If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million time: Eat your greens. But buying them can be expensive, especially if you’re going for the organic bunches. Here’s the good news: It’s spring, so get your greens for free!

I may not be the best gardener; in fact, I’m possibly one of the worst. Regardless of my lack of a green thumb, most years I’ll set up a few raised vegetable gardens in the yard and plant a variety of things such as tomatoes, peppers, basil, and green onions. Admittedly, the tomatoes often get attacked by tomato worms, the green peppers become lunch for hungry deer, and the basil fall prey to Japanese beetles, despite what I hear about the little buggers not liking it. As much time as I’ve spent fussing over my gardens, you’d think they’d be beautiful, pristine salad bowls. Alas, they are not. They are not beautiful or pristine. But they are giant salad bowls. That’s because I don’t weed.

Don’t weed? I can hear the cries from proper gardeners the world over. No, I don’t. Not the way you probably do, anyway. Instead, I prefer to eat my weeds. Since I don’t spray the garden or use unnatural fertilizing, my weeds are healthy and delicious. About this time of year, for instance, the dandelion greens are perfect for my green smoothies and salads. Dandelions are great for your garden because the roots grow straight down and don’t branch out. Instead, they burrow deep and aerate the garden. And because that taproot goes so far down, it pulls up over 70 different nutrients from deep in the soil. The best way to harvest is to take a firm hold of the greens at the base, then twist until they all pop off in a neat clump in your hand, leaving the root in the ground. More greens will grown soon, which means more free salad later.

Perslane is another weed that takes up residence in my vegetable beds. These aren’t very strong in taste – a hint of lemon, perhaps – and they’re rather mucilaginous. Not my favorites on their own, but they do add to salads and smoothies, too. These are easy to harvest, as their roots are shallow.

Other weeds that have grown in my garden that make for tasty eating are lamb’s quarters, amaranth, and chickweed. (Click on the names to get information on edibility and identification.) I’m sure you’ll find at least some of these free greens in your yard too, no matter where you live. Just make sure nothing’s been sprayed for at least a year before eating the greens, and about three to five years if you plan on eating any roots. Also make sure you can properly identify these weeds before you eat them! Being “pretty sure” doesn’t cut it; be certain!

This year I’ve taken up residence in the desert and don’t yet have room for a garden, but hopefully I’ll give it another go next year. So far I haven’t met any Japanese beetles here, and from what I can tell, coyotes don’t eat peppers, and scorpions don’t care for tomatoes. This is a relief, although I’m already planning on purchasing extra heavy gloves and perhaps some chain maille before risking a run-in with a black widow or a rattlesnake. I’m still a wimpy northerner, but maybe by next year I’ll have my wild western side firmly in place. So until then, do me a favor and let me live vicariously through your garden: Eat your greens – for free!