What is it about guys and chainsaws?
I can understand resurrecting your grandfather’s secret garden, increasing the size and height of the fire pit, and clearing fallen trees. I appreciate creating focal points with sculptures that Nonno chiseled many, many years ago in an art class. I respect the need for mood lighting, a nook to stack firewood, and a few gnomes.
But what about the garlic mustard?
I swear I patiently explained the need to pull the dastardly weed popping up in every flowerbed that skirts the house and the woods that surround the yard. I actually demonstrated at the pond garden, bagging the pesky plants, suffocating them in black plastic.
Alliaria petiolate, aka garlic mustard, is a vigorous biennial. To a garlic lover, there is a certain attraction to garlic mustard. Crush the stems or leaves, and you smell that delicious garlic fragrance. That’s probably why it was brought from Europe to Long Island, NY, shortly after the Civil War. But the plants invaded the northeast and headed west, forming dense colonies, crowding out forest trilliums, trout lilies, wild ginger, native orchids, and even oak seedlings. Garlic mustard also inhibits beneficial soil fungi, damaging the forest ecosystem. The plants survive and thrive in wet or dry soil, shade or sun, and deer don’t like to eat them, so they run rampant.
The first year, garlic mustard looks like an innocent rosette of round-toothed leaves. That is also when it is said to be tastiest. But EARLY in the second year, March and April, it shoots up erect flowering stems with white, four-petal flowers. If garlic mustard is in or beyond the flowering stage when you first notice it, pull it out, root and all, bag, and dispose of it. If left undisturbed, each flower could produce a needle-like capsule filled with hundreds of seeds.
A dangerous tree was leaning precariously into the yard. Out came the chainsaw. So proud of the sacking of a giant locust tree, Richard found the tape measure—100 feet tall—and took a picture to post on Facebook.
So what about the garlic mustard?
He had a job at a local brewery. He is his Nonna’s almost-constant companion. He prepares lunch and often dinner. He takes his Nonna for nightly cruises down College Avenue and back on Beaver so the 87-year-old social butterfly can “see if there is anything going on.” He goes to the post office and supermarket, making my work day shorter. The chainsaw went into the repair shop. I had hope.
Then we got the darn rain. More rain. And more rain. He had a tonsillectomy. He was out of the labor force for two weeks. The sun came out.
The garlic mustard went to seed.
If breaking a mirror is seven years of bad luck, garlic mustard going to seed easily matches that. Estimates are that each plant produces up to 8,000 seeds. When they ripen in mid-summer, the pods eject the seeds several feet from the stem. Those seeds can live in the soil for five to seven years.
Garlic mustard is considered an invasive plant from Maine to Washington State. At a nature preserve in Wisconsin, they hold annual Garlic Mustard Pull-A-Thons. Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia has volunteers participate in a Garlic Mustard Challenge—Eat It to Beat It—is the slogan. Their goal for 2016 is disposing of 20,000 pounds of the plants. The Mid-Atlantic Invasive Plant Council has a website which offers recipes for Garlic Mustard Ricotta Dip or Stuffed Garlic Mustard Leaves. Why, some entrepreneurs even make an Invasive Weed Pesto out of batches of garlic mustard. If only I could get Richard interested in the culinary aspects of garlic mustard.
On the way to my asparagus patch, there it was: a colony of garlic mustard surrounding a tall spruce where I rest my shiitake logs. I started yanking, piling the fallen soldiers into a bag without remorse, yanking some more. Finally, I could see the trunk of the tree. Where were my shiitake logs?
The Chainsaw-He-Man struck again. My two 4-foot tall shiitake logs were turned into four 2-foot-long campfire logs, with just the buzz of a chainsaw. Please, what about the garlic mustard? Laurie Lynch
Written on Slate: “The secret to living well and longer is: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure.” –Tibetan Proverb