Class Eight- Weeding and More Weeding
July 26, 2014
Author: Ian Whittington
Category: General News Stories from the Garden
After a little over two months it’s finally happened. I’ve had my first harvest! It’s exciting because I’m literally seeing the fruits of my labor. But I’m also nervous because, well, I don’t know what I’m going to do with all this food.
So far I’ve got tomatoes.
Even an okra and pepper.
And that’s just the beginning. From all the research I’ve done I know that before long I’ll have to harvest several times a week. My beans alone will need harvesting every few days to keep them producing. With how big my tower has gotten, that’s going to be a lot of beans.
But just because I’m harvesting now doesn’t mean there aren’t other important things to do. My tomatoes have shown signs of blight, which means I’ll have to be vigilant about pruning. My second sage has been doing just as badly as the first one, quite possibly because of all the rain we’ve been getting. I ended up pulling it, opening up a space for me to plant something else. And of course, there’s the task that no gardener can ever escape: weeding.
It’s very easy to get into the mindset that every weed must be eliminated. After all they compete for resources with the plants we’re growing on purpose. What good are they?
Actually, they’re really good.
Earlier in our lesson on mulching I learned how weeds could serve as a kind of living mulch. Whenever I weed an area lush with weeds, more often than not the ground beneath is moist. By the time I decide to give up for the day, the exposed soil is always, and I mean always, bone dry. It’s not hard to figure out why; the weeded area no longer has vegetation protecting it from the pounding sun. Of course this can be fixed by adding some other kind of mulch, like the straw we’ve been using, but isn’t that just adding another level of work?
Another benefit weeds can bring is that they heal the ground. Joe illustrated this idea by equating weeds to nature’s paramedics, a concept he got from Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemingway. For example, not only do Dandelions aerate the soil, they also bring up minerals from deep underground. When these and other weeds die their contents become available to other plants as compost, thus improving the ecosystem’s fertility.
But how does that really help our purposes? I mean not only are we using our plots for one season, we’ve already added compost to make the soil better. What else could weeds possible do for us?
Like other plants, some weeds flower. This attracts pollinators, which we need for our plants to produce fruit. But not only can they help lure good insects over, they can also divert some of the pesky ones. Back in our class on pests, Joe suggested that if we had weeds that were clearly being chewed on it would be a good idea to leave them alone. Why? Well, if they’re eating our weeds then they’re not going after the plants we want to eat.
But that could still be a problem because some weeds are better off harvested rather than thrown away. Yes, believe it or not, some weeds are edible. For instance, although bitter, dandelions are actually very healthy. In fact, they were brought to the New World as a source of both food and medicine. Another weed that’s also a valuable food is purslane. Crunchy with a slightly lemony taste, it has six times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta-carotene than carrots. Joe even said he likes to use it for soup.
I’ve never tried either of these weeds, but there is one that I’ve had countless times and can never get enough.
Yep, that crisp flavor used with chocolate, lamb, and mouthwash wash comes from a weed. Although you might not think of it as such, its roots spread out underground and produce shoots far away from the mother plant, just like some weeds. They’re quite invasive; We even have some in the NFI garden. Still, there are worse weeds to have.
Take Bermuda grass. This has been the bane of my existence from day one in the garden. If you read my first post, then you know I did battle with it before I even had my plot formed. It had to go because its root structure was just so pervasive it would have sprouted up everywhere if I hadn’t pulled them. Come to think about it, it still did.
Joe advised not just removing all grasses, but removing them with a vengeance. He also suggested getting rid of anything that causes allergies, one example being ragweed. Other than that he leaves a lot of weeds that aren’t right next to his plants alone. Some of the things he cited as leaving were clover, lambs quarter, and to some extent pigweed. His reason for leaving them in, besides the fact that pulling them is extra work, is that he strives for diversity.
It goes back to the idea of working with instead of against nature. We know weeds are going to come. Since we know this is going to happen, doesn’t it make more sense to use them to our advantage than spend all of our time trying to eradicate them? For me the answer is yes. If your answer is no, then you must enjoy spending hours pulling up weeds knowing you’ll probably be tackling the same spot in just a few weeks.