They seem to appear almost overnight, their long necks craning for sunshine and erupting in a sea of yellow across my lawn. They seem to explode after the first mowing of the season, somehow escaping the blades. And almost as fast they appear, they become soft whispering puffs dotting the green blanket of lawn.
Dandelions are perhaps our most ubiquitous lawn weed in North America (though the little violets are a strong contender). I have an old lawn, maybe 70 years old. Like all things as they age, the building blocks that support general health begin to break down. Calcium in our bones is less available to us as we age, and this is true of our soils. The presence of dandelions is an indication that we need to supplement calcium into our lawns too.
Because our lawn is old, and dandelions are perennials, ours are akin to old growth dandelions. The taproots are deep and the rosettes of basal leaves are large. I have tried digging out certain individuals over the years. This proves a futile attempt as the following year I am revisited by the same plant. I know there are chemicals I could use, but the truth is, I don’t really mind the dandelions. They are harmless in their threat to cohabitation in my yard. Unlike other weedy companions in the valley, they don’t make me itch, puncture tires, or get caught in my dog’s fur. They can be eaten or made into tea. Do I ever do this? No, but I like the idea that I could eat my lawn if I needed too.
Dandelions also mark other natural phenomena unique to spring and their bloom offers helpful bright yellow reminders of what’s happening in the natural world. First, it’s a reminder that it’s time to weed other parts of the garden. They tell me that the bees are active, and I should put up yellowjacket traps. they tell me it’s time to eat asparagus. They tell me to make sure I have a sun hat and that the sunscreen is well stocked. The yellow blossoms remind me that rattlesnakes have emerged for the season and to proceed with caution. They tell me to put the screens on the doors to keep flies out. They also tell me it’s time to start taking allergy medication because they bloom just before the nasty grasses that really get me And perhaps the most remarkable signal they proclaim is that when they bloom, it’s time to go morel hunting.
Sure enough, the commercial mushroom pickers and brokers have arrived as evidenced by the tents that have popped up over the weekend. The dry spring doesn’t bode well for great mushroom hunting, but good hunters know where to look. But you never know where you will find them. Two years ago, I found a huge morel in my back yard, growing alongside the dandelions near my kids’ sandbox.
Rain is in the forecast so we just might get lucky with a bumper crop of mushrooms. Last spring, Hank Konrad shared his mushroom processing tip with me: freeze them in a bag or container of water. When you are ready to use them, just thaw them out and drain, and cook as normal — no dehydration or rehydration needed. It sounded like a good idea. I completed step one, but haven’t used them yet. Once I find those frozen mushrooms in my chest freezer, I think I will sauté them up with fresh dandelion greens to take advantage the natural bounty in my back yard.