Voices from the River: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

The author has waived the white flag. The dandelions win. 

By Chris Hunt

As I shoved the back of my fishing rig full with the last of the gear the other day, I had that ominous feeling that I was being watched. I turned around quickly, only to see my neighbor disappearing into his garage, shaking his head. I knew I should have packed and left earlier. I was busted.

I don’t have a wife to give me disapproving looks when I load up the truck and head out fishing. But I do have neighbors who take really good care of their yards. The looks on their faces are telling.

“He’s going fishing again instead of taking care of all those damn dandelions,” I could imagine my neighbor saying to his wife as he walked inside.

I do have a fairly robust dandelion infestation. Thankfully, I’m not the only one in the neighborhood fighting this losing battle, but I still feel a bit of shame when the bright yellow flowers pop up in the morning and follow the sun across the sky. I look across the street at my neighbor’s perfectly manicured lawn, that meticulously cultivated mono-culture of good, old Kentucky bluegrass, and I just sigh.

I’ve never liked yard work. I put myself through college mowing lawns, installing sprinkler systems and laying sod all across suburban Denver, and when I graduated, I’d had enough. Truth be told, I was likely part of the problem. All that sod translates into all that water sprayed over all those fertilizers and pesticides that, whether we like it or not, eventually end up in our rivers or soaking into our water table.

And then there’s the dandelion. This wildflower is native to Eurasia and North America, and it is a big-time bloomer in the spring. Not surprisingly, it does very well where the soil is disturbed or manipulated, like roadsides, medians and the fertilized and maintained American front yard.

Last year, I broke under the strain of disapproving looks from my neighbors. I hustled off to the hardware store and bought the weed-and-feed, and set about conquering this plant that spreads its seeds to the wind. I might have won the battle, but upon the arrival of honest-to-God spring weather this year, I can see that I’m losing the war.

And, frankly, I’m done fighting it. I’d rather be fishing.

To salve my shame, I did some research. I’ve learned that dandelions aren’t nearly as noxious as some of the truly invasive weeds we spend billions of dollars fighting every year. Sure, they break up the desired monotony of the perfect lawn, but after doing some research, I’m afraid I’m going to be on my neighbors’ naughty list for a while.

Would you believe that dandelions are good for your lawn? It’s true. The plant’s edible taproot aerates the soil, allowing water to penetrate deeper and actually deliver fertilizer to the roots, not just the blades of grass. And, yes, it’s edible—not just the root, but the whole plant. Its roots are tasty sauteed with carrots and scallions; its leaves and stems are edible greens (a touch bitter, with butter, garlic, salt and pepper, pretty tasty), and the flowers can be eaten raw, sauteed or even fried into fritters.

Dandelions are also said possess healing abilities that help the human liver remove toxins from the bloodstream, and for centuries, these plants have been used in teas to help with digestion. And, of course, it’s a flower, which provides a lot of early season nectar for pollinators, like bees that are under attack from overuse of pesticides, herbicides and Colony Collapse Disorder.

That was enough to convince me to leave my dandelions be and just mow over them every week. Some experts now say that the best way to “control” dandelions is to let your lawn grow a little longer than normal—eventually, the grass will outcompete the “weed” and you’ll have fewer bright yellow blossoms poking through the lawn to upset your neighbors.

And think of all the time you’ll save for fishing.

Chris Hunt is the national digital director for TROUT Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls, which is apparently the dandelion center of the universe.

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