Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wild Onions and Upcycled Pillowcase

We bought a house, y'all-officially-with a yard and a pre-existing clothesline. It's 1950-1970s-tastic, with wood paneling, horrible wallpaper in the bathrooms, and solid wood doors. It has an island on casters and beautiful sold-wood cabinets. Our blast-from-the-past also has a built-in rifle case in one hallway and a nautical light in the other hallway.

I'm officially in love with our house.

The other thing with which I'm in love? Our porch and yard. It's a small, standard city lot, with the original cyclone fence (we're currently building the privacy fence, thanks to an aggressive neighbor's dog). Plus, when I met our other new neighbors, they were ecstatic to know that someone bought the place who didn't own a dog (seriously guys, we're surrounded), but then you should have seen her face when I mentioned we'd have a few chickens in the coming months.

I tried really hard not to laugh.

Moving on to today's topic: wild onions and upcycled pillowcases. I'm so freakin' excited about our clothesline. Did I mention our awesome clothesline? When you've spent the last four years using an indoor drying rack and electric dryer that you know is just throwing money in the toilet, you'd be excited too.

Now that we have this wonderful contraption (hooray for old zoning laws in small towns which allow us to even have one), I can put it to good use and achieve that tantalizingly fresh smell one can only get with line-dried clothes.

However, I've run into the problem of my toddler breaking every clothespin he can get between his little hands. Seredipitously, in the Mary Janes Farm Sister issue for this month, one of the writers wrote instructions for upcycling an old pillow case into a clothespin bag to be hung from the line while working.

Well, her example was adorable, however, I am NOT the best seamstress when it comes to flat, round edges. They're not pretty, y'all, plus I didn't have any binding tape, and I didn't want to spend the time hand-making some. During the precious moments of my son's nap, I'm usually occupied, cleaning the kitchen, baking, cooking, unpacking, or reading. This leaves little time for sewing, so I looked for a pattern with straighter seams.

After a few fruitless minutes, I decided to just wing it. The result has ugly seams, and crimped ribbon, but it serves it's purpose:

I used a yard stick and the hanger to make the length and width, leaving one side attached, so that once cut, the fabric was one long piece. (In hindsight, I should have taken pictures while making it, but did I mention my time crunch?)

Because the open, pre-seamed edges are already reinforced, I used that as the bottom of the bag.

Next, I looped and cut three ribbons of equal size to act as the hangers hanging on the hanger. I love English. Then, I pinned the edge to form a seam (including the ribbons equidistant from each other). Sew.

After finishing with that seam, I folded it right-side in, and pinned to make the bag shape. Sew. Turned it right-side out, fixed the corners, and sheared the ribbon loops, so that I had two ribbons facing each other. Tied these ribbons on a hanger. I didn't have time to embellish
today, but I will do so later. Did I mention the time thing? I think I did. All in all, this project took about 15 minutes, and is so handy!

Now, onto the wild onions. I'm doing some major gardening experiments this season. My fascination with plants has evolved slowly, beginning with-you guessed it-France. My host family had a beautiful garden out back, and always had edible herbs and lovely flowers growing. My organic education began there as well, and has also evolved over the years.

I was terrified to begin growing plants. They don't tell you what they need like a kid or a dog. The few plants I tried to grow when I was young ended up getting drowned or forgotten, so I decided to start slowly. A large herb garden and my first fruit tree graced our apartment balconies these last few years and grew (pardon the pun) until I fell pregnant with my son.

Everything died but my Rosemary, aloe Vera, and lemon tree, and those were barely alive once I came out of my horrible morning sickness. Last spring, overwhelmed by new motherhood, I added only some garlic chives to the mix (scrambled eggs with garlic chives and some milk, salt, and pepper are DIVINE).

This year, with our new yard, I busted out some seeds I've been collecting and dove head-first into the world of raised beds. After mulling over building materials, I decided to go with plain 16 inch cinder blocks for the edges. They're tough, easy to move and reassemble into other shapes, and won't rot. Best of all? They require no saw, drill, or real maintenance and are cheap.

One caveat. They are ugly. I will paint them eventually, but I was so concerned with getting my seeds in the ground before it got too hot, that I didn't care this season.

Companion planting. Have you heard of it? From the research I've done, apparently, certain plants compliment each other: radish and lettuce, strawberries and spinach, onions and carrots, etc. one really cool one is the "three sisters." Practiced by American Indians, corn grows straight up and acts as a trellis for the nitrogen fixing bean or pea plant, and squash crowds out surrounding weeds and retains moisture in the soil by preventing evaporation. Pretty sweet, right?

