea seed can grow a crop of pea shoots for salad.

In a future post I will provide 20 Tips for Success in Germinating Seeds in Hot Weather.  This information is an extract from The Year-Round Hoophouse © Pam Dawling and New Society Publishers

Pam Dawling works in the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs, as well as sustainable agriculture conferences. Pam also writes for Growing for Market and other magazines. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available at, Pam's second book The Year-Round Hoophouse will be published by New Society November 20, 2018. Her blog is on her website and also on

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Turning Invasive Weeds Into Income


Kudzu - Wikipedia Commons

They come in through hay, even certified weed-free hay. They come in through wind, tire treads, boat underbellies, as stickers on socks and coats. Abundant weeds, invasive weeds are all over the globe and the farm. Researchers find that in this age of high CO2 emissions, they grow and spread faster than non-invasive plants. Culturally, we are taught to view them as usurping space for crop and pasture grass. Some do.

And yet many have uses as crops themselves. In this post, we'll take a look at how some businesses use some of the most persistent weeds as raw material—and have for years. We'll look at a variety of herbal, beekeeping, weed control, wood-working, and paper-making endeavors, starting with food-based companies.

Chef Peter Becker, via his German company, Newtrition Ink, manages the spread of Japanese knotweed, which is highly invasive, nutritious, and medicinal, by making and selling jam and relish. He calls this community conservation work Bionic Knotweed Control. He does the same with the invasive Himalayan Balsam.

Chicory is a major international commercial food plant. France, Belgium, and the Netherlands produce the most. It is sold as a coffee substitute and is used by chefs in many recipes. Both small-scale local producers and large multinational corporations sell chicory and its derivative, Inulin. Nestle' grows it in South Africa. Other big companies include it as a major component in coffee substitute products. An internet search for “chicory coffee company” yields many small roasters who proudly roast and sell the ground root intermixed with coffee, dandelion root, or by itself. There is even a guide book to starting your own chicory root business.

The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center at Iowa State is looking at Chufa, or Yellow Nutsedge. They tell us: “The small round tubers found along the roots have a slightly almond flavor and are eaten raw, cooked or made into the traditional drink called horchata. In Spain and Mexico, horchata is served in health spas, pubs and restaurants... The plant's...oil has a mild, pleasant flavor, and as a food oil, is considered to be similar, but of superior quality, to olive oil. Industrial applications for the oil include high-value applications for cosmetics (perfume carriers) and instrument lubricants. There is increasing interest in chufa for health food and similar products. Due to Spanish cultural influences, chufa "nuts" also are available in markets and as processed products in most of Mexico...The United Nations considers chufa an "under-researched" food plant. ” Hogs fattened on chufa are said to produce delicious meat. Lack of means for mechanical harvesting holds back chufa as a large-scale, commercial crop, but small farms and gardeners have room to be creative.


Kudzu, an astonishingly prolific vine, is originally from Japan, where it is controlled by climate, local predators, and harvesting. In the U.S. it's known colloquially as “the plant that ate the South.” The Mother Earth News book excerpt by William Shurtlieff and Akiko Ayagi notes:

“It has long been used for erosion control, for livestock fodder, as a honey source, and as an ornamental vine. Moreover, its leguminous roots host nitrogen-fixing bacteria which enrich the soil by providing a free and continuous supply of natural fertilizer... the Japanese practice a kind of agricultural judo on kudzu, turning its overflowing energy to their advantage... the kudzu vine offers its leaves, shoots, flowers, seeds, and roots for use in a variety of preparations such as tempura, pressed salads, sautéed vegetables, or pickles.” The end of the article features tempting Japanese recipes and the internet features a plethora of general recipes for almost every part of the plant. It's a staple in Japanese cooking and can be enjoyed in many Japanese restaurants.

The article continues: “Kudzu powder is now being used in lieu of lower-quality cooking starches and is featured in some of America's finest natural food restaurants” and health food stores. In addition, “Kudzu Root Tea and Kudzu Creams are being used by naturopaths and appearing in their books on healing...”

Japanese Knotweed Courtesy Pixabay & Wikimedia

Invasive Weeds

Lovers of East Asian food will also recognize burdock as a culinary staple in those cuisines. It's enjoyed in Japanese restaurants and sold in grocery and health food stores. Dandelions are sold wholesale as a fresh greens crop gracing salads in upscale restaurants and is also sold in health food stores.

Katrina Blair of Durango, CO features unique culinary creations based on invasive and other weeds in her long-running Local Wild Life Cafe'. They are made with thistles, purslane, wild mustards, lambsquarters, dock, dandelion, amaranth [pigweed], purslane, plantain and others; recipes for these abound in her book The Wild Wisdom of Weeds.

Cornell University's Climate Change Garden announced last year that it “ removed wheat from the project beds and replaced them with weeds common in gardens and agricultural settings.” The weeds, lambsquarters and pigweed, are projected to be future crops, as they acclimate better to heat and drought than cool-season crops. They are grown for greens--used like spinach—and also for seed for flour.

Herbal-based businesses sell a number of invasive and other weeds with substantiated medical properties. You can buy them at natural food stores, in herbal apothecaries, pharmacies, in big box stores, and online. Japanese knotweed is an important part of Stephen Buhner's Chinese herbal formula for Lyme's disease, as well as other conditions. Despised in the field, revered in the apothecary and naturopath's office, mullein, burdock, bouncingbet, teasel, quackgrass, mallow, St. Johnswort, plantain, dandelions, stinging nettles, purslane, goatshead (tribulus terrestris) are just a few of many more examples.

Beekeeping and honey-selling businesses find that bees love the invasive bindweed, scentless and mayweed chamomile, spotted and other knapweeds, yellow starthistle, houndstongue, cutleaf and common teasels, dame’s rocket/mother-of-the-evening, orange hawkweed, yellow toadflax, purple loosestrife, tamarisk, tansy, Canada and other thistles, and many others, so you can feed your bees and maintain your business on non-herbicided properties even while they transition to less invasive pollinator plants. Kathy Voth has a business teaching cows to eat invasive and other weeds.

Russian Olives Wikimedia Commons Una Smith

Russian Olive Trees

Russian olive trees can be carved into beautiful bowls sawn into lumber in mills large and small. River Bottom Restoration Furniture is a hand-milled, hand-crafted business based on Russian Olive wood. Nancy Reilly built her hand-crafted furniture business based on bittersweet. Artists and craftspeople are making paper from invasive plants. Papermaking teacher Louise Barteau makes hers from Japanese knotweed, phragmites, Amur peppervine, oriental bittersweet, Japanese honeysuckle, hostas, daylilies, and Japanese stiltgrass. Even the U.S. Forest Service is getting into it!

Many invasive trees, shrubs, grasses, forbs offer free resources for part-time to full-time home-based or town-based entrepreneurs—more than most people would believe. All it takes is a desire for independence, a penchant to look outside the box, a plan, and being absolutely certain that the plants you are harvesting have not been herbicided and are from a safe place. Do your due diligence on this; it's crucial. And know your plants. Read all your can about them, talk to all kinds of people who've had experience with them.

In putting these resources to good use, we are making room for managed resources that we don't want to lose to these exuberant plants. Please let us know of invasive plant businesses you are enthusiastic about and let us know what you're planning for your own!

Pamela Sherman has been foraging for over 30 years and researching weed history, botany, uses, and mitigation for over twenty, for publication and for assisting her community. She is passionate about harvesting and using invasive plants safely and creatively.

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