The asparagus beds are done. We are just waiting for our order of asparagus crowns to arrive. Now we are moving the rest of the soil, prepared compost, etc., into our two vegetable beds. We lined them at the bottom with cardboard, with paper bags from the grocery store, and with some oversize "lawn and leaf" paper bags I bought at a discount store two weeks ago. Don put a quick fence around the area that he intends to go back to. It needs tightening up and it needs a gate, but it will keep the dogs from using the raised vegetable beds as a digging pit.
While we were working, our Asian neighbor was working on her side of the back fence. She looked at what was to me a weed tree in the wooded are at the back of the yard. "You have a porcupine tree," she said as she gazed at it with great longing. She told me the shoots, properly harvested, blanched and eaten with a dipping sauce, are a terrific seasonal delicacy. She taught me how to properly break off the young shoots, which I did in order to share with her. She said the tops would grow back to be harvested once more, and that the harvest would be over by April 15. The shoots must be harvested young, she said, or they turn bitter. She also warned me to be careful because the plant is very prickly.
She also recommended that I blanch the shoots and then dip them in an Asian-style sauce in order to eat them. There was one shoot left, so I picked it the way she told me and cooked it up. The greens had a strong but pleasant flavor, a little resinous(?) and like nothing I've ever had before. My neighbor had said they taste like broccoli, but she was doing them a disservice.
I blanched the shoots and then dipped them in a combination of minced garlic, minced fresh ginger, organic sesame oil, and Paul Newman's Asian Sesame salad dressing. I also tried the shoots plain, which were just as good.
I ran an online search under "porcupine tree" but only found the name of a British Rock Band and a blog post about someone's gumball tree. This is not the same tree, so I will post some pictures below. If anyone knows the horticultural designation or some common names for this edible weed, please let me know!
Update 8/12/2012: I found out from Karl Klein through the Organic Homesteading and Gardening Yahoo Group that this tree is Aralia spinosa, commonly known as the Devils Walking Stick. Thanks, Karl!