In my fervor to  learn how this stuff works, I decided to "mimic nature" and plant companion seeds haphazardly in zones (i.e. I was too lazy to plan out rows). My garden looks something like this:

Three sisters (Glass Gem corn, sugar snap peas, crookneck squash)

Carrots and 10-15 onions

Lettuce and radishes, both assorted

Bell pepper and calendula

10-15 onions and assorted beets

strawberries, spinach, garlic chives

more onions and carrots (we eat lots of onions and carrots)

Parsley and assorted tomatoes

Snap peas

Courgette (zucchini, but I like the French name better)

Borage, nasturtium, calendula and two celery re-grow experiments (yep, I'm trying a Pinterest thing)

Cucumber and watermelon

Three Sisters (Sweet corn, snap peas, butternut squash)

What a mess! I know I planted waaaayyyy too much in the space I have, but I keep telling myself this season is experimental. I'm not all that familiar with growing annuals, because all of the herbs, flowers, and fruits I've grown are perennial (except parsley and basil).

I'll be watching and recording what grows well, what dies out, what takes over. We learn best from mistakes, right? RIGHT?!

Anywho, with the annual beds tucked in for the season, I've been stumbling around town lately, coming across various wild edibles. (I'm addicted to this blog.) Although I've been fairly certain about my identifications, I haven't actually gotten the nerve to eat any of them except chickweed and wild blackberries.

This is how my brain works: oh, that looks cool. I think I've seen that on Foraging Texas, let me look it up! Yeah, looks EXACTLY THE SAME. Mmmm, better not eat it, could be contaminated by the road, the dog in the yard, the......

See my problem? I have this theory that if I glean a few important ones from around town and grow them in my perennial beds (will construct along fence after fence is constructed), and they grow on their own, I'll feel better, because I know what's in my dirt. Make sense? Hmmm.

I may have OCD.

Well, I have a small partially shaded area that already has a cute picket fence by it, so I decided that if I found any wild edibles I want, I'll plant them there and water them and see what happens.

You may be wondering why I care about hunting wild edibles. Aren't domestics (the veggies at the grocery store which have been bred and selected over hundreds of years to create what we eat daily today) what we're "supposed" to eat? Yes and no. Domesticated plants are often fussy and are particular about water, sun, climate, and soil.

Wild natives are more suited to one's local area (climate, soil, etc), and tend to stock more nutrition than the average domestic (Ex: lamb's quarters, a wild relative of spinach, has 3 times the amount of calcium compared to spinach). Plus, they can bring visual and flavorful interest to domestic dishes.

I can go on about the wild ones, but in reality, I just need some plants that will take care of themselves because putting together annual beds every year can be time-consuming, labor-intensive, and expensive.

Back to the wild onions. Plantain, wild violets, wild primrose, and chickweed have been springing forth in abundance, but I haven't had the nerve to glean them yet. That changed today! While taking a family walk, I spied from across a big drainage ditch a robust flower that looked like an onion flower! Crow's poison (which is slightly toxic to humans and somewhat resembles wild onions is sprouting EVERYWHERE) has had me fooled a few times from a distance, so I didn't hold my breath when I came upon the humble plant.

Crow's poison smells like grass. Wild onions smell like onions, so I smell-tested the leaves and flower bud. YAY! Well, my husband and son had gotten quite ahead of me at this time, so I caught up with them, resigned to go back to the vacant lot and dig them up tomorrow.

We walked the rest of the mile home, and one street over, I saw a beautiful little tuft of grass with the onion bulbs swaying in the breeze above it, just sitting atop a culvert.

Excitedly, I bent over the colony of onions, grasped the base, and pulled straight up. They all came out easily and the smell reminded me of the last time I climbed Enchanted Rock. When we shimmied down the side of the granite batholith, a stream cut through the rock and nothing but HUGE colonies of wild onions grew along the water. The smell was sublime and identical to the ones in my hands.

The perfect little bulbs accompanied us home, where I planted them along the fence with some wild violets. I'll keep you posted on their growing. Tomorrow's agenda? Glean some healing plantain.

Happy homesteading!


  1. This was right after my heart! I can now feel at ease when I upcycle a pillow case! The garden looks great and I bet all is growing real well. My son loves wild onions and often looks through the yard for other goodies. Great blog post. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thanks! Yes, I used to love munching them straight out of the dirt as a child!