Those who garden here know the sub-arctic weather remains unstable until the second week of June. At one moment the sky is clear and the temperature may climb up to thirty Celsius (86 F). Then, all of a sudden, colors become saturated and air cools down to its dew point; next, frozen crystals, as small as marbles and large as tennis balls, beat the ground. It makes the summer season short and horticulture a challenge. Nonetheless, urban farming is popular in Helsinki.
The city provides about fifty areas with thousands of land parcels; sometimes they have a small pavilion or cottage built in. Additionally, environmental organizations, residential associations and housing cooperatives offer land for community gardening. This year I rented half an acre lot only three minutes bike ride from our home.
After a month of shovelling, raking and uprooting undesirable invaders, I’ve grown to appreciate soil as a good teacher. It is demanding but, also, rewarding. I have taken a special interest in the resilience of weeds. Judging by their success to compete with pampered vegetable seedlings, they are far from being inferior. The idea of a plant as a nuisance reflects human purpose and bias; in nature’s scheme, wild and feral species may also serve a useful function. Many of them have medicinal value. Their adaptability to diverse and adverse circumstances is admirable. They reproduce profusely and may bear quantities of seeds that travel distances by the means of feathery parachutes, or attaching themselves into clothing or animal fur by tiny hooks, burs and cleavers. They may also stay dormant for years until they find a favorable condition to grow. Many multiply from broken bits of stem or root; even after drying up, they may regenerate. If left unchecked, they will dominate the environment, and rob water and nutrients from crop plants.
Horsetail which grows abundantly in my garden is an old remedy for liver and urinary disorders; it contains large amounts of silicon, tannin and potassium. The roots have a nutty flavor but, oh, they are so persistent and long that you never get them entirely out! The moment you look elsewhere, they have already shot a new sprout.
Dandelions are known for their propensity to purify blood and reduce fever. They are rich in vitamin C and A, calcium, iron and minerals. To salads, the leaves add a strong flavor. You can also make fritters (pakora) by coating the flowers with a spicy batter!
Nettle is my favorite ferine by far. Although it has not (yet!) pushed into my garden, it has occupied my neighbor’s compost, and provided us many mouth-watering meals! Use it like spinach.
For a reason, yoga philosophy compares unfavorable qualities to weeds. The heart is the seat of consciousness and sacred matters. As soon as it fills with ulterior motives, the natural upliftment of spirit is hindered. Therefore, sad-vargah or the six enemies of the mind – lust, greed, anger, envy, fear and delusion – are to be nipped at the earliest stage. They are interrelated and arise from a contact with lower modes of nature – passion and ignorance – through contemplation and activities, and entangle the soul in the intricacies of karma and the cycle of birth and death, samsara, making us both, disinterested and indifferent to enlightenment.
When the seed leaves are young, it is difficult to tell if a plant is genuine or spurious. You have to let it grow and exhibit clear marks of botanic classification before uprooting it. Sometimes you have to dig very deep in order to track the starting point; many times it is impossible to find the origin. You can't cheat by pinching the foliage off and leaving the underground core untouched because, sooner or later, it will develop a new stem and leaves. In fact, the base problem becomes even more aggressive and arrogant, stealing nutrients and space from legitimate creepers. Weeds take away and turn against the real interest of the soul, although they may play a productive role in pursuing materialistic values in their natural habitat.
Working in the field is heavy. Having done non-physical activities for the past year and a half, I welcome muscle pain and exhaustion. It triggers solid sleep and healthy appetite. Contrary to my assumption, it has made me eat lighter and less. I crave for fruits, juices and salads; rice, dal and vegetable dishes appear too sumptuous. One meal a day seems enough. In the afternoon I may roll parathas or make other pastries.
This spontaneous recipe for vegetable tarts expresses the garden spirit. You can make the crusts beforehand and top them just before serving. Use any vegetables available.