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Poppies are Weeds, But You Gotta Love 'Em

sayle may5 weeds.jpg

Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

Whenever Larry says to me something in passing like, "Well, you've created a new weed with those poppies," I always feel the need, as he brushes by, to somehow prove him wrong. But in this case I know he's right. After all, we sell vegetables; we don't sell poppies. We would, if they weren't so fragile, but their bloom is almost an illusion--the petals flutter away at the slightest movement.

Thus the blazing red poppies, often set against the purple of irises or larkspur, fulfill their intended goal of dancing on the wind, lifting our spirits and those of customers entering the farm on market day.

Space is tight on this five-acre urban farm, and purposely tolerating weeds is not our goal--unless the weeds are the heat-tolerant edible wild things that we sell in the summer when there are no regular greens. But gorgeous poppies! Weeds? Yes, they can become that.

Some years I've had to rip them out by the handful from beds of carrots, or cutting lettuces, lest they subvert our schemes to actually make some money.

Pulling up the young plants is like fondling spring-green tissue paper...they release their hold on life easily, almost as if they enjoy such disruption.

However, of all the weeds that we try to discourage--defiant, strangle-you-first Bermuda grass, sneaky Johnson grass, edible but too-fuzzy-to-be eaten henbit--poppies are the least problematic. Pulling up the young plants is like fondling spring-green tissue paper. They release their hold on life easily, almost as if they enjoy such disruption.

The only negative is mourning in advance the gloriously red flowers that certainly will not be dancing in the air in a month or so. Nipping beauty before the bud is hard at times.

sayle may5 poppies.jpg

Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

But this year, the poppies, while they cheerfully have become a "weed" gracing the farm in unsuspected places, are firmly entrenched in the beds of this spring's official flowers: the snapdragons, which beautify the farm while also earning their keep through bouquet sales.

The poppies are a returning gift, but the snap seeds have to be bought, sown in transplant cells, nurtured a long time in the greenhouse, planted in the ground, irrigated, and eventually, weeded. It's like choosing between children. And this morning I rationally chose the snapdragons and removed not only the poppies but also the henbit and Bermuda from their too-close association with the preferred crop.

Since those weeds had eaten nutrients meant for the snaps, I dosed the soil with a bit more feed and watered it in. In a month or so, there will be a lovely stand of aromatic snapdragon blooms lining the entrance driveway. And, Larry and I will both be happy to see, there will also be poppies. I couldn't bear to pull them all.

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Carol Ann Sayle is co-founder and co-owner of Boggy Creek Farm, a five-acre urban, organic farm in Austin, Texas.

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